Lady and the Tramp
by Allyson Heisey
The characters portrayed from "XENA: Warrior Princess" in this story are the sole property of Universal/MCA. No copyright infringement is intended. This is an original work of alternative fan fiction. No profit will be gained from its production.
Mature Reading Warning: This story contains subject matter which may not be appropriate for those under the age of 18. There are adult situations involving consenting same sex partners. This story depicts the seedier side of life and contains mild violence.
Many thanks to Laurie Westergren who patiently beta read and edited this story.
The day was dry and cool and a light breeze rustled the colorful autumn leaves scattered on the moist earth. The soft patter of falling acorns could be heard as a breeze swept through the trees. Squirrels danced and pranced from branch to branch as birds sang and whistled from above. The sun shone brightly, its rays penetrated the thick blanket of trees with streamers of light.
A tall raven haired woman stood next to a buff war horse at the side of a well traveled road. The horse whinnied and stamped its hoof with impatience. The tall woman turned to her horse and stroked its nuzzle tenderly. She was dressed in dark brown leather and a shiny breastplate covered her upper torso. A custom made sword in a leather scabbard hung across her back and the sunlight reflected off the surface of a disc like object that hung at her hip. The woman was known as Xena, a warrior princess and a former warlord. Now reformed, she roamed the countryside with her companion, a bard and Amazon Princess named Gabrielle. Together they righted wrongs, stopped wars and fought for the greater good.
Gabrielle was as fair as Xena was dark, her blonde hair curled just past her shoulders and her sea green eyes reflected warmth where Xena's stark blue ones exuded an icy coldness, that is except in the company of her friend.
After hours of traveling along the country road, they had stopped to take a much needed break and were getting ready to press on to their destination, a large port city called Pompaus. Xena petted the horse's neck when the horse nickered again and glanced over to the bushes at the side of the road.
"Come on, Gabrielle, hurry up!" Xena said impatiently.
"Patience is a virtue, you know." a pleasant voice spoke from within one of the bushes.
"Speaking of virtue..." Xena's eyebrows rose and her mouth curved into a mischievous grin.
"Who's? Yours or mine, Xena?" Gabrielle interrupted.
"Gabrielle, please?" Xena raised a hand to her face and sighed in exasperation.
"I like it when you beg." Gabrielle quipped.
"I am not begging!" Xena retorted.
"Call it what you want, but it sounded like you were begging to me." The bushes rustled.
"I...do...not...beg!" Xena emphasized.
Gabrielle chortled. "Right. Must be a warlord thing."
"Are you coming?" Xena asked flatly.
There was a brief pause.
"Tell you what, I won't touch that one." Gabrielle answered after a minute of wishful thinking.
"Gabrielle, what has gotten into you today?" Xena laughed despite herself.
"You." The bushes rustled again.
"Besides that." Xena shook her head and rolled her eyes.
"Maybe it's because we're headed into Pampaus and I'm just giddy at the thought of eating something other than wild game and fish." Gabrielle explained as she stood up from behind the bush and straightened the folds of her skirt.
"Good idea, I'm hungry. Do you think you can keep your hands to yourself during dinner and not chew with your mouth open?" Xena asked.
"That's funny, Xena." Gabrielle quipped dryly as she walked past her with a smirk. Xena's mouth curved into a devilish grin and followed her while the tall war-horse, Argo, brought up the rear.
Xena watched Gabrielle's hips sway as she walked on ahead of her. Her gaze traveled down to the young woman's legs, which were muscular and firm under the short brown skirt, and a twinkle appeared in her eyes.
As the road evened out, Gabrielle moved her staff to her left hand. She could feel Xena's eyes on her from behind and she smiled to herself.
Xena knew that she loved this woman, loved her more than anything in the world. She also knew that she didn't need to examine these feelings or why she felt as she did. Gabrielle radiated goodness, she showed compassion and love. She wasn't perfect, but she was a good human being. She acted out of the goodness of her heart and was much smarter than most people gave her credit for.
Xena quickened her steps and closed the distance between them. She snaked her arm around Gabrielle's waist from behind and pulled her in against her body, eliciting a soft squeak from Gabrielle. After whispering quietly into Argo's ear, she dropped the reins and Argo trotted gently off to the side of the road. Gabrielle turned in Xena's arms and her free hand gently clasped Xena's face. She slid her hand behind Xena's neck, pulled her face down and kissed her with fevered passion. Xena's eyes widened in surprise, then hooded with desire. She wrapped her arms tighter around the bard's waist and lifted her. As Xena moved off the road in the direction Argo had trotted in, Gabrielle's hand made her way into Xena's hair and her legs wrapped around Xena's waist. Xena tore her lips from Gabrielle, though it was like torture to stop, and gazed down into liquid pools of green. Gabrielle looked up into clear blue eyes that were hooded with desire, and smiled. She licked her lips and tugged on Xena's dark tresses, pulling Xena's face back down and kissing her with a wildness that pleasantly surprised the seasoned warrior.
Later that afternoon, Gabrielle and Xena entered Pampaus and were walking down the main street when they stopped before a well known tavern. There, Xena hitched Argo to a post and they went inside. Inside the tavern there were very few patrons and most of the tables were empty. It was also quiet, a shelter from the noise of the hustle and bustle outside.
Gabrielle and Xena made their way over to a vacant table in the back. Xena slid onto the bench, settled her lean frame by poking her legs out from under the table and settling them on a chair next to Gabrielle, crossing them at the ankles. Gabrielle slid her bag from her shoulder and hung it from the high backed chair across from Xena. She leaned her staff against the wall and sat down, sighing with relief. When Xena began to tap her fingers against the table, much to Gabrielle's annoyance, a tall portly man bustled over to their table. Settling his arms across his ample stomach, he looked at each of them in turn and spoke in a slightly feminine voice which elicited raised eyebrows from Xena and a quick smile from Gabrielle.
"Welcome! Tonight our entree is roasted duck with cream sauce, fresh vegetables and pudding for desert." His stomach jiggled as he spoke. When there was no response from his customers, he then raised his eyebrows in question.
Gathering her wits, Gabrielle stuttered, "Um, yes...for...for both of us. Thanks."
Before he disappeared into the kitchen, he shuffled over to the bar and filled two mugs which he brought over to their table and set them down gracefully before them.
"Thank you." Gabrielle said. Xena merely nodded and they watched him as he turned and strode quickly to his kitchen.
When they turned back to one another, Gabrielle spoke first.
"So, why did Salmoneus want us to come to this city?" she asked and smiled at her companion.
"Well, his note was rather cryptic. He mentioned something about not being able to find his niece and that he would tell us more when we arrived." Xena answered and took a swallow of her port.
"Did he say where to meet him?" Gabrielle leaned forward, eager to hear more.
"Yeah, at some place called The Moose Lodge." Xena replied shrugging.
Gabrielle raised her eyebrows in surprise. "The Moose Lodge? What in Hades is that?"
Xena chuckled. "I don't know, but it looks like we're going to find out."
"Xena, I know what a lodge is, but moose? The only thing that comes to mind is an old legend. This legend describes a moose as being a rather large mammal, about the size of a big horse, very furry, and they have these...these huge antlers on their heads." Gabrielle illustrated the enormity with her hands and arms over her head. "Supposedly there were thousands of them at one time, but for some reason they all just disappeared." Gabrielle recalled. "I can't imagine a lodge full of moose." She finished with a puzzled look.
Xena raised an eyebrow and her smile widened. "Neither can I."
Gabrielle tilted her head up in the air, closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Gabrielle's nostrils widened and her mouth opened as the aroma of cooking from the kitchen permeated the tavern. Xena could feel the beginnings of hunger pangs and grimaced when her stomach let out a low growl.
Suddenly the doors to the tavern kitchen banged open and the tavern keeper strutted out, balancing several plates on the open palms of his hands and along his arms. When he approached their table, Xena quickly scrunched into her seat thinking that the plates would go sliding from his arms into her lap. He looked at her disdainfully and set their dinners down gracefully before them, and with a flourish, produced their eating utensils. Slightly flustered at the display, Gabrielle and Xena each retrieved the utensils he held up and dug eagerly into the steaming duck and fresh vegetables. Gabrielle's face lit up with delight and she complimented the tavern keeper on their dinner while Xena nodded in agreement. Smiling, the tavern keeper nodded with satisfaction and waddled back to the kitchen.
For dessert, they had bread pudding topped with heavy cream. Xena watched Gabrielle as she devoured the pudding. The spoon would slide into Gabrielle's mouth and then as it exited, it would leave tell-tale smudges of the cream on her rosy lips. A pink tongue would glide along those lips and remove the cream. Xena bit her bottom lip as Gabrielle brought the spoon back to her mouth and licked it clean. Xena was brought swiftly back to reality by the sound of boisterous child-like voices. Gabrielle and Xena looked over at the entrance to see almost a dozen children entering the tavern. They looked back at each other quizzically and then over to the children again.
"Xena, I thought children aren't generally allowed in taverns?"
"No, not unless they are accompanied by an adult."
The children glanced at the few patrons scattered around the tavern and then they started to dance and frolic around those occupied tables. When they began to make their way over to where Gabrielle and Xena sat, Xena leaned forward across the table and whispered, "Gabrielle, hold on to your purse."
"Hold on to my purse? I think that would be a little difficult to do." Gabrielle blinked innocently and then glanced down at her cleavage meaningfully. A grin tugged at the corners of Xena's mouth.
The grin disappeared however, when the children scampered around their table. Xena chewed on her lip as she scanned the group of children. Her gaze settled on a young man who couldn't be more than fifteen. When he turned from talking to a patron, Xena saw him shift an item from the patrons pocket into the pocket of his breeches. He seemed to be the leader of this group, nodding in silent communication when the children looked at him. Xena sighed and turned away, dipping her spoon into her pudding.
Gabrielle watched the children warily and smiled at their seemingly innocent antics. Xena, meanwhile, was scowling now and her scowl deepened when one boy accidentally bumped into her, spilling the pudding that was on her spoon down into her cleavage. Gabrielle inhaled sharply in surprise then bit her bottom lip hard and struggled not to laugh. Xena's gaze moved slowly from her spoon to her cleavage and then she breathed deeply, keeping her anger in check. The pudding was cold and it slid down the valley between her breasts and pooled where her corset was tightest, just below her sternum. She set her bowl and spoon down with a loud thunk, clearly annoyed, and glared at Gabrielle, who was compressing her lips tightly to suppress her mirth. Placing her palms flat on the table, Xena stood up slowly and turned around.
"All right! That's enough!" Xena roared. The children stopped dead in their tracks at the deep voice that rumbled with authority. "Now that I have your attention, why don't you all give back what you have just taken, hmm?" Xena looked at each child's face meaningfully and stopped at the young man who Xena suspected was the group's leader. Their gazes locked and he stared unflinchingly at Xena with deep brown eyes that spoke volumes. A lock of errant blonde hair hung low on his forehead. At his shoulder stood a young girl, her smaller hand reached out and rested on his forearm. Xena glanced into her brilliant blue eyes and saw the sadness there.
"What in Hades is going on here?" The tavern keeper bellowed as he stepped out of his kitchen, placing his hands on his hips. Like lighting, the children scrambled out the tavern door and scattered in all directions. Xena shook her head, exhaled slowly and sat back down. Exclamations could be heard as angry patrons discovered that they were unknowingly relieved of their money pouches and other valuables. When the initial outbursts were over, chairs scraped and voices picked up as the patrons reseated themselves and continued on with their evening meal.
"Xena, bend forward." Gabrielle said as she pulled out a cloth napkin. Xena looked at Gabrielle quizzically and leaned forward slightly, resting her breasts on the table. Gabrielle unfolded the napkin and peered down Xena's cleavage. This got a raised eyebrow from the usually stoic Warrior Princess.
"Xena, lean down a little bit more." Gabrielle requested, as she peered intently into the valley between Xena's breasts and wrapped the napkin around two of her fingers. Surprised, Xena just simply stared at Gabrielle. Gabrielle smiled inwardly at Xena's surprised expression.
When Xena didn't move, Gabrielle glanced up at her friend and said, "Or would you rather I use my fingers to scoop that out? Hmm?" Gabrielle grinned when Xena's mouth quirked in amusement.
"This should get everyone's attention." Xena said with a sly smile. Xena leaned forward and looked down, watching Gabrielle as she extended her arm forward. Xena noticed that he tavern became awfully quiet and she rolled her eyes. All eyes were riveted on the two women seated at the table in the back.
Gabrielle expertly scooped out the pudding from Xena's cleavage with the cloth. "Hmm, missed a spot." Gabrielle mumbled. Xena gasped lightly when Gabrielle stuck a finger from her other hand into her cleavage. Gabrielle's finger brushed along the side of her breast and scooped out the little bit of pudding she had missed. With a smile and waggling eyebrows, she then stuck it in her mouth. Gabrielle's face broke out in a wide grin.
"Oh, just you wait Gabrielle, just you wait..." Xena said in a low voice. Scowling, Xena looked up and gave every tavern customer who was watching an icy glare. People quickly averted their gazes and found something else to occupy their attention, like their dinners or drinks. Gabrielle smiled with amusement, totally absorbed in the taste and texture of the pudding that swirled around her tongue, oblivious to the commotion that she just caused.
"Are you quite finished?" Xena asked sarcastically.
"Hmm, that was good." Gabrielle quipped and licked her lips.
"Gabrielle..." Xena began.
"I prefer chocolate pudding. Vanilla is just too...plain." Gabrielle continued.
"Well, there's definitely nothing plain about you." Xena said dryly and Gabrielle chuckled.
Xena shook her head and ate the last of her pudding. Setting down her spoon she asked, "Are you finished, Gabrielle?"
"Yep." Gabrielle replied.
Gabrielle stood up and reached around behind her for the bag that contained her scrolls. The color drained from her face when her hand didn't feel the familiar leather strap over the back of the chair. She spun around and looked behind the chair and even lifted the chair to peer underneath. Xena, noticing her friends panicky behavior, grasped one of Gabrielle's arms.
"Gabrielle, what's wrong?" Xena asked.
"My satchel! It's gone!" Gabrielle said, her face tight with shock.
"Oh, boy." Xena grimaced and turned and looked at the tavern door. Turning back to Gabrielle she placed her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders and said soothingly, "All right, Gabrielle, relax."
"Relax! Those are my scrolls!" Gabrielle growled between clenched teeth. "Yes, I know! I think I know who took them and we'll get them back. Now just sit down and try to calm yourself." Xena's grasp on Gabrielle's arm tightened as she pushed Gabrielle into the chair.
Seething, Gabrielle reluctantly sat down and glared up at Xena. Xena exhaled with relief and summoned the tavern keeper to their table.
"Those children that were in here earlier, what can you tell me about them?"
The tavern keeper frowned and answered, "Well, not much. They roam around a lot, looking for food and handouts and such. They sometimes cause quite a bit of mischief but they're basically harmless. They usually hang out near the market during the day. I don't know where they go at night."
"All right. Let's go." Xena said shortly.
Gabrielle and Xena stood just outside the market and scanned the crowded street. The aroma of smoked sausage wafted over them from a large stand on their left. The vendor was haggling with a woman over the price of his sausage links. The canvas awning sheltered the woman and two young boys who were munching on something round on a short stick. Gabrielle's mouth watered at the succulent aroma and she glanced over at the stand. Xena glanced to her right and watched as a man and woman discussed whether or not to purchase the bolt of cloth they held between them. The vendor stood by, anxiously rubbing his hands and inserting words of encouragement when he could. Her eyes traveled behind him to roam across several rows of bolted cloth that sat snug in a custom made rack. Bright cloth wound around support poles and hung down across a higher frame to form an awning over the tailor masters stand.
Gabrielle and Xena turned their gazes back to the crowded street. Identical stands lined up against the walls on either side and people milled tightly around them. They could hear the muffled hubbub from within the market and the bellows of vendors shouting their wares.
Squinting against the suns glare, Gabrielle looked over at a pottery stand and spotted one of the young boys she recognized from the tavern earlier. She nudged Xena and pointed in his direction with her staff. It was the young man Xena had concluded was the leader of the gang of children. Xena nodded and together they began walking towards him, threading their way through the dense crowd. As if sensing danger, he looked up as Gabrielle and Xena began making their way towards him. His hand came up and pushed the golden locks of hair away from his eyes. He started when he saw them. His eyes rounded in surprise and he pushed off from the side of the stand, then skillfully maneuvered his way through the crowd and down the street.
"Go!" Xena shouted and shoved Gabrielle in the direction the young boy had gone. Gabrielle took off after him, the crowd swallowing them up. Xena turned to her left and ran down a mostly empty alley littered with crates and barrels. Her hands batted billowing curtains from open windows away from her face as she dodged and vaulted over obstacles, her stride never faltering.
People had stopped in their tracks to stare after the boy who had rudely shoved them aside as he went by. When the young man slid under a cart, Gabrielle used her staff to vault over it and land neatly on her feet. At this point the crowd had thinned significantly so she sprang effortlessly into a run, tight on his heels. He looked nervously over his shoulder several times as he ran.
When Xena skidded and slid around sharp bends and turns in the narrow alley, her hands received several small lacerations from the sharp stones jutting unevenly from the walls. Oblivious to the injuries, she continued, relentless in her pursuit. When she finally emerged into the main street, the young man was running right towards her with Gabrielle right behind him. Xena moved further into the street, drew herself up to her full height and grinned. The young man almost skidded to a stop when he saw her imposing form, but quickly veered off into side street, his arms pin-wheeling as he made the sudden change in direction.
"Drat!" Xena spat. She spun back around and dashed right back down the alley from which she emerged previously and turned down another intersecting alleyway. She mumbled colorful invectives along the way as she made a shortcut through an abandoned building and irritably brushed dusty cobwebs from her face.
Gabrielle followed the young man right on into the side street fast on his heels. She used her staff to propel herself away from the wall as she made the sudden turn. As she turned around, she was slapped in the face by a cold and soppy set of drawers hanging from a laundry line strung across the alley. Stumbling to a stop, she grappled with the undergarment that stuck to her face and mumbled disgustingly, "Ugh! Nasty!" Grimacing, she peeled it off and tossed it at the surprised woman who was hanging the laundry. Laundry was hanging from irregularly placed lines up and down the alley. "Just my luck." Gabrielle grumbled and searched for an appropriate curse but was stymied, which only made her madder. After an exclamation of frustration, she jogged forward ducking and dodging the various articles of laundry like breeches, sheets, shirts and on one line a child's bedraggled stuffed toy.
Xena wrinkled her nose from the offensive smell in the alley. Flies buzzed around the dead rats that lay in the alley and there was the smell of rotting food in old crates. As the alley became darker and narrower, Xena had to use her hands to guide herself around the curves. As she rounded another sharp corner, her eyes widened when she saw a glistening spot ahead of her, warning her of something slick and slippery. Quickly she flipped herself upwards and somersaulted over the wet area. She landed smoothly on the other side and heaved a quiet sigh of relief. Finally emerging into the main street, she looked over to her left and saw that the young man and Gabrielle had already passed her by.
"Damn." Xena swore again. She crossed over the main street and went directly into another alleyway, running through a group of tittering rats to try and beat them to the next intersection. She was just emerging from the alley when he ran by. Her arm snaked out and snatched him by the back of his collar, picking him up so fast that his feet were still propelling in the empty air.
"You can stop running now." Xena said.
The thudding of boots was heard and Gabrielle came into view. She stopped and bent over at the waist, a hand braced on her thigh to steady herself as she fought to bring her breathing under control.
"I...am going...to kill...him." She said between gasps and pointed her finger up at the boy dangling from Xena's grasp. Wisps of damp strawberry blond hair stuck to her face and her chest heaved as she breathed in much needed air.
Xena cocked her head and gave Gabrielle a wry grin and then shifted her shoulders from the chafing in her leathers. She glanced down and with her free hand pulled out bits of straw and cobwebs. Her attention was brought back to the young man when he twisted in her grip in an attempt to get free.
Narrowing her eyes, Xena asked in a calm voice, "Okay, we saw you with your friends in the tavern today. My friend here wants her satchel back. Know where we might find it?" She gave him a little shake and he glared back at her.
Instead of answering, the young man twisted and turned, trying to extricate himself from Xena's grasp. "Put me down!" he screamed. "Help!" he screamed again. Xena's eyebrows rose in amusement. His loud pleas attracted attention and several people began to gather around to witness the spectacle.
"All right, what seems to be the problem here?" a rich timbered voice demanded and the crowd parted as a uniformed guard walked through. His eyes moved over Xena to the boy, to Gabrielle and then back to Xena. Xena appraised the dark haired man critically, flicking her gaze over his uniform. He had several bars on his tunic which was neat and clean. His face was chiseled and strong. His brown eyes were clear and a shock of jet black hair brushed across his forehead in the light breeze.
"I was just asking this young man a question. I think he knows where my friends' property disappeared to and I was trying to find out." Xena turned her attention back to the young man and asked another question. "So, are you going to tell me?" He merely glared back at her. "Guess not." Xena answered for him.
"Donan, did you take something from these ladies?" the guard interrupted sharply. "No!" the young man replied angrily. The guard walked forward to stand before him. "Um, you can set him down now." he said to Xena.
"Oh, right." she replied sheepishly. The guard searched the boys pockets and came up empty handed. He stepped back and turned to Xena and cleared his throat.
"Might as well let him go. There is no reason to hold him." he stated.
"Let him go!?!" Gabrielle was livid. Xena placed her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder and shook her head. Gabrielle snapped her mouth shut and glared at the young man. He glared back as he rotated his shoulders and walked away.
"I can't believe we had to let him go!" Gabrielle's eyes shot daggers at both Xena and the guard.
"He's just a boy, we can't arrest him for something we can't prove he did." Xena explained patiently.
"Why didn't you interrogate him?" Gabrielle argued.
"Gabrielle, do you honestly want me to interrogate a child?" Xena admonished.
Gabrielle's face softened and she replied softly, "No, but he probably knows where the satchel is and who has it."
"Yes, he probably does." Xena agreed and folded her arms across her chest and looked pointedly at the guard. He smiled and offered the information she needed.
"Well, I know that he and his friends hang out in the southern quarter, near the wharf. Every now and then we end up chasing them to that quarter of the city to arrest them for petty theft but never anything serious. Arresting them was a challenge because there are so many places to hide in that area with the boats, warehouses and such." he concluded rubbing the light stubble on his chin.
"All right. We'll try the wharf." Xena rolled her eyes.
"You're Xena aren't you?" he asked and grinned at her raised eyebrow. "I'm Valdias, Captain of the city guard." He glanced over at Gabrielle and his gaze lingered on her face. Realizing that he was staring, he blinked and said, "...and you are that talented bard that travels with the Warrior Princess." His brows furrowed in thought and then snapping his fingers he continued, "You're Gabrielle." He smiled into her face and she couldn't help but return the smile. Xena watched the interchange between Gabrielle and Valdias sardonically.
"Well, I must be getting back to my post." He took Gabrielle's hand and bowed over it brushing his lips across her knuckles. He looked up and smiled at Gabrielle, oblivious to Xena's darkening scowl. Dropping her hand, he bowed again slightly before turning and walking away in the direction he had come.
Xena peered down at Gabrielle as she watched him walk away. When Gabrielle turned to face Xena, she realized that Xena had been watching her and said, "He was nice."
"Uh huh." Xena replied.
Gabrielle decided it was best to change the subject and said, "Let's take a walk down to the wharf." She turned and walked on down the street, the butt of her staff tapping on the cobblestones. Xena frowned, then turned and followed her, watching Gabrielle's rear as the brown amazon skirt swished back and forth.
The wharf contained several large piers. Many of the piers had several large boats anchored there and seamen walked the docks moving crates and shouting orders. The warehouses on the busiest portion of the wharf were well maintained and looked to be fully stocked. Gabrielle and Xena walked through the wharf almost to the end, their boots echoing dully on the worn wooden planks. Near the end of the pier, many of the buildings were vacant and scarred from fire or neglect. Seedy bars and brothels poked out from between empty buildings and Gabrielle unconsciously edged herself closer to Xena. A few drunken sailors leered at them and ambled away. Gabrielle watched them as they walked by with a mixture of pity and sorrow. Just as they reached the end of the pier, Xena spotted another young boy that was part of the group from the tavern. She grabbed Gabrielle and pulled her back into a deserted alcove. From the shadows, they watched the young boy until he rounded a corner. When he disappeared, Gabrielle and Xena glided quietly down the street after him. Moving from shadow to shadow, they followed him until he met up with a girl who seemed to slither from the shadow of a doorway. They spoke to each other briefly and then turned to look in Gabrielle and Xena's direction.
"Great." Xena muttered. "We've been had. You take the girl and I'll take the boy." Just as Gabrielle and Xena stepped out from their hiding place, the boy and girl took off in opposite directions.
"Oh no, not again." Gabrielle grumbled before she took off down the narrow alleyway after the young girl. Gabrielle jumped aside just in time as a woman opened a door and threw out her family's garbage into the gutter. When Gabrielle looked back up, the girl had darted around a moving wagon and was fast disappearing down the alley. By the time Gabrielle reached the wagon, it was blocking off the alley, so Gabrielle slid under the wagon and used her staff to balance herself so she could roll back on to her feet and continue the chase. The girl cast an uneasy glance behind her at Gabrielle and suddenly switched her direction. She veered to the left and disappeared down another alley. "Ugh!" Gabrielle grunted and ran right past it. She skidded to a stop, turned back and ran down the alley that the girl ran into and came slowly to a halt. "Oh, no." Gabrielle whispered. The girl was no where in sight. Gabrielle, leaning on her staff, turned in every direction to peer at each alley opening from the square. She bit her lip and brushed a strand of wayward hair from her eyes.
When she turned back around she noticed that some of the women who were milling about the square and gathered around the fountain were focusing their attention to an alley off to the side. A few of the women walked past her and cast admiring glances her way. One woman broke from the group and sidled up to her. Flashing a wide smile, she looked down at Gabrielle and brushed a finger along her arm. Gabrielle glanced down at the jeweled finger and then back up into the woman's face. The woman lifted her hand and pointed down the alley behind her, "She went that way," she said, twitching her lips, and giving Gabrielle a sly wink. Gabrielle blinked in confusion and then turned and ran down the alley. It finally dawned on her, the bright lipstick, the vivid colors and the cut of the women's dresses, meant that she had just passed through a red light district. She blushed a light shade of pink when an image of a buxom and very leggy woman bending over in the fountain to fill up a jug in the square popped into her mind.
Shaking her head to refocus her attention, Gabrielle saw the red head of the girl she was chasing just ahead of her. The young girl had slowed down to a walk and was peering behind her to see if Gabrielle was still following. They were back at the wharf where dark empty warehouses loomed around them and Gabrielle chose the nearest one to duck into and watch as the girl continued down the alley.
The girl rounded the corner and Gabrielle emerged from her hiding place and followed. Gabrielle ducked down behind a stack of crates when the girl stopped and squeezed into an open window of a dilapidated warehouse.
Gabrielle crept forward on her hands and knees and peered in. What she saw tugged at her heart and filled her with sorrow. Children milled about in a chilly and damp room. Large timber beams still held up the roof but there were several large gaping holes in it that let in the weather. Under one of the larger holes, a fire burned fitfully and a few children sat around it roasting a meager meal which they passed around to the others. Their grubby fingers would snatch up the meal and consume it as if they hadn't eaten in a while. Gabrielle shut her eyes and turned around until her back was against the wall and out of sight of the window. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. She pushed off from the wall and made her way back to the stack of crates where she sat down heavily, saddened by what she had just witnessed. She hated to see people suffer, especially children. Children... Whenever she thought of children she thought of her daughter, Hope. Her eyes closed again, wearily, and she put her head in her hands.
Xena had taken off after the young boy. He was agile and very quick on his feet. After chasing him down several alleys, Xena decided to change her tactic. As the boy rounded a bend, she jumped up on an barrel stacked against the wall and somersaulted up onto the roof of a nearby house. She ran parallel along the roof following alongside the boy from down below. The boy cast a glance behind him and slowed down when he didn't see the warrior woman behind him. Thinking he had lost her, he shuffled back into a walk and made several more turns cautiously looking behind him. Emerging in to the empty square, he squeezed through a window of the warehouse on the corner.
Up above, Xena watched as the boy went into the warehouse. She looked around and spotted Gabrielle behind a stack of crates. Xena put her hand on her chakram and moved it so that it caught the faint light of the setting sun and reflected back down at Gabrielle. Gabrielle glanced up and nodded at Xena, acknowledging her presence. Using hand signals, Xena indicated that they should move back and meet further down the street away from the warehouse.
Gabrielle backed away from her hiding place, turned and walked down the alley. She turned at the familiar whooshing sound as Xena landed behind her. Gabrielle placed her hand on Xena's arm with a gentleness that caused Xena to look down at her friend. Gabrielle's eyes were sad and flickered with emotion. Xena gave Gabrielle a look of concern and guided her into a secluded doorway.
"Xena, the children, they're in that building. I saw them. It's so sad." Gabrielle murmured quietly. Her eyes looked up at Xena imploringly. Xena's face hardened at the thought of the abandoned children living off of scraps and their only shelter being an empty warehouse. She pulled Gabrielle in, wrapped her arms around her and gave her a comforting hug then pushed her away and peered down into moist eyes.
"Gabrielle, we're going to help them, okay?" Xena searched Gabrielle's face and saw the compassion and sadness there. Xena's face softened and she cupped Gabrielle's face in her hand.
"How?" Gabrielle inquired softly, looking up into Xena's inquiring eyes.
"Well, I think this is what we should do. We're going to go back to that warehouse and wait for those kids to emerge because if we go in there they'll run and scatter to each end of the city." After a brief pause Xena continued, "and I don't think they're planning to keep your scrolls."
Gabrielle picked up the thread, "You think they're going to try and find a buyer?" At Xena's nod she continued, "and in order to do that they're going to have to come out and find a vendor. Possibly someone at the market, right?"
"Right." Xena answered.
Gabrielle and Xena walked back down the alley and posted themselves by the window of the warehouse. Xena leaned back against the coarse stone wall and crossed her arms, like a silent sentry. Gabrielle often wondered how Xena did that, to stand and wait for hours and sometimes in the most horrid weather. For Gabrielle, after a candle mark of standing, her feet would begin to hurt and then she would find herself shuffling from one foot to another trying to relieve the discomfort. She chuckled softly and shook her head in wonder.
After a candle mark passed, Gabrielle, seated against the wall, rolled her head to the side to gaze up at her friend. Xena stood tall and proud, alert and poised for action. She was awesome, powerful, and strong. Years ago she was a warlord, and a touch of that evil still lurked around the edges of her soul. Gabrielle's heart swelled with compassion, she understood Xena, and she knew now how it felt to carry the burden, the guilt, and the shame of one's past. Xena turned her head and met Gabrielle's intense gaze. The world seemed to stand still as this silent form of communication passed between two people who knew each other so well.
Inside the abandoned warehouse, a young boy and girl sat against a wall on several layers of dirty rags while other young children played or slept in other areas in the large room. The air was tepid and damp. Debris and layers of grime coated everything. Cobwebs and rotting curtains hung from the doorways and walls. The scratching of taloned feet could be heard as vermin scurried about. The room was almost in semi-darkness since very little light filtered through the windows at this time of day.
Donan sighed as he looked over his small flock. He had rescued many of these young children from the streets and from an evil tyrant's clutches. If it were not for him, these children would have been sold into slavery or worse, dead. Donan accepted the responsibility of caring for his flock and he did the best he could. After all he was only fifteen. Sometimes food was hard to come by, so they would steal it. If there still wasn't enough, he would secretly conjure up the rest. Donan was a young magician and his powers were untrained. He learned what he could from books left to him by his father, who disappeared over a year ago, and practiced in secret. No one knew about his special gift, except Mica.
He turned and looked over at the young girl sitting next to him. She was going on fifteen and had the most beautiful blue eyes he had ever seen. And her face, and that smile, he could feel warmth flow through him just thinking about her. He pulled out one of the scrolls in the leather satchel by his side and began reading.
The young boy chuckled as he read the story to Mica. There were some things in this scroll that he felt best to leave out. His cheeks colored when he thought about what he had read. It took him a while to figure it out, but he didn't think Mica would understand if he read it to her. Carefully he rolled up the scroll and tucked it down into the satchel with the other scrolls and tied the flap closed. He turned and held out the satchel to the girl sitting next to him.
"Here, you take it." Donan said and shoved the satchel in the young girl's direction.
"I'm not going to take it, you take it." Mica said and shoved it back into Donan's chest.
"Look, I didn't take it, you took it, so take it!" Donan shoved it back at her.
"No!" she said stubbornly.
"Mica, these are valuable scrolls. Have you heard of a bard that travels with a Warrior Princess named Xena?"
Mica looked at the satchel with renewed interest. "These are hers?" she asked excitedly. Mica's face brightened at his affirmative nod and she snatched the satchel from Donan's hands. Hugging it to her chest she thought about how much they might get for each scroll. It would be enough to feed her and Donan for weeks! They could even get a place to live! Maybe even buy a horse, or even...
"Mica? Hello? We have to decide what we're going to do with these scrolls."
"What about that merchant you told me about. You said he was selling scrolls."
"Yeah, but he sold lots of other stuff too. We could go down to the market and see if he's still there."
"If we get enough for them, can we run away from here, Donan?" The young boy sighed and took her hands into his. "Yes, Mica, we're going to run far, far away from here."
With that, they stood up and made their way to the window that was used as both an entry and an exit to the warehouse.
It was several candlemarks later when Gabrielle and Xena heard movement inside near the window. They quietly moved away and hid behind an assortment of crates and barrels. Gabrielle had to restrain herself from running forward when she saw her satchel emerge through the window. She looked over at Xena, who shook her head in warning. A boy and a girl emerged and walked past them. At Xena's nod, Gabrielle grabbed the girl around the waist and clamped a hand over her mouth. Xena grabbed the boy and clamped a hand over his mouth as well. The girl kicked backwards and caught Gabrielle sharply in the shin and bit down on her hand.
"Ow!" Gabrielle hissed. She bent over and whispered into the girls ear, "Look, I'm not going to hurt you, okay?" She clenched her teeth against the pain and waited for Xena to bring the boy over.
Xena held the boy in a strong hold and he squirmed slightly as she brought the boy over to where Gabrielle was standing. She reached out and took the satchel from the girl and said, "I believe this belongs to my friend here." Gabrielle pulled her hand away from the young girl's mouth and shook it, trying to shake out the painful sensation of the bite. As soon as Xena released the boy, he ran over to Mica and put a protective arm around her. Gabrielle and Xena exchanged a glance.
The boys eyes grew wide when he looked from Xena to Gabrielle then back to Xena.
"You're Xena!" he exclaimed and pointed a finger at the tall dark woman who was staring intently at him.
"Uh huh." Xena replied and looked over at Gabrielle, who was smiling.
"And...and you're Gabrielle! I loved your stories! I read your scrolls!" he said excitedly shaking his finger at her and then quickly clapped his hand over his mouth.
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed and then she said in a quiet voice, "You read my scrolls?" He backed up as she moved forward towards him. "All of them?" she asked, her voice a low whisper. He continued to back up as she moved forward and cringed slightly at the angry look on her face. Xena chuckled, shook her head and stepped between them.
"Gabrielle, relax." Xena held out her arm and stopped Gabrielle's advance. When Xena's hand touched her shoulder, Gabrielle gave Xena an icy glare.
"Xena, those were more than just stories." Gabrielle hissed in that tone Xena knew so well. Xena stared blankly at Gabrielle for a moment and then had to turn around to keep from laughing. Irritated at Xena, Gabrielle crossed her arms across her chest and shook her head at the young man.
"Well, I'm glad you enjoyed them." Gabrielle said sarcastically. "So, what were you planning on doing with them, hmm?" she asked dryly.
"Well, see, we were going to go to this merchant and see if maybe he would give us some dinars for them. We were planning on leaving this awful place." He tried to smile but failed miserably.
"Okay, you were going to sell them. Why?" Gabrielle asked, regarding him with an inquiring look.
Donan and Mica looked around nervously before Donan spoke again. "There's this man, his name is Vinson. Well, we have to give him a percentage of what we steal so he'll leave us alone. If we don't, his men will come looking for us and if he captures us, he'll sell us to the slave traders." he answered anxiously.
Gabrielle and Xena glanced at one another quickly and then back to Donan. "Go on." Gabrielle prompted.
"My father was a magician and one day, over a year ago, he and my mother went out of the city to attend a festival and they never came back. So, I took to the streets and was captured by Vinson's men. I begged him not to sell me to the slave traders. That's when he told me to bring him valuable items or gold every week and he would leave me and my friends alone. If we didn't, he would send his men after us and we would never see each other again."
"A real prince charming." Gabrielle quipped dryly.
"What's your name?." Xena queried.
Donan coughed and introduced himself. He put his arm around the young girl who stood at his side.
"This is Mica." he said, looking fondly over at her. Mica darted an uncertain look at Gabrielle and Xena before nodding, acknowledging them. Gabrielle saw the pain and the sadness in the young girl's eyes.
"Mica, what about you? What happened to you?" Gabrielle asked gently.
"My father died two months ago and they put me in the orphanage. Donan helped me escape before Vinson's men arrived and took all of the children. He has extraordinary pow..."
Donan interrupted her, shooting her a warning look, "She has an uncle, but I don't know if he got her message."
Gabrielle turned her eyes to Xena and touched her arm softly. Xena turned her head and looked down at Gabrielle and smiled faintly.
Xena straightened suddenly, her body stiffened and her eyes darted around. Gabrielle pulled her staff upright the instant she noticed Xena's change in demeanor.
Xena's forehead creased with a frown and then she half turned, tilting her head down towards the alley behind them. Turning back quickly, she shoved Donan and Mica towards the nearest doorway and hissed, "Go! Now!". Grasping Gabrielle by the arm, they ran after them to a secluded doorway. Xena cursed when Donan and Mica ran past the doorway and back into the warehouse. Xena leaped over several steps and her back slammed into the rough wood of a door. She reached out and snatched Gabrielle by her belt and pulled her in roughly. Xena caught Gabrielle as she connected with the front of her breastplate and wrapped her arms around her, holding her still. Gabrielle turned her head sideways and rested it on the soft warm flesh of Xena's shoulder.
The sound of thundering hooves on the cobblestones reverberated throughout the narrow alley as horses and riders thundered around a bend. From the far side of the warehouse, children emerged and scattered in all directions unseen by the approaching riders.
"Damn!" Xena swore softly. Scowling, she turned her attention back to the approaching riders. Holding Gabrielle close, she shrank further back into the shadows of the doorway. Gabrielle tightened her arms around Xena and watched as the riders brought their mounts to a stop just in front of the warehouse. The foremost rider, wearing a dark brown robe and a dark blue turban, dismounted and turned to the men behind him.
"Delbo! Turan! Menos! Duran! Come with me!" he shouted. Four men dismounted and followed him into the warehouse. A few minutes later they re-appeared and he was clearly upset and agitated.
"Where are they?" He demanded.
"Balos, the warehouse may be deserted, but this is where they've been hiding. I'm sure of it!" one of the men replied. "And we found this." He handed over a rolled up parchment.
Gabrielle inhaled sharply and Xena instinctively tightened her hold as she watched another of her missing scrolls exchange hands.
"A scroll?" he sneered. "Vinson will not be pleased!" he snarled.
Turning abruptly, he strode angrily to his horse, mounted it and galloped down the street, leaving the four men and their entourage in his wake. The four men gathered their wits and followed suit, running to their mounts and shouting orders for the rest of the riders to join them as they rode away.
Xena moved her hands from Gabrielle's waist to her shoulders and they looked at one another thoughtfully. Gabrielle stepped back and they both emerged from the shadow of the doorway and walked down into the street. Gabrielle leaned on her staff as Xena looked up the alley one way and then the other, her hands on her hips. Gabrielle frowned and pulled on her lower lip with her teeth.
"Xena, I would really like to have my scrolls back." Gabrielle protested.
Xena chuckled low in her throat and Gabrielle frowned. "Xena, this isn't funny. I really don't want all of Greece reading them."
"Well, they would make for some very interesting reading, wouldn't they?" Xena teased.
"Hmpf, not if you don't mind other people reading about your um...secret, um...private...."
Xena was silent for a long moment.
"Gabrielle, you didn't..." Xena's face paled.
"Oh, yes, I did. I had to write it down. It was so...so...oh, you know, exciting. I don't ever want to forget." Gabrielle explained. "Not that I would." she added hastily.
"Great." Xena said with a scowl.
Gabrielle hid a grin as Xena took a deep breath and changed the subject.
"Look Gabrielle, I think those men that we just saw work for Vinson. We need to find out more about this guy." Xena commented.
"Yeah, I think we should." Gabrielle agreed.
"It's getting late. Let's head back and meet up with Salmoneus at the moose lodge. Maybe we can find out what in Hades is going on." Xena said as she walked up to Gabrielle and slid her arm around her waist.
"Oh, this should be lots of fun." Gabrielle quipped.
As they turned into the street they spotted the Moose Lodge almost instantly. It was a large stone building with brightly lit sconces placed strategically along the walkway and on either side of a thick oak door with a large iron handle and hinges. A large wooden sign hung from intricate iron rungs above it with a large moose head on either side. Four small but thick window frames were grouped together in the upper portion of the door.
They could hear live music and muted chatter filtering through the open windows on the side of the dwelling. Xena peeked through the four window panes in the door and groaned. She hated crowds and this was one big crowd. Gabrielle nudged her aside and opened the door, entering the establishment. Xena shut the door behind them and Gabrielle stared, awestruck by the huge crowd. Gabrielle's face broke into a grin at the sounds that greeted her. The atmosphere was a friendly one, people were chatting, laughing and many were dancing on a raised platform to lively music by a live band. Xena scowled when a young man bumped into her, attempting to get by. His eyes widened when he met her cool acrid gaze and he muttered a quick pardon and moved away. Then Gabrielle scooted back against Xena, stepping on her boots in the process to let a barmaid by.
"Sorry!" Gabrielle shouted over her shoulder. Xena's scowl deepened. She really did not like crowds.
A high, slightly feminine voice greeted them. "Gabrielle! Xena! I knew you'd come! They glanced over at a portly man who was waving his hand in the air and making his way towards them, muttering pardons and squeezing through the tightly packed crowd. Finally, breaking free, he stood before them and clasped his hands together in delight.
"Isn't this wonderful? Everyone is having such a wonderful time tonight!" He smiled broadly and spread his arms, smacking them into the backs of people behind him.
"Yeah, just peachy. Hello, Salmoneus." Xena said dryly. Scowling, she grabbed the shirt collar of a slightly intoxicated person who staggered into her and set him upright, shoving him in another direction. Gabrielle hid a smile.
Gabrielle turned her attention to the live band in front of her, her head bobbing in time to the music as her gaze traveled over the room and then back to Salmoneus.
"Yeah, this is a really nice place. I like it." she said sincerely. Xena's scowl deepened further.
"There are some friends upstairs I'd like you to meet and then I'll explain why I needed for you to come." Salmoneus nodded to his right and moved in that direction. Gabrielle and Xena followed. Xena moved forward like a plow, moving people aside firmly as Gabrielle followed behind in her wake bobbing her head and tapping her hand against the side of her thigh, keeping time to the music.
Once upstairs, they walked into another room that served as a dinning area. It was quieter, even though it was crowded with people who were sitting at tables conversing and eating. A lone flutist lounged on plush floor cushions and played a quiet melody in the far corner. Salmoneus led them to a table that hosted three rather somber looking men. Salmoneus introduced Gabrielle and Xena to them as he sat down. Four pairs of eyes watched them as they took their seats. Gabrielle's heart went out to them,seeing the naked pain in their eyes.
Clasping his hands in front of him on the table top, Salmoneus looked from Gabrielle to Xena as he began his story.
"I asked you here because, well...frankly I...um...we need your help." Xena raised an eyebrow, leaned back and folded her arms across her chest.
"What kind of trouble did you get into now, Salmoneus?" Xena asked dryly.
"No, no, not that kind of trouble." Salmoneus chuckled nervously. He swung out his arm indicating his friends seated at the table, "You see, my friends, Salumar, Gillpare and Balmar all had their children taken from them."
Gabrielle blinked. "What?" she managed to blurt out.
"Salmoneus, perhaps you had better start at the beginning." Xena asked calmly before looking over at Gabrielle.
Salmoneus scooted his chair forward and continued in a low voice, "There's a very bad man by the name of Vinson who seems to be abducting the children in this city."
Gabrielle and Xena simultaneously arched their eyebrows at this.
Salumar, a young man with curly red hair and goatee spoke up, "Peder was at my side when we were shopping. He asked if he could go with his friends to the pens and watch the cattle being brought in. I said okay, so he went. I never saw him again." The young man bowed his head to hide the moisture in his eyes and then clasped his hands together, resting them on the table in front of him.
Salmoneus picked up the thread, "Gallpare's son and Balmar's daughter were with Peder and they too were never seen again. I also received a letter from my niece," Salmoneus shrugged when Gabrielle looked at him questioningly and Xena raised an eyebrow.
"Well, my brother died and left his daughter in my care. So, I arrived here last week and I can't find her. And I've looked everywhere for her. She was supposed to be here at the orphanage until I arrived. But, the orphanage is closed and no one knows what happened to her after my brother died."
"I'm sorry to hear about your brother, Salmoneus." Gabrielle said quietly, as she laid a comforting hand on his.
"Hmph, half-brother really, and we weren't close." Salmoneus replied with a grimace and Xena raised her brow again.
Sighing, Salmoneus explained, "Look, my brother had an ego to die for." he paused briefly. "As a matter of fact it did kill him." he added chuckling.
"Anyway, when we were little, we used to role play..."
Xena quirked a grin and interrupted him "...and you were the damsel in distress."
Salmoneus grimaced and continued, "Yeah, well, that's where I learned how to cross-dress. And I do it well, don't you think? I mean when you were still a warlord and you captured me, you thought I was a..."
"Yes, Salmoneus, you do it well." Xena interrupted and rolled her eyes. Gabrielle smiled and bit her lower lip to keep from laughing.
The grin fading, Xena asked, "Salmoneus, what can you tell me about this Vinson?"
"Vinson used to be a tanner before he joined the militia. Once in the militia, he rose rapidly through the ranks."
He was interrupted by Balmar who took up the narrative. "It's been rumored that he assassinated his superiors and that's how he advanced in rank. Vinson controls the militia and the shopkeepers in the city pay him to leave them alone. Some of the shopkeepers have gone broke because of the high tribute he exacts from them. He's greedy and he's violent. He once ran a sword into an innocent bystander because he refused to move out of Vinson's way. Everyone is afraid of him and of his men."
"It is also rumored that he keeps his," Gallpare's lip curled in distaste, "captives in the east end before shipping them out as part of the slave trade."
"A warlord in the city. Great." Gabrielle muttered. Xena cut a sharp look at her companion.
"Where does he live?" Xena asked flatly.
"He has a grand villa just past the barracks at the east end." Gallpare answered, running his hand through his long locks. The men then looked at one another and shifted in their seats uncomfortably. Clearing his throat Salmoneus said, "He also has a rather...um...large harem." Xena's eyebrows rose again and Gabrielle shot an amused look at Xena.
"We also believe that some of the women are being kept there against their will."
"I see." was all Xena would say.
"I can take you to Vinson's villa in the morning." Salmoneus offered.
"Yes, I think we'll pay him a visit." Xena replied sarcastically.
After leaving Salmoneus and his friends, Gabrielle and Xena went down the hall to their own room. After bathing and eating a light dinner, they retired for the night.
Xena pulled the coverlet up over Gabrielle's nude body which was stretched out on top of her. Gabrielle was tracing circles over Xena's shoulder with her fingertip, her brow was furrowed, indicating that she was deep in thought. Noticing the intent look on Gabrielle's face, Xena gave her a gentle nudge. Gabrielle sighed and spoke, emotion deepening her voice.
"Xena, have you thought about having another child?" she asked, looking down into Xena's azure eyes. A touch of sadness passed over them before Xena smiled sadly and cupped Gabrielle's face with her hand, wrapped her other arm around Gabrielle and whispered softly into her hair, "Yes."
Gabrielle picked up a silky strand of raven hair and twirled it around her finger, the thoughtful look back on her face. Taking a deep breath she spoke hesitantly, "I've...I've thought about it too. I'd like to have a.." There was a short pause as she met the cool blue gaze below her. "I'd like to have a daughter." Gabrielle whispered finally. "And...and I'd like to raise her as an Amazon." She breathed a sigh of relief. This was something she'd been meaning to talk to Xena about for some time now and seeing the children today made her more aware of her desire to have another child.
This was a sensitive topic, it was a fresh wound, still slightly raw, because both of them had recently lost their children. Lost them forever, and they will always remember the emptiness, the pain, and the sorrow.
Xena's heart lurched as she thought of her son. She swallowed hard and opened her mouth to speak but Gabrielle placed a finger over her lips gently, silencing her.
"I know that Hope will always be my daughter, but she is evil. She belongs to Dahak now and nothing I do or say will change that. She's lost to me, just as I am lost to her."
Gabrielle closed her eyes as memories of Hope surfaced. Memories of the painful and rapid birth, the bright eyed innocence she portrayed as a baby, and finally, the small lifeless form lying on the grass, poisoned after drinking from a water flask, poison Gabrielle herself had put into it. Gabrielle experienced a stab of guilt and then sorrow when she remembered touching the childlike hand, feeling the warmth of life seeping slowly from it until the hand had turned cold. She tilted her head to the side as she saw herself lifting that same flask to her lips, intending to poison herself as well. It was her love for Xena, and her will to live that stopped her from drinking it.
She remembered the despair she felt after the funeral, how Xena blamed her for the death of her son. The stinging of tears as she turned and walked away, leaving Xena to stand alone. The pain of the purification ritual at the amazon village, and the realization of her own anger and hatred for Xena. The sound of a whip snapping and painfully wrapping around her ankles. Of Xena dragging her behind a horse and attempting to throw her over a cliff in her quest for vengeance. How the hatred swelled inside her when she freed herself from Xena's grasp and how it propelled her forward, dragging them both over the cliff to their death and into a world of illusion where they were forced to find a way to absolve their hatred for one another or remain dead.
"Gabrielle, I..." Xena stopped, she searched for the words that would not come. Images of her dead son, Solan, flooded her thoughts. The most vivid image was of his form slumped over the altar. Her heart thudded when she thought of his lifeless form which she cradled gently in her arms. She shut her eyes at the memory of the screams of anguish that were torn from her throat. The intense feelings of hatred for Hope and for her best friend. Gabrielle, in a torn and mangled toga, blood trickling from numerous lacerations after being bound tightly by her whip and dragged across the valley, was an image she will never forget. She was saddened that she allowed her hate to once again weaken her. Weaken her enough so that all it took was a little taunting from Ares to turn her back to her dark side. She never expected something like that to ever happen to them. She never expected Gabrielle to become the target of her hate. It hurt to think about this, to think that she was capable of hurting the most important person in her life. She realized that she will never be free of her past, the darkness that claimed her will always lurk just beneath the surface, waiting for her to succumb to the evil power. Tears burned her eyes and she squeezed them, willing the painful memories to the back of her mind.
Each remained silent, wading through their own memories. A tear escaped from between one of Gabrielle's closed eyes, leaving tell-tale moistness on the lashes. Xena broke from her reverie when the tear splashed onto her face. Looking up, she reached out with her finger and traced its path along Gabrielle's cheek. They gazed deeply into the eyes of the other for long moments, communicating emotions, feelings, and thoughts without uttering a single word.
Leaning her forehead down to rest upon Xena, Gabrielle whispered, "Xena, I don't think anything needs to be said. We have both suffered, we both know what it feels like to lose a child, and we both want to have another. But, this time I want you there with me." She picked up another raven strand and twirled it around her other finger.
Xena's smile was sad at first, then it brightened as she lifted Gabrielle's face up and brought it towards her, kissing her gently. When the kiss broke, Xena's eyes were dark with emotion.
"Gabrielle, do you really want me there? I don't think I would feel comfortable observing such an intimate act." she said, a corner of her mouth twitching into a smile that brought with it a welcome cheerfulness, eliciting a small smile from Gabrielle.
"Intimate? It's not intimate. It's....it's...business. Besides, I didn't say anything about you observing. I am perfectly capable of doing this on my own" Gabrielle said cheekily.
"All right. But it has to be someone I approve of. Someone who won't hurt you. Besides, if it were me, would you want to be there?" Xena clasped both of Gabrielle's hands, stilling them from the idle twirling.
There was a pause as Gabrielle thought about this.
"No. Absolutely not." she answered truthfully.
Xena chuckled. Their lips bushed together and Gabrielle slipped her hands under Xena's shoulders. The kiss was soft and sensual, then it became deeper, more passionate. Gabrielle broke away and said softly, "I love you Xena."
Xena smiled and answered just as softly, "I love you too, Gabrielle."
Their feelings and thoughts now acknowledged and out in the open allowed them to experience together an inner peace that they had been searching for alone. They stared deeply at one another, silently communicating their love for one another and an understanding of what had just transpired.
Xena's hands slid from Gabrielle's face to her shoulders, then to her side and then under and over the swell of her breasts. Gabrielle's breathing quickened and she sank deeper between Xena's legs. Her hips began to move slowly and rhythmically between Xena's thighs and Xena found herself moving with her. Xena's hands moved up across Gabrielle's waist and down her lower back to smooth over firm buttocks, caressing them gently. She let out a low growl as she squeezed and caressed, pushing Gabrielle into her, her body moving in synch with Gabrielle's, and she spoke of erotic things into Gabrielle's ear. Gabrielle moaned and kissed Xena with even more passion, then pulled Xena's ear with her teeth, and bit lightly at the curve of her neck, eliciting a low moan. Xena's eyes closed as her passion heightened and then they opened slowly. They had darkened with desire, with need, with raw passion. She flipped Gabrielle over onto her back and knelt over her like a cat regarding her prey. Gabrielle's heart hammered in her chest as she looked into pools of azure, sparkling with fire, and then gasped in anticipation as the firm, smooth form of her warrior lowered onto her.
Down below in the lodge, the party was still going at full swing. People gaily danced and laughed and the servants were busily hustling food and drinks to the partying patrons. It wasn't until the wee hours of the morning that the lodge began to empty and quiet down. Upstairs, Gabrielle and Xena rested peacefully, their desires satiated. As morning approached, the sun rose higher and its golden rays crept between the slits of the shutters in their room. As the light grew stronger and the morning progressed, the streamers of light moved across the bed, flitting over the still sleeping forms. Gabrielle was snuggled against Xena's side, her head resting in the hollow of Xena's shoulder. Xena woke and looked over at Gabrielle and reached out to caress a lock of golden hair with her fingertips. Her mouth curved into a slow smile when Gabrielle opened her eyes sleepily.
"Good morning." Xena said, smiling.
"Hmm." Gabrielle mumbled and snuggled closer to Xena, draping a leg over Xena's thigh. Xena chuckled and shifted so that Gabrielle's knee fell down between her thighs and was pressing against her. Gabrielle, her mouth quirking into a smile, raised herself up on one elbow and looked down at Xena inquiringly. Her face became pensive as she reflected on the conversation from the night before.
"Xena, last night you said you had thought about having another child, right?"
"Yes." Xena looked away, reluctant to talk any more about this issue.
"Xena, please, talk to me. How long have you felt this way?" Gabrielle said gently.
Looking back, she saw the aching pain in Gabrielle's eyes and took a deep breath, noticing that her heart began to beat faster.
"Gabrielle, I don't know, I guess just recently. Perhaps someday when I feel I can settle down, I'll stop and maybe have a child." she said slowly and looked up in to Gabrielle's eyes, eyes filled with calm compassion. Xena took a shaky breath and continued, "Will I ever be able to stop, Gabrielle? What I have done, what I did was unforgivable." Xena spoke with sadness, her voice broke slightly and her heart pounded painfully against her chest.
"Oh, Xena." Gabrielle murmured. She saw the fear in Xena's eyes and cupped her face in her hands gently.
"Xena, I know the world needs us right now, but we have people who care about us and would be willing to care for our children when we can't be there. I can't tell you when it's time to stop. That's something you'll have to decide on your own. You have to forgive yourself." Gabrielle said with such confidence that she surprised herself.
Xena gazed up at Gabrielle, her eyes were clouded with the bleakness of her situation but then brightened with hope and Gabrielle smiled. Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle and held her tightly. It was at times like this that Gabrielle saw how vulnerable Xena was and would catch a glimpse of the woman behind the warrior. For Xena, Gabrielle was like a beacon. When she was lost or when she would fall backwards towards evil, Gabrielle was there to help her find her way back.
"Um, Xena...about having children...isn't there another way...you know..." Gabrielle asked, fidgeting a little.
"Hmm, perhaps. I have many skills." Xena's mouth quirked into a quick grin.
Gabrielle chortled and swatted Xena playfully.
As they were getting dressed, a knock sounded on their door. Xena hurriedly slipped the straps of her corset over her shoulders and opened the door slightly. Salmoneus stood there holding a squirming young girl by the ear.
"Xena, this urchin tried to ply me with one of Gabrielle's scrolls." Salmoneus said as Xena's eyebrows rose in surprise.
Gabrielle's ears perked up at the mention of her scrolls. Snatching her satchel, she rooted around and found that she was indeed missing more of her scrolls. Shaking her head, she strode angrily to the door, elbowed Xena aside and yanked it open.
"Mica!" she exclaimed in surprise.
"Mica?" Salmoneus repeated, his face clouding with confusion. "Mica?" he said again, and blinked. Salmoneus placed his hands on the young girls shoulders and turned her towards him. Leaning down, he looked directly into her face. Brilliant blue eyes shot daggers at him.
"By the Gods!" he breathed. "I've been looking for you, child!"
"Huh?" she said questioningly.
"Mica, your father, tell me his name!" Salmoneus asked urgently.
"His name was Duren." she replied hastily, noting the urgency in Salmoneus's voice.
"Mica, I'm Salmoneus. I'm your uncle. You sent me a note, remember?"
"You're Uncle Salmoneus?" she said hesitantly, her eyes searched Salmoneus's face eagerly as her recognition of him surfaced.
Salmoneus nodded his head vigorously. Overcome with emotion, he gathered her into his arms and hugged her. The young girl wound her arms around his neck as tears streamed down her face. She sobbed quietly into his shoulder.
When they pulled apart, Salmoneus stood up and wiped a tear from his eye. He reached into his cloak and rooted around. Frowning, he gave up and then began searching the other side of his cloak.
"I know I put the scroll in here. Those kids! I remember one of them bumping into me. And he got my purse too!" Salmoneus grunted as he searched further down looking for his change purse.
"Another scroll gone AWOL." Gabrielle said dryly.
"Great. That's just great." Xena said between clenched teeth.
Xena turned away to walk over to a chair by the window. She put on her armor and boots, while Salmoneus walked over to Gabrielle's side.
"What's the matter with her?" Salmoneus whispered.
"Well, I think she's just a little bit upset about the scroll, well actually, scrolls. Two are still missing." Gabrielle explained.
"Well, we'll find them. I bet you've written some very good stories in them." he said with a hint of curiosity.
"Oh, you have no idea." Gabrielle answered, glancing over at Xena, her mouth twitching with amusement.
Overhearing, Xena turned and scowled at Salmoneus darkly. Moving past them, she cleared her throat and said "Let's go."
Mica looked from Xena to Gabrielle and then to Salmoneus and asked, "Where are we going, Uncle Salmoneus?"
Salmoneus started when she called him 'Uncle' and then replied, "We are, but you're not. I want you to wait here until we get back, okay?" He touched her face gently and then rested his hand on her shoulder.
Mica frowned in disappointment and then nodded, "All right. I'll stay."
"Good, good." Salmoneus said and they turned and left the room. Mica gently shut the door behind them and turned to the table that was still laden with the morning's uneaten breakfast. Licking her lips, she sat down and heaped fruit and soft cakes onto a plate.
As Xena strode on ahead down the hall, Salmoneus whispered into Gabrielle's ear, "Whatever did you write in those scrolls? She really looks upset."
Xena turned to look over her shoulder at Gabrielle and gave her a dark scowl. Gabrielle quickly changed her mind about what she was going to say.
"Um, poetry. Yes, poetry. Really boring stuff. You wouldn't be interested." she answered and snickered to herself.
Gabrielle, Salmoneus, and Xena were crouched at the side of the hill behind a stand of brambles and trees overlooking Vinson's large villa. It looked deserted except for a few sentries that were posted at a prefecture just outside the villa. The barracks that housed the militia were on the other side of the hill. The activity within forced them to choose this deserted spot to observe the villa below, so they wouldn't be detected.
"Ouch!" Salmoneus exclaimed as he yanked his hand back out of the blackberry bush in front of him. Pulling up the sleeve to his robe, he reached back in and plucked a plump blackberry from the bush and popped it into his mouth. He chewed merrily and picked out another juicy berry and popped it into his mouth as well, closing his eyes in gratification.
Gabrielle grinned and Xena merely rolled her eyes. Xena, shaking her head, said, "Salmoneus, I want you to get a wagon and meet us just over that ridge right after sundown."
Salmoneus opened his eyes and said, " I don't know where I'm going to get a wagon..." Noting Xena's frank stare and raised eyebrow, he paused and then continued hastily, "...uh...but I'll find one." He turned clumsily, extracted the hem of his robe from the berry bush and ambled off.
"What now?" Gabrielle asked.
"We wait." Xena answered.
Gabrielle sat down below a large elm and rested her back against it. She set her staff next to her and looked at Xena kneeling behind the hedge. She closed her eyes and let her head fall back against the rough bark of the tree.
Xena remained crouched behind the hedge and observed the villa below. She heard Gabrielle sigh lightly as she sat down and then there was silence. Shortly after that, the silence was broken by light snoring and Xena smiled inwardly. The sun was setting and the valley below was shrouded in shadow. Light amber and violet hues from the setting sun colored the mountains at the end of the valley. She turned around and scuttled over to the sleeping form. When she shook Gabrielle awake, Gabrielle started and reached for her staff. Xena grinned at her companion's groggy state. Gabrielle smiled once she realized that the hand on her shoulder belonged to Xena. She reached out and pulled Xena down into a hug and Xena hugged her back and then sat down next to her.
"It's almost time." Xena said.
Gabrielle stretched and they both stood up and made their way past the shrubbery to the valley below. They scampered across the open field to the wall of the prefecture. Hugging the wall, they edged around it and ran quietly through the villa entrance. They stood with their backs flat against the wall and Xena's head swiveled around to observe her new surroundings. Deciding on a direction, she touched Gabrielle's arm and nodded in the direction she chose. Gabrielle nodded back in understanding and followed Xena to an open window at the side of the villa. Xena peered through the filmy curtains searching for signs of movement inside. Seeing none, she parted the softly billowing curtains with her hand and slipped inside. Gabrielle followed Xena into the room, guarding Xena's back. As they approached a doorway at the opposite end of the room, they heard sounds of splashing and feminine voices. Xena opened the door and stopped short and Gabrielle ran smack into her back. Puzzled, Gabrielle turned and stepped around Xena to see what caused Xena to stop so suddenly.
"Oh, my." she whispered and her eyes widened.
There were at least a dozen women lounging or bathing in various states of dress or undress.
"Let me guess, this must be Vinson's harem." Gabrielle quipped dryly.
Xena's eyebrows rose as she observed the women. Her head swiveled over to a woman who was emerging from the bath. She strode smoothly across the marble floor to stand directly in front of Xena. Her body was full but fit and her skin was smooth and tanned. Long dark hair, curling at the ends, cascaded down over her shoulders. The water glistened and dripped from her nude body and Xena swallowed, hard. Xena brought her eyes back up and met the woman's amused gaze and raised a rakish eyebrow. Without looking to her right where Gabrielle was standing, she just knew Gabrielle's eyes were boring into her back. Xena raised her other eyebrow when the woman raised her arm and began tracing the brass plating of her breastplate with a long slender finger. Gabrielle narrowed her eyes and cleared her throat, loudly. The woman paused, her finger resting squarely on the center of Xena's chest and looked over at Gabrielle with amusement. Gabrielle stared back, her eyes were narrowed and her mouth was set firmly. The woman's mouth curved into a smile and she walked around Xena, appraising her from head to toe. When she returned to face Xena again, she reached out to touch Xena's breast plate once more, but Xena snatched her wrist and pulled the woman against her. The woman gasped and looked up into the clear blue eyes seductively, but Xena's face betrayed no emotion, she was all business.
"I'm taken." Xena said softly and her eyes widened to make her point clear.
The woman's mouth curved into a knowing smile and she removed her hand from Xena's grasp and stepped back. She looked over at Gabrielle with admiration.
"Lucky you." she whispered silkily.
When she glanced back at Xena, she continued in her silky voice, "I'm Lyza, the mistress of this harem. And you must be...Xena, The Warrior Princess." Her eyebrows quirked when she said Xena's name and the other women began talking and whispering excitedly.
"Well, Lyza, we really can't stay and chat." Xena said as she turned and walked towards Gabrielle.
"Oh, too bad. I was looking forward to entertaining you." Her voice dripped with sweetness and Gabrielle stifled the urge to wrap her hands around the woman's neck.
"I'm sure you did." Gabrielle muttered. Xena's mouth quirked and she took Gabrielle's hand.
"Xena, do tell me why you're here. Maybe I can help?" Lyza turned and sat down on a low divan, bending her legs and folding them gracefully beneath her. She reached over to a table next to the divan, plucked off several plump grapes, tilted her head and tossed them into her open mouth. When she finished chewing, she licked the tips of her fingers slowly and cast a sidelong glance at the raven haired warrior.
Gabrielle tried not to stare, but her eyes roamed over the nude and shapely figure reclining lazily on the divan. She could feel a flush creeping up her neck so she averted her gaze, only to have it caught by another lovely woman who had been appraising her earlier. Gabrielle smiled at her awkwardly and the woman returned the smile with a brush of her hands down the front of her body. This caused the flush on Gabrielle's neck to reach her face. Gabrielle unconsciously wiped her hand across her forehead, wiping away a light sheen of perspiration.
Xena squeezed and slowly dropped Gabrielle's hand, but before she walked away she winked at Gabrielle. She then bent down and whispered into Gabrielle's ear, "Don't worry, my bard, this is just a game."
Xena turned and walked over to Lyza and sat down on a identical divan across from her.
"Lyza, we're trying to find the children. Do you know where they are?" Suddenly there was a flurry of activity and the women began chatting among themselves again. Gabrielle and Xena looked over at the women curiously and then back to Lyza. Lyza picked up her wine glass as she waited for their chatter to die down before replying.
Lyza sighed deeply and spoke in a weary voice, "Yes. I've seen them take children to the east wing of the villa. I haven't been there, none of us have. We aren't allowed in that section of the villa."
"Thank you,. Lyza." Xena got up to leave and put her arm around Gabrielle's waist.
Before they reached the door, Lyza called out, "You will stop by and visit before you leave, won't you?"
Xena chuckled and turned back around.
"Like I said, I'm taken, but I can stop by for a..chat." Xena replied smiling.
Lyza smiled back and raised her wine glass in salute.
Xena opened the door and peered cautiously outside. They snuck out and stood in the empty hall and Gabrielle rounded on Xena. "Stop by for a chat! Xena..." Gabrielle hissed and shook her finger up at Xena.
"Not now, Gabrielle. You can yell at me when this is over, okay? Let's just get those kids out of here." Xena said as she turned and strode down the hall.
Gabrielle snapped her mouth shut and glared at Xena's retreating back. As they rounded the corner, sounds of activity could be heard. They walked quietly down the next hallway, hugging the stone wall and then ducked quickly into a deserted alcove when they heard voices coming their way.
"...and she was there. I swear Vinson, Xena was in the city, she's probably even here as we speak. And we found this man sneaking away from the villa."
They peeked around the corner of the alcove and saw a group of men standing before a large burly man dressed in blue breeches, a white tunic and soft tan boots. His tunic was open to reveal a thick gold chain with a medallion. His arms were beefy and veins stood out in relief against his smooth skin. His face was deep and angular and framed by a short beard and dark short curly hair. His shoulders seemed to strain at the seams of his white tunic just as his legs strained against the fabric of his breeches. He was a handsome looking man, but a trace of hardness was etched along the lines of his mouth and coldness seeped from his stone gray eyes.
"You were given an order! I do not like to be disappointed, Balbos!" he shouted angrily. He stepped forward and loomed over the group of men who seemed to shrink back from his imposing glare. He turned and glared down at Salmoneus, who blinked and smiled back at him with false courage.
Xena grinned when Gabrielle looked over at her. Gabrielle nodded when their gazes met and they stepped forward out of the shadows of the alcove startling the group of men.
"Looking for me?" Xena quipped and a slow smile appeared on her face. The men blinked in surprise then reached for their swords in fine leather scabbards at their waists. Xena reached back behind her and slid hers out from its sheath on her back in one fluid motion. She twirled the sword in invitation and waggled her eyebrows.
"Xena!" Vinson said in triumph and then his mouth curved into a snarl. "Kill her!" he bellowed and the men quickly scrambled up the steps towards Xena and Gabrielle.
Xena tilted her face down and leveled a dark menacing gaze at the men that were now approaching her cautiously. They obviously knew that she was a dangerous woman and should not be underestimated. Taking the initiative, she lunged, stabbing one in the thigh and slashing another across the chest in one fluid motion. The injured men yelped in pain and surprise. More men appeared from the corridors and came at them from almost every angle. Gabrielle hopped and spun, her staff whistled as it sliced the air. Xena kicked and punched, her feet and hands snapping as she made contact with bone. Then several men surrounded Xena and attacked her from all sides. She swung her sword up to effectively block a downward thrust and brought her foot up and around to kick a man to her right, sending him back several feet to crash against the wall. Swinging her arm across, she backhanded the man on her left and cold cocked another on her right who had gotten through and sliced her arm with his dagger. Snarling, she plunged her sword deep into his chest. She smiled when she heard the gurgling sounds he made as blood welled up in his lungs. She placed her boot on his shoulder and began to pull the blade from his chest. Suddenly she yanked hard, causing the sword to rasp against bone, freeing the sword in time to swivel it under her arm and imbed it into the stomach of the man attacking her from behind.
"I hate backstabbers." she said distastefully as she stood up and pulled the sword from his stomach.
While Xena was busy fending off her attackers, several men paired off and ran towards Gabrielle. Gabrielle shook her head in exasperation, bent her knees and readied her staff. Her eyes darted between the men, determining which ones would reach her first. With a powerful swing, the butt of her staff smacked into the jaw of the nearest man. Dropping low, she pivoted on the balls of her feet and swung the staff again, knocking men off their feet and onto their backs, the air crushed forcefully from their lungs. Smiling, she turned the staff and quickly jabbed upwards, connecting with the groin of another attacker. He instantly went down, groaning and cradling his injured loins in his hands.
Smoothly she swung the staff in an arc over her head to deflect a sword aimed for her neck. Grimacing, she flipped the staff underhand, forcing her attacker to lose his grip on his sword. The sword clanked to the ground as she brought the staff back across smashing the butt end against the crown of his head. He spun around from the impact and crumpled to the floor, unconscious. She looked around at the men that were sprawled around and
breathed a sigh of relief that it was over.
Seeing his men fall rapidly, Vinson picked up a discarded sword and backed up slowly towards a corridor. Turning abruptly, his robes swirling about and almost tripping him, he ran down the corridor and disappeared around a bend.
Salmoneus, meanwhile, watched nervously as Gabrielle and Xena fought off Vinson's men in front of him. Wringing his hands, he winced and ducked with each blow and grunt he saw and heard as if he were experiencing them himself. When he saw Vinson pick up a sword, he stood on tiptoes and craned his neck to watch Vinson's movements. When the fighting ended he saw out of the corner of his eye, a man crouched down in the corridor aiming a bow at Gabrielle.
"Xena!" he shouted in warning.
Xena looked up and followed his line of sight. The bowman was leveling the bow against his chin, the string already stretched taut. Snatching her chakram from its hook, she flung it in the direction of the bowman. The chakram whined, then hissed as it struck him in the chest but the arrow had already been released and Gabrielle stood directly in its deadly path. Xena leaped into the air and snatched the arrow by the shaft just inches from Gabrielle's chest. Xena tucked herself into a ball and landed feet first on the floor. Gabrielle stood frozen, her eyes wide, as she stared down at the arrow in Xena's hand. Angrily, Xena snapped the arrow in two and tossed it aside. Placing her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders, she shook Gabrielle gently to get her attention.
"Gabrielle, are you all right?" Xena asked, concern etched on her face.
"Um, yeah. I'm fine. I have got to learn to catch those." Gabrielle admitted.
"Yes, you do." Xena acknowledged.
Xena looked around and asked, "Where's Vinson?"
Salmoneus gathered his robes and shuffled forward. He lifted his arm and pointed down one of the corridors. "He went down there." he said.
"Lets go." Xena said and they both followed her as she turned in the direction Salmoneus indicated.
When Vinson reached the end of the corridor, he stopped at a set of huge oak doors that had darkened with age. He placed his hands on the thick brass handles and flung them wide open. He turned his head to look behind him at the sound of echoing footfalls. Gathering his robes in one hand, he ran inside leaving the doors open.
From behind a richly woven tapestry hanging on the far wall, a wizened old man emerged. He wore a dark green robe bordered with blue silk and belted with a gold sash. His face was wide but thin and wispy copper hair formed a short goatee on his chin and his hair flew wildly about his head. Here and there were strands of white. His eyes were dark blue orbs, hauntingly hypnotic and serene. A sense of unharnessed and wild power emanated from his being.
He strode forward and pointed behind Vinson saying, "We have unexpected guests." His voice was calm and cool. His robes whispered as he pulled them around him when he came to a stop.
Vinson spun around just as Gabrielle, Salmoneus and Xena entered the room. He shifted his body, leaned on the sword, then smiled and mockingly curtsied to them, sweeping his other arm before him.
"Welcome." he intoned, his voice held a hint of amusement. His tone got Xena's attention. Her head snapped up and she narrowed her eyes at him and then moved her gaze over to the wizard standing next to him. She sensed danger from the wizard and her hand moved involuntarily towards her chakram.
The wizard moved his gaze from Vinson to Xena as her hand touched her chakram. When their gazes met, Xena gasped inwardly and froze, recognizing the power that was harnessed in his body. The wizard smiled evilly and moved his gaze over to Gabrielle.
"Dahak!" Gabrielle gasped and reached out to grasp Xena's hand when she too, recognized the entity behind the wizard.
"No, I am but his humble servant." the wizard answered, bowing slightly.
Vinson tossed the sword on a divan and seated himself in a chair next to an ornate desk. He ran his finger across the thickly carved wood and casually crossed his legs.
The wizard glided forward to stand next to the desk and folded his arms, sliding his hands into the wide sleeves of the robe. His eyes darkened until they were but black orbs, the whites had all but disappeared.
Glancing first at the wizard, Vinson moved his gaze over to the threesome in front of him.
"Let's see..." Vinson tilted his head and observed Gabrielle, his eyes raking her from head to toe and then back again, lingering at certain parts of her anatomy. He smirked when Xena's mouth twitched into a snarl.
Pointing at Gabrielle, he said, "Gabrielle, the bard. You write some very, very good stories." he said sarcastically, his mouth twitching in amusement when she scowled.
He reached over to the desk and opened the top drawer. From it he pulled out two scrolls and held them up for all to see. Gabrielle and Xena exchanged a glance.
"Yes, very nice indeed. I enjoyed them immensely." His mouth curved into a wicked smile and he looked pointedly at Xena and rested his hand at his crotch, his fingers lightly fondling the flesh underneath. "I enjoyed reading about, ah... shall we say fantasies. And the poetry, oh, so touching." He put the scrolls down and clasped his hands together at his chest, and batted his eyes, as a bulge grew where his hand once was.
Gabrielle ground her teeth and Xena snarled when Vinson looked down at them and laughed mockingly.
Salmoneus raised an eyebrow and glanced over at Gabrielle. He then shot a glance at Xena, her fists clenched at her sides. He leaned in towards Gabrielle and whispered into her ear.
"So that's why Xena was so upset." he remarked innocently and Gabrielle cut a dark look in his direction.
"And who is this Dahak?" Salmoneus asked. Gabrielle turned her head to meet his gaze. Her eyes were sad and he saw the suffering there. His eyes widened when it dawned on him. Dahak, the One God. The Evil One and Hope's father. Salmoneus swallowed audibly and stared at the wizard.
"I'm sorry, but I can't let you have the children. They are for Dahak." Vinson intoned, spreading his arms and looking up as if in benediction to Dahak.
Vinson then brought his gaze down and smiled as he nodded at the wizard. The wizard grinned evilly as he raised his arms and pointed them towards Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle! Gabrielle, don't look at his eyes! That's how he controls you!" Xena shouted as she grabbed Gabrielle's arm. It was too late, Gabrielle's gaze was already captured by the wizard and Xena watched helplessly as Gabrielle struggled to move her now rigid body. With a battle cry, she somersaulted over Gabrielle's head to land before Vinson. With a short kick to the throat she sent Vinson sprawling backwards, chair and all, onto the hard stone floor, his windpipe partially crushed. Xena pivoted sharply and fixed an icy glare at the wizard and her hand reached down for her trusty chakram.
Gasping, Vinson struggled to sit up and wheezed, "Wizard, do something!"
Calmly, the wizard brought up his other hand and pointed at Xena. Xena's hand had reached her chakram but she couldn't avert her gaze in time. Her body stiffened, halting any further motion. She snarled inside and fought against his will, her face twisting with the effort. With a wicked smile, the wizard nonchalantly flicked both of his hands. Gabrielle and Xena found themselves, against their will, pivoting around slowly by some unseen force to face one another.
Gabrielle saw her arms lifting and bringing her staff to a fighting position. A calm, gentle voice penetrated her thoughts and commanded her to stand still. She knew the voice was deceiving and she fought inwardly, but at the end was powerless to resist it, so strong was the hypnotic effect. Her eyes widened when she saw Xena's arm reach back and pull her sword free from it's scabbard. Xena was grimacing as she strained against the wizard's commands, whispering, ghostly tendrils of thought reaching in for control of her mind.
Gabrielle's eyes widened further when she realized what the wizard was manipulating them into doing. She saw Xena's body jerking spasmodically, still fighting against the power, trying to break the wizards spell. A light sheen of perspiration shone on her forehead and damp wisps of raven hair stuck to her face.
The wizard manipulated them into attacking one another. As Gabrielle's staff and Xena's sword met, they glanced into each other's eyes. Gabrielle saw desperation in Xena's eyes, and Xena saw anger and fear in Gabrielle's. Gabrielle parried with her staff and held her own against Xena's solid thrusts. She pivoted smoothly, bringing the staff back around and smacked Xena across the back. Xena fell forward and looked up at Gabrielle with surprise.
"Ah, wizard, not so soon. Give Xena a chance before Gabrielle kills her." Vinson admonished. The wizard merely raised a brow.
Xena brought her sword up in time to deflect the staff as it came crashing down towards her head. Xena kicked back and connected with Gabrielle's knee. Unbalanced, Gabrielle fell back and landed on her knees, but was able to swing her staff upwards in an arc to parry Xena's downward thrust. Xena's eyes were wide with dread and she grimaced with the strain. Gabrielle jumped to her feet and spun, swiveling the staff in a powerful arc, connecting solidly with the side of Xena's head.
Xena's head snapped to the side, and her entire body followed. Staggering, she blinked through the fog and snatched the staff as it headed for her open face. Gabrielle pulled her arm back and hit Xena in the face with her fist. Xena stumbled backwards from the blow, as Gabrielle hit her again and again.Xena was reeling, the sword held limply in her hand.
Tears were streaming down Gabrielle's face and her eyes were flashing with anger, not at Xena, but at the wizard. Her body was no longer hers to control and she was very angry.
Inside, Xena's dark side was screaming at her to fight, but she couldn't. Try as she might, the wizard had complete control, and he wanted her hurt, he wanted her beaten, and he wanted to break her spirit. A piece of her pride clawed its way to the surface and she smiled.
The wizard balked when he saw Xena smile. He narrowed his eyes and summoned more power from within, causing his body to tremble with the strain.
"NO! Enough!" a young voice cried out from behind them. Startled, the wizard lost his focus and Gabrielle and Xena were released from the spell. Angrily, he snapped his attention to the voice that disrupted his concentration.
The young voice belonged to Donan who stood at the doorway. His feet were planted firmly apart, his eyes were narrowed in anger and his mouth was curled in disgust.
"Leave my friends alone." his voice vibrated deeply and it echoed dully. It didn't sound like Donan at all.
"Welcome to the party...little man." the wizard cooed. He raised his arms again and pointed them towards Donan.
Swiftly Donan brought his arm up and in his palm hovered a blazing fireball. It was so bright everyone averted their gaze, everyone except the wizard. Donan brought his arm back and released the ball of fire. It streaked from his palm and struck the wizard full in the chest. The wizard gazed at him in shock as he was propelled backwards, crashing against the wall. He slid down and landed heavily on the wooden floor.
Donan looked over at Gabrielle, Salmoneus and Xena and shouted, "Go! Get out of here! I'll take care of this!" Xena began to protest, but changed her mind when a determined look crossed Donan's face. Xena grasped Gabrielle by the arm and guided her towards the door as Salmoneus followed close behind.
Shifting his shoulders, the wizard smiled and gingerly picked himself up from the floor. Inspecting the scorched area of his tunic, he looked up and sneered, "Very good. A young wizard, are you?"
"Hello, father." Donan replied bluntly.
Stunned, Gabrielle and Xena looked at one another briefly.
The wizard laughed. "My son! Come! Join me!" he coaxed.
"No." Donan answered firmly.
"I am your father. You belong with me." the wizard demanded and he moved closer to Donan.
"No. You are a servant of the One God. An evil entity that cannot be let into this world. You may be my father, but I am not your son!" Donan snarled.
The wizards face turned white with anger and his eyes reverted back into the black orbs they were before.
Sensing the power building within the wizard, Donan waved his arms in an arc and created a transparent dome over him as his father sent a bevy of fireballs towards him. The fireballs bounced off the invisible dome and exploded against whatever surface they came in contact with. Several of the dangerous balls hit the ceiling and debris exploded downwards. The wizard looked up in horror and was unable to create a shield in time before the debris crashed down over him. With a cry, he went down and was trapped inside the tangle of beams, stone, and mortar.
Donan clapped his hands together sharply and the shimmering wall around him dissolved. He walked slowly to where the wizard was buried and looked at the heap of rubble sadly.
Xena had tucked Gabrielle into a corner and used her body as a shield when the explosions began and the debris rained down on them. Xena moved back when things quieted down and checked to be sure Gabrielle was all right. They were relatively uninjured except for a nasty burn on Xena's exposed shoulder. One of the fireballs had whizzed passed her and grazed her shoulder, leaving a blistering red welt. She remembered gasping as it struck her. Not only did it burn but it sent an odd icy chill down her arm that made her shiver. She was thankful for her shoulder pads for they protected most of her shoulder from the worst of the fireball. Xena looked over at her shoulder pad and grimaced. Gabrielle noticed it too and looked at Xena's shoulder pad as well. The leather was now blackened and distorted and the intricate copper plating had melted into indiscernible lumps.
"Xena, are you all right?" Gabrielle asked, reaching out and placing a hand gently on Xena's forearm.
"Yeah." Xena replied, placing her own hand over Gabrielle's.
Xena turned and they both looked over at Donan. The rubble shifted slightly and Xena suddenly sprang into motion, leaping into the air and landing front of Donan. When she landed, she pulled forth her sword just as the debris exploded upwards. The wizard shot out of the rubble and swung his staff at Xena. The tip of the staff sparkled and Xena brought her sword down forcefully, cutting it off. The sharp blade fell to the floor and she kicked it behind her towards Gabrielle. She smiled at the wizard and then chuckled. The wizard closed his eyes and began levitating from the floor. Suddenly, she was rising as well and she looked over at Donan. His arm was outstretched, palm up and as his arm rose so did she. Xena smiled down at him. The wizard snarled as Xena rose with him and swung his staff again. Xena caught it and yanked it from his hands almost effortlessly. The wizard, recovering quickly from his surprise, lowered his head and gazed at Xena evilly.
"NO!" Donan cried and sent a searing fire ball up at the wizard.
The fire ball struck the side of the wizards head. He blinked a few times then his eyes closed and his head lolled back. His body came crashing down to lay in a rumpled heap on the floor. Donan lowered his arm and Xena descended to the floor slowly. She walked over to the crumpled figure and checked for a pulse. There was none, and when she flipped an eyelid back there was nothing, the body was empty, a husk. She looked over at the young boy sadly. Donan looked away as tears welled up in his somber brown eyes. Gabrielle walked up to him and took him into her arms. The boy sobbed into her shoulder as she steered him away. Seeing movement from the corner of her eye, Xena stood up and swung her chakram without a second thought. It thunked into a beam just in front of Vinson who was trying to sneak out of the room.
"Going somewhere?" Xena asked, smiling coldly.
Vinson thrust his hands out from under his robe. Xena turned sideways and smiled as several blades whizzed past her.
"Nice try." She said, her voice dangerously low.
Vinson's mouth curled and he pulled his sword out from under his robe. It was curved and thick like a scythe.
Xena slid her sword from its sheath and circled Vinson, which made him uneasy. Vinson pivoted slowly, following her and switched his blade from hand to hand. He moved first and struck Xena just below the ribcage. The blade sliced through leather to the muscle beneath and Xena gasped in pain. Steeling herself she moved off his blade and swept it aside with her own then lunged at Vinson. He stepped aside, which allowed Xena to pass by him so he could butt her on the back between the shoulder blades with the hilt of his sword. Wincing, Xena stopped and changed her tactic. Crouching low, she lunged forward then danced back trying to draw him to her. He followed and she struck the exposed lower portion of his body. Her sword sliced into him smoothly and slid back out just as easily. Xena then kicked out and landed a solid hit between his legs as he clutched his wound. When he stumbled back, she backhanded him, spinning him around. He slid slowly to the ground, resting on his back. Xena looked down at him with disgust and sheathed her sword. She walked over to her chakram and tugged it free from the beam where it rested.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Vinson roll over and reach into his robe. Without thinking she spun and sent the chakram towards him. The chakram deflected from the blade he held and embedded itself into him, knocking him backwards to rest against the far wall. He gasped as he looked down at the metal disk protruding from his chest. His gaze moved upwards to the woman with raven hair and cold blue eyes. He gurgled as the blood frothed in his mouth. Xena shook her head and yanked the chakram carelessly from his chest, after which he slumped over, his eyes open and staring into nothingness.
Xena turned and went back to where Gabrielle and Salmoneus were waiting. Gabrielle was asking Donan questions about his father.
"Donan, how did you know he was your father?" Gabrielle asked, her voice soft and comforting.
"I came here once, several months ago, and heard Vinson call my father by his first name. Before that I thought he was dead." Donan replied. He lifted his hand and wiped a tear from his eye.
"And then you discovered him here. He had traded his soul to Dahak, and in exchange he became a wizard and protected Vinson so that he could send the children off to be sacrifices for Dahak." Gabrielle said sadly as she reached the only logical conclusion.
Donan could only nod sadly.
"But, how did you become a wizard so soon, and to have enough power to defeat your own father?" Gabrielle asked as her forehead crinkled in thought.
"My father started training me when I was just three years old. I have also inherited the powers which only a few of my ancestors had. Without that I wouldn't have been able to defeat him." Donan answered proudly.
Gabrielle smiled at him and cupped the side of his face. Remembering why they were here, she turned to Xena.
"Xena, the children. We should go find them and return them to their families."
Nodding, Xena lead them out of the room and down the hall towards the east end of the villa.
The children had been returned to anxious parents and families were reunited. This night the city of Pompaus was alive with celebration. Gabrielle sat in a straight backed chair facing an audience of several hundred gathered at the main square. The square was well lit and the flames from the sconces brought out the fiery highlights in her golden hair. Her rich voice carried across the crowd as she told the story of how Xena, The Warrior Princess saved their children.
Xena stood at the edge of the crowd leaning against a pillar. Sipping from a pewter mug, she looked over the rim at Gabrielle. She swallowed her port with a satisfied sigh and then rolled her eyes when she heard the sounds of sobbing. Turning her head, she looked down at Salmoneus and grinned wryly when he wiped at his eyes with a hanky that was bordered with delicate lace. Soon more sounds of sobbing came from the crowd in front of her and Xena shook her head again. Then there was a brief moment of silence before the applause began and then grew in intensity. Gabrielle bowed and shook hands with people as she made her way to where Xena was standing. Leaning against her staff, she stood next to Xena and smiled mischievously. Xena narrowed her eyes at that look and then jumped in surprise as gentle fingers slid up the back of her thigh. She felt the warmth of a hand resting against her bottom underneath her battle skirt. Salmoneus, noticing Xena's little jump, looked over at her and his eyebrows rose when he noticed Gabrielle's wandering hand. Grinning, he looked away quickly and dabbed at his eyes, feigning another outburst of tears. Xena licked her lips and then pursing them, she looked down at Gabrielle who was staring straight ahead as if nothing was going on.
"What do you think you're doing?"
With that, Gabrielle's smile widened and she took Xena's hand in her own and led her away from the crowd into the dense forest. With the moon as their guide, they walked down a narrow path to a deserted glen. Here the flowers glowed silver and white in the moonlight and the grass made a soft thick carpet. The cicadas sang a soothing melody as Xena tilted Gabrielle's face up and leaned down to kiss her. The staff fell from Gabrielle's hand as she wrapped her arms around Xena's neck. Xena kissed Gabrielle passionately, her tongue questing. Gabrielle trembled, her hands sank into Xena's dark silky hair, and pulled her down. Xena bit into the hollow of Gabrielle's throat and Gabrielle moaned. Nimble fingers unlaced the top and pulled it away. Xena sighed with pleasure at the sight before her, the moonlight accentuating the curves and bathing Gabrielle's skin in its milky glow. Xena knelt and kissed the valley between the pearly white orbs and her nimble fingers once again worked to remove the last stitch of clothing from Gabrielle's body. Xena ran her hands down the taut stomach and across firm thighs. Gabrielle grasped Xena's shoulders to balance herself and to keep herself from falling over. Her legs trembled when Xena nudged them apart. A cry escaped from her lips and her head fell back. She opened her eyes and gazed at the full moon as another cry came forth.
The moon continued to shine brightly on the lovers below, bathing them with its purity. The trees around the grove stood like dark sentries, but their limbs glowed with the moon's essence. The lovers lowered themselves to carpet of grass and the cicadas continued to sing as Gabrielle and Xena gave their love to each other.
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