The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, et al. belong to MCA Universal. They are used without intent to profit or infringe on copyrighted material. This story is copyrighted to me. No aspect of this story may be used elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the author. This story many not be altered in any way and this copyright information must appear in this work at all times.
Warning: This story contains scenes of intimacy between two consenting adults of the same gender. If this offends you, or you are under 18 years of age, stop reading now. The author accepts no responsibility for noncompliance of this warning.
For the sake of clarity, Xenan is not much bigger than when he first appeared in "Is There A Doctor?", and this is what I think really happened to Solan. This story begins shortly after the events of "A Day in the Life".
Comments can be sent to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
"That's it Gabrielle...yes...yes! Harder...almost...harder...again...YES!"
With one last pull, Gabrielle flung the fish on the end of her line out of the water, watching it arc over the head of Xena.
"Hey, watch it! Are you trying to hit me with that thing?"
Her eyes twinkling with more than the reflection of the sun off the surface of the river, Gabrielle smiled at her lover. "Now where would I get an idea like that? Besides, I wouldn't want to ruin our dinner by getting it caught in your armor."
"Funny," Xena drawled with arched eyebrows, as she watched Gabrielle retrieve the fish and remove the hook from its mouth. "But maybe you'd like eel instead?"
"Only if I can use your chakram to slice it open to prepare it." Noticing the small smile Xena was trying to keep from spreading into a wider grin, Gabrielle continued. "No? Then I guess I'll stick with the trout instead." After rebaiting her hook, the bard cast the line out into the middle of the stream. "How many..."
"Gabrielle," Xena whispered, trying to get the young woman's attention. Holding her left hand up, she motioned for quiet, as she set her own pole on the ground. Eyebrows furrowed in concern, the warrior concentrated on listening to the slight creeping movements she could hear coming up behind them from the dense brush of the glen. She rested her hand on her chakram, and bent her knees into a slight crouch, waiting to pounce on anyone foolish enough to attack the Warrior Princess and the Amazon Queen. Aware that the bard had also discarded her pole and picked up her staff, Xena waved her silently into a more defensive position as their 'company' continued its approach. With one last quiet rustle of leaves, the intruder strode into their camp. A young intruder, carrying a fishing pole.
"Solan?" Xena, eyes wide in surprise, dropped her hand from her chakram, and stared dumbstruck at the boy.
"Xena!" the young man shouted in happiness when he saw who he had unexpectedly bumped into, not knowing how close he had come to seeing the Warrior Princess in action again.
Regaining her composure, Xena approached her boy, and bending down on one knee, drew him into an embrace. She cradled the back of his head with her hand, and squeezed Solan tightly to her before finally releasing him. "But what are you doing here? And where's your uncle Kaleipus?"
Gabrielle tapped Xena on the shoulder and gave her a slight frown to remind her to go gently on her son. "Not that we're not happy to see you, Solan," the bard told the boy as she too gave him a hug, and then kissed him on the cheek. "But it is a surprise. Is everything all right with you and your centaur family?"
Catching Gabrielle's hand, Solan held it lightly. "Oh, sure, everything's fine. But Uncle sent me to his cousin's village so I could get to know more of my family. I've been here most of the summer."
"But why are you out here alone? It could be dangerous for you, by yourself like this." Xena tried to keep the worried concern out of her voice, but was only partially successful. "What if we had been thieves? You could have been hurt."
"Oh, Xena, I've been here lots of times to fish. You're the only ones I've ever found here. Besides," Solan explained in the bravado of one very young, or one very inexperienced, "..the centaur village isn't that far away. They know where I am."
"Well, ok," Xena replied, but she was not convinced. She stood up. "And since you're here to fish, why don't you join us for dinner? Then I'll take you back to your village. I'd like to meet your uncle's cousin."
"Sure." Shrugging his shoulders, Solan really didn't understand what the big deal was, although he was happy to spend time with the two women. With a little luck, he hoped he could get Xena to tell him more about his dad Borias. He had heard all of Uncle Kaleipus' stories, and he was sure that Xena had a few he didn't know. He was just about to ask when the smaller woman poked him in his ribs.
"Hey, Solan," Gabrielle put an arm around the young boy. "Did you know Xena can catch fish without poles or hooks? Maybe if you ask her nicely, she'll show you how to do it," she said as she winked conspiratorially at the other woman.
"Would you, Xena?" Solan's voice was filled with wonder, awe, and a bit of hero worship.
"Well...," Xena looked to the sky, as if deciding what to do. "Of course, I will, Solan. But first, let me see your hands." She took the boy's hands into her own, and pretended to inspect them closely. "Good, you have nice long fingers, just like me. And do you know why you need long fingers to fish with me?" Xena dropped to her knees again before the youngster when he shook his head 'no'. "Because you have to tickle the fish out of the water," she explained and launched into a tickle attack, getting the boy to giggle in delight when she ran her fingers over his sides.
Gasping for air, Solan threw his arms around the neck of the warrior. "Oh, Xena, I love you!"
The smile left her face and her eyes became hooded with the pain from the knowledge that she could never tell the boy he was her son. Grateful that the youngster couldn't see her expression, she hugged him fiercely to her chest. "I love you too, Solan," she said seriously. "You're a special little boy."
Hearing the note of sorrow in the other woman's voice, Gabrielle tried to lighten the mood for her hurting friend. "Hey, c'mon you two. Those fish aren't going to jump out of the water by themselves, and I'm hungry!"
Xena released her son, and leaned back to look at him. Rising to her feet, she held out her hand to Solan, grasping it lightly in her own. "Ok kiddo. One fishing lesson coming right up."
Solan smiled up at the tall woman, his clear bright eyes matching those of the warrior. "Won't Uncle be surprised when I tell him that fish can be tickled!"
Squeezing his hand, Xena looked out over the stream, not really seeing it. "Oh, I don't know, Solan. I think your Uncle Kaleipus is used to getting surprises from me." She shook her head to clear her thoughts. "C'mon. Like the woman said, those fish aren't going to jump out of the stream themselves. Let's see how we can do."
Gabrielle left her two friends alone while she went to gather wood for a fire. Returning to the camp in a short while, she dumped the branches and sticks she had found and busied herself with starting the fire, smiling to herself every time she heard Solan squeal in laughter. After the small sticks and tinder finally caught, she added a few of the larger branches to the growing flame and decided to see how the fishing lesson was going. As she sat on the bank of the stream, she watched Xena and Solan, both with their backs to her, crouched low over the surface of the water, looking for fish.
"Ok, Solan..see that fish there? It looks like it's right there, waiting to be caught. But it's a tricky fish. So you have to sneak up on it," Xena explained as she dipped her fingers into the water, "...and SURPRISE him!" Lightning quick, she grasped the trout with both hands, and jerked the wiggling fish out of the stream. With practiced ease, Xena threw the fish over her shoulder. It landed on the riverbank, not far from Gabrielle. "Solan, I think you have your dinner right in front of you."
The boy glanced down, and saw a particularly large trout motionless in the shallow water, almost teasing him with its close proximity. Dipping his hands into the stream as he had seen Xena do, Solan carefully moved forward silently, trying not to alert the fish to his presence. Wriggling his fingers near the sides of the fish, he lunged forward and grabbed it, bringing it out of the water to show Xena triumphantly. And just as nonchalantly, he threw the fish over his shoulder as he had noticed the warrior gracefully do.
Both turned around at the sound of Gabrielle's voce, to find her holding the wiggling fish, her face and upper chest wet with water.
"Oh, Gabrielle! I am so sorry! I didn't mean to do that!" Solan clambered out of the water, and knelt in front of the smaller woman. "You're not mad at me, are you?"
"No, Solan," Gabrielle answered him, although over his shoulder she could see Xena shaking with laughter. "I'm not mad at you. Why don't you pick up the fish, and meet us back at the fire?"
After Solan headed back towards camp, Xena waded out of the shallow stream and approached Gabrielle, still trying to stop laughing.
"I suppose you think that was funny," the younger woman said while flicking fish scales at the warrior, trying her best to glower. Finally laughing herself, Gabrielle shook her head. "Like mother, like son."
Xena glanced in the direction Solan had gone. "Yeah," she said, with unmistakable pride in her voice. Her broad smile clearly showed her love and admiration for her boy.
Remembering that she should be getting dinner ready, the warrior reached down and helped Gabrielle to her feet. She snaked her arm around the woman's waist, and lightly brushed her lips across the bard's, teasing and darting her tongue into that of her lover. "Mad at me for laughing?"
"Hmm, I'd have to say 'yes'," Gabrielle grinned.
Bending down again, Xena playfully tugged on the woman's lower lip, her tongue once more gaining access to taste her partner's sweetness. "And now?"
"I'm afraid so," the bard whispered as Xena grasped her more firmly, drawing her into the warrior's body.
"I guess I'll have to try harder to convince you to forgive me," Xena breathed, leaving delicate kisses and small nips along the graceful column of the blonde's throat, before moving back to her mouth. As her hands roamed over the bard's back, she crushed the smaller woman to her as her tongue twisted and twirled in a sensual dance with Gabrielle's, leaving them both breathless with desire. At last pulling away, Xena took a steadying breath and locked her eyes onto the bard's. "Let me show you tonight just how sorry I am."
"Oh, I promise," Xena said as she left one last kiss on the bruised lips of Gabrielle. "And you know I never break my promises."
"Thank the gods." Gabrielle grabbed the warrior's hand, and smiling, led the taller woman back to their camp.
They both noticed right away that Solan had been busy. He had found one of their knives, and after splitting the fish to remove the bones, had placed the tender meat into a frying pan. He smiled when he saw Xena nod her head in approval of his accomplishment.
"It seems you've learned a lot since I last saw you, Solan. You really are becoming a young man," Xena praised the boy.
"My cousins keep me busy, and teach me lots of different things. Uncle Kaleipus says it's good to learn something new from everyone I meet."
"And what else have you learned, Solan?," Gabrielle asked as she splashed some wine from their supplies into the frying pan to keep the fish moist as it cooked slowly over the fire. This was one of Xena's favorite dishes, and she wanted to make sure nothing got scorched while she listened to the youngster tell them about the centaurs.
"Well, most of the boys my age in the village already know how to use a crossbow. They've been showing me how to shoot."
Xena's brows knitted in concern. "I thought both you and your uncle decided you didn't want to be a warrior. Did you change your mind?" The woman hoped her son didn't hear the anxiety in her voice.
"Oh, no, Xena! They've been teaching me how to hunt game!"
The dark haired woman nodded in understanding, although she thought the boy was still a little too young to be taught how to use weapons, even if it was only to find dinner. The conversation died down as Gabrielle handed each of them a portion of fish and some biscuits that had been left over from the morning meal. Solan was the first to take a bite, and declare the meal excellent. Xena smiled at the comment, knowing that the recommendation was greatly enhanced by the fact that he himself had caught the fish. Still, she couldn't help agreeing that the food was indeed excellent.
Gabrielle munched on a biscuit, and smiled when everytime Solan's plate got anywhere near empty, Xena jumped up and got him more to eat. The boy had eaten three of the fish and a few of the biscuits when he reached for the backpack he had brought, and pulled out a handful of berries to share, and another surprise.
"Oh, nutbread! My favorite!" Gabrielle's eyes lit up when she spotted the dessert.
"Really? Mine, too," Solan said as he passed her the bread, after breaking off a hunk for himself. He bit off a large piece and smiled at Xena when he saw her shaking her head.
"I don't know how you two can even think of more to eat after what you finished for dinner. Did you guys have a competition going on to see who would eat more?"
"Nope. No one can beat Gabrielle." Solan bit into the bread again.
Catching her lover's eye, Xena winked at her. "That's for sure." Getting up, the warrior picked up Argo's saddle and put it on the war-horse. After she adjusted the straps, Xena turned to her son. "Well, Solan, I think it's time we get you back to the village. I don't want anyone getting worried about you. Coming, Gabrielle?"
"No, I think I'll just get things cleared up around here. You two have fun." Although it wouldn't take long to do the few chores, the bard wanted to give her friend all the time alone with her son that she could. "Just 'promise' you'll come right back," she insisted, stressing 'promise' to make sure Xena understood.
"Oh, I promise, Gabrielle. I promise." Jumping up into the saddle, Xena waited while Solan stood up, and wiping his now clammy hands on his pants, approached Gabrielle.
Suddenly shy, Solan wouldn't raise his head to meet Gabrielle's gaze. Fortunately, the bard was not as timid and bent down and hugged the boy. "Good-bye Solan. You take care."
Finding the strength to return the hug, Solan nodded. "Bye, Gabrielle." Squeezing a little harder, he whispered, "I love you."
Gabrielle kissed the boy on the forehead and whispered back, "I love you too, little guy." She grabbed his hand, and led him over to Argo. Grasping him under his arms, the blonde easily lifted the boy into Xena's embrace. Solan settled himself in front of the warrior, and then leaned against the woman behind him. Xena held the reins in front of him, crossing her arms over the boy's chest. Seeing the shifting emotions covering Xena's face, Gabrielle touched the woman's knee. "You be careful."
Nodding mutely, Xena nudged the horse forward.
A friendly silence grew between the warrior and the boy as Argo slowly made her way along an over-grown trail. The setting of the sun brought a chill to the air, and Xena wrapped her arms tighter around Solan, and drew him further into her comforting embrace.
"Why don't you tell me more about the centaurs you're visiting, Solan? This must be a new camp for them. They weren't here last year when I passed through the area."
"No,they haven't been here long. Lorent and the others..."
"Lorent?" Xena stiffened slightly at the sound of the name. She knew a centaur by that name, but it was so long ago...
"Sure. He's Uncle Kaleipus' cousin. Big, strong, red hair. And you should hear him laugh! You can hear him in every part of the village!"
Xena closed her eyes briefly as old memories flooded her thoughts. She knew the centaur, but back then he had not been known for his laughter. She and her army had practically destroyed his whole nation. It was before Borias had joined up with her, and it was her first attempt to capture the Ixian stone. Acting upon a rumor that Lorent and his centaurs had the stone, Xena and her men had set a trap for the half-beasts. When Lorent insisted that he did not have the gem, Xena's rage had erupted with deadly force. So many had died in that senseless battle, before the remaining centaurs had managed to drive back her warriors. Even after losing much of her army, the warlord that Xena used to be had still been determined to find that stone. Now she was thankful she never had.
Solan felt Xena's arms tighten slightly in tension around him. "Xena?"
"Stop where you are," a deep voice rumbled.
Lost in her thoughts, Xena had relaxed her guard while letting Argo carry them to the village. She looked up at the familiar voice to find a red haired centaur and five companions holding loaded crossbows, all aimed at her.
"Set the boy down, barbarian. I won't let you hurt him." The other centaurs surrounded Xena, boxing her in and cutting off any chance of escape.
The crossbows never wavered as Xena easily lifted the boy from the horse, and lowered him to the ground where he was quickly moved to Lorentís side by a young centaur. She knew she could probably fight her way out of this situation, but these people were now part of Solan's family. She didn't want her son to have to take sides if there was a fight, and she needed to be sure that he was safe. She kept her hands in clear view and away from her weapons, resting them lightly on the pommel of the saddle.
"But, Lorent! This is Xena, my friend..."
"Xena, Destroyer of Nations, has no friends, Solan. Just be grateful she didn't succeed in kidnapping you, or hurting you." The big centaur lowered his crossbow briefly so he could push the boy behind him, and act like a shield for the child. He then nodded knowingly to the centaur behind the woman.
"Lorent, let me...," was all Xena got to say before the butt of a crossbow hit her on the back of her head. She slumped forward onto Argo's neck, somehow managing to still have the saddlehorn in her grasp.
"Xena!" Solan shouted, and rushed to the horse's side to keep the warrior from falling off. Turning fearful eyes to the big centaur, he whispered, "Why?" The boy felt like his whole world had turned upside down in the last few moments, and his heart beat painfully in his chest when he heard Lorent's answer.
"She has to pay for her crimes. And she has a lot of debt to be answered for."
"Lorent," the boy tried. "She wasn't kidnapping me. She was bringing me home to you. Please don't hurt her, she's my friend!" Solan didn't know what he could do to convince him that the warrior wasn't dangerous. His thoughts whirled between trying to figure a way to get the big centaur to let Xena go, and berating himself in not telling her that Lorent was the lead centaur of the village he was visiting. Solan remembered all too well how both he and his Uncle Kaleipus had reacted when they ran into Xena and the bard the previous year. They had both been suspicious of them; he should have known that Lorent would feel the same way. "Please, Lorent. She was just passing through. If you let her go, she'll probably just leave and never come back." The boy glanced up his friend when he heard a low groan from the woman. She still hadn't moved even though Argo was restlessly stamping her feet.
"Solan," Lorent gently called to the young boy. Holding out his hand, he gestured to Solan to take it. When the boy did, he held it firmly in his grasp and leaned down a bit lower so he could be on eye level with the youngster. "Solan, I can see you care for...this woman. How she convinced you that she is harmless, I don't know. She is the most formidable warrior I have ever had to face. Once we get rid of her, no village will ever have to fear an attack from the Destroyer of Nations again."
The boy wrenched his hand away from the red centaur. "No! She's not like that! She helped me..."
"That's enough, Solan! Now you can either climb on my back and ride to our village, or you can walk...which do you want to do?"
Xena groaned again, and shifted in the saddle. The boy tried to rush to her side, only to find that a large hand held him back. "Solan, get on my back, and don't make me lose my temper!" Lorent turned to the centaur at Xena's back, shaking slightly as he tried to control his anger. "Terek, tie the woman to the horse, and make sure she doesn't come around. I want her safe and secure in a cell before she wakes up."
Nodding in understanding, Terek took some ropes that he found in Xena's saddlebags, and tied the warrior's hands around the neck of the horse, and then bound her legs together, wrapping the extra lengths of rope around the light colored mare. The young centaur then ran his fingers through Xena's hair, at last finding a large sized bump with a dark bruise beginning to form. Still unsatisfied, he moved up to look into the woman's face. Raising one of her eyelids and getting no response from the silent prisoner, he continued to poke and prod the warrior, constantly checking to see if he could get any reaction or movement out of her. At last satisfied that she wasn't faking her unconsciousness, Terek again nodded to Lorent. "We're all set. I think you should take this horse's lead, and I'll follow behind. I want to keep a close eye on this one."
Lorent grabbed Argo's reins, and jerked the horse forward. The remaining four centaurs surrounded the group, still keeping their crossbows at the ready and aimed at the slumped form on the mare. Terek fell into step behind, constantly on the alert from any movement from Xena, or any unexpected action from the nearby trees. Although Solan hadn't said anything, Terek was sure that the woman was not our here alone. She had to have her army camped somewhere, even though his keen hearing hadn't picked up any unusual noises. The young centaur divided his attention between the glade and the prisoner, never dropping his guard.
Solan remained silent as he held onto Lorent's shoulders. He kept looking back at Xena, hoping for some change in the woman, but she had even stopped groaning, and simply hung lifelessly on Argo's back. The boy blamed himself again and again for letting the capture happen. His stomach was in knots with worry about what Lorent planned to do to his friend. He had only seen the cells where the centaurs kept their prisoners once. All he could remember was that they were cold, damp, and extremely dark. Blinking back tears, he clutched unconsciously at his cousin's arms. He knew he couldn't get Xena out by himself, and the only person he knew that would help was Gabrielle.
The ride into the village was silent as each of the centaurs carried out his duties. Even though the warrior had not moved since being tied to her horse, each of the armed guards kept their attention on the woman. They all knew how treacherous and devious the Destroyer of Nations could be. Terek was the most observant of all, knowing that he would be watching over the prisoner until he would hand her over to the prison guards. He almost wished that Xena would move, so he could have the satisfaction of clubbing her again.
Rounding a bend in the trail, a shout went out as Lorent's group was spotted by a sentry. Word quickly spread that their leader had captured the warrior princess, so when they finally reached the village, all the centaurs were in the main square, eager to catch a glimpse of their enemy. Several held large rocks in their hands, ready to throw them at the motionless woman when Lorent held up his hand.
"Wait! No one is to hit the woman until after the trial!" the red haired centaur shouted.
Laughter, jeers, and curses directed towards Xena followed Lorent's command. Not even one centaur had any doubt about what the outcome of the trial would be. Bets were taken on how long the hearing would be, and several jailers were receiving bribes from over eager centaurs willing to do prison work for the next week or so. Only Lorent noticed when Solan dropped to the ground, and approached the warrior princess, brushing the hair off her face.
"Solan! Stay away from her! She may come around at any moment, and I don't trust her!"
The boy stepped away from Argo. He planned to get to Gabrielle as soon as he was able to sneak away, and getting Lorent mad at him would only make things more difficult. Xena still hadn't moved since Terek knocked her out, and Solan was starting to worry that she was hurt more badly than he thought. All he could tell was that she was still breathing; he wished that she would at least open her eyes so he could let her know he was going to help her.
Terek approached the warrior cautiously, first untying her hands from around the mare's neck, and then retying them more securely behind her back. Slipping the bindings from her legs, the young centaur gave a quick jerk, and the bound woman fell from her horse, landing in a boneless heap face down in the dirt.
Solan winced when he heard the woman moan at this new source of pain, but at the same time he was hopeful that this meant she was regaining consciousness. He slowly backed away from Xena and the others, when Lorent called his name.
"Solan, take her horse and put it in the stables. We'll decide what to do with it later."
The youngster approached the big warhorse and hesitantly took the reins. Argo was a little nervous around all the strange people, and she didn't like it that Xena had laid oddly on her, or hadn't given her any commands as they walked to the village. But the boy was familiar, and the horse nickered as her nose was scratched by little fingers. She followed Solan into a stable, and made herself at home by quickly finding some sweet hay to eat.
The boy removed the saddle, and brushed down the horse. After Argo had a satisfying drink of water, Solan led her to a stall and closed the gate door after them. Scratching the mare's nose again, the youngster leaned his forehead against the warm neck, and then threw his arms around the sturdy horse, letting a sob escape. He knew he had to get to Gabrielle, and tell her what happened, but what could the two of them do against Lorent, Terek, and the others? Everyone seemed so happy that Xena was captured, they just weren't going to let her go because he wanted them to. Sniffing back his tears, Solan wiped at his eyes with the heels of his hands, and then ran his fingers through his hair. After patting Argo one more time, Solan let himself out of the stall. "I won't be long, Argo. You get some rest now, and be ready when I get back."
When Solan left the stable, the crowd had already gathered around the jail. There was a line in the dirt, marking the trail Xena had left when one of the centaurs dragged her along the rough ground towards the stone building that contained the prison cells. Winding his way through the rowdy crowd, the boy was able to find a way to the front of the group.
Xena looked worse than before; her legs were scratched and bleeding from being scraped along the cobblestone square of the centaur village, and Solan noticed that she now had a black eye that was already beginning to swell closed. Even though Lorent had ordered that no one should hit the woman until after she was found guilty, it seemed he didn't mind if a few bruises appeared, as long as he didn't see it happen.
The centaur mob followed as Terek grabbed hold of the bindings at Xena's wrists, not caring to see how deeply the tightly wound ropes bit into her skin. He dragged her along the muddy corridor of the prison, at last shoving her unceremoniously into a holding cell. As she fell limply onto the packed dirt, those centaurs who could see what was going on cheered their approval. Solan wrapped his fingers around the bars of the cell, hating what he was seeing, yet unable to stop watching. A centaur he didn't know clapped him on his back.
"This is your lucky day, lad. No one before has been able to capture the Warrior Princess. Justice will be done!" Mistaking the reason for the look of fear in Solan's eyes, the burly centaur consoled, "Don't worry, son. She can't escape. Just you wait."
Solan tore his eyes away from his neighbor to see that Terek was removing Xena's boots, arm braces, and leathers. Leaving the woman in only her black shift, the cautious jailer searched for more weapons. Satisfied that she didn't have anything else concealed on her body, he dragged her to the back of the holding cell, and propped her up against the wet wall. The young centaur quickly untied the warrior's hands, and then attached shackles to both wrists, bringing her arms up over her head, and attaching the irons to a ring imbedded in the rock structure. From this position, Xena could either stand or sit, but it was far from a comfortable position.
Terek leaned down and grasped Xena's chin in his hand. Turning her face from side to side, he shook his head in disgust. "So this is the mighty 'Destroyer of Nations'," he mocked, and then viciously slapped her face. Hearing the roar from the crowd behind him, Terek turned around and threw his clenched fists above his head. The cheering grew louder as those in front could see a trickle of blood winding down Xena's chin.
Solan slipped away from the crowd, feeling close to tears again. He was fairly sure that Lorent and the others would be too busy gloating over the prisoner's capture to notice that he had gone. He found the rail that led to the stream, and as soon as he was out of sight of the village, he broke into a run, pumping his legs as fast as he could to reach Gabrielle.
Gabrielle had finished all the camp chores, cleaning up after dinner, gathering enough firewood for the night, and had just repaired a rip in Xena's sleeping shift when she decided to practice with her staff. Even though it was getting late and Xena hadn't returned yet, the bard wasn't concerned. They rarely got to see Solan, so she was happy that her friend could spend some time with her son. She was probably just getting to know the boy's family in this centaur village, and checking that everything with the youngster was ok. Closing her eyes, she relaxed her breathing rhythm and began a warm up kata with her staff, when she heard a loud crashing sound advancing towards her from the trail. Her eyes flew open; she knew instinctively it wasn't Argo, but it was someone or something coming her way. She backed away slowly from the trail's end, twirling her weapon in defensive patterns, waiting to see who the visitor might be. For the second time that day, she was surprised that it was Solan.
The boy burst into the camp, and staggered to a halt before the blonde. Bent at the waist, Solan rested his hands on his knees, and took great gulps of air trying to stop his heaving chest. Gabrielle reached for her water bag and wordlessly handed it to the young boy. "Solan, where's Xena? Why are you here without her?" The bard tried to keep the panic out of her voice, but she was sure that he could hear it.
After taking a long pull of the water, Solan sank to the ground and sat back on his heels. Still breathing heavily, he looked at Gabrielle quickly, but couldn't keep eye contact with her. Closing his blue eyes, he felt tears seep out from the closed lids. "It's all my fault!"
The woman knelt in front of the youngster, and held both his hands in hers. "Tell me, Solan. Tell me."
Still crying silently, Solan whispered, "It's my family. Lorent. My cousin. He...he captured her. And Terek...he hit her. They tied her up and threw her in a cell. Everyone's calling her 'Destroyer of Nations'. Terek knocked her out, and I didn't know what to do." A wordless sob escaped the boy's throat. "They're going to kill her."
When Gabrielle heard Solan's words, she unconsciously clenched his hands in hers as she closed her eyes in pain. Her heart beat wildly against her ribs in fear and panic. How was she going to go up against an entire village that wanted revenge on someone who no longer existed? Opening her eyes, she drew Solan into an embrace. "Honey, it's not your fault," she said as she wiped the tears from his face. "It's no one's fault. But we have to get her out of there. Take me to the village."
"Gabrielle, you're not going to let them...hurt her anymore, are you?" Solan's blue eyes, so much like Xena's, stared at the blonde.
The bard got to her feet and helped the boy up. "Solan, we're going to do everything we can to save her. Now come on, I need your help right now. You know the layout of the village. Tell me everything you can." She held the boy's hand in her own as they threaded their way back down the trail to the centaur village.
Solan had stopped crying, but the lump in his throat would not go away. He took a steadying breath, and answered his friend. "Well, they have Xena locked in a cell. I put Argo in the stable, and took off her saddle. Most of the centaurs were at the jail when I left. I guess they wanted to see Xena for themselves."
"And what does the jail look like? Are there lots of guards around?"
The boy shook his head. Starting to cry again, he could hardly answer Gabrielle's question. "I don't know...I don't know! Why did this have to happen? Xena was only trying to take me home...they didn't have to hit her...they didn't..." Solan felt the lump in his throat grow until his chest hurt from all the pent up emotions he was trying to keep inside. He shook his head, hoping that the images he kept seeing of Xena would change, and that she would be all right. But he couldn't forget the last sight he had of her, bloodied and chained to the wall of the cramped cell. He felt helpless that he couldn't stop what had happened, and that Lorent wouldn't listen to him.
"Honey," Gabrielle knelt down and cradled the blond head to her chest. "I know it's hard. But believe me when I tell you that there was nothing you could have done to stop what your friends were doing. But that doesn't mean we are going to give up." The bard caressed the boy's back, helping him to calm down. When she heard him breathing easier, she leaned back and looked Solan in the eye. "I can count on you to help me, right?"
The youngster nodded silently, and then pulled on Gabrielle's hand. "The cells...they're cold, because they're built into a hill. Maybe we can get to Xena from the back of the jail."
Gabrielle ruffled the boy's hair. "That's a start, and a good one. Now come on, and show me how to get there."
The lump in Solan's chest shrunk just a little. Maybe they could get Xena out of the village.
Lorent strode into the common area of the jail, waiting for Terek to join him. They were the only centaurs in the building, the leader having sent the crowd away so he and Terek could deal with Xena. The prisoner had yet to wake up, and he had sent his friend into the holding cell to see if the woman was faking her condition. Although having an unconscious Xena was safer than an active one, he missed having an opportunity to work the woman over. He wanted her awake so he could hear her cries of pain. The centaur leader planned to bring a weakened and defeated warlord to trial, and the pleasure of being the one to bring her to that level made his heart beat fast in anticipation. Hearing a noise behind him, Lorent turned to see Terek enter the room. "Well?"
"She's still out, but I don't think for too much longer, She's reacting to pain more strongly now."
"Well, don't get too carried away, Terek. I need you to be her watcher for when she does decide to join us. I have some plans for her."
Terek's eyes lit up with excitement. Although he was too young to have actually fought Xena in battle, the tales had been told and retold to him. His hatred for the "Destroyer of Nations" burned as hot as with any of the other centaurs. He took great pride in knowing that the centaur leader was choosing him to carry out his wishes, and Terek didn't want to disappoint his friend and mentor. "And what would those plans be?"
The leader answered carefully. "Nothing too physical, she needs to be able to respond at the trial." Noting the look of disappointment on the jailer's face, he hastened to add, "But I do want her 'beaten down' into submission. We'll break her spirit, and then we'll break her."
The young centaur nodded in agreement, a smile spreading across his face.
The moon was long past its rise when Gabrielle and Solan entered the village. There were torches burning at the jail, and at a hut that the boy told Gabrielle was Lorent's. Moving quietly, the two friends made their way around the buildings, at last coming to the rise that marked one side of the jail. There were a few small windows at ground level, all of them encased with heavy bars. No lights burned in any of the cells, and Solan was unsure if there were other prisoners being held in the rooms. Walking silently, he at last stopped before one window that he thought was the cell that Xena was in.
"Gabrielle, it's too dark to see, but I think this is it. They chained her to the back wall, and left her there. I hope she's all right..." Solan stopped whispering when he heard a familiar voice. Listening carefully, he could hear his cousin Lorent talking to someone, but he couldn't make out the words. He lowered his voice more, and quickly told the bard that the centaur leader was nearby. Gabrielle nodded, and absently brushed a stray lock of hair off his face.
"Thank you, Solan. Now I want you to do me a favor. Go back to Lorent's house..."
"Why?" the boy gasped between clenched teeth. "I want to help!"
"Honey, I have to talk to Xena, but I'll come and get you when I'm done. And what would happen when Lorent gets home, and doesn't find you there? I promise I'll meet you at your home after I see how Xena is. Please?"
Solan didn't look happy, but he finally agreed to do what Gabrielle wanted; he hadn't thought about what would happen if Lorent didn't find him at home, in bed, asleep. Reluctantly, he slipped away from the jail, after first pointing out again Lorent's house to the bard. The boy knew he wouldn't be able to sleep, but somehow he would convince Lorent that he was. And then he could get back to helping both of his friends to get out of this village. He entered his home quietly, relieved to find that it was empty, and that Lorent hadn't been there recently to check on him. Not bothering to take off his clothes, he pulled back the blanket on the pallet, and turned on his side to face the wall, hoping that Lorent wouldn't look too closely at the 'sleeping' boy.
Gabrielle watched Solan's shadow creep across the square and then enter the lit hut. Turning back around from the corner of the jail, she again found the window that the boy thought was Xena's cell. The bard laid down on the grass, and inched up to the window. She reached inside the cell, searching by feel for shackles as she whispered, "Xena?" Her hand at last felt fingers, stiff with cold and unmoving. Again she called her lover's name, and this time heard a moan in response. "Xena, please...can you hear me?" The blonde wrapped her hand around the motionless fingers, hoping to warm at least that part of the warrior's body. Trying to keep panic out of her voice, she again breathed her lover's name. "Xena...?"
"Xena, yes, you can hear me! How...how are you?" Gabrielle continued to clasp and wiggle her hand around Xena's fingers, but got no physical response from the woman.
"Gabrielle...I want you to...find Solan and ...leave."
"Leave? Xena, no, we're going to get you out of here. What are you saying? I can't..."
"Gab...rielle. Please. I don't want either...of you to see what...is going to happen."
"Please. Take my son...home."
Gabrielle felt Xena curl her fingers into a loose fist, effectively removing her fingers from the bard's grasp. The blonde closed her eyes in pain at the physical dismissal, and pulled away from the cell window. Standing up, she leaned against the wall of the building before moving away to find Solan, ready to leave the Warrior Princess in the cold darkness. However, a sound from Xena's cell caught her attention. Creeping back against the wall, Gabrielle returned to the window to hear what was happening. She heard a door creek open slowly, and a little bit of light fell into the room, but the warrior was still well hidden in the darkness of the rear cell wall.
Terek pushed open the large wooden door to the prisoner's cell, and at once noticed that the woman's electric blue eyes were focused on him. Despite the dimness of the room, the young centaur could feel the warrior's dangerous presence. He was glad that she was still safely chained, and even though she was bruised and bloodied, he could read the intelligence and strength in her face. This one would be hard to break, but he had a few ideas. "Lorent!" the centaur shouted. "Our company is awake!"
Gabrielle sensed more movement, and then heard the lead centaur speak.
"Excellent. Terek, move her to the secure room."
This was a test for the young centaur. It was only Lorent, him, and Xena in the prison, and Lorent would expect him to move the Destroyer of Nations by himself. Swallowing down his apprehension, Terek approached the woman, and with what he hoped were steady hands, unlocked the shackles from the wall. He jerked the chain roughly when Xena remained seated on the cold ground. "Prisoner, come with me!" he growled, and jerked again on the heavy chains as the woman rose to her feet, to tower above the small centaur. Terek looked up into the blue eyes, one of which was only partially open from her earlier encounters with his brothers, and began to feel more than a little afraid of the silent warrior. He knew without a doubt that he was out-classed by the woman, and yet she was letting him order her around. "Come with me," he repeated, but this time without the usual tug on the shackles.
Xena walked into the middle of the room, the cold light from the corridor hitting her in the face. She stopped, and blocking the window with her body from the view of both Terek and Lorent, she turned towards it, knowing that Gabrielle would be there.
As the bard listened to the voices of Terek and Lorent, she crouched by the window, hearing every word. Hoping that the centaurs would have their full attention on her lover, Gabrielle dared to peek into the window. She saw Xena turning towards the window; she saw the bruises, the cuts, the swollen eye, and she saw one more thing. Xena looked directly at the blonde and mouthed the word, "Go," just before she faced the centaurs and then was led from the cell.
The bard sagged against the outer wall of the jail. She felt helpless and useless, since it seemed that Xena was ready to give in to anything the centaurs wanted. Her heart beat painfully when she realized that her woman knew what the centaurs had planned for her, and was deliberately sending her family...Solan, and she, herself, Gabrielle, away. 'I can't...I can't let her do this...sacrifice herself...for what? Protection for me and Solan? Doesn't she know that without her...I would be lost? Oh, Xena,' Gabrielle thought, 'I can't do what you want me to do. I love you too much. And so does Solan.'
Gabrielle moved along the side of the jail, keeping to the shadows. She didn't know how long Terek and Lorent would stay with Xena, and she wanted to see how Solan was doing. Crossing the square as quickly and quietly as possible, the bard approached the house that still had one torch glowing softly from within. She looked into the first window she came to, and saw a small bundle curled on a pallet. Not wanting to startle the child, she whispered his name.
The boy popped his head up immediately. Although his hair was tousled, it was plain that he had not been sleeping. In fact, Gabrielle noticed that he still had his clothes on, even seeing that his boots were tucked under the covers. "Gabrielle?"
"Sweetie, I'm going to go to the stable and get Argo, and then I'm going to leave her part way down the trail to our camp. After your cousin comes back home, and you're sure he's asleep, meet me on the trail. We're leaving..."
"I'm not leaving Xena! She's my friend! I'm going to talk to Lorent, tell him that..."
"Solan..." Gabrielle wished she could reach through the wall and hug the child. "They've locked Xena in another part of the jail. We have to go. We're going to your home, to Uncle Kaleipus. He'll help us..."
"I can't leave her! Who will protect her from Terek and the others? I can't go!"
"Honey, this is what Xena wants." Gabrielle didn't know if she softened the lie for Solan, or for herself. "Please. Your uncle needs to know what's going on, and who else but us would tell him?" The blonde paused, pleading Solan with her eyes. "I'm going to the stable now. Promise me you'll meet me on the trail. Please, Solan?"
The youngster laid his head back on the pillow. "All right. As soon as Lorent is asleep. I'll leave."
"Thank you, honey. I'll see you soon."
Gabrielle looked at the moon. It would soon be dawn, and she knew it would be best if they were on their way to Kaleipus' while it was still dark. As she made her way to the stable, she hoped that Lorent would be soon be returning home.
Argo nickered when she felt a familiar presence rubbing her neck. Gabrielle placed the saddle on the warhorse, expertly cinching down the straps and bridle, and then grabbed an empty burlap bag, filling it with dry oats for the mare. "I'm sure the centaurs won't mind if we take some of their supplies, will they, Argo?" The horse shook her head, as if agreeing with the small woman.
Gabrielle led the horse to the main door of the stable, and peeked outside, just in time to see Lorent enter his hut. She waited to see if he would return to the jail, but was relieved when the torch burning in the home was put out, and things remained quiet in the village. She had no idea where Terek was, but decided it was time to get moving. Glancing at the sky again, she noted that dawn was quickly approaching and sighed with fatigue. She rubbed her eyes to bring more life into them, and felt Argo gently nudge her in the shoulder with her sensitive nose. "Ok, ok, Argo, we're going," the woman reassured the horse as she led the animal behind the stable, unable to resist passing by the jail one more time in hopes of seeing her lover.
Every window in the stone structure was dark; the bard checked every cell and each was empty. Terek's 'secure room' must be far into the building, making any attempt of escape of rescue nearly hopeless. Sending a prayer to Artemis, Gabrielle found the trail to the stream and their camp, and led Argo a short way down the path. She loosely tied the reins around a small tree, and turned around as she heard footsteps approaching. "Solan?"
"Here, Gabrielle," the boy whispered back as he came into view. "I brought some food for us, so we don't have to stop on the trail." He handed the woman a bag filled with fruit, bread, and cheese, which Gabrielle added to their saddlebags.
"That was good thinking, Solan. Now we don't have to take time to get the supplies from camp..." Gabrielle paused as she thought of all that had happened in such a short time, "...so let's get going."
She lifted the youngster onto Argo, and taking the reins, led the horse to a fallen log. Scratching the mare's nose, she offered her an apple from Solan's supplies. "It's up to us, now, Argo. Ready?" the blonde asked as she stepped onto the log, and swung her leg over the saddle behind Solan. She shifted into a comfortable position, and pulled the boy back towards her in a light embrace.
Argo again shook her head as if listening to the bard, and waited for her next command. At the soft touch of the reins on her neck, the horse started off down the trail to the old camp. As she reached the stream, Gabrielle guided her along the water's path, leading her to Kaleipus. Streaks of purple and blue were just beginning to appear on the horizon when her hooves splashed in the shallow stream, making the water fly in curving arcs as the horse stretched her long legs into a gallop. Argo carried her two friends away from the village and Xena, already longing to return to her master.
The prisoner was silent as Terek, holding a torch aloft, led her down a slippery, wet slope into a single room cell that was known as 'the secure room.' There were no windows in the cell, and it was completely enclosed in stone and mortar, in roughly a circular shape. The one entrance to the room was a hinged door made up of metal perpendicular slats, directly opposite the end of the slope. The only light in the room came from the corridor area, and since the cell door faced away from the ramp, the cell was in complete darkness. Escape from the room would be close to impossible, since 'the secure room' was essentially a cell within a cell.
Terek opened the cell gate, the hinges protesting the movement in a rusty squeal. Without waiting for orders, Xena stooped and walked into the cell, and then turned to face Terek, her face a mask of impassiveness.
The young centaur forced himself to show the prisoner the same kind of aloofness that she was disarming him with. He followed her into the room, set his torch into a wall sconce, and then released the tension on a winch, dropping a chain from the cell's ceiling. After attaching the Destroyer of Nation's shackles to the chain, Terek made the mistake of looking into her eyes again; the look of raw power and control in the blue eyes shook his conviction and his sense of authority. Once more, he felt that the woman, although shackled, was far from defenseless, and could over power him if she chose to. Gulping back his apprehension, Terek worked on the winch until the prisoner's arms were extended above her head. He hastily grabbed the torch, locked the cell door behind him, and made his way up the slope back to Lorent, leaving Xena in the darkness of the room and her thoughts.
The centaur forcibly slowed his breathing when he reached the main area of the jail. Terek didn't want Lorent to know just how badly the silent prisoner had shook him. After running his hand through his hair, he met his leader at the entrance of the prison.
"How did it go?" Lorent asked, as his eyes looked over the young jailer.
Not trusting himself to say more, Terek merely answered, "She's secured."
A smile finally broke out across the red haired centaur's face. "Excellent. Terek, for now, it's your job to see that the woman does not get any sleep. No food or water, either. Watch her closely. I'll send your relief in the morning."
The young centaur watched his leader cross the square and enter his home. Terek hesitated at the thought of re-entering the jail. The last thing he wanted to do was to spend time with the eerily quiet warrior, but orders were orders. After weighing the options, he decided that not angering Lorent was healthier than guarding the Warrior Princess.
It didn't take long for Solan to fall asleep in Gabrielle's arms. The steady gait of the horse rocked the boy into slumber and he relaxed against the small woman, trusting that she wouldn't let him fall from Argo. Unfortunately, Gabrielle's mind was not so easily slowed, as she racked her brain trying to formulate plans of rescue for her partner. The stress and tension of the day did nothing to help her thoughts; at last giving up, she noticed that Argo had picked up her pace with the rising sun. The bard tightened her embrace around the youngster, and let her thoughts drift as the warhorse carried them closer and closer to Kaleipus.
Leaving the jail for just a few moments, Terek entered his house and grabbed a blanket to protect him from the cold of the jail and then returned to the secure room to keep watch on the prisoner. Even though he approached as silently as he could, he was startled to find Xena's gaze fixed on him as he came into her view. The silent, watchful mask of the Destroyer of Nations continued to unease the centaur; at last deciding that being uncomfortable from the chill was better than the on-going mental onslaught of her icy stare, Terek entered her cell and threw his blanket over the head of the woman. The prisoner remained silent as he relocked the door behind him. Grabbing a pole that was left leaning against the outer wall of the cell, Terek reminded himself that he could still reach the prisoner with the stick and jolt her into wakefulness if he thought she was drifting off to sleep. He resigned himself to his watch, and hoped his relief would be quick in coming.
Xena shook her head and shoulders as she tried to rearrange the weight of the cloth more comfortably around her. She was glad that she had been able to unnerve the young centaur enough in order for him to make his first mistake. With the blanket over her head, she could at least shut down that part of her brain that had to tell him that she was visibly aware of the jailer at all times. Relying on her hearing to tell her if conditions should change, she took a steadying breath and rocked her weight back onto her heels, wriggling her toes at the same time. Her leg muscles were not protesting their inaction yet, but they soon would be. Xena next stood on her toes, stretching the calf muscles in order to keep them limber. Unfortunately, her arms were another matter. Gabrielle had tried to help by massaging and warming her fingers, but they already felt useless from the lack of adequate blood flow. Xena knew her fingers were still and cold, but the only thing she could do was flex her palms and fingers as much as possible. She didn't want to make any noise, and was careful not to touch or jostle the chain above her head. The warrior did not want Terek to interrupt her mental exercises, and the few physical ones she could do. Xena took another steadying breath, and formed a picture in her mind, forcing herself into a higher mental state that would both relax her and energize her for the ordeal to come. Releasing her breath, she closed her eyes under the blanket, and...
I can feel a few stray strands of straw underneath my boots. My breathing is slow and relaxed as I have nothing to fear. I face an empty wall of a barn; most of the light is behind me, but some sunlight is reaching for me through cracks in this broken down shack. I quietly move my arms in a wide arc at my side, fluidly bringing my hands in front of me, my right hand held above my left, palms inward, in a relaxed pose of both defense and offense. My eyes are closed, and I hear a slight movement behind me, where the door is. It's Gabrielle. I can tell from her light stride that she is alone...and that faint squeaky noise is her slightly damp hand gripping her staff nervously in anticipation of catching me off guard. I breathe steadily and evenly, listening to both the sounds of Gabrielle behind me and the mouse that is scratching around at some grain that is in front of me and to the left. Suddenly, with a burst of energy neither my lover of the mouse anticipated, I open my eyes and effortlessly throw myself into the still air of the barn. My battle cry startles the mouse, and it runs between two bales of hay to avoid me. I hear a soft gasp from Gabrielle as I continue to rise in my jump; when I reach the pinnacle of my leap, I thrust my legs out easily and forcefully. The buckets of water that are balanced on the wooden pillars on both sides of me fly away as I kick them solidly against opposite walls of the barn. I hear Gabrielle gasp again in surprise at this sight; I land in nearly the same spot I was in before I jumped. I can feel a different pattern of straw beneath the soles of my leather boots. I don't pause as I whirl towards my lover. I snarl at her in mock ferociousness as I swing my right leg around in one motion, slashing her staff out of her hands. Gabrielle growls and frowns in frustration as she realizes I have caught her off-guard, and not the other way around. I turn away from her, and quietly move my arms in a wide arc at my side, fluidly bringing my hands in front of me, my right hand held above my left, palms inward.
I can feel a few stray strands of straw underneath my boots. My breathing is slow and relaxed as I have nothing to fear. I face an empty wall of a barn...
Lorent awoke early in the morning; his excitement of actually having captured the Warrior Princess made the normally heavy sleeper toss and turn for most of the short night. At last deciding it was useless to try to return to Morpheus, he rose and went to check on Solan, only slightly surprised to find the youngster was not in his bed. He was just about to go out and try to find the boy, when there was a knock on the door.
A middle aged centaur entered Lorent' home. He looked a little shaken, as he thought of the best way to tell his leader the news. "Uh, Lorent..."
"What is it, Javet?"
"The prisoner's horse...it's gone. The saddle too. I know I should have put a guard at the stables last night, but..."
Lorent snorted in disgust. "Forget about it. Solan's not here either. He's probably still upset about what we're going to do to his 'friend'."
The older centaur was relieved that Lorent was not that angry at the loss of the horse. It was an excellent animal, and could have been sold for a large sum of dinars if Lorent had decided to get rid of the mare. "Do you want me to go look for them? I'm sure they couldn't have gone far."
Taking a moment to consider his options, Lorent shook his head. "Don't bother. Instead, I want you to relieve Terek at the secure room, and take over guarding the prisoner for this shift."
Javet smiled at the thought of watching the warrior. It was an honor to be picked by Lorent for such a special duty, and he wanted to make the most of his opportunity. At the very least, Javet hoped to make up for the loss of the mare, and work his way into the leader's good graces. It was going to be a good day after all.
The damp and chill started to effect the Warrior Princess. Her arms felt like dead weight hanging above her head. She struggled to flex and stretch her hands and fingers as much as she was able, but the tingling feeling in her arms added to her discomfort. Xena made an effort to disregard the painful stabbing sensations she felt when her protesting shoulder muscles managed to contract and relax on her command, and instead, concentrated on her legs. She completed different exercises to keep her legs in condition; at first she would stand on her toes, counting to herself how long she could remain motionless in that position, and then drop on her heels and do the same thing. Trying to stretch every muscle possible, Xena also balanced first on one leg and then the other. Even with the cold, her coordination was fine, but she was starting to feel tired from the lack of sleep. Just as she began to form a mental picture of quiet times past to relax herself, she heard someone coming down the slope into the secure room area. Xena recognized the gait of a new centaur, and let herself become an emotionless mask while she waited to meet her next guard.
"Terek," Javet called out. "I'm here to relieve you from your shift," the grey haired centaur announced as he entered the room. "How's our prisoner been?"
The young centaur felt exhausted, and he knew he looked it from the expression in Javet's eyes. "Quiet. Nothing to report." He handed over the pole he was leaning on, and started to move towards the exit when Javet called him back.
"What's the blanket doing on her head? I thought we were supposed to observe her at all times, and make sure she doesn't try anything." Taking the key from Terek, the older centaur entered the cell, and unceremoniously ripped the cloth from Xena's head and shoulders. The icy look of determination and strength from the woman scared him into speechlessness. Javet had expected the prisoner to be tired and disorientated; instead he was confronted with a true warrior who had the boldness to look her jailers in the eye relentlessly. The centaur suddenly realized that the assignment he had wanted so badly came with a high price to pay. He backed out of the cell, and after locking it, tried to hand the blanket back to Terek.
"Keep it," Terek snorted in a tone of derision. "You might find you need it."
Javet knew he would soon be alone with the prisoner. Wanting to keep Terek with him for as long as possible, he called out after him, "What about my relief?"
"I'll be back at dusk to take your place. And remember," he couldn't help but add a little harshly, "Watch her closely. And don't let her sleep."
In the dimness of the secure room, Javet looked at the warrior who stared back at him expressionlessly. The centaur knew it would be a long day.
It was mid-day before Gabrielle pulled Argo to a halt to give the horse a rest. They were still following the stream, and as the blonde gently woke Solan and helped him down from the mare, Argo moved closer to the water to quench her thirst. The bard slid from the horse and landed with a small splash next to the thirsty animal. Bending down herself, Gabrielle scooped up some cold water and washed her face with it, hoping to keep herself more awake and alert. Solan was stretching his legs when the woman handed him some cheese and apples that she had retrieved from Argo's saddlebags, and then helped herself to some of the food.
"Solan, do you know how much further it is to your uncle's village?"
Swallowing a piece of cheese, the boy glanced around him. "Things are starting to look familiar, Gabrielle. I think by dusk, we should be in Uncle Kaleipus' territory."
"Good. I don't want to be away from Xena for too long. Do you know anything about how the centaurs in Lorent's nation bring people to trial? How long will they keep Xena in that jail?"
Argo grazed on some sweet grass as Solan approached her and started to rub her down. Images of Xena chained in the cell flashed through his mind while he thought back on all he knew about Lorent and his village. The boy's voice was shaky when he answered. "They'll keep her at the jail for several days. They always try to get their prisoners as weak as possible before trial, so they won't cause any problems, or try to escape. During the trial..." Solan struggled with the words as his breath caught in his throat, "...I don't know."
"It's ok, honey," Gabrielle soothed the youngster, and gave him a tight embrace to comfort him. "We'll get there in time." The bard grabbed Argo's reins, and led her back to the edge of the stream.
"Now up you go," she said while she helped Solan into the saddle, and then found a large rock to stand on to follow him up. Argo needed no urging to continue the journey, and broke into a gallop as soon as the two friends were settled on her back.
Javet was finding the silence of the prisoner harder to bear than the coldness of the secure room. After wrapping Terek's blanket around him, the centaur found that he didn't have much to do besides watch the woman, who always kept eye contact with him, her one good eye never leaving his face. The gloom and quiet agitated Javet. He couldn't tell what time it was, how long he had been there, and with Xena staring him down, he also began to question who was the prisoner and who the jailer was. He felt as if he were trapped in a home haunted by his enemies, with the only exit out being behind a wall of fire. Hearing a noise behind him, he nearly stumbled in fear when he felt a hand clamp down hard on his shoulder.
"Javet, how are things going?"
"Oh, Lorent!" Javet responded a little too loudly. His beating heart was in his throat as he glanced at his leader. "Everything's fine. No worries."
"Good, good," the red haired centaur murmured while he looked into the cell. The prisoner returned his gaze stoically. "Hand me that pole, Javet."
Wordlessly, the older centaur gave over the pole that he had been holding ever since Terek had left the cell earlier. Lorent slid the weapon between two slats of the door and grinned at the Destroyer of Nations.
"How are the arms, prisoner?" he asked, just as he slammed the butt of the pole into her right shoulder. Without waiting for an answer, he smashed her left shoulder with equal force, and then next attacked her biceps.
Xena didn't flinch at the pain even though the sensations running through her arms were excruciating. A rippling effect passed up her arms and into her hands, making each nerve ending scream in agony. She hadn't been able to keep up with her exercises ever since Javet had removed the blanket from her head; she had to concentrate on breaking him before she could work on improving her situation. Unfortunately, now she was suffering the effects of the last few hours. Her upper body was almost completely useless, and her legs were aching from inactivity.
As if reading her thoughts, Lorent swung at her legs, concentrating mostly on her thighs. He pounded on the same spots continuously until several large bruises developed on the tanned skin. Not finished, the centaur hammered at her calves, the muscles there hard and unpliable from the lack of movement or stimulation.
Xena couldn't keep her body from rocking from the force of the blows; her legs felt on fire, but she never lost eye contact with her tormentor. The woman would not let her former enemy win this battle of wills, no matter how much she suffered.
Lorent could not understand the stamina of his prisoner. Her lack of response at the beating he gave her unnerved him a little, but he couldn't help but try one more tactic to get an emotional or physical reaction from his silent charge. Bringing the pole up to the woman's face, he placed it on her right cheek, turning her head to the left. "Thirsty, murderer? I bet you would like some water right about now," he taunted as he brought the pole to her left cheek, and turned her face back to confront him. The prisoner's left eye was completely closed, but her right eye stared at him impassively. "No answer? Then forget I mentioned it," Lorent said as he turned away from the woman.
Handing the pole back to Javet, he reminded the centaur needlessly, "Watch her closely. She's up to something."
The leader took one more look at the condemned. "Your trial is set for sunrise in two days. Start praying to Ares, or any god that you think will hear you. You'll need all the help you can get."
Without another word, Javet watched Lorent move up the slope to the upper part of the prison. The cell seemed even quieter after the big centaur left. Moving to glance at the prisoner, he wasn't surprised that she was again regarding him emotionlessly. The jailer felt a chill run up his spine; deciding quickly, he unlocked the cell door, and removed the blanket that Terek had left him. He stood out of reach of the prisoner, even though he was fairly sure she wouldn't attack him, and tossed the cloth over the woman's head. After hastily relocking the cell, he moved away from the door in order to put some distance between him and the woman. He did not like his job at all.
When she heard the key move in the lock, Xena let out the breath she had been holding. With the blanket again covering her face, she could concentrate on her physical needs. Her arms had quit trembling from the beating, but her legs were throbbing in pain. As she stretched up on her toes, he knotted calf muscles twitched in agony at the movement. Xena took a deep breath, and forced herself to remain still until the muscles slowly began to relax into a normal position. She closed her one good eye and continued her exercises, rocking from heel to toe, feeling her legs at first protesting the movement, and then accepting the pain and working through it. The warrior tried to flex her fingers, but the cold and dampness of the prison had frozen her fingers into half clenched fists. No matter how hard she concentrated, she could not get the finger joints to unlock. The chill had crept into her bones, and for the first time, she shivered involuntarily. Shaking herself mentally, she began to form a picture in her mind. The sun was warm that day, and it felt wonderful on her back...
The parchment is at last flying in the air. The only one to see it happen is Gabrielle. Minya left hours ago, and even Howar has lost faith in me, but not my Gabrielle. I see her run beside me, the grass of the meadow reaching up to her knees. I stop and watch in wonder as the parchment flutters in the pre-storm wind. The breeze has a taste of salt in it, and I'm sure the storm will be a big one. Will my plan work? It is a crazy one, and even my bard seemed worried at first, but at last gave into my scheme. I let more string out, and the parchment jerks away from me, wanting to be free. I rub my fingers along the coarse twine, and notice a small frayed spot on the string. I bring the parchment a little closer to me, and wind the string around a short stick I hold. I run around the meadow once more, for the pleasure of mere movement, and to see my lovely bard chasing after me. I can hear her breathing in small gasps behind me and it reminds me of other times I have heard those same gasps of pleasure. I turn my head and smile at Gabrielle. She looks at me with those dewy eyes, and I know she knows what I'm thinking. I stop running not far from the woods. The sweet smell of grass engulfs us from all the crushed blades we have trampled in our game. Gabrielle runs near me, but is too excited to quit moving. She jumps around me shouting, just like the children did on Solstice when we gave them all those presents. I look at her smile and melt; her eyes make me want to drown in their pools. I have never and could never love anyone more than my Gabrielle. I glance away from her and back to the flying parchment. I don't want her to read every emotion that's on my face. In my chest, my heart pounds with love for her. Despite everything, we have become each other's lover and family. "We did it, we did it, we did it!" Gabrielle cries, her attention on the straining parchment, as the happiness in her voice reaches me. "Yes," I think. "Yes, Gabrielle, we did it." My bard claps with glee, not knowing that my smile is for her amazing love and trust in me, and not the parchment that dances above our heads.
The wind trembles against the parchment. It soars above our heads...
It was nearly dusk when Gabrielle and Solan entered Kaleipus' territory. The bard felt exhausted, and was relieved to be able to stop at last. Argo also needed a break, but Solan restlessly slid from the horse before the mare came to a stop, and ran to the hut he shared with Kaleipus.
The grey haired centaur came out of their hut, surprised to see Solan racing towards him. The boy launched himself at his uncle, grabbing him by the waist in a desperate hug. Kaleipus automatically started rubbing the youngster's back, trying to calm him down. When Solan at last let go of his grip, the centaur leader was surprised again to find Gabrielle approaching him. "Solan? What's going on?" He looked around for Xena, but couldn't spot the woman. "Where's Xena?" The eyebrow above his patched eye rose in worry as he continued looking for the dark warrior.
As soon as Kaleipus finished asking the question, Solan again threw his arms around his uncle, and buried his face on the centaur's chest.
Concern etched across his brow, Kaliepus glanced at the bard. "Gabrielle?" He couldn't help but notice the haggard look to the woman, and the dark circles under her eyes.
"Lorent has her. He's going to kill her."
A muffled moan came from Solan, and Kaleipus could feel the boy tighten his grip on him. Reaching behind him, the centaur unclasped Solan's hands and brought them around in front of him. He grasped the boy's chin, and tilted it up so the youngster could look him in the eye. "Son, I need your help. I'm going to take Gabrielle to our hut, and I want you and your friend Gowan to take Argo to the stable and brush her down. Can you do that for me?"
Solan silently nodded his head, and after gathering the mare's reins in his hands, he walked over to his friend's home. Soon the two boys were headed to the stables.
"That should keep them busy for awhile," Kaleipus noted, and snaked his left arm across the bard's back and under her left shoulder to support her. "C'mon, let me take you to my home."
The woman remained silent even as Kaleipus drew out a chair for her at the table, and gave her something to eat. Gabrielle chewed mechanically, not even noticing what the centaur had put in front of her. After finishing off her meal with a small mug of ale, the bard continued her silence, simply staring at the table before her. She seemed incapable of initiating any conversation, while her mind whirled in working out some escape for her lover.
"Gabrielle," Kaleipus started, breaking the blondeís concentration. "I think I have a plan, but I have to ask you something personal first. Are you and Xena...partnered?"
The bard clenched her jaw as she tried unsuccessfully to hold back some tears. "Yes," she whispered. "Xena and I were married in an Amazon ceremony last year." A few tears spilled on her cheeks as Gabrielle continued, "You don't know how hard it was to see her in that prison..."
Kaleipus helped the woman to her feet, and led her to a sleeping pallet. "Don't worry, Gabrielle. We're going to get her. I want you to sleep now, because tomorrow we're going back to Lorentís village. You need to get some rest."
Without protest, the bard lay down on the soft pallet, not even bothering to move back the blankets. Kaleipus untied her boots and removed them before throwing an extra cover over the exhausted woman. Her eyes closed immediately, the ale and her exhaustion working quickly to send her to Morpheus.
Kaleipus returned to the table, and finding a blank scroll, quickly wrote something on it, before rolling it up and attaching his seal to it. Just as he was ready to leave his hut, Solan returned from the stables, with the young dark haired Gowan in tow. "Son, I have to talk to Agenor for awhile about Xena. You must be hungry..why don't you two get something to eat, and I'll be back soon."
Nodding mutely, Solan turned to his friend, and opened a cupboard to look through their supplies. Gowan grabbed some fruit to complete their light meal, and helped his friend with cutting up some nutbread while Kaleipus left the boys. He headed to the main square, looking for Agenor, his advisor and oldest friend.
The blond centaur was with a group of men and centaurs, discussing recent politics relevant to his Nation. Glancing up, Agenor noticed Kaleipus, and invited him over to join the debate. "Kaliepus! You can answer this question! Danaus, here, is certain that..."
The older centaur grabbed Agenor's arm. "Not now, my friend. I need your help in something."
The confident smile of Agenor left his face to be replaced by a worried frown. "What's going on? Have the scouting parties brought back bad news?"
Kaleipus shook his head. "It's nothing like that, but it is important. I want you to take this scroll to the Amazon village in the deep woods. You know the one, don't you? Ephiny is their current queen. And you need to hurry."
Agenor took the scroll from his leader's hands. "I'll leave right away."
"Thank you, my friend. And please hurry."
Dipping his head once in understanding, the blond centaur took the southern exit of the square, headed for Amazon territory.
After watching him leave, the leader turned back to his home. There were nutbread crumbs on the table, but the boys were nowhere to be found. Kaliepus cleaned up the area, and then started a small fire in the hearth to ward off the night's coming cold. Thinking that Gabrielle might need another blanket, he took one from his own bed and went to check on his sleeping guest. He found Solan next to the bard on the pallet, his head resting on her shoulder, both of them sound asleep. Not wanting to disturb them, Kaleipus gently shook the blanket out over the two of them. They both needed as much rest as they could get, because they would be headed back to Lorentís nation very soon.
Xena didn't know what time it was, but she knew the guards would be changing soon. She could hear Javet pacing outside her cell, and could feel his mounting anxiety over being left alone with her so long. Due to his pacing, Xena again had to temporarily stop her exercises. Her legs were beginning to shake with inaction, and her arms were long past being able to do any sort of movement at all. She tried to lick her lips, but her dry tongue had no moisture to give to her parched lips. Deciding to try breathing relaxation methods instead, she slowly drew her breath in and tried to clear her mind when she heard Terek start down the sloped tunnel to her cell.
Even though Javet was expecting him, he still jumped when Terek arrived. "About time you got here!" he challenged, trying to cover his fear.
Terek looked tired in the dim light. "Well, I'm here now, so you can go," he said as he grabbed the pole away from the other centaur. "And where's my blanket?"
Without saying a word, Javet motioned with his head towards the cell. Terek shook his head and rolled the pole between his palms. "Get going, and don't forget to come back tomorrow."
Unbelievably, the older centaur practically ran up the slope, avoiding eye contact with Terek. He was happy to finally leave that silent woman to someone else's care.
Xena remained motionless in her cell, listening to the two guards talk. Even though she was still chained and locked up, she could still have an effect on the jailers. She waited to see what Terk would do next.
The young centaur approached the door to the cell. It looked to him as if the prisoner had not moved in all the time he was gone. The blanket covered her head and shoulders, and her bare feet were planted firmly on the ground. "Xena?" the guard asked. Not really expecting a response from the woman, Terek continued, "I'm supposed to make sure that you don't go to sleep, but I can't do that with the blanket over your head. I could nudge you with the pole to see if you're awake, but I'd rather not do that. Or, I could take the blanket off, and ah...I really don't want to do that either. So...can you somehow let me know you're awake?"
Xena claimed this as another victory, and not a small one. She had managed to get Terek to see her as a person and use her name, and get beyond the 'Destroyer of Nations' title. Past dry lips, she managed to say, "I'm awake."
"Ah...good. Real good. I'm going to leave you alone now, but I'll have to ask you every now and then. All right?" Terek waited for a reply, but none came. He moved away from the cell, and leaned against the tunnel wall that led to the upper jail. Another long night. He knew it would not be his last at the jail.
It was shortly before dawn when Agenor returned to his village with his guests. With the light of the moon, he directed them to Kaleipus' hut, and knocked lightly on the door. Almost immediately, the door swung open. Kaleipus had not been able to sleep, and had finally decided to just get up and wait for his friend.
"Come in, come in. I'm so glad you got my message and were able to get here so quickly." The centaur leader moved away from the door, inviting his guests inside.
Ephiny entered first; she was not dressed in her ceremonial leathers as queen, but instead garbed as a warrior. Behind her paced a small centaur, only about one year old. Ephiny grabbed his hand, and led him to the one-eyed centaur. "Kaleipus, this is my son. Xenan, this is Kaleipus. He is leader of this Nation." Xenan shyly hid behind his mother, but smiled when Kaleipus ruffled his hair.
"You are both welcome here. And Agenor, thank you for your help. We'll be leaving soon, but should be back in a few days time."
"Don't you want me to go with you? I would be more than happy to be a scout for you on the journey."
"No, I don't think that would be a good idea. I don't want Lorent to think of us as a warring party, and I don't know how he is going to react to us when we arrive. Return home, my friend. And thank you again."
After Agenor left, the centaur leader turned to Ephiny. "I'm going to gather up what supplies we'll need. Why don't you go wake Gabrielle? She's through there," he indicated, pointing to a doorway. "Solan, my son, is with her."
Bringing Xenan with her, Ephiny found the two still curled up on the bed. The amazon knelt on the ground next to her friend, and gently brushed some stray strands of hair off her face. Gabrielle still had dark circles under her eyes, and Ephiny could only imagine what the bard had been through. Stroking her cheek, Ephiny whispered, "Gabrielle?" to the sleeping woman, and watched as the muscles around the woman's eyes began to twitch into wakefulness.
"Xena? Can't we sleep a little longer?" The bard finally opened her eyes. "Ephiny..? What are...oh!" She threw her arms around her friend and buried her face into the soft curly blonde hair of the amazon as all the events of the last day and a half washed through her.
Ephiny rubbed her friend's neck as she comforted the hurting bard. "Gabrielle, it's time to go. Are you ready?"
The bard didn't answer; instead she just nodded her head up and down against the other woman's neck. She released her grasp on the amazon, and turned to Solan, kissing him on the cheek.
"Solan, honey, it's time to get up."
The boy sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes gently with his fingers. When he finally did open his eyes, the first thing he saw was a small centaur staring at him. "Solan, this is my friend Ephiny, and her son Xenan. We're all going to Lorent's Nation." Gabrielle squeezed Solanís shoulder reassuringly.
Naturally shy, and being caught staring at the boy, Xenan again hid behind his mother. Although he was being raised in both the Amazon's camp, and the camp of his father's relatives, he didn't know too many human children. This was the first boy he had ever met, and he didn't know what to expect. Solan looked friendly, but Xenan decided to let him make the first move.
Any further conversation stopped as Kaleipus entered the room. "Ready when you are."
The small group made its way to the stable. While Kaleipus saddled one of the village's horses, Gabrielle got Argo ready for the journey. She watched her eat an apple as she checked the saddlebags, and to see if they had enough provisions for the road. At last satisfied, she led the horse from the stall, and helped Solan into the saddle. Getting up behind the boy, she turned to see Kaleipus hand Xenan up to Ephiny on the stable horse's back. The little centaurís eyes were barely open from having stayed awake all night during the journey from his mother's village; Ephiny cradled him in her arms and settled him down for a nap.
The sun was just peeking over the edge of the horizon when Kaleipus led the small group out of his village.
"Xena?" Terek asked. "I'll be leaving soon. Are you...um..."
A raspy voice croaked, "Yes," in a barely audible tone. Xena's feet were so cold she could no longer feel them; her legs were buckled at the knees, most of her weight resting on the shackles at her wrists. She could now feel her arms and shoulders, because it seemed as if her shoulders were being dislocated from trying to hold her up. Her thoughts were not as clear either; she could not concentrate and it was harder and harder to enter the mental state where she could relax and recall specific details of events she shared with Gabrielle. She tried to lick her lips again, but it was a useless effort. The chains above her head jangled constantly from her shivering. Still, she refused to give in to her jailers. She desperately tried to call up images in her mind to take her away from her reality. The only thing that came to her was a vision of Gabrielle's face. The blue-green eyes looked at her fondly as she smiled quietly at Xena. Holding this picture in her mind, Xena worked to forget about the pain in her body as she waited for her trial.
Gabrielle and her friends only stopped once for a brief rest and to water the horses as they made their way to Lorent's village. Again following the river, they reached the campsite before dusk where Solan had first found Xena and the bard. Even though Gabrielle wanted to push on immediately, Kaleipus called a halt to their journey so they could go through their plan one more time. Since he didn't want to go to war against his own kin, the leader hoped he could reach Lorent through reason.
"Gabrielle, you're to stay hidden in the woods while we talk to Lorent. I don't want him to think that the Amazon Queen would be another easy 'capture', and until I can find out what he's thinking, I want you safely out of sight. Ephiny will call out the signals to you to let you know if it's safe to come in, or if we need your help, ok?"
The bard nodded as Ephiny nudged her horse closer to Gabrielle, holding out a large saddlebag.
"What's this?" Gabrielle asked, and took the bag from her friend. Opening it up, she saw her queen's mask wrapped carefully with a blanket to protect the delicate feathers.
"Just in case we need the Queen to help us out, Gabrielle."
The young blonde squeezed her friend's arm in gratitude. "Thank you."
"And if you hear this call," Ephiny continued, as she cupped her hand to her mouth and made a distinctive bird whistle, "that means we need you as Queen. This call," the regent said as she imitated a different bird, "means Gabrielle, Xena's friend is needed."
"All right, let's get going," Kaleipus said and headed down the trail to the village. The others followed quietly behind, lost in their own thoughts and concerns. When the centaur saw the trail widening, he stopped and helped both women from their mounts. "Gabrielle, you'll wait here with the horses. Ephiny, Solan, and Xenan and I will try talking some sense into my cousin first. Hopefully he can still see reason and what's good for the Centaur Nations."
"Good luck,' the bard whispered as they walked away, and sent a heartfelt prayer to Artemis.
Xena could barely keep her head up. She felt so numb from the cold that she couldn't feel anything at all. Only the constant thirst reminded her that she was still alive, still conscious. Javet had been silent all day, not speaking a word to her. She didn't know if she should be grateful or not for the quiet; any noise might help her stay awake, but the silence made her lose track of time. She couldn't remember if Javet had just arrived, or would be leaving soon. For all she knew, the guards could be arriving and leaving at different times to confuse her and keep her off balance. She thought her trial would be soon, but even that idea seemed hazy at the moment. Taking a deep breath, she tried once more to focus her thoughts. A picture of Gabrielle entered her mind, and she struggled to hold onto it while she shivered in the damp cell.
Kaleipus and his group were spotted quickly as they entered the village. The centaurs recognized Solan, and most knew Kaleipus, but the woman and the little centaur were strangers to the camp. Nobody challenged the group as they made their way to Lorent's hut.
The red haired centaur was already awake when he heard the commotion from the square. He opened his door to find his cousin and the others on the stoop. "Well, Solan, it seems you brought your uncle here to try to save your 'friend'."
"Yes, he did. He knows injustice when he sees it. Why don't we go inside and discuss it, Cousin?"
"Her trial is tomorrow, and we should see justice then." Lorent would not back down to his older cousin; he was the leader here, and he would define what justice was. Spotting a familiar face in the crowd, he shouted, "Terek!" to get the centaurís attention. Having caught the centaur's eye, he motioned him over to join the group. "Terek, it seems we have to convince my cousin here that the Destroyer of Nations is evil. Let's all go inside."
The village hummed with rumors and questions about the meeting going on in Lorent's home. A few centaurs dared to stray close to the building in order to eavesdrop but little could be heard. Those that did hear bits of conversation made their own rumors to spread around.
"Lorent," Kaleipus started, "this is Ephiny and her son Xenan. Ephiny was married to a good friend of mine, who died needlessly due to ignorance between men and centaurs. It seems to me that you are doing the same thing."
"Cousin," the red haired centaur snorted in laughter. "If your friend died needlessly, the woman will not. She has done more to harm the Centaur Nations than any other person. You are witness to that fact. This trial is justified and long over-due."
Kaleipus shook his head. "The Destroyer of Nations is no more. Xenan wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Xena. The warrior helped deliver a member of our Nation. Is killing one woman important enough to destroy the alliance we have with the Amazons?"
"A nice story. But it's only your word against mine. And what do I care about the Amazons? There are no Amazons in my territory."
Realizing that there would be no reasoning with his headstrong cousin, the older centaur turned to Ephiny. "Regent?" He nodded his suggestion to call the Queen, and turned back to Lorent shaking his head. "If you only knew what you were doing..."
"I know exactly what I'm doing! And it's something that should have been done long ago!" The leader glanced at Terek, but the young centaur would not look him in the eyes. In disbelief, he realized that the prisoner had somehow gotten Terek to respect her, to sympathize with her. That thought alone made his anger increase another notch. He watched as the strange Amazon opened the door to his hut and gave a brief whistle. "What's this supposed to prove?" he demanded, hands clenched at his side.
"I want you to meet one more person before you seal our fate. You must reconsider!"
Lorenz snorted in disgust at his duped cousin.
Gabrielle was going through a mind clearing exercise that Xena had taught her when she heard a whistle. Unfortunately, it was Ephiny's first whistle, the one that meant Queen Gabrielle was needed. She put on her mask, and walked purposely into the village.
When the centaurs saw yet another strange woman enter their village, a new round of rumors and whispers broke out. No one stood in her way as she walked directly to Lorent's hut, somehow knowing which dwelling belonged to the Centaur leader.
The Queen was grateful that the mask hid her eyes from Lorent. Inside, her heart was beating painfully fast, and she had to struggle not to let her hands shake. This was the centaur who had her lover, and her life was in his hands. She knew she had to be strong for all of them.
Barely glancing at the small woman, Lorent turned to Kaliepus. "And who is this? This little person is going to be the one to stop me from serving justice to the prisoner?"
Ephiny spoke up. "This is Queen Gabrielle, Queen of all the Amazon Nations."
Lorent laughed in disbelief. "Again with the Amazons? Cousin, I've told you, I don't care about them. The trial is set for dawn tomorrow. You and all your Amazon friends are welcome to attend..."
Kaliepus cut him off. "Well, if you don't care about a war between our two Nations, then how about a civil war?"
"What are you talking about?" the younger centaur scoffed.
"Xena is Queen Gabrielle's partner. And Solan, my son, is...also Xena's son."
Lorent lowered his eyes and looked skeptically at his cousin. "Are you telling me, Kaleipus, that you and the Destroyer of Nations..."
"Of course not, cousin. Borias is the boy's father. And Xena is his mother. She gave him to me when..." the older centaur stopped explaining when he heard the door slam behind him. Through an open window, he saw the retreating form of Solan, running for the woods. Kaleipus shook his head in anger and frustration at his lack of thought and compassion for his son. He should have known that all this information would come as a shock to the boy; unfortunately, he had been focusing so long on how to help Xena, that he completely forgot that after so long, Solan might not be ready for, or like, the truth about his parents. "Gods, I'm so stupid," he muttered to himself. "Ephiny, would you and Xenan go after him? I don't think my boy is ready to see me, or Gabrielle, yet."
Nodding, Ephiny reached down to grab Xenan's hand, and followed after Solan.
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