Disclaimers: Xena: Warrior Princess belongs to Studio USA and Renaissance Pictures, and my heart. No infringement on these rights were intended.

Subtext Disclaimer: In case you haven't noticed, subtext is maintext now. I tried to keep all the characters true to their depiction as in the show. However, I couldn't help but insert a bit of sexual

innuendo between women. It's just a little bit, I've left much to the imagination. Hopefully there are still those of you out there with an imagination…it adds spice to you know what… And, yes, there is

violence, just like in the show. Oh, and if you are under the age of 18, you might want to consult with a parent or legal guardian before reading this or maybe it's best that you don't read this at all.

Author's Comment: This story continues where Friend In Need II ends. Xena is dead, finito, gone, hasta la vista. This was a classic of all classic love stories, from an awkward beginning to a tragic

ending. I was left hanging. I wanted to know what Gabrielle was going to do with the rest of her life. I wanted to see her move from grief and sadness, to a renewal of some sort.

Yes, the finality of the last episode struck us where it hurt most, our hearts. We can derive some comfort in the fact that Xena and Gabrielle meet again in another lifetime. Hopefully these stories in the

'Final Chapters' series will do that. And hopefully we will all get the closure we so badly need.

Many thanks to my Beta Readers, Erin/AKA Drumgrrl193 and Kim Linonis.

Comments, feedback, and constructive criticism may be sent to , aheisey760@aol.com. Thank you.

A Warrior Returns Home, The Final Chapters, Part III

Written by: Allyson Heisey, aheisey760@aol.com

Many thanks to my Beta Readers, Erin/AKA Drumgrrl193 and Kim Linonis.

 

Chapter 1

A tall figure moved swiftly against the early morning light. Her long dark hair swirled about her shoulders when she moved. Her hands shifted and twirled a long wood staff back and forth, left to right and back again. The soft moccasins on her feet made no sound on the forest floor as she maneuvered among the great silent trees. Icy blue eyes shone from a beautifully sculpted face.

Down below in the Amazon Village, Gabrielle and several amazons were in an early morning council meeting to discuss the possibility of increased trading with the Scythians, their neighbors across the northern border. Lieset, a Shamaness, raised her hand suddenly and everyone quieted. The hairs on the back of Gabrielle’s neck stood up and she glanced over at Lieset. The young Shananess turned her head slowly towards the practice compounds and then swung it back quickly and met Gabrielle’s gaze.

Gabrielle jumped up from her stool and sprinted out of the yurt. Her feet pounded on the ground and she raced up a set of stone steps on the side of the hill that led to one of the Amazon practice compounds. Her daughter, Myrine practiced every morning at the yards, honing her skills with the staff.

Ares, the God of War, shimmered quietly into existence just a mere few feet from Myrine. Startled, she blinked and stared wide eyed at the war god and he sauntered towards her.

"I know you." She whispered and narrowed her eyes.

"No, you don’t." Ares replied coyly and his eyes twinkled mischievously.

Gabrielle vaulted up into one of the giant pines. She leapt from the tree, sailed through the air and grabbed a vine.

Myrine shook her head, "No, I remember you."

"You were only five years old." Ares said in his deep voice. "My, how you have grown…up. You’re what now, fifteen?" He lifted a dark brow. "And quite beautiful, I might add."

"You’re Ares, aren’t you?" Ares raised his dark brows at her question. "My Mother warned me not to talk to you." Myrine backed up a few steps and swung the staff defensively in front of her.

Ares chuckled. "Smart woman, your Mother." Ares bit his bottom lip and lifted his chin. "I have something for you. Something I know you want, but your mother won’t let you have one…yet." He held out his hand and a sword materialized. He walked over to Myrine and held it out to her. Myrine gazed at the beautifully crafted weapon, from its razor sharp point to the gilded hilt. When she reached for it, Gabrielle charged Ares from the trees that surrounded the compound.

"Ares!" She shouted. Gabrielle released her grip on the thick vine, somersaulted through the air and landed on her feet, stirring up a small cloud of dust.

She pulled her sais from her boots and ran towards him. Ares raised the new sword defensively against her sudden attack. Gabrielle crashed into him, caught the sword in the prongs of her sais, and stared menacingly into his eyes.

Ares smiled and said, "Nice of you to drop in."

"Stay away from her!" Gabrielle spat between clenched teeth.

"I only stopped by to say hello." Ares said innocently and stepped back. He lowered the sword and spread his arms wide.

"You tried to give her that sword!" Gabrielle countered, raised her sai and pointed at the glinting blade in his hand.

"What? This?" Ares held up the sword and the sunlight glimmered brightly from the sleek blade. "A birthday present." he pointed at the sword. "You don’t believe me?" Ares lifted both eyebrows and tilted his face questioningly.

"Oh, I believe you, Ares. And I recognize that sword. It’s the same one you gave to Livia and to Varia!" Gabrielle ground her teeth to keep from shouting and pointed her sai at him.

"Well, now. We have a dilemma then. You see, I want her to be your successor." Ares announced and Gabrielle’s mouth dropped open in shock.

"What’s wrong, Gabrielle? You succeeded Xena, and now I think it’s time to choose your successor." Gabrielle remembered a time when Ares pitted her against a woman who wanted to be Xena’s successor. Gabrielle unwittingly proved to Ares that she was the one he should consider instead.

Xena glanced at Gabrielle fondly. "Gabrielle, I’m proud of you."

Ares scoffed, "Oh, please! I gave her an opportunity for greatness."

Xena hissed at back at him, "Following you is not an opportunity, Ares. It’s a curse!"

Ares laughed sardonically at Gabrielle's stunned expression. "The battle of Docosta, the battle at Thermondon Pass, and the famous battle of Teutoburg, where three Roman legions were defeated by a handful of natives! Oh! That was SO good!"

Gabrielle’s mouth closed, her eyes narrowed, and she clenched her jaw in anger.

"Of course over the last ten years you’ve been busy, and I’ve been busy. I haven’t had time to keep tabs on you, but, I know you’ve squelched a few battles here and there, but nothing big." Ares clicked his tongue and shook his head in disappointment.

"Sorry to disappoint you, Ares." Gabrielle said sarcastically.

"Oh, but you haven’t. Not really." Ares turned on his heel, rested one hand on the pommel of his sword and gazed at Myrine thoughtfully.

"She’s smart. She’s strong. She’s got that arrogance, that fire and youthful spirit. She has Xena’s understanding of tactics and your talent for inventiveness." Ares turned back to Gabrielle. "I’m back, and I’ll be watching." He pointed the sword at her and winked out.

Cyane and several other Amazons came running from the trees to Gabrielle’s side, their swords drawn. They looked about them warily. Cyane turned to Gabrielle and asked, "What happened?"

"Ares happened." Gabrielle replied and scowled.

 

Chapter 2

The Amazon drums beat slowly, rhythmically. Inside their yurt, Gabrielle held out a long deerskin coat and Myrine drew it about her. From the table behind her, Gabrielle picked up an intricately beaded collar identical to the one she wore. She clasped the collar around Myrine’s neck. The long strings of beads hung down over her daughter’s chest.

Myrine shifted her neck in the stiff collar and adjusted her coat and wristbands.

Her boots, coat, and headdress were made from the deer that she killed earlier as part of a ritual that she was about to complete. She was thankful that her aim with the bow was true and that the beautiful animal did not suffer. She practiced her archery skills for months to prepare herself for this, but she wasn’t prepared for enormous responsibility. It felt as if a heavy burden had been placed on her shoulders. She was beginning to understand how her mother must feel. She was nervous and scared. Her heart pounded in her chest and beads of sweat ran down from under her arms.

The drums increased in tempo and the ground thrummed. Gabrielle stood back and admired her daughter. Tonight she would be formally recognized as an Amazon Princess. Gabrielle gazed at Myrine, and realized that her daughter was no longer a girl, but a woman. She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat and blinked back tears.

Up on a cliff, an Amazon lifted a horn to her lips. A low, almost forlorn sound came forth when she blew into it.

Gabrielle placed a hand on her daughter’s shoulder and turned her around. "Are you ready?" Gabrielle asked.

Myrine nodded and Gabrielle slipped into her deerskin cloak and placed the headdress on her head. Gabrielle gave her cloak a final tug, picked up Myrine’s headdress, and together they ducked under the flap that covered the entrance to her yurt.

Well placed torches illuminated their way to the platform in the yard and the moon’s silvery light shone down brightly upon them. Amazons parted and knelt on the ground when they walked by. They stepped up to the platform and faced one another. Gabrielle lifted the headdress above her head and gazed at the full moon.

Gabrielle imagined what Xena would have said. "What? No naked Gabrielle? No blue paint? No howling at the moon?" Gabrielle quickly squelched the desire to laugh and bit her lip instead.

Myrine closed her eyes and swallowed when Gabrielle lowered the headdress and settled it on her head. When she opened her eyes, Gabrielle smiled fondly at her.

Gabrielle turned to face the crowd of amazons and announced loudly in a clear voice, "Amazons, I give you, Myrine, your Amazon Princess!" There was a round of cheers. Gabrielle sighed deeply and reluctantly nodded at Cyane. Cyane and Lieset stepped forward and moved towards the platform. Cyane held out an Amazon sword and Lieset had a wide mouthed wooden jug cradled in her hands. When they reached the platform, Gabrielle placed her hand on Myrine’s shoulder and gently pushed her down to her knees. Gabrielle removed Myrine’s headdress and Lieset dipped her fingers into the jug which contained the blood of the slain deer that Myrine had killed. Lieset stroked her fingers across Myrine’s forehead, leaving a trail of the warm sticky liquid behind. Cyane held out the Amazon sword. Myrine grasped the sword with a firm grip and slowly lifted the weapon over her head.

"To a strong Amazon Nation!" her voice rang out and Gabrielle joined her by thrusting her fist into the air, "To a strong Amazon Nation!"

Cheers rang out from the Amazons and Gabrielle swallowed hard against a barrage of emotions that threatened to engulf her.

Cyane stepped up to the platform and slung the scabbard for the sword over Myrine’s back. Myrine lowered the Amazon sword and deftly slid it into the scabbard. Gabrielle raised a brow at the swiftness of her daughter’s movement and at the ease in which she handled the weapon.

 

Chapter 3

Gabrielle sat at a table in her yurt where sheets of parchment were scattered about on the table top and her quill scratched across a sheet as she wrote. She paused to take a sip of cool liquid from a wooden mug. The deerskin flap over the doorway of her yurt was pulled back and Myrine stepped in. Gabrielle rolled her eyes skyward and set her mug down. Quickly, she bent her head and started writing again. She knew what this argument was going to be about.

"Mother…" Myrine began.

"No." Gabrielle’s quill marched across the parchment.

"But.." Myrine protested and placed her hands firmly on her hips.

"No, Myrine." Gabrielle cut her short.

"I want to go, Mother." Myrine said firmly and Gabrielle sighed heavily. She lifted her face to gaze somberly at her daughter. "I want to meet my brother." She persisted and Gabrielle chewed the inside of her cheek. "Why do I have to stay here every time you go to Athens?"

"Can you take care of yourself out there, Myrine?" Gabrielle watched the storm clouds gather on her daughters beautiful face.

"I can take care of myself." She snapped, her blue eyes flashed and she folded her arms tightly under her breasts.

"Right." Gabrielle replied and suppressed a grin.

"Mother!" Myrine said in exasperation.

"Oh, Myrine." Gabrielle set her quill down, pushed her chair back, and walked up to her daughter. She cupped the young woman’s face in her hands tenderly. Myrine smiled and covered them with her own "You’ve grown up so fast." Gabrielle said after a brief moment.

"All right, we’ll go just this once and see how it goes." Gabrielle relented and Myrine’s smile widened.

Myrine could hardly contain her excitement for the rest of the day and she barely slept at all that night. She tossed and turned and finally crept out of bed. She slung her sword over her shoulder, grasped her staff and crept quietly towards the exit of the yurt. She headed towards the practice grounds. She hoped that with some hard practice, she would tire and return to the yurt exhausted and finally able to sleep.

Gabrielle turned in her bed and watched her daughter’s shadow flit out the doorway. She smiled wistfully, remembering her own excitement the night she left home to follow an ex-warlord named Xena. She tried to creep out of the hut that she shared with her sister, Lila. She tripped on a stool and woke up her sister who then demanded to know where she was going in the middle of the night.

"Lila, I’m going to be a warrior like Xena." Gabrielle told her and her sister laughed.

"Gabrielle, I can beat you up!"

Gabrielle also remembered how she tried to persuade Xena to take her along.

"You’ve got to take me with you, and teach me everything you know. You can’t leave me here. "Gabrielle pleaded.

"Why?" Xena asked as she packed her belongings.

"Did you see the guy they want me to marry?" Gabrielle said incredulously.

"He looks like a gentle soul, that’s rare in a man." Xena responded with a smile.

"It’s not the gentle part I have a problem with. It’s the dull, stupid part. Xena, I’m not cut out for this village life. I was born to do so much more."

Gabrielle sighed, closed her eyes, surrendered to sleep and dreamed.

"Xena…" Gabrielle reached out with her hand.

.

The image of Xena slightly shrouded by a thin veil of fog appeared. Upon seeing Gabrielle, Xena’s smile widened and she walked towards her.

"I’m waiting for you, Gabrielle." Xena whispered.

A soft and lonely sigh escaped from Gabrielle’s lips. She turned in her sleep and wrapped her arms around herself comfortingly.

 

Chapter 4

The morning dawned overcast and humid. The trees in the forest were quiet and even the usually jubilant birds were silent. Rain had fallen during the night and mist began to seep out of the forest and float across the sleepy Amazon village. Trees and brush shone darkly through the thin haze and water dripped from the saturated surfaces.

Gabrielle, Cyane and Myrine had risen early and together they walked to the stables. They stopped short in surprise when they saw Leiset standing by their horses. Her face was impassive but her eyes betrayed her emotions for a brief moment. Gabrielle caught a flicker of concern in her brown eyes before Leiset shifted her gaze to Myrine.

Lieset took Myrine’s hands in her own and said, "Be well, Princess. Go with your Mother and learn her wisdom." Lieset released one of Myrine’s hands and took one of Gabrielle’s. "Farewell my Queen." Lieset joined their hands and squeezed them. Without another word she turned abruptly and walked out of the stables towards her yurt, arms folded under her breasts.

When Lieset turned away, Cyane could have sworn that she saw tears in those eyes.

Gabrielle’s heart skipped a beat as she watched Lieset’s retreating back. Cyane stepped forward and hugged Gabrielle and Myrine goodbye.

Gabrielle tossed her saddle over her horse’s back. Myrine walked over to her horse and did the same. They packed on the rest of the tack, supplies, and saddlebags. Gabrielle gathered up the reins, put her foot in the stirrup and launched herself effortlessly into the saddle. Myrine admired her mother for a moment. Her compact figure was fit and muscular. Her short blond hair tumbled about in the breeze and she wore a dark burgundy leather halter top and matching skirt with silver beadwork. A leather belt decorated with silver conchos encircled her waist. A pair of tattoos and her sais peeked out from the tops of her high black boots. The unusual katana sword was strapped to her back and the chakram was on its hook on her belt. A long braided leather whip was curled around the saddle horn. Her horse, Hercules, an offspring from Hero, danced around restlessly, shook his white mane and swished his tail. Myrine gazed at the large colorful dragon tattoo on Gabrielle’s back. Gabrielle calmed her steed and with a finger, brushed an errant strand of blond hair from her face. She gazed down at her daughter and her soft green eyes twinkled. Myrine gathered up the reins to her horse, stepped into the stirrup and with a hand on the pommel, she leapt lightly into the saddle. Then she turned to look over at her mother and with a tug on the reins, they rode out of the village.

Cyane watched them go and then crossed the open yard in long strides. She ducked under the flap of Lieset’s yurt and stood silently behind the Shamaness for a brief moment.

"Lieset…" she whispered.

Cyane placed a hand on Lieset's shoulder and turned her around. Lieset lifted her head and gazed sadly into Cyane’s blue eyes. Cyane’s breath caught when she realized the reason for Lieset’s sadness. Cyane took Lieset into her arms and held her. Lieset took comfort from the warmth of Cyane’s body and kissed the palm of Cyane’s hand before it caressed her face. They gazed at each other with longing and time stood still for a brief moment.

Lieset blinked, stepped back and gently pulled Cyane’s hands from her face. She reluctantly dropped them and Cyane swallowed the hurt.

"I love you Lieset." She said softly.

"I know, Cyane." Lieset swallowed and lifted her chin. "I loved you, and still do." She half-turned and gazed at the flames flickering in the brazier. "You know I cannot allow myself to become emotionally dependent on you or anyone else."

"I know, Lieset." Cyane sighed deeply and turned to leave.

"Wait." Lieset whispered, and Cyane turned back to her. "Please, stay for a while." Cyane nodded and walked over to a chair and sat down. Lieset took the chair next to her and they sat in companionable silence, staring into the flames that flickered in the brazier.

 

Gabrielle led them eastward towards Macedonia and then south into Greece. They skirted the open valleys and rode through forests to avoid attracting the attention of any Roman legions that may be passing through the region.

Myrine didn’t understand her mother’s excessive caution regarding the Romans. All she knew was that whenever her mother mentioned the word ‘Rome’, there seemed to be some sort of trouble involved. This only piqued her curiosity and she wondered what it was about Rome that angered her mother so much.

When they started out that morning, Myrine’s excitement was evident in the way she talked. She asked her mother many questions about the Gods, about distant lands, and about the Romans.

Gabrielle sighed when her daughter asked a question about Rome. She stopped and waited until her daughter rode up beside her. Gabrielle's face was sad and pain reflected from her eyes. They rode together side by side for many hours and Gabrielle told her daughter stories that Myrine never heard before. Stories that caused Gabrielle much pain, stories about Roman cruelty and torture that she and Xena had experienced personally many years ago.

Myrine was stunned by the atrocities committed by the Romans. For the first time in her life she felt fear. And then she felt anger. How could people treat each other so horribly, she wondered. She vowed that she would never allow herself or the Amazon people to resort to this kind of barbaric behavior as Amazon justice.

A storm approached them from the northwest and a cold rain fell from the heavy clouds. They stopped under a canopy of branches and Myrine shifted in her saddle to ease her sore bottom. The rain cooled their perspiring skin and the air temperature dropped a few degrees. When the rain stopped, they urged their mounts forward and continued on their journey. The sad stories that Gabrielle told and the uncomfortable wet clothing she was wearing put a damper on Myrine’s enthusiasm about this adventure that she thought would be exciting and glamorous.

Their trip to Athens was for the most part, uneventful except for one day when they encountered a few thugs. They were riding down a dirt packed road when Gabrielle stopped and tilted her head. She raised a finger to her lips when Myrine started to say something. She pointed to an area on her left. Gabrielle nodded and they both dismounted. Gabrielle pushed their horses aside, pulled out her sais and stood protectively in front of her daughter. Three mercenaries burst through the brush with raised swords and startled the horses. Surprise registered on their faces when they realized that the horses were without riders.

"Hey! Over here!" Gabrielle called out from further down the road.

Without hesitation they charged. Gabrielle shifted her feet and crouched into a fighting position. Bewildered, Myrine pulled out her sword and glanced about. Gabrielle blocked a sword with a sai and kicked the attacker in the groin. Myrine winced when he howled and sank down to his knees. Gabrielle thrust her sais to the side and caught a sword in its prongs. She delivered a side crescent kick to her attacker and he flew back into a tree. Alerted by a familiar sound she instinctively reached out and snatched an arrow that was aimed over her shoulder at Myrine. She threw a sai in the direction the arrow came from. They heard a grunt and a thug fell to the ground from behind one of the trees that lined the road. An attacker tried to push himself up and Myrine hit him on the back of the skull with the pommel of her sword and he fell with a thud. Gabrielle looked over her shoulder at Myrine, then down at the unconscious thug and nodded in approval.

Myrine shook and her heart felt as if it were going to explode. Gabrielle turned and placed a gentle hand on Myrine’s arm.

"Myrine, are you all right?" Gabrielle felt her daughter shaking and immediately took her into her arms and rubbed her back comfortingly.

"Yeah. Some Amazon I am." Myrine replied with a grimace.

Gabrielle pulled her back and said,"Hey, you did good."

"Really? So, next time you won’t stand in front of me like a human shield, right? She replied sardonically.

Gabrielle sighed. "Hon, let’s just take this one step at a time. Okay?"

 

Chapter 5

The city of Athens was very busy in this early summer morning, people shuffled amongst themselves in the crowded street. Myrine’s eyes darted about, taking in the sights and sounds. Men in small one-horse carts rumbled by, women with buckets on their way to a fountain shouted out to children, traders pulled protesting mules laden with goods, and the mixture of cooking meats and vegetables assailed Myrine’s already overloaded senses. She was unaccustomed to seeing so many people, or experiencing life outside of the Amazon village. She resisted the urge to keep looking over her shoulder, stare wide eyed like an unseasoned traveler, or to turn and run back the way they had come, back to open land, and to the familiarity of the forests. She stayed close to her mother, their arms brushed each other as they walked with their horses in tow. The noise unsettled the horses and Gabrielle turned often to soothe them when they danced about nervously.

Gabrielle petted the horses’ sleek neck and darted a quick glance at her daughter. Myrine’s eyes shone with inquisitiveness but her mouth was tight and her body was just as tense. Gabrielle knew that her daughter was being exposed to a new world, an experience that would hopefully open her eyes and her mind to the diversity that surrounded her. But right now she could sense the fear underneath her daughter’s curiosity. Making a sharp turn, she steered them in the direction of the stables. The stable hand glanced at them in surprise, he was unaccustomed to seeing Amazons in the city. He took the horse’s reins and led them into the stables. Gabrielle and Myrine turned from the stables and hefted the saddle bags onto their shoulders.

"How can you stand this?" Myrine asked. "The pushing and the noise? There’s just too many people."

"You get used to it." Gabrielle replied.

"I don’t know…" Myrine’s voice wavered. Gabrielle stopped, turned and rested a gentle hand on her daughters arm.

"Myrine, there’s life outside of the Amazon village. There are lands and people that are so different from our own, customs and cultures that even I don’t fully understand. We all live in this world, so we should learn to live together peacefully. You learn to adapt. You learn to compromise. And you learn to respect one another."

Gabrielle paused, bit her lip and looked around before continuing. "Look, think of it as an adventure. Life is not about you, it’s about the world around you."

Myrine shook her head in confusion. "The Amazons praise you for your wisdom, Mother. How can I possibly live up to their expectations?"

Gabrielle sighed heavily and reconsidered a decision that she had made when Myrine insisted on accompanying her. She lifted her hand and absently rubbed her temple.

"Myrine, I know you asked me about traveling to other lands to visit other Amazon tribes, and I told you no. Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps you need the experience, just as I did when I was your age."

Her body stiffened at the sound of marching feet. She grabbed Myrine by the arm and swiftly guided them across the street and into a shadowed doorway of a shop. People crowded in front of them to make way for the troop of soldiers. The flat soled sandals that they wore stamped in unison on the cobbled stones. Commanding the unit was a centurion. He marched in front of the group resplendent in polished bronze armor worn over a red tunic. Tall red plumes stood up from his bronze helmet, and a gilded sword hung from a scabbard at his waist. His white cape with red trim swirled around his feet as he marched. In the front of the unit, men wore chain mail over their red tunics and under leather armor. They carried metal shields and some of the wealthier soldiers wore chain mail coats. On their heads they wore helmets with tall red and black feather plumes. They carried upright in their hands a pilum, or a javelin, a well crafted wooden spear with an iron tip. Behind this unit were men equipped in the same manner, except that they carried a much longer pilum.

When the Roman legion passed by, Gabrielle and Myrine stepped out of the alcove and watched the retreating backs of the soldiers as they marched up the street.

"What was that?" Myrine asked in fascination and glanced over her shoulder at her mother.

"Romans." Gabrielle murmured and her lips curled with distaste. Gabrielle shook her head, wondering why they were marching through the streets of Athens.

 

Chapter 6

Lyceus sat in one of the iron chairs on the patio in front of the home he shared with Virgil, a quill in one hand and a parchment in the other. He uncrossed his legs and set his feet up on the chair in front of him. He pursed his lips as he reread the story that he had just written. A smile crept onto his face when he caught sight of his mother as she walked down the street. He put the parchment down and observed the tall dark haired girl that walked alongside. He blinked, and blinked again. She was beautiful, her long dark tresses tumbled over each other in the breeze, and her soft skin revealed limber muscles underneath when she shifted the saddle bag on her shoulder. Her attire was Amazon, a dark leather halter top threaded with braided cords, small silver conchos, and beads. Her skirt was made of the same material, but without any adornments. She also wore a wide ‘V’ shaped belt with silver conchos, much like the one his mother wore. A simple braid of leather lace adorned her head. A sheathed sword lay strapped to her back. She wore a pair of calf length moccasins and a tattoo wrapped itself around one thigh.

He placed the ink bottle on his parchments so they wouldn’t blow away in the breeze. He stood up and walked to the trellis at the entrance just as his mother and her companion walked through. Gabrielle’s face lit up at the sight of him.

"Lyceus!" She moved forward and gathered him in her arms. She hugged him tightly, her eyes closed and she swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. Her son hugged her gently and caressed her hair. His eyes looked up at the young woman who stood by patiently. He pushed Gabrielle back and she turned to introduce them.

"Lyceus, this is your sister, Myrine." Gabrielle grasped Myrine’s arm gently and pulled her forward and gave her a look. Lyceus stepped forward and held out his hand, expecting her to take it. Myrine looked down at the small form of her brother and raised a dark brow. Slowly she reached out and grasped his forearm. Lyceus, unaccustomed to this kind of greeting looked to his mother for assistance, but Gabrielle merely grinned. Myrine shook his arm and nodded her head silently.

"Not much for words, are you, sis?" He quipped bravely. Gabrielle intervened before Myrine could give one back. "Is Virgil here?" she asked.

"Yes, he’s inside." He turned and they followed him through the open doorway and into the cool atrium of the house. They walked down a flight of steps that led to an open courtyard. The lush greenery provided an ample amount of shade and a fountain trickled happily. They ducked under a low palm, went through an archway and into an inn. The inn was large, with a long, beamed ceiling common room crowded with small round tables. Music drifted over murmuring voices and the clatter of dishes. The smells from the kitchen drifted in the air.

Virgil inherited the inn two years ago when his mother passed away, and pretty much kept it just the way she wanted it. His two sons were away at the academy but when they were home, they helped run the inn so Virgil and Gwen could take some much needed time off.

Virgil sat at one of the tables and was conversing with a man wearing a blue cloak. When Virgil saw them at the doorway, he stood up and clapped his friend on the back. Virgil walked up to Gabrielle and hugged her. He took her by the hand and led her to an empty table. Gabrielle, Lyceus and Myrine pulled out chairs and sat down.

"It’s really good to see you again, Gabrielle." Virgil said.

"Virgil, this is Myrine." Gabrielle introduced them. Virgil extended his arm and Myrine shook it.

"Please, be comfortable. I’ll be back with drinks and I’ll have Gwen bring out some food."

While they waited for their drinks and food, Lyceus pulled out a parchment from his bag.

"Mother, I’ve just written this. Will you listen and tell me what you think?" Gabrielle smiled and nodded her head.

"Okay, here goes." Lyceus said. He unrolled a parchment and began reading.

"She moved gracefully, her hair flowed around her shoulders…" he began. Gabrielle set an elbow on the table, rested her chin in the palm of her hand and stared off into space.

"Hair that my fingers long to caress…" Gabrielle thought dreamily.

"Her eyes looked into mine, pools of water I saw…" Lyceus continued.

"The deepest of blue, deep enough to drown in…" Gabrielle bit her lower lip.

"Her skin glowed, the silvery light of the moon bathed her white as silk…"

"My fingers glided over smooth skin, I felt the fire within take control…"

"My desire grew until I could hold back no more…"

"My sigh of pleasure mixed with your own…"

"Our hands intertwined and our bodies cooled in the evening breeze…"

"Your fingers lazily caressed the outline of my hip and I shivered." Gabrielle wished for her parchment and quill.

She snapped out of her daydream and looked over at Lyceus as he finished his poem.

"So, what did you think?" he asked.

"Um, that was good, Lyceus, very good." She paused for a moment. Gabrielle reached into her saddle bag in the chair next to her and pulled out a piece of parchment and her quill.

She slapped the parchment on the table and began writing. Lyceus and Myrine exchanged quizzical looks.

"Mother…" Myrine spoke.

"Shhh.." Lyceus said. "My poem must have inspired her." He said with a soft smile and tried to peer over Gabrielle's shoulder. Gabrielle tilted her head sideways and gave him a look.

"Sorry." He grinned, sat back and raised his hands in surrender.

Virgil brought their drinks and exchanged knowing looks with Lyceus. Gabrielle rolled up her parchment and put her quill away.

"Can I see what you wrote?" Lyceus asked.

"No. It’s not finished." Gabrielle replied smugly and picked up her mug. She took a deep swallow and looked at him over the rim.

"Gabrielle!" a familiar voice called out and Gabrielle stood up. Gwen set their food on the table and hugged Gabrielle. She looked over at Myrine and said, "You must be Lyceus’ sister. Welcome."

"Thank you." Myrine replied.

They ate their dinner and chatted casually. Lyceus talked about his education at the academy and mentioned that he met a girl and Myrine rolled her eyes.

"So, Sis, how about you?" Lyceus ventured.

Gabrielle nearly choked on her food.

"How about what? If I have a girl that I like?’ Myrine’s face tightened. "Actually I would prefer a woman."

"Um, guys…" Gabrielle mumbled through a mouthful of food.

"Nooo, I mean a guy." He corrected her. "I heard that Amazons…" But, before he could finish, Myrine interrupted him.

"I don’t need a guy. Especially not some wussy guy like you." Myrine snapped.

"Look, I was just making conversation. There’s no need to get all hostile." He half rose from his chair. Myrine rose slowly and deliberately from hers. She looked as if she were about to hit him.

"Stop! Both of you!" Gabrielle almost shouted. She stood up between them and extended her arms so that her palms rested on their chests. She shook her head and placed her fingers on her temples.

A few patrons in the inn lifted their heads or turned, but quickly looked away again.

"Mother, are you sure he and I fell from the same tree?" Myrine protested.

"I’m sure." Gabrielle replied in exasperation.

"We are so like night and day!" Myrine exclaimed and jammed her hands on her hips.

Gabrielle swiveled her head from Myrine to Lyceus.

"You, sit." Gabrielle ordered and Lyceus sat down. She swiveled her head back to Myrine and gave her a hard stare.

"Sit." She told her.

"But.." Gabrielle raised her brows and gave her a look. Myrine scowled but relented and sat down as well.

"Good. Now, the two of you need to work this out. I will not have you going to bed angry with one another." She said and rubbed her temples. "Myrine, I brought you here so you could meet your brother. Yes, you and your brother are very different from one another. However, as an Amazon princess I think it would be in your best interest to figure out how to deal with personal conflicts and learn diplomacy. Sometimes diplomacy is best in some situations. Some things can be resolved peacefully rather than through violence." She turned to Lyceus who wore a smug grin. "And Lyceus," His grin faded. "Your sister is an Amazon princess, a female warrior. She is proud of who and what she is. You, however, are a scholar, teach her what she needs to know." Gabrielle sighed and turned to walk away.

"Mother, where are you going?" Lyceus asked and half rose from his chair.

"I’m getting some sleep." She turned back to the doorway and walked out. Lyceus and Myrine glared angrily at one another.

 

Chapter 7

The next morning when Gabrielle walked into the inn she found Lyceus and Myrine still seated at the same table with Gwen and Virgil. They were eating a breakfast of scrambled eggs and scrabble. Lyceus shuffled through a stack of parchments, pulled one out and slid it across the table to Myrine.

"Good morning." Gabrielle said.

Lyceus yawned and said, "’Morning." Myrine bit into a forkful of eggs and nodded at her mother. Gwen pushed back her chair, got up and walked into the kitchen.

"So, did the two of you get some sleep?" Gabrielle asked as she pulled out a chair and joined them. Lyceus and Myrine glanced at one another. Myrine stopped chewing and put her fork down.

"Lyceus and I…talked." She said and picked up a sheet of parchment.

"Good." Gabrielle said and Gwen set down a plate in front of her. Gabrielle smiled up at Gwen and said, "Thanks."

"As a matter of fact," Lyceus chimed in, "I’m taking her to the Academy. Show her around and if I can, sneak her into the library and read a scroll or two." He said. "I’ve shared with her most of the scrolls that I have."

Gwen sat down next to Virgil and said, "We still have some of Gabrielle’s scrolls. The ones Virgil’s father, Joxer, kept. If you want to read them, I’d be more than happy to get them for you."

"Gwen, would you mind?" Lyceus inquired.

"Not at all." She replied and pushed her chair back once again. She turned and disappeared up a set of stairs off of the kitchen.

"Virgil," Gabrielle said, "I saw Roman soldiers yesterday. What’s going on?"

Virgil replied, "The Emperor is here for the Olympic games."

"I see." Gabrielle murmured.

"He’s celebrating his victory over Gaul." Virgil added with a touch of bitterness in his voice.

"Gaul?" Gabrielle’s back straightened and her face froze.

"Emperor Nero sent sixty-thousand troops into Gaul. Queen Boudicea knew that most of her people would perish if the Romans invaded and a war ensued, so she surrendered before the Roman legions arrived. Nero, being so enamored with her, permitted her to keep her title as queen of the Iceni people. Gaul is now a client-kingdom of Rome."

"So, she must now serve Rome." Gabrielle’s voice was sad.

"Yes, and she can still rule her people and its lands." Virgil said softly.

"But she must guide her people into accepting Roman rule." Gabrielle’s voice was cold.

"Well , you know, even though she’s well into middle age, her name still strikes fear in the Romans." Virgil smiled. "They say that the celtic women warriors fight no less fierce than the men. They also say that these women warriors would charge with swords and axes and fall upon their enemy with a hideous cry."

"That’s true." Gabrielle confirmed with a slow smile. Gwen returned to the table and placed several scrolls at Lyceus’s elbow. She sat down and pulled her chair in.

"I'm glad she's still alive. After all she is a Roman subject and a Britannia royal." Gwen added.

"Yes, and Rome’s defeat by her rebellious army at the Teutoburg forest disgraced and outraged Rome." Virgil chuckled.

"With a little help from a certain battling bard." Gwen chimed in and Gabrielle smiled shyly. Lyceus and Myrine glanced at their mother with raised brows and Gabrielle laughed.

"Did you know that almost two-thirds of the city of Rome was destroyed in the fire?"

Gabrielle shook her head, shocked. "I know about the fire, but I had no idea that it was that devastating."

"I’ve written a story about it." Virgil said and narrated, "This was the most terrible and destructive fire in which Rome had ever experienced. It began in the Circus where it adjoins the Palantine and Caelian hills. Breaking out in shops selling flammable goods, and fanned by the wind, the conflagration instantly grew and swept the whole length of the Circus. There were no walled mansions or temples, or any other obstructions, which could arrest it. First, the fire swept violently over the level spaces. Then it climbed the hills, but returned to ravage the lower ground again."

Gabrielle smiled at his story, impressed.

"Now the Emperor is rebuilding the city of Rome in the Greek style."

"Rome is becoming too large." Gwen quipped.

Xena holds a dying messenger of oriental descent in her arms. "I bring a message to you." He rasped.

"I’m listening." Xena told him and leaned in closer.

"The Green Dragon has become to large and must be made small." He took a final breath and died in Xena’s arms.

"It will be made small again." Gabrielle mumbled and the image from the past faded away. The others looked at her, puzzled. "Gwen is right. Rome has become to large. It will become much more difficult to govern and thus the empire will end up destroying itself."

"Perhaps," Virgil said, "but the Emperor is Ares’ staunchest ally." Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed at the mention of the War God, Ares "After all, there’s been nothing but war in these lands for the past ten years and Rome has conquered almost every country it has invaded. The Roman Empire now extends from as far west as Britannia and as far east as Turkey. Rome has also conquered the northern portions of Africa and Asia. I think they’ve run out of lands to conquer."

"Except for the Amazons." She said softly.

 

Chapter 8

"I don’t understand how people can live like this." Myrine turned sideways to avoid bumping into a woman carrying bolts of textiles.

"Like what?" Lyceus asked as she dodged a child running after his mother.

"Surrounded by so many people." She said exasperated.

"It doesn’t bother me. I grew up here." He replied nonchalantly and shrugged.

Myrine shifted her shoulders and missed the familiar feel of the leather scabbard that was usually strapped on her back. She felt vulnerable without her sword but agreed to leave it behind before she and Lyceus left to go shopping in central Athens. Gabrielle explained that it just wasn’t a good idea for her to walk around in the market place with her weapon in plain view. She felt that it would attract unneeded attention, especially from Roman soldiers patrolling the streets.

"Here, this is what Mother needs." Lyceus said and picked up a bound package of parchments. A vendor walked up to them and Lyceus haggled with him on the price. He reached under the lower part of his tunic and pulled out a leather pouch. Myrine raised a dark brow in amusement. He selected several coins and handed them over to the merchant. They stepped back but, before they could turn around they bumped into roman soldiers. Lyceus stumbled and reached for Myrine to steady himself. Myrine swung a protective arm across his chest and gazed warily at the men in uniform.

"Well, well. An Amazon." The soldier’s eyes roamed appreciatively over her tall form. He sauntered forward and walked behind her. His hand rested on his sword and his cape fluttered around his ankles.

"Look, sorry about that." Lyceus offered an apology. The soldier glanced at Lyceus and quickly dismissed him.

"What brings an Amazon to Athens?" He whispered into her ear and Myrine’s lip curled slightly.

"She’s visiting." Lyceus replied.

"You?" The soldier looked over at him and laughed.

"Yes, she’s my sister." Myrine turned her head, gave him a look and he shrugged.

"Right, and I’m one of Venus’s brothers." The soldier replied sardonically.

"Are you one of Eli’s followers?" The first soldier asked and poked Lyceus in the chest. Myrine stepped up and shoved him with enough force that he took a step back.

"Leave my brother alone!" She snarled and the soldiers laughed.

"You know what I think? I think she’s shopping for a mate!" One of the other soldiers taunted.

"You shouldn’t have done that, girl." The soldier reached out and grasped her arm. Myrine jerked her arm and broke his hold on her. His blue eyes went hard.

"Myrine, don’t!" Lyceus warned.

Angered, the soldier reached out and grabbed a handful of dark tresses at the scruff of her neck. He swung her around roughly, drew his sword and pointed it against Lyceus’ throat. Lyceus’ eyes went round with fear and he stood absolutely still. Myrine spun and kicked out, knocking the sword from the soldiers grasp. She pushed her brother behind her and shouted over her shoulder, "Go!" Lyceus glanced behind him at the alley and hesitated. He glanced back at Myrine and their gazes met. "Go!" Myrine shouted again and shoved him towards the alley. She turned around in time to dodge a fist aimed for her face. She took hold of the arm as it went by, pulled, and flipped her attacker over onto his back. A beefy pair of arms wrapped themselves around her waist and pinned her arms to her sides. She was lifted from the ground and slammed into a stone wall. Her body was crushed against the unyielding stone and she gasped in pain. An arm across the back of her neck held her in place and she hung there motionless, the breath knocked out of her from the impact. The rough stone bit into her face and chest, and blood oozed from her nose. Her arm was wrenched painfully behind her back and her hands were tied together.

After her hands were tied securely, she turned around, then stumbled when a soldier shoved her forward and she cut him a scathing look. Taking her by the arms, they marched forward and the crowd that had gathered in the street scrambled out of their way. People turned to stare at her then looked quickly away. When they turned down a narrow street, she heard sounds of fighting, the clinking of armor, clashing of weapons, grunts, and snarls of frustration. This was mostly a warehouse district and very few people commuted along the street, except for roman soldiers. They stopped before an iron gate which swung open and they entered an army garrison. Men turned to stare, and taunted her with wolf whistles. She was shoved through the throng of men to a gated archway. A guard on the other side unlocked the door and they walked through. She was escorted down another damp and dark passageway that wound down into the dungeons. Torches along the wet stone walls flickered fitfully and the acrid smell of the oily smoke stung her nostrils. Vermin scurried along the edges of the walls and into dark recesses of the crumbling and decaying stone wall. Stale and rancid smells of human waste assailed her nose and sounds of distress echoed hollowly from within the walls. Somewhere nearby, someone was being beaten, a whip cracked loudly, eliciting a tortured scream from its victim and she flinched involuntarily. Myrine’s face scowled fiercely with false bravado but deep inside she was filled with fear. She was ashamed of herself for feeling like weeping. She swallowed continuously to quell the nausea and with a savage effort, she regained control of herself.

Water dripped and splashed on the walkway from tiny cracks in the mortar above her, and the cool damp air made her shiver. The soldiers escorted her into a cell where a jailer with long tongs in his hands stood by a glowing forge. His long leather apron was dirty and his flushed skin shone with perspiration. His dark hair, greasy with sweat, lay flat on his head and he looked at her with undisguised contempt.

The guards untied her hands, held them down on an anvil and iron shackles were placed around her wrists. A large bolt was driven into the hinges of the iron cuffs to lock them in place. The heavy chain that connected her shackled wrists pulled her arms down to her side. She was escorted into another cell with several other women that were shackled as well. They sat on the cold stone floor or leaned up against the damp stone walls. In the center of the cell a gritty looking woman sat alone on a long bench and gazed at Myrine with a cruel smile.

When the cell door clanged shut Myrine looked around her prison. The flicker of torches burned through the darkness. The stone walls were wet with moisture and clumps of mold and mildew grew from the tiny cracks. Dirty straw littered the rough stone floor and the bars of the iron cell door were covered with a fine layer of rust. Women stared at her but she ignored them. Her wrists chafed and she rubbed them, the chains of her shackles rattled. She was angry and humiliated.

The woman on the bench stood up. Her clothes were but mere rags, dirty and torn. Her hair hung in matted clumps and her yellow teeth were spotted black with decay. When she straightened to her full height, Myrine’s heart skipped a beat. The woman towered over her and Myrine swallowed nervously.

"What’re you? Look like Amazon, judgin’ by them clothes." The woman spoke with a lisp and her lip curled.

She shoved Myrine backwards into the cell door. The iron bars of the door bit into the flesh on her back and she grimaced. The gloom of the cell grew unexpectedly darker.

"Ha! This one doesn’t seem to have a spine! Just a young ‘un!" She sauntered forward and grasped Myrine’s chin with a grimy hand. Myrine snapped her head out of the woman’s grasp and was rewarded with a blow to the face. She gasped in surprise and then bent over in pain when the woman brought her knee up into her stomach. Myrine sank down to her knees but kept herself upright with a hand on the floor. Fingers entangled themselves in her hair and forced her head back. A dirty fist smacked into her jaw and she fell onto her back. Myrine was pulled by her hair onto her knees and lights flashed before her eyes.

"I hope your mamma fights better ‘an you!" The woman cackled.

An image of Gabrielle came sharply into focus, seated on her dancing horse, her head held high. The chakram at her side glinted in the sun and the dragon tattoo on her mother’s back reminded Myrine of who and what she was.

Myrine set her jaw, narrowed her eyes and anger surged through her. Her face flushed and tightened with fury. Her full lips curved into a feral smile. From her position on her knees, she punched the woman in the stomach with such force that the woman bounced backwards. Myrine extended her arm upward, and hit the woman under the jaw with the heel of her hand. The impact forced the woman to release her hold on Myrine’s hair. Myrine stood up and delivered a crescent kick into the woman’s face that sent her crashing into the wet stone wall. Her body crumpled and slid down to the cold, dirty stone floor.

Myrine walked over to the vacant bench and sat down. Her hands were shaking so she folded her fingers together tightly and drew herself up straight. She closed her eyes and willed herself to shut out the sounds of the dungeon. She thought of her mother and this calmed her. Gabrielle’s voice whispered in her mind.

"Accept your fear and control it. Fear is the uncertainty of the unknown. Accept your fear and you will conquer it."

She exhaled slowly, steadily, and her pounding heart slowed. "You can only control what you choose to do. You cannot control the actions of others. With every action comes a reaction."

She opened her eyes. "Listen not to just the sounds. Listen carefully to what’s behind the sounds."

The sounds of the dungeon faded, she heard boots scraping across the floor , water dripping from somewhere behind her, and a soldier shouted orders from above.

 

Chapter 9

Lyceus fled and ran down the dark alley as fast as his feet would take him. He jumped over crates, wove between carts and horses. He stopped before a fountain, his chest heaved as he sucked in much needed air. He looked left then right. Lyceus turned right and sprinted down the crowded road. People shouted curses at him when he bumped into them, but he kept on running. He turned onto his own street and barged into the house. He yelled for Gabrielle, but there was no answer. He ran down the short flight of steps, across the open courtyard to the inn. He skidded to a stop and flung open the tavern door. Gabrielle and Virgil were seated at a table, conversing with customers. Virgil’s eyes shifted suddenly towards the door, and his voice trailed off. Gabrielle turned and followed his gaze. Lyceus stood in the doorway, visibly shaken. They both stood up quickly, pushed back their chairs and rushed to his side. Lyceus pulled them outside and Gabrielle grasped his arms. There was desperation in his eyes and in his strained, white face.

"Lyceus, what is it? What happened?" Gabrielle asked.

"We were shopping and the Romans came." He replied and Gabrielle’s face froze.

"They took her."

"Where did they take her? Where?" Gabrielle asked with undisguised urgency.

"I don’t know. It’s all my fault." Lyceus replied, his voice breaking.

"No, Lyceus, it’s not your fault. We’ll find her." Gabrielle smiled reassuringly and placed a hand on his arm.

"Mother, I’m so sorry. They taunted us and then accused me of being a sympathizer of Eli."

"Some things never change." Gabrielle said dryly.

"But Myrine stood up to them. She was so brave." Lyceus looked at his mother helplessly.

"It’s worse now, Gabrielle." Virgil cut in gently.

"What?" Gabrielle frowned and glanced over her shoulder at him.

"Emperor Nero blames the followers of Eli for starting the fire that destroyed over half of Rome. The Romans consider them a threat to society. Eli’s followers formed secret societies called the hetaeriae."

Gabrielle shook her head in disbelief.

"The followers of Eli as well as the Jews have been persecuted indiscriminately by the Romans. The Emperor literally feeds them to the gladiators and to the lions in the amphitheaters for entertainment."

"Myrine is an Amazon, not a follower of Eli." Gabrielle replied quickly.

"She’s an Amazon, a warrior. She’ll probably be sent to the amphitheater as a gladiator during the Olympic games. And today is the last day of the games." Virgil informed her.

"If she survives this, then what?" Gabrielle demanded and took a step forward. Virgil was silent and he stared at her wordlessly. "She’ll be sold into slavery!" Gabrielle finished, snapping unintentionally at her friend.

"We will rescue her." Virgil persisted but Gabrielle shook her head.

"There are too many Romans tramping around and I don’t want to attract attention to you or to Lyceus." Gabrielle turned her back to him and covered her face with her hands. After a moment she turned around and dropped her arms.

"We’ll have to wait. If she’s been taken to the amphitheater it’s too late to rescue her. There will be too many guards. " She said finally, hating the idea. "But maybe an opportunity will present itself."

"I hope she makes it." Virgil whispered with a worried look in his eyes.

"She’ll make it." Gabrielle replied quietly. "Her instincts and her Amazon training will keep her alive." Gabrielle rubbed her temple absently with her fingers and Virgil laid a comforting hand on her arm. Gabrielle murmured, "I just wish this wasn’t happening. I shouldn’t have brought her here."

"Gabrielle, It’s not your fault." Virgil said.

"I know." Gabrielle answered.

"Today’s games are about to begin." He ventured and Gabrielle tensed visibly. Virgil turned to Lyceus and set his hands on the boy's shoulders, "Lyceus, I need you stay with Meg and help her look after the inn while I’m gone." He clapped Lyceus on the shoulder.

Gabrielle and Virgil left the inn and walked into the airy courtyard. Olive and fig trees swayed gently in the light breeze and the fountain splashed playfully. They walked to the other side of the courtyard and slipped between two tall fig trees. Gabrielle unlocked the door to her room and stepped inside while Virgil waited by the door. She walked over to the foot of the bed, knelt down and opened the heavy lid to a cedar chest. She pulled out a white tunica and slipped it over her Amazon attire. The tunica was knee length and over this she wore a rose colored stola, a full length drape that hung from her neck to her ankle. It was high-waisted and fastened at the shoulders with bronze clasps. She closed the lid of the chest, stood up and admired herself in the long mirror that sat against the wall. She glanced over her shoulder at the pillows on her bed where her sais were hidden and debated taking them. Deciding not to, she turned and walked over to the door and plucked the chakram from a set of hooks on the wall and tucked it under her stola instead. She belted a thin gold sash around her waist on her way out the door.

Gabrielle and Virgil crossed the open courtyard and stepped into the street. They merged with a steady stream of pedestrian traffic that was heading towards the large amphitheater at the edge of the city. The crowd was energized and people talked to one other excitedly. Gabrielle shook her head in disgust. The slaves or criminals that would be in the arena today would be fighting for their freedom. She felt sorry for them. Being victorious in a bout did not guarantee their freedom. This was a gift bestowed only by the Emperor himself. Gladiators often fight many years for their freedom, and many die trying to obtain that freedom.

They walked down the smooth cobbled street and turned towards the amphitheater. They stepped onto a column walk, under an archway with fluted white columns and past a row of lifelike statues of Roman Emperors and famous gladiators. Lush shrubbery and rose bushes grew between them.

The seats of the amphitheater were long sections of stone blocks set into a hill and arranged in a semi-circle. At the bottom of the hill was a circular compound where the competition took place. A short stone wall surrounded the compound and protected the spectators in the seats above. Gabrielle followed Virgil down several flights of stone steps and they seated themselves. She looked up over her shoulder at large booth. Royal banners fluttered in the breeze. Horns blared and the Emperor appeared from behind a curtain in the booth, flanked by his praetorian guards.

Emperor Nero was a frail and thin man. He was obsessed with Greece and Greek culture and traveled frequently to Athens. He participated in poetry readings, plays, and in some games. Like Emperor Caligula before him, he was famous for his parties and outrageous orgies.

He stepped forward, extended his arms and launched into a song. His voice was high in pitch and very off key. Gabrielle winced.

"He must be tone deaf!" Gabrielle whispered into Virgil’s ear.

Virgil turned his head and they exchanged amused glances.

When he finished, he seated himself in a gilded chair. At his nod, carts entered the area and bread was thrown into the crowd. The crowd cheered and stamped their feet. With a wave of his arm, a set of broad wooden doors at one end of the amphitheater were thrown open and two gladiators trotted out. At the opposite end of the arena another set of doors opened and another pair of gladiators emerged and the two pairs faced off.

 

Chapter 10

A key clinked in the lock in the iron door to the cell and Myrine’s eyes snapped open. Two guards entered and one of them pointed at her.

"You, Amazon, let’s go!" They stepped aside and waited. Myrine stood up and walked up to the door. One of the guards pushed her from behind and she stumbled forward. She bit back a snarl and instead stood patiently while they closed and locked the door. She pondered retrieving her Amazon hunting knife, one that Cyane gave her many years ago, from inside her boot and attacking the guards. She would be no match for them, except that she wouldn’t be able to find her way out of the dungeon. They wrapped their hands around her arms and guided her through the dungeon and down a long tunnel. At the end of the tunnel they climbed a flight of steps and she emerged into a large room. Roman guards were lined along two walls and they watched her every move. A weapons smith waved her forward and grasped her arms. With a pair of prongs he removed the bolts that locked her shackles and removed the restraints from her wrists.

"Pick your weapons and then move on to the next room." He stated flatly and pointed to the room across the way. Myrine walked along racks filled with swords, pikes, battle axes, and staffs. She selected a well worn leather belt and buckled it around her waist. She chose two short swords and slid them into the scabbards on the belt. She picked up a bronze helmet and fitted it over her head. Then finally, she selected a battle axe and a large round shield. After she suited up she looked at the row of Roman guards and wondered if she could successfully subdue enough of them to escape. But after realizing that even if she could, she would still need to find her way out through the maze of tunnels. There was a roar from a crowd above her, and she lifted her head to the ceiling. Her heart began to pound when she walked over to the room across the hall.

The doors opened and flooded the room with bright light. Myrine raised her arm reflexively to shade her eyes from the sudden glare. A guard walked up behind her and shoved her out the door. She turned and scowled at him. The heat from the hot sand penetrated the soles of her boots and she shaded her eyes from the sun. Suddenly the crowd roared and she looked up. There were hundreds of people seated in the amphitheater. Row upon row of spectators sat or stood thrusting fists in the air, waving their arms and shouting unintelligible words down at her. She was mesmerized by the crowd and stood motionless in the dirty sand, stunned by the volume of the noise.

There was a ferocious snarl to her left. She spun around and her eyes widened in both fear and surprise. A lion crept out of a metal cage and stalked towards her. His golden hide glistened like velvet and his long tail twitched anxiously. His mouth opened wide when he growled, his lips pulled back and his large white canine teeth shone. Myrine resisted the urge to cover her ears from the deafening roar. She stepped slowly around him and they circled each other. Tired of the game, the lion bellowed and leapt into the air. The crowd was immediately on its feet and their shouts were intense. She backed up swiftly and raised the shield above her. The lion landed on top of her and she went down. She struggled to keep the large shield over her face and upper torso. The lion's claws scraped across the metal shield with an ear-splitting sound, and his weight trapped her on her back. His back claws gouged into her legs and she bit back screams of pain. Her free hand reached for one of her swords, but realized that they were useless. There was no way to unsheathe them in such close quarters. She grunted and strained to pull her legs in under the shield so she could get her feet underneath of the animal. His jaws snapped at her face and she fought to keep him at bay with her shield. Finally her feet were underneath the lion’s belly and she pushed. She reached down and pulled out her hunting knife from inside one of her boots. The lion fell away from her with a frustrated snarl, but launched himself at her before she could get up. She plunged the knife into his chest when they collided and razor sharp fangs grazed her shoulder, leaving behind long gashes. The lion's weight knocked her back down onto her back and she pushed the knife further into his chest. His head rolled in agony and the great beast howled in pain. Slowly his cries died down and his head fell heavily on the shield that rested on her chest. Myrine gasped for air and let her head fall back to the ground. She took a deep breath and slid out from under the dead animal. Sweat streamed into her eyes and she scrubbed at them with the back of her hands. Slowly she got to her feet and gazed up at the jubilant crowd.

 

Chapter 11

Gabrielle and Virgil had just seated themselves and they ignored the clamor around them when people scrambled for the free bread that was tossed upon them from the carts below. Gabrielle swallowed when a charon, an official dressed as a demon from the underworld, slung a dead gladiator over his shoulder. She jumped when a pair of trumpets blared. The black robed form of the charon turned and left the arena. The surviving gladiator bowed to the Emperor and waited anxiously for the Emperor’s decision. The crowd quieted when he stood up from his chair. He put forth his arm and slowly turned his hand upwards, his thumb extended, indicating that the gladiator had earned his freedom. The crowd cheered and flowers rained down on the weary fighter. Gabrielle looked sadly down at the battle hardened fighter. The gladiator exited the arena and a set of doors opened. A tall raven haired woman stumbled forward and Gabrielle gasped. Myrine turned and snarled at the Roman guard before he swung the heavy doors closed. Gabrielle's hand flew to her mouth when she heard a ferocious roar and saw a large lion crawl from his cage towards Myrine. Gabrielle half rose from her seat, her blood went cold and her maternal instincts screamed at her. Virgil grasped her arm firmly and gently forced her back down into her seat. The crowd went wild and it sickened her. She turned her head for a moment and covered her eyes with her hands. Suddenly the crowd jumped to its feet and she covered her ears because of the noise. Virgil nudged her sharply and she opened her eyes. The lion had lunged and her daughter was on the ground. The wild animal scrambled around on the large shield that protected her upper body. The crowd screamed when the animal was tossed aside and the tall Amazon plunged a knife deep into the lions chest when he leapt at her again. Gabrielle's heart pounded in her chest and it felt as if it were going to beat itself free. She sighed with relief when she saw her daughter slide out from underneath the animal. Myrine stood up slowly, the creature's blood ran down the bronze shield that she held. Her own blood oozed from a myriad of cuts on her legs and arms.

"Virgil, give me one of your large coins!" She shouted over the din of the crowd.

"What?" Virgil shook his head and leaned in closer.

"Give me a large coin!" She repeated. Virgil reached inside his leather vest and pulled out a small pouch. He selected a coin and placed it in Gabrielle's outstretched hand. Gabrielle held the coin between her thumb and forefinger. The sun glinted from the shiny surface and caught Myrine's attention. Their gazes met and Myrine involuntarily took a step forward. She stopped, reached down and pulled her knife from the beasts chest. She raised the blood stained blade into the air in salute and nodded at her Gabrielle. The noise from the crowd had reached a feverish pitch. Gabrielle glanced over at the Emperor who waved a hand and a tall man in a white toga approached him. The Emperor whispered into his ear and then waved him away. The tall man turned to the crowd and raised his arms for silence. The crowd quieted and he spoke.

"Behold, an Amazon!" The crowd cheered.

"She has been acquired by Gustavious Maximus, General of the 4th cohort at the request of Emperor Nero!" the cheering continued.

"Oh, no." Gabrielle whispered. Her green eyes went wide and the color drained from her face.

The large double doors opened and Myrine was called inside. She looked up at her mother one last time before she turned and limped from the arena.

 

Chapter 12

"Gabrielle! Gabrielle!" A voice shouted from the other side of her bedroom door. A fist pounded against the wood and the latch rattled. Gabrielle awoke with a start and pushed herself from the table. The chair scraped on the floor and she scrambled to the door. In her wake, sheets of parchment fluttered to the floor.

She threw open the door and Virgil stepped inside quickly with Lyceus on his heels.

"They’re moving her!" Virgil blurted.

"Now?" Gabrielle said in dismay. She had been up all night trying to come up with a plan to rescue her daughter from the heavily armed garrison.

"Yes!" Lyceus informed her. Gabrielle turned and lifted a hand to her head. She closed her eyes briefly and shook her head. She turned back and said, "Virgil, I'm going after her." Gabrielle picked up her saddle bags from the floor and walked over to the bed where she began gathering up her belongings. "I'm going with you," Lyceus and Virgil said in unison. Gabrielle paused for a moment, turned around and said, "No, Lyceus, you stay here. Virgil will go." She walked up to her son and hugged him.

"Gabrielle, I’m going to the kitchen and our pack food and supplies. Meet you at the stables?" Virgil asked and Lyceus piped in, "I’ll go with him and help."

Gabrielle turned back to her packing and stiffened when a familiar cold tingle ran up her back and made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. Ares shimmered and then solidified. She reached under a pillow and pulled out a sai. Annoyed, she turned and scowled at the war god. Ares leaned casually against the wall and folded his arms across his chest.

"Saw you at the arena. Saw your daughter too. My, she’s turned out to be quite a fighter." His mouth curved into a wide grin. He pushed himself from the wall and walked up to Gabrielle. Her back stiffened and she tightened her grip on the sai. He traced the line of her jaw with a finger and said, "Didn’t you think it was rather odd that the Emperor recruited your daughter, hmm?" Gabrielle narrowed her eyes suspiciously. ‘The Emperor pays tribute to me every day and I like him." Ares shrugged.

"He’s a malicious and cruel Emperor!" Gabrielle said in disgust.

"Yeah, well, I like his style. I like good leaders and I like good fighters. I’ve helped him expand his empire and he has given me tons of glorified battles!"

"Ares, you are so…" Gabrielle felt her temper slip

"Yadda, yadda, yadda, yeah, I know. But seriously, why do you think your daughter only fought one bout and everyone else fought to the death? What do you think would have happened to her then, hmm? She may be young and inexperienced, but she’s smart and inventive. I like her."

Gabrielle took a quick step forward and the tip of the sai rested against his throat."Why, Ares? I don’t want to owe you any favors!" she snapped.

"Oh, not to worry, I didn’t do it for you." Ares smiled coyly, walked behind her and placed his hands on her slim waist. An amber glow spread outward from under his hands and across her skin. Gabrielle’s back straightened and she closed her eyes. Her lips parted, her head fell back and rested gently on his shoulder. Ares whispered in her ear, "Well, maybe I did. I think I’m starting to fall for you. I love that fire that burns within you and the passion in which you fight. Oh, you were so good and I miss that. But all that’s going to change." Ares shifted his gaze from her ear to her face and let his gaze roam down the front of her body. "Now, if I were you, I would get moving. Oh, don’t forget to take your scrolls with you." His form flickered and then disappeared. Gabrielle gasped, placed a hand over her chest and then slid it slowly down to her belly. She exhaled, shook her head slightly and turned back to the partially packed saddle bag on the bed.

She could hear Xena’s voice whispering to her, "Watch it, Gabrielle. Ares only helps himself. If he’s doing something for you, it’s because he wants something."

Gabrielle mulled over the words Ares whispered into her ear and mumbled to herself, "Don’t forget to take your scrolls with you?" She rubbed a forefinger and thumb together as she thought about it. It was a clue and she figured out to what.

 

 

 

Gabrielle took a deep breath of the clean, warm air of the early morning. At forty she was no longer a young woman. Her small face was lined even more so with worry at the corners of her eyes. Her step was still light and quick, and her face was almost girlish when she smiled. In her hand she carried Myrine’s leather scabbard and Amazon sword, and her thumb absently rubbed across the ribbed pommel.

She followed the street as it curved left around several tall Corinthian columns and decorative statues tucked snuggly between tall bushes towards the stables. She stepped inside and heard Virgil and Lyceus talking. She glanced at the horses in the stalls as she walked down the straw covered aisle and found her horse. The stable hand walked up to her and she handed him some coins from her leather purse. She opened the stall door, and saddled up Hercules. She had to talk to him in a soothing voice to calm him down. He was anxious to be out of the small stall and out on the road. He stamped his hooves impatiently and Gabrielle had to dance out of his way to avoid getting trampled on. Finally, she took the reins and walked him from the stall. He nuzzled her shoulder, shook is head and whickered.

Virgil and Lyceus looked up as she walked towards them. She stopped, turned to her horse, reached into one of the saddle bags and withdrew a scroll. She turned back, walked up to her son, and handed him the scroll.

"I want you to have this, Lyceus. Xena gave me this scroll, and I’ve kept with me for a long time. It’s a poem by Sappho." She smiled when his face broke into huge grin. Lyceus took the scroll and hugged her. Gabrielle wrapped her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder for a brief moment. She closed her eyes and sighed.

"Mother?" He ventured and gently disentangled her from his arms. "What’s wrong?"

Gabrielle smiled and said, "Nothing." He opened his mouth to say something but she turned away, nodded to Virgil and they mounted their horses.

"What’s the plan?" He asked after he settled himself in the saddle.

"We’re going north to Macedonia." Gabrielle answered.

 

Chapter 13

For a good part of the day they traveled quickly northward through thick forests. Then the lushness thinned out noticeably to dry and dusty roads that were lined with withered patches of grass and stunted brush. The sun beat down on them mercilessly, but they continued on. Finally they entered the deserts of Macedonia. Gabrielle turned them eastward towards a pair of cliffs. The horses trudged through the hot sand and the heat made Virgil drowsy. Gabrielle shaded her eyes from the glare of the sun with her hand and guided her horse to the base of the cliff, stopped and tethered Myrine’s horse. A dozing Virgil awoke, looked around blearily and yawned. He took up the reins and followed Gabrielle up a steep and narrow path littered with loose gravel. From the top of the cliff they looked down at the barren desert below. Tiny figures moved along and Gabrielle could pick out wagons in the caravan.

"There." She pointed and Virgil followed her gaze. Several two horse teams pulled wagons along the sandy road and people jostled around inside the bamboo cages.

"What do we do?" He asked.

"Wait until it gets dark, the fewer people who see us, the better." Gabrielle answered.

They sat and watched the caravan travel past them and steadily northward until late evening when it stopped and made camp. A spray of pink and gold burst from the horizon as the sun set. The colors deepened and the sky darkened when the sun disappeared altogether. Gabrielle sighed and they climbed back down the cliffs, retrieved Myrine’s horse and rode into the desert. They stopped well before the camped caravans and dismounted. Gabrielle gave Virgil the reins to their horses and he grabbed her arm when she turned to walk away.

"Where are you going?" He whispered.

"I’m going to get my daughter. You’re staying here with the horses. We’ll need them when I get back." She hissed and he didn’t argue with her.

Gabrielle crouched down and made her way slowly towards the caravan, careful not to startle the horses that were tethered nearby. A clear, moonlit sky illuminated the circle of wagons and the sleeping figures within. A small fire burned at the center of the camp, a tripod and iron kettle suspended above it. The glow of the fire reflected off the wagons and cages. Traders slept on the wooden benches that stood beneath the wagons. To one side of the fire was a long table to which lay an assortment of wicked-looking halberds, swords and knives. A young boy sat at the table oiling the weapons. When she reached the first of the wagons she peeked into the bamboo cage. From within, a figure shifted and let out a soft groan. Gabrielle turned her head to the sleeping figures by the fire for a moment before moving on to the next wagon.

She lifted herself slightly and peered in and her breath caught. Myrine was sleeping in a corner, her hair was matted and cuts crisscrossed her entire body. Gabrielle eased herself back down, placing her back against the wagon. She swallowed hard, forcing herself to control her emotions. She pulled the sais from her boots and crept along to the other side of the wagon and stopped. When she peered around the corner she spotted a trader who was sitting upright, asleep and snoring softly. She crawled forward quietly and slammed the pommel of her sai against the side of his head. He slumped forward and she caught his limp body. She pulled a set of keys from his belt and hid his unconscious body under the wagon. She stood up and flattened herself against the corner of the cage, glancing first left then right.

"Myrine!" She whispered. Myrine stirred and Gabrielle reached into the cage. Suddenly Myrine’s hand snaked out and grabbed her wrist painfully. Gabrielle winced and looked up into her daughter’s eyes. "Mother!" Myrine whispered joyously and released her hold. Gabrielle placed a finger over her lips and lifted the set of keys in her hand. Myrine nodded and stood up slowly. She tip toed around other sleeping forms to the door. Gabrielle inserted several keys into the padlock until she found the one that worked. Quietly she removed the padlock and opened the door. She helped Myrine climb down and dropped the keys and the padlock into the sand. She draped Myrine’s arm around her shoulder and they rested for a moment.

"Can you walk?" Gabrielle asked gently.

"Yes, just give me a minute." Myrine stretched herself painfully and allowed the blood to circulate through cramped limbs. When she nodded they crept forward.

The crouching form of Virgil rose when their shadows approached him and he ran forward with the horses. They helped Myrine climb up onto her horse and Gabrielle and Virgil jumped up onto their horses. Gabrielle’s horse whickered. They spurred their horses into a fast gallop and disappeared into the night.

 

Chapter 14

Gabrielle decided that they needed to rest until daylight. She turned off the road and led them deeper into the darkness of the forest to a grove of cottonwoods. A small stream trickled nearby. They dismounted and tethered the horses and laid down their bedrolls. Screened by the trees, they quickly fell asleep.

They awoke when rays of sunlight filtered through the thick canopy of the giant trees. The sun’s warmth chased away the evening’s chill and birds began to sing. Gabrielle and Myrine stood up and stretched tired limbs. Gabrielle slung one of the saddle bags over her shoulder and they walked down a narrow path to the stream. They were pleasantly surprised to find a small lake nearby. Gabrielle and Myrine quickly shed their clothes and dove in from a large boulder.

The water was chill and the shock of the sudden immersion numbed them until their bodies adjusted to the water’s temperature. After they bathed, Myrine swam the length of the lake while Gabrielle got out and dried herself off. She wrapped the linen around her torso, sunned herself on a sandy beach, and watched her daughter swim. When Myrine swam over and stepped out of the water, Gabrielle noticed for the first time the extent of her daughter’s injuries. She winced at the long deep gashes on her thighs and calves that had been crudely stitched closed. A large cut on her shoulder was an angry color of red. She stood up and pulled a clean sheet of linen from the saddle bag when Myrine approached. Gabrielle handed her the linen and inspected the cut near her collarbone.

"It looks okay." Gabrielle said and hesitated. "How do you feel?" she asked finally.

Myrine chuckled ruefully. "Stiff and sore in all the right places." Myrine wrapped the linen around her hair and rubbed. Shaking her head she let her long dark tresses fall across her shoulders and wrapped the linen sheet around her. Gabrielle and Myrine sat down on the beach and leaned back on their elbows. They gazed out over the sparkling water of the lake.

Gabrielle broke the silence. "I’m proud of you." Her face was serious.

Myrine turned her head and fixed her eyes on sad green ones and smiled.

"I’m an Amazon, mother. Not only can I say that proudly, but I feel like I truly am one at last." She paused and her face became pensive. "I don’t know how to explain it, but I feel changed somehow."

"It’s because you’ve grown up." Gabrielle murmured and reached out to cup her daughter’s face in the palm of her hand. They leaned towards each other until their foreheads met. Myrine reached up and placed her hand on Gabrielle’s arm.

"There was this woman in the same cell who really enjoyed giving me a hard time. When she ridiculed you I…," Myrine shook her head. "I lost it. I’ve never been so angry in my life." Myrine paused.

"What happened?" Gabrielle prompted.

"She didn’t bother me any more after that." Myrine answered.

Gabrielle chuckled, "that’s all right. You did good."

Behind them Virgil shouted from behind a screen of trees, "Hey, are you guys done yet? I’d like to take a bath sometime today!" Gabrielle and Myrine grinned and dressed quickly.

They walked further upstream where the stream widened and waded into the deep water. They stood in silence for a few moments, then suddenly Gabrielle dove her hands into the water. When she pulled them out, a fish squirmed in her hands. She threw the fish onto the bank and glanced over at Myrine who shook her head, disappointed that her mother caught the first catch of the day. They caught a few more fish and made their way back to the camp. By the time Virgil arrived from the lake, breakfast was ready and they ate a meal of fish, nuts and day old bread.

"So where to?" Virgil asked between bites of bread.

"Actually I think Myrine and I are going to head into Amazon lands. There’s someone I haven’t seen in a while" Gabrielle said with a shy smile.

"Okay, then I’m headed back to Athens and to my lovely wife." Virgil waved his bread in the air theatrically.

"Oh, Virgil. Thank you." Gabrielle said appreciatively and smiled at him.

"Hey, you know where to find me if you need me."

 

Chapter 15

The clouds that covered the summer sky for most of the afternoon began to break apart and the sun, low on the horizon, peeked through. Gabrielle and Myrine rode along a narrow path in the deep forest. Daylight was beginning to fade and near the horizon the clouds turned scarlet and purple against patches of dark blue sky. They passed quickly through the scattered pines and the trees thinned noticeably. Large battle axes decorated with bright feathers hung from a few of the giant pines. Gabrielle dismounted and Myrine did the same. They walked forward slowly, looking cautiously around them. A rope fell down in front of Gabrielle and a figure slid down. Myrine reached for her sword, but Gabrielle swung her hand out and stopped her. Ropes unfurled from the trees and more masked figures slid to the ground. The woman that stood silently before Gabrielle pulled her mask back. She glanced briefly at Gabrielle and then over her shoulder at Myrine.

"I’m here to see Queen Varia. I’m Gabrielle and this is my daughter, Princess Myrine."

"I bid you welcome, Queen Gabrielle and Princess Myrine." She saluted them but her smile was directed mostly at Myrine. Gabrielle noticed the exchange and scratched her ear lobe to hide her amusement. "I’m Princess Natasha." They saluted one another and Gabrielle and Myrine took up the reins from their horses. "Come, follow me." Natasha invited.

Natasha turned and they followed her down a narrow trail and back into the forest.

"You know, the last time I saw you, you were just a baby." Gabrielle said. Natasha glanced at Gabrielle and smiled. "My mother spoke often of you, Gabrielle." Her grin grew wider. "How long will you be staying?" she inquired.

"Only until tomorrow. I need to talk to someone about a certain war god."

Natasha tilted her head. "Ares?" she ventured.

They emerged from the forest and into the village and Gabrielle said, "I'll explain later. Right now I would give anything to relax in your hot springs." The young princess nodded and pointed to a hut. "That hut is available. It may be a little dusty though." After a pause she continued, "Leave your horses here and I will have them taken to the stable."

"Thank you. I'm headed to the springs, right now." Gabrielle said and set off towards a wide dirt path. Natasha watched Gabrielle's retreating back and then swung her gaze to Myrine. Their gazes met and they looked at each other wordlessly for a few moments. Finally, Myrine glanced away from Natasha's intense eyes and followed her mother.

 

 

 

Gabrielle, washed clean and dressed in royal attire, walked past the fire in the center of the village to the communal hut. She met Varia along the way and they greeted each other. She informed Varia that Natasha had stopped by and invited Myrine to go riding. Gabrielle and Varia entered the hut and sat down at one of the empty tables. Almost immediately plates of steaming food and cups of wine were set before them. They chatted amiably, catching up on each other's lives. Varia listened intently to Gabrielle's story about Myrine's adventure with the Romans during their visit to Athens. Just as she finished the story, Myrine and Natasha walked into the hut, and Natasha led the way to their table.

Myrine and Natasha sat down and joined them. Myrine pulled out her new weapon, three sections of wood connected together by a short chains. At Gabrielle’s inquisitive look she picked them up and with a flick of her wrists turned them into a sectional staff. Gabrielle, with raised brows, nodded her approval.

"Nice sticks." She commented and Myrine grinned. Natasha leaned forward and asked, "Gabrielle, you said you were going to explain about Ares."

"Ares?" Vaira said, her fork paused in mid air.

"Yes, haven't you noticed what's going on?" Gabrielle fixed her gaze on Varia.

Gabrielle continued, "Somehow, something has become unbalanced. Where there’s Romans, there’s war. Ares is behind this and I wouldn’t be surprised if everything will be in chaos soon."

Myrine and Natasha exchanged worried glances.

"You're going to try to stop him?" Varia queried.

"Yes."

"How do you plan to do that?" Varia asked.

"I don't know yet." Gabrielle replied. She had something in mind but she needed more time to formulate a plan.

Gabrielle and Varia finished the rest of their dinner in silence absorbed in their own thoughts. Myrine and Natasha left, took their mounts and went riding through the low plains just outside the Amazon forest.

After dinner, Gabrielle returned to her hut, fell heavily on the bed, exhausted, and was immediately asleep. Almost at once she began to dream, moving through the fog of her subconscious.

"Xena…" Gabrielle reached out with her hand.

.

The image of Xena slightly shrouded by a thin veil of fog appeared. Upon seeing Gabrielle, Xena’s smile widened and she walked towards her. Their hands almost touched.

"I’m waiting for you, Gabrielle." Xena whispered.

Gabrielle turned in her sleep and pulled the furs up over her body for warmth..

 

Chapter 16

The next morning Gabrielle awoke to a flurry of birdsong. She stepped outside her hut and blinked in the bright sunshine. She yawned and stretched stiff limbs. Deciding to go for a walk she turned the corner and followed a well used path that led to the training grounds. Gabrielle stopped suddenly when she heard a noise. A woman laughed. She moved towards the sound and peeked through a patch of tall ferns. Natasha sat at the base of tree with Myrine’s head in her lap. She leaned forward and kissed Myrine. Gabrielle’s eyes went wide and a blush spread across her cheeks. Abruptly she turned away and twigs snapped.

Myrine stood up and saw Gabrielle through the screen of ferns. "Mother!" She called out in surprise and Gabrielle hung her head and covered her face with her hands. When Myrine approached, she dropped her arms and shook her head.

"Myrine, I’m sorry, I didn’t…." Gabrielle began apologetically.

Myrine chuckled. "It’s all right."

"I’m… um…going to…" Gabrielle sputtered, pointed over her shoulder, turned quickly and walked back the way she came.

When she arrived at the village she went into the stables and saddled up Hercules.

"You know, she grew up so fast." She said to the horse.

"I think I did okay. What do you think?" Hercules whickered softly.

"Ares? Yeah, he’s going to be a problem. She doesn’t know him like I do." The horse nodded his head as if in agreement.

"She’s young and impressionable. I can only hope that she will remember my stories and what he’s capable of." She dug her knee into his stomach and tightened the saddle strap. She was tying on a bedroll when Varia walked in. She walked up to Gabrielle and extended her arm.

"Be safe, Gabrielle." Gabrielle smiled, took her arm and shook it.

They turned when Myrine and Natasha stepped into the stable. They held hands and were talking quietly. Gabrielle and Varia turned to one another and exchanged glances. Myrine and Natasha walked up to the stall and Myrine saddled up her horse. Natasha walked over to Gabrielle and extended an arm to her.

"It was an honor meeting you, Queen Gabrielle." She said. Gabrielle smiled shyly, took her arm and shook it warmly. Natasha glanced at her mother and stepped back to stand beside her. When Myrine finished saddling up her horse she took up the reins and led it out of the stall and Gabrielle did the same. Natasha left her mother’s side and walked over to Myrine.

Myrine leaned down, kissed Natasha’s soft lips and squeezed her hands before turning and stepping into the stirrup. Gabrielle’s brows rose at the blatant display of affection. A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.

She recalled a statement made by a Roman Emperor long ago, the voice of Julius Caesar;

"You see, Xena’s fatal flaw is her emotions. She feels. She cares. Not exactly good attributes for a true warrior."

He was so wrong, Gabrielle thought. It was Xena’s passion that made her a great warrior…and a great lover. She saw those same attributes in her daughter.

Varia leaned into Gabrielle’s ear and whispered,"I think they like each other."

"Yes, I think so." Gabrielle agreed and then shook her head. Varia tilted her head questioningly.

Gabrielle sighed and tried not to blush. "I stumbled upon them this afternoon in the woods."

Varia pressed her lips together and tried not to laugh."She’s a teenager, Gabrielle."

Varia grinned and Gabrielle gave her a look of mock annoyance.

"Yeah. I kind of noticed that." Gabrielle shook her head again and Varia smiled mischievously.

"I just hope she hasn’t fallen hard for your daughter, that’s all. My tribe will need her some day." Gabrielle advised.

"I think she’s aware of that, Gabrielle." Varia whispered in reply.

 

Chapter 17

They rode steadily north through the Amazon forests for several days. Just before they reached the edge of the forest, they stopped and made camp for the night. They built a small fire and roasted their dinner. Gabrielle wrote in her scrolls afterwards and Myrine laid down on her bedroll. There was an occasional crackle from the fire and an owl hooted overhead. Myrine rolled onto her side and propped her head in her hand. She watched the orange glow of the fire flicker across her mother’s face. Gabrielle’s quill scratched across the piece of parchment in her lap. Myrine broke the silence, "What was Xena like?"

The question startled Gabrielle and for a minute she was absolutely still. Taking a deep breath she turned and smiled at her daughter. She rubbed the tail end of her quill across her chin and said, "Xena could be like a tempestuous storm or like a calm and quiet lake. She was intelligent, resourceful, and confident. A warrior like no other." Gabrielle gazed up at the moon with a faraway look in her eyes.

Myrine sat up, drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. "You loved her very much, didn’t you?’

"Yes." Gabrielle replied simply.

"How do you know when you’ve found someone, someone you want to share your life with?" Myrine asked.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and answered as honestly as she could. "That’s something you’ll know. You’ll just know."

Myrine gazed into the fire and silence descended upon them once more. Gabrielle gazed at her daughter and debated about saying anything more. Gabrielle decided to give her daughter the space she needed so she could think about her feelings for Natasha and about her future responsibility as Queen. She wanted her daughter to be happy. She opened her mouth as if to say something, but thought better of it and bit her lip instead. Reluctantly, she turned back to the fire and sighed deeply. She bent her head and continued writing.

Myrine stretched her legs and slid them under her blanket. She laid her head down and stared up at the twinkling stars. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep.

She heard her mother pack away her quill and parchments into the saddle bags and slip into her bedroll. Gabrielle shifted herself several times until she found a comfortable position.

An owl hooted nearby and a small animal scurried past. Myrine opened her eyes and shook her head. She couldn’t sleep, her thoughts were of Natasha, so she got up and followed a narrow path to a small clearing. She opened her sectional staff and twirled the weapon experimentally. Just as she was becoming comfortable with the feel of the staff, Ares appeared in a flash of blue light. She swung the staff so that it bent into sections over her shoulder and she lowered herself into a fighting stance.

"What do you want, Ares?" She asked, annoyed at being interrupted.

"Because I can help you." Ares walked forward.

"And why should you do that?" She watched him out of the corner of her eye when he walked behind her.

.

"Because you, in turn, can help me." He leaned in and whispered in her ear.

Mryine frowned and chose her next words carefully.

Back at the camp, Gabrielle’s eyes snapped open.

"Words, Ares. Mother was right when she said that you use them well." Myrine shook her head. "Now I know what she meant when she said that you always want something. And you do, don’t you?" She jerked her head away from his face and stepped forward several paces, her back to him.

"How did it feel to kill that lion, back in Athens?’ Ares asked and Myrine bit her bottom lip. Her mind whirled. An image of her knife protruding from the chest of the great beast that lay on top of her came into focus. The feel of the animal’s blood. The hot, sticky liquid that gushed over her hand when she pulled the knife free.

"Felt good, didn’t it?" Ares taunted in his silky smooth voice. The fight with the lion did excite her, she couldn’t deny it. Her heartbeat was escalating, she could feel her blood coursing through her veins. Myrine clenched her teeth and tried to push away the images and forced herself to remain calm.

"There’s only one thing that’s keeping you from being a true warrior, and that’s killing another warrior in battle." He walked up behind her and lifted his hands just inches above her shoulders and the muscles of his bare arms stood out like iron. In a softer voice he said, "You do want to be a warrior, don’t you?"

Myrine scowled and replied from between clenched teeth, "I am a warrior!"

Ares chortled and his dark eyes shone wickedly. There was sarcasm in the deep voice when he spoke. "What! Just because you tumbled with a lion doesn’t make you a warrior, Myrine!"

Myrine stiffened, turned and glared at him in defiance but he ignored the look and continued, "Now, your mother is a perfect example of a warrior. She may not be the best, but she fights with passion. And you know what?" He raised his brows inquiringly. "She doesn’t even realize what kind of an effect that has on me!"

"You, on the other hand, need to do something more. Something great. Amazons are known for their ferociousness in battle." Ares backed up a step and gazed at her thoughtfully for a minute.

His eyebrows arched and he pointed at her, "I wonder what you would be like in the heat of battle."

Ares nodded his head and sauntered forward. "If you and Natasha, two great Amazon warriors, were to join together, now that would be awesome!" he said, his voice raised in excitement.

"And with my help the Amazon Nation could claim victory after victory. The two of you could rule the world!" His arms reached forth and his hands closed into fists.

Myrine’s eyes widened and she backed away from the glowing intensity in his eyes. Ares dropped his arms and cocked his head.

"Don’t you see? I can guide you. I can train you. I can make you one of the most fearsome warriors that ever lived."

"You mean like Emperor Nero?" Myrine snapped.

"No, no, no. Like Xena. I trained her, you know." Ares casually rested his hands on the pommel of the sword belted at his waist.

"And Xena trained my Mother. An my Mother in turn trained me. Why would I need you?"

"Oh, you silly girl." He said and shook his head.

After a slight pause, Ares changed the subject. "Don’t you find me the least bit attractive?"

"No" Myrine said quickly.

"You lie." Ares responded. "Know how I know?" Myrine scowled. "I know because I can sense it." He stepped up behind her and stopped. He wrapped his arms around her waist and Myrine gasped at the sensation. Energy flowed from him and her body absorbed it greedily. Her head fell back and her eyes closed. He turned her around and lowered his head. Their lips almost touched.

"Ares!" Gabrielle shouted and ran from the trees towards them, a sai in each hand. Ares swung his head in her direction and disentangled himself from Myrine.

"Uh, oh. That’s my cue. Don’t forget about my offer." He grinned at a bewildered Myrine and waggled his fingers at Gabrielle before he flashed out. Gabrielle stopped and sheathed her sais.

"Myrine, what did he want?"

"He suggested that I team up with Natasha and conquer the world." Myrine folded up her staff and tucked it into her belt.

"Great." She replied sarcastically.

"What’s he up to, Mother?" Myrine asked. Gabrielle turned abruptly towards camp and after a few steps, she turned back and said, "Let’s pack up and get going. I have a very bad feeling about this."

"About what?" Ares popped up without warning and she spun around.

"Twice in one night. You’re a busy boy." Gabrielle quipped and drew her sword.

Ares laughed and her eyes narrowed. His laugh had an evil ring to it. "The Amazons have become complacent, Gabrielle." Ares sauntered up to her. "They don’t even have a patron god." Ares scoffed and Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "So who do they worship?" Ares did a little dance and said," The moon?" he chuckled and Gabrielle scowled darkly.

"Ares, you are a son of a…" Gabrielle started to say through her gritted teeth, but Ares interrupted before she could finish.

Oh, please, Gabrielle, if you’re going to say what I think you’re going to say. Say it with feeling!" Ares shouted harshly and drew his sword. Gabrielle lunged and sparks flew when their swords clashed. He smiled into her face and pushed off. Gabrielle backed up to duck a roundhouse kick to her head. She jumped, kicked out and he blocked with both of his arms crossed over his face. She landed, spun on her toes and her sword sliced through the air. Ares raised his sword and stopped her attack.

He backhanded Gabrielle hard across the face. Enraged, Myrine pulled out her sword and lunged at him in one swift movement. Her sword cut and sliced through the air so fast that Ares staggered and tripped over his own feet. He fell and lost his grip on his sword. It clattered to the ground, bounced on the packed dirt, and out of reach. Myrine jumped and straddled him, her sword raised. Her lips curled and she let out a fierce cry.

"Myrine! No!" Gabrielle shouted. She knew that Myrine wouldn’t be able to kill the war god, but this was exactly what Ares wanted. He wanted Myrine angered, out of control. He was trying to connect with her dark side, make it stronger and more difficult for her to control.

Her chest heaving, Myrine stood poised with the sword over her head, the sharp point aimed down at his chest. Her nostrils flared and she struggled to contain her anger. She spared a quick glance at her mother and then back to Ares. Slowly she stepped away and lowered her sword. Ares picked himself up and dusted off the seat of his pants. He smiled and his white teeth shone.

"Wow! That was exhilarating!" He shook himself and his eyes glinted in the torchlight.

"You know, Ares, there was a time when I actually liked you. But now, I wonder how I could have." Gabrielle frowned in disappointment.

"Well, I’ve always liked you, Gabrielle, despite all the nasty little things I used to say about you."

"Ares, right now you disgust me. You’ve become completely absorbed by your lust for blood."

"I lust after women and war. That’s who I am. I’m the God of War! What did you expect?"

"Obviously, I expected more than I should have."

"I guess you have." Ares flashed them a sardonic smile and disappeared.

Gabrielle turned to Myrine and sheathed her sword. "Ares doesn’t want to kill us. He just wanted a fight."

"Yeah, and we gave it to him." Myrine replied.

 

Chapter 18

When Gabrielle and Myrine reached the edge of the forest, just before the Macedonian desert, they stopped at Aphrodite’s temple. The tall, smooth marble pillars shone purple from the setting sun. Vines with white trumpet-like flowers wrapped themselves around the columns and gave off a light scent of jasmine. The large wooden doors to the temple stood open and small birds fluttered happily in and out at will. Flowering shrubs lined the crushed gravel walkway and birds sang out from the trees beyond. Their boots crunched on the gravel path and they walked up the smooth marble steps and into the temple. Gabrielle walked up to the nude, life-sized marble statue of Aphrodite and turned around after giving it a quick glance. Myrine stood at the doorway and stared at the nude figure. Finally, she pulled her gaze away and glanced about. She walked up to a large frieze on a wall that depicted figures in various poses. Her youthful face leaned forward and she squinted at the artwork. She turned her head sideways and with an amused expression asked, "Mother, is this what I think it is?"

Gabrielle opened her mouth, then shut it and bit her lip. Gabrielle walked over to her, tilted her head and scrutinized one of the poses. She took a deep breath and forced herself to turn around.

"Aphrodite!" Gabrielle said and waited. She glanced up at the ceiling and noticed how the temple was slowly deteriorating and frowned. The paintings on the walls had faded, day old fruit sat on pedestals and the gemstone encrusted altar glinted dully.

Pink sparkles shimmered in the air before the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, appeared. Torches on the walls sputtered and came to life. Dormant candles on the altar flickered and lit.

Aphrodite solidified, lounged on a gilded couch with red satin coverings. She wore a sheer white halter and pantaloons that were made of pure silk. She wore a gold diamond necklace around her neck and matching earrings hung from her ears. Her long golden hair formed ringlets around her shoulders and her smile brought life to the slightly decaying temple. "Gabrielle!" She said in a sing-song voice and Gabrielle smiled. She got up from the couch and walked seductively towards Gabrielle.

"Aphrodite." Gabrielle replied in greeting and they hugged one another. Aphrodite stepped back and turned to gaze at Myrine. Myrine was fixated by the sheer beauty of the goddess.

"Oh, my." Aphrodite sighed and brought a hand to her chest and whispered, "She looks almost just like her." Aphrodite walked up to Myrine and cupped her face gently in her hands. With a smile she said, "I see you’ve felt the power of love, little one." Gabrielle raised a brow at the pet name usually reserved for her. Gabrielle cleared her throat and said, "Aphrodite, I’ve come to talk about Ares."

Aphrodite dropped her arms and turned back to Gabrielle. "He’s gaining worshippers, isn’t he? I mean, look at my temple! It used to be overflowing with gifts, but now it just trickles in." Aphrodite’s face was crestfallen and Gabrielle felt sorry for her.

"Doesn’t anyone want love anymore?" She pouted and Gabrielle walked over to the goddess. She placed a gentle hand on her arm. "Aphrodite, what’s going on?" Aphrodite took Gabrielle’s hand and led her to the couch and they sat down.

"My powers are weakening. The more worshippers Ares gains, the weaker I become. Soon, there will be nothing but chaos and I will be forgotten."

"We’re not going to let that happen, Aphrodite." Gabrielle consoled her.

"Short of destroying my brother, what can you do?"

"We just need to stop him, neutralize him somehow." Gabrielle turned, glanced at Myrine and nodded.

"Mother, what are you thinking?’ Myrine asked.

Gabrielle bit her lip. "The stone of Hephaestus." Her voice was steady.

"What?" Aphrodite and Myrine replied in unison.

"You know what the stone can do, don’t you Aphrodite?"

" It was the life of Hephaestus’ forge, it gave him the power to create beautiful crafts." The goddess explained.

"When Xena joined the chakram of light and dark the stone glowed, didn’t it?" Gabrielle said.

"Yes, I was with Hephaestus when it happened and he was quite disturbed by it."

"That’s because two chakrams were forged by Hephaestus." Gabrielle stated.

"I have the scroll that was in Calib’s possession. I’ve spent years trying to dechiper it. The scroll explains the purpose of both chakrams, but I haven’t figured out all of it. It also explains the chakrams’ unique bond with the stone. The main purpose of the stone may have been providing the fire for his forges, but with the chakram, it also has the ability to put gods to sleep."

Aphrodite and Myrine stared at her.

"Hephaestus built a throne for Ares which now sits in an abandoned temple in Macedonia. It happens to be the place where I keep my scrolls. It was abandoned when Ares lost his godhood and became mortal. And in that temple is the stone, on Ares’ throne."

"Hephaestus made many wonderful things for us. I miss him." Aphrodite said forlornly.

 

Chapter 19

They reached the Macedonian desert just after sunset. The midday heat was cooling into evening shadow and the sunset colored the sky in deep purples and reds. Myrine yawned, wiggled her toes in her boots, and wished for a bath. They slept earlier, choosing to travel across the desert at night when it was much cooler. Their horses trotted down the sandy road, past a scattering of palm trees.

They stopped near a cliff and dismounted. Gabrielle picked up a torch from behind a large rock. With a flint she lit it and they walked up to the stone wall. In the wall was a round stone studded with gems and a palm print in the middle. Gabrielle placed her palm on the print and rotated the stone. She stepped back and a portion of the stone wall swung outward. Myrine followed Gabrielle inside and was shown where booby traps were. Their footfalls echoed eerily as they walked, and small puffs of dust rose in the air behind them. They followed a large ‘x’ encircled on the walls and emerged into a cavernous room. The torchlight burned through the haze of musty air that hung motionless in the deserted cave. Gabrielle placed the torch in one of the brackets on the wall and indicated a stone stool for Myrine to sit down. When she did so the shield on the wall swiveled inward and Gabrielle’s scrolls poked out from cubbyholes in a round stone hidden behind it. Myrine’s mouth dropped open and Gabrielle smiled. She reached into her saddle bag and placed a few scrolls into the empty slots.

When she finished, she picked up the torch and they ventured down a narrow passageway and into another large room. Gabrielle and Myrine pulled cobwebs from their hair. They jumped when, one by one, the torches along the wall sputtered and illuminated the cold, dark room. Items such as shields, armor, helmets, and weapons crafted by Hephaestus lay scattered about. An elegant throne sat to one side against a wall. Gabrielle let out a stifled gasp. Massive pillars of black granite rose on either side of the throne and a huge skull with twisted horns carved from the same stone sat between them. A large red stone was embedded in metal above the huge skull. The seat of the throne was carved from the dark granite and decorated with friezes. Large shields hung from the walls, and the flicker of the torches reflected from them. The steps were constructed of massive granite blocks cut to interlock with one another and tightly sealed with mortar.

"What is that?" Myrine exclaimed.

"That looks like the throne Hephaestus made for Ares." Gabrielle replied.

In front of the throne was a coffin. The two women walked forward and knelt down. They gazed at the likeness of Ares that was carved into the lid. Gabrielle brushed her fingertips across the cold stone. They stood up and glanced at the mysterious red stone.

"Why the stone and the coffin?"

"According to the scrolls, this is Ares’ final resting place. The stone will keep his body here and will prevent anyone from taking it." Gabrielle answered.

"What are nice girls like you doing in a place like this?"

They spun around at the sound of Ares’ voice. Myrine’s sword made a metallic sound when she drew it. Gabrielle swung an arm out and shook her head.

Ares sauntered forward and continued,"This used to be one of my temples. But it was abandoned when I became mortal." He glanced at Myrine. "I was thinking of cleaning it up. I have many new worshippers in this area now." His deep voice reverberated. He walked behind Gabrielle. She watched him out of the corner of her eye.

Ares placed his hands over her belly and she inhaled sharply. A bluish glow spread outward from his fingers. She covered his hands with her own and leaned into him.

"It’s been a while since you felt this way, hasn’t it, Gabrielle?’

"Hmmm." She murmured.

"Think of it, you and I, rulers of the world."

Xena’s voice broke into her thoughts. "Careful, Gabrielle."

"Mother…" Myrine ventured and Ares shot her an annoyed look. Myrine shook her head in disgust.

Gabrielle blinked and stepped forward quickly, breaking her contact with him. She reached down and pulled her sais from her boots. Ares turned to Myrine, pulled his sword and twirled it. Myrine pulled her collapsing staff from her belt and swung it from side to side. Ares shifted his body with the rhythm of her new weapon and lunged. Myrine wrapped her staff around his sword and pulled. Ares grinned and pulled back. She stumbled forward, tucked her knees in and rolled. She flipped back up to her feet and pulled out her sword. Gabrielle threw a sai towards Ares and he turned sideways. The sai went by him and stuck to the wall. Ares glanced at the sai briefly, then back at Gabrielle and nodded in satisfaction. He turned to Myrine and stalked towards her.

Gabrielle lifted the chakram from its hook at her side and flung it towards Ares. He ducked and the chakram bounced off the hard surface of the war god’s throne. Everyone swung their heads and followed the chakram’s path. It went past Gabrielle and towards Myrine who reached out and snatched the weapon from the air. Her eyes widened in surprise and she glanced quickly over at Gabrielle. Gabrielle’s brows rose and glanced over at Ares, a smug expression on his arrogant face. She frowned at him and the war god laughed.

Myrine shifted her gaze to the red stone up on the gilded throne. Mysteriously she felt drawn to it and without thinking, she lifted her arm and threw the chakram towards the ruby red gem. Sparks flew when the chakram hit the stone and then the round weapon separated, but not into the two teardrop shapes. It separated into two round discs. One disc snapped in half and fell to the dirt floor, useless. The other disc hurtled towards the wall and sliced through it. The stone in the throne glowed, orange and hot and the lid of the coffin slowly slid open. Gabrielle and Myrine exchanged glances, then shifted their attention to Ares and moved in on him.

Myrine attacked first by delivering a crescent kick to his stomach just as he turned around. Ares was completely taken by surprise. His body folded and he flew backwards into the open coffin. All was still for a moment and then his hands reached out and grasped the sides of the metal box. He lifted his head and glared at Myrine. Gabrielle went cold. She had never seen the war god like this. His face was dark with fury and his lips curled evilly. The war god struggled to extricate himself from the coffin. His hands scrabbled at the edges of the box, but he couldn’t maintain a strong grip. His head bobbed drowsily and his eyes were heavy with sleep. Overcome drowsiness, his eyes closed and he fell back into the box. The lid slid closed, entombing the war god in the cold, stone coffin.

The ground shook and stone slabs slid down in each of the entrances. Gabrielle grabbed Myrine and they dove under one of the slabs before the block slammed down and sealed off the entrance to the room. They ran back the way they came and they stopped at the stone cubbyhole where part of the remaining chakram was embedded. It had broken after piercing through the stone wall, just below the scrolls. Myrine’s reached out but the shield rotated and closed the cavity. A stone slab began lowering in the doorway and Gabrielle grasped her arm and pulled her away. They ran, ducked under it, and breathed a sigh of relief. They walked down the corridor in complete darkness. They held hands and using the other against the wall Gabrielle guided them out of the tomb.

 

Chapter 20

The chakram was gone. She absently touched the empty hook on her belt. She sighed and turned around. A drowsy Myrine nodded in her saddle and Gabrielle smiled a small smile. She turned off the road and into a small clearing beyond a stand of elm trees. She stopped, dismounted and arched her back, relieving the tense muscles. They were traveling back to Greece to visit Virgil and Lyceus on their way back to their Amazon tribe.

Myrine dismounted and pulled her saddle and tack from her horse. She threw her bedroll on the ground, yawned and stretched. It was her turn to catch their dinner so she walked into the woods, the moonlight illuminating her way. Gabrielle watched her retreating back before she turned to Hero and patted the mares neck. She gathered dry tinder and wood and build a fire. She set a small tripod above the fire and hung a small pot from it.

She walked over to a small stream nearby and filled their water skins. When she returned to the camp she peeled and quartered fresh vegetables that she bought at a small village that afternoon. She poured the vegetables and water into the skillet and added a few spices. She heard Myrine’s footsteps and turned when her daughter stepped into the camp. She held out two rabbits and grinned.

They ate a filling meal of rabbit stew, bread and cheese and washed it all down with water from their skins. Myrine finished chewing and set her plate down beside her. She glanced across the flames at her mother. Gabrielle chewed her dinner absently and stared into the fire. She couldn’t get the images of Ares out of her mind. She was deeply disturbed by the War Gods dementia and his sudden demise.

"What happens to Ares now? Myrine wanted to know.

"Ares will remain entombed for all eternity." Gabrielle replied sadly. She set her plate down, knelt by the fire and stoked the wood gently. Amber ashes floated upwards into the dark night and mingled with the twinkling stars.

"Is he dead?" Myrine inquired.

"No, only asleep." Gabrielle answered.

"I don’t quite understand." The young woman’s face was puzzled.

Gabrielle set the stick down, sat back and crossed her legs. "According to legend, Calib’s scrolls that is, Ares succumbed to the power of the stone. He is not dead, but merely asleep. He will remain that way for all eternity until freed. He can only be freed by the power of the stone. The chakram chose you and therefore only the descendants of its wielder can use the chakram."

"But both chakrams are broken."

Gabrielle smiled, "Yes, for now." Myrine frowned, and she continued, "do you remember the story where Xena joined the light and dark chakrams?"

"They can be joined." Myrine realized.

"Yes." She held her daughters gaze. Myrine’s eyes flickered to the left.

"There’s someone in the bush." Myrine whispered

"I know." Gabrielle leapt into the air, somersaulted, and landed next to the tall shrub. She grabbed the intruder by the collar and spun him around. His eyes were wide with fright and his hands rose to cover his face. Surprised, Gabrielle released her hold on his shirt and stepped back.

"Who are you?" She asked.

The man dropped his hands and tugged at his shirt to straighten it. Gabrielle took in his attire and noticed that he carried no weapons. Her brows crinkled together into a frown and he gulped.

"Virgil sent me." He said hurriedly.

"Why? What’s happened?" Her tone was urgent and she grasped his arms.

"He said for you to meet him at Masada." He took a deep breath. "A woman named Eve is in trouble. She was trying to negotiate a truce between the Romans and the Judahs, but the Romans took her prisoner."

 

Chapter 21

"The great fire of Rome lasted for six days and seven nights and consumed almost three-quarters of the city. The citizens of Rome accused Emperor Nero for setting the blaze. He had an insatiable appetite for amusement. Nero blamed those of other religious faiths and ordered the arrest of several members of these different sects. Under torture they in turn accused others and all of the religious sects became fair game for retribution.

They were rounded up and put to death in the most horrific manner for the amusement of the citizens of Rome. Some were nailed to crosses, covered with animal hides and mauled by dogs, or set on fire to serve as evening light."

Myrine rolled up the scroll she was reading and shook her head.

"I hope she’s still alive." Myrine wondered out loud.

"She is." Gabrielle replied and sighed wearily. "Let’s pack up. We need to book a passage to Alexandria and then travel by horseback to Masada." Gabrielle turned her head to gaze at her daughter. "Well, you wanted to travel to the far lands. Looks like you’re going to get your wish." Myrine exchanged a tired smile with her mother.

They traveled southward to the port city of Therma. Gabrielle explained to Myrine that to the east of Therma was the city of Amphipolis and to the south was her home village, Poteidaia. At the port city, they boarded a ship en route to Alexandria. In their cabin, Gabrielle pulled some clothes from one of her saddle bags and handed them to Myrine.

"These were Xena’s. They should fit you."

Myrine set the folded pieces of cloth on her lap and sorted through them. She stood up and stepped into a pair of loose trousers of white linen and shrugged into an embroidered shirt. She slipped a long white robe over her shoulders and tucked her collapsing staff into the wide satin belt at her waist. Gabrielle gathered her daughter’s hair and tied it back with a pearl encrusted clasp and wrapped a turban around her head. She stood back and nodded in satisfaction.

Myrine felt like a different person dressed in the desert attire. She smiled at her mother, turned and left the cabin. Gabrielle sat down at a small table, pulled out a sheet of parchment and began to write.

Gabrielle, dressed in loose robes the color cinnamon, left the cabin and climbed up to the deck. The gentle summer breeze lifted strands her golden hair and rustled the soft fabric of her pantaloons and jacket. Myrine, her hand wrapped around a mooring to steady herself, swayed in the slight rocking motion of the ship. She was staring across the sparkling water at the coastline. She turned her head quickly when she heard Gabrielle approach and then glanced back. Gabrielle stopped beside her, planted her feet apart to balance herself, and shaded her eyes against the sun’s glare.

"Alexandria. Home of Alexander the Great." She said.

"It’s nothing like I expected." Myrine said.

Gabrielle turned her head to gaze softly at her. "Oh, these lands in the east are so very different, Mryine. Their customs, culture, rituals, and traditions, nothing like you’ve ever seen." She rested her hand on her daughter’s shoulder and turned her attention back to the city. They saw small fishing boats, docks, and people moving along the wooden planks of the warf. Row upon row of two and three story homes lined the street and tall palm trees towered over them. In the distance were the shadows of the three great pyramids against the early morning sun. As they drifted closer, more items came into focus, such as ornate statues and gardens bursting with color. The streets were bustling and they could hear the sounds of the city. Merchants with donkeys and braying mules, the rumbling of carts and wagons and people hurrying to and from places of business shouted out to one another.

The shallow water of the cove splashed quietly against the wooden planks of the ship. Deck hands tossed mooring ropes and the ship was brought to rest gently against the warf. A long wooden plank was lowered and the captain of the ship disembarked. He was talking with someone on the warf when Gabrielle and Myrine walked down the plank. Myrine looked around her as she followed Gabrielle down the busy street. They stopped at a stable and purchased horses. They led their horses to the outskirts of the city and purchased food and supplies at a small market. Myrine purchased several throwing knives and tucked them into her belt next to her collapsing staff. They packed the items into their saddle bags, mounted their horses ant trotted out of the city.

The dry heat was oppressive and Myrine panted when the wind blew a gust of it into her face. Following her mother’s example, she wrapped the linen scarf around her face, covering her mouth and nose. Immediately she was able to breath freely. They traveled across the expansive desert until the next morning. Gabrielle led them to an oasis where they made camp and they fell upon their bedrolls in exhaustion.

 

Chapter 22

They slept until late in the day, just as the sun was setting. They saddled up their horses and rode back into the desert.

They approached a small cliff and the sound of hammering and voices barking commands reached their ears. They dismounted their horses and tethered them by some short trees. They ran across a short stretch of desert, crawled up a sandy dune and peered over the edge. Several crosses were being put together and a few were already in the ground. Roman soldiers milled around and row after row of tents lined the narrow valley. A small oasis sat in the center of the encampment.

"By the Gods! There’s thousands of them!" Myrine blurted out. Gabrielle’s face was grim.

Gabrielle turned around and sat down, her back against the dune. Myrine wiped the sweat from her face with a linen scarf.

Gabrielle and Myrine crept along the bottom of the dunes until they reached the opposite end of the encampment. They crawled up one of the dunes and peered over the top. Directly in their line of sight was a large tent with two soldiers standing guard at the entrance. The tent flap was thrown open and a Roman commander stepped out. His white cape billowed out behind him. His face was tanned from the harsh desert sun and his muscular arms stood out like tree trunks from under his short sleeved tunic. His intricately carved body armor glinted in the sun and he held his helmet with tall feathered plumes in the crook of his arm. He placed the helmet on his head, turned towards the tent and shouted a command.

He stepped to the side when two soldiers walked out of the tent pulling Eve on a long chain. One of the soldiers yanked on the chain and she stumbled forward. The soldiers laughed and pulled on the chain again. The Roman commander stepped forward.

"You must be Eve, the messenger of Eli." He said sarcastically.

"I am." She answered.

"I wish I had met you when you were Livia. What a team we would have made!" He paused."But now, you’re the peace loving Eve." He walked behind her.

"Still spreading the word about love? Will love save your life?" the commander asked.

"Love is the way. It is stronger than hate." Eve said, her voice calm and steady.

"Really? Well, I guess we’ll find out." His lips curved upwards into an evil smile.

"Ask yourself this question, why are you so afraid of us?" Eve asked evenly and looked boldly into his face.

"Take her away!" he snarled.

"I thought Virgil said that she was at Masada?" Myrine whispered over her shoulder.

"Looks like they’re taking her someplace." Gabrielle replied.

She was led to one of the caged wagons that were behind the tents and shoved into one of them, her wrists bound with heavy iron shackles. Gabrielle sighed heavily and rested her forehead on her arms. After a moment she raised her head and glanced over at Myrine.

"We wait until dark. We need the keys to the wagons and we need a horse." Gabrielle bit her bottom lip. "Myrine, I want you to get a horse and wait for me. I’ll get the keys and free Eve."

Myrine nodded and they made their way across the hot sands to their mounts waiting at the base of the small cliff.

The afternoon light faded to dusk. Gabrielle and Myrine walked back to the Roman camp. When they climbed over the final dune Gabrielle caught a shadow that flitted by out of the corner of her eye. She reached out to Myrine and they stopped. Gabrielle turned and saw a shadow cross behind a dune. She pulled a sai from her boot and moved forward towards the dune. A head popped up and she folded her arm around a neck in a choke hold.

"Virgil!" Myrine whispered and Gabrielle immediately released him. Virgil sputtered and rubbed his neck.

"Virgil, I thought we were to meet you at Mesada?" gabrielle hissed.

"That was the plan until that commander showed up. He’s taking her to Rome to stand trial." Virgil explained in a hushed voice.

"Stand trial! For what?" Gabrielle exclaimed in exasperation.

"Treason. For crimes committed against the Roman Empire." Virgil answered.

"What?" Gabrielle raised a hand to her temple and rubbed it.

"She’s accused of allying herself with the people of Judea who are at war with Rome." Virgil replied quietly.

"Now why doesn’t that surprise me? I should have known when you mentioned Mesada." Gabrielle said and propped her hands on her hips.

"Okay, I’m lost. Someone fill me in, please." Myrine said. Gabrielle bent over, tucked her sai into her boot and said, "Mesada is a fortress in the Judean desert. It was built by King Herod of Judea. After his death the country fell to the Roman Empire. The people of Judea became embittered by the harsh life imposed on them by the Romans, so they revolted and captured the Roman-controlled fortress. The Sicarii have been fighting the Romans for many, many years."

"Must be some fortress." Myrine said.

"It is. King Herod’s palaces reside there. It has its own water supply and food storage facilities. It’s situated on top of an isolated rock at the very edge of the desert."

"Sounds like it is practically impregnable." Virgil said.

"Not quite." Gabrielle replied."Xena told me about the many caves and caverns that crisscross inside the rock. A few of the tunnels lead into the fortress."

The moon shone down at that moment from between fast moving clouds and bathed everyone in its silvery light. Instinctively they ducked down and peered cautiously over the rim of the dune and down into the camp. Eve knelt on the dirty floor of the wagon and her hands were clasped together in prayer. Her face tilted towards the heavens and her eyes were closed. The camp was quiet, only two soldiers patrolled the perimeter. Gabrielle glanced to her left and nodded at Myrine. Myrine crept down towards the camp to where the soldier’s horses were tethered. Gabrielle and Virgil crept down the dune and flattened themselves against one of the tents. At her nod he stalked to the next tent and she followed. They froze when they heard raised voices and two men walked by on the other side of the tent.

"My Leige, the men are tired and the water supplies are low. We’ll lose men if we continue on to Rome."

"Several legions will be here in the morning. You will go with one legion and take the Eli prophet to Rome. I, Genral Flavius Silva, will march on Masada and crush the Sicarii!"

Gabrielle cursed inwardly. They were stuck here. It would not be possible to evade the soldiers already marching in this direction. It would be nearly impossible to hide from them in the wide expansiveness of the desert where they could be seen for miles. The only way to return to Alexandria unseen was to travel south into Libya or west to Troy.

They exchanged silent glances and crept past the tent to the wagon where Eve was imprisoned. Gabrielle flattened her back against the rough wooden slats and peered over her shoulder cautiously. She stood on her toes and looked into the cage. There was a soldier standing over Eve and he whispered, "You’re a pretty one. How about you give me what I want and I’ll see that you get some water, huh?" He paused and smiled. "I know you’ve got to be thirsty by now." Eve opened her eyes and gave him a level stare that obviously unnerved him. He seemed uncertain about what he was going to do. Eve opened her mouth, licked dry chapped lips, and said, "I do not thirst for what you want, but I would be grateful for a cup of water."

A small laugh escaped from the man’s lips and he shuffled forward. Gabrielle reached in, grabbed his ankles and yanked him off of his feet. He fell forward with a loud thud. Gabrielle froze and swiveled her head from left to right. Virgil moved to the rear of the wagon, pulled the keys out of the lock, and crept through the open door. After several tries, one of the keys on the key ring finally unlocked Eve’s manacles and he helped her down from the wagon.

They retraced their steps and climbed quietly over the sand dunes to where Myrine waited with their horses. They hugged each other briefly and climbed up into the saddles. They were about to gallop away when Eve reached out and stopped Gabrielle.

"I can’t go with you." Eve said and Gabrielle looked at her in confusion.

"I have to go back." Eve whispered.

"To Masada?" Gabrielle assumed.

"Yes. Many of my people are there waiting for me to return." Eve replied.

"Return? Eve, there legions of Romans soldiers on the way to Masada."

"I know, and my people are there."

"Eve, this is a war, not a religious crusade!" Gabrielle said between clenched teeth.

"Gabrielle, I can’t just leave them there!" Eve argued.

"All right!" Gabrielle relented and they spurred their mounts eastward to Masada.

 

Chapter 23

They reined their mounts sharply to a stop, clouds of dust billowing out from behind them. The sides of their horses heaved, their nostrils flared, and one of them nickered softly. The jagged walls of the Masada stood before them. A long moment of silence followed. Virgil and Myrine glanced at one another silently. Gabrielle shielded her eyes against the sun and peered up at the cliff. Suddenly a javelin hit the dirt directly in front of her and her mount shied. She pulled on the reins and brought the beast under control. Her hand reached to her side, but at the last minute, remembered that the chakram was no longer there. She bit her lower lip and her horse danced nervously. She looked down at the javelin, its colored plumes fluttered in the light breeze.

"Who goes there?" A voice from somewhere within the rock commanded. Gabrielle opened her mouth but Eve spoke first.

"I’m Eve, messenger of Eli, and these are my friends."

"You’ve returned!" All heads swung in the direction of the voice that came from within one of the caverns. A tall figure emerged followed by several armed men. He walked up to Eve, his robes billowing out behind him, and the sabre at his side glinted in the sunlight. Several short daggers were tucked into a wide satin belt at his waist. He sheathed the sword and extended his arm out to Eve, who shook it and introduced them.

"Manahem, this is my friend Gabrielle from Poteidaia, her daughter Myrine and my friend, Virgil from Athens. This is Manahem, leader of the Sicarii."

Manahem crossed his arms and rubbed his bearded face thoughtfully.

"Ah, all of you from Greece and citizens of Rome." he said in a deep voice.

"I don’t consider myself a citizen of Rome!" Gabrielle snapped in a low voice.

Myrine’s eyes cut to her mother, startled by the intensity in her unusually quiet voice.

"But your country is governed by Rome, is it not?" he responded and his mouth curved into a smile.

"No, I won’t deny it. I just don’t like it." she replied shortly.

There was a brief moment of silence. Then he burst into hearty laughter. Gabrielle raised a blonde brow in amusement and glanced at Eve who smiled a small smile. Eve dismounted and walked beside him towards the cavern. Gabrielle, Myrine, and Virgil tethered the horses and followed. The cavern was well lit and patrolled by Judan Soldiers. They wore simple uniforms, leather or metal armor over linen trousers with long robes, turbans or helmets on their heads, boots or sandals on their feet, and sabers or halberds at their side. The tunnel wound upwards for a very long time and they stopped often to rest. They turned from the tunnel and walked up a flight of steps and into bright sunlight. They blinked in the sun’s glare and walked down a narrow corridor. The corridor ended at a temple and they walked inconspicuously down a side hall and out into the yard of the fortress.

Modest one and two story homes lined one wall next to a large palace. Several markets were set up and people milled about.

"Over one-thousand people live here in Masada." Manahem said.

"Manahem, Roman legions are on their way here." Gabrielle informed him.

"Let them come!" He said. "We would rather die than become slaves to the Roman Empire!"

One of his men approached him and provided a scouting report.

"There are five Roman legions, sire. Two are marching in from the west, two from the north and one from the east is camped just over those dunes." He pointed in the direction where small wisps of smoke curled in the air and continued, "At the pace they are marching, they will be here before dawn."

"All right. Send men down to fortify the gates. We have the rest of the night to prepare for battle." He turned and they followed him into one of the larger buildings in the compound. Gabrielle turned when a feminine voice spoke.

"Eve!" A red haired woman with a ruddy complexion stepped forward and hugged her briefly. "You’ve returned!"

"Yes, but we need to leave soon. Gather everyone and meet me outside."

The woman nodded and left the room. Gabrielle turned her attention to Manahem. The gruff man leaned over a large parchment and when she stepped closer she could make out the outlines of the fortress. He looked up and smiled. "If you wish to stay for the night, you may. But I think it’s best for you all to leave first thing in the morning. This is not your fight."

Gabrielle opened her mouth to protest but he raised a hand and silenced her.

"No. I ask that you leave. We may not be able to hold the fortress for much longer." He turned to Eve and said, "Eve, pray to Eli for us." He smiled again. "We may believe in different Gods, but they are really very much alike, don’t you think?" Eve smiled back and nodded.

"Now go. Eve, take them to the eastern palace, eat and rest. But, be ready to leave by morning." He said and dismissed them by turning back to his maps and charts.

Eve turned and they filed out the door. They stepped outside into the compound. The setting sun sprayed the horizon with streaks of amber and gold. People milled out, women carrying buckets of water, men pushing wheelbarrows piled with sacks of grain, and Sicarii soldiers marched by.

They walked to a massive building that seemed to have literally been carved from the rock. Several tall columns lined the entrance, and statues of a sphinx adorned the steps. They stepped inside the cool interior. The floor was tiled with mosaics and many stone columns lined the halls. Curtains billowed from open windows and lush green ferns hung from clay pots. There was very little furniture, the alcoves were mostly covered with cushions and carpets lay on the tiled floor. Eve turned into one of the hallways. Tall braziers lit their way down the darkened hall. She led them to one of the many rooms at the end of the hall. The room was light and airy, a cool breeze drifted in from open windows. Several women set food and a tall flask of water on one of the square tables. Wordlessly they seated themselves on the soft cushions. Myrine and Virgil stared repulsively at the tray of food. Eve reached out and pointed to the delicacies and named each of them.

"Locust, prickly cactus, smoked banana tree leaves, snake meat and desert pupfish. All very nutritious." She paused. "These are considered delicacies and would it be considered an insult to refuse them."

Gabrielle and Eve each selected a bowl and ate. Myrine and Virgil glanced at each other then reached out tentatively and selected a bowl. Gabrielle suppressed a smile when Myrine swallowed a bite of the snake. Her daughter peered over at her.

"Actually, this isn’t too bad. I think I’ll pass on the locust though." She said and grimaced.

When they finished eating they retired into separate sleeping quarters.

Gabrielle stood at her open window, staring out into the clear starry night, the sheer curtains swirling around her. She felt at peace, despite the threat of the Roman armies nearby. She leaned against the cool stone wall and absently trailed her fingers along the edge of the flowing curtain. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply.

"Xena…" Gabrielle reached out with her hand.

.

The image of Xena slightly shrouded by a thin veil of fog appeared. Upon seeing Gabrielle, Xena’s smile widened and she walked towards her. Her arm lifted and reached out to cup Gabrielle’s face.

Gabrielle felt the tough calluses on the warrior hands, yet her touch was gentle. Gabrielle looked into Xena’s blue eyes and her heart leapt at the love she saw there. Her hand reached up and covered Xena’s hands with her own.

"I’m waiting for you, Gabrielle." Xena whispered.

Gabrielle’s eyes snapped open. Her heart beat rapidly in her chest and her hands flew to her face. Her cheeks were burning. She swallowed and walked out onto the balcony, the cool air fanned her flaming face. Her mind raced and for a split second she had this feeling of impending doom. She grasped the edge of the iron railing and willed her heart to slow. When this was accomplished she covered her mouth with her hand. She walked over to a small writing table at one side of the room, pulled out a chair and sat down. She selected a sheet of parchment and picked up a quill. Without hesitation she began to write and continued writing until the first rays of dawn.

 

Chapter 24

She was awakened by a commotion outside. She raised her head and blinked her bleary eyes. She had fallen asleep at the desk, the quill still in her hand. Torchlight flickered by and shouting was heard in the distance. She jumped out of the chair, shrugged into her robes, snatched her sword and slung it over her shoulder. She opened the door and stepped outside into the early morning light. There was chaos all around her. Myrine and Virgil ran up behind her and stopped, startled looks on their faces. Suddenly there was light, unexpectedly, glimmering just ahead in the sky. There was a familiar whistling sound and Gabrielle’s eyes widened. Abruptly she turned and shouted, "Run! Against the walls!" Without hesitation, Myrine and Virgil turned and ran, Gabrielle right behind them. They flattened themselves against the rough stone wall and covered their heads when there was an explosion. Debris landed around them and they choked in its smoky aftermath. Gabrielle wrapped the linen scarf around her face and shouted above the noise, "We need to find Eve!"

"There she is!" Myrine pointed. Eve emerged from one of the synagogues and ran towards them with several of Eli’s followers in her wake.

"Myrine, get them out of here! Virgil and I will catch up with you."

"But…"

"Don’t argue with me! Now go!"

The gates to the fortress were gone, all that remained were sections of gnarled iron bars in the dirt. Manahem ran by and snatched one of his men by the arm.

"How did this happen!"

"They broke through both gates before we could stop them." The warrior answered.

"What about the catapults? No one said anything about catapults!" Manahem shouted.

"They must have been hidden in the wagons. We didn’t see them!"

Both armies clashed on a long ramp near the broken gates. Back and forth along the ramp, the battle raged. From the base of the bluff to the gates of the fortress. Men ran from hidden entrances, forced into retreat by the sheer number of Roman soldiers that streamed into the tunnels from below.

Eve led Myrine and Eli’s followers to a hidden tunnel that hadn’t been discovered yet by the Roman soldiers and took one of the lit torches nearby. They ran down the tunnel and out into the desert. Myrine led them to their horses

When Myrine and the followers of Eli ran ahead, Gabrielle and Virgil waited a few moments and followed after them. When they all met to retrieve their horses, a small regiment of Roman soldiers saw them and charged over the low dunes. Gabrielle and Virgil drew their swords. Myrine guided Eve and Eli’s followers away from danger and then returned to her Mother’s side. She drew her sword and the three of them stood together, bracing themselves for the attack.

The Roman soldiers attacked, and Gabrielle deflected two swords with her sais. Virgil blocked a stroke by one soldier and kicked another in the stomach. Myrine twirled her weapon over her head and moved forward. The short wooden sticks hit several men in their faces and when she reversed her swing, she squatted and the weapon swept them off their feet.

Gabrielle plunged a sai into the belly of one of her attackers and turned aside a sword from another. She pulled out the sai, dripping red with blood and plunged it into his stomach as well. She ducked and a sword passed over her head. Suddenly his body went still and then fell forward, a short dagger protruded from his back. She spared a quick glance at Myrine who nodded and quickly dodged a swinging blade. Her long dark hair swung wildly and she snarled before attacking her enemy. She dodged and twisted, evading every thrust. Gabrielle could feel the energy crackling in the air. Myrine was thriving in the thick of this battle.

Gabrielle turned and a sword flashed before her eyes. She thrust her sais forward and trapped the blade in its prongs. With a swift movement she yanked it from her attackers hand. When he reached for the short sword in his belt she threw the sword into his chest. She pivoted on her toes and raised a sai. Her foot kicked out and hit another attacker in the groin. He howled and sank to his knees. When she turned back to Myrine, a knife whizzed past and she followed it with her eyes. It sunk itself into the soldier’s chest and a dagger fell from his limp hand. Gabrielle glanced back at her daughter who stood rooted to the ground, staring at the lifeless body now on the ground. Gabrielle sheathed a sai and pulled her sword. She ran to her daughter and blocked an attack that surely would have killed Myrine. Gabrielle spun and the sword sliced into his chest. The sword rasped against bones as his body slid from her blade. Her eyes closed in revulsion and she gritted her teeth.

"Mother!" Myrine screamed. "Gabrielle!" Virgil shouted. Gabrielle turned at the urgency in their voices. She saw Virgil climbing frantically over bodies and Myrine reached into her belt, withdrew a dagger and threw it in her direction. Out of the corner of her eye she saw movement. Instinctively she raised her sword and blocked an attack. She thrust her sais and stopped a soldier coming at her from the other side. She ducked and Myrine’s dagger went past and imbedded itself in the forehead of another attacker. Suddenly she felt a sharp pain and looked down. The tip of a sword glinted red from her chest. She gasped and felt her lungs fill up with her own blood and her body slid to the ground. A trail of blood oozed from a gash in her chest and pooled in the sand beneath her.

"No!" She heard her daughter scream and she wanted so much to tell her that she was all right. Gabrielle didn’t even feel the sword as it was withdrawn from her body. In slow motion, she saw Virgil run past and heard the clash of swords. Gabrielle’s attacker slammed into Virgil, knocking him down to the ground. Myrine’s face darkened with fury and she ran past Virgil, her sword glinting in the sun. Sparks flew when her sword connected with his and she snarled into his face. The Roman soldier smiled and hit her in the face with his fist. Myrine’s head snapped to the side, but she turned back and looked at him with lidded eyes. She brought her sword up to deflect his attack, spun and drove her blade into his back. Virgil jumped up and attacked the last of the Roman soldiers. Myrine stood still, her face devoid of emotion. She clenched her teeth and her lip curled in disgust when she pulled the sword from the Roman’s body.

Myrine dropped her bloody blade, ran to her mother’s side and gently turned her over into her arms. Gabrielle felt the warm wetness of her daughter’s tears falling on her face. With great effort Gabrielle pulled the necklace from around her neck and held it out to Myrine. Gabrielle smiled up at her and with a ragged breath whispered, "Myrine, you are now queen."

Myrine clasped the necklace in the palm of her hand and closed it into a fist. "Mother, please…"

"My time has come. Xena is waiting for me. I want to go." Gabrielle took a shaky breath and touched her daughter’s face, "I love you Myrine. Tell your brother that I love him too." She took one last breath and then her arms fell to her side and her eyes closed.

 

Chapter 25

A semi-translucent form floated down from the heavens. Xena’s spirit hovered over Myrine who wept silently and rocked her mother’s motionless body in her arms. Xena’s face glistened with tears and she raised a hand to her daughter’s face. She gazed into the young woman’s eyes and understood the sorrow and sadness that she saw there. Myrine swallowed hard and looked up into the heavens. Xena saw the strength of the young woman’s spirit, even in the face of death.

Slowly, Xena shifted her gaze to the pale and still form in her daughter’s arms. When she gazed into Gabrielle’s face, her heart lurched.

"Gabrielle." Xena said softly.

Xena reached out and cupped Gabrielle’s face in the palms of her hands. A blue light flowed forth and Gabrielle awoke. Gabrielle blinked momentarily in confusion and then when she saw Xena, she smiled.

"Xena." She whispered.

"I’m here." Xena answered.

"We’re together." Gabrielle said.

"Always." Xena replied.

 

Epilogue

The moon shone down bright and full against a dark evening sky. A figure walked slowly over the top of a dune. The man was silhouetted against the large white disc of the moon and in his arms, he cradled a small form. A woman followed him and Eve immediately recognized who they were. Her hands flew to her mouth.

"Gabrielle." Eve whispered from behind her hands.

Eve tripped and stumbled towards them in the shifting sand. She fell to her knees and gazed with grief at the small form in Virgil’s arms. Virgil wept silently, his face streaked with tears. He fell weakly to the sand with Myrine beside him. Eve sobbed and buried her face in her hands. The night was eerily silent, the rustling of their robes the only sound. The moon bathed them in its silvery light and they gazed sadly at Gabrielle, the legendary battling bard of Poteidaia.

 

This may be the end of the story, but the legend still lives on!


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