David E. Milligan
"Old Woman, you said you had a vision. So tell me of this revelation."
"I see changes, many changes. Changes for the good. Changes for the bad. Hear me and heed -- Your Friend - is - Your Enemy - is - Your Friend."
"Old Woman, that makes no sense at all! Dont tell me riddles. Say something I can understand!"
"I can only say what I see. It is up to you to interpret the meaning."
"Then go away! Your vision is nothing but a fools distraction."
"As you wish, My Queen, as you wish."
"My Lord, we have done it! We have captured the Barbarian Bitch!"
"That is excellent news, but at the cost of how many lives?" asked King Belos.
"None, My Lord. The Bitch was betrayed by her own lieutenant. He now calls himself Jobyna the Terrible."
The king laughed a short contemptible laugh, "A barbarian name if I ever heard one. And what was his price?"
"He asked only that he and his army be allowed to leave the kingdom in peace."
"Yes, I am sure that is his desire. You will dispatch spies to follow and watch this departing army of barbarians. I do not trust the word of a traitor."
"It shall be done, My Lord."
"So when shall we see this Barbarian Bitch?"
"Soon, My Lord. The soldiers should be entering the city gates as we speak."
"Have her brought to me as soon as they arrive. I wish to see for myself this Bitch who has battled my army and caused my people so much fear and panic."
"It will be done, My Lord."
As the messenger backed away, from the corner of his eye he saw a petite woman with green eyes framed with golden blond hair. Bowing in her direction he said, "My Queen." And continued backing from the Throne Room.
King Belos looked to his left and the smile on his face broadened into a grin.
"Dear Wife," he said, almost laughing. "You are just in time, we have captured the Barbarian Bitch who calls herself a Warrior Princess. She should be here soon."
The queen leaned down to kiss her husband on the cheek. "I heard the excitement, and wondered what it was. How is it that she was caught? I have heard that she is like the wind, that nothing can touch her."
"It was her own men who did the deed for us, a deceitful group to be sure."
After a short wait, several soldiers entered the room, each one with a length of rope tied to a different part of a dirty, beaten and blood-stained woman. A rope around each wrist, each ankle and her neck. With each jerk of the ropes Xena staggered, struggling to stay on her feet.
As they approached the king, she was struck from behind and knocked to the floor. She slowly regained her feet and stood to her full height. She was taller than most, and even though injured and bleeding, she stood as though she was the sovereign, and not King Belos.
Her eyes were full of murderous rage, and her lips carried a contemptuous sneer. Her expression was full of hatred and loathing as she stared into the eyes of the king. Then slowly her gaze shifted to the woman at his side. As their eyes locked, the Queen was both fascinated and repulsed by the disgust that assaulted her.
The guard struck again, this time to the back of her knees, and again Xena was driven to the floor. "You WILL bow down to King Belos and Queen Gabrielle!" He roared, and struck her a third time.
Finding his voice, King Belos ordered that the Barbarian Bitch was to be shackled by the arms and legs in the most secure cell of the dungeon. Her fate would be decided when he had time to reflect on her punishment.
"My Husband, I must confess, that woman frightens me."
"As well she should," he said laughing. "She frightens everyone, even me, although I wouldnt want anyone to know it."
"But -- at the same time she fascinates me."
"My Dear, THAT is the Seduction of Evil. You would do well to stay away from her, she has only malice in her black heart."
"What will you do with her?"
"I havent quite decided. She has to die, obviously, but I dont know whether to have her hanged or beheaded. I was thinking about stoning, but there are so many who would want to throw stones that it would be impossible to control the crowd."
"Does she really have to die?"
"My dear Wife, of course she has to die. She has killed hundreds, maybe even thousands over the years. It is a fit and just punishment."
"But wouldnt she suffer more by spending the remainder of her life locked away in a cell?"
"Perhaps, but the public cries out for vengeance. Even though I am king there are some things that the public must be permitted to demand. Every good leader know this."
"But surely knowing she is locked away would satisfy their lust for retribution."
"Dear Wife, in many ways you are still as innocent and as naive as the day we wed. No, they clamor for blood, for the blood of the Barbarian Bitch. Although...."
"Yes?" Queen Gabrielle asked hopefully, "You have an idea?"
"Possibly. Rather than an immediate execution, a public flogging every ten days or so may please them."
"Not too many lashes, I would hope."
"Not too many - not enough to kill her, but enough to satisfy the crowd. I would say a hundred or so."
"So many? I was thinking maybe ten, or fifteen."
Laughing again, King Belos replied. "How little you know about these things! The people would not stand for such an inadequate punishment. Children are given ten lashes for being disrespectable. "
"But, nothing. I dont understand your concern with this woman, or her punishment. You have never shown an interest in these kinds of things before."
"It is hard to explain, My Husband, but as you have said, I am still so innocent of so much that goes on. If I am to serve as a real queen shouldnt I be attentive to everything that happens?"
"Somehow, I think your interest has less to do with affairs of state and more to do with your fascination with this evil woman."
"Yes, you are correct, of course. But if I may -- I have been your wife for five years, and they have been happy years for me. But a queen needs to know more than the gossip of the Royal Court. When you met me I was just an ordinary peasant girl who read from her scrolls to children."
"And good little stories they were." The king interrupted.
"Yes, good stories -- but simple children stories. One day I would like to write about things that interest men and women, not just children. And I feel if I can understand what it is that made this barbarian woman so evil and murderous then I will not be so naive. Surely there was a time when she was not a cruel, heartless monster."
"I dont think it would be a good idea for you to be anywhere near this beast. You dont realize how malevolent she is. No, Dear Wife, I forbid you to go near her."
"But I will be outside the cell, and she is shackled within. How can she harm me?"
"With her evil eyes and her foul mouth and her poisonous ideas. You heard my words - I forbid it. This discussion has ended. She will be flogged with one hundred lashes in three days."
As the Queen slowly descended the wet, slippery stone stairs to the lowest level of the dungeon, her heart beat furiously; not because she was disobeying her husband, but in anticipation of seeing the bloodthirsty monster manacled behind the strongest of iron bars.
Not wanting to be seen by her, Gabrielle stopped in the shadows but within view of the cell. Quietly she stood and watched, waiting for her eyes to become used to the darkness. The only light was from sputtering torches near the cell that cast a weak light onto the crumpled form. For a long while neither woman moved, then slowly the prisoner raised her head and cocked it to one side, listening. And with great difficulty from her injuries and the weight of the chains that held her, she stood up, staring at the darkness that hid the Queen.
"Surely, she cant see me," Gabrielle thought to herself. "She cant know Im here."
For a longer time, Xena only stared, then with hate and contempt in her voice, she said, "I know youre there! Your heart beats loud enough to wake the dead. I can smell the fear that drips from your armpits. And your sweet-smelling womanly perfume offends my nostrils. Come closer, into the light, let me see you."
Paralyzed with fear and unable to draw a breath, Queen Gabrielle wanted to run away, back up the stairs, but couldnt move. Xena suddenly jumped at the bars, clanging her chains against them and let out a blood-curdling, deafening war cry. And then followed it with a cruel, mocking laugh.
At the horrific noise, the spell was broken and the Queen turned and ran back up the stairs, slipping on the slimy stones, and tripping on the hem of her gown. She ran until she had reached the safety of her bed chamber, the horrendous laugh of the evil woman still echoing in her ears.
At midday, on the third day after her capture, Xena was dragged from her cell and chained at the wrists between two posts, each arm stretched out and up until her feet barely touched the sand. King Belos gave the signal to begin, and with each lash the crowd roared its approval. With each crack of the whip, blood stained the coarsely woven rags that covered her.
By the 30th stroke, the rags had been ripped to shreds and she stood naked to the whips cutting tip. Her back, arms, legs, belly and breasts - all were slashed and bleeding.
By the 50th, her strength and resolve failed her and she slumped down, with only the chains on her wrists keeping her from falling to the ground. It was at this point that Queen Gabrielle left her husbands side. She could no longer watch the spectacle. As she hurried away, trying to keep from vomiting, she wondered just who was the barbarian.
"Is it over?" The Gabrielle asked as her husband entered her bed chamber.
"For now. The woman isnt as strong as she pretended. She passed out at 80 lashes, but I think the crowd was pleased, nevertheless. And now my dear wife, it appears that seeing the Bitch finally getting what she deserved has aroused me, exceedingly so. I think now would be a fitting conclusion to this days amusement."
And for the first time in many years, Queen Gabrielle did not share her husbands passion, or pleasure.
Despite herself, Gabrielle found herself once again descending the stairs to the dungeon that held the lacerated and bloody prisoner. This time she walked to the door of the cell and was stunned at the sight of Xena's bleeding body, her wounds left untreated.
"So much blood! Is there no one to treat her cuts?" Gabrielle asked the Captain of the Dungeon Guard.
"No, My Lady. She will live, or she will die. No one has given orders to tend to her."
"Then if there is no one to treat her, I will. You will bring clean rags and water. This cell will be washed out and clean straw will be provided. Now open this door."
"Im sorry, My Lady, I cannot. The King will have my head if you are harmed."
"Harmed by what? This unfortunate wretch that lies dying even as we speak? She is unconscious and you have more than enough guards to protect me. Now do as I say."
Fearful of the kings wrath, but not daring to disobey the Queen, the Captain opened the cell door and stationed a half dozen guards with spears inside. Fresh water, rags and straw was brought.
Gabrielle knelt down beside Xena, not knowing where to begin. Soaking a rag with water, she gently began to wash the dried blood and sand from Xena's shoulders and back, carefully, so as not to cause renewed bleeding.
Three times the bucket of bloody water was replaced with clean water. When she had finished with Xenas back, buttocks and the back of her legs, Gabrielle instructed guards to make a pallet with the clean rags and straw, and then gently turned her over. As she began to wash away the blood from her face, Xena suddenly awoke, but with the tips of the spears threatening her, she lay still, but her eyes flashed fire.
Gabrielle continued to clean one side of her face, then softly tried to turn Xenas head to wash the rest of her face. But Xena was not cooperative, keeping her head rigid. Gabrielle leaned over to reach the far side of her face. She then proceeded to wash and rinse the front of Xenas body, and arms and legs, being particularly careful with her severely lacerated wrists.
When she was done she ordered the guard to bring more clean water and a ladle. But when she offered the water Xena wouldnt drink.
"You are very stubborn, arent you?" Gabrielle said to her. So she poured the water slowly over Xenas lips, and despite herself, Xena found herself drinking. Four times Gabrielle filled the ladle, and each time it was emptied.
Looking around Gabrielle asked the Captain, "Where are her clothes?"
"They were shredded by the whip, My Lady."
"Then I will get her something of mine. I will return shortly."
When Gabrielle returned to the cell, she found that Xena had been shackled to the wall, with chains so short that she was even unable to touch her mouth, which had mysteriously acquired yet another injury, staining her teeth red.
"What is the meaning of this?" Gabrielle asked the Captain.
"The Kings orders, My Lady. When we entered the cell to take her to be flogged, she was able to fight us, so the King commanded that she awoke she was to be held with the shorter chains."
"Open the door." As she entered the cell, Gabrielle set down a basket she had brought, and then unfolded a blanket she also brought.
"Since I have nothing that will fit you, this will have to do."
She instructed a guard to cut a slit in the center of the blanket, then slipped it over Xenas head so the front and back of her was covered.
"I brought food, but since you are unable to eat by yourself, I will have to feed you."
From the basket she first took a bunch of purple grapes, but once again, Xenas mouth was firmly set.
"You might as well eat, because Im not leaving until you do."
Reluctantly, Xena allowed Gabrielle to put a grape into her mouth and slowly chewed it up and swallowed it. But there was no look of gratitude, only a stony stare. When the grapes were gone, several small tart apples followed, then goat cheese and lastly, bread. When the food was gone, Gabrielle gave her more water.
After the meal neither woman spoke but only looked at each other. Gabrielle put Xenas hair behind her ears and said, "With the proper clothing you would be a beautiful woman."
Xena replied, "And with the proper weapon, you could be dead!"
Sounding braver than she felt, Gabrielle said, "I suspect you could kill me with no weapon at all."
"Why are you doing this? Just so Ill be stronger for the next flogging?" Xena asked bitterly.
"No. I dont approve of flogging. But my husband, the King has decreed it. I do it to gain your trust. I want to know what has caused your heart to be so black. I want to know why you found it necessary to kill so many men, women and children."
"I have NEVER made war on women and children." Xena spat out. "Lies! All lies!"
"If you say so. I must go now, but I will return tomorrow."
"Guard!" Gabrielle said, "I am leaving this water and ladle for the prisoner. Don't take them away."
"But My Lady, the King said nothing that can be used a as weapon was to left near her."
"Are you so afraid she might beat the rats to death? The ladle and bucket stay."
As she left the cell and it was closed, Gabrielle broke off several strands of her long golden hair then wrapped and tied them around the lock.
"I will be here tomorrow, and if these strands are broken you will join the prisoner in her cell. Do you understand me?"
Bowing his head, the guard answered, "Yes, My Lady. It will be as you say."
The next day Gabrielle brought more food, clean rags and medicine for Xenas wounds. She was pleased to see the strands of her hair hadnt been tampered with. When she entered the cell, she saw that Xena had drunk the water and managed to maneuver the bucket to relieve herself. Gabrielle instructed the guard to unshackle one of Xenas hands.
"But My Lady, I was told to keep her chained at all times."
"So how am I to clean her wounds if her back is against the wall? Unchain her at once!"
Without protest, Xena turned her back to Gabrielle. She saw that the cuts had oozed, soaked into the fabric and then dried. Slowly Gabrielle poured water over her back until the dried blood was softened and she was able to remove the blanket.
After washing her back again Gabrielle said, "I see infection is setting in, I was afraid of that. I brought medicine, but it will sting some."
Gabrielle poured the medicine into her hand and as gently as she could applied the healing liquid. Although Xena neither spoke nor flinched, Gabrielle could feel her muscles tighten from the burning liquid. When she finished the back side of her, she repeated the process on Xenas chest, belly, arms and legs, and wrists. Passing the food basket to her, Xena was allowed to feed herself.
When she had finished eating, Xena asked, "Am I supposed to thank you for making sure I am healthy enough for another flogging?"
"No, I told you before I dont approve of flogging, but I am not that naive. I dont want your insincere thanks."
"Then what to do you want from me?"
"I want you to talk to me. I want to know you, to understand why -- how you became the monster they say you are."
"They say I am a monster? Good! Then they fear me. I know you fear me, dont you?"
"Some, but not as much as I did when they first brought you in. You said you didnt make war on women and children. They why do they say so?"
At first Xena didnt answer but only stared at Gabrielle. Then slowly she said, "In war things happen. Fires rage out of control, soldiers strike at anything in the heat of battle. A leader cant be everywhere at once. Women and children died, but NOT at my command!"
"But how did you - WHY did you become so cruel, so brutal?"
For a long time Xena looked at Gabrielle, then slowly put her free hand up to be reshackled and turned her face away, refusing to answer. As the guard remanacled her, Gabrielle ordered more water and a separate pot to be left in the cell.
"Do I have to wrap the lock again?" She asked the Captain.
"No, My Lady, the barbarian is properly confined, there is no reason to enter her cell."
Gabrielle returned the next day and again washed Xenas cuts and reapplied the medicine. She brought fruit, bread and cheese. Because Xena still refused to say much, Gabrielle found herself doing most of the talking. She talked about living in the palace as a queen, about how much she liked to write stories, about how the king only ocassionally included her in the administration of the kingdom.
Everyday Gabrielle returned to Xena, and each visit became longer until she was spending half a day or longer there. Eventually Xena talked to her, answering her questions.
"There was a time that I was just like you, young, carefree, innocent. But one day a warlord and his army came to our village. It is called Amphipolis, have you heard of it?"
"I may have heard the name, but thats all."
"The men of the town were afraid to face them, and ran away to the hills and forests. But not me. I was able to convince some to fight for our village. We eventually were able to fight them off and they left Amphipolis alone. But during one of the battles my younger brother, my dear Lyceus was killed. My mother never forgave me for that. She was a coward like the rest of them! So I left Amphipolis, but I swore never again would it be attacked. So I began to make war on villages I heard had supported the warlord. And one thing led to another."
"Im originally from Poteidaia, have you ever heard of it?"
"Doesnt sound familiar."
"Its really a nice little village - vineyards, small farms, good people."
"Well, either there wasnt enough there to be worth my time attacking it, or it was too far out of the way."
"Thank the gods for small favors. I should be going, the king is beginning to wonder where I have been keeping myself. But Ill be back tomorrow."
"Ill be here." Xena answered with a small, cynical smile.
"It appears that most of your cuts are healing up nicely." Gabrielle said as she examined Xenas back as she applied the healing liquid. "I think the little bit of olive oil I added is helping a lot."
"After eight days of treatment, I would hope so. How much longer are you going to massage my body with your medication?"
"As long as I think is necessary. There is something I wish to ask, but you dont have to answer if you dont want to."
"I couldnt help but notice that from the indications on your body, it appears that you have had a child. I was wondering about it."
For a long while Xena didnt answer, and from the look on her face, Gabrielle could tell she was not comfortable thinking about it. At last Xena said, "There was a time when I was at war with the centaurs. And I found I was expecting. I wasnt happy about it, but Borias was overjoyed."
"He is your husband?"
"Husband? Not hardly! I wasnt about to be tied down with a husband, even though more than once he told me he loved me. But he wasnt as enthusiastic as I was about battling the centaurs, and he eventually turned against me to join with them. When my baby was born, somehow he managed to get back to me, but was killed in the attempt. In a moment of weakness, I allowed him to see his son just before he died."
"You had a son! How wonderful!"
"Well, I didnt think so. Since Borias had joined with the centaurs, the war with them wasn't going well, and I knew we couldn't win. So I made a deal. I would give them the son of Borias, who they all loved, if my army and I could withdraw without retaliation. They agreed, and we left the area."
"How sad you had to give up your son," Gabrielle said with tears in her eyes.
"Do you cry all the time like that?" Xena asked.
"Im afraid I do. My husband says its a sign of compassion and kindness. Why? Don't you ever cry?"
"Never! Soldiers consider tears to be a sign of weakness. To control my men I learned to control my emotions. Rage and mercilessness is what they respect, not tears and kindness."
"I still think its sad you gave up your son. I have to leave now."
As the guard rechained Xenas wrist, Gabrielle asked him, "Cant you lengthen the chains just a little, just so she can drink and relieve herself without struggling? Then you can take away the deadly ladle you are so concerned with."
"I suppose it wouldnt hurt anything, My Lady, to give her a little more slack."
"Thank you. I wont forget this."
The next day Gabrielle brought two baskets.
"Here," she said handing one to the Captain of the Dungeon Guard, "Fresh fruit for you and your men."
Bowing in thanks, he opened the cell door for her, unshackled one of Xenas wrists, and then left to divide the food with his men.
"See? A little sweet oil makes things go so much more smoothly." she said to Xena, who had already removed her blanket so Gabrielle could apply the medicated liquid.
"I was never above using bribes when it suited my purpose." Xena replied.
When Gabrielle returned the next day her attitude was much different. Instead of her usual cheeriness, she was somber and silent. When Xena finished eating with her free hand she put her fingers under Gabrielles chin and lifted her face to look at her. Gabrielles eyes were glistening with yet unshed tears.
"Tomorrows the flogging day, isnt it?" Xena said.
As the tears ran down her cheeks, Gabrielle nodded. "I wish I could talk my husband out of allowing it to happen, but if he discovers Ive been here...."
Xena wiped the tears away but they were only replaced with more.
Then a sound was heard, a muted twanging. Suddenly Xenas fist shot out toward Gabrielle, but even before her reflexes let her throw herself away from what she thought was a killing blow, Xena was holding an arrow, caught only a hands width from Gabrielles breast.
"By The Gods! An assassin!" Gabrielle yelled out. Immediately the guards fanned out looking for whoever had fired the arrow.
"Someone wants you dead." Xena said showing her the tip of the arrow. "Poison."
Recovering from the shock, Gabrielle instructed the Captain of the Dungeon Guard to take the arrow to the king, and to tell him exactly what had happened.
"You are telling me that even though I had forbidden it, you have been spending your days with this Barbarian Bitch!" The king asked angrily.
With her head bowed, Queen Gabrielle admitted that she had. Trying to control his anger, King Belos looked at Gabrielle, then at Xena, who was standing before him, chains on her ankles and wrists.
Turning his anger to the Captain of the Guard he demanded, "And You! How could you have allowed this to happen?"
"My Lord, there were guards with spears present. If I thought the Queen was in any danger...."
"So what do you call this?" The King demanded, holding out the arrow.
"But My Lord, the arrow didnt come from Xena, she caught it in mid-flight. She saved the Queens life!"
King Belos looked around again to see if there was anyone else to shout at. Everyone was looking down, fearing to meet his glare, hoping to avoid the kings wrath.
Looking back at the Captain he asked, "And what of this assassin? Have you found him?"
"No, My Lord. But we found the short bow that was used to fire the arrow. It was at the top of the stairs."
King Belos closed his eyes for a moment. "Well, its obvious a personal bodyguard must be provided for the Queen. If I can find anyone trustworthy enough."
Looking at Xena he said, "And you, Barbarian, what do you have to say for yourself?"
"Her name is Xena." Gabrielle whispered to him, but he ignored her.
Xena met his stare but remained silent.
"While I do appreciate the fact that you saved the Queens life, you WILL answer me. What did you hope to accomplish with this act? A pardon? Your freedom?"
Xenas eyes flickered to Gabrielle then back to the king, but didnt reply.
With no patience left, King Belos added, "You can answer me, or I can have your tongue cut out so you will never speak again."
Xenas eyes jumped from Gabrielle, to the king, and back again, and again. Her self confident attitude was changing to one of confusion and uncertainty.
"I - I dont know." Was all she could say.
"That is no answer. I warn you." The king said.
"Because -- because...."
Xena focused on Gabrielle, locked eyes with her, and found she had to blink to keep Gabrielles face clear, tears were starting to blur her image.
"I - I could not let her die. She - I mean, I...."
And for the first time in over a dozen years tears began to run down Xenas cheeks. "I could not let her die, because - because I love her!"
Slowly Xena went to one knee, her eyes lowering to look at Gabrielles feet, showing the proper respect for royalty. "My Queen," she said in a husky, quivering, emotional voice, as her tears puddled on the floor.
King Belos, confused at this unexpected turn of events, didnt know what to say. Seeing a movement, he looked to see Gabrielle leave her seat and go to Xena, tears running down her cheeks as well. Kneeling down to her, Gabrielles hand lifted Xenas chin so she could see her face, and speaking so that only Xena could hear, she whispered, "And I love you."
Taking Xena by the shoulders, she stood her up and wiped away the Warriors tears.
As she turned from Xena to look at the king, Gabrielle said, "My Lord, I have found my bodyguard. It is Xena, this Warrior Princess."
At first there was only stunned silence, then slowly the guards, attendants and others in the throne room began to murmur, which grew louder and louder until King Belos roared that everyone was to leave.
When only he, Gabrielle, Xena and the guards were left, King Belos said to Gabrielle, "You can not be serious. I told you this barbarian would poison your mind. You disobeyed me time and again. Perhaps I should have you flogged as well! I will not tolerate such disrespect!"
"If that is you wish, My Husband, you may have me flogged. I will take the one hundred lashes."
Realizing the empty threat he made in anger he replied, "Of course I wont have you whipped. But WHY? Why did you have to associate yourself with this - this...."
"My Husband, she is NOT the evil monster everyone says she is! Im not saying she hasnt done wrong, that she hasnt done terrible things, but in some ways she is as much a victim as those she fought against."
Not believing his ears, the king was speechless. Finally, "Gabrielle, how can you say that? You dont know of the atrocities she has committed. You dont know about the many villages sacked and burned. You...."
"But My Husband, the Old Woman, the Seer, told me of her vision. She said there would be changes. She said My Friend is My Enemy is My Friend. The assassin must be someone who is trusted, otherwise how could he have gotten so close? And she had to be speaking of Xena - what other enemy would stop an arrow that was only a hands width from my heart?"
"You dont really believe the rantings of that old woman, do you?" The king asked, searching for an argument.
"But didnt she once tell you that you would wed a Writer of Scrolls, a Teller of Tales?"
"How do you know of this?"
"My dear Husband, dont your remember? We were married less than five days when the Queen Mother went to her deathbed. I attended to her those many days she lingered. And she told me many things - things a new queen should know about the Royal Court."
Smiling shyly, she continued, "And things a new bride should know to please her husband. She spoke of many things, perhaps more than she should have."
Before the king could answer, the Captain of the Palace Guard interrupted. "My apologies, My Lord, but we have just received word from the outer provinces. The warlord who calls himself Jobyna the Terrible has sacked two villages and appears to be heading in this direction."
"Jobyna!" Xena exclaimed, her voice and temperament suddenly cold and hard. "May he choke on his own filth!"
Ignoring the outburst, King Belos said to his guard, "Assemble the soldiers. We must ride out immediately. Tell them to prepare for battle. We will strike as soon as his army is sighted."
"You wont defeat him like that." Xena said. "I trained those men. I know them. They are fanatics, they dont know fear. I told them that dying in battle will assure them a place at Ares' side."
"So you are saying we are doomed even before we meet them in battle?"
"Not necessarily. I can tell you how to defeat them." Xena said.
"You can? And why would you do that?"
"Do you think I hold any love for them? After they drugged me, and beat me, and turned me over to my enemy? You say I am a murderous barbarian, but you should know I am also vengeful and unforgiving. Show me a map and I will tell you how to defeat them. But if I do, I have one request."
"What is it?" The king asked suspiciously.
"I want to see the traitor Jobynas head on the top of a post."
Smiling slightly, King Belos said, "Maybe I will have him flogged."
"Then I ask to be the one brandishing the whip."
King Belos looked into Xenas eyes, trying to decide if she was to be trusted. Deciding he would take a chance, he instructed a guard to bring maps from his War Room.
When the map of the region was laid out, Xena was allowed to approach the table, dragging her chains, to look at it.
"Show me the villages Jobyna attacked."
The king pointed at two small circles.
"What is this?"
"It is a lightly wooded area."
"A grassland used for grazing. Here is a swamp, here are the vineyards, and this is the farming area surrounding the city."
The Throne Room was quiet as Xena studied the map. Finally she said, "There is another village, here, that he will attack next. Unfortunately, there is no time to save it. But its sacrifice will give you time to prepare. This is what you must do -- You will put archers in the trees, here and here. You will send a small squad, about 20 or so soldiers to engage Jobynas army. Then they must break off and retreat, leading them through the woods where your archers wait. When all of Jobynas men have passed the archers will shoot the last five or six horses, NOT the men, but the horses. Fire tipped arrows would be best, if the wind is right. This will cause the horses to panic and stampede.
After thinking for a few moments, Xena continued, "In the clearing ahead you will have your men dig as many pits as they have time to. Make then as big around as a man and waist deep. Make sure the pits are well camouflaged. When the stampeding horses stumble into the holes, the men will be thrown and will be exposed. Have more archers stationed there. And only when they have run out of arrows do you want to have the spearmen attack. Tell them to show no mercy, because if they do, they will die."
"You have done this before." King Belos stated.
"A few times. But dont wait too long. The more pits that can be dug the better your chances of success."
Making the decision to follow Xenas plan, the king ordered that she be returned to her cell.
"But, My Husband," Gabrielle protested, "I have chosen her for my bodyguard."
"Just because she saved your life, and has given us a battle plan doesnt mean she is completely trustworthy. I cant take the risk, not yet."
"Then I must accompany her to her cell."
"Why do you say such things?"
"My Lord, an assassin still runs free. Right now there are only two people I know for sure I can trust, that I feel safe with. You, my dear Husband, and Xena. And you will be leaving to battle this Jobyna. If Xena is put in her cell, that is the only place I can go to feel safe."
King Belos turned to Xena. "Is my wifes confidence in you deserved?"
"To save her life I would die without hesitation."
"If, when I return, I discover that you have harmed her in ANY way, your punishment will be so great, so painful, and so cruel, you will beg me over and over to end your life."
"I would expect nothing less."
Shaking his head, and hesitant to do so, the king reluctantly ordered Xenas chains to be removed.
"You and Xena will remain in your room while I am gone. You will lock your door. You will stay away from the windows. Guards will be posted in the hall. And Xena will taste your food before you eat. Do not, and I repeat, DO NOT disobey me this time!"
Breaking with the Royal Courts code of behavior, Gabrielle rushed to embrace him, took his face in her hands and kissed his lips. "Thank you, My Husband. You will see you have chosen wisely. My heart tells me that Xena loves me almost as much as you do."
Caressing her hair and smiling gently, King Belos replied, "I do love you, Dear Wife. I only hope you are right about this barba -- about Xena."
Looking over the top of Gabrielles head, the king said to Xena, "Her life is in your hands. You would do well to remember my words. They are a promise, not a threat."
With final parting words, King Belos left Gabrielle, Xena, and six trusted guards.
"I guess the first thing we should do is find you some clothes." Gabrielle said.
"No, the first thing we will do is go to your room and lock the door. Then we can get me some clothes."
Nodding in jest, Gabrielle answered, "Yes, My Warrior Princess." But led the way to her bed chamber.
Looking around Xena commented, "Nice room. Lots of space. Good mattress." She said as she bounced on the bed.
Looking through her clothes, Gabrielle was having a hard time finding something that would fit Xena. She finally found a wool and linen dress that looked like it would almost fit her.
"Im sorry its so short, but its the best I can do until we can have some made for you."
"Thats okay. I like my legs to breathe."
Gabrielle ordered supper for them, but Xena wouldnt let her eat until she had tasted each item, and then made her wait just in case any of it was laced with a slow acting poison.
After the meal Xena talked about the battle King Belos and his soldiers were riding toward.
"It will probably take them three or four days to reach the open field," Xena was saying. "Figure another day to dig the pits and get them ready, and get the archers in position. Another day or two before the actual battle, which should be over in less than a quarter of a day. Another few days coming back." Xena then added with a grin. "Ten days at the most, and you husband will be back in your arms, and you in his bed."
Gabrielle gave a small self-conscious laugh. "I dont know why, but I still get embarrassed whenever anyone talks about Belos and me ... you know, even just hinting about it. I mean, I know everyone does it, but I still feel funny."
"Dont worry about it, some women are just like that, but since you brought it up...."
"I brought it up?" Gabrielle interrupted, laughing.
"Whoever. Anyway, as I started to say, since you and the king have been married for so long - where are the children?"
Gabrielle then grew serious. "I was pregnant, twice. But both times I lost the baby."
"Oh. Im sorry. I shouldnt have asked."
"No, Im glad you did. No one has ever let me talk about it before." Tears dampened her eyes as she spoke.
"The first time was about a year after we were married. The king was so happy, and of course, so was I. But we were out riding, he was doing some hunting, and my horse was startled by a wild pig that seemed to appear like magic. I was thrown and ... uh ... and I lost the baby. I think it was a boy, but no one ever said."
Xena sat next to Gabrielle and put her arm around her, letting her silently weep.
Wiping the tears away, Gabrielle continued. "I got pregnant again, I dont remember, a year, maybe a year and a half later. But I was sick, very sick. Chills, fever, I couldnt keep anything down. Eventually I got so weak I had nothing for my baby, and the gods took her away. I was going have a daughter. I know my husband wanted a son, an heir, but I wanted a daughter so much!"
Overcome with grief Gabrielle could only hold onto Xena and sob. She eventually cried herself to sleep and Xena gently stretched her out on the bed and covered her. As Gabrielle slept, Xena began a more thorough examination of the room, looking for secret doors, loose stones in the walls, testing the locks and hinges. To her satisfaction, all was secure.
As night fell, Xena let the room darken, leaving the candles unlit. Standing at the window and looking out over the city, Xena thought about the odd turn of events of the day. "A day ago, had I been standing in this very spot, I would have been out of this window and over the city walls before anyone missed me."
Then she turned to look at the darkened form that was Gabrielle. "But now, I wouldnt leave, I couldnt leave, if my life was to end tomorrow morning, not even if I was to be flogged. How strange that things should turn out like they have."
Walking slowly to the bed Xena lay down next to Gabrielle, sleeping on her side. Xena curled up her body to match Gabrielles and put her arm over her, gingerly placing her hand on her queen's belly. Then unexpectedly, and still sleeping, Gabrielle took Xena's hand and placed it over her own breast with a slight sigh and held it there with her hand.
Xena was paralyzed, even though her heart was suddenly racing so fast she could hear it in her ears. She knew Gabrielle was asleep, but did she think it was the king who was lying so close to her? Xena dared not move, afraid if she did, Gabrielle would awaken and realize it was Xena's hand cupping her breast.
As she lay there, frozen, Xena flashbacked to those many days in her cell when Gabrielle would apply the healing liquid to her wounds. Never had she felt hands so soft and so tender on her body. Over the years, only the hands of her current lover had touched her -- hands that were hard, and calloused, and always dirty.
She recalled that, even though the medicine stung during those first few days as it was applied to her, she couldn't help but marvel at Gabrielle's gentle touch as she covered her back with the healing medicine. She remembered her hands as they seemed to caress her back and buttocks. And she realized she savored the feeling as Gabrielle tenderly rubbed the oily liquid over her belly and her breasts where the tip of the whip had left its marks.
She now realized that it was the gentle touch of Gabrielle's hands that caused her nipples to harden, and not the sting of the medication.
Her breath caught when she heard Gabrielle give out a small whimper, and she realized while she had been thinking about Gabrielle's hands on her breasts, she had been softly massaging the breast in her hand. She stopped immediately, and forced herself to think about other things -- things that would distract her from this warm, soft body she was lying so close to.
She thought of the assassin still at large, and of the battle that was to come, anything other than her queen lying in her arms.
Xena did not sleep soundly that night. Every time Gabrielle would move, or take a deep breath, or mumble during a dream, Xena would awaken. She welcomed, and cursed, the coming of the dawn.
When Gabrielle woke up, Xena was sitting on the edge of the bed. As Gabrielle started rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Xena moved her hand and began to gently wash her face with a soft linen cloth, wet from a copper bowl filled with water. Xena then offered her water from a silver ladle. Xena next began to feed Gabrielle the large juicy grapes they both seemed to love so much.
After Gabrielle had finished eating, she sat up on the bed, and Xena went to one knee, her head bowed. "It is now my place to serve YOU, My Queen ... My Lady ... My Love." Xena said quietly.
Gabrielle placed her hand on the top of Xenas head, running her fingers through the long black hair. "There are two things I think you must know." Gabrielle said as she raised Xenas head, looking into her deep blue eyes. "First, in my private chambers, you are not to kneel or bow down to me, and you are to call me Gabrielle. That is my name and I expect you to use it. And secondly -- your hair is absolutely filthy!" She then added wih a broad smile, "I think its time you had a proper bath."
"As you wish, My -- Gabrielle." Xena answered with a smile of her own.
Gabrielle instructed the guards to drag in her large copper tub from the Bathing Chamber. "If we cant visit the rest of the palace, then we will bring what we need in here." She said to Xena. "And then after your bath I will have my dressmaker come to take measurements so she can make you some proper clothes.
As Xena sat in the tub, Gabrielle poured bucket after bucket of hot water over the Warrior. She then added scented oils and began to shampoo the dried blood and dirt from Xenas hair.
"I dont think this is proper behavior for a queen." Xena said in mild protest. "I CAN wash myself, you know."
"When I am finished with you, you can return the favor, then we will be even."
After both baths, Gabrielle had her dressmaker come.
"Nothing too tight, or too long." Xena requested. "Should the occasion arise, I need to be able to move freely. And nothing too bright, I should blend in, not stand out."
Laughing, Gabrielle said, "No matter where you go or who you are with, you will always stand out. But she is right, Dressmaker, she should not outshine the Queen."
"While we are waiting for you new clothes," Gabrielle said, "I guess I should tell you about some of the rules and codes of conduct that will be expected of you when we are in public. I already told you to call me Gabrielle when we are alone together, but when there are others present you should address me as My Lady or 'My Queen. You should stand behind me on my right side since I am right handed. That way if I need to hand you anything you will right there to take it. You are not to touch me at any time, unless of course there is danger of some kind and you need to do so to protect me. And you need to keep your head up to watch everything and everyone, so you are not to kneel or bow down, even if the king enters the room."
"I think I know how to guard someone." Xena said, "But if thats the way you want it, I have no argument."
"These are not my rules, they have been handed down through the generations. Its the way things are done."
"Like I said, whatever you want."
The next few days were quiet, too quiet. There was no word from King Belos about the battle against Jobyna. Gabrielle and Xena were confined to the one room. As large as it was, it was still only one room.
"By the gods! I really hate this! I cant even walk into my own garden. I feel like Im a prisoner!" Gabrielle complained one afternoon.
"Yes, youre certainly right. This certainly is not a cell fit for humans."
As she realized what an insensitive remark she just made, Gabrielle couldnt apologize enough, "Oh, Xena, Im so sorry I said that. You must think Im the most inconsiderate, unfeeling, coldhearted...."
"Of course I dont." Xena interrupted. "I know what you mean. My problem with us being locked in here is that I know there is an assassin roaming the halls of this palace and I cant try to find out who it is."
"Well, once Belos returns, hell find out who it is. Trust me, I know my husband."
"Im glad you feel that way. Its good to know there is someone you can trust no matter what."
"Actually, I have two people I know I can trust completely, my husband -- and you."
Xenas smile expressed more gratitude for the comment than any words she could find.
As the days slowly passed, their time alone was only interrupted in the early morning, the afternoon and the evening when food was brought, and when the kings advisors and consultants brought parchments for Gabrielle to read over and to sign. Even with the king gone, the obligations of running the palace and the village had to be dealt with. Consequently, most of their time was spent just talking to each other.
Gabrielle talked about her childhood, and growing up in Poteidaia; and about the chance meeting with her future husband (he was not yet king so he spent his time traveling the countryside, and almost ran over Gabrielle when she spooked his horse as she suddenly appeared out of nowhere - running to pick the seasons first wild blackberries).
Xena would not talk much about her past after she left Amphipolis, but didnt mind telling Gabrielle about her parents and two brothers during the earlier, and happier days of her youth.
"Gabrielle," Xena said one morning after breakfast, "Didnt I hear you say something about a Seer living in the palace? Since we dont have anything else to do, why dont you summon her. Id kind of like to get a look at her. Maybe she has some other predictions to tell us."
"Thats a good idea. Maybe she knows how my husband is faring."
As the old woman entered the room, Xena saw she carried a walking stick that she held in front of her, moving it back and forth.
"She has been blind since birth," Gabrielle whispered to her. "She claims because of that she can see things others cant."
The old woman approached Xena, and as she got close to her she put out one gnarled, arthritic hand, her palm facing outward. Nodding slowly and smiling faintly, she appeared to be confirming an unspoken prophecy. She then moved her hand to the side until it was centered on Gabrielles breast. Her smile got wider, exposing yellow-stained and broken teeth.
"Just as I saw," She cackled "Just as I knew."
"Knew what?" Gabrielle asked, then whispered to Xena, "Sometimes she doesnt make much sense; she is really getting old."
"Smoke. Smoke and coal and embers. Untainted essence and smoke."
"See what I mean," Gabrielle whispered again. "Makes no sense at all."
"Hey!" Xena barked. "What in Tartarus are you talking about?"
"You! Your heart. There was a time not so long ago when it was as black as coal, but it has warmed, like the embers that comfort your feet on a cold winter's night. Warmed by the purity of gentleness that is My Queen. Two life forces, entwining and blending as the smoke from two separate fires, until you can no longer tell one from the other."
"Do you know what shes talking about?" Xena asked Gabrielle.
"I think so. You, old woman, you are excused."
After the Seer had gone, Gabrielle absently walked to a window, the one that looked out over the Royal Gardens, her favorite view. Xena gently guided her away from the window to the bed and sat with her on it.
"Well?" Xena asked.
"Do you believe in The Fates?"
"You mean the ones who control everyones destiny with some great big loom? I dont think so, that seems kind of impractical to me."
"Then you dont believe things happen for a reason?"
"Naw. Things happen because we make them happen."
"Oh. Well, I do. I think there is a reason for everything that happens. I dont always know why, but I think the Fates control at least some part of our lives."
"So whats that got to do with what the old woman said?"
"Everything. She said your heart used to be black as coal, but it has warmed, thanks to my gentleness and, I guess, my compassion for you. And she said our two life forces were joining, as if we were meant to be together. Cant you feel it?"
"I dont know about things like that. Its never made much sense to me."
"But what about your feelings for me? Didnt you think it strange how quickly your feelings changed from hate and loathing to love and - and devotion?"
"I never thought about it. It just happened."
"I think it happened for a reason. When I first saw you I was terrified when you only looked at me. And that first time in the dungeon, I was just as horrified. And even the first few days when I treated your cuts I was so scared. But then the fear just seemed to vanish and somehow I knew I was in no danger."
"Why DID you come down to tend to me and give me food and water? I expected to die before the ten days had passed."
"I dont know why. I was just drawn to you. Belos told me it was the Seduction of Evil, but I dont think that was it. I believe we were Fated to be together, and since you couldnt come to me, I had to go to you."
Xena was silent, not used to thinking about mystical things like life forces, and Destiny, and the Fates.
For the rest of the day neither said much. Xena was trying to make sense of her feelings, trying to sort them out and understand them, something she never bothered to do before. She usually just went with her gut feelings, but this time it was different. Gabrielle was content to leave Xena alone so she could think about what she said to her. She was just glad that Xena was there.
"My Lady! I have news! My Lady!"
Both Xena and Gabrielle were instantly awake, dawn was just beginning to lighten the sky.
"What do you want?" Xena yelled out Gabrielle hurriedly changed from her bed clothes into something more appropriate to be seen in.
"It is the King! We had just gotten word that has been wounded in battle and is being brought to the palace in a wagon. He should be here by midday."
Gabrielle started to throw open the door, but Xena was there to push her to one side before the door was opened. When she saw it was one of the palace guards she recognized she allowed Gabrielle to speak to him.
"How badly is he hurt?" Gabrielle asked.
"I have no way of knowing, My Lady. The messenger only said he was wounded, I think he said a stab wound to the side."
"Then you will get a fresh horse for the messenger and instruct him to ride back to find out all he can, and then come back here. The royal Physician will need to know how bad his wound is so he will know what medicines and what treatment will be needed."
Before the guard could answer, Gabrielle turned to a second. "You will inform the members of the Royal Court of the kings injury, but assure them that he is alive and will make a complete recovery."
Turning to a third, she instructed, "Make ready the Kings chambers. Make sure there are extra blankets, plenty of fresh water and clean cloths. Your King is especially fond of pitted dates; make sure they are in good supply by his bed."
Turning to Xena, she said, "It looks like our bed chamber exile is over. I will personally prepare the medicine for my husband, the same as I used for your cuts. Now is when I will need your eyes and ears for protection."
"Im impressed. Youve suddenly become a real, governing Queen." Xena said.
"When the King is well and in the palace, his word is law. But now, it is my word that rules. This is not the first time Ive had to govern in his absence. But thank you for the compliment."
When the king was brought into the palace he was unable to walk and was near unconscious so he was carried in on a stretcher. Gabrielle had him taken immediately to his bed. With Xenas help his clothes were removed and the Physician began to wash out the stab wound with the potion Gabrielle had prepared.
Examining the wound the Physician assured Gabrielle that nothing vital had been cut, and his weakness was due mainly to a loss of blood.
"Dont any of the Kings men know how to slow down a bleeding wound?" Xena complained as she made her own examination. "They should have cauterized it right away."
"I think they may have been afraid to do something wrong. His subjects love him, but they also fear him. He does have a bad temper sometimes." Gabrielle answered her.
"He will live," the Physician reassured them. "But he wont be up for at least two turns of the moon."
King Belos was unconscious or asleep for the better part of four days. On the fifth day he was lucid enough to talk.
"So how was the battle?" Was Xenas first question.
"Speaking barely above a whisper, Belos replied, "It could have gone better. My archers, the ones with the fired arrows, were reluctant to shoot the horses. They killed the riders, so the horses didnt stampede as they should have. Fortunately, they were still chasing my men into the open field with the pits. But because there was no panic, only the first dozen or so horses fell. Of course there was much confusion, but in the end, most of Jobynas men were killed."
"What about Jobyna?" Xena interrupted.
"He died an inglorious death with arrows in his back as he tried to escape."
"So how were you wounded?" Gabrielle asked.
"I did a foolish thing, the very thing Xena warned me about -- I tried to show mercy. There was a young boy, no more than fourteen or fifteen years of age. I was about to run him through with my sword, but the pleading on his face made me hesitate. And in that instant, he stabbed me instead."
"Did this young boy have a scar above one eye running up into his hair?"
"Yes he did. Do you know him?"
"I know him, all right. That was Caspero, Jobynas son. Did you kill him?"
"No, he got away."
"Then you can expect him to return in a few years, with an army, and looking for revenge."
Barely whispering now, King Belos said, "Then I will prepare for him." And he fell back asleep.
As night began to fall Gabrielle and Xena sat beside the kings bed. Gabrielle had another one brought in so she could stay at his side throughout the night.
Even though she and Gabrielle had shared the large bed before, Xena now insisted that she would be more comfortable with just a straw mattress on the floor. And she would be less visible if an intruder were to sneak in.
By the end of the first month, the king was able to sit up and resumed running his kingdom. Xena continued to be at Gabrielles side. And even though he still had his questions about Xenas trustworthiness, he decided she was more valuable watching over the Queen than in the dungeon, for the time being.
By the beginning of the third month, King Belos was almost completely healed and it was almost as if he had never been wounded. And it was then that he decided he had to determine exactly what was to be done about Xena.
Despite her value as a battle tactician, and as Gabrielles bodyguard, she was still considered by many to be a murderous barbarian whos single episode of flogging was not punishment enough to compensate them for the death of a husband or a son or a father at her hands, or at her armys.
"Xena, we have a problem with you. For more than two months you have been living in the palace as a free woman. There has been much unrest and dissatisfaction among my subjects. Some say the floggings should continue. Others want your head mounted on a post at the city gates. In good conscience I cannot ignore the rumblings of the people. They have good reasons to want you dead. On the other hand, not only did you save the life of the Queen, but you provided a valid battle plan against Jobyna. So the question is -- What should we do about it?"
"My Lord," Xena answered, "Since it is the people who want justice then maybe I should go out and face them. Let them decide my fate."
"No! Xena you cant do that!" Gabrielle protested. "They will kill you!"
"Gabrielle, My Lady, there is no other way. We both know it has to be done. They are your subjects, and you cant ignore them, not if you are to be the kind of queen that they know will do what is right, no matter what."
"Xenas right, Dear Wife, it has to be this way. Guard! Spread the word, at midday tomorrow Xena will face her accusers on the portico of the palace."
As the guard bowed and left the throne room, Gabrielle did also, in tears, running up the stairs to her bed chamber, After a quick nod to King Belos, Xena followed Gabrielle up the stairs; her place was still at her side.
At midday King Belos and Queen Gabrielle walked out of the palace onto the portico at the top of the broad stairway leading up to the palace. Xena was in her usual place just behind Gabrielle, on her right.
"Hear me!" The king shouted to the crowd. "Xena, the one many have called the Barbarian Bitch, has volunteered to face you, to let you judge her concerning her crimes against you."
As King Belos stepped back, Xena walked from behind Gabrielle to the center of the portico, standing four steps away from the stairs leading down. As she looked out over the crowd of several hundred people, she could hear the mumblings and mutterings gradually growing louder. Then someone shouted out that she should be hanged. Another yelled for her head. Another, then another called for flogging.
As the crowd grew louder, the individual shouts were drowned out by the single incoherent roar of the mob. Then someone threw a stone that hit Xena in the shoulder. Another stone bounced off her right leg. More rocks were thrown, hitting her, that she never tried to duck or dodge away from.
But it was more than Gabrielle could stand. Unwavering, she walked toward the hail of stones, and then deliberately walked into the path of a rock that hit her in the forehead just above her right eye.
As though hit with a club, Gabrielle fell backward, to be caught by Xena. As blood poured from the wound down into her eye, Gabrielle struggled to stand. But when Xena tried to wipe away the blood, Gabrielle pushed her hand away.
"Help me to stand. " She commanded. As Xena complied, on quivering and unsteady legs, Gabrielle walked to the edge of the portico. Silently she stood there for all to see the blood running down her face to drip off her chin and soak into her gown. The crowd was stunned into silence at the sight of their beloved queen wounded and bleeding. In the meantime, King Belos had ordered two guards to go into the crowd to capture the man who threw the stone.
"There are many of you who have called for the death of Xena!" She finally said. "I can understand why you wish this to happen, for it is true that she and her army have caused many deaths and much destruction throughout our land. But if that is so, then why have I heard no cries for the death of Ares, God of War? For if anyone is to blame for the death and bloodshed War brings, is it not Ares?"
Wiping blood from her eye, the Queen continued, "And when the crops fail because of a lack of rain, or from flood, no one curses the name of Demeter, our Goddess of Agriculture."
As she wiped her eye again, the guards were dragging the man up the stairs.
"Bring him to me." The queen demanded, and the guards threw him down at her feet.
"Please forgive me, My Queen." The man cried. "I didnt mean for the stone to hit you. In my anger and despair over the loss of my two sons at the hands of Xenas army I was trying to stone her, not you. I beg your forgiveness!"
Gabrielle looked down at the man for a short while, then said to him, but loud enough for the crowd to hear, "Since it was Xena you wished to stone, then it is her forgiveness you must beg for."
Looking over her right shoulder at Xena, she then stepped aside so Xena could better see the man. Speaking to the crowd as well as to him, Xena said, "Striking a member of the Royal Family, even by accident, is punishable by death!"
"Please," the man said as he started to weep, "I have a wife and three daughters. Without me, they will have no one to provide for them. I am all they have, and they are all I have. Oh, Mighty Xena, in all humbleness, I beg you, I plead for your forgiveness."
Seeming to ignore the mans pleas, Xena continued. "While I lay bleeding in the Kings Dungeon after my flogging, no one but the Queen would tend to me. It was She who nursed me back to health. And in doing so, she found something in me she felt was worthy of her mercy, her forgiveness, and her love. I can do no less for this pitiful man as she did for me without dishonoring her."
Looking down at him, she said, "Go back to you wife and daughters."
As the man started to kiss Xena's feet in appreciation, she added, "Before I change my mind."
Bowing to the King and Queen, he half stumbled as he backed down the stairs to his waiting family.
Now that the crisis was over, Gabrielle could no longer stay on her feet, but as she fell, Xena was there again to scoop her up and carry her into the palace.
King Belos walked to the edge of the stairs and shouted to the crowd. "It is over! Return to your homes and your shops and your fields and your vineyards!"
When he entered the palace, Gabrielle was sitting in one of the chairs in the entrance hall to the Throne Room, and Xena was kneeling down as she wiped the blood from her face while the Royal Physician hovered around helplessly.
As the king walked up to them, Xena handed the cloth to the Physician, stood up to meet him, and nodded slightly. "My Lord."
King Belos looked at Xena but didnt speak. In her eyes, instead of the hatred and rage that was there when she was first brought to him, he saw respect and loyalty.
In the king's eyes, Xena saw forgiveness, and acceptance. The king put one hand on Xenas shoulder and squeezed it gently. "Later," he said as his eyes flickered to Gabrielle and then back again, "We will talk later."
With another slight bow, Xena replied, "As you wish."
As the king turned to one of his advisors, the running of the kingdom still vital, Xena picked up Gabrielle and walked to the stairs leading to her bed chamber. Gabrielle's arms were around her neck, her head on the Warrior's shoulder.
Looking up to watch them, King Belos was pleased that he would never again have to be concerned with the safety of his Queen.
And he was surprised at the unexpected wisdom of his Wife, who, just five short years ago, was but a naive, yet enchanting young woman -- a Writer of Scrolls, a Teller of Tales.
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