David E. Milligan
"Good morning, my Husband." Gabrielle said, "Did you sleep well? Your messenger said you wished to speak to Xena."
"Good morning, Dear Wife. Yes, I did. I trust you two slept well, also."
"My Lord," Xena said with a slight nod of her head. "Is there a problem?"
"No, not a problem, really. But I was wondering how your investigation of the attempted assassination of the Queen is going."
"Regretfully, it's not going as well as I had hoped."
"I have questioned almost everyone that was in the castle the day the arrow was fired at My Queen, and so far everyone seems to have an alibi."
"So now what do you intend to do? Do you have any other ideas or are you just giving up?" said King Belos, not happy with the lack of results.
"No, My Lord. I intend to find out who tried to kill her, but...."
"But what? You have something else in mind?"
"My Lord, you have instructed everyone to give me their complete cooperation, and they certainly seemed to, but I feel that I can be much more effective if I was allowed to use some of my own interrogation techniques."
"What do you mean, your own techniques?"
"Well, among my -- many skills, I know of certain pressure and nerve points on the body that can produce a variety of reactions. One such technique I call, for the lack of a better word, the Pinch. In the neck there are two vessels carrying blood to the brain. And by using this Pinch, I am able to cause the muscles surrounding these vessels to constrict, causing the flow of blood to the brain to be cut off. Knowing that they may die within the space of thirty or forty heart beats has persuaded more than one enemy to tell me all he knows."
"So you want to use this 'Pinch' to question everyone again?"
"Not everyone. But there are a few I still have suspicions about."
"And you're sure you can undo this Pinch, and none of my men will die?"
"It's easier to take it off than it is to apply it. Trust me, I have been using this for many years. The only ones who have died from it were the ones I deliberately let die."
"I'm still not sure if I like the idea of you tempting The Fates with the lives of men who may be innocent."
"My Lord, just as the Royal Physician has knowledge of certain poisons that when used in the correct dosages can cure, so do I know just how to use this."
"So when would you want this to take place?"
"In a day or two. I'll make a list if you so desire and submit it to you for your approval. Anyone you believe shouldn't be questioned, won't."
"Very well. Make your list and I will look it over. And now my Dear Wife, I must attend to other matters, so you two may be excused."
Bowing slightly, Gabrielle, followed by Xena, left the Throne Room as the generals and captains entered, each bowing to the Queen as they passed.
When they were in the Entrance Hall walking toward the Royal Garden, Gabrielle put her hand on Xena's arm and stopped her, "So tell me -- who is you are suspicious of?"
"Right now I'd rather not say. I really don't have any solid proof, just a few nagging doubts."
"Come on, you can tell me! I won't say anything. Who is it?"
"Gabrielle, please, don't ask me that. The last thing we need is right now are rumors starting to spread."
"What's the matter? Don't you trust me? What? Are you afraid I'll go to the king and tell him your secrets? You don't have to worry, I won't say anything."
"Well, that's just it. It's not that I don't trust you, but I don't want to be the reason you keep secrets from your husband. I know you did it before when you were visiting me in the dungeon, but I'd rather you didn't. It doesn't make for a strong marriage when secrets are kept."
"Then can't you just give me a hint?" Gabrielle asked hopefully. "I'm pretty good with riddles."
Thinking for a moment, Xena said. "Just remember this -- things aren't what they seem to be. And some people aren't who, and what, they want you to think they are. And don't believe everything you've been told."
As Gabrielle tried to make sense of what Xena said, she could hear a steady tapping that slowly grew louder. Looking across the Hall she saw The Seer, the blind old woman with her walking stick, tapping the floor in front of her as she made her way to some destination in the palace.
Frustrated with the puzzling clues that told her nothing, Gabrielle said, "Xena, that makes about as much sense as the prophecies that old woman makes!"
Looking at the Old Seer with a strange look on her face, Xena replied, "My point exactly."
Gabrielle looked at the old woman, and then back at Xena with a questioning look.
"Surely you don't suspect her? She can't even see to walk, much less to loose an arrow so accurately."
"See what I'm talking about?" Xena replied. "I haven't said a word, but with just a look, you are thinking the unthinkable. Or is it?" Xena added with an enigmatic smile.
Shaking her head in exasperation, Gabrielle continued her walk to the Garden.
"Xena, I have looked over your list, and I must say I am somewhat puzzled."
"In what way, King Belos? Have I left off someone you think should be on it?"
"Actually, yes. I see no names of those comprising the Dungeon Guard. I would have thought they would have been your prime suspects since they were present when the arrow was shot."
"During my time in the cell I had plenty of time to study my 'enemies.' And it was obvious almost from the very start that the men of the Dungeon Guard aren't counted among the elite soldiers that make up the Royal Guard. With the exception of the Captain of the Guard, they are the probably the poorest trained, most inept soldiers you have."
"Then why isn't the Captain of the Guard's name on this list."
"Because of the way he looked at the Queen. He has nothing but the utmost loyalty and adoration for her," Xena said as her eyes cut quickly to Gabrielle and then back to the king. "Even though his is a thankless job, he is probably one of the most trustworthy soldiers you have. You might want to consider a promotion for him."
"But what of these other names?" The king continued, ignoring the suggestion. "There doesn't seem to be any reason behind your choices. You have named men that aren't even soldiers -- stable hands and carpenters and millers and field workers."
"All men who are able to come and go without suspicion."
"Very well, I suppose you know what you are doing. But before you use this 'Pinch' perhaps you should demonstrate it so they will know what to expect."
"My Lord, that would defeat the purpose."
"If any of them know it is only a demonstration, and that they are really in no danger of dying, they will say what they think I want to hear, or out and out lie to me. But if they think they may be taking their last breaths, well, I'm sure you see my point."
"Yes, that does make sense. But I was thinking, just so I will know what you are about to do to my men, perhaps you should put your Pinch on me first."
"I would prefer not to."
"I can order you to."
"My Lord, this is not a game. It was designed to kill. And just because I have adapted it to suit my own, less deadly purposes doesn't change the fact that it can be lethal."
"All the more reason I should experience it for myself. My father, King Osiris, once told me 'Know your enemy and you can defeat him.' And while you are no longer my enemy, I feel I should know as much about you, and your many skills, as I can."
"And you trust me not to let you die?"
Smiling, the king answered, "Could you let me die in front of your beloved Queen?"
"Of course not. But let me warn you - it is painful, and the longer it is applied, the worse it gets. You can feel yourself dying, or that's the way it will seem."
"You sound as if this had been done to you."
"In the beginning, as a lesson before it was taught to me. It's something you never forget."
"So what do I do?" The King asked.
"Sit back on the throne and tilt your head back a little. A little more."
Suddenly Xena's two hands shot out, the first two fingers of each hand spearing the king on the sides of his neck.
Immediately, his eyes began to bulge as the pressure began to build. For not only were the two Carotid arteries constricted, but the two Jugular veins, closer to the surface of the neck were also closed down.
As Gabrielle watched in horrified fascination, blood began to seep from the king's nose.
"So tell me," Xena said calmly, "How much do you really love Gabrielle?"
Struggling to speak, the king managed to say, "With all my heart. I would renounce my kingdom for her."
"Xena!" Gabrielle shouted. "You've got to stop this! NOW!"
"Come here," Xena said to Gabrielle. And getting behind her, Xena put her arms around Gabrielle, holding her hands with her own, and extended the first two fingers of each hand. Then used Gabrielle's fingers to remove the Pinch.
As King Belos coughed and began to recover, Gabrielle looked at Xena with shock and dismay. "Xena! How could you have done such a thing? My husband could have died!"
"There was no chance of that. I told you it was easier to remove than to apply. Now you know what to do, just in case."
"In case of what?" Gabrielle asked, still appalled that Xena was so unaffected by the possible tragic outcome.
"Just in case I decide to show you how to apply it."
"Xena, why would I EVER want to know how to do that?"
"You never know," was all Xena would say.
As King Belos recovered enough to speak, he asked, "Why did you ask me if I loved Gabrielle? Don't you think I do?"
"Oh, I know you do. I just wanted you to know how hard it was to speak, but still felt like you had better say something."
"I can see why it works. I felt like I was being choked, and my eyes being pushed out of their sockets, and my head being crushed in a vise, all at the same time. I felt as if I were dying."
"So you understand the reason why the men need to be questioned separately, and not know in advance what is going to happen to them. Also, with your permission, I'd rather you not be present. If they see you, they may think you wouldn't let them die. Something I'd rather they didn't believe."
"Very well. I will have the guards round them up and you can begin this afternoon."
"Have them rounded up, but let them spend the night in a cell, just to further loosen their tongues when tomorrow comes."
"If you think it will help, then it will be done."
As the first of the men selected were escorted by the guards into a small anteroom next to the Throne Room, Xena stood in the center of it, a hostile look on her face. One solitary chair was the only furniture, which the guards forced the man into.
"Leave us." Xena demanded, and the two guards withdrew through the door they had entered. The second door was covered with a curtain. Behind which were the king and Gabrielle; there to listen should any incriminating evidence be told.
Xena only stared at the frightened carpenter, who tried but couldn't meet Xena's stare.
Finally Xena commanded, "Look at me!" As he did, the fingers of her hands speared the man's neck, throwing him against the back of the chair and causing him to begin gagging.
"You have only 30 heartbeats to answer my questions to my satisfaction. If you don't, you die."
He could only nod to indicate he understood.
"Were you involved in the attempted assassination of Queen Gabrielle?"
"N-n-no. I swear, I knew n-nothing about any assassination," he choked out as blood began to dribble out of his nose and into his mouth. "Nothing, you have to believe me."
"You LIE!" Xena screamed at him. "You have lied to me, and now you will die for it!"
"Please! On the lives of my dear children, I swear to you, I am innocent!"
Xena turned her back on the man as he continued to deny his involvement.
Then within ten heartbeats of his death, she spun around and speared his neck again, returning the flow of blood to his brain.
"Guards!" Xena shouted, "Take this liar away, send him back to his worthless family."
Just before he was lifted from the chair, Xena bent down to him and said into his face. "If you repeat what has happened here you will watch your children die."
"Never! I will say nothing! I promise, you must believe me!" he pleaded as he was dragged from the room.
The king and queen entered the room with shocked looks on both their faces.
"How could you have been so cruel and heartless?" Gabrielle managed to ask first.
"Don't you think you were just a bit over zealous?" the king asked.
"And would you have been any less 'zealous' if Gabrielle had been killed?" Xena retorted. "I told you I had my own methods. Did you think I was going to be as gentle with murder suspects as I was with you?" she asked.
"Don't worry, it is all an act. I don't intend to let any of them die, but they have to believe I will, otherwise there's no reason for me to do this."
"Yes, I suppose you are right, again." The king answered. "You may continue."
And he and Gabrielle returned through the curtained door.
As the morning moved into midday, each man questioned went through the same torture. Xena stopped the interrogations while the midday meal was eaten.
The king had other matters to attend to, so only Gabrielle shared the meal with Xena.
"You have questioned so many," Gabrielle said, "How many more are there?"
"Ten, maybe fifteen," Xena answered.
"I didn't realize there were so many. I don't recall you list being so long."
"It wasn't, at first, but I sent the king additional names just after dark last night."
"But is anything being accomplished? It seems to me, that everyone questioned so far had nothing to do with it." Gabrielle said, with concern in her voice.
"They haven't. I knew that when I made up the list."
"I'm sorry, Xena, but I just don't understand what you are doing."
"Gabrielle, just because I threatened them, doesn't mean they aren't going to talk about what I have been doing, and why. Eventually, whoever is responsible will began to fear that either someone will tell us what we want to know, or will be questioned himself, and may try to make an escape."
Nodding as she began to understand Xena's plan, Gabrielle slowly finished her meal.
Just before Xena called for the guards to bring the next one, a messenger came to Gabrielle.
"My Lady! You must come at once! The Old Seer has taken to her bed. She says she is dying, My Lady! She begs that you come at once."
"Yes, of course. Xena, I have to go to her."
As Gabrielle rushed out of the room, Xena followed, but stopped long enough to instruct the guards, "Release the remainder of the prisoners. Tell them to go home and wait."
As Gabrielle entered the small, dark room that was the old woman's, Xena was right behind her.
"Light a torch." Xena told the messenger.
Sitting on the edge of her bed, Gabrielle gently touched the shoulder of the Seer.
"My Lady," she whispered, "You came. Thank you."
"Don't talk right now. I have sent for the Royal Physician. You must save your strength."
"It is too late for that old Faker to do anything for me now." She answered with a small amount of affection in her voice. "I am old and it is my time. It is just this pain in my chest that is so hard to endure."
Xena sat down on the other side of the bed, which creaked under the added weight.
"This should help," she said. And placing two fingers between the old woman's shoulder and heart gave a quick jab.
As the pain lessened, she smiled, and nodded in thanks.
"Now is the time to tell us the truth." Xena said to her. "There is nothing anyone can do to you now. You and I know, but now you must tell Gabrielle. Your Queen deserves nothing less but the truth."
"Tell me the truth?" Gabrielle asked, looking from the old woman to Xena and back again. "About what?"
"How did you know?" the dying Seer asked Xena. "What gave me away?"
"I didn't become the leader of thousands of soldiers by being unobservant." Xena replied.
"Will someone please tell me what in Hades is going on?!" Gabrielle demanded.
"You will have to tell her," the old woman whispered to Xena. "I just don't have the strength."
Gabrielle looked at Xena,
"Gabrielle, the Old Seer was the one who fired the arrow at you in the dungeon. There was no one else involved."
"Xena, that's impossible. She blind! She's been blind since birth."
"That's what she's been telling everyone. It's a half truth. She's is blind, but in only one eye. With the other she sees almost as good as we do with two eyes."
Looking down at her, Gabrielle searched for the truth. Nodding slightly, the old woman opened both eyes fully, something Gabrielle had never seen her do before. One eye was pale gray, almost white. The other was a pale blue, with a small black iris.
"You can see?"
The dying woman nodded.
"But why did you try to kill me? Have I treated you so unkind or unfairly? Please, I have to know, why do you hate me so?"
"The Prophecy, it had to...."
Before she could finish speaking a coughing spasm overtook her.
Eventually she stopped coughing and Gabrielle gave her water and she continued, "I don't hate you, My Lady. I have loved you like the daughter I never had. But the Prophecy -- time was running out. Xena and you had to be together. 'Two life forces, entwining and blending as the smoke from two separate fires, until you can no longer tell one from the other.' But Xena was to be flogged again. I didn't know if she would survive. I had to do something -- something drastic. Something to postpone the whipping."
"But what if she wasn't able to catch the arrow? What if...?"
"I knew she would. Prophesy said 'Your enemy is your friend."
"Yes, I know. You told me that."
"But I didn't tell you all. Prophesy also said 'A tall, dark protector. With her at your side, your years will number more than seventy.' So you see, I had no fear that she would not stop the arrow. I added poison to the tip to increase the urgency. You were never in danger."
Another coughing spasm wracked the old woman. Gabrielle gave her more water and let her rest.
"You knew about this?" Gabrielle asked Xena accusingly.
"I suspected something. From the first time I saw her I knew she wasn't completely blind. And when she told us the Prophesy, you know, about the smoke and all, I began to start putting things together. But I didn't have anything solid, just suspicions and guesses."
"But why didn't you tell me? You could have said something!"
"I told you, Gabrielle, I didn't want you to have to keep secrets from the king. Right or wrong in your mind, I was just trying to protect you."
Just then the Seer gasped again. The pain in her chest had returned. Struggling to speak, she managed to say, "More, there is more. But the pain...."
"I can relieve the pain again, but not as much this time." As the woman nodded, Xena again pressed on the nerve.
"I have one more Prophesy. I have seen the king's heirs, sons and daughters, blonde of hair, with eyes of green, growing strong and tall."
As the pain returned again it became too much, and with an agonizing cry, the Old Seer's heart failed her.
With tears in her eyes, Gabrielle covered the wrinkled face with her blanket. Turning to a servant she said, "You will prepare her body for her funeral. Have it done by daybreak tomorrow."
Gabrielle turned to Xena for comfort, who put one arm around her, then the other, allowing her to softly weep into her breast.
As Gabrielle watched the sun slowly set from the window of her bed chamber, she asked, "What do we tell my husband? He already knows of the Seer's death. And he will want to know the results of your interrogation."
"I think we should tell him everything, leaving nothing out."
"Do you think that's wise? He may be angry with you about subjecting his men to such harsh questioning when it was unnecessary."
"It wasn't completely unnecessary. I still wasn't sure about her involvement, just about her ability to see. And I had to do something, the king was getting impatient. And to tell you the truth, so was I. And I suspect he will find out the truth eventually anyway. I think it's better to tell him everything now than later. Remember what I said about keeping secrets? This may not be pleasant, but it's the right thing to do."
"So are you telling me there was no assassination plot at all?" King Belos demanded.
"That my wife was in no danger the entire time?"
"Yes, My Lord. It appears that is so."
"My feelings about this are very unsettled. Certainly, I am relieved that my wife is in no danger. But this other matter with my men has me upset."
"My Lord, had there been any other way, I would have done it, but as I told you, my suspicions about the old woman were just that. I had no real proof," Xena explained.
"And you?" The king said to Gabrielle, "What do you have to say about this?"
"I have very little to add, except for her last Prophesy. It is one that I sincerely wish to come true, but at the same time, I fear to place my hopes on."
"So what is the this last Prophesy that has caused you such uncertainty?"
"She said that she saw our children, both boys and girls, with blonde hair and green eyes, growing strong. Oh, my Husband, I could not wish for more than that! If it is true, then all of this is worth it, all of it!"
"You heard these words?" He asked Xena.
"Yes, My Lord. And she said the Queen's life would continue into to her 70th year and beyond. So it seems that your kingdom, your legacy will continue."
"Then you are right, Gabrielle. It is worth it. And we will, we must, make sure this Prophesy comes to pass."
"Then perhaps I should find elsewhere to pass this night," Xena said, winking at Gabrielle. "The future always begins with the present. And there's no time like the present to begin a family."
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