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The Conqueror: Sceptre of Fate

Part III: In the Hands of Fate

By: Harpy & HkdonXetG ©2012


Story Disclaimers

Category: XWP; Conqueror/Alternate Timeline; Classic X/G; ALT (f/f), mature audience

Copyright Disclaimer: Characters from the T.V. Series Xena, Warrior Princess and Hercules, the Legendary Journeys, are copyrighted to MCA/Universal, Studio USA, and Renaissance Pictures. This is an original work of fan fiction, intended for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. Copies of this story may be made for personal use only, but must include disclaimers. Original characters and plot lines are copyrighted to the authors and may be used with permission.

Spoiler Disclaimer: This story depicts Xena and Gabrielle in an alternate timeline and is loosely based upon the HTLJ Series episode (H73/414) Armageddon Now II. It is not necessary to have seen the episode to read and enjoy Sceptre of Fate. We encourage you to read SOF Parts I and II, though Part III can be read separately.

Content Disclaimer: This story is rated Mature – for readers who are 18 years or older.

Sexual Content: This is a story about Xena and Gabrielle who, in any timeline, are fated to be together as friends, lovers, and soul mates. That means this is an Alternative Fan Fiction story with scenes of sexual intimacy between two females, though not overly explicit.

Violence Content: This is a Xena Warrior Princess story set in the time of the Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Persians, who spent a fair amount of time trying to conquer each other, and Life in general was usually brutal and short. In Sceptre of Fate, there is a fair amount of violence, though it is in keeping with the XWP & HTLJ television series.

important notice: In SOF III, there is a scene of attempted sexual assault and a few violent deaths. While this may be distressful to some readers, it is important to the plot, and we made sure it was neither gratuitous nor overly graphic.

If you are not 18 years or older, or violence and F/F sexual situations are not your cup of tea, then this would not be a story for you.

Story Summary

In The Conqueror: Sceptre of Fate, Part III: In the Hands of Fate, Xena's worse fears have come true and knowledge of her relationship with Gabrielle has made Gabrielle a target for those who oppose the Empress. Intrigue, betrayal, and conspiracy imperil alliances, friendships, and lives. Xena soon discovers that no one is above suspicion as she exposes a plot that threatens to thwart her plans of conquest.

Will Xena rescue Gabrielle or will Xena be too late to save her? Will the Treaty with the Amazons be ratified or will the Amazon Queen be collateral damage in the growing conspiracy? Will Xena and Gabrielle be reunited or will unforeseen forces jeopardise their happiness and risk the fate of all whom they love?

A different timeline, a different Xena and Gabrielle – or are they? Read Sceptre of Fate, Part III and find out in this original and refreshing take on Xena and Gabrielle in the alternate timeline of the Conqueror.

Note from the Authors

Acknowledgements: When we (Harpy & HkdonXetG) first came together in 2001 and agreed to collaborate on a story about Xena and Gabrielle in an alternate timeline, we could not have imagined or predicted we would still be writing Sceptre of Fate a decade later. When we said in the Disclaimers for SOF II that "…RL (real life) threw everything it could at us…" we didn't realise what an understatement that was! Still we persevered, because we had a story to tell, and we had the encouragement and support of so many people.

First and foremost,we want to express our gratitude to all the fan fiction readers who read our story. We especially want to thank those SOF Fans who took the time to write to us and let us know how much you enjoyed the story; your very positive feedback encouraged us to keep writing, no matter what. We hope you find SOF Part III worth the wait!

And once again we want to acknowledge and thank our brilliant Beta-Reader, Bindi (B-Bard4Sure) who has been there from the beginning of this project. Bindi also contributed the fabulous story cover artwork for SOF.

To find more of her artwork, please visit her web page: www.bbindi.com

Also, we thank Michele, for putting up with all the late nights and weekly chat/writing sessions over the past 10 years, and for all the love and support.

Lastly, we'd like to acknowledge each other for ten years of collaboration and friendship with a darn good story to show for it.

Authors' Technical Notes: The Sceptre of Fate Series is written from the perspective of both Gabrielle and Xena by alternating POV (point of view) every other chapter. So, for example, Chapter 1 is written from Gabrielle's perspective; Chapter 2 is written from Xena's perspective; and so on.

Sceptre of Fate is written using British English spelling.

Feedback Request: Your feedback is the manna that sustains us, so please feed the bards at harpy1553@yahoo.co.uk and HkdonXetG@yahoo.com.

Chapter 1

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Xena was fond of saying that Fate had less to do with the lines on your palm than your own two hands – that your future is what you make it. I had always believed that just as the loom weaves wool into strong cloth, so too the golden threads of two people's lives are woven together into a bond so strong nothing could break it. We soon discovered, however, that our relationship could unravel and our future together was not in our own hands, but in the hands of Fate.

~~~~~

Two days. Two miserable and lonely days had passed since Xena and I last spoke. No, not spoke – argued. And for two long days I waited in vain hoping that Xena would return for me, and we would make up and put the whole sorry affair behind us.

Xena didn't even want to go to the feast at the Amazon camp. She didn't trust Queen Terreis' motives for inviting us, but I wore down Xena's defences until she agreed.

At first everything seemed to go well, but that didn't last. I was naïve to think it would. Alcohol never failed to bring out the worse in people. It certainly brought out the worse in Xena, and being honest, the worse in me as well.

The trouble began over a silly adolescent boast Xena made to Ephiny about bedding me that I was obviously not meant to overhear. Had I been more sober, I might've waited until we were alone to confront Xena, but I didn't. I had it out with her right there, in the middle of the entire camp of Amazon warriors, and I didn't care who heard us.

"Is that what this is, Xena? A 'situation'?"

"Don't be facetious."

"Oh! That's me put in my place then!"

"Gabrielle, this is no time for one of your little spats."

The situation quickly went from bad to worse, and the evening ended with me defiantly refusing to leave with Xena, Xena storming out of camp, and Queen Terreis nursing a broken collarbone.If only broken relationships could be mended as easily as collarbones.

~~~~~

On the morning of the third day, it was clear that Xena was not going to come for me, so I would have to go to her. Either way, we needed to resolve this rift between us.

When I told Queen Terreis that I was going back to the palace, she insisted on going with me, under the pretext of wanting to tell the Empress that she would sign the treaty.

"I don't understand," I said. "You mean you would still sign the treaty after what happened?"

"What happened?" The Amazon Queen replied as though she had no memory of the argument, the fight between she and Xena, her injury.

"The challenge, remember? Xena very nearly killed you!"

"Yes, but she didn't." The red-haired woman struggled to swing her legs off the bed and sit up.

"All the more reason to stay as far away from her as possible," I countered. "Xena is not a very gracious loser."

"Which is all the more reason to go," Terreis replied as she adjusted the sling that cradled her left arm.

I didn't follow the logic of her reasoning and it must've shown on my face, so Terreis explained.

"You are right, Gabrielle. Warriors with the unparalleled skill of the Empress hate to lose. And that is why I must go."

Terreis gathered up her boots from nearby and handed them to me. "Here, can you give me a hand to get these things on?"

I knelt down and helped guide a boot over each foot. "I still don't understand."

Terreis steadied herself on my arm and stood up. "The only reason I am still alive," she continued, "is because Xena conceded the fight and left the field of combat."

"Yes?" I still couldn't see the connection.

My bemusement amused her. "My dear friend, are you so blind that you cannot see? Xena lost the fight because she didn't want to lose you. She walked away because she loves you more than her own pride."

Terreis' keen observation hit me like freezing water being splashed in my face. In all my brooding, I had never examined the events that came after the fight. It was true, Xena had uncharacteristically conceded the fight, though she was clearly winning, and left the Amazon camp without another word spoken. Finally I understood what I should have known all along: Xena had left because she loved me.

Terreis continued, "You see, if I make this concession, of going to the Empress and signing the treaty, that will go some way to repairing relations between the two of us and restoring her pride."

The Amazon Queen was making a very magnanimous gesture, but I was concerned that Xena would not be so magnanimous if Terreis accompanied me back to the palace. "That is very generous of you," I replied. "Still, the treaty signing really can wait until your shoulder is healed."

"I don't need my left arm to make my mark on a treaty," Terreis replied.

"That may be, but I'm not going to have you walk all the way to the palace while I ride Daisy, and I'm not an expert enough rider to manage with you on the back of Daisy with only one good arm." I thought I had finally come up with a reason Terreis couldn't challenge.

Terreis looked puzzled. "Daisy? Who's Daisy?"

"My horse," I explained.

"You named your male horse 'Daisy'?"

"Yes, why not? There are male daisies aren't there?"

Terreis put her good arm around my shoulder and chuckled. "That's what I admire about you, Gabrielle. You are a non-conformist. You follow your own path."

"Thanks. I think."

"Okay, so we will leave Daisy here and walk back together. I will have someone bring him back to the palace after he's been fed."

"Well, I…I can't predict what kind of mood Xena is going to be in—"

"Are you always this stubborn?" Terreis asked.

"Oh, yes," I replied, "just ask Xena!"

"I intend to, because I am going with you, and that's final." Terreis raised her good arm and put her fist on her hip. "You'll find I can be just as stubborn."

Before I could say another word, we were distracted by a familiar voice outside the tent. It was Ephiny, Terreis' second-in-command. She announced herself and entered. "My Queen. I heard voices, so I came to see if you were all right. How is your shoulder?"

"It's fine. And your arm?"

Ephiny looked puzzled until Terreis pointed to the angry gash on her arm. Ephiny was quick to dismiss it. "Oh that? I completely forgot it was even there."

The Amazon Queen teased her second-in-command. "I dare say Solari isn't going to let you forget anytime soon."

I stifled a chuckle as the proud Amazon warrior answered her queen's dig with an irked 'humph'. Ephiny's scowl was quickly replaced with a smile when Terreis announced that I would be going back to the palace this morning.

"So soon?" Ephiny replied with obvious irony. "I'll have her horse readied immediately."

Ephiny reminded me of the Empress' senior military advisor, General Darnell, and his not-too-subtle disdain for me. What is it about second-in-commands anyway? I thought.

"No rush. Gabrielle is leaving Daisy here, for now," Terreis said.

"Daisy? Who's Daisy?" asked the tall warrior with curly blonde mane.

Terreis replied, "Her horse."

"Figures," Ephiny scoffed under her breath. "Why are you leaving your horse?" Her tone was stern and suspicious.

"I, uh…"

"Gabrielle and I have decided to walk back to the palace," Terreis explained.

Ephiny looked directly at me, and if looks were spears, I would've been impaled. "Whose idea was that?"

"Mine," the Amazon Queen declared.

I was expecting Ephiny's vehement rejection of the idea. To my surprise, her whole demeanour changed and she spoke to her queen in a tender tone. "You need to rest. I will accompany Gabrielle back to the palace."

"I've just been through all that with Gabrielle. I'm fine. I won't break," Terreis replied with a smile.

"All right, let me round up the others." Ephiny started towards the entry of the tent.

"No need. Gabrielle and I can manage without—"

"You are not going without an escort," the Queen's second-in-command said pointedly.

Rather than impose her royal will, Queen Terreis employed her practised diplomacy. "Under the circumstances, I don't think it is a good idea for me to show up with an armed escort."

"Then I will escort you – unarmed if you like."

"No, I need you to look after things here," Terreis replied.

"I can't let you just walk into the palace unprotected!" Ephiny protested. "You don't know what the Empress is liable to do."

Terreis gave Ephiny's arm a gentle squeeze. "You worry too much."

"It's my job."

I watched the exchange between Terreis and Ephiny with more than passing interest. There was a tenderness between them I had never noticed before. It was pleasing to discover the otherwise reserved blonde warrior did indeed possess a tender side.

I tried to offer Ephiny some reassurance. "You don't have to worry Ephiny. Nothing will happen, I promise."

"And what do you think the two of you are going to do if you run into trouble along the way, eh? You can't fight because of your shoulder, and you—" Ephiny paused and gestured towards me, "you can't fight!"

I took offence. "I can so fight, and I have the blisters to prove it!" I held out my palms to show her.

It took a bit more persuasion, but Terreis finally convinced Ephiny to let us walk back to the palace without an escort, but only after we promised to stay off the main road.

~~~~~

The forest outside of Corinth was dense and lush, the likes of which I had never seen in the coastal plains around Potidaea. The path we followed showed signs of recent use, though one could tell it wasn't a well-used thoroughfare. It was well off the main road and meandered around huge trees – ancient and tall. I stopped once or twice to examine deer tracks or take in a deep breath of clean, pine scented air. Had I the time, I would've enjoyed exploring more of the forest; however, I was anxious to get back to the palace – and Xena.

When we first started out from the Amazon camp, the path was wide enough to accommodate the both of us walking side by side. As we walked, I chattered away about anything and everything that came into my head. I suppose it was nervous anticipation of seeing Xena again and wondering what kind of welcome I would receive from her. And when I get nervous, I say whatever comes into my head, and what came into my head at that particular moment was the relationship between a certain Amazon Queen and her champion.

"Terreis, do you mind if I ask you a very personal question?"

"The question is can I stop you?"

"Ha, ha," I replied. "No, really."

"Of course. What's the question?"

"Your poem – the one you showed me the other day."

"Yes…"

"Who was it written for?"

Terreis didn't answer; she fixed her gaze ahead, though it seemed her mind was miles away from the path we were following.

"I'm sorry," I said, "it was impertinent of me to ask."

"No, it's all right," replied Terreis, her focus having returned to the conversation and me. "It was a few years ago."

"What happened?"

"Nothing. It's a long story."

"We've got plenty of time." My enthusiasm for details was thinly veiled.

"It's not that long of a walk," Terreis countered.

I gave her a pleading look, like a puppy begging for a tasty treat.

"All right. I'll give you the short version, but you must promise to keep it just between us."

"Oh, I promise," I said gleefully, and Terreis began telling me about the love of her life.

"When I was fourteen I had a huge crush on this one girl in my village. She was a year older than me, tall and lean, but strong – the best fighter among the younger warriors of my tribe. Everyone wanted to best her, be just like her, or be with her. But this warrior was a bit of a lone wolf – brooding, aloof."

"Hmmm, sounds familiar," I mumbled as I imagined what Xena would've been like at that age.

"Pardon?" Terreis asked.

"Nothing. You were saying?"

"Well, to make a long story shorter, I wore down her defences and we became very close friends – inseparable really. I found I could talk to her about anything and she listened intently. I even got her to open to me a little. Then one early autumn evening it happened. We had gone for a long walk. She wanted to show me her favourite spot – a sheltered outcrop that overlooked our village. It was a long walk and by the time we got there, it was getting dark – too late to get back home in time for the evening meal. So we decided to spend the night there. We stood together near the edge of the outcrop and watched the sun as it dipped below the horizon, sharing the beauty and solitude of this sacred place."

"It sounds lovely," I commented. "What happened next?"

"I don't know if we realised it then or we were just swept up in the moment, but there, under a canopy of stars, we kissed..." Terreis' voice lingered on the word kiss. "It was the first time I had ever been kissed like that." With a dreamy look, her fingers lightly touched her lips. "I can still remember how full and soft her lips felt and how urgently I wanted to press my body into hers."

"So, did you…?"

"Did I what?"

"You know."

"You mean did we make love?"

"Yes!" I exclaimed.

"No. Well, sort of…not really."

"What happened?"

Terreis stopped walking.

"Forgive me," I said, "that's personal."

"No, it's all right," she assured me. Pain registered on her face, but it wasn't from her shoulder.

"We were so caught up in the pleasures of exploration that we didn't hear the war whoops coming from our village below until the air was thick with smoke from burning huts. We hurried back as fast as we could, but by the time we got there the raiders were gone – driven off by our Amazon sisters. There were a few casualties, among them my sister, Queen Melosa, who was mortally wounded in the initial attack. Before she succumbed to her injuries, Melosa gave me her Right of Caste, and upon her death I was declared the new Queen of the Amazons."

"I am sorry about your sister." My heart went out to Terreis – losing her sister like that and having to take on the burdens of queenship under such circumstances.

We continued to walk in silence until the path we were on began to narrow through a dense stand of elm and pine. I took the lead so I could bend the low-lying branches out of the way for Terreis, who followed behind me. At first that I hadn't noticed how quietly the Amazon Queen was making her way past the branches. The tales I had heard about the Amazons' stealth in the forest weren't just stories after all.

I was dying to know what happened between Terreis and her warrior, so I stopped and chanced asking her.

With a melancholy expression, Terreis said, "It was over before it started. Neither one of us spoke of that night again – partly out of duty and partly out of guilt – guilt that we weren't there to help defend our village and our queen."

"Oh, Terreis, that's awful."

She offered not further explanation, so again we pushed on through this narrow part of the path until the urge to say something was too much. Without even turning around to see if she was receptive, I just had to know. "This girl – was it Ephiny?"

I waited for Terreis to say something, but there was no answer. All I heard was the rustling of leaves behind me, and then suddenly everything went black.

~~~~~

When I came to, I didn't know where I was, but I knew something was terribly wrong. It was dark and I couldn't move. It took a few minutes for me get my bearings. The back of my head felt like a mule had kicked me. As my senses came into focus, I realised my eyes were held shut by some kind of cloth. I tried to stand up, but the effort was wasted: my wrists and ankles were bound by some kind of strong cord.

The last thing I remember was chatting to Terreis as we walked back to Corinth. Terreis…

"Terreis, are you there?"

I waited for her to answer me, but there wasn't a sound: not a whisper or a groan, nothing but my own voice echoing back towards me.

Okay Gabrielle, I thought, don't panic – focus. Since my eyes were of no use, I tried to calm my emotions and allow my other senses to help me.

I took a deep breath. The aroma smelled more like dank wood and dusty stone than dead leaves and moist earthy dirt, so I surmised I was no longer in the woods. If I'm not in the woods, then where am I and where was Terreis? I wondered.

I called again, "Terreis? Are you all right?" Still no answer.

I struggled to loosen the rope confining my hands, but it was no use. The more I struggled, the tighter it became. I stopped just as it started cutting into my wrists. Whoever had tied me up, I thought, must've been very knowledgeable at tying knots – a sailor perhaps.

"Terreis, are you there? Answer me. Where are you?"

A rush of panic filled my lungs.

"Is anyone there? Terreis? Anyone? Help!"

"You can yell all you want. No one will here you," a deep voice answered.

"Who are you? Where am I?"

A man approached me. He was foul-smelling – like rotting fish and body odour.

"Where's Terreis?" I asked anxiously.

"Who?"

I wasn't about to reveal to my kidnapper that Terreis was in fact the Queen of the Amazons. "The person that was with me."

"Oh her," he replied. "I wouldn't count on her coming to your rescue."

Okay, from that I surmised that Terreis wasn't here – wherever here was. "What happened to her? Is she all right? I want to see her. Please take me to her. She's injured and—"

The kidnapper continued his smug explanation. "Don't worry about her."

His tone filled me with dread. "What do you mean? What have you done to her?"

"You ask too many questions. Just be quiet and you won't get hurt." He started to leave.

"Wait! Do you know who I am – who I work for?"

"Of course."

"Then you know you're in very big trouble. If you let me go, I'll see to it you are handsomely rewarded."

"I'll be handsomely rewarded either way."

"Can you at least loosen the ropes – it's cutting into my wrists."

"No."

I could see I was going to get nowhere with this man, so I tried a different tack.

"How long are you planning to keep me prisoner?"

"You'll be our 'guest' only for a short while."

Ah, I thought, he said 'our guest' so that meant there was more than one kidnapper at least.

"It must be hours already, because I'm starving. Can you bring me something to eat and drink?"

"You'll have to wait until my associate returns."

"How long will that be?"

"I don't know. In the meantime, just sit there and shut up." With that he walked away.

"Wait! Come back…come back!" I called out in one last effort to appeal to my captor. But the echoes of my pleading faded and I was alone again in the gloom and darkness.

Fear and despair began to set in as my predicament became clear: I had been kidnapped. But why – why me? My mind raced with questions. Did Xena even know I had been kidnapped? How could she, I thought, Xena didn't even know I was on my way back to the palace. And what about Terreis? What's happened to her? Oh, why did I let Terreis talk me into walking back to the palace?

I needed to pull myself together; panicking wasn't going to help me get out of this situation. I drew in a few slow, deliberate breaths and tried concentrating on a happy memory to take my mind off my captivity.

I thought back to the day Xena and I rode up the mountainside for a picnic, just the two of us. She was so affectionate and attentive that day. She even gave me a gift – a gold necklace with a small replica of her sceptre that she had crafted just for me. I never felt as loved as I did that day and I promised to wear the necklace close to my heart always.

As if to draw strength from it, I focussed on the necklace.

The necklace – I couldn't feel it around my neck! It must've come off in the struggle with my kidnappers. My hope sank. Terreis wasn't responding, I was being held captive, Xena had no idea I was even missing, and now the necklace Xena had given me was gone. Could things get any worse?

Suddenly, I heard voices talking outside. At first I couldn't make out much of what was being said, though I assumed it had something to do with me. The muffled whispers soon became angry bickering.

"You do it!"

"No, you!"

"That's not what Dar—"

"No names, you idiot! And keep your voice down."

"Right." The first kidnapper continued to speak, but lowered his voice.

Unfortunately, I couldn't hear the rest of their conversation – only bits and pieces. "…Leaving… harbour…ransom… General."

General? My ears pricked up and a knot lodged in my throat as my mind immediately put two-and-two together: "general" and "Dar"… No, it couldn't be. General Darnell?

At first I refused to believe he had anything to do with me being kidnapped, but then I remembered he had threatened me more than once – even going so far as to call me "a plague" that was making Xena weak and that he "…just may have the cure." Had he finally made good on his threats? I wondered.

~~~~~

I had no idea how long I'd been bound and blindfolded, but it had to be several hours, because I was thirsty, hungry, and had to pee.

I called out, "Hey – somebody, anybody. I need help."

I didn't have to wait long for someone to respond. "All right. What do you want?" he asked brusquely.

This was not the same man who had come in earlier. This man's voice was deeper.

"Where is the other fellow?"

"He's not…never mind where he is. What do you want?"

"I uh, it's been hours since I had anything to eat or drink and I need to relieve myself."

"I was told to watch you. Nothing was said about making you comfortable."

"Please, I can't hold on much longer."

"Oh, all right." I felt a hand grab a handful of fabric and lift me up onto my feet. "But I'm warning you. Don't try anything." He untied my hands and feet but left the blindfold on.

I thought one of the voices had sounded familiar. It was Lucon, I was sure of it, but I didn't let on I knew who he was.

"Can you remove the blindfold as well?" I asked.

"Not if you want to live," he retorted.

The kidnapper led me outside – I knew this because I could feel the sun warming the blindfold. We walked about twenty paces or so and then stopped.

"Okay, do your business – and make it quick."

"Can't I have just a little privacy?"

"No," he growled.

"Well, can you at least turn your head?"

"Look either do it now with me watching or don't do it and I'll take you back to the shrine."

Ah, he had given me another vital bit of information. I was being held captive in a shrine. I knew of an old Dorian shrine to Poseidon not too far from the Amazon camp. It had been damaged in the most recent earthquake.

"All right, but don't blame me if some of it splashes on your boots."

"Just shut up and get on with it, or I swear by Holy Hades, I'll make you wish you had."

Lucon was brutish, and I had no doubt he would think nothing of hurting a defenceless woman. I didn't want to provoke him further. On the contrary, I wanted him to let down his guard. So, I relieved my bladder without further comment and then stood up.

Lucon grabbed my right elbow and led me back inside. I knew if ever there were a time to escape, it would be before he tied me up again. As he reached for the ropes, I felt his grip around my arm loosen. This was my opportunity. I knew I would never get another.

I stepped back on my right foot to locate his boot and then stomped down as hard as I could.

"Ow! You bitch!" Lucon cursed in pain and grabbed his foot, letting go just enough for me to break away.

I yanked the blindfold off my head so I could see where he was. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust from darkness to the filtered light of an afternoon sun. Just as I was about to make a run for it, Lucon grabbed my arm again.

"Where do you think you're going?" he snarled.

"Let me go!" I yelled.

Lucon yanked me towards him and leered. "I'm not allowed to kill you, but nobody said I couldn't have a bit of fun."

I desperately struggled to free myself, but he was too strong. "Take your filthy hands off of me."

"I like a wench with spirit."

Lucon leaned his face towards me. I turned my head away to avoid his advances, so he captured my cheeks with his paw of a hand and planted a hard kiss on my mouth. His rapacious tongue tasted like garlic and stale ale, which sickened me. I could do nothing but endure it and pray he wouldn't take more.

Lucon had other ideas. "Remember that first day you joined the Conqueror's army? It was because of you I was demoted and flogged, and it is time I paid you back." He fumbled with the front of his trousers and freed his swollen shaft. "Now, you are going to take my cock in that pretty little mouth of yours and if you so much as flinch, I will kill you."

I knew his assault wouldn't end there. If I were going to escape from Lucon, I would have to do something to make sure he couldn't chase me.

As he tried forcing me down on my knees, I lashed back and drove my knee up into his groin so hard he nearly spat his balls out of his mouth.

I felt a momentary twinge of sympathy for doing that to him, but not enough to linger. This was the opportunity I had been waiting for and I took it.

I left Lucon writhing and moaning and cursing, and I ran out of the shrine as fast as I could.

The path leading away from the shrine had grown over from disuse, which made it tough going. It gave Lucon a chance to recover and catch up with me.

The angry man tackled me from behind, flipped me over, and pinned my shoulders to the ground.

"You fucking cunt! You are going to pay for that."

He slapped me hard across my face. The warm coppery taste of my own blood made it clear that Lucon was going to make good on that threat. I tried with all my might to throw him off me, but his strength was fuelled by painful rage. I knew I was in big trouble when he tore at my trousers, trying to push them down. When I struggled to stop him, he hit me with a closed fist. There was such a look of hatred in his eyes; I was terrified I wasn't going to be able to get away from him this time.

Then I remembered something Xena had told me: 'a warrior cannot hesitate; if you do you die.' So I didn't hesitate. I picked up a rock and swung it. Unfortunately Lucon flinched, so the rock only grazed the side of his head, but it was enough to knock him off me.

I knew I had only stunned him for a few moments. He would soon be up again, and he would come after me and do worse to me. So while he was disoriented, I had to make sure Lucon couldn't get back up.

This time I didn't miss. I took aim and whacked him on the back of the head as hard as I could. Lucon let out a loud groan and fell forward. Blood sputtered from a large gash just above his ear.

Unbelievably, Lucon was conscious enough to reach out and try to grab for my ankle. I knew if he got me down to the ground again, he was going to kill me.

I said a prayer to Athena for strength and brought the rock down on his head one last time. A horrifying crunching sound filled my ears as stone met flesh and bone. I held onto the stone, poised and ready to smash his head again if he moved. This time Lucon didn't move or even groan.

The rock tumbled from my trembling fingers onto the ground beside Lucon's battered skull. My knees gave out from under me and I sank to the ground near the lifeless body of my attacker. Bile rose up like a putrid geyser and singed the cuts in my mouth as I heaved what little I had in my stomach.

I stared at the bloody rock with bits of scalp on it and started laughing and crying at the same time. But this was no time for hysterics. Lucon had an accomplice who could be back at any time. I had to get away. I had to find help.

Every sinew in my body was aching to run, but I couldn't move. I had no control over my muscles. I willed my legs to lift me up and carry me away from that awful scene. I ran through the brush as fast as I could. It was hard to see where I was going because my left eye was so swollen and bloody.

I thought of nothing other than breathing and running, but my legs and lungs burned. Branches scratched my arms. Leaves slapped my face. Roots tripped my feet. I didn't even know what direction I was running in.

Keep going Gabrielle. Keep going, I encouraged myself.

"Ooph!" I ran straight into an armoured breastplate.

I was about to scream, but then my eyes focussed on a familiar face.

"Thank the gods, it's you!" I gasped with relief.

It was my Chief of the Civil Protection Force, Lieutenant Darphus.

TBC

 

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