Chapter One
Xena came to with a thundering headache, surprised to be alive. She had intended to fall on her sword, but the weapon was in it's scabbard rather than her heart. Someone had obviously intervened. Whoever it was had tended her fire, because it was built up with fresh wood. "Who - why" She picked up the water skin laying next to her, she didn't remember putting it there or it being full. For a moment she wondered if it had been poisoned, but thirst overcame her. Realizing that if whoever had paid her the visit wanted her dead, she already would be, she drank deeply, and as she drank the painful memories faded. She tended to both her own and Argo's morning needs, then headed into the Amazon Nation.

Aries watched quietly from behind cover of invisibility as Xena drank. The Lethe water should dull things for a few days he thought. He was angry at her for refusing to join him. Dahok, powerless to enter the world since Hopes death, wanted revenge on Xena and had ordered him to get it. Aries had looked for her for several moons but had been unable to find her. Concerned about offending other pantheons, he didn't travel beyond Greece.

There was a problem, Xena whether she knew it or not was a demigoddess. By the rules of Olympus that meant he couldn't kill her himself. Suicide would have taken care of the problem, but being always the schemer, he had other plans for her. Since she refused to follow him, he wanted both her and her memory destroyed. His little plan was going along rather nicely. He'd have the pleasure of causing her death, but no one would be able to lay it at his feet. Between Hera and Dahok, he had enough problems with the family as it was.

Aries missed Callisto. Who knew, she might have a change of heart after listening to her bardic highness for a while. If so, he'd break her out of Tartarus like he had before. Since everyone thought the sniveling bard was in the Elysian Fields, no one would even think of asking for a rescue. Gabrielle was going nowhere, he'd taken care of that as well.

Fortunately Dahok took great delight in underhanded schemes, and seeing an elaborate one in the making, had given Aries space to work. The Amazons were still brooding about Xena's attack on the village. Discord, in the guise of a traveling healer, had seen to that. Since none of the messengers either Xena or Gabrielle had sent them since that fateful day had gotten thru, they were unaware of Gabrielle's death. The Amazons would be delighted to see Xena. He'd fixed her up good and proper, yes indeed.

Joxer had never made it to Amphipolis. Give the blustery fool credit he wanted to be a warrior. Aries snorted derisively at the thought, *Warrior sure, he couldn't even punch his way out of a tavern.* Drawing his sword on the watch had caused the wanna be to winter in Athens's jail. Aries thought smugly, *and I didn't have to raise a finger.*
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Solari had taken a small group of trainees out to the border posts. A hawk's cry that wasn't a hawk broke her concentration. Coming from one of the border guards, it told her that a single mounted enemy had crossed into their lands. She sent the four young women with her into the trees. She told them to ready their weapons, but follow her lead. If possible she wanted the unknown enemy captured alive, preferably in condition to talk.

A lone woman lead a palomino down the trail. She froze as an arrow impacted the ground by her feet, and a chill voice behind her called "HOLD" Startled she dropped the reins, and clasped both hands over her head in the Amazon sign of peace. Two figures dressed in buckskin, wearing avian masks dropped from the trees in front of her. In their hands were crossbows. Neither echoed her gesture. One growled from behind her mask " keep them up Xena, you're under arrest for the kidnaping and murder of Queen Gabrielle, on your knees, NOW." Xena fell to her knees as ordered, keeping her hands clasped above her. Other masked figures appeared and relieved her of sword, chakrum and assorted knives. One, while tying Xena's hands behind her back, noticed she was sobbing. Xena spoke "I came to tell you Gabrielle is dead, but I didn't kill her"

The figure who had spoken backhanded her hard, then raised her mask to reveal the face of Solari "LIAR. You kidnaped her from our village, dragging her behind a horse with murderous intent. We haven't heard from either of you in a full turn of seasons. Now you show up alone and tell us she's dead. If you didn't kill her who did, and what did you do with her body?" Xena sobbing almost too hard to answer could only blurt out "Dahok and Aries" "Xena, we're taking you to the village, if you try to run we'll kill you." Xena was incoherent by then, looking into her eyes Solari saw only pain. She asked "Xena, do you understand me?"

Xena didn't answer. Solari reached behind her as though scratching her head. One of the women looked at her. Solari raised her hand slightly and lowered it again. The woman nodded. Solari knelt in front of Xena saying " you can walk or be carried across your saddle. It's all the same to me" A chobo landed hard at the base of Xena's skull, Solari catching her as the darkness overtook her "Help me get her onto the horse and tied down before she comes too." She turned to one of the young warriors "Sonja get a message to Queen Ephiny, tell her we've got Xena in custody."
Informed by the runner of Xena's capture, the mood in the village turned grim. Ephiny called to a warrior leading a squad onto the practice field "Cerci, take that squad and reinforce Solari" Cerci saluted and ordered the squad "You heard the queen. Get your mounts, weapons and water skins, we ride in half a mark." Ephiny turned to the darkhaired warrior at her side "Eponin ready the jail, extra guards whatever you need. We're having company."

The next day Ephiny waited in the square as the procession entered the village."Good work Solari. Where did you find her? Was their any sign of Queen Gabrielle?" Ephiny's already seething anger rose at the sight of Xena bound across Argo's saddle. "Get her down from there" Two of Cerci's squad loosened the ropes and dumped her onto the ground. Solari started " My queen, We found Xena on the trail just inside our lands. She was barely capable of speech and offered no resistance."

Solari came stiffly erect saying formally "Queen Ephiny, Xena has confirmed our worst fears, Queen Gabrielle is dead" The crowd fell silent, then with a roar rushed towards where Xena lay bound helplessly. The squad turned and faced the crowd, determined to protect their prisoner. When order was restored Solari continued "Xena claims she didn't kill Queen Gabrielle. She said she was coming to tell us of her death. There was no sign of Queen Gabrielle's body, nor did she tell us what became of it." Ephiny nodded acknowledgment.

Solari continued "In the day and a half it took us to get here she hasn't spoken at all. When Cerci's squad arrived, we offered her food but she wouldn't eat. There was a water skin on Argo's saddle, we did get her to take a few swallows of that. She wouldn't drink from ours, must have been afraid we'd poison her." Ephiny walked over to the still form, "we wouldn't poison her," suddenly she kicked Xena in the ribs. Hearing a groan she snarled, "it would take all the satisfaction out of hanging her."

Ephiny stepped back saying in a much softer voice, "Solari, you and your party have done well. Join me in my hut, the rest of your party get some rest." She called "Eponin take charge of the prisoner, we'll question her later." "Yes your majesty" Eponin drew her sword and, gesturing to her assistants freed Xena's feet. Two guards roughly pulled Xena to her feet but she collapsed in pain." Turning to Solari she asked "was she injured" Solari replied "that happened when we rested as well, but we found no visible injury. I don't understand it. She was walking when we found her, and offered no resistance" Taking the water skin from Argo's saddle, she held it to the Xena's lips as she greedily drained it. Ephiny looking on in disbelief screamed, "If she won't walk drag her, but get - her - out - of - my - sight" "NOW"

About a candlemark later Eponin joined Solari and Ephiny in her hut. She began her report "The prisoner Xena is in jail, shackled and under heavy guard. She still hasn't said a word. I've asked Delia to examine her." "Thank you Eponin, sit down. Have a drink?" "Love one but, no offense, with Xena in the lockup, I can't afford a muddled head right now. Maybe later?" Ephiny replied, "I understand. No offense taken." Eponin continued "I've given orders for Xena's horse to be tended and stabled with ours. Had her arms, tack and baggage taken to the armory, and personally locked them in an arrow case under my seal. I've given strict orders, no one enters the armory unless either Sophia or I are with them."

Ephiny nodded her approval, Eponin then asked "My queen, what are your orders regarding the prisoner " "No one talks to her, no weapons within arms reach of her cell. No visitors except the healers, unless accompanied by one of us."

She then turned to "Solari - Did she say anything more on the trail, how it happened, any hint at all about Queen Gabrielle's body. If possible I want to recover it and give her a proper funeral, Xena couldn't possibly begrudge her that." "Ephiny if it happened, yuck." "I agree yuck, but she was our queen and we owe it to her to at least try." Solari thought a moment "She was barely able to talk, she did mention Aries and Dahok?" Startled Ephiny asked "What have they to do with any of this?" Solari continued "She only mentioned them once, then started crying, she's said nothing since. Aries and Dahok are a strange mix. Was she blaming them, invoking their names or cursing them?

The guard announced that the healer Delia was outside. Ephiny called her in and barked "report" The statuesque redhead, normally a friend of all three women, was startled at the curt greeting. "My queen" she started "The prisoner Xena has only minor injuries, rope abrasions on her wrists and ankles as is to be expected. I've treated them with salve and suggest padding her shackles." Eponin spoke "I'll see to it" Ephiny nodded "Did she say anything?" Delia replied "Not much, she knows where she is and was shocked to find out why. She says she has no memory of anything since she was here last time."

Ephiny spoke up "Can that be possible" Delia continued "I've seen it, when someone gets hit hard enough in the head. She has a bruise at the base of her skull, as if she were hit with something like sword butt or chobo, that could account for the memory lapse. If it's real" Solari stepped in "It was a chobo" Ephiny asked "You said she didn't resist?" Solari explained. "She was hysterical, we had to get her on the horse, and I figured it would be safer if she was unconscious. She wasn't capable of saying much even before we hit her."

"Healer, Is she well enough to be questioned? Can you tell if the memory loss is real." "It's hard to say. She has a head injury, but whether or not the lapse is real, I have no way of knowing. She is fairly agitated, I'd suggest waiting to question her until I can brew something to calm her down."

"Calm her down" Ephiny replied, "calm her down?" Grabbing a whip off Eponin's belt, "we need answers, and one way or the other, we will get them" Delia blocked the door, Solari spoke rapidly "Ephiny, please think for a minute. Why would Xena come back, after all this time to tell us Queen Gabrielle was dead. She knows Amazon law and custom although where she learned it is anyone's guess. She had to know we'd arrest her for assault even if they rode in together." Thinking rapidly Solari continued "She offered no resistance, as though she wanted to be taken. She's been crying most of the time since. That's hardly the act of a murderess. Have you ever known Xena to cry?" Ephiny replied "Only at her son's funeral."

Delia spoke, "The prisoner may or may not have a true memory lapse. Either way she isn't in any shape to answer questions right now," indicating the whip "That won't help" "The herbs will calm her. By tomorrow or the next day we'll know if her memory lapse is real, if it is, no amount of whipping will restore it."

Ephiny took a long pull at the wineskin and passed it back to Solari. "Healer we'll try it your way, but if she's faking I swear before all that's holy, I will get answers" She threw down the whip, which Eponin quietly retrieved and returned to her belt. "Solari get some rest, make sure those young ones do the same. There'll be time for storytelling later."

"I can't believe they're at it again" Gabrielle put her hands over her ears but the voices kept coming. "What is it this time, as if I couldn't guess?" "It's Ephiny, I told you about her, she's worried because they haven't found my body. You know the pyre thing." "They care Gabrielle, number of times I've died, this was the first I've had a funeral." Gabrielle replied "I know the first time was quicksand but, it's sad nobody cared." Callisto laughed "Nobody cared, that's not quite true, is it Gabrielle?" She blushed "Your right, I was glad you were gone" A realization hit her "Callisto does this mean you could hear us talk about you?" "Every time you or anyone cursed my name I heard it, I still do. Every nightmare you had about me, I had, just like you're hearing theirs now." Gabrielle looked at her realizing the torment her companion was stoicly enduring "I didn't realize" her head drops. Callisto lifts her head gently. "Why should you have, I killed your husband because I wanted to hurt Xena thru you. I enjoyed it, just like I enjoyed doing a lot of things I wish now I'd never done."

Gabrielle added "The first time I died I wound up in the Elysian fields, but Xena needed me and I went back to her" "Let me get this straight. You left the Fields because Xena needed you, saved her butt and wound up in Tartarus. Silly girl, you should have stayed dead the first time."

Ephiny paced in frustration,"Delia it's been three full days, is she still in that stupor or is she finally able to talk" "My Queen it would be better to wait, she refuses food, is barely able to talk. She just sits curled into a ball and says over and over she wants to die" Ephiny face became a mask of rage, "That can be arranged, do whatever it takes, but get her talking by tomorrow."

Ephiny spoke to the warrior standing guard outside "Find the weapons mistress, give her my compliments and tell her I need to speak with her" Delia asked "Your majesty might I be dismissed, as healer I have duties to perform" Solari answered "Delia stay" Ephiny turned angrily to Solari, seeing her standing at attention she collapsed in a chair, and buried her face in her hands. "Tartarus, I'm sorry Delia, Solari I've been regent so long you'd think I was used to being queen, well I'm not. This whole mess is getting to me so badly I can't even think. I'm so furious I could order Xena hanged right now. I just need it over with"

Delia locked her eyes on Ephiny "It's the healers prerogative to speak her mind, even to royalty. You're not the kind of monster hangs a sick woman, or for that matter anyone without a trial. Woman, if you were you'd never have defended Phantes, not when the evidence was so clear, everyone was convinced of his guilt. You wouldn't order Eponin to whip anyone in that condition either, no matter how desperate you are for answers. So if I may be so bold why did you send for her. I doubt you're thinking of whipping me, and you've already beating yourself so mercilessly you don't need any help from her."

Solari spoke quietly "Delia can your assistants handle things for a while?" Delia swelling with pride in her proteges replied "They are able healers, but if we'll be long, I need to pass on her majesties orders regarding the prisoner" Ephiny lowers her eyes. "Solari, Delia we were friends long before we were anything else. I'm trapped by the mask right now. I may have to order Xena executed, and whether she killed her or the Gods did it, I mourn for Gabrielle." Solari quietly acknowledged "as do we all'

"Damn it to Tartarus, did you know Xena saved my life. When I couldn't deliver Xenon, she cut his way out of my womb, I'd have died without her help" "Gabrielle made me her regent, gave me right of caste, now she's dead and I can't even give her a proper funeral."

Ephiny paused for a moment to compose herself. "Can we drop the titles for a while, find a wineskin and talk as we once did." Solari hugged her friend saying "Well, I do have a wineskin in my hut." Ephiny smiled "why am I not surprised." Solari suggested "Eponin could join us." Delia spoke thoughtfully "Sounds like a great idea, I'll talk to my assistants and join the three of you at the hot springs"


Ephiny sank blissfully into the pool, then surfaced shaking her head to clear her eyes. " Delia was right I need a break, I wonder what's keeping her" Eponin replied thoughtfully "I wonder if she had trouble finding a wineskin" Ephiny laughed. At that moment a very cheerful Delia appeared, a wineskin over one shoulder. A waterskin and an oddly delicious looking package were under her other arm. "There you are" Eponin called in greeting "we were wondering what kept you." "I stopped by the food hut and told Phoebe what we were up to, she sent a care package." She unwrapped the package to reveal smoked fish, flatbread, olives and goats milk cheese. "We need to talk, but even so we need to unwind a bit and what better way than a picnic." Ephiny laughed "healers orders I suppose" "Exactly" Delia replied, and with that the tall redhead stripped, and joined them in the pool.

After the women had laid waste to lunch, Ephiny asked "am I the only one this whole mess makes no sense to." Her companions looked up, Eponin was the first to speak "Makes no sense at all, I saw Xena ride in and kidnap Gabrielle. Delia treated some of those who tried to stop her." Ephiny looked at her arm saying "I remember" Solari spoke next "I took a search party after them but their trail ended at the cliffs. We thought they'd gone over and been washed out to sea. None of us expected to see them again." Delia added "We all assumed they were dead. Now, after all this time, Xena comes back alone, and as soon as she enters the village, it's like the waters of the Lethe had acted upon her."

Ephiny asks "Could the furies be punishing her?" Delia replied "I don't know. Solari, you said she mentioned Dahok and Aries?" Solari replied "She did, but I don't know what she meant. I'm ashamed to admit we hit her at that point" Eponin spoke "that isn't your style Solari. How did you catch her anyway?" "We were alerted by a border guard. She walked right into my patrol, never saw us till it was too late. That isn't like her." She continued "It was like the Gods themselves had delivered her up to us."

"The Gods may be involved." Ephiny asked "Pony, what makes you think so?" Eponin picked up the wineskin and took a long pull before answering. "When Xena dragged Gabrielle out of the village by her heels, all of her things were here. She had only the sheet she was wrapped in." Ephiny reflected "True she'd asked, begged, for the penitential rite, and had been undergoing it for three days," Delia spoke up "I still don't understand why she asked for it, I'd planned to ask her afterwards." Ephiny replied "I was worried sick about her. Eponin what about her things?"

Eponin began again "When the priestesses took Gabrielle, you had her things secured under guard in the queens hut. They were still there three days later when Xena dragged her out You practically tore the village apart the next day when they disappeared." Solari chimed in "I never understood why her mask wasn't taken, maybe the thief ..." Eponin was suddenly strangely sober and dead serious, "Do either of you really think Xena could have gotten back thru our sentries that night without being seen. That she could have been in the village long enough to steal Gabrielle's things without someone raising an alarm"

Ephiny hung her head "I checked them at the beginning of each guard mount. Both guards on duty were conscious, neither injured, both swearing no one had entered even approached the hut." Eponin replied - "you may owe a public apology, and amends" Ephiny lowered her eyes, "when Lyssa hung herself, her note protested her innocence. I've always believed someone who knows they're about to die will speak the truth." Solari agreed, "Stands to reason, what could they gain by lying." Ephiny buried her face in her hands, "Suppose I was wrong, Gods I wouldn't even allow her a proper funeral. How do I make amends for that?"

"Maybe you'd better start thinking about that Ephiny. But to continue, we'd put Argo in the corral with our horses, at first I thought she'd jumped the fence, but her tack disappeared with her. Then the horse Xena stole found it's way back to the village." The other women shook their heads.

"We strip searched Xena when we locked her up, the number of places that woman can hide a knife is incredible." Solari spoke up "You mean we missed one" Eponin snorted "two knives, a strangling cord, and two lock picks." Solari paled. Eponin went on "We searched her right away, but not her tack or gear. As you know I've had those in the armory under guard since her arrest" Ephiny nodded. "No one went near them until Sophia and I searched them this morning. Maybe one of you could tell me how Gabrielle's things wound up on Xena's saddle, there was even a pouch of scrolls clearly written in Queen Gabrielle's hand"

Solari piped in "She was a bard so that's to be expected, did you read them?" "Not yet there's quite a few, and we found them just before your summons arrived. I figured they'd keep so I ordered Sophia not to read or tell anyone about them until I'd talked to you."


That night the candles burned late in Ephiny's hut, as the three women along with Krystina high priestess of Artemis poured over the scrolls. The priestess remarked, "I've never heard of Illusia, this story is incredible." Solari laid a scroll open on the table "this was written almost eight moons ago, but it appears to be the last" Ephiny picked up the scroll "definitely the queens hand." She handed it to the priestess "read it please" The priestess did so, and when she'd finished no one knew what to say.

As the dawn broke one of the healers assistants announced Xena was able to talk. At high sun the warriors lead Xena into the council hut. Ephiny started "Xena do you know where you are, and do you understand why you're here?" Xena nodded and Ephiny continued "That you are guilty of kidnaping and assault on Queen Gabrielle there is no doubt. You were seen committing these acts by half the village including almost everyone here. Do you contest that?" Xena replied "Nothing I can say would excuse my crimes. I came back knowing I'd have to answer for them?" Ephiny then asked "Are you aware that the penalty under our law is death, and that since you admit your guilt, I could order you hanged right now." Xena replied quietly "yes" Ephiny continued "There is another matter for you to answer for, you have confessed to her kidnaping do you also confess to her murder?" Xena screamed out in pain "I did not kill Gabrielle, she died trying to save my life "

A hush fell over the chamber, Ephiny asked in a soft voice "Tell us then, exactly when and under what circumstances, Queen Gabrielle died. Where can we find her body?" "Twelve moons ago you dragged our queen, a woman you professed to love from this village, behind a horse by her heals. Your life is already forfeit you have nothing to gain by lies"

Xena drew herself as erect as her shackles would permit. The archers tensed but rather than attacking Xena started to speak. "I dragged her to the cliffs intending to throw her over. We fought and both went over. We were drowning but the gods intervened and took us to a place of illusion somewhere between this life and the next. Together we suffered the tortures of Tartarus, until we had resolved our differences, and forgiven each other." A silver haired woman asked, "What did you forgive her for?" "The death of my son. He was raised by the Centaurs as you know. I told him why I'd abandoned him as a baby, and he forgave me. The Gods, both Aries and Callisto were there, restored us to health and the land of the living. Gabrielle's things must have disappeared from here, because they and Argo were with us when we washed up on the beach." Ephiny nodded, "We'd wondered what became of them, go on" She thought to herself, so far Xena's story matched the incredible one found in the scrolls."

Xena burst into tears "someone give her a water skin. Pull yourself together woman, just tell us what happened, if you didn't kill Queen Gabrielle - who did? How did she die?" Xena took a long pull at the skin, "thank you. After we came to on the beach we realized we needed a bit of time alone before we returned here. It was Gabrielle's suggestion to let tempers cool a bit. She said I was already in the custody of the Amazon Queen" Ephiny snorted but said nothing. "Maybe three moons later Gabrielle got a message a childhood friend was missing. We came upon a place where priests of Dahok were preparing to sacrifice her. We saved her friend, only to find that she had been a willing sacrifice, so Gabrielle's daughter Hope could be reborn and usher in Dahok's darkness. Aries had offered him sanctuary at his temple, Callisto was guarding her until the rebirth which we were too late to stop."

"Aries was siding with Dahok in his plans for domination over the Olympian Gods, Queen Gabrielle owed him a favor and he called it in. Using the fates to do his dirty work, he used her goodness, her love for me to prevent my killing Hope, to protect his precious Dahok"

( Gabrielle had written of Aries "bargain" - and her own inner turmoil, her last lines burned in the memory of all who had seen them. "Before, I saw Hope only with the eyes of a mother, I couldn't, wouldn't believe, that my only child was evil. Xena was right all along - we have to stop her. The Fates will cut Xena's life thread if she kills Hope, Aries has seen to that. I have to choose between my daughter's life and that of my best friend. I can't let Xena die for my own cowardice. Artemis help me - I don't know what to do." Ephiny thought gently - Gabrielle - you weren't a coward, you were a mother. )

"Hope was reborn full grown and the very image of Gabrielle. Aries fathered a child upon her who was to be one of six for Dahok. In the end even Callisto recognized her evil, there might have been some good in that woman after all. She helped us trail Dahok's priests to the temple of Aries where they were gathering villagers for a mass sacrifice "

A visible shudder was felt around the room. "Gabrielle, Callisto, Joxer and I freed the sacrifices - Gabrielle fought like a panther, with only her staff she accounted for several of Dahok's priests. Aries joined the fight on Dahok's side, Callisto took care of him." She swallowed hard fighting for composure. "That left only Hope, I had a dagger that had been steeped in the blood of the golden hind. The only known substance that will kill a God." Ephiny asked "so you killed Hope" Xena spoke very softly "no Gabrielle stopped me - she - she - "

Seeing that Xena was on the verge of collapse, Ephiny waved to the guard, "Let her sit." When Xena was seated Ephiny said very gently "go on Xena, what happened then" "Like I said, Aries had joined Dahok, he didn't want Hope killed. He had taken Gabrielle to meet the fates reminding her of a debt she owed him. She told me he, Aries, had made a deal with the Fates, if I killed Hope, my life thread would be cut immediately." She took a deep breath "Gabrielle had told me all of this. I told her that I was willing to die to stop Dahok. She knew I was going into Aries temple expecting to die there. I asked her to wait outside so she wouldn't have to watch, but she wasn't having any of it. She told me she loved me and wanted to stay with me right up to the end."

A flash of light came into the room. A male voice dripping with sarcasm said "She loved you so much, she knocked Hope out of the way of your dagger, then she wrestled her own daughter over the edge of a lava pit going in with her. She died in your place Xena, how does that make you feel." "Aries" Xena growled dangerously. "I never thought she had the guts, but she died in battle so what can I say. Tell them the rest Xena, how you used that hinds blood dagger to gut Callisto, yeah I know that was her price for helping you stop Dahok. She's back in Tartarus the fool. She was a God, she had it all, and she just threw it away."

From the back of the room another light flashed and a proud yet angry female voice was heard. "Tell them the rest of it Aries. Tell them how my chosen, Queen Gabrielle, died fighting on behalf of the Gods, whom you abandoned I might add, against Dahok our sworn enemy. How you used the Fates and her love for Xena to blackmail her. She died to save her best friend and lover, as would any true Amazon."

She looked directly at Aries "you have a lot to answer for on Olympus, brother" spitting out the last as though it burned. "Both for her service to the Gods, and her final sacrifice made in the name of love. Queen Gabrielle deserved an honored place in the Elysian Fields. She should be here leading her people with Xena at her side. But no, because of your scheming she's dead, and even that wasn't good enough for you, was it."

Silence fell over the room. Xena gasped, "Artemis, you can't mean." Artemis replied "There's no easy way to say this, and I don't know how he," pointing an accusing finger at Aries "arranged it, but Queen Gabrielle was condemned to spend eternity in Tartarus at the side of the former Goddess, Callisto." Aries laughed and made a mark in the air with his finger as though counting. "Scratch one irritating, blonde, bardish brat sister."

A scream tore from Xena's lips. She lunged for Aries getting both of her manacled hands around his throat. Aries laughed and threw her back into the table."So much for your quest for redemption Xena, she disrespected a God. You killed one. Of course if you came back to me, swore undying allegiance, and convinced me you meant it. I might put in a word for you when the time comes. Or maybe you liked Tartarus last time." Xena came up low and dangerous, "then I got nothing to lose by killing another." Aries pulled up a lightening bolt. Before he could throw it, one flung by Artemis knocked him thru the wall. As he disappeared two more nailed the imprint he had just vacated.

Artemis turned to Xena and the Amazons, many weeping unashamedly and uncontrollably. (Elsewhere Gabrielle wept with them, Callisto put an arm around her shoulder to comfort her. Hades, again from cover of invisibility looked on in confusion) Callisto said softly,"If they just knew we aren't constantly at each others throats" Gabrielle replied thru her tears, "I wish I could tell them that here you've been a friend to me.." Callisto hugged her tightly. "The first time I died I had to face this place alone, I'm glad you didn't have to."

"Artemis, Is there is anything you can do for her, please?" "Xena, when petitioning the Gods, it is customary to make an offering." Xena looked hard at the goddess, then dropped awkwardly to her knees. "I offer you my life, please try to help her" Artemis looked at Xena and replied in a harsh voice "Xena, what you offer is not yours to give" Artemis placed her hand on Xena's head and spoke more gently, "I was only recently informed of this. I have petitioned Zeus for a council of the Gods, asking them to intercede." Xena and Ephiny started to speak but Artemis silenced them "Don't thank me yet, an injustice has been committed by the Gods, I can promise nothing, but I will try."

With that Artemis waved her hand and all were transported to her temple. Passing her hand over the reflecting pool, she bid them look at the images which formed. Xena pulled back "please no, I can't bear even the thought of her there." In a firm voice Artemis commanded, "Xena, you will look into the pool, NOW."

The goddess took a firm grip on Xena's arm and lead her to the pool. Seeing Gabrielle and Callisto, battling yet another band of the unrepentant against the barren landscape of Tartarus Xena began to weep. Gabrielle's sword covered Callisto's back, a staff slung over her shoulder. All watched until the battle ended, then saw the women sheath their swords and clasp arms in friendship. Gabrielle's voice came from the images "Callisto, If you hadn't given me this sword and taught me to use it." Xena thought *that's one more way I wronged you*. Then Callisto's voice "Still glad even after getting into all that trouble." Gabrielle said dismissively, "I don't blame Hades for that, I'd do it again in a minute." Callisto laughed "Hades nah, he's just got a job to do. One thing I'll say about all this, there's nothing boring about Tartarus with you around."

"You've tried to protect me ever since we got here, but it's good to know I can defend myself. I can't forget any of the other things you did while we were alive. But you weren't sane then, so how can I hold you responsible." "Hades did" Xena cringed as Callisto hugged her, "Doubt Old sour puss would let you forget if you could. I never expected forgiveness in Tartarus." She laughed, "probably against the rules or something."

Hades thought *Old sour puss, indeed* he grimaced as echos of laughter reached his palace *are those two trying to give this place a good name?* Breaking the hug Callisto said quietly, "Gabrielle I'm still a bit jealous of Xena, she had you for a friend and your goodness rubbed off on her. I couldn't see past my rage and become like her old self, worse even.. Maybe if I'd known you better then, neither of us would be here now." Hades shook his head *You're probably right Callisto. What is happening here?*

Through her tears, Xena spoke so softly few could hear her words, but the dead with the ability to hear our thoughts were startled by them. "Gabrielle I love you, still and always. Callisto, I too was blinded by hate. Thank you for taking care of Gabrielle." Gabrielle spoke excitedly "Callisto they can hear us" Callisto said "Quick - Talk to her." Gabrielle said "Xena I still and always will love you. Don't worry about me Xena, Callisto has been helping to keep me safe, just please Xena please remember your promise" Xena thought to herself *I remember* With that Artemis again waved her arm over the pool and the images disappeared.

"Artemis I am a prisoner" Xena held up her manacled hands "and so have nothing to offer you but my thanks" Artemis replied "it is enough" Ephiny spoke "Xena the Gods have assured us that you did not kill our queen. The murder charge against you is therefore dropped." "Thank you" A murmur of approval went thru the crowd. " The remaining charges against you are also capital offenses. You will have to remain in jail pending a final judgement of them." Xena said quietly "I understand"

Artemis asked "Queen Ephiny, You were conducting a hearing before my brother and I interrupted. What are your intentions regarding this prisoner?" "My lady, She stands accused of capital crimes against my predecessor and the nation. As there is ample proof of her guilt, I intend to execute her in accordance with our laws." Artemis then spoke, "You have the right to execute her of course. However I have a special interest in this case and several things about it trouble me." Ephiny asked "With respect my lady, what then are your wishes regarding the prisoner?"

Artemis replied, "I'd ask you to keep Xena in custody, delay her judgement or execution until I have resolved my concerns and given my consent. Will you do this?" Ephiny knelt, "My lady, Xena's fate shall await your pleasure." "Thank you." Artemis disappeared.

Ephiny stood up saying, "The proceedings are closed it seems. Return the prisoner to her cell." Two guards led Xena out of the temple. Ephiny then said "I'll be in my hut." With that she turned and left. Delia tried to talk with her, but Ephiny cut her off, "Delia I just need to rest a couple of candlemarks, Please not now." Delia said quietly, "If you need to talk you know how to find me." Ephiny forced a smile,"I'll be okay Delia, but thanks."

Reaching her hut Ephiny told the guards at her door. "I'm going to lay down, I don't want to be disturbed." Not waiting for a response, she entered and closed the door.

Elsewhere in the compound the mood was somber. News of Queen Gabrielle's death had come hard. The fate which had befallen her, sent everyone into shock. Few knew her well but no one believed she belonged in Tartarus. The visions shown them by Artemis had done little if anything to soften the blow.
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Time passed slowly in the village. Never before had the gods directly intervened in a trial. The revelations of Artemis had been disturbing. Their Queen should have gone to the Sacred Forests of Eternity, but for some reason she was in the underworld. For an Amazon Queen to be placed in Tartarus was unthinkable. Why had Artemis not been notified of the queens damnation. Was she still their patron goddess? If not who had replaced her?

The council poured over Gabrielle's scrolls, looking for anything that might help answer these questions. Why had their Patron Goddess a special interest in Xena? There were hints of trouble with the gods that might have explained a few things. Gabrielle had written of her daughter's birth, alliance with Callisto and Solon's murder. Ephiny had discussed these things on her return from the centaur village after the children's funeral. There were many more unanswered questions after reading the scrolls than before.

Ephiny became very quiet. Until Artemis had intervened, she had planned to hang Xena for assaulting the queen, hoping it would bring closure to the whole sad incident. Several warriors including herself had been injured in the attack. Her left arm had been broken, and being left handed it had been a major inconvenience to her. With the wrap and tie styles favored by the Amazons she hadn't even been able to dress herself. Eponin had moved in with her during that time. While her help was appreciated, the need for it still galled her.

Eponin was concerned about her, and had talked with Delia about it. Ephiny had become quiet and was tending to drink more. Her temper had become much more subdued, which while of itself a good thing, indicated possible trouble brewing. The realization that the two guards she had punished after Xena's rampage, had likely been innocent, bothered Ephiny a great deal. Nightmares of Gabrielle's abduction and Phantes death were joined by other vivid recollections. She again heard Kira and Lyssa, protesting innocence as they were stripped of their uniforms. She was tortured by their screams under the lash, and then by the most awful sight of all, Lyssa's body after her suicide. Her glazed over eyes bored into the depths of her soul like hot irons. When Lyssa's body had first been found, her mouth had been held closed by the noose. When her body was cut down however, it had dropped open in silent accusation.
Xena for the most part sat quietly in her cell. She too was baffled by Artemis's intervention in the trial. She had fully expected to be executed, and in a way the thought was comforting. The very thought of Gabrielle in Tartarus tore her apart inside, as did the thought of losing her to Callisto. It was wrong, and while she prayed Artemis would be able to get her rejudged, she wouldn't have bet much on it. Hopefully Hades at least would let them be together.

Her jailers would never see it, of course. There was a definite difference between the day and night guards. She had more contact with the day guards anyway. Mornings she was brought not only food but a wash bucket, and her waste bucket was emptied. One of the day guards was actually kind. She looked somewhat intimidated by Xena's presence but she hid it well. Usually she managed a smile. Xena appreciated her kindness when for a few mornings she was quietly left an extra bucket and a menstrual sponge. She noticed the small dark woman was young, maybe sixteen summers, and wore a necklace containing a bears fang. The night guards were brusque, about the only times she saw them was to bring her meals.
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One night about a moon after Xena's return, two members of the royal guard were coming off duty. A medium tall woman, with bronzed skin and chestnut hair, sat polishing her sword. "I'm getting concerned about Ephiny, she's been drinking a lot, and it's getting pretty hard to even talk to her any more." Her companion a shorter dark haired woman said, "I know, I tried this afternoon. She wouldn't even look at me, just started crying and ran back into her hut. Far as I know she hasn't been out since." The taller woman lay the sword on her lap. "Something's happened, started about the time Xena showed up." Fire flashed in the others eyes, "I think we'll all breath easier once that baccae's been hung." "Yeah, I don't understand why she came back. I thought I was starting to " she faltered. Her companion put an arm on her shoulder. "I know, Just when I thought it was starting to heal, in she comes and rips the scabs off."

They sat silently for a couple of minutes, the first woman finished polishing the sword, Inspecting it critically she returned it to it's scabbard. "She's starting to remind me of Lyssa and that scares me. I'm wondering if we should try talking to the high priestess about her." Her friend smoothed back her hair and took a deep breath,"I hadn't wanted to say it, but you're right, and we've known her too long to let her go that way." "How about after breakfast, since we're both off." "Sounds good to me." With that the two women hugged and went their separate ways.
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Ephiny sat alone in her hut thinking out loud, "how could I have been so wrong." Tears falling from her eyes, stained the letter she had struggled with. Other scraps of parchment lay on the floor mingled with empty wineskins in mute evidence to her inner struggle. Picking up a fresh skin her eyes fell upon the ornate dagger that lay on the table before her. She was no coward she told herself, she had proven that in battle many times.

Slowly she stood and removed the clothing that marked her as Amazon queen telling herself "I'm not worthy of the title, I failed Gabrielle, I failed Lyssa and Kira, I've betrayed my people and everything I believe in. I'm not fit to live" She tied a simple loincloth about her waist, then carefully placed her ceremonial garb in the clothes press. She thought about the dagger and the woman who had given it to her so long ago.

Lighting fresh candles and incense, she looked at her warriors mask and sword hanging on the wall. She stood and looked at the polished bronze mirror that hung beside them. As though to another she spoke to her reflection. "Ephiny, daughter of Erisa, I sentence you to death. May you be damned to Tartarus for eternity, and even that is better than you deserve" With that she picked up the large stemmed cup, another gift, and remembered seeing it's beauty for the first time. She drank deeply of it's contents, thinking derisively about the condemned woman's last request.

As she again put the cup to her lips, the image of a stocky red haired woman filled her mind. Ephiny could see tears running from her eyes. She saw her mouth form silent words as the image reached out to her. Shaking her head to clear it of the image, she drained the cup. Taking a deep breath she opened her eyes, the image remained as before. As though trying to rid herself of the unwanted vision, Ephiny threw the now empty cup at it. The image disappeared as the cup passed thru a window to land in the bushes beyond.

Finally Ephiny knelt on the mats she had placed on the floor. She picked up the dagger and put the point between her breasts. Closing her eyes she felt the pain as it pierced her skin. At that moment a passing guardswoman, alerted to trouble by the thrown cup, kicked in her door. Her concentration broken Ephiny screamed "GET OUT" Taking in the scenario instantly the guard screamed "EPHINY NO" and in a frantic leap tackled her.

The noise of a struggle within the Queens hut, alerted others including a roving patrol who charged thru the broken door with swords drawn. They entered just in time to see their queen knocked unconscious by a vicious hook to her jaw. The dark haired woman just realizing that the fight was over, felt a sharp pain at the base of her skull as blackness overtook her. Solari took charge "Get the healer" then pointing to the felled guardswoman ordered "get her out of here" Two guards grabbed their unconscious comrade by her arms, one asked "your orders" Solari grimly replied "lock her up until we can figure out what's going on." A voice came from the door "Delia's coming." Solari shot back "What's keeping her." The voice replied "we had to roust her out of bed."

Solari calmed slightly, "Half of you, everybody on that side of the room outside, no one comes near this hut without Delia or my say so. Nobody is that clear."

At the jail two guards challenged the approaching women. "This one was in the queen's hut wrestling with her over a dagger. Orders from Solari are lock her up until we can sort out what happened." The guard on duty answered "more gallows bait, bring her inside." Xena had been wakened by the guards challenge. She heard the interchange, the sound of a body being dragged across the open area fronting the cells, and the slam of a cell door. She asked thru her cell window "What's happening, is Ephiny alright?" The guards reply was simple and direct "Why in Tartarus do you care." Xena shouted back "How is she." One of the ones who'd brought in the prisoner replied "She was unconscious when we dragged this one out. They've sent for the healer, that's all we know." Xena replied quietly "thank you"

Arriving at the Ephiny's hut Delia took in the scene at once. Her assistant arrived a moment later with a stretcher. Examining Ephiny quickly, Delia saw that the wound in her chest although serious, was not life threatening. She noted the strong smell of wine on Ephiny's breath, and examined her for other injuries. She found only the large bruise forming on her jaw. Solari asked quietly "will she live?" Delia stood up, "Her wounds are serious but not mortal, she will live." "Thank the Gods."

Delia continued "Solari, Alicia could use some help carrying her over to the hospice." Solari answered "You've got it," pointing to two warriors "you and you, assist the healer, anything she says." Delia gave orders to her assistant "Take her to the hospice, and start cleaning her wounds, I'll be there shortly." The assistant nodded, "yes ma'am" then started off with the stretcher bearers. After they had left Solari turned back to the healer "Delia is there anything else you need."

Delia spoke softly "I need to talk to you alone." Solari looked exhausted. She had been making a last check around the village when this mess had begun. She sighed knowing she'd be unlikely to get any sleep that night. "Delia can it wait, besides the queen." Delia was insistent "It's about the queen, and it can't wait." Solari sighed resignedly, "alright" then turning to the others said "would you excuse us please."

Delia waited until the women left. "Solari, what happened?" Solari looked at her "We heard a ruckus, and saw the door to the queens hut broken in. We caught a member of the royal guard inside, wrestling with the queen over a dagger, saw her knock the queen cold, the rest you know." "Did anyone hear anything shouts, screams." Solari was starting to look very annoyed at the questions " Nobody that we know of, we haven't really started looking into it yet. Our first concern was stopping her assailant, she's in jail. We had to knock her cold so you might want to check her out when you're done asking me questions. You might even get around to patching the queen up while you're at it."

Delia said very quietly, "Solari, I wouldn't be taking the time if I didn't have a good reason, so bear with me please " Solari sat down on Ephiny's bed. "Sorry Delia, I've got a wounded queen, and a guardswoman in jail that it appears tried to kill her. I've got another dangerous prisoner in the same jail, and a spliting headache. Eponin has the night off and is away somewhere. It's been one Tartarus of a night already, and it's not likely to get any better."

Delia sat down beside her, "Solari we're both having one Tartarus of a night. Alright do this for me, don't let anyone in here, don't move or touch anything until we can both come back in daylight." Solari looked startled by this request, "alright, I'll have the hut secured, issue orders to the guard, no one comes in, nothing goes out. Now would you please tell me why?" Delia spoke quietly "Alright but I don't want to tell anyone else yet." "Agreed."

Delia continued "I don't think the guard was trying to kill her, more likely she was trying to save her life." Solari sat straight up "what makes you think that." "Solari, please look around, is the room pretty much how you found it?" Solari thought back to the scene which had greeted her. "Pretty much. Alright we'll leave it like this for now." Delia nodded, "thank you, I'd better get over to see Ephiny, I'm afraid you won't be able to question her for a while. She's drunk right now, and I'll have to knock her out again if she comes around."

Solari stood up "that's your call, anything else." Delia sighed "unfortunately yes. Due to my suspicions I'm marking the queen down as not responsible for her actions. Under my authority as healer, I'm putting her under restraint. From this moment her orders carry no weight until the council or I say otherwise." Solari looked shocked, "If you're sure that's necessary, I'd better have it in writing." Delia replied "I'm sure and by law it has to be in writing. If I'm wrong I'll have an irate queen on my hands. If I'm right and don't act we could have a dead one." Solari asked. "What do you need from me." "I'll need two guards to keep her in plain sight at all times, even asleep until we're sure what's going on." Solari stood up, "You'll have them, anything else?" Putting a gentle hand on her friends shoulder "Delia you're a good healer, but no offense intended, I sure hope you're wrong" Delia replied,"None taken my friend, so do I"
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In the hospice, Delia reexamined Ephiny's wound. To her experienced eye, it read like an open scroll, the point of the dagger had been held straight on to the breast bone. The cutting edges held top and bottom not to the side as a trained warrior would have approached her victim. The sideways slash told her that someone had tried to wrestle the blade away from it's intended target. Solari having been shown this, reluctantly agreed with the healers suspicions. Ephiny had tried to end her own life. The guard far from being an assassin, was the hero. Only her desperate action had prevented Ephiny's death.

She quietly asked "Delia, what do I tell them?" "The truth, I have to restrain her for her own safety, I can't risk her somehow getting out of here and finishing what she started. The council has to know, and in a village this size you can't keep something like this secret for long." Thinking it over Solari agreed. "Can we somehow keep this quiet until morning. Give us a chance to talk to that guard, and look over the hut again. Give you a chance to write whatever you have to, so we can present it to the council tomorrow."

"Makes sense to me, Ephiny won't sober up for quite a while. When she does I'll have something ready to put her out again. For now I'll have her moved to the back room. It's private. I can tell anyone that comes in, she isn't allowed visitors, medical reasons, security, whatever. If you'll post guards I can tell them what they need to know." Solari speaking somberly said, "Whatever it takes, Delia. If you can't safely knock her out any other way, use a chobo on my authority. I'll handpick the guards and personally inform them of the situation."

Delia sat down at her desk and started writing. "I'll get the orders done while you get the guards, then we check on the one at the jail." Solari offered "I can have her brought here." The healer looked at her regretfully "I usually see prisoners at the jail. If we're going to keep a lid on this overnight, we'll have to leave her where she is. Sorry, but we can't tell people the queen is unconscious and let her supposed assailant out." Solari thought for a minute "Night in jail won't kill her. We'll walk over when things are set here."

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The guards having been set, Delia and Solari stepped outside to face the crowd. They had decided that Solari would began the announcement. She stepped forward and raised her hands for silence. "As you all know, a few candlemarks ago the queen was wounded in an apparent attempt on her life, a suspect is in custody. We've just started to investigate, so I can't say anything more at the moment. The healer can tell you about the queen's condition. We'll be reporting to the council tomorrow, so I expect they'll make any further announcements. The situation is under control for now, so would everyone please go home, stay calm and try to get some rest. Delia"

The healer stepped forward, "The queen's wounds are serious, but she will live. She hasn't regained consciousness, and is unlikely to for some time yet. I really won't know much more until then. Because of the events earlier tonight, I've asked Solari to post a heavy guard. Before you ask - I can't risk her moving around right now so I've left orders not to allow visitors for the first day. We'll have to see what happens after that. I'm sure the queen would be touched by the concern you've shown her tonight, and I'll make sure to tell her about it when she regains consciousness. Thank you all for your patience. Now would those of you who can get some rest, please go home and get ours for us."
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Ephiny felt herself pulled along a dark tunnel as though by the wind. She could see nothing as she sped thru the darkness, hear nothing except wailing sounds that seemed close yet distant, and hauntingly familiar. They assaulted her ears and grew ever louder. It was like the sound after a battle of many persons crying in agony.
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Delia and Solari made their way to the jail and were challenged by the guards as they arrived. After identifying themselves, and their mission the guards inquired as to the queens condition. Solari handed her sword and dagger to one guard whose partner unlocked the door and escorted them inside. It was quiet inside the jail at that hour. Solari asked which cell held the prisoner brought in earlier. The guard indicated one on the far corner of the building and produced a ring of keys. The guard entered, followed first by Solari, then the healer. The guard called to the prisoner laying on the floor, "wake up you've got company."

Solari sensed something was wrong when the prisoner didn't respond and said so. Delia asked let me take a look and knelt beside the still form. She made a show of sniffing the prisoners breath."Solari we won't be getting answers from her tonight, how hard did you hit her anyway." "Not hard enough she should still be out, why what's wrong." Delia looked at Solari gesturing rapidly with her eyes towards the door. Standing and walking towards it she asked quietly "Guard has she said anything, or been awake at all since she was brought in." The guard replied "no haven't heard a word out of her." Solari noting the guards back was towards her motioned quickly to Delia in silent inquiry. Making a tiny gesture towards the still form, she then pursed her lips as in a kiss, at the same time making a small but rapid sideways motion with one finger. Delia dropped her chin slightly signaling a yes answer. Solari had seen all she needed to, "guard would you let us out please" the guard turned to hold the door for the pair and was met with Solari's fist. She crumpled without a word.

"Her necks been broken and less than two candlemarks ago." Solari whispered "Tartarus, follow my lead" then in a normal voice "Delia I want to take a look in Xena's cell as long as we're here." Xena was awake, and her hearing being better than most she'd heard the previous interchange. She came to the window of her cell, "Solari" came the insistent whisper. "Xena what is it, "the guards they killed the woman brought in earlier, I heard them talking." Thinking quickly "Xena I need to get the other guard in here, can I trust you" "Yes" "reach thru the bars and pretend you're strangling me. Delia get ready to scream "Solari moved to stand sideways by the cell window "Okay Xena do it" Delia by then in position screamed "HELP GUARD." The outer guard stepped inside. Seeing Xena's arm holding Solari tightly to the bars she ran towards her. It was the opening Solari needed, coming up with a roundhouse kick she took the guard squarely in the jaw knocking her senseless." Working quickly Solari moved to disarm her.

There was a sound of rapid footsteps. They heard Sophia's voice order "Archers cover the door. You in the jail, throw out your weapons." Solari crouching beneath the window threw the guards sword thru it." Sophia ordered again "I know there's at least one more sword in there, give it up NOW." Solari yelled back "Sophia, It's Solari and Delia, we're coming out." Sophia called back "one at a time, with your hands in the air. Send out Delia first." Solari whispered "thanks Xena, better get out of sight, I don't want any misunderstandings." Delia clasped her hands over her head and walked out, Solari heard her being pulled off to one side. After a moment Sophia called out "Now send out Solari" She moved to the door and raised her hands. As Solari stepped thru she saw arrowheads gleaming in the torch light. Then she felt strong hands grab her and pull her off to the side. Sophia's voice rang out again "anybody else coming out" Solari yelled back "there's nobody but the guard and she's unconscious.

Two warriors quickly moved to the door, each held a chobo in one hand a dagger in the other. A moment later both rushed inside. They yelled back "it's clear, one guard out cold don't see the other. We need the healer." Sophia turned to Delia, "you okay? Can you go in or should I send for Alicia?" "I'm okay." She stood and walked towards the door she had just exited." Sophia then went to Solari "You look okay are you?" "I'm fine. Sophia, the prisoner we brought in earlier is dead. It appears the guards killed her, disarm them and lock them in separate cells." "What happened here?"

Solari explained briefly, when she'd finished Sophia exclaimed "Tartarus, just when I thought it couldn't get any worse."

Taking her to one side Solari whispered "Gets worse yet, Delia thinks and I agree, the queen tried to kill herself. The dead prisoner was probably trying to stop her." Sophia let loose a string of oaths. "What do you want me to do?" Solari answered "first post guards outside the building and get everybody else out of here. When Delia's done with the new prisoners I want her to go over the body. While she's doing that we have a talk with Xena."

As the healer walked over both women waited expectantly, "Prisoner's neck was snapped in a twisting motion. Solari you told me you hit her once, did she have any other marks on her?" "None that I saw." "She has cuts and bruises over most of her body, looks like she was kicked repeatedly. One large bruise at the base of her skull could be from a chobo or sword butt. Why did you hit her?" Solari explained patiently for Sophia's benefit. "I heard a ruckus in the queen's hut and saw the door had been kicked in. The queen was on the floor, struggling with the dead woman, and as I entered she knocked her out. Queen was bleeding and the dead woman was reaching over her with a bloody knife in her hands. I clobbered her with the butt of my sword." Sophia asked "How did she get here?" "I had two warriors carry her, we'll need to talk to them." Sophia asked "Who were they?" Solari gave her the names, Sophia ordered them brought to the jail. Delia added "I think we better wake up the council. Probably be best if they came here." Solari agreed as did Sophia, and messengers were dispatched. Solari finally said "let's talk to Xena."
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Ephiny left the tunnel and found herself falling towards a plain. The howling continued as it pulled her thru an angry sky like none she had ever seen. As she came closer to the ground a castle took shape against the bleak backdrop of her surroundings. She felt truly afraid.
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The council gathered in the space fronting the jail, each noting the grim ring of women on guard. All knew of the attempt on Ephiny's life, most had been in the crowd as Solari and Delia had made their announcements. Some had retired thinking the situation in hand, only to be rousted out by Solari's urgent message. While no one wanted to believe what the healer and captain of the guard laid out before them, none could dismiss it out of hand. Finally they agreed on a course of action.

Since Eponin, Ephiny's second in command was absent, Solari would take charge pending her return. Since the only witness to the queens injury was dead, determining the truth of the matter would depend largely on the queens statement when she regained consciousness. Delia's orders regarding her were met with skepticism, but absent proof either way they were approved. A examination of the queens hut, already necessary to determine the facts of the assault, would also seek evidence of her state of mind. All concerned would report their evidence after evening meal. A formal hearing would be held two days hence.

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