The question of the dead prisoner's body was a touchy one. Regardless of suspicions, she had died accused of a capital crime. Under Amazon law, as in most of the world, she was therefore presumed guilty. A formal pyre was not accorded criminals, and unfortunately this woman would have no chance to defend herself. In the end the priestess of Artemis offered to have the body taken to the temple for safekeeping, pending the outcome of the investigation. The caverns were cool enough she said to preserve it for a few days.
Solari ordered this done. The woman had been either a murderer or savior. Either way she had been brutally murdered, and her killers had to be brought to justice. Had she been judged guilty of trying to murder the queen, her life would have been forfeit, her body consigned to a dishonored grave without ceremony. Her killers had robbed her of the chance to prove her innocence. Solari was determined to discover the facts of the matter, and if possible clear her name. Thus feeling the weight of the whole world on her shoulders, she made her way back to the hospice to check on Ephiny.
Ephiny hit the ground hard. Finding herself in the midst of a crowd, she pulled herself to her feet and saw that it was focused on some spectacle in progress. The crowd cheered. Having a fair notion where she was, she asking a nearby woman what was happening. The woman had dead eyes and an evil grin, "nothing special, just executing a couple of murderers." Looking to where the woman was pointing, Ephiny saw a group of strangely armored men mounted on black horses. Others in the same strange, but again somehow familiar armor were holding ropes. She also noted that the ropes were significantly tied to the mounted warriors saddle trees. Having no desire to watch the gruesome spectacle about to unfold Ephiny turned to walk away. Thinking she heard Gabrielle's voice in the background, she started to turn back. Before completing the turn, she was pulled back into the dark void.
Solari sat with Delia in her private quarters at the rear of the hospice. As she sipped the tea Delia had placed in her hands, the full impact of the evenings events overtook her. The queen was still unconscious, in no immediate danger. Alicia, the healer's assistant, reported that she appeared to have been suffering nightmares earlier.
Solari asked quietly, "Delia, do you have anything that'd keep me going for a while." The healer looked at her "I do, but it'd be better if you just got a few candlemarks of rest" Solari shook her head, "I doubt I could sleep, everything, especially that dead guard, is really getting to me right now." "You didn't kill her." Solari stared into her mug, "If it hadn't been for me she wouldn't have been there. If I'd been a moment later she probably wouldn't have been leaning over the queen. At least not with the knife in her hand." Delia countered, "True enough, but if it was what you thought, a moment later and Ephiny would likely be dead." She waited for Solari's reaction. "Solari look at me You were trying to protect your queen from what looked like an assassination attempt. What else could you do with the suspect, you had to lock her up until you could sort it out. We even agreed we might have to leave her in jail overnight." "Yes and we agreed it wouldn't kill her, but it did." "Solari, the jail didn't kill her, the guards did. If you'd had you any idea that would happen, those two wouldn't have been guarding it in the first place, would they?" "Of course not."
They sat quietly for a moment, "Solari, when was the last time you ate anything." "Evening meal same as you." She smiled for the first time that evening and gestured with her mug. "It's a nice thought Delia, but I think this is about all my stomach could handle right now." Delia stood up and started rummaging thru a locker, "Will you at least try to eat, and then to sleep a few candlemarks. I've got a spare bunk." Solari protested, Delia insisted "You've got the village secured, Ephiny won't wake up before morning and is in no immediate danger. Your guards will wake us if anything happens." Solari started, "Delia I know you mean well but -" Delia turned to face her, "Yes Solari, It has been one Tartarus of a night. Be that as it may, come morning we've got a busy day ahead of us We won't do anybody any good if we're dragging our own tailfeathers." With that she set down a plate of dried venison, bread and cheese.
Solari, knowing she was beaten, held up her hands in a gesture of surrender. "Okay healer - and thanks." Delia laughed, "you're getting pretty good at that surrender thing, what did you think of Sophia's little party." Solari answered around a mouthful of bread and cheese. "Very professional. She saw the trouble, grabbed whoever was available and took charge. She's a real credit to the nation." Delia replied thoughtfully "Sounds like a pretty good description of yourself tonight." Solari looked up at her "You heard me. Now as soon as you're finished eating - it's off to bed with you and" she said wagging her finger "I won't stand for any arguments."
Ephiny came to an abrupt stop in a place of total darkness. The wailing had stopped and the silence was deafening. She sat quietly for a moment wondering what would happen next. She was naked from the waist up, barefoot and had no supplies. She was confused about that until she remembered her preparations for ending her life. She remembered fighting the young woman who had tried to save her, knowing in her heart that something terrible had happened to her. Certain she was in Tartarus or somewhere like that she sat on the cold rocky ground and cried.
Solari woke to the fragrant smell of strong tea. Opening her eyes she was confused for a moment, then remembered she had stayed at the healers overnight and why. Even so the presence of a steaming mug beside her bunk held promise for a better day. Recognizing needs more urgent than the tea she quietly stepped outside, pausing on her return to splash cool water over her face and arms. Sitting back on the bunk she picked up the tea and started planning her day.
"Good morning" Delia moved the curtain aside and sat down. "Morning Delia, thanks for the tea, and everything." "You're welcome, would you like to see Ephiny?" "How is she?" "Still out, though at this point I'm not sure why." Solari looked concerned "Any ideas." The healer remarked thoughtfully "Well she was pretty drunk, and did take a solid hit to the head. I don't think she had anything besides wine in her, at least we didn't notice anything when she lost it." Solari made a face "Yuck." "Yuck is right, but being a healer you get used to it." "I suppose" "Other than that, her wound shows no signs of infection, and her eyes do react to candlelight. The guard says she's alternating nightmares with crying like a spanked puppy."
Getting both fresh mugs of tea she continued. "We just got thru giving her a bath and putting a clean shift on her. I do have her tied down of course. We're going to have to try getting some water into her later." "Delia, do you still think it was suicide?" "Solari, I'm almost certain of it." "Any way you can be certain, short of her waking up and admitting it?" "That's why I asked you to secure her hut last night, if the answer exists we'll find it there." Solari stood up, "Well what are we waiting for?" "Two things. First - I want at least one member of the council with us besides yourself. Second - breakfast, do you want to walk over to the food hut or shall I order in?"
Tears streamed down Ephiny's face as she sat alone in the darkness. Suddenly a candle flickered piercing her eyes like daggers. It was carried by a beautiful dark haired woman about her own age who approached and knelt beside her. The light cast otherworldly shadows about her prison, revealing it to be a rock strewn cavern of ice. "You are Ephiny" Ephiny started "You know my name" The woman smiled kindly "Of course, you are Ephiny, Queen of the Amazon Nation. What is it you want of me?" Ephiny realized she faced a goddess and was terrified, certain that her worst fears were about to be confirmed. The woman looked sadly into Ephiny's eyes, "It is you who sought me out. Surely there is something you want of me." Ephiny buried her face in her hands. The woman took Ephiny in her arms and began rocking her as one would an infant. At the same time, rivers of uncried tears flooded down her shoulder.
Later that morning Eponin returned to the village and was quickly informed of the situation. First she went to check on Ephiny. Alicia, Delia's assistant told her Ephiny still hadn't regained consciousness, but in her opinion she was more likely in a deep dreaming state than a coma. As to how long it might last she couldn't even guess.
Having been told Solari and Delia had gone to check on the prisoners, she thanked Alicia and headed next to the jail. She caught up with them as they were leaving. While the guards of the previous evening had denied their guilt, Xena had repeated her statements almost word for word. Eponin asked "Could she have been dead when they put her in?" Delia replied "Those two suggested that, it just isn't possible." "Why not?" Delia explained "She had a well formed bruise from Solari's sword butt. It takes time for that deep a bruise to form, two to three candlemarks, so that didn't kill her. The only others with a chance were the warriors took her over, both swear she was alive when they put her in. Delia's convinced me they're telling the truth. They said they put her on the bunk, we found her on the floor. They didn't go back over because I had them guarding the queens hut half the night. Before we went in and found her dead, I asked the guards if anyone else had been to see her, they said no."
Eponin asked "maybe she fell out of bed" "Possible, but that wouldn't account for the cuts and kick marks. Her neck was broken by twisting force, they worked her over and then killed her." "Could she have fought with the guards, tried to escape whatever?" Solari answered "They could have been planning to stage a fight later to explain it. They couldn't right then because we'd already seen them, there was no evidence they'd been in a fight."
Delia continued "When we first went in last night the guard called to her like she was trying to wake her up. When I asked, she said she hadn't heard a word out of her since they put her in. Dumb guard didn't stop to think, or think much of me as a healer, not to realize I'd know she was dead. They'll say I made an examination. I did and it wasn't all for show, among other things I wanted to know if she'd been drinking - she hadn't. Her body is at the temple if you want to look for yourself" Eponin replied "don't want to but I'd probably better."
She took a deep breath, "Okay, you've convinced me. We've got at least one and likely a pair of murderous guards on our hands. The first prisoner, the one you pulled off Ephiny. What happened" Solari replied gently "We're trying to figure that out, but Eponin, we need to talk" Delia offered, "let's go back to the hospice." Eponin looked questioningly at both of them, then agreed.
In the ice cavern the dark haired woman continued to hold Ephiny. "I'm so sorry, I've never cried so much before, I just can't seem to stop crying." The woman hugged her tighter "then cry your unshed tears, let them flow, let them wash away your pain."
Eponin sat stunned by Delia's pronouncement. "Not Ephiny, I just can't believe it. If what you're saying is true, why?" Delia spoke gently "We don't know, she might not know, but at least we'll have the chance to ask her." Eponin asked "Can you help her?" Delia said "I can heal her body, but souls are the realm of the priestess. When she's ready, I'll move her to the temple. In the meantime, we'll keep her safe here." Eponin asked "safe from herself, you mean?" "Yes, but I can't keep her tied down forever. I can give her herbs to calm her, but unless we find out what's poisoning her soul, it'll only be a matter of time before she tries again." Solari asked "Delia, is that where the priestess comes in?" "Yes, I've asked Krystina to come by tonight after the council meeting. I'd like the two of you to give us a candlemark or two alone then come over." Eponin looked at Solari who nodded "We'll be here." Solari stood up "I think we'd better take a look at her hut, Ep you know her better than anybody, we could use any special insight you might have. Are you okay to go along?" Eponin sighed, "Yeah, If we have to do it, lets get it over with."
It was almost midday when they arrived at the Queen's hut. The guards assured them that no one had approached the building. Checking, Solari saw that her seals from the night before were intact. Eponin took a deep breath, and said "Let's go." Entering Solari turned to Delia, "Just for the record, are you sure this is how things were when we left last night." "They appear to be" "Alright what was it that alarmed you." "Well, to start with, the number of wineskins and parchments laying around as though they'd been thrown. She was drunk, but everything else seems quite tidy. She was laying crosswise on those mats so she hadn't been sleeping on them. There was the strong smell of incense, and a few other things."
"Solari, show me how you found her." "She was on her knees, the guard was between her front and her side, and I could see them struggling for control of the knife. Couldn't tell whose it actually was, but I could tell there was blood on it. Guard was still holding the knife when Ephiny went down."
Eponin asked "Would you mind showing us Ephiny's position? Wait, let's get one of the guards in here." She stepped to the door and called to one of the women outside. She was well muscled, medium tall with chestnut hair and bronzed skin. "You look about the same size as the queen, would you come in here for a minute." The guard entered, Eponin told her "we're trying to sort out what happened here last night." She pointed, "Solari is going to get on that mat, in the same spot and position she saw the Queen in when she entered. I want you to watch closely so you could do the same." The guard though slightly confused said "yes ma'am."
Solari got into position, Eponin asked, "Okay Solari, is that how her hands were. Good." To the guard she said "I want you to get in the same position." She did so, "Solari is that right. Good. Now I need you to get in the same position as the other woman."
Delia looked on with interest. "Solari" she asked "how was she holding the dagger?" Solari thought for a moment and drew her own, the guard on the floor looked nervous. After thinking for a moment she shifted the knife to her left hand holding the point towards the floor. Eponin told the guard "I need Solari to show me exactly what she saw. Slowly Solari, don't hit her." Solari's right hand moved from behind the guard to stop at rear of her jawline. Her left hand with the dagger moving away from the guard. Delia asked "Ephiny is left handed. Solari which was that guard right, left or do you know?" Solari was silent for a moment, "I don't know. We'd have to look at her armor. I just realized, I don't even know her name."
The guard spoke "Ma'am if I may" Eponin nodded permission. The guard then said aloud what all had seen, "that was a pretty awkward blow from the right hand, and unnecessary." "Unnecessary." "If all Fayla wanted to do was kill the queen, she could have easily knifed her with her left. To me, it looks a lot more like she was trying to get a knife away from her." They all looked shocked, the guard quickly said "Forgive me if I spoke out of turn."
Solari looked at her coldly, the guard drew as erect as possible while still kneeling. "What is your name?" "Tanya, ma'am" "Tanya, two things. One - We may need you to help us do this same thing tonight at the council." "Tell me when, ma'am, and I'll be there." "Good, don't talk to anyone about this until then understood." "Yes ma'am" "second thing; Don't ever apologize to me for speaking the truth. One woman almost died here last night, another died because she was here, and we're trying to figure out what happened." More gently she said "you're scared, right? You're talking to the acting queen, captain of the guard, and healer in the queens hut. We're not Gods so don't worship us, we're women just like you are, and every moon we get reminded of that fact just like you do. Don't be fooled by the rank, all it means is we've lived a while, worked hard and been lucky."
Eponin turned to Tanya, "I agree with everything Solari said. Now I have a few questions for you. It's okay to get up now by the way, just stand easy. You used the name Fayla, was that the dead guard's name." "Yes ma'am" "I take it you knew her, do you know if she was right or left handed?" "She was right handed ma'am, though pretty good with her left." Delia asked quietly "how well did you know her, does she have any family in the village. Anyone she'd want told of her death." "No ma'am. Her only sister died a while back" Tanya started to collapse, Delia took her gently by the arm and led her to the bed "Sit down, and tell us, you were lovers weren't you?" "No ma'am, her sister and I were. We spent a lot of time together, talked a lot. It was pretty hard on both of us."
Eponin crouched beside the bed, "what was her name Tanya, your lovers name, Fayla's sister?" "Her name was Lyssa, she hung herself a few seasons back after that thing with Xena and Queen Gabrielle." Solari turned to her "Tanya, The council will ask this so we need to know. How did Fayla feel towards the queen? How did you?" Tanya looked at her. "You're looking for truth here, yes it hurts, so badly I'll never want another lover." she took a deep breath "you do need to know, Fayla thought the queen treated Lyssa very unfairly, and so do I." "You both stayed in the royal guard after her death, why" "We wanted to clear Lyssa's name, didn't seem like quitting was the best way to do that." Eponin asked harshly "Was the real reason you stayed because it put you close enough to the queen to kill her. Was Fayla angry enough with the queen, that given the chance she'd kill her, are you?"
Screaming "NO" Tanya jumped straight for Eponin's throat. Eponin grabbed and pinned her to the bed. "That's the only free shot you'll ever get, but you just answered our question, didn't you." Letting her up she ordered "turn in that uniform, You're not fit to wear it" Tanya tore off the blue halter and threw it at her. The skirt followed "now go ahead, have me whipped within an inch of my life like the queen did Lyssa, without proof I might add, or better yet, why don't you just hang me. So I don't - " With that she half fell, half sat down on the floor, buryied her head in her hands and cried. "So I don't have to do it myself. Then you can bury me in the woods, like she made us bury Lyssa, just like you're going to bury Fayla." Two guards having heard the shouting entered the hut, and seeing Tanya on the floor moved swiftly towards her. Eponin ordered " Leave her, we'll call if we need you." One of them looked questioningly at her. She ordered "Resume your posts, say nothing of what you saw here. Is that clear." "Yes ma'am" Both saluted and left the hut.
Tanya started to get up, Eponin told her, "No you stay there, you look just like a child throwing a tantrum. Yes I know it hurts. My own lover, your queen is in the hospice right now with a knife wound in her. She still hadn't come around when we left. How do you think I feel. The four of us have been friends for a long time so don't even try to play on our sympathies. You've got no corner on the hurting market." Tanya looked up defiantly, "I never said I did."
Eponin told her "You just shut up, and listen damm it. Your friend Fayla tried to either kill her, or save her, and we're trying to figure out which. If the queen tried to kill herself, like we all believed coming in here, we want to try to help her get past whatever pushed her to that point. We don't want to have to build her pyre, and wonder for the rest of our lives how we could have prevented it. You said you wanted to clear your lovers name, I assume you want to clear your friends name as well." "Yes ma'am." "Well that little tantrum didn't help. Your demonstration did, but that was when you were acting like a grown up woman instead of a spoiled little girl. The council would have asked you the same questions I did. Throw a tantrum like that in the council chambers and you might just get that whipping and dishonored grave you were asking for. That won't help clear Lyssa or Fayla's names either, but if you don't care about that, why in Tartarus should we?"
"Now I want you to listen and listen good. You've got a choice to make and it's real simple. You can walk out the door right now in your undercloth. Since everyone will see you do it I'll have to have you thrown in jail, and whipped for insubordination just like you deserve. If you like I can call the guard back in, and have you charged with assaulting the acting queen. If we do it that way, we can as you suggested, hang you and save you the trouble of doing it yourself. Now do you want a minute to think it over?" "May I speak?" "Go ahead but make it brief. We," indicating Solari and Delia "have a lot of work to do." "Fine. If those are the choices, why bother. I suppose you want me to dig my own grave. I could probably get it done a lot faster if you let me do it before the whipping, but I don't suppose you care about that do you." She stood up and walked towards the door.
Eponin's quiet voice stopped her. "You don't want to live, do you." The woman spun around, "What have I got to live for, just put me out of my misery and get it over with damn you, I don't care anymore." "I don't believe you, you've got something to live for, you're just too blinded by pain to see it right now." "Tell me" "Justice." Tanya spit out, "Justice," She shook a fist defiantly at Eponin, "you offer me that set of choices, then you dare talk to me about justice" Eponin was stunned, "Tanya, that was not your set of choices, it was the first choice. Now are you sure you want to walk out that door without even hearing the second." Tanya's fist came down, "What's the second"
"Second choice is this. Come back in, put your uniform on and help us clear this up. Help us demonstrate in front of the council, if you can keep your temper, when they ask the same questions that set you off. If you don't think you can, say so now and I"ll get someone else. Either way, you help us gather evidence here. Do that and I say nothing official about your insubordination or assault on me."
Eponin moved in close and lowered her voice, "But don't think that gets you totally off the hook either. I don't like your attitude. No, not about me. I couldn't care less what you think of me, or even about Ephiny, but about yourself. So, depending on the outcome of the council, you either dig Fayla's grave or build her pyre. After that you're going to work on that attitude of yours, with either the healers, priestesses or both. I'll let them decide that, and they'll have my blessings to do whatever they think necessary to correct it. Then when you've done all of that, if you still want a piece of me, we can go out on the practice field, and I'll gladly knock you into the middle of the next moon."
"So there are your choices, either you walk out of here in your uniform as an Amazon Warrior, or in your undercloth as a condemned criminal. It's your decision, you've got one minute, decide." "Do you really believe, all of you, that Fayla was trying to save the queen?" Solari and Delia both nodded yes. "Weapons mistress" deliberately using Eponin's regular title "you drive a hard bargain, I'll help, but there's one thing I want from you."
Eponin threw her a cold stare "You're not really in a position to bargain. But what is it?" "When this is over, would you please take a look at Lyssa's case, just a look that's all I'm asking." Stunned at the request Eponin asked "Why, she's dead. I can't change that." Tanya said quietly "Only the Gods can change that, but there is one thing you can change." Solari stepped in "Tanya that's your real problem isn't it, that she was denied a pyre." "Exactly."
Eponin said "Then maybe you'd better explain, because I don't understand" "We were born in Mesopotamia, and came here as children. My people believe, taught us to believe, that the Gods consider the judgements of man while making their own. The queen whipped her, I don't think it was justified, but it happens, sometimes for reason, sometimes without, but that isn't important. By ordering Lyssa buried like a criminal, we believe, the queen did far worse." Eponin was startled, "What was that?" "We believe her order denied Lyssa entry into The Forests of Eternity, and doomed her soul to eternal punishment."
Eponin was totally shocked by this revelation "Fayla believed the queen doomed her sister to Tartarus?" "As do I" "You were going to walk out that door, forcing us to execute you, firmly believing the same would happen to you." "At least we'd have been together again." Delia interjected "Young woman, if you think that's a bargain we've really got work to do. Follow someone to Tartarus just so we could be together? Not me, no thanks. I don't care who it is, that's a bad bargain."
Eponin cut in "Delia I agree with you, but please." Turning to Tanya "Think carefully, do you have any reason to believe the queen knows you believe this." "I don't know." "Fayla probably told her when she claimed Lyssa's body. I just don't know. Until a couple of minutes ago, I never realized you didn't share it." Eponin turned to the healer "Delia, could something like that have effected the queens mind enough to drive her to something like this? Especially finding out long after the fact, like we just did?" Delia thought about it, "I don't know. She's already under high stress just being queen. With Xena's case over her head it's even higher, and this kind of revelation sure wouldn't have helped matters any." Solari asked "Put another way if the queen were teetering on the edge of a cliff, might this be enough to push her off." Delia replied "It could easily be."
Eponin, noting that Tanya was again wearing her uniform, told her "We'll look at Lyssa's case when we get this one settled. It may not be today or tomorrow, but you have my word on it." "Thank you Ma'am, I'm sorry I was such a brat back there. It cost you a lot of time and I know there's work to do." "Tanya, you're right there's work to do, but the Gods work in their own ways, or at least that's how I believe. Normally I'd have had you dragged out of here. Why I didn't I still don't know, but if I had we wouldn't have found out about your beliefs. We don't know whether Ephiny knew them or not, but if she did that tantrum of yours, might be the key to understanding her frame of mind. Now I want you to gather up all those crumpled parchments and start reading them. See if there's anything in there we can use. Delia, run that list of triggers you noticed last night by us again.
Delia settled herself onto the floor. "We covered the mats and position, but we need more. She was drunk, she doesn't often get drunk, as I told Solari earlier, she lost a lot of wine last night, when I checked there was no sign of henbane or anything like that in it." "Yuck" "Yeah, Solari said that too."
Solari added "You said incense I remember now, the air was foul with it. Eponin, does she use it much, I mean that you know of." Eponin thought about it, " No. Only times I know of her using it all are when the mosquitos get bad, or she's praying." Delia remarked "It was pretty cool for mosquitos last night." Eponin said seriously "Delia, you said she was drunk, She doesn't drink when she's praying, maybe a sip or two to show the Gods the wine or whatever she's offering isn't poisoned, but that's it. Festival of Dionysus, sure, but I've never seen her mix the two otherwise."
Solari shook her head. "Eponin no disrespect, but she never struck me as a very religious person." "What do you mean by that." " We see her at festivals, joinings, funerals and maybe once in a while she goes over to the temple." "Solari, she's probably the most religious person I've ever met, and that includes the temple priestesses. I honestly don't know why she didn't become one instead of a warrior." "You're kidding, right." Eponin said hotly, "Solari I never joke about someone's beliefs. May not understand them, a few I might even think are crazy, but I don't joke about them."
Delia moved to defuse the situation, "Eponin has she ever invited you to pray with her. It might be important to know a bit about her practices." "Yes she has quite a few times, and I never objected. Sorry I jumped on you Solari. I'm just not comfortable discussing her beliefs is all. Going thru her things that's one thing. Whatever we think, officially we're still investigating a crime. I just don't see how discussing something that personal can make a difference."
Tanya, believing all to well what she was hearing, had a few things to say "I hope you're ready for my two dinars worth, because I think you need to hear them." Solari remarked "We're listening." " Just a candlemark ago, I was ready to die because of a deeply held belief. One that I thought you held, thought everyone held, but that none of you were even aware of. We, Fayla and I, had to go thru Lyssa's things. It hurt a lot, partly because we found out we didn't really know her. We thought we did, but there was always a part of her she kept secret. The things she passed off as nothing, things she even joked about. In reality she tried to keep them buried deep enough inside that she couldn't feel the pain anymore. She laughed about them so others wouldn't see that. Little things should have warned us, like when she started giving things away. Things that had always meant a lot to her until suddenly she just didn't want them anymore."
Tanya paused, and looked carefully at the three women. Seeing the pained expression on Eponin's face, she knew she was on the right track. Memories, both painful, and until recently surpressed assaulted her mind. She wanted to shut them out, but knew these women needed to hear them. The pain was evident in her voice as she continued.
"A warrior was all Lyssa ever wanted to be, and she loved studying philosophy. She found religiously based warriors codes especially fascinating. She'd adopted one from somewhere in the east that led directly to her death. I was her lover, Fayla was her sister, and neither of us knew about it until afterwards. Her last diary entries were about how she'd lost face in her commanders eyes, not her own eyes, her commanders. In this case that would be the queen. Those things of the late queen came up missing, there was no proof anyone had gotten in that building. Eponin, you were there so you know that. But they were missing, with no suspects so obviously the guards had to be to blame. Lyssa hadn't been drinking, and I know she didn't fall asleep on duty, because she'd slept the whole afternoon in my arms. No one had ever complained about her performance before that day, on the contrary they'd always praised it. When the queen had her and Kira whipped in the square, she could have accepted that. It was just one of those things a quirky commander, or one wounded and in pain sometimes does."
Tanya swallowed, hard fighting to hold back the tears. "When the queen took her warriors mask Lyssa decided to die. In her own eyes, her commander took away all of her honor with that one action. Without honor, she couldn't fall on her sword under her code, so instead she hung herself." Eponin stammered, "I don't" Tanya took a breath, "As a warrior Fayla considered her sword a badge of honor. Since her commander had told her she was no longer an honorable person, she felt herself unworthy of her own sword. That's why she hung herself, because it is a criminals death, and without honor she felt she deserved no better."
Now the way I see it, you've got two choices, You can invade every aspect of the queens privacy until you find out what's eating away her insides. Or you can continue your previous discussion about protecting that same privacy, while you're busy building her pyre. I dug my lovers grave, and wanted to crawl inside with her. May whatever gods you worship save you from ever having to go thru that. You gave me my choices, now I've given you yours. So like you told me, it's time to decide."
For several moments a stunned silence fell over the room. Past caring Tanya finally broke it "Eponin.." The woman was frozen in place, as the enormity of the young woman's words hit her. The truths she had spoken were no longer possible to deny. Unable to speak, unable to move, she stood there, as the young woman called her name a second time.
Tanya walked towards Eponin. Knowing she had to break the spell she called her name a second time. When she didn't respond, she slapped the acting queen hard across the face, knowing she could die for her actions. Eponin's fists came up as her warrior instincts responded to the slap. Tanya caught them in a grip that Eponin would later swear, was like none she had ever felt. Speaking softly to her Tanya said, "warrior, your lover needs you, don't abandon her now."
The slap had broken the spell. Seeing Eponin's fists come up, Solari moved to defend Tanya. Delia blocked her path saying quietly "wait." Eponin drew herself erect and Tanya saw the fire leave her eyes. Releasing her grip on Eponin's hands, she dropped to her knees, bowing her head in a pose of submission. Solari and Delia waited. They too had been entranced as Tanya had woven her spell, and then jarred into harsh reality as she broke it. Both knew that Eponin's next words would determine the future of this woman. Both were determined that she would have one. Eponin thought *Why, of all the women in the village, did I pick her for the demonstration, she was bold and reckless, so full of pain, so wise beyond her years.* Finally she spoke the words Delia had been rapidly praying for. Her first were an order "Warrior, get off your knees" then came a plea "tell us what to do."
Tanya stood up and started asking questions. "Eponin, where does the queen keep her personal scrolls." "Under her bed I think. Solari would you look" Solari felt under the bed. "Heres something feels like, can't see - by the Gods, Eponin, there's bags of em under here." "Can you get them out or should we move the bed." Tanya interrupted - "Wait, you picked me because I'm the queens size, let me try first." Eponin replied "be my guest but why, we can move the bed" Tanya was already on the floor, "I want to know, did she put them away, or did she throw them back there. If I can reach them so could she." She pulled out three bags, then stood up "there's one I can't reach. If you pull the bed out I can get it from on top"
Eponin and Solari pulled the bed from the wall. "Got it, we start with this one." Solari groaned "We'll never get thru all these in time for the council." Tanya cut in " all we need to know by tonight is murder or suicide. Shouldn't have to read them all to decide that. If we do, then we either get help, or the council can wait." She paused. Delia said "She's right, Ephiny isn't going anywhere until we know one way or the other. When she wakes up, maybe she'll tell us herself, what we need to know quickly is Fayla's role." Eponin agreed "Tanya, what was on those pages you were reading earlier," "I didn't get thru all of them yet mostly rambling, like she was trying to write poetry or something." Eponin nodded "she does that, she really envied Queen Gabrielle's ability to draw pictures with words. Wrote some beautiful stuff" Tanya said "what I read wasn't beautiful, more like some ancient hero battling monsters, but she has the hero losing every time." Delia remarked "that can't be a good sign." Tanya answered "It isn't"
Tanya then turned to Eponin. "You said she was the most religious person you had ever met, and didn't know why she became a warrior instead of priestess." "Something like that." "You said you'd joined her at prayer sometimes. Tell us about it." "What do you want to know, who she prays to?" "Not just that, but also how she does it, like does she do anything special that struck you as unusual the first time you saw it." Eponin thought about it, "she makes an occasional offering, fruit, wine something like that to Hestia, or to Artemis for a good hunt. There's nothing unusual about that." Tanya persisted "I know it's not easy, but here in private. Does she do anything special to prepare, like set up an altar, dress any special way, that kind of thing. The healer says she was drunk, but you say she doesn't mix drinking and prayer. I believe you, I don't either. You said, she doesn't use incense unless the mosquitos are bad, or she's in prayer. Like the healer said, It was cold last night, and the mosquitos weren't bad. So she had to have been either praying, or getting ready to. I got here as they were dragging Fayla out, and the air was heavy with it." "It doesn't add up." "Solari what did the knife look like, I'd like to see it." "It was just a dagger, double edged, not very sharp."
Tanya persisted "Did it have a carved black grip, with a jewel cap." Solari was startled, "Yes it did" She asked, "What happened to it?" "I had it taken to the armory." "Could you send someone to fetch it, it's very important" Solari called one of the guards standing watch and gave her orders to find Sophia. Tanya turned to Eponin "Dagger sounds familiar doesn't it, only you're surprised it's sharpened at all." Eponin was siting on the bed staring at the floor, she answered weakly, "Yes." "She sets an altar, water, candles, incense and that same dagger, doesn't she." By now Eponin was almost crying, "Yes" Tanya then asked her, "do you want to go on, or do you want me to." Eponin pulled herself together, still she looked defeated "I will" Looking at the others she said. "She sets up an altar just like Tanya said, and kneels on a mat in front of it. She doesn't dress for prayer, she prays either nude or in a loincloth unless its real cold, even then she bares her feet."
A knock at the door interrupted, Sophia stuck her head inside "you sent for me." "That dagger I had you lock up last night, could you bring it here please." "No problem." Eponin asked her, "Sophia, those two in the jail say anything?" "Not yet, any luck here?" "I think so but we need the dagger to be sure. If we're right, it might just be enough to get those two guards to crack." Sophia said, "Great" then left to fetch the requested item.
Solari turned to Eponin, "Okay before Sophia knocked, you were saying that Ephiny did her private rituals kneeling on mats and in the nude" "Either that or a loincloth, always barefoot." Solari said gently "she was on those mats last night, kneeling barefoot and in a loincloth. If that's the dagger she uses for worship, add the incense, the only thing doesn't add up is that she was drunk." Delia asked, "Eponin, whose idea was it for you to take last night off." "Her idea, we've all been working our tailfeathers off since Xena's been back. She said I looked like I needed a break. She wanted me out of the way didn't she, so she'd have a chance to do this. WHY"
Sophia returned carrying a cloth wrapped package and gave it to Solari. "Thanks Sophia please stay a few minutes, I think you need to hear this." Turning to Eponin, "Take a look at this dagger, it's the one involved last night, have you ever seen it before" With that she passed the package to her. Eponin looked at the dagger, then lowering her eyes rewrapped it and handed it back. "It's Ephiny's, the one she puts on her altar." Tanya sat down beside Eponin and took her hand. "Tanya how did you know. Ephiny never showed it to anyone." She asked "May I see it please?" Solari handed it to her. Before looking at it Tanya said "If you look on the front of the guard you'll see a small stalk of wheat and a wavy line on either side, it's on the tang as well. Solari would you please look and show the others?" Solari looked at the dagger and then at the guard who seemed to have taken over.
Turning the dagger over she examined the bottom of the cross guard. "The mark is there." Sophia and Delia moved to look and agreed. Solari asked "Tanya, how did you know it would be there, are you an oracle on top of whatever else." Tanya looked sadly at the dagger, "I'm no oracle, but I have seen this dagger before. I know about the mark because I put it there. Doesn't the maker always know?"
Sophia asked Eponin who is this. "I'm not sure myself, we needed someone Ephiny's size to try something. She gave an unasked for opinion that echoed what we were already thinking, so we asked her to help. At that point we thought she was just one more warrior. Since then she's stripped to her undercloth in front of us, threw one Tartarus of a tantrum, got a dressing down from me, hit me twice, almost got herself hung, and gave us all a dressing down that would do any senior combat trainer proud." Sophia exploded "WHAT"
Solari stepped in "Take it easy Sophia, on top of all that it turns out she knows a lot about religious beliefs and human nature. She identified the dead guard from last night as Fayla, a long term friend of hers. If you remember Lyssa, the guard that hung herself a few moons back after Ephiny broke her? It turns out Lyssa and Fayla were sisters. Tanya it seems had been Lyssa's lover. Says all three came to Greece from Mesopotamia as children, and were brought up with a few beliefs different from our own. We can get into that later. Then we discover that this "Crime scene" reads like a book to her. Seems Ephiny has a few private rituals none of us except Eponin knew about, but Tanya for some reason could describe perfectly. Then she gave us a perfect description of that dagger before we'd let anyone see it. So now why am I surprised to find out she made it."
Delia took a turn, "I don't know who she is either, but it seems we've got an insubordinate young warrior that's also an oracle, religious scholar, bard if that dressing down is any example, weapon smith and the Gods themselves know what else on our hands. She's pretty much solved our case for us. Theres no doubt in my mind now, that Ephiny was trying to kill herself."
Solari steppin in again. "We don't know why, yet, but I have a hunch Tanya can give us an idea. We've no doubt either, that the dead guard was trying to stop her, when I broke in and clobbered her. She's my biggest regret in this mess, beside the fact that any of this ever happened. If I'd seen any other way to stop what I thought was an assault on the queens life in progress she'd likely still be alive. Now as for what to do with Tanya, I'm not sure if we should build her a temple or a gallows? What do you think Sophia? "
"What do I think. I think we better get to know some of our own people better. As for your other question, gallows would be a lot less work, but the nation'd lose what looks like a pretty valuable asset, sounds like she's got as many skills as Xena and one of her is plenty."
Tanya spoke seriously, "I'll take the gallows." Sophia gasped "What" Eponin also startled "But why, Tanya" Tanya gave a half smile that promised true menace, "I'm not a God so I don't need a temple, but I do want to personally hang the murdering scum that killed Fayla." The tension eased slightly.
After a moment Tanya continued "Solari you were right, there's more, and it isn't pretty." Solari answered "Maybe you should just tell us. For openers, when did you make the knife, and since it seems to be important, why wasn't it ever sharpened?"
Tanya closed her eyes, remembering happier times. "Fayla and I liked to hang out around the smithy, did it a lot as we grew up. We learned a lot, and I still enjoy working with iron." She paused for a breath, "About ten summers ago a friend of ours named Terreis wanted a special knife to give a friend. She drew us a picture and what you see there is the result. We were as surprised as you were, that she didn't want it sharpened. She said it wasn't intended to be a weapon. She had a name for it, what I don't remember but said it was a ritual dagger of a kind used by a northern group. She called them Celts or something like that." Sophia broke in, "Wait a minute, you said it was a ritual dagger. How are you going to offer a sacrifice with a dull knife?" "We asked her the same thing, she told us it was used as a god symbol, and that either sharpening it, or using it to draw blood would profane it."
Eponin was by now beyond shock. Ephiny had introduced her to the rituals, explaining the significance of the knife in almost those same words. She'd found the symbolic union of chalice and blade, representing the union of God and Goddess at the full moon especially meaningful. She listened as Tanya continued her story. "We asked a lot of questions, since we enjoyed studying different philosophies. Turns out Terreis and this friend of hers enjoyed it as much as we did. AfterTerreis died, the friend married and left. Fayla, Lyssa and I stayed in the Royal Guard. Our friend returned a widow, we still talked, but it was different. She grieved over her husband, and fretted over her son. When she became regent, and then queen, we still talked from time to time. We never tried to hide our friendship. People are just used to seeing guards near the queen. Nobody ever wonders why they might be talking to her, sitting near her in the food hut whatever."
Pain became evident in Tanya's voice, "We didn't understand the cruelty she'd shown Lyssa, and her death did come between us for a time. For Sophia's benefit our only complaint was her refusal to let us cremate her. It turns out Ephiny probably didn't understand how important it was to us. Still, we obeyed our queen, and buried her as she ordered. We never spoke of it afterwards. We remembered Ephiny as our old friend, and still cared about her, but we were also dealing with our own losses, sister and lover."
"Despite all that's happened this last cycle, Ephiny would still talk to us when life really got to her, and we were always willing to listen. A few days ago, she told us Solari and Delia here talked her out of interrogating a half out of it Xena with a whip when she first arrived." The two women looked at each other, "Fayla and I were glad you did. If she'd done it, her conscience would have torn her apart. She seemed a lot better after the four of you had that picnic out at the hot springs."
Tanya tried unsuccessfully to choke back the tears. "Fayla and I've been afraid of something like this. We talked about it last night when we got off duty, and agreed to try talking to the high priestess this morning. That was less than a candlemark before it happened."
After giving Tanya a few moments to compose herself. Sophia commented "That was quite a story you told." Then she asked harshly, "Why should we believe it." Eyes turned to Tanya, Solari tensed prepared to ward off another outburst of anger. This time however Tanya just took a deep breath and said,."You'll want proof of course"
"When Ephiny came back after Phantes was killed we, unlike some, welcomed her. A while later she asked us to make a knife. We still enjoyed doing it from time to time. There's a few around the village, mostly fancy hunting knives. Most were commissioned as gifts, so I doubt many people who own them, know who made them." Sophia, always the skeptic told her, "show me one and I'll believe you." Tanya looked at her hard, "fair enough" then she turned to Eponin, "Eponin, at summer solstice before last Ephiny gave you a knife like this one. It had a piece of smoke colored quartz in a claw setting capping the grip, two matching chips and the same mark in the guard. It had a wooden scabbard wrapped in alternating bands of brown and blue leather. The colors were to match your eyes and hers, and to represent the intertwining of your lives. Do you remember it?"
Eponin said nothing, instead she went over to a small chest and took out the knife, showing it to everyone in the room. "Tanya how can you remember each one so clearly." Tanya looked towards the floor and sadly explained. "Eponin, I'll always remember the knife you're holding, how I forged the blade and guard. How Fayla made the claw setting and mounted the crystals. I remember the care Lyssa took when she carved the grip and made the scabbard. I'll always remember that knife, because it's the last one we three made together."
After a long interval Delia was the first to speak. "Tanya we got started today on a really bad foot. Which of the gods sent you I don't know, but of all the women in the village why did we pick you? Sometime when this is over, I'd like you to join us all for lunch at the hot springs, I think we should try getting to know you better. My guess is there's a lot you can do to help both Ephiny and us in the days ahead." "If you're sure ma'am, I'd like that"
Looking at the group "Now I have a couple more questions, then I need to check on my patient. Besides I don't know if anyone else is hungry but I sure am. Tanya I want you to join us." "Thank you but would that be proper." Eponin added "Tanya when we break I'll want to talk to your squad leader. I want you assigned to me, and the investigation for a few days. Delia, you're not the only one starving so ask those questions, then we'll break,. And Tanya." "Yes ma'am?" "You will be joining us."
Delia asked "Tanya, We're sure Ephiny was trying to kill herself, and that your friend tried to save her. Based on what you've seen here, facts we've found here, and whatever of your knowledge you can swear to, do you think there was more to it than that?" The reply was immediate "I'm almost certain of it" "How close is almost, of a 100 chances how many for or against?" "Pray the Gods I'm wrong but 99 for 1 against." Tanya drew a deep breath "I think she was deliberately profaning her ritual, trying to kill her soul as well as her body." Solari shuddered then asked the question "Are you saying she not only wants to die but be damned to Tartarus as well. What makes you certain of that?"
Tanya told them, "first she defiled her dagger by sharpening the edges, next she profaned her ritual by practicing it drunk, finally she stabbed herself on her prayer mat again a defilement. From her position if that table was her altar - Eponin was it?" "yes" " turning away from her altar symbolized that she had turned her back on the gods."
Delia shook her head, believing, but not wanting to believe, the scenario as Tanya had laid it out. As a healer she had seen a lot of death including a few suicides. Ephiny however was a close friend. She too had been concerned, that Ephiny might be developing some sort of soul sickness. Even so, the implications of this latest revelation were truly staggering
Turning back to Eponin Tanya asked, "Eponin her water cup, the one she puts on her altar, do you know where she keeps it?" Eponin looked at the table, "You're right it should be there. She keeps her special things like that in a box at the bottom of that locker." She started to get up, Solari said "Ep I'll get it" Rummaging thru the locker "leather box, copper bands?" "Yes" "Stay there I'll bring it over" Opening the box she said quietly to Eponin, "I'm sorry." Inside the box was a small jar of what appeared to be olive oil, a cloth bag of incense and a couple of scrolls. "Hardly half full" Sophia remarked, then asked "what does the cup look like?" Eponin described it "It has to be around here somewhere." Sophia added "Sounds beautiful, I'm sure we'll find it." Eponin said sadly "I'm not sure I want to."
Solari took Eponin's hands in her own, "Ep we've got more than enough for the council to confirm Delia's orders regarding Ephiny, and to clear Fayla's name. That's all we have to do right now." Delia added, "We know what happened so I say we get out of here. Ephiny's safe for now, so we have time to sort out the whys later." Solari added "Delia's right. Why don't the two of you look in on Ephiny, we'll secure the hut and join you there." Eponin asked "are you sure, shouldn't we stay and whatever." Tanya knelt down in front of her. "Right now you're hurting, you're wondering why she did this to you. It's going to hurt like Tartarus, I know I've been there. I still haven't come to terms with Lyssa's death, let alone Fayla's. At least with Ephiny we've got a chance to save her. We do have to finish here, but we don't have to do it today."
After Delia and Eponin had left. Sophia turned to Tanya, since you're so good at solving puzzles I've got one for you." Tanya looked at her, "You're wondering if I have any suggestions for cracking those two guards." Sophia stared at her. "You sure you're not an oracle. We've got a good case against them, but I'd sure like to seal it with a confession. So if you got any ideas give." "I was afraid you'd ask but I do" Solari remarked "Why am I not surprised?" Tanya told them, both had grave reservations, yet both were astonished by it's simplicity. Sophia turned to Solari and said "You know that might just work."
When they arrived at the hospice Delia and Eponin were quietly sipping tea. Both were concerned that Ephiny still had not regained consciousness. The nightmares had gotten farther apart, the bouts of crying more frequent. The wound showed no sign of infection. Earlier in the day, Delia's assistant, using a hollow reed, had managed to get a small amount of water into her.
Solari told them Tanya had an idea that might get a confession out of the guards. Tanya laid it out for her. Eponin after several moments asked "Tanya are you sure you want to do this." Delia asked "There has to be a better way." Tanya spoke quietly "Solari and Sophia asked the same questions. I don't want to do this, so if anyone has a better idea I'd love to hear it." Delia stood up "well that's that then." Tanya looked at her "I don't think so." Delia sat back down. Tanya continued "More than any of you I wish there was a better way." Delia retorted, "I can imagine." Tanya let the comment slide, "I am willing to do this because Fayla needs more than her name cleared, her killers have to pay for their crimes. Sophia said you've got a good case now, maybe good enough, but that you'd like to seal it with a confession. Maybe it is good enough without one but what if it isn't? Fayla gets a half measure of justice and her murderers none. Justice must be done. If this will help bring it, it is a very small price to pay."
The Amazon Council heard the evidence, then retired to consider their decision in private. They had been impressed with Tanya's presentation. The conclusions were both painful and obvious. Soul sickness was not unknown among the Amazons. Ephiny would be cared for by the temple priestesses and healers. Eponin would continue as acting queen during her illness and recovery. How much to tell the village and when was a matter of some debate.
That the village would need to be told of Ephiny's illness was never in question. The inability of the queen to perform her duties would have to be explained. There was also the matter of Fayla, whose name had to be cleared. Her actions, while preserving the queens life, had ultimately cost her own. She would be accorded the full honors due a fallen warrior. A formal announcement to the village would be made in the morning.
How justice could be brought to her killers was discussed. There was enough evidence against the guards that none of the council believed them innocent. While under Amazon Law the accused was presumed guilty, there had to be proof positive of guilt before the death penalty could be imposed. The law required two witnesses, one witness with other proof, or a confession. If they were unable to meet this standard, a plea of negligent or unintentionally causing a death might be considered, but neither of these carried the death penalty. Under those circumstances the worst the guards faced was a public whipping, and a sentence of labor or banishment for inattention to duty. Due to the circumstances of Fayla's death, all agreed that nothing less than the ultimate penalty was acceptable.
They had one witness and evidence, but the fact that the witness was a condemned prisoner in the same jail, made their case shaky at best. The accused guards could claim that Xena was a self serving witness, accusing them out of spite, or to save her own skin. To avoid the challenge that would result, they needed a confession.
Eponin presented the idea Tanya had described in the healers hut. Tanya was quietly called back to discuss it. Several found it difficult to believe the level of determination shown by the warrior. That it would be painful and embarrassing was of no concern to her. It was a small price she told them, to honor a friend by bringing her killers to justice. The council, finally convinced of her sincerity, agreed. Speed was of the essence, and though by now it was only a couple of candlemarks before night watch, the plan would be put into action immediately. The details of her plan, her part in it, and the councils approval were put in writing. Two copies were made, Tanya asked Krystina, High Priestess of Artemis, to hold her copy against a possible future need to justify her actions.
Sometime after the start of nightwatch, a noisy fight broke out over a dice game. Four apparently drunken warriors were escorted to the lock up to sleep it off. They did anything but. They argued, sang bawdy songs and in general made pests of themselves. Between their ruckus, the curses of the guards and other prisoners, no one in the jail got any sleep that night. About three candlemarks before dawn, angry shouts were heard coming from the direction of the queen's hut. The prisoners heard the guards complain, as a warrior in the uniform of the royal guard was dragged kicking and screaming into the jail. "We got no where to put her, got orders nobody goes in with Xena, orders to keep those two apart." "Throw her in with one of them, I don't care, just take her." Dragging the struggling woman to the nearest cell, they ordered the prisoner inside to stand back, unlocked the door and threw her in. "What's she charged with?" "She was supposed to be guarding the queens hut, they caught her robbing it instead." The atmosphere became at once tense, as taunts and threats were directed at the new arrival.
The prisoners were finishing their breakfast, when an angry looking Solari, walked into the jail. "I hear you've got a full house." One of the guards asked, "Are we in the middle of a crime wave of some kind. These four wouldn't shut up, got the rest of em going. Be glad when Eponin gets here. She usually deals with that kind of thing." A slow but steady drumbeat began in the background. "The ones from the dice game. I'll take em off your hands shortly." "Shouldn't we wait for Eponin" Sadly Solari replied "She asked me to handle it, she won't be coming today." The guard looked surprised, "she's usually here right after breakfast." "She won't be coming."
Solari's eyes flashed with fire,"Where's that guardswoman they caught robbing the queen's hut." The guard thought,"Second cell from the right, had to put her in with one of the others." Solari replied dangerously, "get her out here." The guard called to her partner, "give me a hand with this one, you might better stand back. Solari, she's a real scrapper. took four of us to get her in there." As a struggling Tanya was dragged from her cell, she kicked at Solari who yelled "Sophia we could use some help."
Sophia and two warriors came running. Tanya was thrown to the floor "Get some shackles on her." Solari raged "You want to fight do you, take her out back and get that uniform off her." Tanya was dragged to the guard hut behind the jail, Solari's voice could be heard "Get that uniform off her and chain her to the post." When this was done she picked up a whip and turned to Sophia "Sophia, I need some room." Sophia turned to the guards "give her some room." Waiting until both guards had moved, Solari asked hurriedly "Tanya, you still okay with this." "We got no choice, just do it." moments later everyone in the jail heard the sharp crack of a whip followed by a scream.
Wearing only shackles and an undercloth, a much more subdued Tanya was dragged back into the jail. Sophia told the guard "she won't give you much trouble now, can't believe it. Ten lashes and she passed right out." In reality Tanya was anything but unconscious, and despite the salve rubbed heavily into it earlier, her back felt like it was on fire. 'It was my idea,' she told herself. 'These two only prey on helpless women, now if they just take the bait.' She felt herself thrown into the cell and lay still where she landed. The sound of the drum continued.
Solari looked around, saying in a harsh voice "I'll take those dice players off your hands now." The guard opened their cells and let them out. When all were within the common area Solari said harshly "Everyone in this village is overworked right now, except you four. Well since you've got extra energy you're going work some of it off. We need a grave dug, and a" she paused very briefly for effect "and a pyre built. Royal honors." Almost crying "Sophia, put them to work." Sophia too was almost crying "Alright you four move it." Solari turned back to the guard, "Get a broom and bucket from the guardroom, have those two clean this place up."
Solari turned and left the jail, Sophia whispered "traps set." Solari also in a whisper, "remember we want them alive." The four "dice players " actually members of Tanya and Fayla's squad were armed with chobos, a crossbow and ready for trouble. The guards who had dragged Tanya in and out were from the same squad. All were eager to avenge their fallen friend. When Tanya and Eponin had explained the plan to them, all thought their comrade crazy. Tanya told them "these are experienced guards so they'll know if it's faked. It has to look real, so it has to be real."
Tanya knew that the danger to herself was very real, whipped, chained and almost naked, she was the bait in the carefully laid trap. The crime she was accused of was despicable. Solari's use of the phrase "royal honors," and the funereal drumbeat were intended to further enrage and provoke known killers. Her job was to taunt them into a confession once their cowardly attack started. However difficult for all concerned, she knew any rescue would have to wait until she had accomplished that.
Solari had spoken with her just before her part of the plan went into motion. She had passed a message from her friends in the squad. "We think you're crazy, but if you're determined to play sacrificial lamb we'll be there for you. If you change your mind we won't think the less of you." She thought "They were right, I really am crazy."
After what seemed like an eternity, the anticipated attack began. The first kick caught her unprepared and she screamed as it landed on her lacerated back. She tried to roll out of range and cursed her tormenters, "Gods be damned cowards" was the kindest term Xena heard as she listened by her cell door. The members of the rescue party forced themselves to wait as the brutal beating continued. Finally one of the guards was heard to say "stop it, you fool you'll kill her" then the angry reply "she don't deserve to live any more than that other one" The sound of "I'm not gonna let you kill her too" Then the sound of a struggle replaced that of the beating, "Bitch, I'll snap your neck same as I did that murdering guard." Solari motioned to her force to be ready, the first two members quietly slipped into the jail, "Gonna get away with it cause you two are gonna kill each other." Solari told her squad, "get em"
They charged the cell, two dragging the first guard out, while others pulled their battered friend to safety. Shoving Solari aside, the second guard bolted for the open jail door. A sandy haired woman tackled the fleeing guard broadside, slamming her into the wall. Spinning her around she smashed her fist into the woman's once attractive face. The guard felt a grip of iron close about her wrist, as her backhanded smash aimed at the sandy haired woman's head was intercepted. The woman spun on her feet and dropped throwing the guard over her shoulder into the opposite wall.
As the guard slumped to the floor the sandy haired woman landed on top of her, her fist drawn back and aimed for the guards throat. Solari's voice stoppped the almost certainly fatal blow, "don't kill her, Kayla. We've got other plans for her" Kayla took a deep breath to settle herself and dragged the woman to her feet, "she's all yours Solari, but don't worry. She only picks on helpless women." With that she again slammed the guard forcefully into the wall, then quietly walked outside..
The rescue squad was none to gentle as they chained the murderous guards into cells. Tanya's plan had worked. There was no doubt which of them had killed Fayla. The red headed contralto had done the killing, the angry exchange between her and the raven haired soprano would be enough to hang her. Her partner had taken part in the beatings, and tried to help her partner cover up their crimes. There was no doubt that she shared responsibility for Fayla's death. How much would be a matter for the council to decide. Not lost on Solari was that her actions had prevented Tanya's death. While that might be enough to save her from the gallows, Solari didn't think so.
In the hospice, Delia worked feverishly to stop the bleeding from Tanya's many wounds. The savagery of the beating horrified her. She had been ready to treat whip cuts and some bruises, but Tanya's face had been beaten to a pulp, her nose broken and bleeding. She had several broken ribs as well as numerous other wounds. "The price was too high" she said aloud as Tanya's squad slowly gathered outside and began a silent vigil.
Later that morning, Delia felt Tanya begin to slip away, and sent a runner to inform Solari and Eponin. When they arrived a priestess was blessing the warrior. More than any spoken words, this sight told them the gravity of her condition. They waited quietly as the priestess anointed Tanya, and offered a prayer to the Goddess to spare her life. A short time later, Eponin told the squad that the healer had little hope left. She asked for a runner to find Sophia.
When Sophia arrived, Eponin took her to one side, "Sophia I know you've got your hands full, but I need someone to start preparations for Fayla's funeral. She'll be getting full honors." Sophia's answer was gratifying, "Consider it done," then she quietly asked "How's Tanya doing" Eponin told her, "Delia says it doesn't look good, the priestess blessed her not long ago." Clasping Eponin's shoulder in sympathy she said quietly "I'll make sure they get plenty of wood" adding quickly "just in case." Eponin said simply "thank you."
Sophia turned to the squad maintaining vigil saying, "I'd suggest you get some rest but I doubt you would. If it were my friend, I'd want to be with her too." She added gently "I'd stay with you, but I've been asked to organize a funeral with honors for your friend Fayla, so I'd best be at it." She turned and started to walk away. Eponin watched Sophia's handling of the squad with interest. It wasn't ten heartbeats before one of them said "Ma'am If you need help, we're willing." Sophia turned and smiled "I'd be glad for your help. Someone should stay here though, in case the healer needs a runner or something." She waited quietly while the group talked among themselves "
"That was brilliant," Eponin whispered in her ear. "Give them something useful to do. It won't get their minds off what's happening, but might help them work off some of the frustration." A sandy haired woman stepped forward, "I'd better stay, this bunch is scared to be around me with an axe." A couple of the women moved as though pushing her away in fear, Sophia smiled. "OK you stay here, and if the healers need anything see that they get it." "Yes ma'am" Turning to the others she said, "follow me."
Tanya hovered at deaths door, but did not pass thru. Only the slightest rise and fall of her chest revealed that life remained within her. Throughout the morning council members or royal guardswomen entered the healers hut, each standing a few moments by Tanya's bunk, in silent tribute to the dying warrior. Some had kind words for Delia thanking her for her efforts. Solari came back shortly before midday, "Is there any hope?" Delia replied honestly, "She's in the hands of the Gods now, there's nothing more I can do. Why Celesta hasn't come for her I don't know." Eponin who had entered unseen said quietly, "She's probably afraid of the argument she'll get when she does." Delia replied "that's the truth, but if anyone has the stubbornness to pull out of something like this, she does."
Solari added, "I wouldn't put it past this one to cross over and then come back. I've heard of it happening a few times." Delia nodded, "A couple of people have told me about it too." Hoping Solari would take the hint she added. "Solari maybe we can talk about it sometime." Eponin however was curious, "Solari, where did you hear about that"
"My mother was an oracle, she told me that people had talked to her about it." Delia felt herself cringe as Eponin asked, "What did they say?" Solari shot a glance at Delia, who took on a resigned expression. Solari tried to duck Eponin's unspoken question, "most just talked of passing along a river of light, then meeting family or friends in a meadow of sorts." Eponin quietly pressed the point, "Solari you said most talked about that, what did the others say?"
Solari became uncomfortable, and hesitated wondering how much to say. She asked "Eponin, are you sure you want to know." Eponin looked at her "Yes, I do. They went to Tartarus, didn't they?" Solari gave up "Yes, they told her about being carried on a dark river of wind, an unearthly howling, then landing on a hot barren plain." Delia had heard such tales as well. Knowing at this point Eponin wouldn't be denied, she bit the arrowhead, "What kind of people were they?" Solari drew a deep breath "There were only a couple, and one I don't know anything about. The other was a quiet village man, he'd lost most of his family and friends in a raid." "Why Tartarus?" Solari put her hand on Eponin's shoulder "He tried to take his own life. Sorry Ep, I didn't want to tell you."
"Don't apologize, I was the one pushing for answers." Delia stepped in "If you're thinking of Ephiny, maybe there was more to this mans story than he told Solari's mother. Ephiny isn't there yet, and between us, maybe we can keep her from ever seeing the place." Eponin said grimly, "I don't care what she did, or was trying to do, you said yourself she couldn't have been in her right mind. I don't pretend to speak for the Gods, but surely they'd take that into account."
Closing her eyes, as though to shut out the images that had formed, Eponin continued. "After Ephiny wakes up, how soon do you think you'll be moving her to the temple." Delia was glad to be off the previous subject, "A few days at least, I want to keep her here until her wound heals. Once she wakes up and we can talk with her, maybe we'll be able to sort some of this out and come up with a plan to help her."
Alicia came over at that moment and whispered something in Delia's ear. Delia nodded grimly in acknowledgment, and Alicia went back to work. Delia told the women, "just a status report, Ephiny's started thrashing against her restraints. Unfortunately, until she's been awake we can't really give her anything." She took a breath wondering whether to broach the next subject now or later. Solari's comment, "That's going to be a rather rude awakening" convinced her the time was now. "You're right. She'll likely be upset with Fayla for saving her, then when we tell her it cost Fayla her life, she'll likely have a lot of guilt."
Eponin asked, "Do we have to tell her right away?" Delia was sympathetic "I'm afraid we do, and about Tanya, and those two guards. Most suicides think someone or other will be better off without them. It's important she know the consequences of her actions, and they do include the price others have had to pay." Eponin asked "Why right away, why not give it to her in small enough pieces to handle?"
Delia said firmly "If we honey it up, or give it to her in small doses, she'll always wonder if there's more coming. She won't trust herself, because she'll believe we don't trust her. If she is ever going to be a warrior, let alone queen again, she'll have to be able to handle the pain. That doesn't mean she has to do it alone, we can and I'm sure all of us will, help her work her way thru it. Once she does and whatever led up to this, she'll likely be stronger than she was before. Treat her like a child, or a criminal and we might as well slit her throat right now." Eponin asked, "treat her like a criminal?"
Delia asked in reply "Eponin, Have you ever seen an asylum, gone inside?" "Never have, Is that what you think we should do with Ephiny take her to one?" "Before I answer, Solari have you?" Solari cringed at the memory, "Yes, my mother used to go there, took me sometimes." Delia picked up on that "Why did she go?" "Like I said she was an oracle, she tried to look into the prisoners souls, and see if there might be a way to help them." Finally Delia asked the critical question, "Do you think an asylum would do Ephiny any good?" "I don't see how they do anyone any good. I'd kill her before I let anybody take her to one."
Seeing Eponin's expression of shock, Delia said bitterly "Eponin, most of the world treats soul sick people like criminals. Even in a civilized place like Athens they chain them up in dungeons, work them like slaves, feed them slop that would sicken a hog." Eponin paled. "What's worse most of the world believes they're possessed, and use the lash or other torture to drive the demons out of them. Like Solari, I'd kill her before I let anybody take her there, even if I have to hang for it." Eponin finally added "Delia you wouldn't hang, cause from what you're saying it'd be a mercy, not murder."
Eponin stood up "Wish I could continue the conversation but unfortunately I've got things to do. Actually I'd come to tell you Fayla's funeral is tomorrow morning, full dress and honors. I'll be presiding, Solari will you head up the archers?" Solari answered "of course." adding bitterly "she wouldn't need a funeral if it weren't for me." Eponin replied honestly "She wouldn't, but Ephiny might. You took her into custody, until you could sort out what happened. She wasn't your first concern right then, getting Ephiny to the healers, making sure she was safe, securing a crime scene had to come first. Fayla should have been safe in jail no matter how long it took. You did get the confession we need to convict her killer, and so help me she will hang."
Solari swallowed hard. "I've told myself the same thing, Delia said it that night and you're right. It still hurts that an innocent - make that heroic - Amazon is dead, because I either didn't have or see a choice right then. Then there's Tanya. We didn't even know her two days ago. She's the real hero and dying because of it. I know it was her plan, she knew the risks, so did that squad and she was totally willing. All I did was take an innocent, intelligent and courageous warrior that might've been a great asset to this nation, chain her up, whip her, and throw her to the wolves. So we traded a courageous warrior for a heartless murderer. Doesn't sound like any kind of a bargain to me."
Eponin spoke thoughtfully "It was a bad bargain all around starting with Ephiny trying to buy herself one way passage to Tartarus. I agreed to the plan same as you did, so did the rest of the council. Maybe we never should have, but we did. You're not the only one regrets it." She waited a moment then continued "What we do now is what we have to do. We honor our dead, try to heal a sick friend, deal with a couple of murderers and go on with our lives. If, by the grace of the Gods, Tanya does pull thru, we throw a celebration in her honor. If not, we give her a pyre with full honors. I hope she pulls thru for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is I'd like to get to know her better."
Solari asked "Speaking of dealing with a couple of murderers, what's going on there." "Well I was hoping Tanya'd be able to testify before the council. I could sentence them myself, but since I'm only acting queen, I'd really prefer they were in on it. The squad you led will testify of course and I've no doubt they'll be convicted. I'll have to hand down sentence either way. Marya, the redhead, actually did the killing so she hangs. Katrina, the one finally tried to pull her off Tanya, may or may not have helped kill Fayla. She certainly helped beat Tanya and cover up Marya's guilt." Delia asked "so what happens to her," "Now she knows Fayla was innocent, I'm hoping her conscience kicks in, and she confesses to murder. She's guilty of enough other crimes to banish her for life. I've got an idea I'm hoping the council will go along with. She was responsible for safeguarding her prisoner; in this case Fayla. She didn't fight, she didn't scream for help when Marya was killing her or afterwards." "So what's your idea, negligence causing death?"
Eponin explained "I want to charge her as an accomplice in murder. That would make her equally responsible with the other one. It would take a council vote but as an accomplice she'd face a death penalty." Delia asked "Athenian and Thracian law both permit it.." Eponin agreed "Since we're actually within Thrace we might be able to use it." We have our own law, but we do occasionally turn someone over to outside authorities. That's usually bandits or whatever from the outside, but that gives us a basis." Solari was impressed, "I never knew you were a legal scholar." Eponin laughed "I'm not, but I asked Adriana to help find a way to, as the Romans would say, nail both of them to a cross" Solari laughed "I hope you're not planning to actually crucify them, but charging her as an accomplice, I like it."
Delia turned to them. "I don't even want to think about that right now. We've got a woman dying in here because everybody was so insistent on the death penalty. I agree it's deserved, but the price of the proof needed to impose it, was just too high." Both looked at her apologetically. Delia realized they'd been talking for a couple of candlemarks. Both women looked drawn, the conversation had not been a easy one. "The two of you do something for me?" "Name it." "Take a walk over to the food hut and see if they'll send something over for us, for that runner too. You're not the only ones been busy since before dawn. And while you're there, eat something yourselves." Eponin started to protest. Delia put her foot down "I 'll bet neither of you have eaten today. I've got enough work on my hands, without having two women who should know better, passing out from hunger on my doorstep." From Solari's quick "yes ma'am" she knew she was right.
As they finished eating Eponin turned her attention to more mundane matters. "Solari I'll be staying in the guest quarters for a while. Any chance your guards will let me back into the Queens hut to get a few of my things?" "No problem, You could just move back in." Inwardly Eponin shuddered. Walking in there yesterday had been hard enough. The thought of sleeping in the bed she'd shared with Ephiny, was a bit too much to take right now. "I thought it might be best to wait until the investigation is over. Maybe until we've got a better idea what's happening with Ephiny." Solari thought that over for a moment, "Ep - you're not fooling me with the big tough warrior routine, we've been friends too long. So why don't you tell me what's really going on inside you?"
Epohin swallowed hard, not really wanting to talk about it, knowing she had too. "You're right. I'm having one Tartarus of a time dealing with Ephiny's personal mess without having to be queen on top of it. It's more than what she did, I need to know why." Eponin felt the rage building. "Solari, She expected me to walk in there and find her dead. I wonder if she even thought about how I'd feel. Tanya was right about the religious thing, she was trying to damn her soul. What did I do wrong, why was life with me so terrible, that she'd preferred Tartarus?" Eponin felt the rage evaporate and the tears started, "If she'd stuck that knife in me it wouldn't be as painful. She could have told me, we could have worked something out. If not couples break up all the time."
Eponin's pain was so visible that Solari a strong urge to take her in her arms and rock her like a baby. She knew that right then it would be the wrong thing to do. She forced herself to listen as Eponin continued, "I don't want to break up, but if she does I'll move out. Just don't tell me this way. There's a lot that hurts and a lot I don't understand. I'll have to wait and ask her to explain it to me, and probably to herself as well. We have to talk, but I don't know if I can take what she may have to say." Solari reached out and put a hand on her friends shoulder, no words were spoken, there were none needed.
While her body thrashed in the hospice, the spirit of Epiny cried in darkness. At length she ran out of tears. "I'm so embarrassed I've never cried like that before. I don't even know your name, or anything but thank you." The woman asked gently "Ephiny do you know where you are?" "I think so, but I never expected it to be like this." The woman smiled "Where do you think you are Ephiny?" As though afraid to say it out loud she whispered, "Is this Tartarus?"
The woman was no longer smiling "Tell me Ephiny, why would you be in Tartarus."
"I belong there." "Why did you seek me out, Ephiny" Ephiny looked at the woman "I'm sorry, but I don't even know your name, so how could I seek you out." "You came to this place seeking death, did you not?."
Ephiny was unsure how to answer "I tried to die, I feel the pain of the knife in my chest, so I must have died." "Ephiny when you put the knife to your breast, when Fayla tried to stop you from plunging it into your heart. What were you seeking ?" "How could you know that unless you were in my village in my quarters." "Who are you?"
The woman looked sadly upon her, "Ephiny I have been to your village many times, and yes I was there that night. I could see that you were in pain, and asked Terreis to go to your quarters, yet you turned her away. You even threw a chalice at her." As the woman continued speaking Ephiny felt a wave of shame roll over her. "It was the same chalice a friend of your mother gave you ten summers ago. Then you tried to plunge the knife Terreis gave you that same solstice night into your breast. I remember watching the two of you that night. You were so happy as the thirteen of you danced naked in the moonlight." Ephiny was now truly frightened, for no one could possibly know what this woman did. She cried out, "Who are you?" The woman finally answered her question, speaking in a soft voice she said, "My name is Celesta, but few know me by it. Most call me simply Death. You have sought me out, and I have come for you."
"Forgive me my lady, for I was frightened and truly did not understand. I did not expect to meet a truly beautiful woman who would hold and comfort me as though her child." The woman smiled "I could see your fear, you were expecting to meet my brother then. He is otherwise busy at the moment but I will introduce you if you wish." Again Ephiny asked the question she was most fearful of having answered. "What is this place?" "Ephiny you are deep within the bowels of Tartarus, in a place set aside for persons like yourself"
At being told this Ephiny crumbed to the icy floor of the cavern. Trembling in fear she asked "How then am I to be punished?" Celesta asked "Tell me Ephiny, why are you deserving of punishment."
When Eponin and Solari left, Delia turned to Alicia, "I need a break, keep an eye on things for a while?" "Go ahead, not much to do right now but wait, I'll have someone find you if there's any change." Delia felt a genuine affection towards the older women. The wife of a Trojan healer, she had been widowed and captured at the end of that war. On her way to the Athenian slave markets, she had fallen ill, and been left to die on the side of the road. Returning Amazons who had fought with Queen Pentasilla found her there, nursed her to health, and brought her back to the nation.
Delia remembered it well. Alicia had known quite a bit about healing when she arrived. As she said, they'd been under siege for years. It was only natural that she had helped her husband care for the wounded. It had been different when she had begun her own apprenticeship at thirteen. She'd been taunted, and called a coward by some her own age. Courage was highly respected among the Amazons, and few could see any future for themselves other than as warriors. Her own sister had expressed sympathy that she would be trained "only as a healer."
Her mentor had overheard the exchange and later spoke to her of it. It was a lesson she had never forgotten. She told the story to each of her apprentices on the first day they came to her. Her mentor had told her, "Healers too were warriors and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. We fight against death and disease, pitiless foes that give no quarter, and take no prisoners. Many healers lose their lives in this battle, when disease travels from a patient to themselves." Delia remembered sadly, how prophetic her mentors words had proven to be. "Never give up the fight" she told her. "Never until the cold hand of death herself closes upon the victims, and opens their eyes in the cold stare of death." She'd had a few words for Delia's sister as well. "Anyone she told them could hack a person to pieces, it takes skill, courage and determination to make them whole again."
Delia herself was skilled with many of the weapons of war. Those who knew her skill with a bow had won heavily wagering on her. She insisted her apprentices receive basic weapons training. A healers assistant often went with the war parties, and needed to know how to defend herself. They might even have to defend the hospice if the village was attacked.
Delia sadly remembered her sisters words "It will be a glorious battle" as she set out on her first war party. Lyta had returned on a blanket stretched between lashed spears. Ribs broken with a mace had pierced her lung. Delia remembered kneeling helplessly beside her sister's bunk thru the night, with each bout of coughing wiping the bloody foam from her mouth. She had not left her side, until in the first light of dawn, Lyta drew her last painful breath and died.
Alicia came over to her "Thought you were taking a break." Delia shook herself free of her memories. "You trying to chase me out of my own hospice." Alicia said firmly "yes" then "You were thinking about Lyta again." The woman guided Delia to her feet. "This one remind you of her." Delia had been wondering about that. "She does, but I can't put my finger on why." Delia started walking towards the door, "You win, Eponin's sending food over, make sure Kayla gets some." "We'll save you some." "Thanks but my first stop is going to be the food hut."
Delia entered the food hut as Eponin and Solari were leaving. They stopped in their tracks as they saw her approach fearing the worst. Eponin asked delicately "any change?" Delia "Unfortunately no." Changing the subject, she noted with approval the large package they were carrying. "Appreciate that." Eponin smiled "anytime, so what brings you out" "I started thinking I could use a break and made the mistake of telling Alicia. She practically shoved me out the door."
Lunch was over in the healers hut. Alicia was gratified by the young runners question "I'm not a healer, but if there's anything." Alicia thanked her "We've always got work for willing hands, and most things don't have to be done by a healer. Anyone with a few brains and some compassion can do a lot." She looked at the young woman, "You look pretty tense." The young woman looked at Tanya's still form,"I'd feel better doing something." Alicia looked at her kindly, "Kayla, It's never easy waiting for someone to die, being a healer doesn't make it any easier." "You don't get used to it" "The day I do I'll stop being a healer." "Why's that?" Alicia said quietly, "Because if that ever happens I'll know I've stopped caring." Standing up she said "That sword will get in the way, come on I'll show you where to put it." With that she led Kayla back to Delia's quarters.
Kayla was impressed with the collection of weapons hanging on Delia's wall. "I knew she was an archer, I even won some money on her. She never carries a sword. I'm surprised she owns one, being a healer and all." "My husband had one. She told me that sword was her twin sisters. Delia decided to keep it when she died." Alicia thought for a moment. "Come on, lets go to work, you can help me give the queen a bath."
Having finished her lunch Delia felt a little better. Knowing Alicia had taken a break at mid morning, and would have things in hand, she decided to take a little time for herself. Waking across the main square she saw Sophia's detail making funeral preparations. No matter how many pyres she had seen built in her life, one always stuck out in her mind. She decided to walk over to the armory. When the current crisis was over she wanted to get away for a few days. Perhaps she's invite a friend or two on a hunting party.
The bowyers and fletchers were as always glad to see her, and for a few minutes they discussed the finer points of bow carving. Feeling the need to indulge herself, she selected a split ironwood stave and commissioned a new bow. To go with it she ordered a score of arrows from the fletchers. Something about the way a bows limbs moved fascinated her today. There was nothing new there, the limbs flexed when the string was pulled back, then deflexed when the arrow was released. Why was that important now? She decided to go back to the hospice, Alicia would be able to use a break.
Passing the food hut, she saw the cooks boning out a deer's carcass. She had seen it before, having dressed her share of game. As she watched, the cooks helper reached into the carcass and pulled up on the breastbone. The ribs, still connected to the spine moved with it, thereby enlarging the space within. She realized then what she had seen at the bowyers, it was the same phenomena. The bows grip was the spine, the limbs and string were the ribs and the nock point the breastbone. The area between the belly of the bow and string were the lung space. If the ribs could be pulled back, the space would enlarge, and the lungs might better fill with air.
She realized then why Tanya reminded her of Lyta. Both women had mortal injuries to the chest, with broken ribs pressing on and piercing the lungs. The pressure and bleeding within preventing air from entering. She saw once again, the image of her dying sister and the blood tinged foam, the foam. Then it hit her. There was no foam, Tanya's ribs though broken, had not pierced her lungs. If they could be pulled back she might yet live. Could she do it without killing her?
Delia had never cut that deeply into a person. Her surgical experience consisted mostly of removing arrows, amputations, and dealing with open wounds made by others. The oath some crazy Thessillean healer was bragging about, ran thru her head. He said it was what separated his students from what's his name, some mathematician that ran a rival school for healers. It said clearly "thou shalt not cut for stone, leaving this to practitioners of the art." While not subscribing to the oath, she saw the wisdom of this. She had no way to treat infection within the body. If her knife slipped Tanya would die, but she was dying anyway.
Delia ran back the hospice telling Alicia rapidly what she had realized. "Can we do it" "I don't know. But unless you know of another healer in the village, we have to try." Kayla was stunned by the realization that her friend might live "Ma'am that scar of the queens," "what about it" "You told me Xena cut her, so she could give birth." "That's what she told us." "Kayla run, find either Eponin or Solari, tell them we need them at once." Already moving for the door Kayla called "yes ma'am" and disappeared.
Delia turned to her colleague. "Alicia how does she know about the queens scar?" "She helped me bathe Ephiny, saw the scar and asked about it." Eponin half out of breath came in with Kayla. Leaning on the doorpost she gasped, "Delia, this woman says you may be able to save Tanya, if Xena helps you cut into her. Is that true?" "Yes, I realized something while I was out walking." "Delia wait" turning to one of the other guards. "Go to the jail, tell Xena we urgently need her healing skills to save the woman from this morning. ASK her if she'll help. If she says yes, tell the guards to bring her here, at once on my authority. Got that?" "Yes ma'am" "Then move out" The guard left the building at a dead run.
"Alright, Delia it's your show, what do you need." Delia started barking orders. "Alicia, Get the bandages off Tanya's chest and stomach, then wash her with our strongest cleanser. Kayla you help." "Eponin we're going to need a lot of light, candles, torches whatever" "Guard move that small table over here" Everyone scrambled to do her bidding, Delia went to her chest and found her two sharpest knives, powdered sulfur, dried herbs and suture material. She laid a clean cloth on the table next to Tanya's bed. "Alicia, clean rags and spirits, Kayla, in my quarters there's a jar of wine. Bring it and a medium size bowl." When Kayla returned she told her "fill the bowl about half full with wine and put the suture material in it."
The guards at the jail sent for Solari. They had two other prisoners that couldn't be left unguarded, and two guards were needed to take Xena to the healers. "I'll go, one of you accompany us. Unlock her cell." The guard fumbled with keys and swung the door open. "Xena, did you hear the message? Will you help?" "That's the guard who served as bait this morning isn't it? How is she?" The guard messenger spoke "She's dying, the healer was saying cutting, moving her ribs something like that. Said you saved the queen in childbirth by cutting her, said she's never done anything like that."
Remembering the birth, Xena nodded. "You say Eponin and the healer asked for me." "They did, and stressed, I was to ask you if you'd help." Solari said "I can't make any promises." Xena snorted "Did I ask for any. What are we waiting for." Raising her hands she said "jailer," one guard picked up a set of manacles, the other a crossbow. Solari protested. As her wrists were being manacled Xena told her, "It's okay Solari. I'm still a dangerous prisoner under sentence of death so they're only doing their job. Besides from the sounds of things, that warrior doesn't have the time to argue about it."
Delia wondered aloud "I wonder what's keeping them." Eponin answered, "I can't picture Xena refusing, likely some problem at the jail. Should have gone myself." Kayla spoke "No disrespect ma'am, but Xena is facing a death sentence, she may want to bargain." Kayla felt several sets of eyes boring into her. Eponin spoke calmly "You may be right, but knowing Xena, I doubt she'd bargain for an innocent life." Alicia asked, "Not even to save her own?" Eponin thought about her response, "No, but if she does, I will listen to her terms." Delia at the door exclaimed "What in Tartarus" Eponin looked at the cause of her outburst. Xena, her manacles plainly visible, was talking calmly to Solari as they crossed the square. Eponin let out an oath as she saw the guard following behind, with a crossbow aimed at Xena's back.
As they entered the healers hut, Delia rapidly explained the situation. The guard was horrified, "you want me to remove the manacles, and let her pick up a knife." "That's the size of it." "Your majesty, she is a condemned criminal, I must protest." Eponin ordered "I order you to remove her manacles and wait outside." "I refuse."
Remembering the exchange at the jail, Solari looked from the guard to Tanya. Each shallow breath was becoming labored. Her lips had begun taking on the bluish cast that Solari knew meant death was imminent. Thinking *Xena was right*. She turned back to the guard, "we don't have time for this" and closed the debate with her fist. Xena thought *crude but effective.* She said "Solari, don't get into trouble over me, I'll talk the healer thru it." Eponin spoke next "trouble, what trouble, she disobeyed a direct order of the queen." Picking up the crossbow she unloaded it, then removing the guards sword from her scabbard, told Kayla, "lose these somewhere." Turning to Solari and the guard she'd sent as a messenger "I see what took so long."
Solari was already removing Xena's manacles. Rubbing her wrists she said "Thanks Solari, folks we can talk about this later, right now we've got either the bravest or craziest warrior in the village to save." Delia interjected "BOTH. This way Xena, you can wash up in here." "Thanks - got anything like a clean shift, I don't want to get this one over the wound." Delia pulled one out of her clothes press, "I hope this fits." Seeing the state of Xena's clothing " If you like I'll get you a clean shift, undercloth before they take you back." Xena's face softened, "Thank you, I'd really appreciate it. I'm ready." "Lets do it."
Solari bent over the felled guard "Just keeping her from interfering" Passed one cuff of the manacles thru the guards belt, she locked her hands behind her. She told the guard that had carried the message to the jail "she starts to get up before they're finished, knock her down and sit on her." "Yes ma'am" The guard, while disgusted with the delays at the jail, had some sympathy. She knew the jailer was doing her job. Xena was a dangerous prisoner, and in her present circumstance she had nothing to lose. She was glad the decision had not been hers. Still, if the acting Queen and these others were willing to take Xena at her word, she would as well.
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