Copyright Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle, Hercules, Iolaus, Joxer and other characters mentioned in this story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction and no profit is sought from this. The same goes for any song lyrics I have borrowed.  It’s just for fun!

Violence Disclaimer: There is violence (It’s Xena!)  And an attempted rape within this Chapter.  If you feel this would distress you, please do not read on.

Subtext disclaimer: Gabrielle and Xena are lovers. There is no graphic sex in this Fiction. If this bothers you (the lovers’ part rather than the lack of graphic action, but I am guessing that will bother some!) or is illegal for you to read in your neck of the woods, please do not continue.

Angst disclaimer: Oh yes!  Angst alert!

Author’s note (1) This is only my second Fan fiction and my first long story, so be kind please!  Comments, tips, hints and constructive criticisms will be most welcome.  Please send to  I will endeavour to reply.

Author’s note (2) This fan fiction is set after season 3, but it disregards season 4.  Gabrielle and Xena have been reunited but there is no Alti, India or vision. 

Tag Line Reunited after the Bard’s sacrifice, Xena and Gabrielle face more heartache as Xena’s darkness is cruelly exploited and unleashed.

Chapter one

And in these days
When darkness falls early
And people rush home
To the ones they love
You better take a fool's advice
And take care of your own
One day they're here;
Next day they're gone

The Eagles “New York Minute”

The warrior smiled as she entered the cave.  She looked at the bundle of blankets on the floor and the blond hair that was the only visible part of the bard.

“Still asleep,” she said to the large palomino horse standing yards away.  The horse neighed in response, and as her mistress was back to guard the little one, her job done, she slunk out of the cave to find her own breakfast.

“Thanks Argo,” called out Xena softly, and in reply she saw Argo’s tail swish. The bard still had not stirred but she whispered, “Gabrielle,” and satisfied that her partner was still asleep, she brought the rabbits over to the fire in order to dress them.  Once the rabbits were ready she skewered them and let them gently cook over the open flame. She then rifled through the medicine bag to find the herbs she required.  She filled a smaller pot with water and while she waited for it to boil she approached Gabrielle.  She gently removed some of the covers, gently checking the bard’s temperature with her hand.  She wasn’t hot, but it was impossible not to notice how pale she was.  Xena gently stroked the blond hair and two eyelids fluttered and within a few seconds opened.  “It can’t be morning already, surely?”  The voice was sleepy and slightly slurred.  The rumble of laughter that greeted the statement soon put paid to the little hope the bard held that it wasn’t time to get up.  She sat up slowly and rubbed her eyes.  Xena was watching her with concern.  “How are you feeling?” she asked tenderly.

Gabrielle blinked a couple of times and then rubbed her stomach.  “About the same,” she said despondently.

 Xena wrapped her arms around her and kissed the top of her head.  “The water will be ready in a moment, and then I’ll get some herbs into you.”

“Thanks Xena.”  Xena tightened her arms around her, enjoying the close contact that had been denied her, she thought forever. 

“We don’t have to travel today.  We should rest a few more days.  Renwa will still be there.”

“But Hercules and Iolaus won’t be. Xe, I’m Ok.  It’s probably Joxer’s lamb stew.”  Gabrielle buried her head in Xena’s shoulder.  She was upset by her physical frailness; she felt she was letting Xena down yet again.  She knew that no matter how long they would be together, no matter what they would go through, a little part of her would always be afraid of being left behind, of being sent back to Potedia as she didn’t measure up to the Warrior Princess’s exacting standards. 

Xena intuitively knew that this was on her partner’s mind.  They had been through it so many times, and whatever she did to reassure Gabrielle, the little insecurities still emerged on the odd occasion.  And at present every emotion appeared magnified.

Xena turned back to Gabrielle and spoke forcefully but sincerely, “That doesn’t matter, you’re what matters.”  She tightened her grip on the bard.  “I’m never letting you go, not ever, you know that, right?”  There was nervousness in her voice that made her sound so vulnerable that Gabrielle gave her a kiss on the cheek and they both sat in silence lost in their thoughts. 

Xena broke the silence. “It might not be the stew, after all I’m fine.”

Gabrielle snorted, “Xena you’ve survived your own cooking, you’ve built up immunity.”  Xena gave her a mock glare and kissed her on the head again and moved to the pot of boiling water.  She poured it into a mug and added some herbs, gently moving the mug to mix them. She then brought it back to the bard who accepted the mug with a nod of the head.  She held the cup breathing in the steam for a few moments with her eyes shut.  Xena watched her with a mixture of pride, love and anxiety.  It was unlike the bard to fall ill, and Xena didn’t want to take any chances, especially now.  As if she was reading her mind Gabrielle looked up at Xena and smiled, “I’m sure I’ll be fine, let’s head out after breakfast.”  Xena stared at her for a long while and nodded and then busied her self by taking the meat from the flame.  She frowned as she removed the meat from the skewers and tipped them on the plates, blowing at her now tender fingers.  She handed the bemused bard a plate and they both stared at the crispy pieces of black that was rabbit.  Gabrielle tentatively bit into it, and started to chew and chew and chew!  Xena bit into it and immediately spat it out.  “Raw, but how can that-.  I’m sorry, Bri, I just wanted to make you breakfast,” said Xena mournfully.  Gabrielle smiled weakly and removed the half chewed piece of meat from her mouth and put it back on the plate and putting it down she wrapped her arms around her taller companion. She rested her chin on Xena’s shoulder and Xena instinctively put her arm on Gabrielle’s upper arm, gently caressing the large scar.  They sat in comfortable silence until Gabrielle lifted her head and said, “thank you.”

“For what?  Assaulting your taste buds.  Murdering breakfast.”

“For making me feel loved.  For trying to do something you hate, that isn’t one of your many skills just for me.”

Xena smiled, “I’m only sorry that I’ve set your rehabilitation backwards,” and Xena laid her head on the bard’s shoulder.  “You’re my life Bri, you know that?”  The words were spoken gently and again they carried a sense of vulnerability in them.  Would they always feel like this Gabrielle wondered?  So insecure, on edge and anxious.

No it wasn’t like this, before the separation, Gabrielle thought.  We survived so much, the betrayals, the lies, the anger, and the deaths of our children and grew stronger, from it.  We were happy again, until Hope reappeared.  Gabrielle shut her eyes remembering the look of sheer panic and pain on Xena’s face as she plunged with Hope, with Xena and Joxer’s anguished cries ringing in her ears, to what she assumed would be her death.    She knew they just needed to find their place together again.  It’s still so raw-Xena’s pain at her “death” and Gabrielle’s bewilderment at returning.  She absently removed her hand from Xena’s shoulder and placed it on her own, where another scar was present under her top.  She looked up and saw the concern in Xena’s eyes asking the question without words.  “I’m fine,” she said with a gentle shake of her head.  “So what do Hercules and Iolaus want?  Will it matter we’re late?”  She was eager to change from the morose thoughts she was having.  She was back with Xena, and for a short time at least there were no war-lords to fight, any towns to save, and no-one to rescue.

“Nah, it won’t matter, especially as Joxer has gone to tell them we’re late.  They want to see you,” Xena’s voice became gentle again for the second sentence and her face for a moment screwed up in pain before becoming impassive again.

“Me?  But Why?  I-oh,” the bard stopped suddenly as she realised why her friends wanted to see her.

“They mourned you, everyone did,” said Xena trying to keep the emotion from her voice.  “They just want to see you’re ok.”

“Thank you,” mouthed the bard and drew Xena in even tighter.  She could feel the shuddering of the warrior and held on for a few minutes until she could feel the sobs subsiding and Xena’s tears stopped running down her front.  “OK?” she asked, and the warrior nodded. 

Gabrielle thought of how long it took her to get over Xena’s death.  It was days before she stopped expecting Xena to disappear, weeks before she could relax while Xena was out of her sight, even if she was only going to bathe and months and months before the nightmares stopped.  She gave a shudder; even recently she would wake up reaching for Xena checking she was there, as Xena had done every night since their reconciliation.  Gabrielle was gone for so much longer, and Xena had to relate the news to her family as well as the Amazons and neither took it very well, both blaming her for their loss.  She couldn’t begin to imagine of the emotional turmoil that Xena had suffered; to most other people Xena was a toughened, stern ex-warlord, but to Gabrielle alone did she share her doubts, insecurities and guilt.   Bereft of the bard and support from any family and friends and still mourning Solon, Gabrielle was surprised that Xena neither took her own life nor resumed her old warlord ways, keeping an old promise.  Made before they were lovers, before either realised the depth of their love, Gabrielle knew that it was agreed by Xena not believing it would ever happen.  But when the worst did, Xena kept it.

  Back together for little over a month, it was still awkward and poignant; with Xena the most emotionally open Gabrielle had ever seen her, unusually sharing her experiences honestly and without prompting.  But Gabrielle was concerned that the worry over her sickness would push the emotionally fragile warrior princess over the edge, thought Gabrielle ruefully and she held Xena tightly until she composed herself.

  “So shall we head out now, warrior cook?   We’ve got some bread in the pack.”

“Sounds good to me, Bard.  We should make Renwa by nightfall.  Did I mention there was a festival on at the moment?”  She laughed at the excited expression on the bard’s face.  Gabrielle got up, by instantly regretted it as she was hit by a flash of dizziness.  Xena was by her side in an instant. “Scrap that. We can stay here and rest!”  She said in a firm voice.

“I’m fine Xe; I just got up too quickly.  It’s the cooking.  I just have to face facts that Joxer and you are trying to poison me.  It’s a clever way to ensure that I do all the cooking.”  She moved gingerly over to the bags and started to pack her things away.

“MMmmmmm,” said an unconvinced warrior who stood still, with hands on hips giving the bard her best stare.

“You know that doesn’t work with me anymore, Xe,” said Gabrielle.

“OK but at least sit down and let me pack up, please,” Xena gave Gabrielle her most charming smile.  No wonder no man-or woman-could resist her, thought the bard.  I certainly can’t.  She nodded and eased herself down onto the ground.  Xena busied herself collecting all their gear and stuffing into their saddlebags desperately trying to ignore Gabrielle’s looks of horror as she put the items in the wrong bags.  She whistled for Argo to return, which the palomino did and after loading her up she strode over to the bard. She lent down and kissed Gabrielle on the nose.  “If you’re not feeling well-“She held out her hand for the bard, which she took and pulled herself up.

“You’ll be the first to know.  Anyway what is the festival celebrating?”  They walked out of the cave shielding their eyes against the sun.

“Aah, yes I was wondering when you were going to ask that.”  Xena looked at her feet as she kicked the ground.  Gabrielle eyes narrowed as she watched the unusually abashed warrior.  She closed her eyes and groaned.  “Its fishing isn’t it?  By the gods we’re going to a fishing festival.”  She looked at the now squirming warrior who was suddenly most interested in her boots.  Gradually the head rose and the blue eyes that were full of mischief looked straight into her green ones.  “Is there plenty of food to try?”

“As much as you want!”  The warrior knew she was convincing the food obsessed bard.

“And you won’t cook?”  The warrior feigned a hurt look and then gave a wide grin.

“I’ve learnt that lesson, Gabrielle.”  There was a pause.  “You could always try squid again.”  Xena tried to control her quivering mouth but failed and she broke out into a chuckle.  Gabrielle tried to look angry but the warrior’s laughter was infectious.

“OK warrior that’ll cost you.  Let me think how much.”  Gabrielle’s eyes narrowed and Xena grabbed the bard’s hand as they made their way towards the main road to Renwa.

It had been a pleasant day travelling.  Xena had walked alongside Gabrielle in the warm sunshine and the bard’s stomach and demeanour had improved throughout the day, although she didn’t quite feel totally well.  They were an hour’s walk outside Renwa when Xena gently slipped her hand from Gabrielle’s hand and in a movement that was only perceptible to Gabrielle who had learnt it over the years stood taller and straight and battle ready.  She looked quizzically at Xena.

“This way,” she said emotionlessly.  They veered off the side of the road, leaving Argo grazing by a tree, running quickly and Gabrielle could now hear the cries of several people.  Within moments they were in a clearing facing a group of ten bandits holding a couple, who appeared to be heading towards the festival.  Both men had knives at their throats while a couple of bandits were rifling through their cart.  As Xena moved purposefully forwards a woman stepped forward.  “Good of you to join us, Xena.  I knew you’d come.”

Xena snarled at her and stepped forward.  The woman held up her hand.  “Uh-uh-uh, not any nearer Xena, or they get it.”  Xena kept her eyes on the woman and remained rooted to the spot.

“And lose the weapons,” said a male voice.  Its owner stood beside the woman and it became apparent to Xena that they were related somehow, as they were so similar.  They were both tall and rakishly thin, the man taller than Xena, and both with sandy hair.  Xena’s eyes took in the entire environment.  The couple were being held too far apart to get a good chakram toss in; one of them would certainly perish.  No at present the best thing was to keep them talking.  She could hear the bard’s breathing behind her.  At present they had said nothing about her weapon, if needed she could use the staff. 

“The weapons,” the male voice repeated and Xena rolled her eyes and threw her sword into the ground equal-distance between her and the male and female leaders.  She then threw the chakram so it sat on her sword’s hilt.

“Thank you Xena.  You’ll find that we are not unreasonable,” the woman said.  She turned to the men holding the captives.  “Kill them.” She said quietly.

Xena watched in horror as within second both captives lay on the ground in pools of blood.  “Gods”, she heard Gabrielle sob.  Fighting back her revulsion and her wish to exact a painful and bloody revenge she stared at the woman.

“They were bait,” the woman said with a shrug, “they did their job.  It’s you we want Xena.”  She turned to the other gang members.  “We want them both alive, for now.  GO!”

Xena leapt into a forward summersault landing by her sword and chakram. In a fluid movement she picked her chakram up and threw it, cutting the throats of two opponents that were on coming.  Before it returned to her, she had picked up her sword and moved to engage in another two.  Her anger at more senseless deaths fuelled her fight and within five strokes another lay dead at her feet.  She could hear wood on metal and the bard grunting to know that Gabrielle was fighting for all she was worth.  She wasn’t in a position to turn around yet as her opponent was a proficient fighter.  However he solely appeared interested in disabling Xena not killing her and that allowed Xena an opening, which she took, embedding her sword deep into his chest.  As he dropped to the floor, she started to pull it out; Xena heard a cry that made her go cold.  Gabrielle had been slashed across her left arm and had fallen back.  Two thugs were walking slowly and menacing towards her, swords raised.  Distracted, Xena never saw the blow coming and she fell to the floor still keeping her eyes on Gabrielle.  Gods please no, she thought as one of the thugs grabbed the bard’s staff and threw it away and then held her, and the other held a sword at her stomach.  Xena was on her knees and never felt so helpless.  Her heart was thumping in her chest, her mouth went dry and the words she tried to speak wouldn’t come out.  Her stomach was heaving and she could feel the tears welling up in her eyes.    Gabrielle mouthed I’m sorry.  Xena nearly lost it there but was distracted by the sounds of clapping coming from the woman.  Xena’s sword was kicked away and she was grabbed by two soldiers, hauled to her feet and dragged towards the tall man and woman.  She kept her eyes on the bard who was still being held with a sword against her stomach.    She tore her eyes away and focused on the pair.    The woman moved towards her.  She was carrying a small brown sack which she was happily swinging by her side.  The man made his way towards Gabrielle and Xena could see his eyes lighting up, and he licked his lips as he surveyed the bard’s body.  “Leave her,” growled Xena.  “What do you want?” She saw the bard shake her head almost imperceptibly and Xena knew what she was trying to tell her; don’t give them what they want because of me.  “Xena, Xena, Xena, what a pleasure to meet you.”  The woman walked around Xena keeping her distance.  The man continued to ogle Gabrielle.  “I’m Claudine and this is my brother Lindos.  We’re your biggest fans. Fans of the Warrior princess, destroyer of Nations, that is.”

Xena winced when she heard those names.  “Funny way of showing it,” said Xena defiantly and winced as one of the soldiers backhanded Gabrielle, on Claudine’s nod.

“You have changed, Xena,” said Claudine. “And not for the better.  I wouldn’t answer back Xena because it’s your little friend that will suffer.  Now be a good girl and she won’t get hurt.”

“No Xena, ignore her,” cried Gabrielle but this time instead of a slap Lindos approached her and started kissing her roughly and putting his hands on her rear.

“Stop, please,” cried Xena with tears in her eyes.  When she could see Gabrielle’s face she could see she had tears rolling down her face.  “What do you want me to do?”

“NO!” yelled Gabrielle.  Xena stared at her pleading with her to understand.  She didn’t want to lose the bard again.  She was sure she wouldn’t be able to survive, the past few months had shown her that.  Whatever it took to keep Gabrielle safe, it was a small price to pay.  For once this wasn’t her past catching up with her, yet Gabrielle might still suffer.  When would it ever end?  Please keep her safe, she thought.  Maybe she could buy a bit of time to get out of this mess.  She could see Gabrielle’s eyes pose the question, but she shook her head.  For the moment trying to break free was too dangerous.  Not with a sword pointed at Gabrielle’s stomach and the soldiers happy to kill if necessary.  She turned to face Claudine who now had a water skin in her hand.  “All I want Xena is for you to take a drink.  Take a drink and your little friend is safe.”

“Don’t Xena.  Please don’t!”  Gabrielle’s voice was desperate as she yelled.  Xena saw the sword move towards the exposed skin slowly and a few drops of crimson red blood make their way down the bard’s taut stomach muscles.  Xena looked at Claudine and nodded.  The woman had a gleeful expression as she drew an ornate challis out of the sack.  It was five inches tall and solid gold.  There were several jewels around it as well as markings in a language Xena didn’t recognise.  She racked her memories to think of any challis that fitted this description but couldn’t think of any.  Claudine then poured the water into the challis and moved towards Xena.  “It’s from your own water skin, Xena, its water.”  The men tightened their grip as Claudine stood in front of Xena.  She bent down and tipped the water into Xena’s mouth.  Xena stared at Gabrielle, hoping to impart the feelings of love and regret that she was feeling, and saw them mirrored in the bard’s eyes.  As Gabrielle mouthed I love you, Xena swallowed.  Claudine turned to the men holding Gabrielle and said, “Keep the brat quiet,” and one man gave Gabrielle an elbow to the head.  Dazed she fell to the ground, anxiously watching Xena, and one of the soldiers holding her placed his large hand over her mouth making it impossible for her to talk.

She could see Xena finish drinking the water and she dropped the challis silently to the ground.  She looked away, slowly, and to Gabrielle she appeared totally confused, and unaware of her surroundings.  Gabrielle tried to cry out but it only came out as a muffled yell.  She could hear Claudine speak quietly to the dazed Xena. “Your name is Xena, and you are part of my army.  Do you understand?”

Xena nodded dumbly, and Gabrielle gave another cry which came out muted.  She watched as the confusion in Xena’s eyes was replaced with cold steel.  Xena licked her lips as she spotted Gabrielle being held.  She gave a smile.  Gabrielle felt chilled after seeing Xena’s smile, like one a predator may give to its prey. Xena walked purposefully towards Gabrielle.  The soldiers let her go and Gabrielle lay on the ground watching as her partner approached.  “Xena, Xena it is me, Gabrielle,” said the bard as Xena approached.  Xena looked at her without an ounce of recognition and kicked her in the ribs.  Gabrielle screamed and Xena repeated the action twice and moved away, smiling.  Gabrielle was left sobbing and curled into a ball.  She looked up at Xena who now had a look of pleasure on her face.  Xena bent down and gripped Gabrielle’s hair tightly. “Xena please it’s me,” said Gabrielle again.

“So you’ve said, dear,” she replied in a sarcastic tone.  “And just who are you?”  She tugged Gabrielle’s hair again and she whimpered. 

“Well?” said Xena more harshly and as well as tugging on her hair again she jabbed her fingers quickly in the side of Gabrielle’s neck.  The bard gasped and tried to take deep breaths.  She kept looking at Xena, but that wasn’t Xena, merely the body of her.  Where her memories and personality had gone Gabrielle was unsure but she felt very afraid for them both.

“Your friend,” gasped Gabrielle.  Her vision was darkening and the pressure and pain in her head increasing.  She knew that begging would do no good.  Oh Xena, what have they done to you, thought the bard. Would she remember eventually what she had done?  What would the knowledge do to her?  The bard watched as Claudine moved towards Xena and placed her hand on her shoulder.  “Good work, dear.”    Xena merely sneered.  “That’s her taken care of-“

“No!”  Lindos strode forward.  He turned to his sister.  “Please sis, let me have her.”  Gabrielle watched the exchange with sickening realisation.  She had little doubt what Lindos wanted with her.  Her lifeline was nearly extinguished, which was the lesser of two evils, to die now at Xena’s hand or to be raped then murdered by Lindos?  Claudine stared at her brother for several heartbeats and then at Xena.  Xena wiped the blood from Gabrielle’s face and tasted it and smiled.  “Go on then boy, have your pleasure.  Although I doubt a runt like that will give you much satisfaction. “  And with that Xena jabbed her fingers in Gabrielle’s neck again.  She took deep breaths in and closed her eyes trying to stop the dizziness.  She needed to get a clear head to think how to get out of this mess but she knew the situation was bleak.  Evil Xena was back and she was being handed over for certain death.

“Just make sure you kill her afterwards.  He wants her dead.”  Claudine turned away from Gabrielle and motioned to Xena.  Xena turned without a glance backwards at Gabrielle.  Lindos moved between the soldiers and Gabrielle. “You go, this will be my pleasure.”  He held Gabrielle tight as the two men laughed and winked at him.  They scurried off and Gabrielle watched as Claudine spoke quietly to Xena and after handing her chakram and sword they walked away.  Gabrielle’s painful thoughts of Xena were interrupted by Lindos.  He pushed her back against a tree and started to kiss her roughly while his hands started to fondle her breasts and tear the green top off her. Gabrielle struggled and moved from side to side trying to avoid his mouth.  He moved down her body kissing her roughly as he descended.  Gabrielle frantically moved about and tried to push him away with her hands.  She could feel herself beginning to panic, as that feeing spread through her the fight started to leave her.  Xena wouldn’t be coming to rescue her; the Gods only knew what was going to happen to her as she appeared to be controlled by darkness once more.  Her strength waning Gabrielle tried to fight Lindos, when she heard the most welcome sound in her life; Argo.  The palomino galloped towards the distracted Lindos who never heard her coming.  Gabrielle watched as Argo’s nose butted the blonde’s head.  Dazed he fell to the ground, and Gabrielle regained her wits, inspired by the actions of Xena’s steed.  As he tried to rise shakily to his feet she kicked him in the head.  He fell to the ground blood pumping from his broken nose and Gabrielle kicked him again, finally rendering him unconsciousness.  Her anger and frustration was evident now but she managed to stop herself from kicking him a third time.  Shaking she grabbed hold of Argo’s saddle.  She felt drained, physically and emotionally, and at that moment her stomach rebelled and she bent over and vomited its contents.  Gabrielle felt light-headed and dizzy but realised she had no time to waste.  She needed help and fast.  She stood up, gave Argo a pat, straightened her clothes and grabbed her staff that had been discarded.  She then looked around at the area where her life had changed so dramatically.  Argo nudged her, and despite her painful ribs she pulled herself up onto her back with a sharp intake of breath and a whimper. 

Gabrielle was grateful that at least Argo knew where she was going. She clutched the horse’s broad neck crying bitterly into the pale hair.   She wasn’t sure what had happened to Xena, but she had no memories of her and enjoyed inflicting pain.  Gabrielle wept for the loss of her soulmate and the unrecognisable person who had taken her place.  She wiped her eyes and took several shallow breaths to calm herself.  Now was not the time to break down.  She winced as the various bruises and cuts were beginning to ache.    Thank the gods Hercules, Iolaus and Joxer were close by in Renwa.  They could help.  Argo kept a steady, gentle pace, seemingly aware of the discomfort Gabrielle was in.  The thought of Xena out there for any longer than was necessary chilled her.

An hour later a prostrate Lindos was being kicked awake by an extremely annoyed Claudine.  “Hey!” he yelled and rubbed his head and slowly started to get up.  In an instant a sword was at his throat.  “Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you,” said Xena in a hoarse whisper.  Lindos paled, urinated involuntarily and opened and closed his mouth like a fish struggling for air.  “Where’s the girl?”  She asked and moved her sword away from his throat and re-sheathed it. ”I take it she bested you, you dolt.”  Lindos scrambled up, embarrassed of the wet patch on his trousers.  Claudine walked to him and slapped him around the head as if she was scolding a child.  “Brother this is no time to be feeding your libido.  We’ve got Xena.  Soon we’ll have towns and cities bowing towards us.”

“She’s just one woman.  Hardly going to get Corinth quaking in their boots, is she,” Lindos retorted, angry at losing his prize and embarrassed by his sister.  She was always bossing him around, nothing changed.

In a flash he was being held up several inches off the ground by strong hands around his neck.  “Oh they will quake,” said Xena coolly looking up at Lindos.  “They will quake.”

“Idiot!” said Claudine sharply.  “They’ll see Xena riding at the head of a large army.  They’ll have heard about our victories and they’ll be bowing towards us.” She nodded and Xena let Lindos drop to the floor with a crash.

“So what’s next?” asked Lindos wiping his bloody nose with his sleeve.

“We need to get a few more.  Xena cut our numbers.  There are a few smaller villagers, sack them build an army and then we can start to think of larger towns, or maybe take over an army or two.  Agreed Xena?”

“If it involves fighting, count me in.”  The warrior princess took a deep breath in and thought of the evolving darkness that was within her.   You’ll be fed, soon.

“I swear it was this big.”  Joxer held his hands two feet apart and then gradually moved them closer together.

“That’s more like it,” said Iolaus with a laugh as he held his thumb and forefinger a couple of inches apart.

“Hey,” said Joxer indignantly and his two companions laughed as not watching where he was going he bumped into an extremely large street vendor.  Hercules quickly moved in between them to smooth any ruffled feathers.  “Sorry, he didn’t mean it, he’s just-“

“Joxer,” said Iolaus with a sigh. The street vendor gave Joxer a cold stare and Joxer visibly shuddered.  They walked quickly through the crowded streets.  Although it was dusk the streets were packed with street vendors, entertainers and crowds of people enjoying the sights and sounds of the festival.  Renwa was famous for its sea food and fish and every year they thanked Poseidon for the safe return of their fishermen as well as the bountiful catch they had throughout the year.  Like most festivals it had grown and eager town officials were happy to foster its growth as it bought welcome revenue to the town’s coffers.  Iolaus being a keen fisherman had visited the festival many times before dragging Hercules along and they decided it would be the ideal place to meet the bard and warrior princess.  They were strolling to the inn where they were staying and they had booked a room for the absent pair.  Joxer had advised them of the delay caused by Gabrielle’s sickness and having experienced Joxer’s cooking Iolaus could sympathise. 

“So are you going to try again tomorrow?” Hercules turned to Joxer, but the would-be –warrior had stopped in the middle of the road.  He was staring in the distance, and the suddenly uttered, “Argo!” and started to run.  Hercules and Iolaus followed the direction he had headed in with their eyes and once they had registered it was indeed Xena’s horse they went running after Joxer.

“No, no, no,” repeated Joxer as he neared the horse.  He could see a bloodied, dirty and exhausted Gabrielle passed out but her arms circling Argo’s neck.  Hercules and Iolaus reached them and they exchanged a look of horror.  Wordlessly Hercules gently eased the bard off Argo, who stood patiently waiting.  Joxer gathered up several of the travel sacks, knowing that Xena kept a good supply of medicines and bandages.  Iolaus lead Argo to the stables at the back of the inn.

The patrons watched with interest as the large man entered the inn and then sprinted up the steps unhindered by the small cargo in his arms.  Joxer followed quietly holding a staff and a couple of bags. 

Hercules pushed open the door to his room with his back and strode over to the bed.  He gently laid Gabrielle on the bed.  Joxer went to the bags and started to root around in it until he found the medicine sack.  There was a knock on the door and Joxer walked over to it and opened it.  Marius, the inn keeper, was standing there with a large pot of steaming water and behind him his wife had several sheets to be used as bandages.  “Can we get you anything else?” the old man asked kindly.  He was fond of Iolaus as he returned each year to his inn for the festival and he had grown to like Hercules and Joxer.  He knew that they were expecting their friends and knew of the bard’s reputation and hoped she would tell some of her famous stories.  He was genuinely saddened by the apparently tragic turn of events.

“We should be fine.  We have all done some healing in the past but if we do require assistance we will call you.  Thank you Marius.”  Hercules spoke with an assurance he did not feel.  Marius nodded and both he and Helena walked out of the room as Iolaus entered it.  Joxer shut the door and joined Hercules by the bed.  Iolaus started ripping up the sheets. 

They gazed down at the unconscious bard.   Her neck and chest had several scratch marks and one bite mark.  There were bruises forming on both upper arms, and a sword wound that had been bleeding as well as several ugly purple looking bruises on her stomach was a small gash.  She was covered in sheen of sweat and looked pale and haggard.  Iolaus started to wash her face gently while Joxer held her hand.  He didn’t want to vocalise what they were thinking.  To see Gabrielle in this state, arrive on Argo without Xena.  Joxer inhaled deeply.   It was too horrible to contemplate, and so tragic just as they had been reunited.

 As Iolaus gently washed her face, Gabrielle’s eyes fluttered opened.  She looked around and seeing the three faces, gave a sigh of relief and started to cry silently.  Iolaus stopped his washing and held her.  Hercules went to the table and poured a mug of apple juice.  Joxer and Iolaus gently helped Gabrielle into a sitting position and Hercules handed her the mug.  She drunk thirstily and finished rapidly.  Hercules took the mug from her and went back to the table and again filled the mug.  Joxer squeezed Gabrielle’s hand and she squeezed it back gently.  As Hercules walked back to the bed and held the mug out again Gabrielle said “Thank you.”  Her voice was croaky and hoarse.  She drank about half of the juice and rested the mug on the bed, her hand still wrapped around it.  She closed her eyes to prepare her self, to reassure her self it wasn’t a horrible nightmare.  But when she opened them up, there was still the three expectant faces looking at her.

They were all desperate to know what had happened yet dreaded what the bard may say.  Finally Joxer dived in, “What happened, Gabby?”   Gabrielle shut her eyes again and a tear escaped.  She opened them up again and her face was an expression of anguish. 

“Xena was forced to drink from a challis and then she changed, in front of my eyes.  She didn’t remember me at all.  She changed into-” She didn’t want to vocalise what she saw.  It was so horrible, yet she had to.  “She became cruel, almost as if she was-.”

“Consumed by darkness?” Hercules finished the sentence and Gabrielle nodded and then broke down.  Iolaus gently wrapped his arms around her whilst the other two watched anxiously.

“Was the challis about so big, solid gold, jewel encrusted?”  Hercules motioned the size with his hands and Gabrielle pulled away from Iolaus’s embrace, looked up and nodded.  Hercules continued.  “It sounds like the Challis of Hectate.”  He smiled weakly at the three confused looks he was given.  Believe it or not the Gods used to interfere even more with mortal lives than they do now.  Hard to believe, I know.  We’ve all suffered thanks to them.”  He looked around at his friends who were nodding understandingly. 

“They were always putting spells on mortals to do their bidding-to fight for them, kill other people, that sort of thing.”  Hercules paused and gazed at all his friends.  He gave an ironic smile.  “Unbelievably Hera was the one who put a stop to it.  She said mortals should control their own lives, without so much Godly interference.”  Hercules looked away out of the windows for a moment, and once he had composed himself he turned back.  “Of course some Gods still tried to bend the rules and so they would enchant certain objects.  That way they could control mortals if they wished, without the spell being traced back to them and suffer whatever punishment Hera had devised.”

“So you think this Challis was enchanted?” asked Iolaus thoughtfully.

“I know so.  The Challis of Hetate was made by Hephaestus for Hectate and she enchanted it to ensure that the drinker loses everything.  Everything. That wasn’t your Xena.   No memories, conscience, only a sensation of darkness that envelopes them.  They just want to satisfy their blood lust.”   Hercules took a deep breath.  It was painful for him to talk this way of one of his closest friends.

  “When Artemis and Athena found out about the objects they destroyed them.   That was centuries ago but I assume they weren’t all destroyed.”

There was silence as they all ingested what Hercules had said.  Joxer started to dress Gabrielle’s wounds.  The bard stared into space trying to understand what had happened over the last couple of hours.

“Who do you think is behind it?” said Joxer breaking the silence. 

“Ares?” said Iolaus with a tinge of disgust in his voice.

“Could be him.  It’s his style.” said Hercules thoughtfully.

“He.  She said “he”,” said Gabrielle excitedly, suddenly remembering something that had tickled the back of her mind.   

“Gabrielle, can you tell us what else happened.”  Hercules looked sympathetic and Gabrielle nodded.  Gabrielle related the whole story, describing Claudine and Lindos in detail and how Xena changed.  She played down her injuries and the attempted rape by Lindos.  She didn’t mention either that she was now convinced that Ares plan was for her to die. 

Her friends glared at her, horror written across their faces.  Gabrielle tried to keep the tears from falling.  It was hard for her to think of the person she loved so much, that loved her had no memories of her and felt nothing towards her.  She knew she would never lose the memory of Xena putting the pinch on her and leaving her for dead.  It would haunt her for the rest of her life. 

Hercules interrupted her thoughts. “I don’t recognise these pair, did Xena?”  Gabrielle shook her head.  “I do believe they’ve had some divine intervention, and if Xena is involved I would guess it is Ares.”  Hercules paused and looked kindly at the bard. 

“What do we do?” asked Joxer kindly.

“There is a cure.”  Instantly three pairs of eyes fixed on Hercules.  “The Oil of Lanius.  I vaguely remember being told about it.”  The demi God frowned as he tried to remember.

There was silence as the others watched him pondering.

He looked up, “You know her best, Gabrielle, what would she do next?  I mean Xena Warrior Princess; Head of an army.”

Gabrielle took a deep breath in, closed her eyes and considered what Xena the warlord would do.  She knew her inside out; they had discussed strategy, tactics and ploys.  She had watched her closely for over three years.  Xena had told her of her mistakes, her regrets, her errors.  She knew Xena like no other.  But this wasn’t just Xena.  This was a darker more menacing Xena.  But she still had the intelligence and astuteness that set her apart even as a young girl growing up.  And she was being led by two apparent disciples of Ares.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and looked at her friends.

“She would want more men.  There couldn’t have been more than a dozen men, and they weren’t that well trained and certainly not organised.  She’ll take a few villages, for supplies, to show her strength, round up some recruits and then take over someone’s army.  That’ll give her large manpower.  Then she’ll keep doing a raid here and there but most time will be drilling.  Xena liked a well drilled structured army.”  Gabrielle spoke efficiently and without emotion.

“So what’s the plan, Herc?” asked Iolaus.

“Can you get our map out of the bags please, Iolaus?”  Iolaus tipped out a bag while Joxer handed Gabrielle some fruit.  She nodded her head in thanks and gingerly bit into the apple.  The adrenaline had worn off and her bruises and cuts were aching and her stomach was doing cartwheels.  Iolaus lay the map over the bed.  Hercules was lost in thought trying to remember anything he had been told, but shook himself mentally and focused on the map.

“She headed away from Renwa?”  Gabrielle nodded.  They pored over the parchment.  “They won’t want to hit anywhere too big yet, not having the man power.”

Iolaus pointed to a couple of small dots on the map.  “Those are small enough villages.  As Gab says, build up the army get supplies.”

“That’s a day or so from here,” said Joxer quietly.

“The Amazons,” whispered Gabrielle urgently and pointed to a large area on the map.  “Gods, you don’t think they’ll head there?”  Gabrielle started to breath erratically and tried to rise from the bed.

“Calm down, Gabrielle.  She won’t try for the Amazons yet, not until she has more men.”

Gabrielle looked at Hercules and took in a deep breath and settled back on the bed.

“I can’t remember any more about the oil.  I hate doing this but I’ll have to ask my family for help.”  Hercules looked uncomfortable.

“Would Hephaestus know?”  Asked Gabrielle.  She stared at the three surprised faces.  “He created it so it’s a good chance he’ll know what to do.  He wouldn’t have anything to gain from a rampaging army, so he may help.

“Hephaestus, Gab, he’s not exactly, well he’s not-“Iolaus struggled to find the right words.

“He’s not the first God you’d call on to help, is he,” said Joxer.  “It’s like wanting Hercules and getting-well-me.”

“They’re right.  Now lets-“Hercules was interrupted by Gabrielle calling,

“HEPHASTUS!   Great God of Art help us.  Please.”  The last word was a plea and to everyone’s surprise there was a flash of light and a large, sweaty man materialised. He limped to the bed and took Gabrielle’s hand.  “Thank you my child for your call and especially your faith in me.”  He positively beamed at her but his countenance darkened as he gazed at the three men who suddenly found the floor interesting.  “I may not be a strong, powerful God, or even a whole man,” he stopped and Gabrielle tightened her grip on him, “but I will help you in any way I can.”

“Thank you,” said Gabrielle with a smile, and the crippled god again beamed.

 “How can I help you?”

“We think that someone has got hold of The Challis of Hectate. They are building an army and Xena has drunk from it. She’s changed Heph.  We need help.”

The God looked at Gabrielle with compassion in his eyes.

“I am sorry,” Hephaestus looked thoughtful.  “I feel responsible.  I should have realised that Hectate was planning something when she asked me for the challis.  She’s as trustworthy as Ares.” He paused and Gabrielle squeezed his hand.  He looked thoughtful as he spoke.  “You know about the oil of lanius?” 

They all nodded.  “I can’t remember much about it, Heph,” said Hercules sadly.

“Just a drop needs to enter the afflicted,” he said.  “Once ingested the oil, they return to themselves immediately. And the memories of what they have done start to hit them.  It’s so cruel.”  Hephaestus took Gabrielle’s hand. “Imagine being infected.  You are consumed by darkness maybe murder your friends, your family, do unspeakable things” Hephaestus spoke quietly and continued to grip Gabrielle’s hand.  He looked into the green eyes that were full of pain.  He smiled a weak smile and squeezed her hand.  “You come back to consciousness and find them dead.  You grieve and are in shock.  The memories come back.  Imagine the pain, the madness that would follow.  Many can’t live with the guilt.”  There was silence while they digested this information.  “Gods can be petty and malicious.”  He said tonelessly.

“Not all of them,” said Hercules and strode towards the seated God with his hand held out.  “Sorry for doubting you, Heph.  I can see what Sis sees in you.”  The God blushed and broke out in an embarrassed smile.  “I assume a God is behind it?  Do you know who?”

“Ares we think,” said Iolaus.

“Should have known.”  There was a pause. “Have you a plan Hercules?”

“We need more man power.  We are guessing they will recruit more before moving onto bigger cities.”

“Would woman power do?” said Gabrielle quietly.  “The Amazons, they’ll help.”

“I can deliver the message,” said Joxer eager to help.

“Great idea Gab,” said Iolaus warmly.

“I can make you crossbows and darts, a pinprick will be enough.”

“We can surround their camp, send darts in return everyone back to normal,” said Hercules.  “I’ll get the oil; I know where to get it from.”  He pointed at the map.  “Let’s rendezvous here, in what three days.”  He gazed at Gabrielle.  “Don’t worry we’ll get her back.”

Gabrielle pushed herself up in bed.  “I want to help.  I need to help Xena.”

“The best way you can help Xena is to get well,” said Iolaus.  “We’re staying here.”  At that point Gabrielle opened her mouth to say something but Iolaus cut her off.  “No Gabrielle, you’ve done enough, let us help.”  Gabrielle looked at the four men in the room and she slumped back into bed.  She felt frustrated and useless-feelings that she had been feeling all too frequently.  She watched as Joxer and Hercules stared to get themselves ready to leave.  Time was of the essence.  She thought of something she could do.   At last she could feel useful “Iolaus could you hand me that bag. Joxer I’ll write you a note for Ephiny.”

“Sure Gab” and the small blonde man gave her the bag with a smile. She started to write to one of her dearest friends.  She had little doubt they would help.  Not just because it was her asking but their concern at the potential rise of Xena the warlord again.

“We’re ready,” said Hercules nervously.  Gabrielle handed Joxer the hastily written scroll.    Hercules bent down and they embraced tightly.  Within moments Joxer had taken his place and she kissed him on the cheek.  “Thank you for what you have done, and what you are doing,” she said in a broken whisper.

“Remember she’s not your Xena,” said Hercules.  It had come out harsher than he meant and so he smiled to soften the words.  “But we’ll get her back.  We’ll see you in a couple of days.” 

She watched her two friends leave leaving her with Iolaus and Hephaestus.  They exchanged nervous looks.  Iolaus sat on the side of the bed offering her another drink.  Hephaestus stood by the table watching.  The Deity was unaccustomed to spending time with mortals, although he had always taken an interest in them.  He was very rarely called upon by mortals, other than blacksmiths when cursing.  He had felt a thrill when he heard Gabrielle’s cry and was excited at being called upon and now able to help.

“Can you tell us anything more about the challis?”  Gabrielle cut into his thoughts.

“I’ve told you most of it.  I have to say, I am surprised Ares found it.  I would have thought Athena or Artemis would have destroyed it.”

“It can be destroyed?” said Iolaus and Gabrielle in unison. Gabrielle sat up quickly.

Hephastus looked at the pair staring at him.  “Yes,” he said suddenly feeling nervous. 

“How?” said Gabrielle and Iolaus again in unison and they exchanged a look.

“A hammer that Hera enchanted.  That enchantment will break the spell as well as destroy the challis.”

“Do you have the hammer?” asked Gabrielle, suddenly feeling positive.  Iolaus looked at her and opened his mouth to argue.  He knew what she was going say; it was what he would do if it had been Hercules.

“Yes, I do-“

“I’m going to destroy the challis,” said Gabrielle quickly.

“No way Gab.”  Said Iolaus with a hint of panic in his voice.  Hephaestus watched one then the other.

“I have to try.  I have to do something,” she said quietly.  “I need to do something for her.”

“Gabrielle, you are in no fit state.”

“It’s just bruises, Iolaus.  And weariness.  A good night sleep and I’ll be fine.  We can destroy it and at least no one else will be affected.  Please.”  Gabrielle’s lip trembled and her eyes were full of pain.  There was silence for several seconds and then Iolaus nodded and said, “OK, but I’m coming with you.  We’ll set off tomorrow,” said the short blond man in a tone that left no room for argument.

“I’ll deliver it to you in the morning.  Now I must go crossbows and darts to build.   It’s good to be of use,” he said quietly with a hint of pride.

“I know.  Thank you,” said Gabrielle warmly and the God lent forward and kissed her and whispered in her ear so only Gabrielle could hear him, “I see why my wife takes such an interest in you.”  He straightened up and in a flash he was gone. 

There was peace in the room only broken when Iolaus got up off the bed.  “Sleep time for little bards,” he grinned.   Her eyes welled up with more tears.  Would she stop crying she wondered? She needed to focus, and at least now she had something to focus on.  “Stay please,” she whispered.

“Of course,” said Iolaus and he drew up a chair and sat down.  By the time he turned to say good night to the bard she was sound asleep.

“You don’t have to do this, Iolaus,” said Gabrielle for the fifth time.

“As I’ve said before, I want to.”  Iolaus grinned.  “I can’t let Herc and Joxer have all the fun now can I?”

Gabrielle smiled weakly.  She had slept well, no doubt thanks to the herbs that Joxer had put in her juice.  Her wounds were painful but not infected; It was her spirit that was most damaged.  Hephaestus had delivered the hammer as promised and they were readying their mounts.

“It’ll be fine Gab.  We’ll get Xena back.”

Gabrielle nodded mutely and mounted Argo wincing a little.  “She’s worked so hard fighting for good.  And now-“Gabrielle’s lip trembled and she blinked the tears away.  “It’s not her fault.  It’s not.”

“I know.  Come on let’s destroy that challis.  Then at least we can have some good news to take back to the others when we meet up.”

With a shake of the reins both horses started their long gallop.

She took a deep breath in as she surveyed the small village.  It may only be a handful of houses but it was perfect she thought.  It would allow them to gain supplies and recruits and help satisfy the darkness that was tugging at her every fibre.  She looked around at her men.  Ha, she sneered they were hardly elite fighting force but she didn’t care.  All she cared about was feeding the darkness, satisfying her lustShe gave the signal and they calmly walked into the unsuspecting village.  The village was small but today was market day so it was bustling and busier than most days.   In the village centre there was a fountain, honouring Poseidon and a bell that was rung as an alarm or in celebration when there was a wedding or a villager gave birth.  Xena made her way to the bell and rung it.


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