Anaxilea slept fitfully, awakening herself from the nightmare. She looked around at her unfamiliar surroundings. The guest cottage was dark, but the warrior felt the heartbeat of another in the room with her. <No,> two <heartbeats,> she thought to herself, making her way over to the other bed. The dark-haired woman slept deeply - indeed, Lucina had cried herself to sleep after the three queens had told her of their visit to her mother, although Lucina had expected nothing else. The young woman was grateful to the Amazons, for Melys had told her that she might stay with them forever if she wished. Even the Warrior Queen had been kind to her - well, at least Lucina could tell she was trying, anyway.
Anaxilea gazed down at the sleeping woman. Lucina's dark hair was swept back on the pillow, exposing her slender neck. Anaxilea withdrew a dagger.
<It would be soooo easy,> she thought darkly. <One move - it would be painless - and two lives, especially the life of the unborn - how much time would that buy for me away from the blood and the fire?>
Suddenly, Anaxilea backed away in horror, realising what she was contemplating. She dropped the dagger, which landed silently on the rug covering the polished wooden floor of the cottage and ran outside. As she stood there, gulping lungfuls of the cool night air, the last vestiges of the nightmare receded from her mind. Anaxilea glanced back once at the door of the cottage, then ran off into the woods terrified of what she might do if she didn't get away.
She ran deep into the forest, into the darkest part where the trees grew so close together their leaves blocked even what faint light shown from the stars and the slim crescent of moon. Still, Anaxilea made her way through the trees, oblivious to the owl which flew from tree to tree after her, watching carefully ...
The morning dawned and as usual, Xena arose first glancing fondly at the still sleeping priestess. There was a lot on the warrior's mind this morning. She was still trying thinking about Michael's remark. Xena was tired of being "played" and used by the various pantheons - almost, she wished she could spite them all and do nothing. Then she looked again at Melys. The priestess had slept restlessly most of the night and Xena knew that she had been "working" in her sleep. At that moment the warrior resolved that she had to make her own daughter "small". The alternative was unthinkable.
Her thoughts wandered to her grand-daughter, Lucina. Xena shuddered at the thought of being a grandmother. <Although the way 'Ryn and Tecmessa are talking, it may be sooner than later ,> thought Xena. Then she chuckled softly. <What am I saying - Lucina is here - it already has happened.> Xena knew the magic of Themiscyreia was keeping her youth, as well as that of Melys, Gabrielle, and her own mother CyrenL. The twenty-five years she and Gabrielle had spent frozen had robbed her of Eve's childhood, but it had buffered the shock of seeing her daughter look so much older than herself.
Shaking her head, Xena thought of their youngest daughters and Gabrielle's. It might just be best if they did leave the Amazons. Painful, yes, but that would make sure that the "hope of the Amazon Nation" survived. And Xena had an idea just where they should go ... someplace safe, but also where she herself could keep an eye on them and make sure they were alright. No matter what Hekate might think, Xena was perfectly capable of keeping their identity and location a secret - even from Gabrielle and Melys, if necessary ...
Her morning reverie was interrupted by a knock on the cottage door. Xena answered to a sentry.
"Your Majesty - the warrior Anaxilea is missing," said the young girl, saluting.
"What do you mean 'missing'?" asked the warrior, one eyebrow raised.
"Her companion raised an alarm - Anaxilea's horse is still stabled and her things are still in the guest cottage she shared with Lucina, but the warrior herself is gone," reported the sentry.
"So, maybe she just went for a walk or something," said the warrior queen with a shrug.
"Yes, your majesty, but Lucina was quite insistent that we inform you," said the sentry.
"Okay, thanks," said Xena, closing the door after dismissing the young woman. "I wonder what that's all about?"
"What?" said Melys. Xena turned to see the priestess standing there, her dark hair still sleep-tousled.
"Apparently Anaxilea is missing - only her horse and belongings are still here," said Xena, shaking her head. "Lucina sent out the alarm. I suppose I'll have to remind her that this isn't the Elisian commune - people are allowed to take walks here."
"And they're not among the Elisians?" said Melys, frowning.
Xena shrugged. "The last time Gabrielle and I were there, Eve said that Eli told her that no one should leave the place alone," said the warrior. "Sounded like a load of ... well you know - to me, but that's what she said. Listen, 'Lys, about what Eve said to you - "
"Never mind that, Xena," said Melys, smiling and wrapping her warm arms around the warrior's waist.
"I should have said something to her, though," said Xena, quietly
"My Love, do you think that is the first time anyone ever called an Amazon a name?" said Melys. "We couldn't care less what people who refuse to understand us think of us. Eve was raised by Rome - her behaviour is no reflection on you. I only wish it were in my power to turn back time and let you raise her."
Xena smiled. "You would, too, wouldn't you?" said the warrior, quietly.
"Yes, I would," said Melys. "As it is, you do have a chance to know Lucina - and her child."
"Yeah, I do," said Xena. "Speaking of which, I need to go and have a talk with her this morning."
"Breakfast first?" said the priestess.
"Nah - I'll pick something up later," said the warrior. "I'll just go to drill from there. What are we going to with her, anyway?"
"What do you mean?" asked Melys, frowning.
"Well, what do you see her doing here with the Amazons after the baby is born?" asked Xena as she Melys walked back to the bedroom so the warrior could dress.
"That will be up to Lucina," said Melys. "Surely she has some skills to contribute to the Tribe."
"Yeah, but I can't see an Elisian among the Amazons," chuckled Xena.
"I've got news for you, my Warrior - Gabrielle is an Elisian and she does just fine," said Melys.
"Gabrielle fights," said Xena.
"Only when she has to - she follows Eli's Way with all her heart - she knows the truth of Eli's message and would die fighting to defend it," said Melys. "I also sense that there is more to Michael's message than his words."
"Like what?" asked Xena, frowning as she pulled a tunic over her head.
"He's trying to help us," said Melys, thoughtfully. "In his own nasty little way."
"You don't think he's just still pissed off at me for Lucifer?" said Xena.
"No - no, I think you played right into his plans for Lucifer in your own unique way," said Melys. "I just wish instead of all this deception and game-playing, he would be straightforward with us and just tell us what he wants - that archangel is more cryptic than the Delphic oracle." The priestess shook her head.
"I think I understand why," said Xena, quietly. "The archangels are the right hand of their god, the god of Eli. He looks at mortals as just so many children, with no capacity for wisdom or understanding. When Gabrielle and I were on the road, the first few years, I kept my plans to myself - how could a simple village girl possibly understand what the mind of a warlord was planning?"
"So how could mortals possibly understand the mind of a god?" said Melys, softly.
"Very good, Little Sister." Melys whirled around to see her brother, Ares standing there, nodding approval with a grin on his face.
"Ares, didn't our father ever teach you how rude it is to simply appear in someone's bedroom?" said Melys, scowling at the god.
"Nah - besides, I've appearing in Amazon bedrooms for centuries - none of them ever seemed to mind before," chuckled Ares.
"Yes, but Ares - they weren't your sister," said Melys, shaking her head, but smiling fondly at her brother.
"How many children do you have, anyway, Ares?" asked Xena, quietly. Something about the god's presence triggered something deep in her mind and it now gnawed away at her, trying to come to her consciousness.
"Amazon?" asked the god of war.
"Any - how many?" asked Xena.
"I have no idea," said Ares, proudly. "There were two that I know of, but one was the Destroyer and he's dead."
"No, she isn't," said Melys, quietly, gazing at the amulet which hung from the god's neck. She had seen that design elsewhere very recently and now she struggled to remember where.
"What?" said Ares, staring blankly at his sister. "What do you mean, 'Lys?"
"We just heard - the Destroyer is not dead - and it's a she," said Xena, grimly.
Ares grew pale under his tanned skin. "How is that possible?" he asked.
"We don't know," said Melys. "But Hekate herself confirmed this - and she said the babies are in very grave danger."
"We all are," said Ares. "What are we going to do?"
"'We'?" said Xena, with a slight smile. "Since when do you volunteer for the dangerous jobs, Ares?"
"Since now," Ares said with a growl. "If the Destroyer is alive, then the gods are in big trouble."
"Ares the entire <world> is in trouble," said Melys.
"Okay, okay," said Ares. "So - what's the plan?"
"We don't have one yet," said Xena, frowning at the god. Suddenly, she remembered something. The warrior reached over and took the amulet, lifting it to look at it more closely. "I've seen this recently."
"So have I," said Melys. "I was just trying to remember where."
"Anaxilea - when she saluted - she this mark on her arm," said Xena. "It looks like a birthmark, but it was this symbol, right here."
"Xena, I saw that mark on Lucina's arm, too," said Melys, remembering.
"You son of a Bacchae!" cried the warrior, rearing back and planting one fist in the god's face with some force. Ares fell backward against the wall. "They're both your daughters! You were with Eve - <my daughter>!"
"Xena," said Melys, quietly and fearfully as Ares arose to his feet, blood streaming from his nose.
Xena looked, her eyes widening for a moment. "What does it mean?" asked the warrior, her voice barely above a whisper.
"I think ... I think you have the power to kill gods again," said Melys, going to her brother and helping him to clean up. "I'm just not sure how - or why?"
At that moment Gabrielle ran in, holding baby Melosa.
"Xena, Melys! There's trouble - Xenon and the Centaurs are in the council chamber, waiting for you," she gasped. Then she saw Ares, blood streaming from his nose. Melys found a handkerchief and pressed it to his face to stop the bleeding. "What happened?"
"I'm sorry, Ares," said Xena. "I ... just lost my temper for a minute."
"Hey, no problem," said Ares, grinning. He pulled the handkerchief away and the bleeding had stopped. The god snapped his fingers and all traces of the injury were gone. "It's gratifying to see that you haven't lost that fire, in spite of all this domestic bliss."
"Gabrielle, what's going on?" asked Melys.
"Apparently a Centaur hunting party was attacked early this morning by an Amazon," said Gabrielle. "She killed two of them and then took to the trees."
"An Amazon?" said Melys, shocked. "Who?"
"They didn't know her, but they assumed she was from this Tribe since it's the closest to the Centaur Village," said Gabrielle.
"Anaxilea," said Xena, quietly, but her eyes were like chips of ice. She looked at Ares. "I'd better not find out that you had anything to do with this."
"Xena! Why would I?" asked the god of war.
"I don't know - but she's your daughter," said the warrior. Melys leaned in close to Gabrielle and showed her the bloody handkerchief.
"So is Lucina," the priestess whispered and the bard nodded as understanding lit up her eyes.
"Come on, 'Lys, get dressed - we'd better not keep Xenon waiting," said the warrior, striding out of the room and pulling Ares behind her.
"Alright, Ares - what are you doing here?" asked the warrior after closing the door behind them. She knew that Melys would fill Gabrielle in on the morning's events.
"Honestly, Xena, I do not know," said Ares. "One minute I was lounging on Olympus with ... well, never mind." The god grinned, then quickly went back to his explanation at the look in Xena's eyes. "Anyway, I just felt a strong need to be here, in AemetzainL. I though it was you or Melys calling me - and you know when either of you calls me, I can't help but respond."
"Hm," said the warrior. "Maybe it was Lucina - the Elisian prayers start out with calling upon 'Abba" - which means 'Father' in their language. Outside of the Elisian compound, you would be able to hear her. So tell me something - how did you get to Eve?"
"Xena - that was a long time ago," said Ares, backing away.
"Relax - I'm not gonna hit you again," said Xena, smiling.
"Uh, you might when you hear this," said Ares.
"Spit it out," said Xena, arms crossed over her chest.
"I .. Uh .. I disguised myself and appeared in her bedroom," said Ares.
"Uh, huh - disguised as what?"
"Who ... or is it whom? ... actually," said Ares. "As Eli."
"Oh, of course," said Xena. "She didn't recognise you?"
"Yeah, actually she did - but she didn't ... um .. refuse me, even then," said Ares. "Only afterward, when I tried to convince her to come back to me - then she started talking about her 'sin' and trying to convert <me> to Eli's Way - that's when I knew it was never gonna happen, so I left and I haven't been back since - I didn't even know about Lucina."
"I believe you, Ares," said Xena
with a sigh. "If you had known about Lucina, you would have been all over that
compound, trying to recruit her - or at the very least, kidnap her."
"Sad, but true - but I've reformed now," said Ares. "So - what about the Centaurs?"
"I don't know - I really hope we can avert a war," said Xena with a sigh. "No offense, Ares."
"None taken - remember, technically, I'm no longer god of war," said Ares, wistfully. "Though I do still love a good battle."
"There's no such thing as a 'good' battle, Brother," said Melys emerging from the room. She had not simply thrown on a simple tunic and trousers, but was dressed as the priestess she was, in full ceremonial robes, cloak, and a veil over her braids and curls.
"Okay - we just have to agree to disagree on that point, Little Sister - wow, you look ... official," said Ares, whistling in appreciation. "Hey, can I borrow that design for my priests?"
"Ask Hekate," said Melys, absently. "Are we ready?"
"Evidently," said Xena, smiling at the priestess.
"Ares, can you do a 'god-thing' and - " began Melys.
"Disappear?" asked the god, disappointed.
"No - I want you at the meeting, but I think it would be better if the god of war was invisible," said Melys, smiling slightly.
"No problem," said Ares. He snapped his fingers and disappeared. "How's this?" came his voice.
"Perfect," said Melys. "Let's go." They took the children to the Lodge where Joxer and Meg were delighted to watch them until the Council adjourned. Romy looked at her mothers sadly.
"I wish I could go, too, <meia>," she said.
"Neiromei, it's not a place for little girls," said Melys, gently. "You have to be very quiet and very still. And I know how very difficult that is for you."
"But, <meia> I can if I hafta," said Romy, earnestly.
"I know you can," said Melys, wavering. <Romy is to be High Queen of the Amazon Nation - maybe she should start learning now,> thought the priestess. She and Xena had wanted to spare the little girl the burden of her royal birthright for as long as they could, but Melys remembered attending Council Meetings with her mothers and how special she felt to be allowed to be there among the adults. She looked at her young daughter's hopeful eyes and then to Xena, who nodded slightly. "Alright, Romy - but remember you must be very still and very, <very> quiet."
"Oh, I will, <meia>, I promise," said the little girl. "Will 'Ryn be there, too?"
"Yes, she will," said Xena, looking at Melys and smiling. "'Ryn is learning how to be a queen - and so should you."
"Me?" said Romy, scrunching up her little nose. "How come?"
"Never mind, Little One - just come on," said Melys, taking her daughter's hand and leading her to the council chamber.
The three queens entered the council chamber and saw the Centaurs, led by Xenon as well as the Amazon Council of Elders were already there, sitting in an uncomfortable silence. Xenon looked grim, but managed a small smile as the three queens came in with Neiromei. Melys felt some small relief - Xenon didn't want war either, she knew. Neiromei grinned back at Xenon and waved, breaking the silence as the entire chamber chuckled. The tension broken, Melys took her place at the head of the chamber. Romy watched as her older sister, Aryn stood beside Xena and both warriors took their protective stances behind the other two queens, Gabrielle and Melys. Romy herself stood in front of her mother, looking all about the council chamber wide-eyed.
"Greetings, Friends," said Melys, smiling at the assembly. "Now, can anyone tell me what has happened?"
"With respect, your majesty," said Xenon, inclining his head in a request to approach the three queens.
"Yes, Xenon," said Melys. She saw the grief in his eyes and wished she could be done with all the posturing and just give her friend the comfort of a hug.
Xenon came forward and bowed his head. "On behalf of the entire Centaur Nation, I would offer my apologies to you and your Tribe," he said.
"I don't understand," said Gabrielle, frowning in puzzlement. She looked to Melys and Xena. "Xenon, what happened?"
"A group of young Centaurs was hunting on Amazon lands this morning," said Xenon. "Apparently, they were caught and ... well, two of the party was executed. As stated in our treaty, the Amazons have every right to execute poachers on sight. We merely wish to extend our apologies for this breach and to assure you that it will never happen again."
"Executed ...?" said Melys, looking around the room. "I gave no orders for execution - did you, Xena?" The warrior shook her head. "Gabrielle?" The Bard looked at her.
"No, of course not," said Gabrielle.
"Xenon, I am sorry for your loss," said Melys, quietly. "I know what our treaty says, but even to me, it seems a rather harsh punishment for poaching."
"Yeah," said Xena. "I mean, I know that to young Centaurs, hunting on Amazon Lands is sort of challenge - and after all, what's a hare or two?"
Melys looked sharply at the warrior, then turned back to Xenon. "That aside, I assure you, Xenon that no execution was sanctioned by any of the queens of this Tribe. We will investigate this matter thoroughly and you keep you posted."
"Melys, the crime was ours," said Xenon, quietly.
"No, Xenon - if we have an Amazon executing people without our orders, this is a problem which must be addressed immediately," said Gabrielle.
"I know the practice has been to look the other way," said Xenon, noting Melys_s deep frown at his words. "But I also understand that this cannot be permitted. It is a breach of our treaty and young or not, the Centaurs responsible will be punished."
"Xenon, I would like to speak with them first, if I may," said Gabrielle. "We need a description of the Amazon responsible."
"Of course," said Xenon, nodding.
"Xenon, rest easy," said Melys, offering her friend a smile. "None of us want to go to war over this. I'm just very sorry those young people lost their lives."
"So am I," said the Centaur. "But at least we know that no one else will in war. Thank you, Ladies." He saluted the queens, then motioned for the other Centaurs to follow him out of the Council chamber. Melys turned to Xena after they were gone. Xena saw the look in her eyes and gestured for the council to be dismissed. She glanced uncomfortably down at Romy, who was gazing up at her mother in awe - Romy had never seen her mother in council and the child was impressed - she never knew her mother wielded such power!
"'Lys, um - can we discuss this at home?" asked the Warrior Queen.
"Look the other way?" said Melys, quietly. "Since when are my orders set aside? Do you know who - and what - lives in our forest? To allow hunting - even a hare or two - by anyone except Amazon Hunters is a breach of a sacred trust! Would you have me foresworn and bring that wrath upon our heads?"
"Melys, what are you talking about?" said Xena. Melys looked at Gabrielle.
"Xena, there is ... an entity ... living in the forest," said Gabrielle, glancing at Melys. "This Tribe swore to protect it."
"Why wasn't I told about that?" asked the Warrior Queen.
"You were - you dismissed it as nonsense," said Melys, shortly.
"Are you talking about ... that myth?" asked Xena, one eyebrow raised.
"It is not a myth," said Melys, firmly.
"Xena, I've seen it and so has Tecmessa," said 'Ryn.
"Okay," said Xena. "So what do you propose?"
"The next time anyone who doesn't belong there is caught in that forest, they should be escorted here to the Council Chamber and their elders contacted to come and pick them up," said Gabrielle. "That way, the other villages know what their younglings are up to - and we leave their punishment to their own people."
"It also gives us a chance to question them and make sure they've not seen it," said Melys. "And if they have ... well, I'm not averse to doing a little 'god-thing' to make sure they don't remember it."
"Excellent!" said Ares, materialising. "So - what fell creature are you harboring in your forest, Little Sister?"
"Never mind, Ares," said Xena, shaking her head.
"Aw come on - you can trust me," said the god.
"Ares, if I were to tell you, that would be breaking a trust," said Melys. "Only Amazons are to know that secret."
"Okay - you can't blame me for trying," said the god, disappearing. Xena held up one hand, listening.
"All the way, Ares," she said, dryly. "Go on - I know you have better things to do."
The god re-appeared, grinning. "I forgot you can do that," he said.
"So can I," said 'Ryn, frowning. "And Mother."
"Jeez, alright," said Ares, shrugging and disappearing with a bright flash.
"<Meia>, why don't you want <tandos> Ares to know about the funny horse in the forest?" asked Neiromei.
"How do <you> know about that, young Lady?" asked Xena, one brow raised. "You're not supposed to go into the forest by yourself."
"She didn't," said 'Ryn, quickly, catching the look in Melys_s eyes. "Tecmessa and I took her to see the unicorn."
Neiromei looked gratefully at her older sister, who winked at her.
"Why didn't you tell me, Romy?" asked Melys. Romy was quiet a moment. She had indeed been bursting to share that experience with her mothers, but she had held it inside. 'Ryn had taken her there for her first Initiation gift. Her big sister, whom Romy idolised, had told her that all the adults in the Tribe already knew this secret and now Romy was in on it, too. That fact had made the little girl feel very special, indeed. That she shared this secret with the adults was enough to keep her quiet. To have told even her mothers or <tanti> Gabrielle would have made the experience seem ... less, somehow.
"I can keep a secret," said Romy, solemnly. "Like in the Initiation Oath - I know how 'portant it is keep a promise an' I promised to keep the unicorn a secret - but you already knew, <meia>."
"Yes, I did," said Melys, looking at her young daughter, proudly. Then she looked sternly at Aryn. "Why, 'Ryn?"
"Mother ..." began the young warrior. "When I saw him, I just wanted to share that with Romy. I knew she could be trusted. She's a very special little girl. And he is so beautiful - I just wanted her to share in that. I can't explain it - you should have seen her face - it was magical."
"I would have liked to," said Melys, gently, seeing the beaming hero-worship on Neiromei's face at her older sister's words.
"Oh, Mother - of course you wanted to be the one to - I'm sorry, <Meia>," said 'Ryn, looking down.
"No, 'Ryn, that's alright - I'm glad you took Romy to see him," said Melys. The priestess had seen these two daughters growing closer since Selen had left to train with Melys_s oath-sister, Tai'. Aryn and her <malatyr> - soul-mate and life-partner - Tecmessa often took the little girl for outings and excursions and Melys was grateful. Instead of seeing her little sister as a pest, 'Ryn genuinely enjoyed the little girl's company and Melys knew that Romy thrived on 'Ryn's attention. She just wished Selen was there with them, too.
Xena cleared her throat. "Alright," said the warrior. "Now, we have a killer to catch. 'Ryn, can you and Tecmessa round up the trackers and a few warriors?"
"Naturally," said 'Ryn, grinning. "I was already going over the roster in my head."
"Why does this not surprise me?" asked the Warrior Queen, smiling proudly at her prot'g'e.
"Alright - once we find her, please bring her to the cottage," said Melys.
"Mother, it's Anaxilea, isn't it?" asked 'Ryn.
"I believe so, but we won't know until we talk to the Centaurs," said Melys. "Gabrielle, can you wait at the cottage with me, please?"
"Of course - let me just collect Melosa and we'll be right there," said the Bard. "I'm sorry - I just can't seem to bear having her away from me right now."
"No sorry's necessary," said Melys, kindly. "She can play with Dylanda and Leilae - and Romy, if Romy doesn't mind?"
"No, <meia> I love playing with the babies," said Romy. "An' I better get all the playin' I can with them, 'cause they won't be here forever, will they, <Meia>?"
Xena looked at the child and shook her head. "No, Monkey, they won't," said the warrior, sadly.
"Then we better get started - come on, <meia>," said the little girl, pulling on Melys's hand.
"Romy, wait a minute - we're not quiet finished here, yet," said Melys.
The Centaurs who had witnessed the incident were ushered into the Council chamber and Gabrielle smiled at them.
"Hi, boys," she said. "So, what happened this morning?"
The young Centaurs looked everywhere around the room but at the three queens.
"Come on - you're not in trouble with us," said Gabrielle. "We just have to know what happened so we can make sure it doesn't happen again. We need to find the Amazon who attacked you."
The Centaurs looked up, surprised. "Oh, no - she didn't ...not really," said one. "We weren't supposed to be there."
"No, but that's not how the Amazons do things," said Xena. "So - what did this Amazon look like?"
"Well, she looked a little like her - I mean, Queen Gabrielle," said another, nodding in the Bard's direction. "Her hair was the same colour, at least."
The third Centaur muttered.
"What was that?" asked Gabrielle.
"She wasn't an Amazon," he said.
"How do you know?" asked Gabrielle.
"She doesn't look like the rest of you," he said. "My mother is an Amazon, so I can sorta ... see. You know."
"Yeah, I do know," said Gabrielle, smiling encouragingly. "So, she wasn't an Amazon - that puts this in a new light. Did you notice anything else about her - anything at all?"
"Yeah - she didn't look like she <wanted> to kill Bran and Epo - it was like, she <had> to - like she couldn't stop herself," said the first Centaur
"Anything else?" asked Gabrielle. "Anything physical that will help us find her?"
"She had a mark on her arm - like this," said the third Centaur, drawing the symbol in the air.
Aryn looked at Xena, who nodded and the young warrior left them to organise the searching party.
"Thank you - I'll make sure to let Xenon that you were all very helpful," said Gabrielle.
"Boys, just one more thing," said Melys as they turned to leave. They turned back to look at the priestess. "Please - whatever you do - the Amazon forest is very dangerous to all who are not Amazons - and not just because of this ... person. Please, please - stay out of there - and tell all your age-mates to stay out, too. I don't want any more of you to lose your lives, especially on Amazon Lands."
"Your Majesty, have no fear of that," said the first Centaur. "I don't think any Centaur will ever enter those woods again. I know I won't."
"That's all we ask," said Gabrielle. The Centaurs left them, then and Melys sighed, taking Romy by the hand.
"We' d better get the babies and go to the cottage," said Melys. "We'll wait for you there."
Melys left. Xena held Gabrielle back a moment. "Anaxilea has the mark of Ares," said Xena, gravely.
"And so does Lucina - Xena, Ares has been with countless Amazons - we don't know who her mother is."
"I think I do," said Xena, darkly.
"Xena, that's impossible - Anaxilea is too young to be Hope's daughter - you saw Eve and she's years younger than Hope's daughter would have been," said the bard.
"Maybe - but remember, Gabrielle, we were kept on ice for twenty five years - who's to say that Hope's daughter wasn't kept in a similar way until it was time for her to be found," said the warrior. "What's more, she does resemble you slightly."
"Okay - I'm not saying it's impossible, but Xena, Meg, Leah, Diana - they all looked <exactly> like you - and they weren't related," said Gabrielle, running her hands through her blonde hair, nervously.
"She bears the mark of Ares," said Xena. "What's more, she was in the Amazon forest - that forest is the border between us and the Centaur village - and you know what - or <who> is imprisoned there."
"Gods, Xena - will that nightmare <ever> end?" said Gabrielle, her voice barely above a whisper.
"Yes - at least, we'll do our best to make it so, Gabrielle," said Xena, looking out the door as Melys stopped with Romy to wait for them. "Listen, Gabrielle, we don't have much time - if Anaxilea is the Destroyer and she's on her way to free Dahak, we have to get these children out of AemetzainL before she's found."
"What do you have in mind, Xena?" asked Gabrielle.
"Have Joxer and Meg and mother take the children to Amphipolis - for a visit," said Xena, hastily. "We need to take Romy, Terreis, Lilia and the boys, too - just so the kids aren't worried - you know how Romy is," said Xena, thinking.
"Yeah? And then what?" said Gabrielle, looking intently into her best friend's eyes. She thought she saw deception there, but she wasn't sure. Xena smiled brightly.
"That's all," said the warrior. "Just get the kids out of immediate danger." <For now,> thought the warrior.
"Xena, what if they're attacked on the road?" said Gabrielle. "I think I should go with them and ..."
"Gabrielle," said Xena. "You know we need you here. I'm sending 'Ryn and Tecmessa with them."
"I know," said the Bard, quietly. "I just ... wanted to spend as much time with her as I could before ... you're right, Xena."
"Okay, let's go and tell 'Lys," said the warrior, bracing herself for the coming confrontation. <Which will be nothing compared to what would happen if Melys or Gabrielle find out what I really have planned,> thought the warrior, grimly.
Anaxilea wandered through the trees. Here in the treetops, she was safe. She sat on a broad limb and put her head in her hands, weeping. She hadn't meant to kill the Centaurs - had only meant to warn them away.
<Goddess, I have probably started a war between the Centaurs and the Amazons,> she thought miserably.
The ancient animosity between Centaurs and Amazon had risen up within her and she had attacked. The rage she felt was nothing she had ever felt before. Usually in battle, she was detached, killing only those who would kill her if she didn't kill them first. It was a matter of survival. These young Centaurs had posed no real threat to her, she knew. But they had been on Amazon Lands - and they had also been between her and ... what? Something was pulling her, but she didn't know what. She had tried to resist at first, but a blinding headache had struck her when she did that. And visions of fire and blood plagued her through the pain. So she kept moving until she saw the Centaurs.
As soon as she had killed those two, the pain and the nightmare visions left her and the realisation of what she had done hit her with a wall of remorse, washing over her like an icy wave. She had taken to the trees - floating up to the highest limbs, instead of climbing, and, terrified, ran from the scene of the slaughter - the young Centaurs had been armed only with light bows and arrows for hunting small game. They had been no match for Anaxilea, but they hadn't run away from her, either, standing up to defend themselves and each other.
With a sigh, the warrior arose and began moving again, almost without thinking about it, towards whatever was calling her. Then her mind went blank and she knew no more for a while ...
To Be Continued
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