The Trap

David paced back and forth angrily.

  “No way in Hell!” He blurted. “There is no way that you’re going to walk into his place! You and I both know that you’d be dead the second you showed up!”

  “It depends on how I show up there,” Gabrielle countered easily.

  “It’s too risky!” David replied. “I didn’t come two millennia back into the past just to deliver you into the Lion’s Den! Forget it!”

  “David,” Gabrielle said calmly. “There’s only one way we’re going to be able to live our lives the way we want. Now, I don’t like this any more than you do, but I can’t think of anything else. Can you?”

  “Gabrielle,” David said, kneeling in front of her.  “No one even knows what this guy looks like. How are we going to find him? We can’t just get in and start wiping out everyone in the place! Hell, for all we know, Gurkhan could be a woman – “ He stopped as if someone had just struck him.

  “David?” Gabrielle asked.

  A smile began to creep slowly across David’s face, and he began to chuckle.

  “Oh, man,” He said, rising again and pacing back and forth. “Oh, that’s freaking hysterical!”

  “What is?” Gabrielle asked. “What are you talking about?”

  David knelt back down again.

  “Remember when you and Alti squared off over the Chronos Stone?” he asked.

  Gabrielle nodded.

  “Ares showed up, and told me to stay out of the whole affair,” David was grinning from ear to ear now. “He told me that if you had died there, at least you would have died among friends and people that cared about you.”

  “Okay?” Gabrielle asked.

  David’s mind drifted back.

   “Ares was bitching up a storm and he said something that didn’t mean anything to me at the time.”

  Gabrielle waited, sitting on the edge of her seat.

  “Ares said, ‘if she survives, she goes back and dies at the hands of Gurkhan’s bounty hunters. You know, the guy who likes to pose as a guard in his own palace?’” David’s eyebrows rose. “A slip of the tongue, perhaps?”

  “I don’t know. Ares isn’t known for making mistakes like that.” Gabrielle replied, mulling it over. “Still, it definitely narrows our list of suspects down.” Then she looked up from her reflections and there was hope in her eyes.

  “Sara!” She said excitedly. “She was Gurkhan’s first wife before Xena and I broke in and brought her home. If anyone had seen Gurkhan, she would have!”

  “You think so?” David asked dubiously. “How paranoid was this guy? He might have had a bevy of beauties, simply to have a little fun, or he could have been into something more voyeuristic, we really don’t know.”

  “Unless Sara mentions something about him playing palace guard,” Gabrielle finished, preferring not to dwell on David’s last theory. “At the very least, she knows the layout of the place?”

  “Just one tiny wrinkle in the plan,” David said, holding his thumb and forefinger apart.

  “In order to talk to your niece, you need to go back into town. Right now, that place is buzzing with bounty hunters. The second you pass the gates, it’ll turn into a free-for-all.” He fixed her with a dark, thoughtful stare. “Innocent people could get caught in the crossfire? Your sister and niece could get caught in the crossfire?”

  Gabrielle felt a knot of dread. She also heard Jesse’s voice from her past. Something about David that she might grow to dislike, even though she could respected it.

  “He’ll never steer you wrong, and he’ll never lie to you. Even when you want him to.”

  This was one of those times when David’s brutal honesty in assessing a situation really bothered Gabrielle. At the same time, it forced her to think about what she might be risking in this endeavor. It wasn’t just going to be their lives on the line anymore. As soon as she passed into that village, anyone she came in contact with would be a potential target.

  “So,” she asked him. “How do we minimize the risk?” She hoped he would have an answer.

  David shrugged. “I don’t know, yet,” he said. “We’ll figure it out on the way, alright?” He sighed, still not pleased with the idea. “Maybe there’s a way to sneak you in without drawing too much attention?” he shrugged. “We’ll take a closer look when we get there.”

  They came through the forest on an indirect course towards the village. When they finally saw the small, walled cluster of buildings, they were shuttered and dark for the night. Shadowy shapes could be seen moving along the top of the wall as sentries walked their assigned routes and the occasional torch could be seen moving through the silent streets.

  “Everything looks quiet,” Gabrielle said, trying to keep a positive outlook.

  “Looks, yes,” David said with grim resignation. He handed the parchment to her. “Take this, they may have a problem if I’ve got it.”

  “Where are you going?” Gabrielle asked.

  “I’m going in there and find a nice, dark, quiet spot to watch Lila’s house,” David said. “You can go on in and get whatever information you need. If anyone comes knocking on her door, I’ll be there to back you up.”

  Gabrielle looked at him for a moment. “You’re expecting it to be a trap,” she smiled.

  David nodded, licking his lips. “Thing is, some of the guards know me from when I first arrived. They know I ran out to find you, and then came back with you. That might cause a problem?”

  “If they know you’re with me, then they’ll come after you in order to get to me,” Gabrielle agreed.

  “Bingo,” David nodded. “Either way, you might be able to get in without being seen, especially if a bunch of morons are chasing after me.”

  Gabrielle thought about that for a while. “I don’t like the idea of you walking in there like that.”

  “Give me another option?” David suggested.

  Gabrielle thought for a moment as she watched the sleeping village.

  “See if you can find Palos,” she finally suggested. “His family and my family have been friends for years. The last I heard, Palos was Captain of the Guard. If anyone could get you in without much fuss, it would be him.”

  “Do you trust him?” David asked.

  “Yes,” Gabrielle replied easily. “I don’t think he would betray us, or at least me?” She shrugged.

 David checked his bow and his quiver of arrows. Then he looked down at the bowie knife hanging at his hip.
  “At some point,” he said. “I’m going to need to upgrade to a sword.”

  “I’m sure we can find something for you later,” Gabrielle smiled.

  David adjusted his knapsack and sighed.

  “Alright,” he said. “I’m off. If everything goes smoothly, we’ll meet here before sunrise, alright?”

  She kissed him. “I’ll see you then. Good luck.”

  David strode cautiously down towards the main gates, a strange sense of deja vu coming over him. At least this time, he wasn’t bone weary. He paused at the edge of the light from the two torches set out about ten feet from the gate.

  “I need to speak with Palos!” He called to the shape standing at the top of the wall.

  “State your business!” The shadow replied in a clear voice.

  “I can only discuss that with the Captain!” David replied. Something was squirming within his belly. His eyes checked both sides and behind him, fearing that an army would suddenly appear and run him down.

  A second figure joined the first and they had a quick conversation, then the second figure vanished.

  David reached back and pulled the hood over his head, further obscuring his features.

  “Come into the light!” The voice ordered.

  David stepped forward, presenting the countenance of a man hooded and cloaked.

  The gate opened and a man stepped out, walking towards him with confident strides. He was dressed in the armor of the village guard and his hand rested on the hilt of a short sword.

  “I am Palos,” he said. “Who are you?”

  David stepped forward and bowed his head.

  “I am David,” he said quietly. “We have a mutual acquaintance. Gabrielle?”

  At this, the Captain’s eyebrows rose slightly.

  “Do we?” he asked. “Over the past few weeks, many people have claimed to know Gabrielle, and all of them have had less than honorable intentions. What makes you any different?”

  “She’s my fiancée?” David offered.

  Again, the Captain fixed him with a steely gaze. His fingers twitched on the hilt of his sword.

  “If that is the case, then perhaps you can tell me something of my friend that no one but her betrothed would know?” He tightened the grip on his sword.

  David thought for a moment and a smile touched his face.

  “You mean, something besides the fact that she was born with six toes on one foot?”

  Palos stared at him for a moment, and then a grin began to spread across his face as well. He chuckled softly. “No, I think that will do. Only my family and hers knew of that little quirk. What can I do for you?”

  “I need to slip into town and keep watch over Lila’s home tonight,” David said quickly. “Gabrielle is nearby, but she needs to speak with her sister about a matter of extreme urgency.”

  “May I know the subject?” Palos asked.

  “It would be safer for you if you didn’t,” David replied.

  Palos seemed to consider that for a moment, and then he nodded.

  “Very well.” He put a hand on David’s shoulder and led him off to the side away from the gate.

  “There is a secret entrance along this wall,” he said. “I will take you to it. You can enter the village from there and move about with relative freedom.” His head dipped closer.

  “I must warn you,” he continued. “There are bounty hunters from half a dozen provinces camped out at the inn tonight, and not many of them are sleeping, if you understand me?”

  “I do,” David said.

  Palos nodded.

  “Keep to the shadows and back alleys.” Palos led him through a small doorway built to look like the stones of the outer wall. They paused once they were within the village.

  “There is a stable across the square from Lila’s home. It’s not being used right now. You will have a good vantage from there, and no one will see you, dressed as you are.” He said. “I have several men that I can trust on watch tonight, where can I place them so that she can enter without drawing attention?”

  A silent alarm went off at that question. He looked into the Captain’s eyes, trying to read his intentions. There was nothing that he could see; yet he felt something might be wrong.

  “I honestly don’t know how or when she’ll make her attempt,” he said.

  “Very well,” Palos replied, not seeming to worry about it. “You know the way. I must return through the main gate, so as not to throw suspicion on our little walk.”

  David nodded. “Thanks.”

  Palos gave a nod and vanished back through the small opening. It slid silently closed with a click.

  He moved through the darkened streets like an extension of the shadows, eventually coming to a spot where he could spy the stable the captain had mentioned. Instantly, the entire situation rubbed him the wrong way.

  “One way in, one way out,” he mused. “Of course, if the good Captain is on the level, there shouldn’t be a problem. However-?”

  He scanned the surrounding area for a better vantage and found it, atop the stable but beneath the walkway for the outer wall. The only question was getting up there without being seen.

  Carefully, he made his way to the entrance of the stable and vanished within.

  Once inside he looked about at the roof and spied several older, rotten boards. He stood up on one of the stalls and pulled with all his strength. First one, and then a second board broke off, giving him a small opening that, if unencumbered, he could squeeze through.

  He hid his knapsack in a pile of hay and then moved to a vantage point across from Lila’s front door. There, he set up his overcoat, stuffing it with hay to make it appear to be the shape of a person. Then he positioned it carefully, and keeping his hood pulled down, he pulled himself up onto the roof, moving with cautious steps towards the furthest spot near a small niche beside a set of descending stairs.  From there, he had a good view of the square and the home of Gabrielle’s younger, middle aged sister.

  He notched an arrow to the string, and placed five more in the holder at the front of his bow, and then he settled down to wait.

  The minutes crawled by like hours as he listened to the night sounds of the village. He spied a small cat, meandering about the square, searching for mice. The feline stopped suddenly and then scampered away. David looked in that direction and caught the subtle shift in the shadows.

  Another figure stood, watching the house and the stable.

  Could he have been seen? David had been careful, but he couldn’t be certain. His eyes roamed about the square and eventually he was able to pick out four more men hiding in various places, all watching Lila’s home.

  “I got a bad feeling about this,” he sighed. He silently hoped that Gabrielle would not make it into the village. If she did and these men saw her, the entire situation could erupt in bloodshed.

  David adjusted his stance, kneeling down with his right leg up to stabilize him. He held the bow and sighted the figure directly across from him.

  “At least I know one son of a bitch that won’t get paid if this goes south,” he thought grimly.

  Nothing happened for a long time, and then a soft birdcall echoed in the square. David heard it, as did the half dozen men concealed in the shadows. They all sank into concealment. The square was as still as a graveyard.

  Another shadow paused at the entrance arch to the square, and then it moved, flitting like a ghost from building to building until it reached the desired door. It vanished inside without releasing so much as a ray of light into the square.

  “Ah, nuts,” David thought desperately. “She made it.”

  He adjusted himself slightly and raised his bow. He was just about to draw back on the string when he heard soft voices below him.

  “He’s not here!” One of them hissed. “He said the man would be here!”

  “Well, apparently, the good captain is mistaken,” A second voice replied. “He can’t be far. He would wish to stay in sight of the house. Keep looking while I go have a word with our friend Palos.”

  David saw another darkly clad figure emerge from the stable beneath him and make off towards the main gate. He motioned for the rest of his men to keep vigil and vanished.

  A dark fire kindled within David’s heart. He could hear the second man rummaging about within.

David silently crept to the edge of his little hole and looked below. He saw a figure pilfering his knapsack, pulling out various objects and studying them.  David drew back on his bow. The fiberglass tensed without so much as a creak.

  The line thumped quietly and the arrow pierced the man’s throat. He fell, dead, without a sound.

  David quickly moved back to his vantage point and watched.

  A short time later, the ringleader of the bounty hunters returned with Palos. The two were in the middle of a harsh, but quiet argument.

  “Valcis,” Palos hissed. “This is where I told him to go! If he’s smarter than I thought, then we’ll have to flush him out!”

  “Valcis,” David thought. It was the one name that the two of them had heard. A bounty hunter of great repute and vicious temperament. When the contract said ‘dead or alive’ his prisoners usually ended up being delivered four days cold.

  There was a shuffle and then Valcis hissed.

  “Sedon seems to have concealed himself elsewhere.”

  There was no way he could have missed the body on the floor! David knew it! The poor wretch had fallen out in the open!

  “If anything,” Valcis continued. “He may have moved to another location, or simply fled. I think it’s time to claim my prize. If you would be so kind, Captain?”

  Palos seemed hesitant. “I know your reputation,” he said. “I have your word that she will not be harmed?”

  There was the sound of a moneybag being exchanged.

  “Of course,” Valcis replied easily. “As long as she comes quietly, I can guarantee her safety. If she puts up a struggle, then I cannot say she will not be hurt, but you have my word that she will not be killed.”

  “Yeah, right,” David thought. “Lying bastard.”

  He watched as the men tensed, waiting for the signal.

  Palos stepped quietly towards Lila’s door. The best bait in the world was the face of a friend.

  Palos hesitated, looking back before he raised his hand to knock on the door.

  “No way in Hell you’re gonna get her,” David thought. He bent his bow and sighted.

  As Palos’s hand descended against the hard wood, David released. The arrow punched through the deceptive guard’s skull, pinning his quivering body to it. It slowly swung open. There was a scream of terror, and shadows moved from within the house.

  “Now!” Valcis shouted, and his men jumped from concealment and charged the house.

  David drew back and fired again and again. Three more of the men went down with fatal wounds.

  The man standing around the corner from Lila’s house staggered next and fell, an arrow piercing his chest.

  “Where is he?” One of the bounty hunters cried, searching in vain for the hidden archer. He fell as another arrow came from the darkness and punctured his left eye.

  “Get inside and get the girl!” Valcis’s voice bellowed.

  Another man made for the door and fell with an arrow in his back.

  Then Gabrielle came charging out, sais in her hand. She met the first remaining bounty hunter at full charge, leaping into the air as she stabbed downward. The man spun about, blood pumping from the open wound in his throat and he collapsed.

  David fired his last arrow and then leapt from concealment, making sure to have enough distance from the edge of the stable and the concealed Valcis.  He felt the wind of a sharp blade just miss his back as he charged to her side. His knife writhed like a snake, striking this way and that.

  “Get them out of here!” he shouted to her as he tackled another man and ran the thick blade through his gullet.

  Men seemed to grow from the shadows, each of them carrying a weapon of some sort.

  “There’s too many!” Gabrielle shouted in desperation.

  They stepped back towards the house, fighting off the flurry of attackers.

  Suddenly, another shadow leapt into the fray. Valcis landed between the two of them and wheeled about, a wicked sword in his left hand and a dagger in the other.

  He spun about and struck out at Gabrielle. She backed smoothly away, parrying the attacks.

  “Oh no you don’t!” David shouted. He dispatched another bounty hunter and charged.

  Valcis slid around and spun. The point of his dagger found David’s side. He felt it enter and the world went red with his rage. He struck out at anything that moved. Valcis released his hold on the weapon and backed away. Then Gabrielle was upon him, and he fell as her sais crossed over his throat.

  With the death of their leader, the remaining bounty hunters retreated quickly rather than continue the fight. The fire in the eyes of the defenders was too fierce to be taken lightly, and the superior numbers seemed not to avail them as it should have.

  David chased after the straggler a few steps, bellowing at the top of his lungs, then he stopped and leaned heavily against a large shipping barrel.

  Gabrielle cleaned the blood from her sais and slid them back into her boots, and then she looked up at David, leaning against the barrel, apparently worn out.

  “Hey,” she said. “I think we got them.”

  David only nodded, feeling his strength ebb from him like the spreading stain on his pull over sweatshirt. The black fabric shone wetly in the torchlight. His fingers went numb and the heavy knife fell to the sandy earth.

  “David?” Gabrielle asked, suddenly concerned. He looked up at her and smiled.

  “Never saw that one in the dojo,” he said. He turned to face her and she saw the hilt of the dagger in his torso. David took one step and his leg slid out from under him as he collapsed to the ground.

  “David!” Gabrielle screamed in panic. She ran to his side and turned him over.

  David looked up at her and shook his head in disbelief. “Damn, that Valcis was fast.” He tried to get back to his feet, but the shock had rendered his body uncooperative.

  “I’m alright,” he said. “I don’t think he hit anything vital. I hope he didn’t. Man, who said that the future was set should be shot.” He grimaced, as the pain suddenly became palpable fire in his belly.

  “No,” Gabrielle said fiercely. “Not again!”

  David blinked, feeling the pain grow within him. “It’s alright,” he said. “As long as it hurts, I know I’m alive. Right now, it hurts like hell. Just get me inside.”

  “Lila!” Gabrielle cried desperately. Gabrielle’s sister ran over to her and the two women half lifted half-dragged David towards the house. They ignored Palos’s body hanging on the door and got David onto the small bed.

  He grunted in agony as they laid him down.

  Behind them, David saw a third woman, about his age, with long blonde hair and soft blue eyes, staring down at him in wonder.

  “Sara,” Lila ordered. “Close the door and then fetch hot water!”

  The other woman immediately moved to comply.

  David laughed out loud, though the act caused fresh waves of pain in his belly.

  “Every time someone gets hurt or gives birth,” he croaked. “Someone shouts for hot water.”

  Gabrielle smiled through her tears. “Just be still.” She pleaded.

  David reached up and touched her cheek with a bloody hand. “Relax.” He said calmly. “Just relax.”

  Lila looked down at the blade. “I’m going to have to remove it now,” she said. “Are you ready?”

  David shook his head. “Give me a moment.”

  Sara returned with a steaming kettle and a handful of clean cloth.

  He smiled at Gabrielle reassuringly. Then he forced his breathing to slow and his muscles to relax. “I need to relax everything, or you’ll do more damage when you yank it.” His eyes glassed over, though it was not from death. His lips moved quietly.

“A-hay, A-hay, A-ho.

Four times at your eastern door.

Where your children will be born.

Where their future will be formed.

In that still part of dawn,

On the earth I’ll kneel upon.

In respect, my head I’ll bow

In Ancient Tongue, I’ll make a vow.

A-hay – oh.”

Gabrielle watched as his whole body seemed to slow down. His eyes closed and he continued. She leaned next to him and let her own voice mingle with his as he completed the song.

  David’s eyes opened again and he stared at Gabrielle with his entire soul, and then he nodded his head once.

  Gabrielle looked at her sister.


  Lila grasped the dagger, and much to the amazement of all three women, it slid free with barely any resistance.

  David’s lips continued in the song, oblivious to the action. He looked into Gabrielle’s eyes, smiled and fell unconscious.

  Lila looked at the unconscious man for a moment, and then back at the dagger, bathed in blood.

  “You never said he was a Shaman,” Lila said. She took the clean cloth and began dressing David’s wound.

  David felt his body falling from him like an old coat. His consciousness hovered over the bed, watching as the women worked feverishly to stem the bleeding and close his wound.

  “They’ll fix it,” he though confidently. “In the mean time.”

The world faded into a white glow and then he found himself in a dark passage filled with a soft wind and endless fluttering rags like cobwebs.

  “Well, this is interesting,” he said. He began moving forward through the strange dream. Shadows flickered in and out of his conscious view as if frightened to approach him.

 “I was hoping to be riding on Rosie right about now,” David said aloud. “Guess not, huh?”

  “Sorry,” A voice said behind him. “Maybe next time.”

  David turned and smiled when he recognized the source of the voice.

  “Xena,” he greeted her. “Been a while?” Then he held up his hands in surrender. “No pinch this time, okay?”

  The warrior smiled and extended her hand in welcome. David clasped her forearm.

  “What are you doing here?” He asked.

  Xena smiled. “Someone wants to see you.” She said. “And I wanted to thank you.”

  “Thank me?” David asked. “What for?”

  Xena looked serious. “For giving Gabrielle back that light she lost. It was something I was never able to do.”

  “She misses you,” David said. “You haven’t spoken to her since she got back?”

  “I know,” Xena said regretfully. “But I think she had other things to worry about. Besides. It would be better if she concentrated on you for a while. I’ll always be with her, and in her heart, Gabrielle knows that.”

  David nodded. “I still think you should visit her.” He smiled. “Trust me, I’m not the jealous type.”

  “I know,” Xena smiled. “In the meantime.” They stopped before the entrance to a dark foreboding cave. “Someone else needs to speak with you.”

  David looked at the opening with a feeling of consternation.

  “I’m gonna have a real problem if Darth Vader comes after me when I go in there,” he said. Xena frowned, not understanding the reference.

  David smiled. “Nevermind.” He stepped toward the opening, pausing just before the entrance. “Xena?” he asked. “Go to her. I think she needs you right now. If anything, to reassure her, okay?”

  Xena smiled again and nodded. “I’ll see what I can do. Now get going.”

  David nodded and vanished into the shadows.

  Gabrielle sat next to David, her head on the bed next to his, her hand on his chest, feeling his heartbeat, slow and steady. The tears still stung her eyes, and fear clutched ever tighter about her heart.  As she lay there, she felt another hand settle atop hers and she lifted her tear streaked face.

  “Xena?” she gasped.

  “Hello, Gabrielle,” Xena smiled. “How are you doing?”

  Gabrielle looked down at David. “Oh, just great,” she said bitterly.

  “Hey,” Xena comforted her. “It’s going to be alright.”

  “I can’t lose him, Xena,” Gabrielle said desperately. “I can’t.”

  “Shhh,” Xena said softly.

  “I love him,” Gabrielle choked. “It would be like losing you all over again, only this time – “ Then she looked up at her friend with fire in her eyes.

  “Why does he keep doing this?” She asked vehemently. “Every single time I end up in trouble, he ends up getting in the middle of it, and I walk away unhurt while he – “ Her voice broke again.

  “Because he loves you, Gabrielle,” Xena said. “As much, if not more than I do. He’s doing all the things I would have done if I were still here. Don’t be angry with him about that.”

  “I know,” Gabrielle replied. “I know. It just hurts so much to see this all over again.”

  Xena smiled. “And when he recovers, if something else happens, he’ll be in the middle of it again. And again, and again, until he’s too old to stand.”

  Gabrielle smiled at the image of an old, infirm David standing up to a warlord that had just stormed into their home, as fiery as he was now. Then her face sobered.

  “I can’t keep doing this to him, Xena,” she said. “Not like this.”

  “Gabrielle?” Xena looked at her seriously. “I know that look. Don’t do anything reckless.”

  Gabrielle looked down at David’s face. “What, me?” she said.

  Xena’s eyebrow rose in a knowing look.

  “This isn’t his fight, Xena,” Gabrielle looked back up at her friend again. “It never was. I have to end this.”

  “Gabrielle,” Xena squeezed her hand. “Think about what you’re saying. There’s no way for you to do it and survive if you go by yourself. You know that. How do you think he’ll feel then?”

  Gabrielle stroked his cheek lovingly.

  “I’d rather have him alive and hating me, then dead and loving me,” she said finally.

  David moved through the inky blackness, his anxiety growing in spite of having gone through countless dream walks in his life.

  “You have nothing to fear,” a soft, feminine voice beckoned. “Come forward.”

  David continued and found himself in a vast circular chamber.  As he stepped within, he saw several torches in sconces on the wall. Two more passages branched off to on either side of the cave, and against the back wall, between the two openings was a massive stone seat. Large, thin black dogs sat or lay on either side of the throne, looking at him with hungry red eyes. Smoke issued from their mouths and nostrils and they growled as he entered.

  David paused, and then continued forward. Suddenly, the figure of a woman, clothed in black swirling robes appeared on the dais. She held a flickering torch in each hand and her red eyes stared down at him.

  “Greetings, my son,” she said kindly.

  David dropped to one knee and bowed his head, realizing whom he stood before.

  “I kneel before the Guardian of the Crossroads, the source of my faith, my Goddess.” He stammered.

  She laughed gently.

  “We have no need for ceremony, you and I,” she said knowingly. “In our other talks, you have sometimes been far less formal, shall we say?”

  David kept his head bowed, not daring to look at her directly.

  “I admit,” he said. “Sometimes, I didn’t think you were listening. And other times, I was pretty angry with you.”

  “Your wife,” the woman replied understandingly. “Do you see now, why she had to make the journey? So you could be unburdened for this one?”

  “And what of this journey?” David asked with a touch more irreverence. “Is Gabrielle fated to suffer in the same way I did, so I can continue another journey? Forgive me, my Goddess, but I don’t know how much more of this I can deal with?”

  She laughed that delicious laugh again. “That is one of the things I love about you, David. You will speak your mind without fear or favor, no matter who is before you. Look at me.”

  Reluctantly, David lifted his eyes and beheld her in her glory. The torches shone with pale golden light and her glowing red eyes stared down at him lovingly.

  “Even in your greatest despair,” she said to him. “You never lost faith in me, even if you lost a portion of your love for me. This I can accept, owing to what you have endured. And even after enduring, you never wavered in your convictions. Your faith remained strong in me. You have awakened me, now, at a time when my own grandchildren have all but forgotten me. For that, I thank you. And I return that which was sacrificed. But I also must offer you a choice. You must choose your path.

  The one on your left will return you to life, to your precious Gabrielle, and to the future you hope to achieve. The passage to the right grants you a new beginning, from birth, and a chance to become all that you feel you might have lost. My gift shall be yours regardless of your choice.”

  “I can return to Gabrielle,” David said. “Or I can be reborn into another life.”

  “Never remembering this one and the pains you have been made to suffer.” She finished.

  “And Gabrielle?” David asked. “What of her?”

  “Should you choose a new life, you will not even remember her,” The Goddess said evenly. “She will have passed from existence long before you are reborn.”

  David rose to his feet and stared up at this powerful figure with his characteristic mix of respect, awe, and a touch of arrogance. He smiled wryly.

  “You know,” he said. “I kind of like seeing all the ancient monuments when they were as good as new.” He bowed again. “Besides, My Lady,” he continued. “I love her.”

  “Then go,” the Dark Goddess said softly. “Know that I shall always be with you, but the next time we meet, it shall be to receive my Dark Kiss.”

  David bowed his head again. “I look forward to it,” he said, smiling. Then he passed through the arch.

  David’s eyes snapped open and a rush of air filled his lungs with painful emphasis.

  Sara, who was taking her turn to watch, jumped to her feet in fright.

  “Whoa,” David whispered. “What a rush.” His eyes blinked, and he suddenly realized that he could see the auras of energy around the two women, now staring at him utterly perplexed.

  David looked about. The entire scene was wreathed in the energy of the universe.

  “That which was sacrificed,” David breathed. He looked about the room. “Gabrielle?” he called wearily.

  “Lay still,” Lila said, stepping to his side. “You are still very weak, and your wound has not closed completely.”

  “Where is she?” David asked.

  The two women exchanged a concerned look.

  Sara finally broke the silence. “She’s gone. She went to-“ She stopped at a hiss from her mother.

  “She went after him, didn’t she?’ David asked knowingly. “She went after Gurkhan?”

  “Two days ago,” Lila finally admitted.

  “Two days!” David exclaimed. He struggled to sit and swing his legs off the bed, ignoring the fire that shot through his body. “Dammit! What the Hell was she thinking?”

  “David!” Lila protested. “You need rest!”

  “I’ll rest on the ship!” David replied. “Where’s my gear?”

  “David,” Sara said quickly, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Gabrielle was most insistent. You need to stay here.”

  “The hell with that!” David said angrily. He got his feet underneath him and stood with one hand on the wall. Once his feet were under him, he felt better. The strength was returning to his limbs, albeit slowly.

  “Please, David,” Lila said. “You’re not healed!”

  “Lila,” David growled. “You’ve done a lot for us, and I’m grateful. But you can either help me, or get the Hell out of my way.”

Lila stepped back, realizing that she could not stop him, even if she wanted to.

  David looked at Sara.

  “I need something from you,” he said. “I need the layout of Gurkhan’s palace. You willing to help?”

Sara stared at him for a moment, then she nodded. “Yes.”

  “Good.” He looked about the room. “Where’s my gear?”

  The pain in his belly meant that he would have to travel light. Lighter than he had since arriving. A quiver of his reclaimed arrows, his bow, knife and the bare necessities, food and water.” He slung the small bag over his shoulder and looked about the room.

  “Right,” he said. “What’s the fastest way to the harbor?”

  Sara handed him a rolled parchment and gave him directions. He thanked them both and moved stiffly towards the door.

  “David,” Lila said behind him. “Before you go. Gabrielle wanted you to have something.”

  David turned and saw Lila standing before him, a sword in her outstretched hands. It was oriental in origin, sheathed in a fine, red wooden scabbard.

  “It came from Japa,” Lila explained. “Gabrielle brought it back with her after Xena died.”

  David slung the weapon over his shoulder, next to his quiver of arrows and nodded.

  “We’ll be back,” he said. “Both of us.”

  He stepped out of the house and looked towards the gate of the village.

  “If I gotta turn his palace into a smoking sheet of glass,” he finished with a determined growl.


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