See disclaimers in Part I.
Additional disclaimer: The very end of this part contains a scene some may want to skip. But Xena has done the same to men she has fought on the show but the difference is it is done to a defenseless person.
It has been several days since Xenas return home. She has spent the time making needed repairs to the tavern and the stables. Gabrielle also has helped around the tavern and has enchanted the customers with her evening tales. The people, having already heard Gabrielles first story, easily warmed to her. And this has helped Xena immensely. Many were uneasy at first but now some were at least cordial when they saw her. Xena was sure it was due to her friendship with the Amazon. Xena observed how easily people opened up to Gabrielle. The blonde gave people her full attention when they spoke to her. And her friendly smile drew them in.
At times Gabrielle and Cyrene would be deep in conversation, their laughter filling the air. No doubt Cyrene was sharing some childhood incident that Xena wouldve been glad to leave unspoken. But it was good to see her mother laughing.
Toris was away helping an old friend rebuild his home after it was destroyed in a fire. A passing merchant informed Cyrene that all was going well and that Toris would be returning home soon. Xena and her brother parted with angry words and she wasnt sure how he would react to her return. But then she didnt know what to expect with her mother and everything turned out all right.
Xena, Gabrielle and Cyrene are in the tavern enjoying breakfast after the morning crowd had finally thinned out. In her peripheral vision, Xena sees a figure entering the tavern. She glances over and sees it is Solari. Concerned Xena stands up. The Amazon has traveled nonstop. The dust from the road clings to her clothing and skin.
Solari approaches the women and bows slightly before Gabrielle. "My Queen."
Cyrene looks at Xena in surprise.
"Solari." Gabrielle is now standing. Worried green eyes take in the scouts appearance. "Somethings happened."
"Yes my Queen. Ephiny is requesting your return. A small band of soldiers have gathered outside the borders of the Centaur lands."
"How many men?" Gabrielle asks.
"About a dozen," Solari tells her. "The Centaurs first spotted them a week ago. Ephiny sent a group of our warriors to investigate and they have reported that their numbers have not increased"
"Have they been identified?"
"No. They do not wear any ensignas of any known warlords."
"Solari, has any other soldiers been spotted around the area?" Xena inquires.
"They have not reported anything suspicious but Ephiny has doubled our perimeter scouts as a precaution."
Gabrielle nods her approval. Turning to Cyrene she makes her apologies. "Im sorry Cyrene but I am needed back home. I hope I can visit again. Maybe then I can meet Xenas brother."
Cyrene is still stunned over the revelation of Gabrielles position but she manages to reply. "Of course. But before you leave, Im sure your friend could use a few moments to rest from her journey. This will give me some time to pack you two a few things for the road." She turns to introduce herself to Solari. "Im Xenas mother Cyrene."
"Im sorry Cyrene." Gabrielle mentally slaps herself. "This is Solari."
Solari gives Cyrene a warm smile. Because Cyrene genuinely expressed some concern over her condition, her first impression of Xenas mother had been a good one. She had unfairly expected a cold and bitter woman. "Nice to meet you."
"Please let me get you something to drink and eat." Before Solari can say anything, Cyrene disappears into the kitchen.
"Solari. Lets sit down." Gabrielle gestures to the spot left vacant by Cyrene.
Xena is torn between staying with her mother or going with Gabrielle. The blonde has been the catalyst for them. It has been so easy to talk about things whenever the Amazon was around. Could she with Gabrielle gone? And what about the men? During her stay at the Amazon village she had heard the stories of the trouble that the young blonde seemly attracts. An uneasy feeling stirs within her and she makes up her mind. She speaks to Gabrielle in a quiet voice. "Let me have a few moments with mother and Ill be ready to leave."
Gabrielle shakes her head. "Stay here with Cyrene. You two need to make up for some lost time." Gabrielle stops Xena from protesting. "Besides you have to take care of Draco. You gave them your word. Ill come again for another visit after this is over."
Xena considers Gabrielles words. "Ill stay here another night. But in the morning after I take of Draco, Im heading your way."
Ephiny is outside near the training field with Kaleipus, the leader of the Centaurs. When the men had appeared, Kaleipus wasnt concerned and used it as an excuse to visit the Amazon village with his adopted son Solan. The young boy was beginning to ask questions about life outside the Centaur lands and Kaleipus thought the Amazon village would be a good place to start.
"Im not sure if I like the idea of Solan sparring," the Centaur comments.
"Kaleipus, Solan may have to rely on it to protect himself."
"I can only hope he will never have to."
Ephiny nods at Kaleipus wish for a world without violence. "Queen Gabrielle should be arriving shortly. Im sure she will be very apologetic for not being here when you and Solan arrived."
"We didnt mean to surprise on you. I hate the fact that we will be interrupting her trip with her friend. I dont know if this matter would warrant her return home.
"The treaty we signed pledges our help for any threat that may appear to either of our peoples. Gabrielle definitely would have wanted to know about it. Anyway I gather this visit may have a dual purpose."
The Centaur smiles at Ephiny. "Youre right. As you said Solan is growing up and I think Gabrielle can help him with its something he has recently been struggling with."
Kaleipus met the then Amazon princess when the two parties came together for the discussion of a proposed treaty. He had been impressed with her knowledge of the Centaur ways and with her negotiating skills. He was surprised after learning that she was an outsider and was curious in how she become part of the Amazons, and a princess no less. Queen Melosa related the story to him of how her sister had died and how Gabrielle received the rite of caste.
"Gabrielle will do her best to help him," Ephiny tells him.
Kaleipus replies, "Im sure she will be able to since its something they have in common. Solan is at that age when the young are trying to find their place. Since he is not a Centaur, hes having a hard time fitting in "
"I understand." Ephiny then adds. "Even though Gabrielle wasnt born an Amazon, she has a heart of one." She pauses when she spots two figures ahead. "Look, your son is about to spar with our weapons master."
Eponin and Solan step onto the field. Both carry a wooden sword in their hand. After some instructions on a short drill, Eponin and Solan begin. Eponin complements him. "Not too bad Solan. Just remember to keep eye contact. This is will tell you where your opponent will strike next. Lets try again." They go over the drill several more times. Solans frustration begins to surface because of his inability to perfect the drill. "Why dont we stop for today," Eponin suggests. "Be patient. It takes practice and hard work to master any drill. Okay?"
"Okay," Solan replies. He and the weapons master walk toward the water barrel to refresh themselves. The boy looks over and waves to his father and the Amazon Regent. Turning to Eponin he asks, "When will Queen Gabrielle arriving?"
"Probably sometime today."
"Really?" Shyly he asks, "Do you think she will have time to visit with me?"
"Do you think she remembers me?" he quizzes.
"Our Queen has a good memory."
Solan frowns at her answer but continues. "Do you think shes pretty?"
I wish Solari was here. Shes much better at this. Eponin lets out a deep breath. "Yes. But beauty is not just on the outside. Its on the inside as well. Our Queen is admired by her people in many ways." Birdcalls signaling the arrival of Gabrielle stops Eponin from continuing her explanation. "The Queen is arriving," she informs Solan.
Solan runs over to Ephiny and Kaleipus. Eponin also makes her way over. Finally two riders appear. As Gabrielle and Solari dismount, a couple of Amazons step forward to take care of the horses.
Ephiny properly addresses her leader. "My Queen."
"Ephiny," Gabrielle acknowledges her regent. She turns to the Centaur and gives him a broad smile. "King Kaleipus. It is good to see you again. Im sorry I was not here to greet you when you arrived. Im sure Ephiny has been the perfect hostess in my absence."
"Shes been most gracious indeed. You have chosen your second well Queen Gabrielle. And please just call me Kaleipus."
"Please call me Gabrielle." She looks over to Solan and gives him a warm smile. "Solan. Youve grown so much since the last time I saw you. And I might add into a nice looking young man."
Solan blushes at the comment. Eponin tries to make eye contact with Gabrielle. Solari sees Eponins facial expressions and gives her friend a questioning look. Eponin tilts her head toward Solan and then to Gabrielle. Still Solari is unable to interrupt the weapon masters gestures and shrugs her shoulders.
"Thank you. Its good to see you again too," he softly tells her. His graze is fixed on the ground.
Gabrielle looks to Ephiny for any hint of what may be going on with Solan. When the regents face gives her no clues, she tucks it into the back of her mind to ask later. "Well after your father and I talk, I can give you a tour. That is if Ephiny hasnt given you one already."
Solan immediately looks up with a bright smile on his face. "Yes! I mean no. I mean I I havent had one yet."
Gabrielle smiles at the boys reaction. "Then its settled. We have a date." Gabrielle misses seeing the blush that creeps up Solans neck and face as she turns to talk to Kaleipus. "Solari tells me that there may be some trouble " the queen begins as they walk away. Kalepius calls for his son to come with them and Solan pulls himself together and catches up.
Solari had noticed the blush and looks to Eponin. Again her friend gives her the same look. Finally it dawns on Solari and she suppresses a chuckle but lets the grin slip on her face.
I wonder if this is his first crush? Gotta get the scoop. She walks over to Eponin and slings her arm around the stocky Amazons shoulders. "So. Whats been going on?"
It is early the next morning. Xena is in the process of tracking down Draco and his men. She had headed back in the direction where she and Gabrielle had encountered the warlord. With information from some travelers and her excellent tracking skills, she is successful in locating their trail. She has Argo in an easy gallop. She is a little worried that she is nearing the Amazon lands but her thoughts of the previous night occupy her mind. After Xena informed Cyrene of her plans to leave, she saw the disappointment in her mothers face. Even a promise to return to visit could not brighten the womans mood.
"Xena, cant you stay longer at least until Toris returns. Surely Gabrielle and her Amazons can handle any problems," Cyrene argues to convince her daughter.
"Im sure they can but I need to be sure nothing happens."
Cyrene is confused by the stubbornness in her daughters voice. "Why is this so important to you? Surely Gabrielle would have asked for your help if she thought it was serious." Suddenly another reason for Xenas desire to leave enters her mind. "Or you dont want to be here."
Xena debates on whether to keep her secret from Cyrene. She bows her head and plows ahead. "Mother I have a son." Looking up to meet her mothers gaze she tells her, "You have a grandson."
Her thoughts fade when Xena sees Dracos camp. After dismounting she carefully reviews the layout. They have made camp next to a stream. By the number of tents, she estimates the number of men to be half of the twenty that she had seen with Draco earlier. She easily locates his. Quickly and quietly she moves in and boldly enters his quarters. Draco is surprised by her appearance but pulls it together.
"Xena. What brings you here to grace me with your presence? Are you reconsidering my offer?"
Xena smoothly replies, "Arent you concerned that I can slip in here undetected?"
"No. If you wanted me dead, I would be. Im sure this is not a test youre here for a reason."
"Leave Amphipolis alone."
"I havent done anything."
"You so graciously offered your services. Services that arent needed."
"Xena, youve relinquished your position and released your army from their duties. Other parties may want to seek out compensation. I was only looking out for your interests."
"Draco you know how easily I can round up another army. So I think the other interested parties know better than to antagonize me. Do I need remind you? I can give you another scar to go with the first one I gave you."
Draco unconsciously flinches at her threat. "For old times sake Ill leave Amphipolis alone. Ill even spread the word to the other parties. " He sees Xenas satisfaction at his answer. She turns to leave but he continues the conversation. "Only if I can get a chance to get to know your friend better."
Xena stops and turns to face him. "My friend?"
"Yes. The Amazon who was traveling with you. She isnt here, is she?"
"No and youre not her type. She would never have anything to do with you," she curtly states.
"No? You and I are alike Xena. So she is my type."
"You_are_not_her_type," Xena repeats. The emphasis on each word slowly explodes from her lips.
"I just thought I would ask," Draco remarks as he holds up his hands in the air. Hoping to placate her he adds, "I give you my word. Ill leave Amphipolis alone and Ill make sure everyone else does too."
Xena walks out of the tent with Draco following her out. With one last glare at Draco, she mounts Argo and urges her horse on.
Gabrielle and Kaleipus are in the queens quarters reviewing the situation near the Centaurs border.
"Why would they be there?" Kalepius wonders out loud. "If they stay any longer or if their numbers increase, we should confront them."
"Im surprise they havent made any attempt to make contact," Gabrielle adds. She continues to share her ideas on what they should do. "With both of our peoples are keeping watch "
Kalepius is deep in thought and doesnt hear the Amazons comments. Suddenly he looks to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle sees a trace of fear in the Centaurs eyes. "Kalepius? What is it?"
"It never crossed my mind." He shakes his head. "Solan."
"What about Solan."
"Maybe theyre looking for Solan." Gabrielle gives him a puzzled look and waits for more information. Finally he answers. "Hes Xenas son."
"Xenas son? How did-"
"He become my son?" Kaliepus completes Gabrielles question. "Its a long story."
Gabrielle shakes her head. "I should have realized it. He has the same striking blue eyes. So you think the men-"
"Are Xenas. She wants her son back and has sent her men to take him."
"No, Xena wouldnt do that," Gabrielle insists but seriously considers Kaliepus concerns. "All right. Lets assume these men are after Solan. Ill assign some guards to protect him." The queen pauses. "I hope Solan wont be too disappointed if we delay the tour."
"Hell be disappointed. He was looking forward to spending some time with you."
Birdcalls interrupt their conversation. The blonde quickly translates. "A group is approaching fast."
"Solan," Kaliepus utters.
Both Gabrielle and Kaliepus exit the tent and find Amazon in an organized frenzy. Warriors are running to their positions while others gather the children and the older women to take them to safety. Gabrielle seeks out her second and finds Ephiny shouting some orders. She makes a beeline to the curly headed blonde. Kaliepus spots Solan with the other children and immediately runs over to him.
"Solan!" The youth turns to his fathers voice and sees him galloping over. "Stay with the children." Kaliepus orders. Flaming arrows fall from the sky and set some of the huts ablaze. Soldiers invade and shortly the fighting begins.
"No I can help." Solan runs off. Kalephius goes after him to stop him. A soldier attacks from behind and slices into Kaleipus back legs and he goes down. Solan hears his fathers cries and turns to see the Centaur on the ground. "No!" Before he can run to his father, the boy is snatched up by a solider on horseback.
Gabrielle sees this and immediately takes down another rider and jumps on his horse. By this time the soldiers attacking the village have doubled. She looks frantically around and locates Solari. "They have taken Solan!"
After leaving Dracos camp, Xena had estimated it would take her a couple of hours to get to the Amazon village. The thought of seeing Gabrielle again brings a smile to her face. In Gabrielle she has found someone she could relax with and maybe one day totally confide in. As the Conqueror, she found peoples intentions were never what they seemed so the energy it took to stay a step ahead was a constant drain on her.
The sounds of fighting alert Xena to trouble ahead as she realizes she is just at the edge of the Amazon borders. She sees the smoke and immediately sets Argo off on a fast run as her heart pounds in fear for her friends.
After instructing Solari to gather some warriors and to follow, Gabrielle takes off to find the abductor. She has easily caught up to the twosome and now trails slightly behind them. The man abruptly veers off and disappears. Gabrielle follows and finds herself at a dead end. The man had ridden to the side of a ravine and with no where to go had dismounted, dragging Solan with him. He has a dagger on Solan. Gabrielle slides off of her horse and with her staff in hand, approaches the man. She prays her Amazon sisters will be there shortly and tries to stall. "What do you want? A ransom? He wont be any good to you dead."
The man does not answer her but instead threatens, "Stay back." He presses the dagger further into Solans skin.
"All right. No need to panic." Gabrielle stops. Her ears pick up the sounds of others surrounding the area. Dumb! Dumb! Dumb! Several men appear yielding weapons. "Drop the staff." A voice behind her calls out. Gabrielle turns around and recognizes it is Theodorus, one of Xenas former lieutenants.
"Do as I say or the boy gets it."
Seeing no other options, Gabrielle complies. Theodorus walks up to her. "Your sudden appearance have changed things."
"Let the boy go. He wont be of any good to you."
"No. Youre wrong. Hes part of the plan." Theodorus circles Gabrielle and stops when he is behind her. "And now you are the key." With the hilt of his sword, he knocks Gabrielle unconscious.
"No!" Solan cries out.
A dark figure emerges. "You should have kept your mouth shut. We need to split up. They will be looking for them. Split the men into three groups and take the boy with you. Everyone meet at the hole."
"And what about you and the Amazon?"
"Dont worry about us. Just be there."
"Wheres Gabrielle?" Xena asks Ephiny.
"I dont know."
Eponin runs up to the pair. "Ephiny. Solari and a few of our sisters are trying to pick up Gabrielles trail."
The second takes in this information. "Her trail?"
"Solari said that Solan was abducted and that Gabrielle went after the man take took him."
"Kaleipus son?" Xena pales slightly.
Ephiny notices the change in the tall warrior. "Xena are you all right?" Xena shakes it off and nods her head.
The Amazon second looks around the village. Amazons are busy trying to put out the fires. The men who had attacked them suddenly retreated. "Poni I need you to make sure we are not vulnerable and that our defenses are intact. And find Velaska and send her over."
A young Amazon appears to report to Ephiny. Dana glances at the former Conqueror. Seeing Xena brings her encounter with the warrior back more vividly. And the emotions she thought she had let go of resurfaces.
Ephiny breaks Dana out of her thoughts. "How many of our sisters are wounded."
"Not too many. Only a few serious injuries."
"Any deaths?" the regent asks.
"Are there any prisoners?"
"We have a few."
"Ephiny. I want to question one of them," Xena requests.
"All right. Lets go see whos behind all of this."
They make their way to the cells. Most of the men are huddled towards the back. One of them stands separate from them. He looks to be still in his teens. Xena points to him and the guards drag him out. Xena thinks to herself, He doesnt look like a soldier.
Ephiny looks at the young man. "Who is your leader?"
"Youll get nothing from me b-"
Xena grabs the boy by his tunic and slams her knee into his stomach. He drops to his knees. "We can do this the hard way or the nice way. Now be a good boy and answer the ladys question."
Still grasping his eyes dart back and forth between Ephiny and Xena. Finally he moves his head in Xenas direction. "She is."
Xenas anger surface at this lie. A few quick jabs and she immobilizes the boy. "Ive cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You have 30 seconds to answer truthfully or I let you die."
He struggles. "I am telling the truth. You said you needed a distraction to get into the village to kidnap the boy. Then you planned to kill him, place the blame on the Amazons. You wanted a war to break out between them and the Centaurs. Your plan come in and take over and to get your revenge on the Amazon queen." As the blackness overtakes him he is comforted by the belief he spared his family from harm. His life for theirs.
Xena quickly releases the pressure points and lets the boy fall to the ground. She looks up to see some of the guards have already drawn their swords. Ephiny stares at the young man and then looks up directly at Xena.
"Hes lying. You know that," Xena tells her in a controlled voice.
The regent carefully replies, "I thought anyone under your pinch would tell the truth."
"Yes unless he was willing to die. I would never turn against my friends, especially Gabrielle. You know that Ephiny. Someone is trying to frame me."
Ephiny considers everything that she has heard. In her heart she knows Xena would not do this. With the guards waiting for her command, the other prisoners begin to yell out saying Xena is their leader and is the one behind the attack. Because of the ruckus, other Amazons appear. Ephiny knows she may soon have a riot on her hands if she doesnt act quickly. "Quiet! Guards. Shut these men up!" Turning to Xena, "Please give me your weapons."
"Someone is setting me up and you are falling right into their plans!"
Ephiny steps closer to Xena and tells her in a low voice, "It doesnt matter what I think. You need to trust me on this. Chaos is about to break lose and I have to get things under control. Think! Think what would happen if I let you walk out of here without an inquiry? There are still a few that havent forgiven for what you did to Dana. What you did to Gabrielle. You still have a condition on your sentence. Do you understand what I am trying to tell you or do I need to spell it all out."
Xena knows she can easily disarm the guards and get out of the village. But she doesnt want the added troubles she would create by doing so. It would only hinder her search for Gabrielle and Solan and make her an enemy of the Amazons. "No, thats not necessary." The dark warrior hands over her weapons. "Whatever you have to do make it quick," she warns. "I dont want Gabrielles trail to go cold."
"Over there." Dana points out a small group of Amazons to Velaska. Ephiny had instructed Velaska to take some warriors and catch up with Solari. She had wisely included Dana in the group mindful that the young womans presence could spark a fire in the tense atmosphere of the Amazon village.
"Coo coo." Dana immediately alerts the others of their presence. Solari had left many markers for them to easily follow.
"Velaska," Solari calls out as the women join them. "It doesnt look good." They are at the same location where Theodorus and his men had taken Gabrielle and Solan. "See the prints," Solari points out. "There are several on horseback and others on foot. We found the Queens staff here. Im afraid that who ever has taken Solan also has captured Gabrielle. There is no indication of a struggle or a fight."
"She must have surrendered herself," Velaska concludes out loud.
"Weve followed their trail to a river nearby. There we can make out four set of tracks. We came back to double check."
Velaska mutters a couple of expletives. "Everyone split up into four groups." She turns to Solari. "Ephiny wants a report. She wants you to return to tell her what you saw during the attack. She also wants to know why Gabrielle rode off alone." The scout thanks Velaska for the warning before departing.
Xena stands impatiently before the Amazon Council. The events of the day have been rehashed and the warrior waits for the next question.
"How do we know what you are saying is the truth?" Sarita asks. The older women is firm in her statement but there is no accusation behind the words.
"You dont," Xena replies. "But if I wanted to take revenge on Gabrielle I could have done it any time on the road. It makes absolutely no sense for me to wait until Gabrielle is here surrounded by her guards, by her people."
"It would be the ultimate insult. Youve befriended our Queen and have gained her respect and trust. To do something like this would be a dagger to her heart and a slap in the face to the Amazon Nation," Beth reasons.
"I am telling you the truth." Frustrated Xena stands. "Look we are wasting precious time!"
"Xena, please," Ephiny tries to calm the warrior and makes a motion for her to sit. "We can go on making assumptions but it still wont get us closer to the truth. Hopefully Solari and Velaskas groups have already found Gabrielle and Solan but I would feel better if we had every able bodied women helping. Because this involves our Queen and Kaliepus son, we cant afford to lock Xena up when we can use her skills in finding them."
"Then what do you propose we do?" Natalia asks.
"With Eponins and Solaris help, Ill personally guard Xena."
"With our Queen missing, I dont think it is wise for our Regent to put herself in danger," Beth comments.
Determined Ephiny replies, "If I have to Ill name another Regent but I wont be left out of the search for Gabrielle."
Without any further comments, the council reluctantly agrees to Ephinys proposal.
"Finally," Eponin mutters.
Xena thanks Ephiny and then turns to the elders. "I understand your concern, but when we find Gabrielle youll know I was telling the truth."
Gabrielle slowly awakens and finds that she is blindfolded. Her arms are tied tightly behind her back. The smell of grass and the sounds of the rustling branches tell Gabrielle that she is outside. She lies very still and tries to listen despite the pounding in her head. She hears someone moving toward her. A soothing voice speaks out as a hand gently pats her cheek. "Wakey wakey." This time Gabrielle feels a hand grasping her shoulder. The person gives her a hard shake. Then a mouth moves to her ear. "Your head must feel like a Centaur stomped on it. It should." A womans laughter fills her ears. Finally the fog that covers her mind lifts and Gabrielle recognizes the speaker. Callisto.
"Let the games begin." Callisto yanks the Amazon to her feet.
"I wont play your game Callisto," Gabrielle tells her.
"Hmmph. You didnt want to play last time either. Thats okay. It only requires participation from one of us." Callisto picks up what looks like a crude staff and strikes Gabrielles side with it.
Gabrielle doubles over against the pain and speaks through it. "Wheres the boy?"
Callisto takes another swing. This time she slams the staff against Gabrielles back causing her to stumble forward. "Dont worry. Hes safe." Callisto around walks to face the smaller woman. A well place kick to stomach causes the Amazon to drop to the ground. She turns Gabrielle over onto her back and straddles her. She brings the staff down on the Amazons throat. "Just like old times. Except Xena didnt kill you."
With her hands tied, Gabrielle is helpless to do anything against the pressure that is cutting off her airway. She makes a desperate attempt to knock the crazy blonde off by jerking her knees up. She makes contact with Callistos back.
This only momentarily stuns Callisto. "Clever little thing," she states as she releases the grip on the staff to rub her side. "Makes it a challenge ..." She gets up off of the Amazon. " and I like challenges."
"It would be more of a challenge if you would untie me," Gabrielle rasps out.
Callisto frowns at the comment. "True. But its more fun this way."
Gabrielle is pulled up again and is given a shove forward. After being pushed a few paces, she is forced to a stop. She hears the neighing of horses. Suddenly something is wrapped around her neck and then the blind fold is taken off. Squinting against the bright sun, she sees Callisto right in front of her.
Callisto is humming as she tightens the loose around Gabrielles neck. "We need to be somewhere but I think Ill sacrifice the time for some entertainment." The thin woman brushes the bangs away from Gabrielles forehead. "Youre looking well. Your wound has healed nicely," she states as she searches for a scar to the injury that she caused but finds nothing. Gabrielle jerks her head away from Callisto. She gives Gabrielle a smile before getting on her horse. She ties the free end of the rope to the saddle horn and then urges her horse forward. A second horse follows her lead. Looking down at her prisoner Callisto smiles as she watches Gabrielle quicken her pace to keep up. "Yeah it will definitely be worth it."
"Get up." Callisto commands her prisoner.
Gabrielle had done her best to keep up with Callistos pace but still had stumbled many times. Her body displays many scraps and scratches. A red band created by the chafing of the noose around her neck mares her skin.
"I said get up!" Callisto yells. "Or Ill drag your lifeless body with me."
"No," Gabrielle firmly replies calling Callistos bluff. You need me. Otherwise you would have killed me a long time ago.
Because the stubborn Amazon doesnt show any signs of moving, Callisto lets out a long sigh. "Oh very well." She spies the bloody gash on the bottom of Gabrielles right knee. Hearing the sounds of a stream nearby she makes an offer. "Since youve been such a good girl well go over to the stream and Ill let you wash up." She waits for Gabrielle to stand up before untying the rope from the saddle horn. After dismounting her horse, she retrieves a crossbow from her pack and leads them to the stream. She drinks some water and washes some of the dirt from herself. Then she retrieves a dagger from her boot and slices the rope that binds Gabrielles wrists. She doesnt remove the noose. "Dont try anything stupid," she warns as she pokes the tip of the arrow of the crossbow into her prisoners back.
Gabrielle doesnt give Callisto a reply. The Amazon walks the short distance to the stream. Cupping her hand she dips it into the waters and drinks the refreshing liquid. After several handfuls she proceeds to wash the dirt and blood away from her body and her wound. Satisfied it isnt too deep she stands.
Callisto follows Gabrielles movements with a watchful eye. "Move," Callisto calls out to her as she yanks on the rope. "Take off the noose." Gabrielle does as she is told. "Now put your hands through it." Gabrielle pauses. "Do it." Callisto walks a few steps toward her with the crossbow aiming it at her uninjured knee. "I said do it. Otherwise the boy will suffer." The petite woman complies. Callisto gives her a smile as she pulls the noose to tighten it. Walking away from the lake, Callisto pulls the Amazon with her to an abandoned campsite. She commands Gabrielle to sit down while scanning the area.
Gabrielle wearily watches the warrior. She twists her wrists but stops when Callisto turns to face her. "Wheres the boy."
"Dont worry about him. Hes safe and sound."
"What are you going to do with me?"
"Now thats the million dinar question isnt it. Well it depends on what I want to accomplish. You see I know that Xena has a special place in her heart for you. She would be crushed if something tragic were to happen to you or to Solan" Callisto sees the Amazon jaw clench when the boys name is mentioned. She smiles. "I know." She moves closer to Gabrielle. "I know hes Xenas son-"
Gabrielle gives her a threatening glare. "If you hurt him-"
"If I hurt him?" Callisto laughs. "I have big plans for the both of you."
"Whatever it is, its not going to work. You underestimate Xena and my Amazon sisters."
"You have such faith." Callisto glances over and finds Gabrielle intently watching her. A little unnerved Callisto blurts out, "What?!"
"Why are you doing this?" the blonde woman asks in a calm voice.
"Oh are you going to try to figure me out?" Callisto becomes infuriated when she is meet with a silent and analyzing stare from her prisoner. She narrows her eyes and hisses back, "You think you can get into my head and try to change me like you changed Xena?"
"She changed on her own." Pause. "Dont you want the pain and hurt to end?" Gabrielle sees a hint of uncertainty in Callistos face. "Answer my question or are you afraid of what you might find."
"What I might find?" Callisto raises her voice. "What Ill find is disrespect and betrayal! She dismissed me like some common foot soldier. I had given her my loyalty and the best years of my life! She threw that away. She threw me away. You dont know whats it like." With a slight slump of her shoulders Callisto whispers, "You dont know what its like to lose your entire family. Xena was my second family. And for the second time in my life, I was left alone." Pause. "But you know dont you." Callisto laughs maniacally.
"What are talking about."
"Im talking about your husband. But do you know what? Those men that killed your husband were a part of Xenas army. We had secured another village and were celebrating. Some of the men had been drinking and it had gotten out of hand. They had taken a few liberties with some of the women. When Xena found out she punished and exiled them. If Xena had adequately punish them, your husband would be alive today."
"Youre making this up." Gabrielle accuses. She closes her eyes as she tries to blot out the memory of the blood flowing out of Perdicus fatal wound, his last words, and his lifeless body.
"What are you afraid of Gabrielle. The fact that Xena is responsible for your husbands death."
Gabrielle opens her eyes. "Even if youre telling the truth, Xena wasnt responsible. Those men were."
"Even so, there are other things that have stained Xenas hands. Dont you remember what she did to you? How she tortured you? And why? Because she wanted to."
"I forgave her for that."
"She doesnt deserve it! Youre so quick to forgive her. But think about your husband Gabrielle. All actions have consequences. And because of Xena, he lost his life."
"No. You think Xena has betrayed you when she hasnt at all. I think the pain from your past has twisted your mind."
"Then I guess theres nothing more to say." Callisto moves closer and squats down until she is face to face with Gabrielle. "But I should thank you. You gave me my freedom. Who knows, maybe if Xena was still The Conqueror, things would have become stagnant for me." She pulls out a dagger from her boot and rests the flat of the blade against the Amazons throat and drags it across. "Besides, being on my own is so much more fun."
"Youre right," Gabrielle tells her with sarcasm. "Its been a ball for me too."
Callisto gives the Amazon a demented grin and slides the dagger back in its place. "Oh the fun is just beginning."
While keeping an eye out for Callisto, Theodorus spots a pair of riders. It is Callisto and Gabrielle. The Amazons hands are tied behind her and she is blindfolded. As Callisto dismounts a couple of her men step forward to help the prisoner down.
"Problems?" Theodorus asks as he tugs on the cloth wrapped around Gabrielles eyes.
"Just a precaution. Throw her in the other cage next to the boys. Come Theodorus. We have much to discuss." She takes one last look at Gabrielle before leaving. "Much indeed."
Solan wearily watches the men drag the Amazon over. He scrambles over to the edge. "Please at least untie her hands," he calls out.
Ignoring Solan, the man unlocks the cage and another one pushes Gabrielle in. The door is locked and the men walk over to the campsite where others are continuing their eating and drinking.
"Pigs," Solan mutters under his breath. "Queen Gabrielle, are you hurt?"
Gabrielle has scooted herself over to the edge closest to Solan. Leaning against the bars she replies, "Im all right. Are you okay?"
"Im better now," he confesses grateful to see the Amazon.
"Did they hurt you?"
"No." Pause. "Were in trouble, arent we?."
She isnt going to lie to him. "Yeah." She tries to give him hope and works to occupy his mind. "Solan, there are people looking for us. Your father. The Amazons. We have to be ready for them or for any opportunity to escape. I need you to describe everything around us."
Solan nods. "Okay. I dont know where we are but we are in the middle of a make shift camp. There are about forty men. Theres a fire about fifty paces away and," Solan counts the men, "there are five men there."
"Are there any horses?"
"Yes. It looks like each man has a horse."
Gabrielle shifts to get more comfortable. "Where is the woman?"
"The one that brought you here?"
"Shes with one of her men in a tent to the left of us. The tent is about fifty paces away also." Solan hangs his head. "Im sorry. Because of me you got captured."
"Solan, youre not to blame. You were in a situation you had no control of. And I should have known better." Gabrielle bangs the back of her head against the bars. I should have known better.
"Im glad youre here with me and that you are all right," Solan softly tells her. He wants so much to tell her more. To tell her he likes the way her hair falls on her shoulders, her smile, her laugh, her bright emerald eyes. He feels a blush creeping up his face and he turns away from her.
Even though she cannot see him, she hears the shyness in his voice. Before the attack on the Amazon village, she had a conversation with Solari about Solans crush and had wanted to talk to him about it. Callistos voice captures her attention and she hears people approaching.
"Get them out of the cages and hold them," Theodorus instructs the guards. They do as they are told and grip the prisoners by their arms.
Callisto steps up to Gabrielle. She reaches up and yanks the blindfold off. "I have decided to hold you for ransom."
"What about Solan?"
"Im not afraid of you!" Solan yells.
Callisto is amused by the boys reaction. She swiftly moves to him and looks him over. "You should be."
Gabrielle struggles against the men holding her. "You can ransom him to the Centaurs. Hes Kaleipus son."
Callisto strolls back to Gabrielle. "Ive thought of that. But you see his dead body will convince your Amazons that I mean business." Circling the blonde she stops and whispers into her ear. "And his death will cause Xena great agony." The blonde warrior laughs and motions to one of the guards. The soldier draws his sword.
Frantic, Gabrielle calls out. "Wait! Wait! Dont do this!" She struggles as she watches the soldier draws back the sword. "Hes an innocent just like your family was!"
Gabrielles words sends a pain shooting through her heart. "Stop!" Callisto grimaces and pauses. Shaken at the mentioning of her family, she waves the man away. Several moments pass as she tries to get her feelings under control. Finally she looks directly at the Amazon and speaks. "Then you get to take his place." She pushes Gabrielle forward.
"No! Leave her alone." Solan yells as he kicks at the guards.
"Please not in front of him," Gabrielle whispers to Callisto.
Callisto glances over to Solan. She finally gives these instructions. "Theodorus. Take the boy for a walk. You know where to go." Theodorus nods.
Solan struggles as he is dragged away. "Let me go! Dont you touch her!" Tears are streaming down his face as he continues to kick out.
"Solan everything will be all right. Be strong for me," Gabrielle calls out to him. Theodorus slings him over his shoulder. Finally they disappear from view.
Gabrielle turns to Callisto. "Swear to me on your familys memory that you will not hurt Solan."
Callisto considers Gabrielles demand. "I swear," she tells her in a quiet but steady voice. "You have a good heart Gabrielle. Ill try to make your death as painless as possible." They take Gabrielle to a clearing on the opposite side of the camp. Callisto looks around as if searching the area. Finally she gives Gabrielle one last look and then nods to one of her men. He steps up behind the Amazon and pulls out a club. Raising it he brings it down on the back of her head. She falls to the ground unconscious.
In a distance Theodorus and Solan are on a ridge that over looks the clearing. He is struggling desperately trying to get away. The man yanks him around and forces him to face the scene below him. Solan sees the evil woman motioning to her men. Two step forward and lift Gabrielles limp body.
Theodorus pulls Solan close and whispers into his ear, "Tell the Amazons they can find their Queens body at the rivers pass on the way to Thebes. Xena will know the place."
Solan is unable to tear his eyes away from Gabrielle. He watches Callisto grab the Amazon by the hair exposing her neck. A blade flashes and is swiftly drawn across Gabrielles neck. Callisto releases her grip and Gabrielles chin drops to her chest.
Solan doesnt hear Theodorus leave. His mind has blocked out everything around him. He closes his eyes to the pain and begins to cry his heart out.
To be continued in Part III
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