Mask of Courage


Disclaimers: All the characters of Xena: Warrior Princess are owned by MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The story and any other characters are mine. I make no profits. Fans of the show will recognize the use of some of the stories and events from the series.

Violence: There are fights like what you may find in the TV series. There are thoughts of rape, a beating and implied torture. The aftermath of the violence is described (nothing graphic though). Please do not read this if this is not your cup of green tea.

Language: Clean. How if this is a Conqueror story? I just did unless Tartarus is a naughty word.

Subtext: Minimal.

Thanks: To Hubby - for allowing me to spend the many hours trying my hand at writing this story. You are the true joy in my life. To the brilliant writers in the Xenaverse - for sharing their talents and imagination. I've had many hours of enjoyment from reading your creations. I hope I can offer the same. To Chasten my beta reader - for taking the time to make this better.

Notes: This is my first attempt at fan fiction. For comments (or even just to let me know that you read it) please drop me a line at Thanks for reading!

Updated: 3/22/01

Notes: I corrected the typos, errors, and cleaned up some of the extra text that I decided wasn't really needed. I did change some of the dialog between Xena and Darin in Part 3.



Part I

I've failed.

The thought echoes in her head.

Over the past few months, she had been diligently working on establishing ties between the Nation and a neighboring village. A trade agreement had been worked out between them and their relationship began to flourish. But soon after, sporadic attacks on the villagers began and they were robbed of their goods. As the attacks continued and became more frequent, the Nation provided protection. Different routes were taken and the delivery times changed but somehow the robbers always found their targets. The assailants were never identified or found. People had been injured and soon accusations were directed towards the Nation. The villagers clouded by anger refused to listen to the queen's response. The last gathering ended abruptly with the suspicion still on the Nation.

Ephiny walks in and immediately sees the bowed head and slumped shoulders of the woman before her. She approaches her friend and gives her a formal greeting. "My Queen."

Upon hearing her friend's voice, the queen looks up. "How is Dana?" she inquires softly. Dana is a skilled warrior who was thought highly of by many, present company included. She was one of the volunteers sent to escort one of the villagers' convoys. When the convoy was attacked, Dana had bravely held off the robbers while the villagers, with the help of her Amazon sisters, had managed to escape. But now she lay in the healer's hut.

"Not too good," Ephiny tells her as she watches a grimace appear on the concerned face. She decides to tell her queen only part of the girl's condition, leaving the minor injuries for later. "Dana still has not regained consciousness. Clara has done all she can… but she is hopeful… her sister Megan is with her now." She sees the emerald eyes close at the words spoken. Moments pass before her queen opens them, her gaze far away.

"I know that you are concerned about Dana. There was nothing that could've prevented this," Ephiny tells her in an attempt to ease her queen of any guilt she may feel.

"I know." Turning to the warrior, Gabrielle shares her frustrations. "If The Conqueror is behind the attacks, what is she trying to accomplish?"

"I don't know," Ephiny answers. She observes the young leader's face and sees the determination there. "I know what you are going to say."

"Are you an oracle too?" she laughs softly trying to lighten Ephiny's dark mood. Not succeeding she continues anyway. "We need to expedite the plan."

"I would like to again voice my disagreement. We have other choices," Ephiny strongly insists.

"Will those choices give us a chance to save this Nation?" Gabrielle asks. She waits for Ephiny to answer.

"I don't know if any of them will." In her anger, Ephiny pounds her fist against the table in frustration.

Walking up to the curly headed blonde, Gabrielle places her hand on her shoulder. "Have Solari, Eponin and Velaska join us here in a few candle marks."

Ephiny looks at her Queen. Her best friend. A woman she has come to love and treasure as if she was her own blood sister. She acknowledges the request and turns to exit the hut. Gabrielle watches Ephiny leave and goes back to the table where she was working earlier. 'Is this the best option? And does the Amazon Nation have a chance to stop the tide that threatened to flood all of Greece?'


"No mercy! I just love it!"

The raven-haired warrior ignores the comment and enters her quarters as the blonde commentator follows closely behind. The dark one begins the process of taking off her weapons handing her sword and chakram to her servant. The servant, a teenager of medium stature and light brown hair, takes the weaponry and places it on the table. His evening duties will include cleaning and polishing unless the warrior indicates otherwise. A whip is thrust into his chest. He cringes slightly but he pushes his thoughts away and quickly places it next to the chakram. He then begins the task of removing the warrior's armor.

Callisto seats herself in one of the chairs and watches Darin finish his duties. 'He's a handsome one. Young, firm.' She continues in her musings. He is half a foot shorter than the warrior but in time he will grow into a remarkable young man. As Darin helps The Conqueror with her robe, Callisto gets a glimpse at the powerful sculpted body.

With grace and strength, Xena crosses the tent and seats herself. Even without her armor, Xena has a commanding presence. She stands six feet tall. Her long raven hair falls inches below muscular shoulders. She is a vision of beauty and dangerous power. Men are drawn to her but soon learn she will never belong to anybody.

Xena glances over to the blonde woman. Callisto examines her fingernails, looking very bored. Wild long blonde hair frames a thin face. At first glance, one would not take her for a warrior. She has the body of a runner, slender and sleek. Only her outfit would otherwise indicate this. Her black leathers reveal more skin then it covers. Wristbands enclose the forearms and a scabbard graces her back. There is a knock and a heavy set woman enters. Her dark brown hair is pulled back revealing a chubby face which gives her a more youthful appearance than her true forty years. She bows before The Conqueror and waits for an acknowledgement.


She straightens up, avoiding The Conqueror's piercing blue eyes. She searches the room to see who else is present. Darin gives her a smile and a nod. Large brown eyes smile back at him. She sees Callisto and is ignored by the woman. The blonde woman's presence makes Lasaria uncomfortable. Her encounters with The Conqueror's second had made her fear the woman. Unlike The Conqueror, she has seen Callisto fly off in uncontrolled rages at the soldiers for the slightest infraction. Returning her attention to Xena, Lasaria speaks. "Conqueror. The men speak of your success." With a hint of nervousness she continues. "They also tell me that you whipped an Amazon."

Xena takes in the words while observing Lasaria. Years of dealing with less then respectable men had taught Xena to read people. Body language and tones in the voice revealed much and Lasaria was revealing her uneasiness. With a wave of her hand she dismisses Darin. He bows and quietly takes his leave.

"The Conqueror hasn't had a good work out in a while… the poor dear. She missed out on all the fun last time," Callisto states as she gives Xena a pouty expression.

Trying to regain her thoughts, Lasaria shakes her head slightly and continues. "I've come to speak with you on another matter."

"And that is…"

"Your invitation to the Amazons."

"Yes," the low alto of The Conqueror purrs out.

With a quick breath, she rushes out her words. "I don't think it is a good idea. It will not change your destiny."

The face of The Conqueror instantly becomes dark. With restrained anger, Xena directs it at the woman before her. "Tell me oracle. Tell me more about my destiny."

"I have not had any other revelations," she meekly replies.

"No, of course not." After a pause Xena continues. "Tell me again about the vision."

Lasaria makes an attempt to stand taller, closes her eyes, and begins. "I see the Amazon visionary. She speaks of the one who calls upon the name of Artemis. She speaks of a swordless dark warrior. Her ring of fire is no more. Apollo's chariot races across the sky. It comes upon a mask, a mask of courage. A new era has begun."

With a shake of her head, Callisto laughs out. "Your words are nonsense. One witch foreseeing another witch's vision …"

Lasaria gives the blonde a long glare, turns toward Xena and continues. "The truth of the vision will become reality. I only tell you what has been revealed to me."

Xena silently mulls over the oracle's words. "Go. I don't want to see your face until another revelation comes to you."

The older woman bows and hurries to exit the tent.

"Why do you keep that soothsayer around? I don't trust her. Seriously Xena, you are at the height of your destruction. Nothing can stop you, least of all an Amazon harlot." Callisto stops as she sees a faint smile appear on Xena's face. Callisto tilts her head and gives her a curious look. "What are you thinking?"

"Those harlots are either going to join me… or die. I make my own destiny."


The sun sets, painting the cloudless sky with an array of red, orange and yellow colors. The land here is lush, seemingly untouched by Man's hand. Animals roam freely in the Amazon forest. Fish is plentiful in the stream that flows nearby.

In the Queen's hut, there is a break in the meeting as word for more drinks and food is sent. A lot more food. A young girl enters with the last tray. Ephiny watches as Gabrielle speaks with the girl. With a touch on her forearm, Gabrielle warmly thanks the girl and tells her to thank the kitchen as well. 'She has come a long way,' Ephiny chuckles to herself as she remembers with fondness how clumsy their queen was years ago. Her friend, Eponin, being the weapons master had the responsibility to teach the new princess how to fight and defend herself. Gabrielle had selected the staff as her weapon of choice. Eponin would shake her head and lament to Ephiny that it was useless. But in a short amount of time and many bumps and bruises later, Gabrielle became very proficient. The many hours of practice over the years had turned her into one of the best, if not the best.

She watches as Gabrielle takes a bite of the nutbread she loves so much while questioning Solari. Her and Solari used to be overwhelmed with the questions. There were so many. Being thrust into an unfamiliar world, Gabrielle's natural curiosity showed all her inquisitive mind. But it was her desire to truly understand that molded her into a very capable leader. The young princess was well loved by all. They were entertained by her imagination as she told stories to the children. They were touched by her compassion as she held and comforted a grieving mother. And they were won over by her pure heart when she held another's interest over her own. In all those acts, they felt the princess' commitment and love toward the Nation.

Amazed with the infinite amount of warmth and love Gabrielle expressed in all that she did for others, Ephiny had asked her about it. "How can I not show my gratitude towards my sisters?" was Gabrielle's answer. "The Nation has accepted me, an outsider, and has nurtured me with open arms."

'No Gabrielle, you have it the other way around. In your humility, you just can't see it.'

"I don't know why we are having this discussion again. We need to go forward." Velaska's comment brings Ephiny back to the discussion. She notes Velaska's impatience in her voice.

"Because we want to make sure this is the best thing to do." Gabrielle rubs her temple, trying to ease the ache that had been there throughout the entire meeting.

She looks around and sees the faces of the women who have helped and supported her in the years after she joined the Nation. These women are the embodiment of the Amazon spirit, the most skilled and respected among their peers. There is Eponin; her body a testament to the title she is known for. With brown hair and eyes, her no nonsense view brings clarity and realism to any situation. Solari, with darker hair stands taller than the stocky Eponin and is almost opposite in personality. Solari sees the world with optimism. She is a lot like Gabrielle in that way and the two women quickly struck up a friendship. Sharp minded Ephiny is Gabrielle's second in command, her right arm. She has a desire to be the best in everything, and she expects the same from others. And because of that Ephiny's temper sometimes overshadows her true intent as Gabrielle witnessed early on. But the queen is grateful that Ephiny didn't give up on her. Finally there is Velaska. She had come to them from a sister tribe shortly after the trade agreement was made. Quick on her feet, Gabrielle had placed her in the ranks partly for her skills but more so to allow the new sister to learn and to get accustom to how Gabrielle governed.

"Let's hear our options again," the queen directs.

Starting at the top of the list Ephiny begins. "We attack."

Eponin counters, "But our forces are outnumbered two to one…"

"And too many lives would be lost," the queen adds.

"Your plan to evacuate and…" Solari trails off as a tall and slender Amazon makes her presence known and enters. She is not dressed like any of the Amazon warriors. Her sleeveless dress is simple and falls just below her knees. A multi-colored sash is wrapped around her waist. She wears brown leather boots, the Amazon standard.

Gabrielle acknowledges the black haired woman. "Shelia."

"My Queen. May I have a word with you?"

"We are in the middle of urgent matters … Can it wait until after we are finished?"

"Yes my Queen."

"And Shelia, please call me Gabrielle."

The young Amazon smiles and turns to make her exit. They all watch Shelia leave before continuing their discussion.

Velaska offers, "We can join her. It isn't too late."

"No," Gabrielle immediately states. "This Nation won't become part of that killing machine! Destroying the innocent? No, the treaties we have made with the villagers, their survival…"

"What about the survival of this Nation?" Velaska snaps.

With sadness and disappointment, Gabrielle answers back, "If we think only of that, then this Nation is already lost."

Velaska quickly rises and storms out of the hut. She runs directly into Shelia, who has been listening outside. Velaska lashes out at the stunned Amazon. "Get out of my way!" Before she can react, Velaska takes a quick glance back to the Queen's hut and then shoves her aside. Shelia looks up to see Eponin watching the encounter. 'At least she's smart enough not to try anything with the weapons master there.' She gives Eponin a wave to indicate that everything is okay and then heads off to her hut.

Eponin reenters the hut and nods to everyone. Gabrielle continues, "If there are no objections, we will start evacuating the children and the elderly tomorrow." None are voiced. "We also need to send a warning to the neighboring towns."

"Why?" Solari asks.

"Once Xena receives our response to her invitation I want us to be prepared for anything. She may continue on her path…"

"and between Xena and us are the villages," Ephiny finishes Gabrielle's thought.

"Yes and I want to at least give them an opportunity to escape to safety."

"But they don't trust us," Eponin reminds them.

"No, but I think if we tell them that The Conqueror is behind the attacks, then they will listen."

Just as surprised as the others, Ephiny voices the question on everyone's mind. "Are you positive?"

Gabrielle nods and gives her explanation. "In my visit with Dana I recognized The Conqueror's handy work." Seeing the puzzled looks around her, she continues. "Do you remember when we were helping out one of the Southern villages, after The Conqueror's army had passed through."

"The village of Penterus," Solari recalls.

"Yes. The man we found by the road was one of Xena's soldiers. He told me that she personally saw to his punishment for disobeying her orders." With controlled anger in her voice she continues. "There were marks on Dana's back. They formed the same pattern as the lacerations on the man's back." Several moments pass as each woman ponders The Conqueror's cruel act.

"Solari, please tell Shelia that we are finished, then you and Eponin begin making plans for the evacuation. We will have an assembly tomorrow morning." Both ladies depart to work on their given tasks.

Moments later Shelia returns and finds Gabrielle and Ephiny in a discussion about Velaska. "What are you going to do about Velaska's claims to the Queen's mask?" Ephiny asks.

Gabrielle takes a long sip from her drink before answering. "With everything that has been going on, nothing at the moment. She will have a chance to present her case to the council when all of this is over. Right now we need every able bodied warrior."

"I don't know if we can trust Velaska to keep a level head," Ephiny states.

"I'm not sure either but she has good instincts and is only second to Poni in overall skills as a warrior." Seeing Shelia Gabrielle invites her to sit down. "What did you want to talk about."

"I have had the same vision my Queen but only with more details," she tells Gabrielle. "The emerald stone falls, bathed in blood. The blue skies are watching. Apollo's chariot races across… over a new queen's mask."

Ephiny, a little concerned asks, "New mask? Are you sure?"


"And have your feelings changed?"

"No my Queen, I mean Gabrielle. I still feel the pain and the peace that follows. But my ability to interpret…"

"Shelia. With time, you will learn to understand the feelings and interpret them with sureness," Gabrielle tells her.

With a hopeful glance at Gabrielle, Ephiny asks, "With this new information, has your interpretation changed?"

Shelia shakes her head. "No. I'm afraid it reinforces my first assessment."

"Thank you Shelia. If there isn't anything else."

"No my Queen." Shelia rises and exits, leaving the two friends with their thoughts.

"Can we honestly believe what Shelia tells us?" Ephiny asks.

"Ephiny. I don't know. But if it is to be…All we can do is accept it," the young queen reassures her best friend.

"Gabrielle. You are the heart and soul of this nation."

She smiles sadly at Ephiny's statement. "The Nation has had many queens. Some good, some not so good. And The Nation has always survived. It won't be any different when I'm gone."


The morning sun greets the land with its bright and cheerful rays. It couldn't have been a more beautiful day. But no one really notices because tension fills the air of the Amazon village. The people gather for the assembly that their queen has called and wait for her arrival.

Gabrielle steps up on the raised platform and views the crowd. Ephiny, Solari, and Eponin stand behind her. Velaska is also there but stands a little further away.

"You have all heard about The Conqueror's invitation to our Nation to join her and to become part of her army," Gabrielle addresses them. "And you know of the attacks on our neighbor's convoys. I believe The Conqueror is behind these attacks, perhaps to give us a little encouragement to accept her invitation." Murmurs fill the air. Gabrielle waits until the crowd settles down before continuing. "After much discussion, a decision to decline the invitation has been reached." Exclamations can be heard and voices call out for quiet as many want to hear more of what their Queen has to say. "The consequences of the decision will not be good and will most likely make things difficult for us." The blonde leader pauses. "When I came into this family, I learned your traditions and beliefs. I've seen many trials that have tested our Nation, and yet we still stand, made stronger because of them. I have come to admire the courage that upholds those convictions. It is that courage and that strength in each of you that I call upon to deliver this Nation out of the hands of The Conqueror." Moved by their queen's words, the crowd calls out their support.

"Solari will instruct the unit leaders on the plans to evacuate the elderly and the children. Eponin has already spoken with our warriors about the defenses against The Conqueror's army." The young queen pauses before continuing. "Melosa's death deeply affected us all. It still grieves our hearts since it was not so long ago. In that short time, I have led the Nation to the best of my abilities, but I have yet to fulfil the responsibility of naming a successor. The Conqueror will try to invade our land, and as in all battles there will be death." Turning to Ephiny, Gabrielle gestures for the warrior to step forward and to stand besides her. "Ephiny, daughter of Fallon. You have the strength of many warriors, a wisdom beyond your years and a great love for this Nation." Many in the crowd nod their agreement. "I know you will always do what is right for your sisters. I give you my right of caste."

Upon hearing this Velaska abruptly steps forward. The anger is apparent on her face. "Gabrielle. You may want to reconsider your choice," she states as she glares at Ephiny. "But, it doesn't matter. After all of this is over, I will prove that Melosa was my sister and that I am the rightful Queen of this Nation." Velaska storms off and walks away through the parting crowd.

While the women all around exchange nervous glances, Ephiny looks over to her queen.

With concern etched on her face, Gabrielle watches Velaska disappear into the forest.



The blade of the sword cuts through the air to form a perfect arc. The Conqueror is performing her morning drills. The warrior knows the routines will give her the edge in any physical combat. She continues her workout, enjoying the steady rhythm of the movements.

One of Xena's men cautiously approaches her. Nondescript in appearance he can easily slip in and out of sight. He knows this time is very precious to his leader and stops a safe distance away. Xena senses his presence but continues to work through her last drill. Sheathing her sword she walks toward the soldier.

"Conqueror," the man salutes. His right fist is closed over his heart. "I have the information that you requested."

"What has our little source revealed."

"The Amazons are going to reject your offer." A wick grin appears on Xena's face and she laughs to herself. The man nervously continues. "There was also an outburst at their assembly. Their queen gave her right of caste to one of the Amazons-"

"And Velaska didn't like it too much," Xena finishes for him.

"Uh, yes."

"This doesn't confirm any of the rumors, but if it's true…"


"Velaska's desire to become Queen could complicate things. I want you to deliver this message…"


In a tavern in one of the neighboring villages, a cloaked figure sits and sips a mug of ale. A hood obscures the face of the figure. Velaska enters and scans the room. She has been here many times before, seeking to soothe her soul with a good drink. She spots the cloaked figure seated at one of the back tables but moves to the bar instead. She orders her drink and downs half the mug. After a few moments, she looks over to the table and sees that the individual is no longer there. She quickly finishes her drink and leaves. After riding to one of the mountain ridges, she dismounts and walks over near the edge to give her a better view. 'It is so beautiful here,' she thinks.

"Peaceful, isn't it."

Velaska turns to see the cloaked figure standing nearby.

"Yes. But what would The Conqueror know about peace."

The figure laughs and removes the hood of the cloak. "You're late," the dark woman states.

Velaska gives her a shrug. "I had things to take care of."

"Like your plans to become queen?" Xena questions her. The surprise is evident on the Amazon's face. "Your exact words were 'I will prove that Melosa was my sister and that I am the rightful Queen of this Nation.'"

Velaska angrily hisses out, "This doesn't concern you. You know nothing about it."

"Oh I know the story," Xena informs her. "Queen Melosa dies in an accident trying to save an Amazon child." Her eyes sparkle as if she knows a secret. She continues. "And then you show up claiming to be her long lost sister. Unfortunately you ran into an obstacle to the throne, an obstacle in a peasant girl by the name of Gabrielle. Poor girl. The story goes that shortly after her marriage, she and her husband were attacked by robbers while they were on their way to visit his uncle. They happened to be near Amazon land…to make a long story short the Amazons come to the rescue, the husband dies, and the Amazon princess is severely injured. But unfortunately the princess dies despite the fact that the girl had selflessly thrown her body over the princess' to protect her. And with her last dying breath she gives her right of caste to this girl." Xena pauses as she looks directly at Velaska. "You thought once they learned that you are Melosa's sister, they would allow you to replace Gabrielle as queen because you are of true Amazon blood and she is not." Xena eyes her suspiciously. "All of this brings our situation into a different light. The question is where do we go from here?"

"I only want what is best for my people. What do you want?"

A smile slowly forms on The Conqueror's face. "My empire is growing and I recognize one person cannot possibly control it all. I need someone who I can work with, who shares my vision." Seeing a spark of interest in Velaska's face Xena continues. "Your queen obviously doesn't. Yes, I know. My invitation has been rejected. The Amazons would be a great addition to my army. And I believe you can help me obtain your Nation's services. But first let me help you." Xena pulls something from her cloak and tosses it to Velaska. "Your key to the throne."

The tall Amazon immediately recognizes it. It is a necklace containing many brilliant blue stones strung together by a leather cord. Small feathers are woven in between each stone. "This belongs to Melosa's mother," Velaska exclaims. "But how?"

"That doesn't matter. As we speak, my army is on its way to the Amazon village," Xena states watching Velaska for her reaction. Velaska gives her a smile. "I think a show of force is needed to convince your Queen to change her decision. But then if all goes well, we won't have to worry about Gabrielle."


"Yah!" The excitement course through her veins as The Conqueror sprints on her horse toward the sounds of the battle. Everything has fallen into place. Her reign of terror throughout Greece has been a successful one. Because of her impatience and her arrogant belief that she is in control of her destiny, she has proceeded with her plans and has sent Callisto and her army to the Amazon village.

Wisely, anticipating an attack, the Amazon queen ordered the scouts to expand their daily watch to cover more of the perimeter of the forest. When Solari reported seeing The Conqueror's army, the carefully planned defenses were put into action. The Amazons had surprised The Conqueror's army and had attacked from the trees, their arrows taking out many of the men. Traps set in the open field had claimed more.

In that field on the outer edges of the forest not far from the Amazon village, the sounds of clashing swords and the dying fill the air. Stopping short of the field, Xena surveys the scene before her. She is deep in thought, different scenarios run through her mind. 'I shouldn't have under estimated their peace-loving queen.' Off in a distance, a whirl of a staff catches Xena's eyes. She watches as a blonde Amazon dispatch one soldier after another. Xena is impressed with the warrior's skill but something else catches her attention. She observes that the Amazon does not kill.

Callisto spies the form of The Conqueror and urges her horse forward to meet her. Halting next to her commander, the blonde warrior gives her report. "The harlots ambushed us." Xena turns to speak to Callisto and then hears the sounds of a birdcall. She recognizes it as the Amazon signal to retreat. Soon many of the women disappear into the dense trees next to the field. Others make their escape on horses that suddenly appear from nowhere.


"Gabrielle!" Eponin calls out. The weapons master rides up to the smaller woman and the queen quickly grasps the outreached hand and easily swings on. Ephiny and Solari's horses make an abrupt stop next to Eponin's.

"Hurry. We need to set up the other defenses," Gabrielle calls out to Ephiny.

With a nod and a jerk on her horse's rein, Ephiny directs her horse into the forest. Solari's horse sprints closely behind. Before Eponin can command her horse to do the same, Gabrielle spots two of the younger Amazons in trouble. Megan, Dana's sister is attempting to climb onto the back of a horse when she is hit from behind. The other Amazon, Tessa immediately jumps off and holds off the soldiers to the best of her abilities. Remembering her silent promise to Dana to look after Megan, Gabrielle yells for Eponin to ride toward the girls. Sliding off the horse Gabrielle quickly joins in.

"Tessa! Help Megan onto Eponin's horse!" Gabrielle commands the red head while swinging her staff. Tessa quickly gets the injured girl in front of Eponin. "Go!" the queen yells. With a slight hesitation, Eponin begins to protest her queen's command.

"Go now!"

Eponin urges her horse forward leaving the two women behind. The few soldiers around them try to over take them but are unsuccessful as staff and sword hit their targets. As the last man is brought down, Tessa mounts her horse. She reaches out for her queen and Gabrielle climbs up behind her.


Upon hearing the bird call, Xena charges forward trying to cover the distance between her and the retreating Amazons. The Conqueror spots the blonde warrior she had seen earlier riding toward the forest. 'Oh no you don't.' A vicious snarl appears on Xena's face and she grabs her chakram and lets it loose. Just as they are about to enter, the horse Gabrielle and Tessa are riding on suddenly falls and both riders are thrown.

"Gabrielle!" Tessa calls out.

'Could it be?' Xena thinks to herself. 'Yes. It is the Amazon Queen.'

As the soldiers surround the two, Xena and Callisto ride the short distance toward them. Both Amazons are in a defensive position, their backs to one another. The men make their move and attack. Gabrielle whirls her staff and easily fends the soldiers off making full use of the weapon's longer length. Tessa slices through two men but another slips in behind her. With a cry she drops to the ground, a dagger sticking out the back of her leg. Xena watches as the blonde Amazon immediately stands over the young girl like a mother lion protecting her cub. Before her men can continue Xena orders them to stop, much to Callisto's disappointment. Xena studies the woman before her. At first glance the woman's small size would lead one to assume she is an easy prey. But the well-defined muscles of her body would make one quickly change that assumption.

"I could end this now," Xena tells Gabrielle smugly.

"So do it."

"No. You seem to be quite a proficient fighter and I want to give my men some practice…" She glances around her and then turns to Gabrielle and speaks. "The man that kills this Amazon will be invited to my tent…" Without taking her eyes off of Gabrielle she continues, "and will experience a death a thousand more times painful then he can imagine." With a slight pause and a smile she adds, "But kill the other one."

The men take in Xena's words and then they attack.

Gabrielle again is on the defensive making sure none of the men get past her. Tessa, with her sword in hand, is unable to do much from where she lays. With so many men attacking, Gabrielle slowly begins to tire but she continues to strike out, careful not to deliver a fatal blow. As she is fighting, she searches for a way out for her and Tessa. The thought to reason with The Conqueror to spare her young sister's life crosses her mind, but because of The Conqueror's reputation she dismisses it.

In the meantime, Xena prudently watches the Amazon queen and makes note of all of her moves.

When the men are unable to over take the Amazon, Callisto decides to step in. "Imbeciles!" the blonde cries out and leaps off her horse to join in. With a flurry of blows, the blonde attacks and tries to force Gabrielle away from Tessa. But the queen manages to block each strike and to hold her ground. With Gabrielle totally focused on Callisto, the men advance on the injured girl. And because of the queen's divided attention between her opponent and the men surrounding Tessa, Callisto slips in a powerful kick by Gabrielle's defenses. The next thing the Amazon feels is a painful blow to her side and she goes down. Callisto stands triumphantly over her, the point of her sword pressed over the queen's heart. Swinging off of her horse, Xena motions Callisto away and nods at two of her men. The men roughly pull Gabrielle up, each one grabbing a wrist and bicep. Meanwhile other men have surrounded Tessa but have made no moves to harm her. Xena walks up to the restrained blonde.

"Not bad. Not bad for an Amazon with morals."

"And what would you know about morals."

"Ooooh… nothing." Xena pauses and then shares her observation. "You don't kill. Tsk, tsk, tsk. You don't kill."

"And you think that's a weakness."

"It definitely isn't a strength. But I'm sure you have others." Xena gives her a once over and then grabs her chin. "I'm betting on it…"

Laughter can be heard from Xena's men. Gabrielle whips her head out of Xena's grasp and spits on her face.

"Here comes trouble…" Callisto gleefully exclaims to herself.

In the silence that follows, defiant emerald eyes lock with icy blue ones. Spotting her servant Xena gives him her instructions. "Darin get my bag." Quickly he scurries off to his commander's horse. He is by Xena's side in a heartbeat. He has done this many times before and waits for her signal. Seeing Xena's outstretched hand, he pulls a piece of fabric from the leather pouch.

Xena casually wipes the spittle from her face. In an instant she is gagging Gabrielle with that same cloth. "That should help solve your spitting problem."

Next leather bindings are placed in Xena's palm. With a nod from their commander, the two men holding Gabrielle's arms jerk them in front of her. Xena effortlessly binds her wrists. She circles her captive like a predator and stops behind her. Darin quickly follows.

"I know you won't be giving me any trouble but just to be sure…" Darin hands Xena the last two items. Gabrielle hears a pop and then feels a brief pain on her upper right arm. She looks down and sees Xena's closed fist pressed against it. Her hand is wrapped around something. Things begin to go fuzzy for Gabrielle. The men let go of her and she drops to her knees. Walking around to face her, Xena looks down at her prisoner and gives her a couple of pats on the check. "No trouble at all." Xena turns and hands the vial and dart back to Darin.

Callisto walks up to Xena. "You should have let me finish off Little Miss Morality. At least I would have gotten an invitation to your tent," she says with a wicked grin. "How about it Xena?" Callisto unsheathes her sword. "I'll even give you my two for one special."

Xena takes a long look at the Amazon queen while considering Callisto's words. She turns slowly to her second. Giving her a smile, Xena takes the blonde's sword. She strides to Tessa, raises the sword and swiftly brings it down. The hilt of it strikes Tessa's temple, knocking her unconscious. "Leave the girl. She can tell her people what happened."

Callisto frowns as she realizes Xena is dropping her plans to attack the Amazon village. 'Centaur poop.' She unhappily mounts her horse.

Gabrielle feels herself being lifted. A shrilling whistle pierces the air and then she is thrown over a saddle. Soon the sounds of the world fade away to nothing.


To be continued in Part II.

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