See disclaimers in Part I.
Gabrielle gives herself a moment to clear her head and then tries to remember what happened. 'Oh. Oh no. This is not good'. She takes stock of her situation. A cloth is wrapped tightly around her head, blocking all from her view. She is on her back and still gagged. Her bound wrists are stretched over her head. Her legs are parted and each ankle is tied, restricting any movement.
Xena studies her prisoner. The Amazon is coming around since her drug-induced breathing has returned to normal. As she continues her observations, Xena thinks back to the night before.
After riding back to her camp, The Conqueror gives her men a reward and allows them to celebrate the night away. She spies Callisto slipping away to her tent, pulling along several of the soldiers with her. Xena takes the prisoner into her quarters and ties her up on her bed. She waits for the golden haired woman to awaken so she can begin her fun.
Finally the young woman stirs and Xena rises from her seat and approaches the blonde. Kneeling besides her, Xena removes the gag and then proceeds to loosen the bindings. 'Let's see if the Amazon can escape. Then I'll see what she is capable of. Maybe we'll play a little game.' Men or woman. It didn't matter to her. It was the feeling of dominance that satisfied her needs. And tonight she is going to meet those needs.
Xena bends down to capture the queen's mouth, but she suddenly stops.
"Please. Don't do this."
It was barely a whisper. Normally her captive's pleas would have fueled her desires even more. But something stops her. A feeling. Confused she quickly straightens up and looks down. Green eyes flutter open. Upon seeing the angelic face, the guilt rises up from deep within her soul. Quickly she pulls the sash from her robe and wraps it tightly around Gabrielle's head covering her eyes. She gets up, a little frustrated. Pacing back and forth, she finally walks across to a table and begins to mix a sleeping potion. After adding a little more to it, Xena walks back to the bed. Carefully tilting the blonde head up, she slowly drains the liquid down her captive's throat making sure that all is consumed. She gags her prisoner again, tightens the bindings, and then begins to dress. Taking a last look at her prisoner, The Conqueror makes her decision and heads out. Darin will take the Amazon's place tonight.
Commotion outside her tent brings Xena out of her thoughts. She exits and finds Velaska among her men. "So how are things with the Amazons. Any missing persons reports?"
"We seem to be missing an Amazon Queen." Velaska looks causally around before continuing. "Where is she?"
Xena smiles, turns around and reenters her tent. Velaska follows. Upon entering Velaska sees Gabrielle's tied form on the bed.
"I told you that I would take care of your Queen." She smiles as she sees the bound blonde shift slightly. Xena goes over and removes the blindfold. She watches as the green eyes blink open, trying to adjust to the sudden light. She proceeds to untie the bindings around Gabrielle's ankles and the ones that stretched her arms above her head. She leaves Gabrielle's wrists tied together and pulls her to her feet. The gag is removed and she pushes Gabrielle into one of the chairs.
"I take it you came to see what the next step is."
With a quick look at Gabrielle Velaska answers. "Yes."
"Good." Xena purrs. "There's a question of loyalty I must address. But that can be easily answered."
At that moment, Callisto enters the tent. "A party and I wasn't invited!" She eyes Gabrielle and notes with interest that the Amazon appears unharmed.
"Don't worry Callisto. The party's just getting started," Xena tells her with a feral grin.
'I'm in trouble. Artemis, please give me strength.'
They had left Xena's quarters and had taken Gabrielle to another tent, tying her bound hands to another rope. The rope was thrown over one of the center beams and fastened, stretching her arms above her head.
Xena circles her prisoner. Her left side is bruised from the kick she had received from Callisto. A few cuts and scrapes are visible over the muscular body.
"I've been working on a new interrogation technique," Callisto informs Xena. "I could use a guinea pig." She pauses, taps her finger to her pursed lips and examines the Amazon queen intently. "We can find out if that's her real hair color."
"No," Xena tells her. "We need to initiate our newest associate." She turns and smiles at Velaska. "Why don't you give your Queen a work out. Or should I say yourself a workout."
The meaning of Xena's words is not lost to Velaska. As Velaska approaches Gabrielle, their eyes meet each other. There is no fear in the blonde's eyes, only sadness. She closes them and prepares herself for the first blow.
Xena and Callisto watch as Velaska forms a fist and brings it into contact with Gabrielle's stomach. The blow should have taken her breath away but there is not one gasp from the queen. Velaska continues to strike, hitting all parts of the exposed body before her.
"It doesn't seem fair that our new associate gets to have all of the fun," Callisto tells Xena. "When do I get my turn? You had your fun last night." She pauses but then quickly adds, "Oh but you didn't, did you?"
Callisto's words hit a nerve in Xena and she growls, "Enough!" Velaska stops at Xena's command.
The Conqueror approaches Gabrielle, grabs a fistful of the long blonde hair and pulls back. A line of blood trickles from the corner of the blonde's mouth. The queen struggles against Xena's painful grasp but doesn't take her eyes off of The Conqueror's face. Xena sees the fire behind the emerald eyes and hears them taunting her. 'You can break my body but you can't break my spirit.'
At last, unconsciousness mercifully over takes Gabrielle. The rope is released and Velaska turns away at the sight of the crumpled figure before her. Blood seems to be flowing from every pore of Gabrielle's body. Xena takes a step back. A light sheen of sweat covers her. She had to admit it. She admired the inner strength of this woman. She lasted longer than any man ever would have. But she was finally able to make the girl scream.
"Go back to the Amazons and wait for my instructions," Xena tells Velaska as she cleans off her small dagger. "And remember what I did to their precious Queen. What I can do to you."
Velaska takes one last look at the bloody body and begins to leave.
The Amazon stops but does not turn around. "Tell Shelia you're my newest associate." Velaska takes in The Conqueror's words and then leaves.
One of the guards enters and Xena gives him some instructions. She and Callisto both leave and make their way back to Xena's quarters. Once there The Conqueror washes the blood from her hands with soap and water from a large bowl. After drying them and wiping the perspiration off of her body, she takes a seat at the table and motions for Callisto to do the same. Fruits, breads, and meats have been laid out for The Conqueror's breakfast.
Callisto picks up a choice piece of fruit. "I worked up an appetite just watching you." She takes a bite and licks the juices that drip from the corners of her mouth. "I don't understand why you want to bother with those harlots. You've never given them a second thought before. Why the interest now?"
"I was always interested." Xena studies the food before her and picks her selection. "You don't realize what a powerful force the Amazons are. When I heard about Melosa's unfortunate accident I saw my opportunity."
"A new alliance. The best time to forge one is whenever the leadership changes."
"Yes. But I learned this new queen was establishing peaceful relationships with the villages. I knew she would never join me. At the time there were rumors about Velaska and her claims to the Amazon throne. Gabrielle has had all the privileges of being the Amazon princess being groomed to assume the leadership. Velaska has not."
Callisto ponders on The Conqueror's words. "You don't want their allegiance," Callisto voices out. "You want to take over. And the attacks on the villagers…"
"To throw in some turmoil and with an added vision - "
"A vision?" Callisto interrupts.
"Yes. A vision from their own oracle."
Callisto is clearly intrigued. "Shelia? But how?"
"I found their oracle to be more than willing to help me." Seeing Callisto's puzzled look Xena explains. "Her father had abused and murdered her mother. And because of that she despises all men, thinks they're no better than the dirt we walk on. She silently disagrees with and hates the new direction her tribe is going toward - establishing relationships with the villages that are run by men. So she jumped at the chance to help me." She pauses to pick up a bit of smoked meat.
"And the vision? Don't keep me in suspense." Callisto's eyes twinkle with anticipation. "What was it?"
"It foretells a change in the Amazon leadership," Xena tells her. With a smile she adds, "I told her to make up some oracle bull."
"Brilliant!" Callisto laughs out. Then a realization hits Callisto as she watches Xena select a berry. "The Amazon oracle in Lasaris' vision… why Xena, I didn't know you were one to believe in the Fates."
"I told you, I make my own destiny," a smug Xena tells Callisto as she pops the berry into her mouth.
The laughter of the two women can be heard from outside. Lasaria slips away. She is afraid. Very afraid. She has had another vision. In this one she sees the demented blonde at the head of The Conqueror's army.
Hidden in the dense forest, a figure is bent over retching. The figure straightens. It is Velaska. She hears the sounds of someone approaching and immediately draws her sword. Ephiny and Solori appear. They carefully move toward her, their own swords drawn.
"This is not the way it was suppose to be!" Velaska cries out.
"Velaska. Are you all right?" Ephiny asks in a gentle voice. "What happened?"
After getting her composure, Velaska fills in the two women about her trip to Xena's camp. Finally she tells them about the beating. "They strung her up like a piece of meat and waited for me to show my loyalty. I didn't know what to do. But Gabrielle did. With one look I knew she didn't want me to reveal myself and so I did as they expected." Velaska hangs her head at her confession. "I didn't know how much time had passed but The Conqueror's angry voice stopped me. And then she took over." Velaska closes her eyes to the memory. "I was about to stop that monster… I should have… but Gabrielle. She must have seen me take a step forward because she motioned me away."
Solari softly interrupts Velaska. "The Conqueror would have killed you."
"I would have killed her first," Velaska speaks out.
"No. You were in a no win situation Velaska," Ephiny points out. The concern for Gabrielle comes out as impatience as she asks Velaska to continue.
"There's not much more to tell. The Conqueror finally stopped after Gabrielle had passed out. She told me to return and wait for her instructions. But most importantly she told me that Shelia is her contact. After I left, Gabrielle was still alive. I don't know what The Conquer plans to do with her."
Reeling over Gabrielle's capture and treatment, Ephiny remarks, "I shouldn't have let Gabrielle talk us into this."
Solari replies, "You know Gabrielle, her determination, her heart. The nation has always come first. She wanted to find the traitor. She has accomplished that goal."
Velaska heatedly asks, "At what cost? Her plan was to die not become The Conqueror's prisoner."
Ephiny hears the anger in Velaska's voice and knows it is from the guilt at not doing anything to help Gabrielle escape her predicament. Ephiny turns away and looks up to the sky. Her heart is heavy with so many emotions, her mind overwhelmed with the current situation. "Dear Artemis, give me guidance," she asks as she recalls Gabrielle's plan.
Gabrielle had suspected there was a traitor among them because of the attacks on the villagers' convoys. With hopes of infiltrating The Conqueror's camp to find some answers, Gabrielle decided to create a rogue Amazon. Because of her recent arrival, Velaska was chosen. Gabrielle had started the rumors about Melosa's suspicious accident and Velaska's desire to become queen. Because of the small number of people who knew about the new routes and times, Gabrielle had narrowed the suspects to a handful. One of those was the Amazon oracle. The queen always believed in the innocence of every person and wanted proof before confronting Shelia with this serious accusation.
"It's too dangerous!" Ephiny tells Gabrielle.
"For me? How? I'll be dead," the blonde reassures her.
"What if The Conqueror decides to act on this."
"The Conqueror is a smart and resourceful woman. She will let this play itself out. It will create strife among the Nation without any effort on her part," Gabrielle reasons. "This is the best way to get someone in. It's a chance I'm willing to take."
They staged the confrontation between Velaska and Gabrielle in the meeting and also the outburst at the assembly to give some truth to the rumors and to see if Shelia would take this information to The Conqueror. Velaska would then find the proof and then issue the royal challenge where she would 'kill' Gabrielle. With the upright queen out of the way, the Amazons with Velaska as their new leader would join with Xena's army and infiltrate the ranks. Gabrielle's ultimate goal was to bring down The Conqueror and bring peace back to the land of Greece. They all knew that attaining this goal could come at a great price. Their belief for the greater good drove them forward. But they lost the gamble that Gabrielle had taken.
"What are we going to do?" Solari asks Ephiny.
With determination Ephiny turns to face her sisters. "We go on with Gabrielle's plan."
Gabrielle lies in the tent where her beating had taken place. She drifts in and out of consciousness. As the words echo in her mind, she flashes back to a note she had received.
Bathed in blood, the emerald stone falls.
Blue skies above keep watch.
The heart will be purged by the brilliance of the gem
As Apollo's chariot races to a mask of courage.
She had received the note just after Shelia had come to speak to her about her latest vision. She had assumed the note was written by the oracle and was puzzled by her actions. 'Why would Shelia tell her about the vision and then send her this note? And what about this vision?' Because of their suspicions of Shelia, they were unsure of her credibility and had not taken her vision very seriously.
"I must be the stone," Gabrielle mutters to herself.
Darin enters the tent and kneels besides the beaten woman. He instructs the guards to take her to the prisoner's area. Once there he begins to take care of the blonde's injuries. He suspected The Conqueror had used the pinch on the young woman because of the many small cuts. Besides disabling a person, the pinch can also be used to enhance the sensitivity of the area touched. So without much damage, the unfortunate individual would feel intense pain. Darin washes the blood away and then applies a salve on the smaller cuts. He only finds one wound that needs stitches. He pulls out a thread and needle from a bag and proceeds to sew up his patient.
"You have gentle hands."
Darin stops as the soft voice reach his ears. Thankful green eyes look up at him. "You're quite young to be a healer."
The teenager timidly answers her and continues his work. "The Conqueror, when she returns from battle, I take care of her injuries. She taught me to do that."
Gabrielle examines the young face and estimates his age at fifteen. "How long have you been with The Conqueror?"
He pauses to think. "Eight summers."
"That is a long time to be away from your family."
Seeing the look of compassion on the face of his patient, he tells her his story.
"I lived in Macedonia with my family. I was six when a warlord and his army came. They came to plunder and claim more lives. Sons had been sent to help a neighboring village with their defenses. Many never came back so our village was left vulnerable. My mother had hidden me in the hayloft of our barn. The rest of my family never got a chance to hide and they were killed. That is all I remember…No, I remember the screams. I remember crying myself to sleep that night. I remember waking to find a warrior standing over me. I thought to myself, 'Surely he has back to kill me too.' But instead he lifted me up and held me and eased my pain away…That warrior was a woman." He pauses and tells Gabrielle, "I've been with The Conqueror ever since."
He shakes his head of the memories and begins to bandage the arm he stitched up. He continues his examination, pressing against the bruised area of Gabrielle's ribs. A sharp intake is heard from the blonde. "I don't think they're broken. But I would like to go ahead and wrap them." He helps Gabrielle sit up.
"Are you happy here?"
"She saved me," Darin answers. The expression on Gabrielle's face clearly shows an expectation to continue, so he does. "She was not always like this. I was just a child years ago, but I remember a different woman. She had compassion. She had tenderness. She didn't have the bitterness or hatred of The Conqueror that you see now."
"Then why do you stay? Are you her slave?"
"No. I am free to go. I stay to watch out for her. But I'm afraid I haven't been doing a good job." He looks directly at Gabrielle. "Please believe me, she wasn't always like this," he whispers. "You can hate the monster that she's become, but please don't hate her."
Gabrielle slowly shakes her head. "I don't."
Darin is surprised by her reply. "But after what she did to you? How can you not hate her?"
"Hate consumes a person. But if you allow forgiveness to take its place, then you can overcome it." Wanting Darin to understand she continues. "Have you ever been so angry that it's the only thing you think of? That nothing else mattered." He nods. "And when you forgive, let go of the anger, it's like a burden has been lifted and then you are free of it."
This time Darin shakes his head. "Sometimes you just can't let go, can't forgive."
"It's not easy. But I remind myself if I want to be forgiven for the things I've done wrong, I must also forgive others. We all deserve a second."
"Everyone one of us?" Darin questions.
"Yes everyone, even The Conqueror. It saddens me that so much hate and anger consumes her."
As he finishes wrapping her ribs, Darin looks into the gentle eyes of his patient and thinks about her words. Upon hearing a sigh of pain from Gabrielle, he begins to mix several herbs to make a tea. Holding the cup for her Darin instructs his patient. "Here drink this. It will lessen the pain and help you sleep." When the tea is finished, he proceeds to tie her hands behind her back. He whispers to her, "I'm sorry but The Conqueror's orders."
A guard enters to check on the young man. Darin slowly lowers Gabrielle and positions her to lie on her uninjured side. Taking a glance at the guard, he leans over to tests the bindings and whispers something in her ear. As the herbs begin to work, she takes in Darin's words to her.
To be continued in Part III.
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