Mask of Courage



See disclaimers in Part I.


Part V (Conclusion)

The morning arrives too early for Solari and not soon enough for Xena. After consuming their breakfast, they enter the large assembly room. Murmurs are heard from among the large crowd. They make their way to the front and seat themselves. Cassandra and Velaska are already there and are to their right. After the long session with Solari, Cassandra and Velaska came to interview Xena. All of questions were asked by Cassandra and were to the point.

Xena looks over to Cassandra and makes a reassessment of the woman. A little under six feet tall, she stands with an air of confidence. Medium length brown hair is pulled back by a barrette to keep the thick hair in its place. The narrow blue eyes and pressed thin lips reveal an intense focus and concentration.

Before them a long table and chairs provide the seating for the council. The murmurs become a hushed silence as the council enters. Xena leans over and asks Solari to tell her about each woman.

"You have already meet Ephiny. She is very fair and open-minded but sometimes she lets her anger get the best of her. She will speak for the council in place of the Queen. Next to her on the right is Eponin. She is our weapons master. Eponin is hard to read. I'm afraid she feels she's failed in her responsibility in protecting our Queen and that may affect her judgement. To Ephiny's left is Natalia. Next to her is Sarita. The one next to Eponin is Beth. These women are our elders and are well respected for their wisdom. They are role models for our young and feel a great responsibility in teaching the Nation through their judgements. But every single one is fair. The witnesses will be called in chronological order. During the testimony, each side will have a chance to question the witness. If desired, a second round of questions by both sides is permitted."

Suddenly the entire assembly stands as the Amazon queen enters flanked by the Royal guard. Seeing Solari rise, Xena does the same. Xena gazes at the striking young woman before her. Gabrielle has on a long brown leather skirt with slits on both sides that come up to the middle of the muscular thighs. Unlike the previous top that showed off her muscular abs and tapered waist, the queen has on a reddish brown sleeveless top that hides these features. 'She is trying to hide some of the abuse she suffered,' Xena thinks. A feathered leather necklace and wrist bracers complete the outfit.

Taking her place at one end of the table, Gabrielle motions for all to take a seat. Cassandra remains standing and after a bow first to her queen and then to the council, she addresses the room. "We are here this morning to begin the punishment phase of the guilty party, Xena also known as The Conqueror, for her crimes against this Nation and its queen. I restate the fact that Xena has admitted to all of the following charges against her."

After the charges are read, Ephiny begins the proceedings. "Please summon the first witness."

An Amazon warrior takes the stand and describes the ambush on the villagers' convoy. Next the reading of Dana's statement, and then the healer is called as the next witness.

"Please describe Dana's condition when she was first brought to you," Cassandra requests.

"She had a severe concussion, many cuts and bruises and several lacerations on her back," Clara informs her.

"In Dana's statement, she said she was whipped by The Conqueror. Please describe the lacerations on her back."

"There were many deep welts. A few of them were bleeding."

"Will there be scars?"

"There will be some."

Cassandra pauses to let murmurs die down before resuming.

"Thank you. Your witness."

Solari stands. "While Dana was unconscious, you related to us that The Conqueror attempted to help her."


"What did she do?"

"I determined that swelling around the brain was the cause of Dana not regaining consciousness. The Conqueror offered a suggestion on how we could drain the fluids safely to relieve some of the swelling."

"Do you believe this treatment helped her to regained consciousness?"

"Yes I do."

"Thank you. I have nothing further."

Ephiny nods her head and dismisses Clara. Next Tessa is called. The young lady recounts the ambush, the battle between the Amazons and The Conqueror's army, the retreat, and the events leading to their capture.

Solari states, "When it was just the Queen and yourself you told us that The Conqueror had instructed her men to kill you."


"And the Queen fought them off as best as she could but was overtaken."


"You stated that The Conqueror stopped a woman who you believed was The Conqueror's second from killing the Queen."


"But she didn't kill either one of you."

"Obviously not."

Smiling to herself at Tessa's comment Solari thanks the witness.

Cassandra stands and takes her turn.

"Yes it's obvious Xena didn't kill you or the Queen. But do you think she had planned to use our queen against us?"

"I honestly don't know."

"But don't you think it is a possibility?"

Solari rises to her feet. "Tessa has already answered the question. Cassandra is obviously trying to lead Tessa's testimony."

Ephiny hesitates before speaking to Cassandra. "Do you have any other questions for Tessa?"

"No, I have nothing further."

Velaska is the next one to testify. She tells the council about her involvement with Xena, the purpose of it and about the beating that she had seen the queen receive. After answering Cassandra's request for the details of the queen's torture, she waits for the next question.

"What was the purpose of… that thing that The Conqueror did on the Queen… the pinch?"

"From what I could tell it seemed to enhance the Queen's sensitivity. So whenever The Conqueror cut or stuck her in the area that was pinched, the pain was multiplied."

"How did you know this?"

"I saw The Conqueror give the Queen a small cut and saw the Queen's reaction."

"How did she react?"

"She was trying very hard not to show how much she hurt. I don't think she wanted to give The Conqueror that satisfaction. It was only after several cuts and strikes did she scream out."

Murmurs of outrage rise from the crowd.

"At what point did The Conqueror stop?"

"Only after the Queen had passed out."

"And what was the physical condition of the Queen."

"She was a bloody mass of welts and cuts."

"Can you tell us the number of cuts she received?"

"I can't give you an exact number. There were so many."

"All from the hands of The Conqueror…"

More angry whispers are heard.

Satisfied with the reactions Cassandra ends her questioning. "Thank you."

"You yourself beat our Queen," Solari asks as she steps closer to Velaska.

Velaska quietly answers. "Yes. I felt I had no choice in the matter."

"Then to correct Cassandra's statement not all of the injuries that the Queen received were inflicted by The Conqueror."

"No." Upset with the question Velaska blurts out, "You didn't see what The Conqueror did."

"I have nothing further," Solari states as she returns to her seat.

"You didn't hear the screams of our Queen!"

"Velaska!" Ephiny calls out with a firm voice. But then with gentleness she makes her request for Velaska to step down. "Please." Velaska composes herself and returns to sit by Cassandra. "We will take a break and will begin in a candlemark."

Gabrielle had been quietly observing the proceedings and during the break was going over her assessment of it. The details of her torture affected some of the council members, the angry lines etched on their faces. The reaction of the audience certainly would influence the council in a negative way. Cassandra had performed in her usual arrogant manner. Solari had done well, highlighting the points they had discussed. But at the moment, it did not look too promising for Xena. Throughout Velaska's testimony, not once had Xena looked over in her direction. The raven-haired woman had sat quietly and had shown no emotions. But the queen had read something in the warrior's face. It was a look of resignation.

"My Queen," Ephiny calls out, diverting Gabrielle away from her thoughts. "Are you ready to continue the proceedings?"

The blonde takes a deep breath and prepares herself for the difficult task ahead. "Yes. You may proceed."

Ephiny calls for the attention of everyone present. "We will begin. We are now ready to hear the testimony of our Queen."

In the stillness of the assembly room, Gabrielle takes her place in the witness chair. She is asked by Cassandra to start with the attack on the Conquror's army. With an ironclad memory, she relays the event with great detail but does so without the flair of the storyteller that so many are familiar with. It is only when her story comes to the part of her capture does her account become sketchy.

"So the first thing you remember is waking up in The Conqueror's quarters."

"Yes. I vaguely recall that."

"Why did The Conqueror confine you there instead some cell or holding area?"

"I don't know. I can only make my assumptions."

"What are they?"

"She either wanted to interrogate me or… or play with me."

"You were bound on her bed… I think we can assume that she wanted to play." She lets her words sink in before turning over the questioning to Solari.

Turning to Gabrielle she begins her questions. "Do you think The Conqueror knew at that time that you were the Amazon Queen?"

"Perhaps … in a conversation with Velaska the following morning she indicated she knew who I was."

"So we can say you were a very valuable prisoner to her."

Gabrielle only responds with a nod.

Solari pauses to let the council think on her words. "You were bound, drugged… pretty much helpless?"


"The Conqueror could have taken advantage of you at any time. Did she?"


"She gave you a something so strong that you did not wake until the next morning. Thus eliminating the possibility of any attempt to escape… There was no physical evidence of any sexual assault, was there?"


"Thank you my Queen." Turning to the council Solari indicates that she is finished and returns to her seat.

Cassandra stands. "If I recall, the next part of the testimony involves the beating and the torture of our queen. But since Velaska has already testified to that, we see no need to subject our Queen to this nightmare again and would like to begin with our questions." With a several nods, the council show their agreement to Cassandra's suggestion.

"My Queen, do you have anything else to add to Velaska's testimony?"


"Please describe the pain you felt."

"It was severe."

"So severe that you passed out from the pain?"


Without another word, Cassandra seats herself.

"Solari? Do you have anything to ask the Queen?" Ephiny asks.

"No, not on this matter."

Next Gabrielle tells her story of the fight between her and Xena in The Pit. This time Velaska is the one who questions the queen.

"So they dumped you into this pit for a fight."

"Yes. I was pushed in."

"Were you fighting for your life?"

"I assume I was. The only rule I was told was 'winner decides the fate of the loser'."

"The fight must not have lasted very long. How long did it take?"

"I'm not exactly sure. I was too busy trying to avoid the blows."

"Did it end immediately? Remember, you had been beaten so you weren't in the best physical condition."

"No it wasn't immediate."

"A few moments?"

"No, it was longer."

"Doesn't it seems strange that the mighty Conqueror couldn't beat an injured woman quite easily… She must have been toying with you, using you for sport and entertainment. Did it appear that way?"

Gabrielle thinks about this and answers honestly. "Yes."

"And as she pressed down on the staff to kill you, someone called out mercy and that is what stopped her."


Solari takes her turn. "Winner decides the loser's fate. It was her decision not to kill you." She pauses. "And during the fight you had a chance to kill the defendant."


"Why didn't you?"

"I don't believe in taking a life."

"So you in fact granted her mercy in your action."


Solari gives her queen a smile. "Thank you."

Cassandra and Velaska quietly confer with one another. "The Nation has another question for the Queen," Velaska states.

Ephiny gives her permission. "Go on."

"You didn't take The Conqueror's life because you don't believe in taking a life."



"Because I value all life."

"We all admire and respect your values. But as Queen you have sworn to protect the interest of this Nation. I'm sorry to say but in this case you have failed. Where do you think we would be now if you had done just that, killed The Conqueror?"

"I object to this line of questioning!" Solari demands.

"Withdrawn," Velaska quickly states.

Not ready to drop the matter Solari turns to Velaska and heatedly states, "Our Queen is not on trial here."

"No she isn't. I only wanted to point out that the Queen had every right to kill The Conqueror because of the danger she poses to the Nation."

Gabrielle speaks up before Solari can respond. With a firm voice she commands, "Enough. The question was withdrawn." All is quiet as she looks around the room at her sisters. She looks at Solari who nods her head and takes her seat. Then she turns to Velaska. The tall woman returns the queen's gaze and silently mouths, "I'm sorry." Gabrielle acknowledges her with a weary nod.

Eponin leans over to Ephiny and whispers something in her ear. Ephiny glances at Gabrielle and then speaks. "It has been a long and strenuous morning. We will break early and will reconvene after the noon day meal."


Xena is pacing furiously back and forth in her cell. When Solari enters, she immediately jumps on her. "What in Tartarus was that!"

"They are trying to justify the sentence for death."

"By attacking Gabrielle? Do you know how that makes me feel?"

"Gabrielle is a strong woman. She can take it."

"I don't care if she can or can't! I won't let her subject herself to anymore."

"And what do you propose we do?"

"Nothing that we haven't already planned." The sentence stops both women in their heated discussion. They turn to the woman who uttered those words. Gabrielle motions for one of the guards to unlock the door to Xena's cell.

Dropping all formality, Solari speaks to her friend. "Gabrielle, I don't think it is a good idea for you to be here."

"Why not? I'm here to check on the prisoner's quarters. You know I do inspections from time to time."

"Yes my Queen. I'm sorry."

Gabrielle places her hand on Solari's shoulder. "It's all right. I know you only have the best intentions in your heart."

Both Amazons enter the cell. The small blonde gives Xena a smile. "So how are the accommodations?"

"I won't let this go on," Xena tells her. "I want the testimonies to end and the sentencing to take place."

"Please Xena. Don't fight me on this. The way I see it, it should be smooth sailing from here on."

"Oh you think so."

"It doesn't matter if it is or isn't. Let us finish this. It is the fair and right thing to do."

"For whom? Me?"

"Yes. But also for this Nation. I won't let this proceeding be compromised in any way. If we do it your way, then we will set a precedent for future queens to follow. First fairness and then morality will go out the door. I will not allow that to happen."

Xena looks at the queen, amazed by the wisdom and the heart of this young woman to put her own needs and wants aside. Finally she gives in. "All right. We'll do it your way."

"Good." Gabrielle casually looks around. "Everything looks to be in good shape here. Solari, make sure Xena gets her meal. If you need anything, you know where to find me," she calls out as she makes her exit.

Curious by the way the blonde made her comment Xena asks, "In her quarters?" Solari shakes her head. "The sparing grounds?" Another shake. "Then where?"

Solari gives Xena a knowing smile. "The kitchen."


After a hearty meal the crowd and the participants return to the assembly room and the proceedings continue. Gabrielle once again seats herself in the witness chair and tells the council about the fight between Xena and Callisto in the forest. Solari goes first in questioning the queen.

"You were also beaten by Callisto?"

"Yes. Xena's second was enjoying herself at my expense."

"And your shoulder wound?"

"An arrow shot by Callisto hit me."

"Were you her intended target?"

"No. She was aiming at Xena and I pushed her out of the way."

"And who took care of your wounds."

"Xena did."

"We didn't question you about this before but back in Xena's camp when you were beaten and tortured, your wounds were taken care of."

"Yes by a young man in Xena's service."

"In the forest with Callisto and Xena, Xena probably could have easily taken you back to her camp to let someone else treat you. Or she could have just left you. But she didn't do either. She took care of you herself."

Cassandra stands and impatiently addresses the council. "The defense is making a commentary…"

"I ask the council's forgiveness. I was only thinking out loud. Did Xena leave you?"


"Did she take care of your wounds?"


"Thank you."

Velaska rises and asks, "After the defendant had disarmed Callisto what happened?"

"As I stated, she helped me with my injuries."

"No I mean immediately after she disarmed Callisto."

"I was injured and didn't see everything that happened…"

"Did the defendant make any attempts to go after the woman who just shot you."

"I'm not positive but I think she did."

"Why did she do that?"

Solari immediately stands. "The witness cannot answer to what the defendant was thinking."

"In our earlier interview, the Queen stated she overhead a conversation between The Conqueror and Callisto that points to a possible motive."

Ephiny consults with the other council members before answering. "You may continue very carefully but I remind you the witness cannot answer to the motives of the defendant."

"All right. Let's take a few steps back. Please tell me about the conversation between the Xena and Callisto."

"I only heard bits and pieces but Callisto was speaking to Xena about some visions that an oracle named Lasaria had."

"Anything that pertains to The Conqueror?"

"Just the last one."

"What was it?"

"Something about Callisto at the head of Xena's army."

"So The Conqueror obviously went after Callisto because she was endanger of losing her army?"

"Speculation!" Solari yells out.

Velaska gives the council a pensive look. "I have nothing more."

Finally the last witness is called to testify. Cassandra questions the healer on Gabrielle's injuries. "So there were numerous wounds and cuts."

"Yes many. Some were older than others."

"Numerous wounds and cuts… Thank you."

Solari asks, "And in your examination of our Queen you found she had already been treated for her injuries."


"Tell us about the wound above her right eye."

Clara gives Solari a puzzled look because of the obvious answer to the question. "It was stitched up."

"Yes you've already stated to that fact. Do you think they were put in carefully."

Now giving her a 'I see what you are asking' look, she answers. "Yes. The defendant took great care to make tiny stitches."

"And in doing so…"

"Would not to leave a scar."

"Thank you."

"Since there are no further testimonies, are both parties ready for their closings?" Ephiny asks. Both sides indicate that they are. Cassandra known to be brief and to the point goes first.

"You have heard the facts. We have an admission of guilt to all of the charges against her. Amazon law states for the most severe ones, the attempted murder our queen and the conspiracy to over take the Amazon Nation, the only punishment is death. In light of that, the punishment for the other charges is mute. Send a message to the world that these crimes cannot go unpunished with anything less than death. It is the only just sentence."

It is the defense's turn and Solari addresses the council. "The defense has a request from the Queen to speak on behalf of the Conqueror. Will the council allow it?"

Obviously caught by surprise Cassandra voices her opinion. "This is highly unusual since our Queen is one of the victims."

The council talk quietly among themselves for several moments. Finally Ephiny speaks. "We agree this is a very unusual request but there is nothing in the law that prevents her from doing so. We will allow it."

Taking her time as she approaches the head table, Gabrielle makes eye contact with each council member. With a glimmer in her eye and determination set in her jaw, she begins.

"Thank you. Yes you have the facts. We have an admission of guilt by Xena. Our laws give us the right and the power to execute her for these crimes. It looks pretty black and white. But we know in the real world it is anything but that. You have heard how The Conqueror whipped our Amazon sister. But you also heard about the woman who helped Dana when she could've looked the other way. She probably saved our young sister's life. You have heard about how The Conqueror held me against my will, had me beaten, tortured, and used for sport. How she almost killed me. But you have also heard about the woman who tended to my wounds, who took care of me. I've seen the defendant's darkness - we all know about her reputation. But I have seen another side of her as well. I saw the gentleness, the concern, and the desire to do the right thing."

"This woman chose to do the right thing when she was in danger of losing her army. She could have left me to die but she didn't. And what else do we know to be fact? She came willingly to a trial that she was sure to lose when she could have returned to her army. Yes The Conqueror has committed atrocious offenses. You can condemn that woman. But look carefully. She is no longer that woman. I ask, would The Conqueror have admitted her guilt? …No. Would The Conqueror sit here passively and wait for an Amazon council to pass a death sentence or any sentence? … No. The Conqueror would not have. But this woman has."

"Amazon law calls for the punishment of death for the crimes against its Queen and the Nation. Those laws have many purposes. They serve to teach, to uphold our morals. They protect the innocent. They hinder those who may want to do what is wrong. They provide justice for its victims. They serve as a path for reform for those it has convicted. The law spells these things out. But look beyond the words and see the spirit behind them."

"As the prosecution pointed out, what message would we send if we do not follow through and execute The Conqueror for these crimes? I ask you this. What message would we send if we punish a reformed woman, one who has already changed from her evil ways? I do not ask the council to pardon her from her crimes. Punishment should be given, but don't punish her with her life."

Gabrielle ends her remarks with a slight bow to show her respect for the council. What was missing from her testimony came alive in her closing. The storyteller in her showed itself, full of energy and passion. The words came to life and its meaning imprinted itself in their minds and on their hearts.

"The council thanks you for your time, for your efforts, and for your arguments. We will consider the words carefully and we will consider the admission of guilt." Ephiny then formally ends the proceedings.


Ephiny enters the holding cell and opens the door. Xena looks at her a little surprised. She had been worried about Gabrielle and had not even noticed the unlocked door.

Ephiny shrugs her shoulders. "Why bother locking it, we know that you can break out anytime you want."

"How is Gab, I mean your Queen?" she quickly corrects herself. She feels she does not have the right or the privilege to call the queen by her name.

"She's finally resting. You can't image how hard it is to get her to take care of herself first. She can be so pig headed."

Xena notices the body language of the curly headed blonde. 'She obviously has something she wants to say.' Xena helps her out. "You came to tell me something."

With that opening Ephiny tells her. "Part of me wants to beat you just as you did to my Queen, my best friend."

"So what's stopping you?"

"Gabrielle. She is a woman of high morals and amazing character."

"Yes. I realized that the first time I saw her."

Ephiny shakes her head in disbelief. "She argued for your life. I know she wouldn't appreciate it if I acted on some of my feelings… Do you know what she's doing now? Now she's beating herself up over the one time in her life she chooses her principles over the interest of the Nation."

"The time she could have killed me."

"Yes…Gabrielle has given this Nation much. She has taught us about compassion and mercy. But above all she has taught us to love and to forgive. How can that not be in the best interest of the Nation?"

"You need to ask your Queen what you have just asked me."

Pondering Xena's words, Ephiny answers. "I will." She turns to leave but stops. "You've touched Gabrielle deeply."

"I have?"

"Yes. She told me that you have a great struggle in dealing with the darkness that has consumed you for many years. She admires your strength and your desire to try to overcome it. She says it is a difficult road to travel. Once you are on that path, it is hard to turn back. It takes an extraordinary woman to do that." At first she hesitates, but she allows her feelings to be known. Xena looks at the hand before her. Finally she accepts and grasps the arm in a warrior's handshake.

Still grasping Xena's arm Ephiny tells, "No matter what happens, I will be eternally grateful to you for taking care of Gabrielle and returning her safely to us."


Once again the assembly room is filled to capacity as the woman wait to hear the council's judgement. With permission from Gabrielle, Ephiny addresses the room.

"After much consideration and debate, the council has reached an agreement on the punishment of the guilty, Xena The Conqueror. Please rise for your judgement," Ephiny instructs. Reading from the parchment, Ephiny addresses the charges as a whole.

"The council recognizes and agrees with the defense's argument that you are a reformed woman. And because of that your life will be spared… The crowd murmurs upon hearing the sentence. "But with this condition. If you are ever found guilty of breaking another Amazon law, any law, your life will be forfeited."

"But because of the seriousness of the crimes, we feel we have no choice but to exact the following punishments. For the injury of an Amazon pertaining to our sister Dana, we give the victim the justice of her choosing within our laws. These choices include servitude for 3 moons or a public flogging by the victim. We will confer with our sister Dana on her decision."

"For the punishment of the crimes against our Queen and the Nation, we sentence you to the justice of the Amazon gauntlet. This punishment will be carried out within the week. This is the final ruling of the council." With that Ephiny ends the proceedings and dismisses everyone. To the guards Ephiny gives her instructions. "Please take Xena back to her cell."

Xena sits in shock at all that she had heard. Her life had been spared. Apparently the council has learned from the example of mercy set by their Queen. As the guards wait, Xena speaks to Solari.

"I don't know what to say …thank you." Xena offers her hand.

Solari grasps it and returns the handshake. "I'm not the one you should be thanking."

Xena only nods her head. She watches as the queen speaks with Velaska and Cassandra. One can obviously see that there are no hard feelings between the women. 'The respect this woman receives …' The voice of the one she is thinking about invades her thoughts.

"Solari. Thank you. You did a superb job." Gabrielle gives her a hug to congratulate her.

"Thank you but we both know what influenced the council the most. I was honored that you asked me. It tells me a lot about what you think of me."

Trying to give them their privacy, Xena starts to step away. Gabrielle places a hand on the warrior's arm to stop her and smiles. "Mission accomplished."

Xena returns her smile. "Yes, mission accomplished."


"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."

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.

Instead of pain Gabrielle feels the presence of someone very close and hears the words as they are whispered in her ear.

"Your plan has failed!" Velaska hisses.

Gabrielle is confused by the venomous tone of Velaska's voice. A blow to her midsection almost takes her breath away.

"You self righteous fool! Do you think you can lead the Amazons, a nation of warriors when you won't even kill?"

A slap to her face causes Gabrielle's head to snap back. The taste of blood fills her mouth.

"You got yourself into this mess. You have no one to blame but yourself."

"No," Gabrielle whispers. She looks up and watches as Velaska pulls her arm back to deliver another blow.

"Yes. It's all your fault!"

"No!" Gabrielle cries out as she jerks herself upright ignoring the explosion of pain in her left shoulder caused by the sudden movement. Her eyes take in the darkness around her. She closes them and tries to steady her rapidly beating heart and to slow her breathing. She immediately feels a presence by her side.


She opens her eyes and sees the concerned face of her best friend. "Ephiny." With a weary smile Gabrielle tries to reassure her. "It's okay. It was just a dream."

"The same one?" Ephiny asks.


Ephiny walks to a table nearby. As she is pouring a mug of water for her queen, she speaks what is on her mind. "Gabrielle. Please. I wish you would talk about this. You keep reliving your beating in these nightmares."

"Ephiny. I'm not reliving anything, "Gabrielle states while shaking her head. "That's not the way things happened. And besides I've already talked about it."

"Giving testimony is not talking about it. I'm worried about you Gabrielle," Ephiny states as she hands Gabrielle the mug.

Before replying Gabrielle takes a long drink. "Is that why you requested to stand guard outside my quarters?"

"Yes. That and I want to make sure that you would be protected in case Xena tries anything."

"Do you really believe Xena would try to hurt me?"

"No," Ephiny truthfully replies. "But it gives me an excuse to be nearby."

"You don't need an excuse."

Ephiny looks into the smaller blonde's face. "Then talk to me about what is bothering you. Gabrielle, you've been through a lot and you've gone full speed ahead without a moment to heal yourself. Mentally." Gabrielle starts to protest but Ephiny gently stops her by placing a hand on her friend's shoulder. "I know something is troubling you. I can see it in your eyes. Please if you can't talk to me than talk to Solari."

Gabrielle thinks about Ephiny's words. The events of the last few days have taken their toll leaving her to question her abilities as a leader. Placing the now empty mug on a small table, she runs a hand through her long blonde hair. Finally she gives voice to the source of her nightmares. "I just have some doubts and guilt to work out." Not wanting to interrupt, Ephiny patiently waits for Gabrielle to continue. "Do you think I'm a good leader?"

The question surprises Ephiny but she answers it quickly. "You're more than a good leader. You're a great one."

"Do you ever think it is strange that you have a queen that does not kill leading a nation of warriors?"

"No. Gabrielle you've gradually brought changes to the Nation. The way we think. Yes we are warriors but you've shown us there are always other options to fighting, to going to war. But you have led us to fight to defend ourselves. I pray the day doesn't come, but I don't doubt that you would kill to save one of your sisters if her life was in danger." Ephiny studies her friend's face. She sees the sadness most likely caused by the words that she had just spoken.

"Ephiny. I hear what you are saying, but my mind seems to tell me I have no right to be your queen."

"Then listen to your heart. I listen to mine and I know you are Artemis' chosen."

"I've made mistakes."


"I let myself be captured. I gave Velaska no choice but to do the things she did back in that tent." Gabrielle turns away from Ephiny and bows her head.

It is Ephiny's turn to give reassurance. Placing a hand under Gabrielle's chin, she lifts her queen's head up and makes Gabrielle face her. "How can you say those were mistakes? I said earlier that I didn't doubt that you would kill to save a sister. Believe me now when I tell you that I have absolutely no doubt that you would do anything to help or save one of us. And that's what you did. Thankfully everything turned out."

Moments pass before another word is said. "Thank you Ephiny." Gabrielle gives her second a hug. "You have always been there for me."

"Don't ever forget that," Ephiny tells her as they release from their embrace. "I better let you get some rest." With a last squeeze of the hand, Ephiny makes her way out. "By the way, Velaska volunteered for the night shift of prison guard duty. You'll find her there."

Gabrielle watches Ephiny leave. She walks over to her writing table and settles down to work out the thoughts that have manifested itself in her dreams.


The sky is still dark but soon morning will greet the land to a new day. Velaska stands outside the prisoner's hut with a fellow Amazon. She rolls her shoulders and neck to get some of the stiffness out. Taking a few paces she settles down on a log and watches for the sun to rise.

"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. She is afraid the look on her face will give her away. She knows the tears in her eyes will.

"Tell Shelia you're my newest associate." Velaska takes in The Conqueror's words and then leaves.

Velaska shakes her head to clear her mind of the image of the queen's crumpled body. She rises and tells the other guard that she is going to check on the prisoner. Upon entering, Velaska sees Xena standing near her cot looking out the only window in the space that confines her. No longer dark and brooding, she observes a lightness in Xena as if a burden has been lifted.

With her back to Velaska Xena asks, "Is there something you want." She turns around to face the Amazon.

There is a long pause before Velaska answers. "I've gone over the testimonies and proceedings but something still puzzles me." She sees Xena arch her eyebrow. "You go from being this merciless monster everyone fears to …to someone who wants to and does the right thing. Why the change of heart?"

"I've asked myself that same question."


"It's not why but who." Xena moves from the window and settles down on the cot. "I've been drowning in what I thought was a life that gave me everything. Power. Riches. Control. But it was never enough. In the time Gabrielle was my prisoner, she taught me the meaning of grace. She had an opportunity to killed me but didn't take it." Xena shifts on the cot. "Gabrielle was the first person in a very long time to show me forgiveness. She was willing to give her life to save mine." Xena pauses to reflect on the pure heart of the Amazon queen. "My servant, my only friend once told me what I was missing in my life."

"What was that?"

"Trust. I've guarded my heart for so long that I've forgotten how to care. How to love. But I ignored his words. But through her actions or non-actions, Gabrielle reached out to me." Xena silently finishes her remaining thought. 'She broke through that barrier which closed off my heart to the world around me.'

Velaska nods her head. "She is a remarkable young woman. I've heard many stories about Gabrielle … stories about when she first joined this tribe." The Amazon chuckles at first but then becomes very serious. "And stories about how she has become who she is today. Ephiny told me how annoying she was at first but eventually she won them over. She kind of grows on you."

The opening of the door interrupts the warriors' conversation and both women look toward the entrance. The Amazon queen enters.

"Having a nice chat?" Gabrielle asks.

Velaska greets the blonde. "Yes my Queen. We were talking about how you grow on people."

The blonde gives Velaska a curious look. "Funny, I don't think I'm any taller."

Xena rolls her eyes at Gabrielle's comment. Velaska smiles. "Is there something you need?"

"She's probably making another inspection of the facilities," Xena comments. "If you are, let me tell you this. It's a little small but I have to say that I would recommend it for a good night's sleep."

"Small huh? I'll make a note of that."

"Gabrielle. Did you need something?" Velaska asks again.

"Oh yes. I'd like a word with you."

The Amazon women make their way out. Velaska begins to head toward the queen's hut but sees Gabrielle walk in the other direction. She follows until they reach the sparing field. She waits for her queen to speak.

"Velaska, I wanted to talk to you about what happened back in Xena's camp." Velaska's heart drops. Gabrielle does not continue until Velaska's eyes meet hers. "Velaska. Please know that I don't hold anything against you for what happened back there. I'm just sorry I put you in that position."

Velaska listens to the queen's apology but does not accept it shaking her head. "I should be the one giving the apology. I should have reacted quicker. I should have done something different."

"There wasn't another way. You had no choice."

"I could have chosen not to …" Velaska turns away from the smaller woman. "… to beat you."

"Even if you made that choice, what would have happened next? Xena could have had both of us killed. But we'll never know." Gabrielle walks around so she can see Velaska and speak to her face to face. "I don't think any less of you. You showed a lot of courage just to walk into Xena's camp. And no matter what you think, you did a remarkable job not knowing what happened to me. Everything turned out. Please except that and let go of the guilt.

I promise to do the same."

Velaska gives her queen a nod. "I'll need time to think about what you have said. Yes everything turned out but I still feel lousy about what I did to you."

"Well to be quite honest, I would be a little worried if you didn't feel bad." Flashing her a smile she tilts her head signaling Velaska to follow. "Come on. You're off duty now and I'm starving. Let's go see what they are serving for the morning meal. We can watch the sun rise while we eat."

Velaska returns Gabrielle's smile and together the women walk toward the eating area.


Three days later.

It is morning and the guards release Xena from her cell and escorts her to the sparring field. Most of women have gathered to witness the punishment. As Xena walks toward the field, she catches a glimpse of a seated Dana. She notices the young girl's paleness but also the anger in her eyes. She continues her walk and stops when they have reached the field. Amazon warriors stand forming two lines that stretch for roughly twenty yards. They all either hold staffs or chobos. Ten yards away from Xena at the head of one line is their queen. Ephiny stands opposite of her.

Gabrielle speaks out to the women around her. "We are here today to carry out the punishment of the crimes that Xena has admitted to. Our sister Dana has requested a public flogging that will occur at a time to be determined. But now we will carry out the punishment of the gauntlet. You are to step through and only until you have reached the end, will justice will be served and your punishment completed. Do you have anything you wish to say?"

"I accept the sentence of the council and am amazed but grateful for their mercy. I deserve death but have been given life."

Then Xena turns toward to Dana. "I will never be able to find the right words to express my sorrow at the injuries that I have caused you. Nor will I be able to take back what I have done. It was inexcusable and is unforgivable. But I do ask for your forgiveness and hope that you accept it."

To the women gathered, Xena tells them this. "I have no right to ask but I make this request. To no longer be called or referred to as The Conqueror. I also ask for your forgiveness for what I have done to your Queen and to this Nation."

Finally turning to Gabrielle, Xena looks into the face of the young woman that saved her life. "I wish we could have meet under better circumstances. I would have never imagined that when our paths crossed that I would be where I am today. I was already dead before you came into my world; my heart was so full of hatred. But you gave me forgiveness when I had no right to receive it. You showed me a love that helped turn me away from the darkness that was consuming my soul. You have given me my life today and hope for the future. Thank you."

Gabrielle is touched by Xena's words but composes herself for what she is about do. Gabrielle waits for Xena to continue. When she doesn't Gabrielle raises her staff and nods to Xena.

Xena squares her shoulders and walks toward her punishment. As she approaches Gabrielle and Ephiny, she sees the queen lower her staff to her side. She stops momentarily and gives Gabrielle a confused look. The blonde answers her with a gesture for her to continue approaching. When Xena is next to Gabrielle she stops and waits for the queen to deliver the first blow. But the staff does not move from the smaller woman's side. Understanding Gabrielle's intentions, Ephiny also lowers her weapon. And again Gabrielle gestures for her to go on. The other warriors with their weapons ready, see the actions of their queen. As Xena continues to walk through the wall of women, one by one they too lower their weapons. Finally Xena reaches the end. Not a single blow was delivered. She turns around and searches for and finds Gabrielle.

Their eyes meet. Eponin is talking with the queen. Without breaking eye contact with Xena, Gabrielle listens to Eponin. She nods and makes her way to Xena with Eponin following closely behind.

"Dana has requested that the flogging be done right now," Gabrielle quietly informs her.

Xena, still reeling from what had happened, follows Eponin to a wooden railing. As instructed Xena places both hands on the beam. A wavering Dana approaches and is handed a whip. The young woman first looks at her queen and then to Xena's backside. With determination on her face, she raises it and snaps her arm forward. The crack of the whip sounds as it makes contact. Several more times the whip is snapped back. And each time it leaves its mark. Finally the young lady stops. Gabrielle gently takes the whip from her hand. Placing her hand on the girl's shoulder she turns her around and faces her. The queen looks at the tear streaked face. She gives her a comforting embrace and releases the girl to address the Nation.

"The punishment has been completed. Justice has been served… but most importantly this cycle of violence has ended."

Accepting the completion of the punishment, the women leave. Unable to move, Xena hands are still clenched around the beam. She glances down to at the wood to her right, the destination of Dana's whip. A hand placed on her back causes Xena to turn to look at the owner of it.

"You are free to go," Gabrielle whispers to her.

"Yes. I am free indeed," Xena tells her. For a long time the woman stand and look at each other. Finally they make their way back to the main part of the village.


Xena and Ephiny are on the sparring grounds practicing again on a sword drill. The perfectionist in Ephiny approached Xena and asked her for some help in refining her swordsmanship. Xena had happily obliged the request.

The Amazon village has been her home for a couple of weeks. Feeling the need to redeem herself, she stayed to help in anyway that she could. She talked with Eponin about the village's defenses and offered some advice. She scouted with Solari and the two traded tracking techniques. She joined in their hunts for food and helped make repairs to some of the huts. With Clara, she talked about herbs and other medical procedures. But most of the time, she kept an eye on the young queen and made sure her injuries were healing. And now she was working with Ephiny.

Gabrielle approaches the warriors and interrupts their session. "I wanted to come by and see if I can pick up some new techniques. Maybe get a little sparring in myself."

Both Xena and Ephiny respond in unison. "I don't think so." Turning to each other they smile at their joint comment.

Ephiny asks, "Has your shoulder completely healed?"

"Clara looked at it when she took the stitches out," she replies as she points to her forehead. "She said it was healing nicely."

"You didn't answer my question," Ephiny sternly states.

"Okay. Okay. It gives me an excuse to come by and to thank Xena. You've been a great help."

"First of all you don't need an excuse to come and talk to me. For crying out loud you're the Queen. Second, no thanks are needed," Xena tells her. "If I could take back what I did I would. But this is something I wanted … no needed to do for me," Xena says stressing the last words.

"Well there is something else you can do…"


"This has been bothering me..." Xena waits to hear Gabrielle's request. "… what was the vision?"


"The one you told Callisto that your oracle didn't tell her."

"Oh that vision."


"There never was a vision. Just a note I found in one of my bags from Lasaria."

"A note?"

Xena pulls out a piece of parchment from underneath her breastplate by her heart. She hands it to Gabrielle. The smaller woman smiles at its meaning and shows the note to Ephiny. Ephiny glances down to read the note.

Be strong. The mask of courage is yours to take.


Epilogue - Months later.

Xena is outside with Gabrielle and Ephiny watching the warriors drill. She is thinking about her future. With help from the Amazons, she had disbanded her army. Unfortunately she learned Callisto had escaped and had disappeared. The spoils that she had taken from the many villages she had conquered were returned and the villages were released from under her rule. Now she turned her thoughts to going home.

Without taking her eyes off of the drilling women Xena reluctantly tells Gabrielle, "I need to move on."

Both Amazons are a little surprised by the remark. Gabrielle asks, "Where will you go?"

"Home. I have some relationships to mend. Things to make right…" With a slight hesitation Xena quietly mutters, "It would be nice if my mother met the person who changed the heart of The Conqueror. "

Gabrielle is taken back by what she thinks is an invitation. "Where does she live? Amphipolis? I could use a little vacation." The excitement of seeing more of the world brings out the child in the Amazon queen. "I could see the sights, relax … Do you mind if I tag along?"

"No, not at all," Xena quickly responds.

"You sure?" Ephiny teases. "She does get a little chatty. And food. You'll need lots of it…" The queen's tummy takes that moment to growl. "See what I mean…"

"Ephiny!" Gabrielle yells.

Xena laughs out loud. "I wouldn't mind the company." Gabrielle's stomach rumbles again. "But first we better feed that big hole that you call your stomach."

Gabrielle makes a face at the laughing women as the three make their way to the food tent.

The End

Completed on 09/28/2000.

Updated on 3/22/01.

Copyrighted by WhoMumbles

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