Disclaimers: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle and a couple of others belong to whoever owns them now. No infringement on their rights is intended.
This story would easily pass for a prime-time episode, apart from a few slightly naughty words and including some subtext.
Teaser: What would happen if Ares managed to bring pre-Hercules Xena into Gabrielle's post-Japa world? No, not an alternative universe story, just a devious scheme by Ares.
Present day (ancient Greece time)
The long legs stretched out in front of the comfortable, leather upholstered chair and crossed over at the ankles. The legs' owner leaned back in the chair peering belligerently between slitted eyelids at the large soldier stood in front of her. She took a long pull at the goblet of wine she held in her right hand then wiped the back of her left hand across her lips. She watched the nervous little twitches of hands and the slight shuffling of weight from foot to foot as she took a perverse pleasure from the fact that she knew the soldier was almost kacking his pants. She had no compunction in making him wait while her thoughts drifted along, now familiar paths.
She took another swill of the wine, wishing it was stronger; a lot stronger. From experience she knew that it would take at least another dozen goblets of the tangy liquid before she would pass out and not feel anything, for a while at least. Life, she thought, was hardly worth living anymore.
So she was in command of the largest, and by far the strongest army in the whole of Greece . She had defeated any and all comers who challenged her, either with an army or personally. The majority of the land was under her rule and the bits that weren't, were either not worth the effort or would fall to her within the next three moons. Even the last independent bastions of military strength, the Amazons, were now under her thumb.
And yet, she was miserable; hated herself; took no real pleasure from anything. Even the men and women that she occasionally took to her bed left her feeling empty once the physical urges from her body had been satisfied. She smirked sardonically to herself as she acknowledged that even those urges were becoming more and more infrequent.
She pinned the soldier with a glare. “What?” she snarled and glanced down to his crotch to see if his bladder had more control than his nerves.
The first sound out of his mouth was an incomprehensible squeak. He cleared his throat and tried again. “The prisoner is secure, Xena. The gallows are being built as we speak. All will be ready for dawn.”
Xena stared at the man. The prisoner. Did he have absolutely any idea at all who ‘the prisoner' was or what having ‘the prisoner' meant to the success of her campaign of conquering? She threw the goblet at the soldier hitting him squarely in the chest. “She's an Amazon, you pillock. She's not just some wanna-be warlord we need to get rid of because we'll all be better off without him anyway.”
She sighed, loudly before continuing in a slightly calmer tone. “Not only that but she could kick your arse and a handful of your buddies too. She's not just a prisoner.”
The soldier stared, expressionless at his leader, completely bewildered. Xena had captured and executed dozens of leaders; kings, princes, dukes, even a couple of queens; a veritable thesaurus of nobility titles, but now, with this Amazon, she was behaving very oddly indeed.
Xena stood up and strode over to the table, grabbing and filling another goblet. She took a long drink from it before turning to face the man. “Anything else?” Her tone implied a strong recommendation that there really shouldn't be.
The soldier simply shook his head and made a rapid exit.
The chair creaked as the tall, armour-clad woman flopped down into it again. Tomorrow, at dawn, the Amazon would be removed and a message sent to the Amazon nation. She drained her goblet and rose to refill it once again.
- - -
Twelve moons previously
The ship manoeuvred into the dock in the Greek seaport carrying its cargo from Egypt along with several passengers, among them an average sized young woman, accompanied by a very Egyptian-looking servant dressed in traditional clothing.
The young woman wore a colourful, silk tunic that set off her green eyes and shoulder length blonde hair. At her waist, on the right side, was a circular, metal object and on the left side, a safely sheathed samurai katana sword. She casually scanned her eyes over the dockside, calmly taking in the hustle and bustle of the busy port.
The servant moved up behind the woman and carefully placed her hand on the blonde's shoulder.
“Gabrielle, are you sure about this?” She had a strong, but not unpleasant accent.
The young woman turned and looked kindly into the servant's eyes. “I am, Amunet. Xena wanted to be laid with her mother and brother, so I am heading to Amphipolis and then I am going to visit my family before returning to my Amazons.”
“You're sure you do not want me to be with you? I am sure that my Pharaoh Ptolemy would wish me to remain with you if that were to be your wish.” There was more than a trace of wistfulness in the servant's voice.
Gabrielle smiled. “Thank you, Amunet, I appreciate your offer but I think I would prefer to be alone for this stage of my journey. Besides,” she chuckled softly, “I think life with my Amazon sisters would be more than even your tolerant nature could endure.” She watched the protest take form behind the Egyptian's eyes and forestalled it. “Please, Amunet, return to your homeland. You will be happier there.”
The servant did not look convinced but she gave a small smile in return and remained silent, nodding slightly in acceptance.
The ship completed its docking procedure and the gangplank was secured. Gabrielle turned to Amunet and enfolded her in a warm hug. “Thank you for all of your help and support,” she whispered into the ear alongside her head.
“You are more than welcome, Gabrielle. Please be safe.”
“I will, you too.”
With that Gabrielle picked up her meagre belongings and disembarked onto the dockside to begin the pilgrimage that had been on hold since she left Japa some six moons previously.
- - -
“She's back, Bro. She's back!”
Ares looked up in irritation from the large table-top map that he had been studying and growled a reply. “Who's back, Aphrodite?”
The goddess stopped in amazement and glared at her brother. “Gabrielle of course,” she blurted in disbelief.
Ares looked at her for a moment then his eyes lost focus momentarily as he searched his senses. “Are you sure?” he demanded. “I can't feel Xena.”
Aphrodite's eyes widened briefly, then also went unfocussed. “Oh no!” she gasped.
“She's alone. Xena's gone.”
Ares was becoming exasperated. “What do you mean, gone? Gone where?”
Aphrodite shook her head. “No, no. She's dead.”
Surprise and shock were the dominant expressions on Ares' face as he stared blankly at his sister.
“I… I've got to… find out if she's alright.” Aphrodite disappeared in a pinkish sparkle.
“Damn!” muttered Ares. “What a damned waste.” He stood silently for a heartbeat before shrugging and turning his attention back to his map table.
- - -
Ares took another bite from the chicken leg as he gazed across the table at his sister.
“So Gabrielle is taking Xena's ashes back to Amphipolis to put them with her mother and brother.”
Suddenly, Ares found something in his sister's monologue to interest him. “Her ashes?” he asked around the mouthful of chicken.
“Yes, that's what I said,” Aphrodite said deliberately. “She has Xena's ashes in a little urn and she is taking them to…”
“Yes, Amphipolis, I heard you.” His mind was already off on another track altogether, the comings and goings of Gabrielle not really holding any great interest for him. Xena's ashes, however, were a different matter. They definitely had… possibilities.
Ares stood up, cutting off Aphrodite before she had the chance to continue her story. “Gotta go, Sis. Things to do.” He vanished.
“Well, how rude,” declared Aphrodite to herself, “and I was just getting to the best bits.” She shrugged and nibbled at a bit of fruit.
- - -
“Come on Mnemosyne, you owe me.” Ares declared to the Titan goddess.
“Yes, yes, I know. Let me get this straight, you want me to erase a mortal's memories but only of the last, what, eight years?”
“That's right,” stated Ares. “I want everything since she found ‘compassion',” his face scrunched up as if the word was literally distasteful, “rubbed out.”
The Titan thought for a moment. “Very well, but you should know that partial erasure like that cannot be guaranteed. There may be some lingering fragments.”
Ares looked briefly uncertain. “But she won't remember, right?”
“No, she won't. It will be as if those years had simply not happened at all.”
“Good, that's what I need but I also want you to implant a false memory.”
Mnemosyne scrunched up her face. “Now, Ares, implanting memories is a lot trickier than removing them you know. There could be all sorts of inconsistencies created that would seriously destabilise a mortal.”
Ares held up his hands to halt further protest. “Nothing complicated, Mnemosyne. I just need her to remember me as someone she trusts.”
“Very well, that will be straightforward. Now where is this mortal?”
Ares shuffled his feet awkwardly. “She's, uh, not around just yet.”
“What does that mean?”
Ares shrugged. “She's a bit ashen at the moment.”
Mnemosyne looked briefly taken aback before her eyes widened. “Is this a joke, Ares. This mortal, you are telling me, is dead?”
“At the moment,” Ares reiterated.
“And she is nothing but ashes?”
Ares pulled a face and nodded.
Mnemosyne sighed. “Very well, I'll bite,” she said, reluctantly. “You intend to rectify this situation, how exactly? With Zeus gone we are short of someone with that kind of power.”
Ares smirked, enjoying having superior knowledge over one of his more senior kin for a change. “It's amazing what you can do with a golden apple and some ambrosia.”
Mnemosyne was genuinely surprised. “You have a golden apple? From Odin?”
“I'll be in touch.” Ares grinned broadly and vanished.
- - -
Seven days later
Xena returned to consciousness without any external change in her appearance. She quickly assessed her surroundings with the four senses available to her while her eyes were still closed and determined that she was probably alone; no sounds, no smells and certainly no one touching her. She cracked open her eyelids and looked around cautiously, confirming her previous discovery.
She opened her eyes fully and took a longer look around the large tented space she was in before sitting up, slightly surprised at the amount of effort it took. That made her pay attention to her physical condition and she was further surprised to realise that she was aching all over, almost as if she had been through a lengthy battle. She cast her thoughts over her memories but couldn't remember what might have caused it. In fact her last memories gave her no clue as to why she was here, or for that matter where she was.
She swung her legs over the edge of the bed she had been lying on but remained sitting while she tried to take stock of her situation. “Somebody had better have a very good explanation,” she grumbled quietly to herself before turning her head to the right as she felt a prickling sensation.
Ares shimmered into being in her direct line of sight. “Ah, Xena, you're awake.”
“Ares! What in Hades' crotch is going on? Where am I and what in Tartarus happened?”
Ares held up his hands in a placating gesture. “Take it easy, Xena. Everything is fine. What do you remember?”
Xena considered that for a moment before replying with a slightly puzzled expression. “The last thing I remember is turning in the night after we sacked that pissy little village to the West of Thessaly.”
“Hmm,” Ares nodded his head slowly, a faint smile on his face. “The effects of the poison on that Persian's blade were obviously quite bad,” he said, seriously.
“What Persian? Ares, you're making no sense. I haven't come across any Persians for moons.”
Ares walked over to the bed and sat down beside the Warrior Princess. “The day after that village a large Persian raiding party ambushed you. You were nicked in the fight but no one realised they were using poisoned blades. You and a dozen of your men, also injured, passed out shortly afterwards. Most died but one recovered but his memories of the previous few days had been wiped out.”
Xena thought about that, trusting that what Ares had told her was the truth. “How long was I out?”
Ares grimaced. “Almost two moons.”
Ares nodded. “You might find that there are some gaps in your memories of the past as well. It is a very strange poison; I've not seen anything like it before.”
“Damn!” Xena exclaimed. “Well, at least that explains why I'm feeling so weak, if I've been lying here for two moons.” She looked up suddenly as something occurred to her. “What about my army, Ares?”
“Disbanded,” Ares shrugged. “I had to get you out of there, Xena. When your men started dying from the poison everyone expected you to go too. Fights broke out, certain individuals trying to take over… it got very ugly. Eventually, without you holding it all together…” he shrugged again.
“So, I'm on my own… again.”
Ares smiled broadly. “Not exactly, Xena,” he purred. “Do you feel up to a short walk?”
Xena heaved herself off the bed, silently cursing the weakness in her legs, and turned to glare defiantly into the God of War's eyes.
“That's my girl.” Ares stood and stroked his fingers across Xena's cheek. “Come on,” he said, heading for the tent opening.
The tent had been pitched on a large, flat area half way up the side of a broad, green valley and Ares led Xena out to the edge of the area overlooking the floor of the valley below.
Xena tensed as she cast her eyes across the valley, estimating around fifty camp fires, each supporting up to ten men. Her discerning eyes looked carefully at the layout and focussed on some of the soldiers going about their business below. They were quite clearly well-disciplined and, from what she could make out, well equipped too.
Ares watched the play of emotion across Xena's face and smiled. “They are yours, Xena. I have assembled them from only the best of my followers. They are ready to follow you to conquer all of Greece and then… well, that's up to you, of course.”
Xena felt a prickle of anticipation race up her spine and her heart rate suddenly increase as the excitement of what she could do with such an army gradually seeped into her mind. She licked her lips and slowly nodded her head, already starting to plan her first conquest.
- - -
Three moons later
Xena stood staring blankly out of the high window of the castle that her armies had recently liberated from their previous incumbent. She raised the goblet to her lips and took another long pull of the tangy, dark red liquid and made a mental note to see if she could find one with a larger capacity for future use; in the interests of saving time, of course.
Her gaze drifted over the comings and goings of squads of her soldiers in the courtyard below; only a small portion of the total army force that she now commanded, having acquired several other armies in the course of her conquests over the previous three moons. She couldn't deny that her military strategies and tactics had proven to be highly effective and she had rapidly taken control of roughly a third of Greece . With that and the small army of servants and slaves she had also acquired, who supported and serviced the fighting army, the number of people under her direct command was growing rapidly.
That led her to thinking about her Captains and especially her second in command, Goran. He was certainly competent, if a little brutal. He seemed to take pleasure in handling any resistance or insurgents, which Xena had to admit to herself, wasn't something that she begrudged him at all. All in all, things were going very well indeed.
So why did it feel that things weren't right? She couldn't remember ever feeling like this before, even when her campaigns had been going badly. It wasn't like she was making mistakes; she very obviously wasn't. But, perhaps most frustrating to her was the persistent, nagging feeling that she was forgetting something very important. She sighed and drained her goblet, turning to the table where the half full decanter sat, patiently waiting to be used to refill the goblet, again.
As she replaced the decanter back onto the table the familiar prickling sensation on her skin warned her of Ares' appearance. She remained standing with her back to him and took a healthy slug of her wine.
Ares sidled quietly up to Xena and purred in his deep baritone that he knew would set most women's hearts aquiver. “You are amazing, you know.” He put his hands onto her shoulders and slowly drew his hands down her arms.
Xena shrugged him off and turned back to gaze out of the window once more.
Ares frowned, then smirked and again approached his Warrior Princess. This time, he passed his hand, without touching, over Xena's spine while a soft, golden glow flowed from his hand to bathe her in its warmth. He stepped forward and placed a gentle kiss at the base of her neck, his hand sliding around to her front and squeezing a breast.
The moan from Xena's throat was entirely involuntary as she leaned back and pressed herself against Ares' solidly muscled body. Her thoughts, such as they were at that point, acknowledged that sex was as good a distraction as anything else.
- - -
Another three moons later
“I'm sorry, no. I don't believe it.” Gabrielle jumped to her feet and glared at her Amazon council defiantly.
Agetha glanced beseechingly at the queen's Regent, Varia, who gave a small shrug and pulled a sympathetic face. The village elder continued in a gentle voice. “But, your majesty, we have had three reports now that confirm that this new warlord is called ‘Xena' and that she is tall and dark haired.”
Gabrielle focussed her attention on the unfortunate Amazon and jammed her fists onto her hips. “Oh, so any woman with dark hair and who happens to be called Xena must be Xena, is that it?” A small frown flitted across her forehead as she realised the ambiguous nature of her statement. She sucked in a huge lungful of air and sighed loudly. “Look,” she paused almost imperceptibly, “my Xena is gone, alright. I lit her pyre. I placed her body on it. I scooped up her ashes.” Gabrielle's eyes closed as two tears trailed down her cheeks.
The council members shifted uncomfortably in their seats as they watched their queen's pain resurface.
“I brought her back to Amphipolis to be with her mother and brother. She's gone.” Gabrielle finished in a barely audibly whisper.
All of the council turned to look at Varia. Of the entire Greek Amazon nation, reunited once more under Gabrielle's rule, and in spite of their ‘interesting' past, Varia was not only Gabrielle's Regent but was also her good friend and confidant. The council recognised that Gabrielle needed more than simple logical argument.
Varia sighed. “Gabrielle, no one is disputing what you say, but isn't it possible that someone has acquired Xena's ashes and…” she paused looking for the right words.
“What, resurrected her?” Gabrielle demanded angrily. “Like she didn't want me to do and I damn well listened to her?” Suddenly the fight seemed to drain out of her and she slumped back down onto her seat. “I still don't believe it,” she continued. “Even if what you say has happened, she wouldn't be doing what this ‘other' Xena is doing. She wouldn't!”
Cayla, another of the council, spoke next. “That is what she used to do.”
Gabrielle slowly turned her eyes to stare at Cayla. “What are you saying, Cayla? That everything she and I went through for six years has just been forgotten? That she has decided to throw everything away and go back to the way she was? Is that what you're saying?”
Cayla wouldn't meet Gabrielle's eyes and just shrugged.
Varia cleared her throat. “Look, let's get back to the main point here, shall we. This new warlord,” she carefully avoided using a name, “is sweeping across Greece conquering everyone in front of her. Why she hasn't tackled us yet, we don't know; she's certainly had the opportunity and she's bypassed us twice. However I think we all agree that eventually she will turn her attention to us.”
The council members looked relieved that the subject of discussion had moved away from Gabrielle's deceased partner and slowly nodded in agreement.
“However,” continued the Regent, “we do need to know for sure who she is.” She glanced at Gabrielle whose attention was fixed on the grain of the table top in front of her. “I propose that Gabrielle and I go to Amphipolis to check on Xena's ashes.”
At that, Gabrielle's head snapped up and she took a breath to continue her protest, but she held it while the good sense of Varia's plan overrode her gut reaction. Slowly she relaxed and looked back into her friend's face, eventually giving a small nod in acceptance.
- - -
Leaving the small squad of warriors outside, Gabrielle and Varia entered the tomb, holding the lit torches out in front of them. Gabrielle immediately led the way across the floor to a niche in the far wall where a small urn, about the size of two clenched fists, sat.
When she reached the wall, she stopped, her free hand stretching out halfway towards the urn.
“Are you alright, Gabrielle?” whispered Varia, gently.
There was silence for a few heartbeats. “Varia, what if it's empty?” Gabrielle's eyes searched her friend's for answers that she couldn't provide.
“Then we'll decide what to do if that's the case.” Varia gave the only answer she could.
Gabrielle gave a small smile and nodded, then reached across the remaining distance and picked up the urn. She drew it to her and clasped it carefully against her chest, then turned and placed her torch into one of the sconces on the wall. She cradled the urn in both hands before grasping its lid and carefully removing it.
“It's not Xena,” stated Gabrielle, emphatically, holding the urn out so that Varia could see into it.
Varia looked at the ash in the small pot and then raised her eyes to capture those of her queen. “Then who in Tartarus is it?”
Gabrielle shook her head slowly from side to side. “I don't know, but I think I need to find out.”
Gabrielle replaced the lid and briefly held the urn against her chest just over her heart and then carefully replaced it back into its niche.
Varia watched her friend, a small frown creasing her brow. She wasn't going to say anything but her doubts remained. At the end of the day, ash was ash regardless of where, or who, it came from.
- - -
One moon later
“Xena, it's time that you took care of the Amazons.” Ares let his impatience show through his voice and body language.
Xena closed her eyes and allowed her head to drop backwards against the tall back of the throne-like chair she was sitting in and sucked in a deep breath before replying in a deceptively calm voice.
“What is it with you and the Amazons, Ares? You have been badgering me to wipe them out for…” she shook her head, “almost since I recovered and we started this new campaign.” Her eyes opened and she peered at the god.
Ares glared back. “They are a threat to you. They are organised, capable and deadly.” He stopped himself, suddenly realising that he was about to repeat the same argument he had tried on more than one occasion before. He looked carefully at the warrior princess sitting in the chair. “What is it with you and the Amazons, Xena. You have had the opportunity to attack them two or three times in the last few moons but each time you have turned away and let them be. You know that you will have to meet them at some point, don't you?”
Xena launched herself to her feet and paced across the room to peer out of the wide window. “Yes, I know,” she said finally, lacking enthusiasm. “It just doesn't… I don't know; I just get this strong feeling that it's something I don't want to do.”
A look of discomfort passed over Ares' face. After a few moments he decided that anger was needed. “Are you afraid of them,” he said, disdainfully.
Xena whirled and glared at him. “What? Are you serious?”
“Show me that I'm wrong, Xena.”
The ice-blue glare continued as the emotions warred with each other inside the tall warrior-woman. Eventually she averted her eyes and turned back to the window. “What do you want from me, Ares? I have followed your guidance, I have defeated more than half of Greece , I have surely instigated enough war in the last three seasons to satisfy even you.”
Ares stepped up behind the leather-clad woman and placed his hands on her shoulders, slowly kneading the tense muscles before speaking in a gentle, seductive tone. “You have, and I am proud of you Xena. I just want to make sure that you aren't caught by surprise and that you maintain your momentum so that you will become the ruler of nations that is your destiny.”
Almost against her will, Xena felt the tension seeping from her body as it responded to the god's voice and touch. She sighed quietly. “I will look towards the Amazons soon, Ares.”
“That's all that I ask,” purred Ares as he smiled and placed a kiss at the junction of Xena's neck and shoulder.
- - -
One more moon later
“Your majesty; Xena…” The Amazon scout froze as her queen's glare pierced her. She coughed and began again. “The warlord calling herself Xena has brought an army to Thessaly , three days away. There are rumours that,” the scout hesitated and swallowed, “she is headed here.”
Varia took a breath and turned to face Gabrielle.
Gabrielle pre-empted any comment by holding up her hand for silence. “We knew this time would arrive eventually, so let's not over-react. Now that we know where she is, it's time to find out a bit more about this woman so that we can plan some sort of defence.”
Varia looked relieved. “I will take a squad under cover and see what we can find out.”
“No!” said Gabrielle. “I'm going. I want to see this… woman for myself.”
“Gabrielle, that is a bad idea,” challenged Varia. “You are too important to this nation to risk on a recon mission. You should stay here and help prepare us for what is to come. No one can do that as well as you can.”
Gabrielle turned to Varia and smiled at her friend and Regent. “Thank you, Varia, but you know what I will say next, don't you. I am going. I have to know, for sure, who that is.”
Varia shook her head slowly, her face a picture of concern, but she raised no further argument.
- - -
The seventh, or maybe the eighth, mug of strong wine was drained as Xena slouched in the well-padded chair. The keep in Thessaly was a not the largest of those that she had acquired as part of her campaign but it was a good size and contained most of the facilities that she felt were necessary; including a comfortable room, dungeons and a well-stocked wine cellar – not necessarily in that order of importance. She rested her head back and closed her eyes.
“This shit just isn't worth it,” she mumbled to herself.
Every day, since leaving Corinth and moving closer to the Amazon lands, she had become more and more despondent. Each morning required an even greater effort to begin the day and continue her army's march. She wanted nothing more than to simply turn around and just leave the Amazons alone. Perversely that had become an inspiration to her own stubbornness; she damn well was not going to let her own feelings get in the way of her success, even if she had to remind herself what that actually was, a dozen or more times a day. But still, the effort needed to continue just got greater and greater and the desire to do it simply escaped her most of the time.
Xena took a deep breath and pushed herself up to her feet swaying slightly as she grabbed for the flagon of wine on the table. She refilled her mug and took another healthy slug.
“ARES!” she yelled. “Come on you sorry excuse for a deity, get your ass down here.” She wandered around the room, glaring up at the ceiling. “ARES, YOU BASTARD, what are you waiting for?”
A bright flash announced the god's appearance.
“About frigging time,” Xena slurred.
“Xena, what is this about? I was in the middle of something.” Ares' anger was palpable in his body language.
Xena snorted loudly. “In the middle of some buxom wench, you mean. Here I am busting my tits to give you a stronger hard-on and you are off sowing next year's frigging harvest.”
“Take care, Xena,” Ares growled menacingly.
“Or what? You need me. You pathetic piece of supernatural mythology, without me you would be nothing.”
“Why you ungrateful mortal…”
Xena laughed. “Even your come-backs are pathetically pompous. ‘Ungrateful mortal',” she whined. “Without us mortals to do your dirty work you are NOTHING!”
Ares face turned purple as he raised a hand and a glowing ball of energy erupted from his palm.
“Go on, Ares, do it. Prove you've got some jewels in that codpiece. Do it… DO IT!”
At the last moment, Ares saw the determination and hope in Xena's eyes, then closed his hand and quenched the fireball.
“I don't know what your problem is, Xena, but get a grip.” Ares snarled and vanished again.
“Crap!” Xena sighed and plopped down in her chair again, taking another pull from her mug of wine, silently counting how many more would be needed to shut out the internal turmoil.
- - -
Four women in simple peasant dress browsed along the merchants' stalls along the main street in Thessaly , only a dozen or two paces from the main gate into the keep. One turned to another to whisper. “You are sure it was her, Phoebe?”
The recipient of the whisper replied in like manner. “I am sure, your majesty; she is rather hard to mistake.” The Amazon warrior smirked. “She left shortly after dawn with an escort of only two others. The guard at the gate told me that she was going to meet with one of her field generals and he expected her back by noon.”
Gabrielle frowned. “Phoebe! Call me Gabrielle, please.” The warrior gave a small nod and her queen continued. “The guard told you all that?”
“Yes, your… Gabrielle. He seemed quite talkative once I loosened the drawstring on this dress' top.”
Gabrielle glanced down at the woman's substantial chest and her eyebrows sprang into her hairline. “I can imagine,” she muttered. She glanced up to spot the sun's position, estimating that it was not far off noon already.
Varia reached out and placed a light touch on Gabrielle's arm. “Gabrielle, I think this is her.”
Gabrielle turned her head to look in the direction indicated by her Regent. After a few heartbeats three horses and their riders emerged from the crowds in the street. Gabrielle gasped and grabbed a firm hold of Varia's shoulder.
Varia continued her stare for a few moments longer then turned to look into her queen's face. “It is her, isn't it.” It was less of a question, more of a statement. Gabrielle just swallowed, her eyes fixed and unblinking.
Xena's horse continued its slow walk along the street. As she approached the four Amazons she suddenly became more alert, casting her gaze around her at the milling crowd frequenting the stalls. Suddenly she stopped and slid off her horse, keeping a hold on its reins. She began to walk slowly towards the keep's gate peering more carefully into the crowd.
A stall owner, anticipating a profitable sale, stepped in front of her. “My lady, can I show you…” He didn't get any further than that as he was back-handed hard in the face.
“Get out of my way,” Xena growled, hardly breaking stride. She walked slowly past the four women, glancing briefly once at each of their faces before moving on. As she was barely three strides past them she glanced back over her shoulder and looked directly into Gabrielle's eyes.
The cold, blue glance made Gabrielle shudder; it was totally devoid of any warmth or recognition at all. All it held was suspicion and barely veiled violence.
Xena continued on until she reached the gate before passing through and out of sight into the keep.
Varia blew out a loud breath that sounded like she had been holding it for too long. “Well, if that was Xena, she must have grown. I don't remember her being that big and intimidating.”
Gabrielle felt that she was in mild shock, Varia's words taking several moments to penetrate into her consciousness. “It is,” she breathed.
Varia turned to look at her in disbelief. “What did you say? It is? It's Xena? Are you sure?”
Gabrielle nodded slowly, her face a picture of concern. “Yes, I'm almost certain.”
“Couldn't it be a look-alike or something? I've heard stories that there are such things, you know.”
Gabrielle looked into her Regent's face and just stared at her for several heartbeats before shaking her head and continuing. “Xena… my Xena has a small scar on her right breast. This one did too. I have to go and talk to her.”
“Gabrielle, you cannot go in there,” asserted Varia, glancing around at the massive entrance to the keep.
“Varia, I have to,” Gabrielle sighed. “If that really is Xena, then I have to find out why she's doing this.”
Varia stood in front of her and grasped her shoulders firmly. “Gabrielle, did you look into her eyes? She didn't recognise you and I would certainly not want to face her in the mood I saw in her eyes.”
Gabrielle gazed calmly back at her friend. “Something's happened to her…” she waggled her head from side to side and rolled her eyes, “apart from dying and getting resurrected I mean. She will know me if I can just get talk to her, I know she will.”
Varia sighed, mightily. “And if she isn't Xena, then what?”
Gabrielle shrugged. “I am the Amazon Queen and I have been told that I am a good negotiator.”
- - -
Present day (ancient Greece time)
The Captain of the Watch was not really used to gods appearing before him, let alone the impressive and intimidating persona of the God of War, consequently his bugged-out eyes and dropped jaw were not at all unreasonable under the circumstances.
Ares sighed. He really disliked dealing with underlings but, in this case, it was necessary. He waved his hand in front of the Captain's face hoping to receive some sort of reaction that would indicate that the man's brain was still functioning.
“You are in charge of security in this keep, are you not?” the god enquired unenthusiastically.
The Captain raised his eyes to Ares' face, swallowed heavily and managed to nod his confirmation.
“Good! You need to be aware that you are about to fail in your responsibility… and I don't need to remind you what price you will pay for that once Xena finds out, do I?”
If possible, the man's eyes widened even further as he shook his head, once more in agreement with the god, and trying desperately not to remember the price his predecessor had paid shortly before his promotion.
“Very good,” said Ares with a smirk. “Now, I am going to help you make sure that you don't fail. On the ground floor, in the corridors of the western wing, there is a blonde-haired serving wench dressed in a blue and beige dress… except that she isn't a servant, she is an Amazon spy.” Ares waited for the information to seep into the Captain's consciousness.
After a few heartbeats, the God of War saw the lights come on in the man's eyes and then continued. “You know what to do and I will tell Xena, so there's no need for you to report it to her yourself. Am I clear?”
If took a few more moments before the Captain activated enough brain cells in order to form a response. “Yes, m…m…m'Lord.” He remained standing there, staring into Ares' face.
“Well go on then… GET MOVING!”
The Captain jumped at the shout, then spun on his heels and set off down the corridor.
“Oh, one more thing,” called Ares after the departing man, who hesitated and glanced back over his shoulder. “Make sure that the dungeon guards know that they can… have a little fun.” He raised his eyebrows and smiled.
The Captain returned the smile, although it was more like a sneer, nodded once and resumed his departure.
Ares watched him disappear around a corner, shook his head and vanished in a flash of light.
- - -
Gabrielle was pleased with her progress at infiltrating the keep. Wearing her peasant disguise she had obtained a basket of fruits and had, fairly easily, got past the guard on the gate, although she had to admit to herself that sending Phoebe to distract the guard with her charms had made it even easier to slip through than it otherwise would have been. She wasn't sure how she felt about using one of her Amazon's womanly attributes in that way but Phoebe didn't seem to mind and tactically it made good sense to use the resources that she had at her disposal - she told herself.
Careful enquiries with locals had indicated that Xena's rooms were located on the upper floor of the western wing of the keep so Gabrielle was walking casually along the corridor looking for a staircase that would take her up to the next level.
Up ahead, two soldiers appeared from around a corner and began walking towards her. She took a deep breath but kept her walk steady, expecting that they would barely give her a second glance.
As they met in the corridor, one soldier stopped in front of her while the other moved a stride or two past.
“What do we have here?” demanded the soldier.
“Fruit for Xena's rooms,” Gabrielle replied keeping her voice gentle.
Gabrielle heard the sound of a dagger being drawn from its scabbard behind her and her spirits dropped as she felt the prick of its point against her neck.
The Captain of the Watch drew his own blade and sliced it through the front of Gabrielle's dress laying it wide open and displaying her Amazon leathers beneath. He smirked and poked the point of his own blade underneath Gabrielle's chin.
“Well, well, well… what have we here? Seems Ares was right.” The Captain glanced at his colleague over Gabrielle's shoulder.
“Ares?” breathed Gabrielle. “I should have known.” She looked the man in the eye and said in a firmer voice. “I am Gabrielle, Queen of the Amazons. I demand that you take me to Xena.”
The Captain raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Oh, your majesty, I didn't realise. Please let us escort you to a room where you can wait in comfort.” He sneered. His partner snorted.
The Captain relieved Gabrielle of her weapons, taking a moment to examine the chakram closely, and together, he and his friend escorted her to a set of stairs. These, however, did not go to the upper level; instead they went down.
- - -
There were two things occupying Gabrielle's thoughts as they descended into the dungeon. One was the dagger-point poking into her right kidney that was severely limiting her opportunities to turn the tables on the two guards. The other, more troubling revelation was that of Ares' involvement. If, indeed, Ares was actively involved in manipulating the situation then that was going to make it very difficult for her to succeed in even getting to see Xena, let alone finding out what was going on.
Because of her preoccupation Gabrielle didn't notice when the Captain gestured for another guard to join them by pumping his fist up and down and cocking his head towards the cells that they were approaching. The third guard smirked and fell in behind them, nodding his head in a satisfied manner. She did notice, with some concern, when a fourth guard was likewise recruited to join the party.
The Captain and one of the guards grabbed Gabrielle firmly by the arms and dragged her past the open cell door, over to a large table. They pulled her roughly backwards onto the table, at the same time the other two soldiers spread and pinned her legs rendering her totally unable to move. The Captain passed the arm he was holding to the other guard, so that he was now holding both arms, and then walked slowly around to stand between Gabrielle's legs. He smiled and licked his fat lips.
Completely defenceless, Gabrielle closed her eyes and muttered, “Oh Gods, help me.”
“BY THE GODS! What spawn of Tartarus is this?” The Captain's cry rang out simultaneously with all three of the other guards relaxing their holds on Gabrielle's arms and legs.
Gabrielle opened her eyes to discover all four of her captors shying away from her with a look that she could only describe as disgust and horror on their faces. Completely baffled, she didn't quite know how to respond.
“Some sorcery afoot, I'll be bound,” exclaimed the Captain. “Throw… her in the cell and let's get some ale to try and forget what we almost did.”
The three lower-ranking guards glanced at each other before gingerly re-establishing their hold on Gabrielle, hauling her to her feet and throwing her into the open cell. The door was slammed shut and the lock engaged. With a final glance all four of the guards departed along the corridor down which Gabrielle had only recently arrived.
Gabrielle plopped herself down on the low bench lining one side of the small cell and watched the four men depart, her heart rate slowly resuming a more normal cadence but still totally bemused at their actions. Some glimmer of understanding arose when she watched a cascade of pink sparkles resolve themselves into Aphrodite.
“Phewee! That was close,” the goddess said, smiling broadly at her mortal friend.
“Aphrodite,” Gabrielle exclaimed, “don't take this the wrong way, but what are you doing here?”
“Well,” began the goddess with a surprised look on her face, “you and I, being best buddies and all, I always keep one ear open for you and, well, you did call for me.”
“I did?” puzzled Gabrielle, racking her brains to try to remember exactly what she might have said to summon Aphrodite. “Oh!” she remembered. “I suppose I did.”
“Mm-hmm! And here I am.”
The rest of the frightening events of just a short time ago continued to flow through Gabrielle's memories and she stifled a shudder at what almost happened. “Aphrodite, what did you do to those men?”
“What men? Oh, you mean the guards? Nothing, I couldn't.” She looked at Gabrielle expectantly
Gabrielle sighed quietly. “What do you mean, you couldn't? You must have done something.”
“Well, sure, I did something, just not to them. I couldn't because my wonderful brother has done something that prevents me from doing anything to them.”
Putting aside the feeling that she was trying to wade through thigh-deep mud, Gabrielle pressed on. “Alright, so Ares stopped you from affecting the men, so what did you do?”
Aphrodite suddenly seemed to go a little shy. “We-ellll, I was able to do something to… you.” She winced.
The goddess snapped her fingers and a large looking-glass appeared propped against the opposite wall of the cell. Gabrielle glanced at it, looked back to Aphrodite, who was looking rather sheepish, then back to the glass. She stepped forward to look at herself in the reflection.
“Whoa!” Gabrielle skipped back half a step. She could barely recognise her own features in the pustule-infested, wart-ridden, hairy-mole-covered face that looked back at her. “Aphrodite!” she shrieked. “What have you done?” She carefully touched her own face with her fingers.
“Hey, hey, calm down, sweetpea. It's not real. You just look like that. Um… that didn't come out quite right.”
By then, Gabrielle had discovered that her face wasn't really covered with unattractive decorations, so she actually understood what Aphrodite meant. “You mean; it's just an illusion.”
“Yes, yes, that's what I meant. It should wear off soon,” she added hopefully.
Gabrielle's eyebrows hiked up. “Should?”
“No, it will… really.”
Gabrielle sucked in a deep breath and slowly blew it out again. “Anyway, thank you, Aphrodite. That was scary for a moment there.” She stepped towards the goddess clearly intending to give her a hug.
Aphrodite flinched involuntarily before closing her eyes for a heartbeat while she got herself under control, then she smiled broadly and welcomed her friend into her arms.
“So, munchkin, what are you doing in this grody place?”
Gabrielle filled Aphrodite in on the story so far, up to and including the revelation of Ares' involvement.
“Well that explains the… um… magical locks he's put around this place,” Aphrodite mused when Gabrielle had finished speaking.
“But it doesn't explain why Xena is doing all this,” said Gabrielle in frustration. “I've got to see her. I am sure that she will talk to me. Aphrodite, can you shimmer me up to her chambers?”
“No can do, sweetie-pie. I tried to vamoose you from the ugly quartet's slimy fingers but I couldn't. I'm not sure what Ares has done but it's preventing me from doing much of anything to anyone down here.”
“Can you unlock the door, then?”
Aphrodite snapped her fingers but nothing happened. “Sorry,” she said, shaking her head.
“Oh boy,” grumbled Gabrielle, “I'll wager that you can't bring her down here either.”
“No, probably not,” Aphrodite pouted and then turned thoughtful. “But then again,” she continued, “there is more than one way to move a warlord.” She grinned, winked at Gabrielle and vanished.
Gabrielle stared at the empty space for a few moments then shook her head slowly and sat back down on the bench to wait.
- - -
Xena entered her bed chamber and stopped, glaring at the bed. “Who in Hades are you and what are you doing here?”
Gabrielle lifted her head from the bed and propped it up on one hand, allowing the sheet to slide precariously from her bare shoulder. She smiled seductively. “Hello, tall, dark and cworr, long time no see.”
Xena continued her glare while she juggled with her options. At one time, the appearance of what was actually a very comely wench in her bed waiting for her would have been cause for some vigorous entertainment, but after a day like today… She sighed then her brow crinkled in puzzlement as she looked at the woman; there was something… about her, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. She didn't recognise her but there was something… familiar. She shook her head to clear her thoughts.
“Look, I don't know who you are and, although I've got a good idea what you're doing here, I really can't be arsed right now. So scram.”
Gabrielle sat up on the bed and displayed no shyness as the sheet slid down to her waist. She cast a puzzled frown towards Xena. “Don't you recognise me, Xena?” she asked.
Xena swallowed the lump that had suddenly lodged in her throat and shook off the odd surge of, what she would have described as protectiveness had she stopped long enough to think about it. “No, like I said, I don't know who you are. Now are you going to leave under your own power, or do I have to throw you out.” Even as she said the words, she realised that it really wasn't something that she wanted to do.
Aphrodite looked thoughtful for a moment before sliding off the bed and slipping a light, diaphanous gown over her shoulders. She looked at Xena once more before walking out through the bed chamber door. Once out of sight, Gabrielle morphed into Aphrodite and, with a final glance back to the bed chamber and a frown, she vanished.
Xena watched the goddess retreat through the doorway then she shook her head impatiently and headed for the wine flask on the table.
- - -
Gabrielle had checked the walls of the cell twice and the door five times looking for any weakness that might give her some opportunity to escape from her current predicament. Unfortunately, the cell seemed to be well constructed so nothing presented itself as being even a remote possibility. Her frustration was just beginning to cause her to wish that the guards would return to give her another alternative for escape when sparkles announced Aphrodite's return.
“Oh good, you're still here.”
Gabrielle just looked at the goddess in disbelief.
“I've got some good news and some bad news,” stated Aphrodite, smiling at Gabrielle expectantly.
Gabrielle resisted rolling her eyes and instead sat herself down on the edge of the bench. “Okay, give me the good news.”
“It's definitely Xena,” said Aphrodite, triumphantly.
“Hmm, I thought as much,” replied Gabrielle generously, nodding slowly. “And the bad?”
“Well, she doesn't remember you.”
“What? Are you sure?”
“Mm-hmm. I went into her chambers looking like you and, apart from a little lust… nothing. No recognition, no love, nothing.” The goddess shrugged.
“Looking like me?” It took a moment or two for Gabrielle to realise what Aphrodite meant, then she continued. “But why doesn't she… hold on; what do you mean, ‘apart from a little lust'?”
“Well, you know, I can sense these things. Goddess of Love?” She waved her hands up and down in front of herself.
“Yes, I realise that, but why would she feel lust if she didn't recognise me?” Gabrielle's cheeks coloured slightly as she realised what she had implied. “I mean, I'm not exactly a voluptuous sex-pot that inspires that sort of thing in strangers.”
“Gabrielle,” blurted Aphrodite impatiently, “there's more to being sexy than having a nice, plump pair of…”
“APHRODITE! Can we please get back on topic, here.”
Aphrodite humphed, then looked puzzled. “Um, what was the topic?”
“Why did Xena feel lust if she didn't recognise me?” Gabrielle closed her eyes and sighed away the mild embarrassment she felt.
Aphrodite suddenly seemed shy and wouldn't look Gabrielle in the eye. “I'm not sure,” she mumbled.
Gabrielle's eyes widened. “Aphrodite, what did you do?”
“Well, I, um, went into her bed chamber and, um, waited for her in her bed.”
“In her bed?” Gabrielle squinted her eyes suspiciously.
“Well, I wasn't sure that it was Xena and, if it wasn't, I didn't want her to go all warlordy on me.” Aphrodite's expression turned all indignant. “That is just so… gross when they stick those sharp pointy things into you. I reckoned that, regardless of who she was, she wouldn't do that to a naked woman.” She grimaced, realising that she had disclosed the final part of her faux-pas.
“NAKED!” Another thought suddenly occurred to Gabrielle. “And if, as it turned out, it was Xena AND she did recognise me AND she wanted to…um, resume relations, so to speak… what then?”
Aphrodite gave a watery smile. “It would have been you she was… relating to, sweetpea,” she said hopefully, hurriedly continuing when she saw the force-ten hurricane brewing in Gabrielle's eyes. “But, I wouldn't have let it go that far, really.”
The distraught look on the goddess' face more or less convinced Gabrielle, so the storm clouds dissipated. “Alright,” she said, giving Aphrodite a final glare, “so Xena doesn't remember me. Is this Ares' doing, and how did she get resurrected anyway?”
“Ah!” Aphrodite perked up, obviously feeling that she was back on safe ground. “When I discovered that Xena didn't remember you, like at all, I thought; now who do I know can mess with memories?” She looked expectantly at Gabrielle.
“How should I…” Gabrielle squinted her eyes. “Mnemosyne!”
“Bingo! So, anyway, she and I are like, best gal-pals, so I got her to cough up the story. It seems my inventive brother restored Xena's ashes using some ambrosia and a golden apple from Odin.”
“But I checked, and Xena's ashes…” she trailed off as she remembered more than one of her Amazon sisters trying to tell her that one pile of ashes looked very much like another. “Go on,” she said.
“So then my devious brother called in a debt from Mnemosyne. He got her to remove Xena's memories from the last eight or nine cycles.”
“Oh gods,” Gabrielle buried her face in her hands. “That means Xena thinks that she's still the Destroyer of Nations, before she even met Hercules. That explains everything.” Gabrielle sat quietly for several heartbeats before she dropped her hands and looked at Aphrodite again. “Except,” she continued, “it doesn't explain why she hasn't realised something's not right. Eight or nine cycles ago she was running an army, but when Ares resurrected her, that army would be gone. Why hasn't she questioned that?”
“Ah, my clever brother must have thought of that too,” the goddess explained. “He got Mnemosyne to insert a false memory, one where she believed in and trusted him.”
Gabrielle listened and then stared blankly at the cell wall in front of her. Eventually she came to a decision. “It doesn't change anything. I still have to get to see her so that I can talk to her.”
“No, sweetpea! She doesn't know who you are. As far as she's concerned you are just an Amazon Queen, the leader of just another nation to be conquered. You being here, her prisoner, puts all of you at risk.”
“You're wrong, Aphrodite.” Gabrielle spoke with a certainty that Aphrodite didn't understand. “Even if Xena doesn't know who I am, she will know me. I will be able to reach her. I know it.”
“Gabrielle please, let me go and fetch some of your Amazon grrls. Together you will be able to fight your way out of here.”
Gabrielle was already shaking her head before Aphrodite had finished. “No, I can't put my sisters at risk like that,” she insisted. “When I get in front of Xena, and she will want to see me when she knows that I'm here, then I'll be able to talk to her and set things right.”
“Gabrielle, it won't work. When Mnemosyne removes memories they stay removed… although…”
“Mnemosyne did say that, because it was only a partial removal there may be some lingering fragments.” She shrugged.
“Good, then that will make it easier.” Gabrielle looked Aphrodite squarely in the eyes. “Aphrodite, what Xena and I share is beyond just simple love and friendship. She will know me. She won't hurt me. I can help her remember.”
“Oh, sweetpea, I hope you're right.”
Unheard by either of them, Ares, lurking in shadows across the other side of the dungeon, mumbled to himself, “And I'm just a bit concerned that you might be.”
- - -
Xena raised a hand in the air and beckoned. “Ares! Come on, join me in a drink. This wine is particularly good… at least I seem to remember it was when I started on it.”
Ares approached Xena's chair from the rear. “You drink too much.”
Xena snorted. “When did you take over the God of Mothering job?”
The god walked around to face Xena and scowled at her.
“Oh, lighten up, Ares. What are you doing here anyway? Haven't I slaughtered enough for you this moon?”
“I came to tell you that your guards have apprehended an Amazon here in the keep. She's in the cells.”
Xena sat up and held the god's gaze. “An Amazon? Who?”
“I don't know. Does it matter?”
“It might. I'll interrogate her; find out what she knows.”
“That would be a mistake.”
“Excuse me? When did you become god of strategy and tactics?”
“Xena, the Amazons are a powerful and proud people. The last thing you need to do is to give them an indication that they are important to you.”
“They are important. They are starting to get in my way and you asked me to get rid of them, remember?”
“Of course I remember and that Amazon turning up here just emphasises that they are a problem that you need to deal with.”
“Xena, giving that Amazon an audience will just undermine your position; it will give credence to her position, tell the Amazons that they are a force to be reckoned with and possibly make a martyr out of her.” Ares kept up the pressure. “Just have her executed with no fanfare and don't even acknowledge her presence. That is the best way to send a message.”
“ALRIGHT, Ares! Alright. I will do what you suggest. Anything to get you to shut up about it.”
Ares strode to the door and flung it open. “LIEUTENANT!”
After a few moments the sounds of booted feet hurrying along the corridor approached and a guard entered through the open doorway. He glanced around before focussing in on the woman sitting in the chair. “Yes, Xena. What do you need.”
Xena glared at him for a few moments before turning her gaze to Ares where her glare hardened. She turned back to the guard, swallowed and a slightly pained expression flitted across her forehead. She look back at Ares again who simply raised his eyebrows. After several more heartbeats, Xena sighed and turned back to the guard. “There is an Amazon in the cells. Arrange…” she swallowed again. “Arrange for her to be hung in the morning. No fuss, no crowds, just get it done.”
The Lieutenant was not particularly surprised at the order, so he just saluted, turned and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Xena took another large gulp of her wine and glared once more at Ares. “Satisfied?”
“Mm, I think so,” he smirked and vanished.
- - -
“Gabrielle, this is just crazy!”
“No, it's not, Aphrodite. When I get to talk to Xena I just know she will listen to me and who she was… who she IS, will come back to her.”
Aphrodite stamped her foot. “But she might not. As far as she is concerned she is the bad-ass warlord Xena and you and your Amazons are in her way. She will interrogate… torture you. Eventually she will kill you.” The goddess' eyes swam with unshed tears as she looked despairingly at her stubborn friend.
Gabrielle glared back, her own anger fuelling her determination to go through with her plan. “It's the only option that I have, Aphrodite. Hades! It's the only option for Greece .” Gabrielle suddenly went quiet and her gaze turned distant. “It's the only option for Xena, Aphrodite. I have to do this.”
Finally the tears cascaded down the blonde goddess' cheeks. She swallowed heavily before murmuring, “I don't want that to happen to you, Gabrielle.”
Gabrielle's cast-iron will wavered, just a little, as she watched the anguish on Aphrodite's face. She stepped forward and lifted her hand to gently cup a damp cheek and brush away the tears with her thumb. “I didn't know that gods could cry,” she said gently.
Aphrodite sniffed, a small smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. “Only when it matters,” she mumbled.
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the goddess and hugged her tightly. Aphrodite squeezed her back.
After a few moments, Gabrielle stepped back. “Are you sure that Mnemosyne can't undo what she's done?”
An expression crossed Aphrodite's face that was a mixture of puzzlement and pain. “Um… I don't know, actually. I didn't ask her that,” she said as she wiped away the rest of the tears with her hands.
“Well, look, why don't you go and talk to her again. When I went to her temple a few years ago she was able to take away and then restore my memories. Perhaps she can do the same for Xena.”
Aphrodite perked up a little. “Hmm, well it's worth asking, isn't it?” she said hopefully.
“It sure is,” echoed Gabrielle, glad to have moved the subject into a more positive direction. She smiled and nodded vigorously.
“Right! I'll do that. You hold onto your cotton socks and I'll be right back.” She vanished in a burst of pink sparkles.
Gabrielle sucked in a huge breath and blew it out through pursed lips. She sat herself down on the bench and wondered if there were going to be any more twists in this story before she got to see Xena.
- - -
The guards had returned some time ago but they made a point of giving Gabrielle's cell a wide berth, clearly not trusting that, whatever sorcery had enchanted her earlier, wasn't going to return.
Not unreasonably, Gabrielle was quite happy with that but, with Aphrodite not returning and no other contact with anyone else, she was getting a little frustrated. She guessed that, by now, it must be well into the evening so she decided to try to move things along.
“Excuse me,” she called through the bars of her cell, “can you tell me when I'm going to get to see Xena?”
The two guards looked at each other and smirked. “That's hard to say,” one of them replied.
“Well, can you at least give me some idea?”
“Nope!” came the reply. “But Xena's not likely to die any time soon, so it could be quite a while.” The guard's colleague burst into laughter and soon the two of them were chuckling to each other.
Gabrielle watched the two for a few moments and then started to have a very bad feeling about things. “Why should it depend on when Xena dies?” she asked, hesitantly.
“Oh, hasn't anyone told you?” the first guard asked. “You're to hang in the morning.”
“WHAT! But I haven't…” A sudden thought struck Gabrielle. “Does Xena even know that I'm down here?”
The first guard suddenly lost his sense of humour. “Of course she does, Amazon,” he snarled. “Who do you think ordered your execution.”
“But she will see me before then, won't she?”
The guard was enjoying himself. “Not likely,” he replied. “She's ordered it to be done no fuss, no audience. It'll be just you and a few of us. All cosy and intimate, like.” He and his friend started laughing again.
Gabrielle slowly backed away from the cell door until her back pressed up against the far wall. Slowly, her knees bent and she slid down the wall until she sat on the floor. She pulled her knees up against her chest, wrapped her arms around her legs and rested her forehead on them.
- - -
Aphrodite materialised in Mnemosyne's lair and glanced around, immediately realising that something was definitely off. It was very dark, so much so that she could barely see anything around her. “Mnemosyne?” she called out.
A heavy, metallic clang confirmed her initial fears. Oh-oh! She decided that it was probably prudent to scram out of there so she attempted to shimmer away.
“I really am sorry about this, sis, but I cannot let you interfere with my plans.”
“Ares! What are you doing? Why can't I get out of here?”
The illumination in the room slowly increased to normal levels so that Aphrodite was able to see her brother standing outside what appeared to be a cell made from iron bars.
Ares raised his arms and grasped the bars in front of him. “Our dear, departed kin, Hephestus, left a few quite neat toys behind.” He patted the bars with his right hand. “I'm afraid you're not going anywhere for a little while, Aphrodite.”
“Bu… it… you…” The goddess struggled to form any more than a single syllable. “Ares, you can't do this,” she finally managed.
Ares gave a lop-sided smile that actually looked as if there was some genuine regret behind it. “I'm afraid I just did, sis. But don't worry, it's only for a few days… at most,” he said apologetically.
“But I can't stay here. I have things I must do,” Aphrodite pleaded.
Ares dropped his arms to his sides and stood up straight. “Mm,” he mused thoughtfully, “about that…” Then he disappeared.
- - -
“RIGHT! You Amazon hag, whore, or whatever the Hades you are. Let's get this done.”
Gabrielle jerked awake at the guards bellow. She looked up to see him and another guard gathering a set of shackles that would no doubt soon find their way onto Gabrielle's arms and legs. She stood and moved to the bars of her cell, grasping them tightly in her hands until her knuckles turned white.
“You need to tell Xena that I am not just an Amazon, I am an Amazon Queen and that I need to speak to her.”
The chief guard stopped and looked at her. “I told you earlier, she knows who you are,” he snarled.
“Are you sure that she knows I am a queen? If Xena finds out that you knew something that would be important to her battle plans and you didn't tell her, what's she going to do to you?” Gabrielle had no idea whether or not that was true but, by the look on the guard's face, he didn't either.
The guard hesitated only briefly before resuming his preparations. “Ain't no time for that,” he grumbled. “Besides, she won't find out no how.” He looked up and glared at the other guard who shook his head rapidly.
“Not from me that's for sure,” he said quickly.
Gabrielle had played her last card and without any further means of trying to secure an audience with Xena, she felt a despair almost as strong as she had felt many moons ago in the far-off land of Jappa .
At that point, two more guards entered the dungeon and together, all four of them opened Gabrielle's cell and fastened the shackles on her. They then led her out through the door that she had entered through, barely twelve candlemarks earlier.
- - -
Gabrielle squinted her eyes in the bright, early morning light that flooded the deserted courtyard. She glanced around but, apart from a few guards standing at the entrances, there were no other people present. Suddenly she realised that there was one other person she had not noticed at first. A man, dressed completely in black, standing on the top of a set of gallows over in one corner of the yard.
The guard behind her gave her a shove towards those same gallows and she half shuffled, half stumbled towards them.
As she crossed the short distance, taking the last steps of her life, she felt an odd mixture of emotion. Some sadness and fear, certainly, but there was also a slight undercurrent of relief that she recognised and clung to in preference to the other feelings. Her life since Jappa had continued to hold more than its fair share of adventure and excitement but it had been largely empty of joy and contentment, and completely devoid of the love that she had shared with Xena. This, she realised, was the other side of the dinar to having met and lived with your soulmate. When that soulmate was gone, life simply had something missing that could not be replaced.
The executioner positioned the rope noose over Gabrielle's head and tightened it. He smiled at her but it carried no warmth only an anticipation of some perverted enjoyment he was about to experience. As he moved over to the lever to release the trapdoor on the gallows, Gabrielle closed her eyes, a single tear trickling from each, down her cheeks. Her final thoughts were about Xena and what Ares had subjected her to. She wondered if she could have done anything differently to try to reach Xena and couldn't help feeling that she had failed her soulmate.
- - -
The insistent knocking on the door to her chambers eventually wakened Xena from her hungover stupor. “Hades,” she cursed, “the damn keep had better be on fire.” She clambered out of bed and pulled a robe on over her shoulders before walking gingerly to the door. She yanked it open and glared at the chief dungeon guard whose fist was frozen in mid-air, poised to make another impact on the door.
“WHAT?” Xena thought the guard was about to soil himself and would have chuckled at the sight if her head wasn't throbbing so much. Instead she just raised her eyebrows to try to encourage him to speak.
“Uh, Xena, I, uh, thought you should know that the Amazon prisoner we have is actually an Amazon Queen… or at least she says she is.”
For some reason, Xena found this information strangely interesting. “And?” she prompted.
“Well, uh, I thought perhaps it might be useful information.”
The current disposition of the Amazon in question suddenly filtered into Xena's memory causing an unexpected feeling of sadness.
“And she had this strange weapon on her. Does it mean anything to you?” The guard held out the chakram.
“My chakram!” Xena seemed lost in thought for a few moments. “Now why,” she mused, “would an Amazon Queen have my chakram?” Her eyes snapped wide open and her hand shot out to grasp the guard by the neck. “Where is she, right now?” she demanded.
“On the gallows… by your order,” the guard hurriedly qualified.
Xena snatched the chakram with her other hand and dropped the guard in a heap on the floor. She sprinted across her chambers to the doors opening onto a balcony overlooking the courtyard. Hardly breaking stride she crashed through them just in time to see the executioner reach out for the gallows control lever.
The lever moved smoothly, the executioner obviously taking great pride in his work, he had kept the mechanism well maintained and oiled.
Xena drew back her arm and let the chakram fly.
The trapdoor dropped, followed a split second later by Gabrielle.
- - -
The impact of her feet onto a hard surface took Gabrielle by surprise. She had expected her neck to be wrenched but that simply hadn't happened. Surreally, she wondered if she had literally landed in the underworld feet first. When she opened her eyes the reality of her situation became immediately apparent.
“BRING HER TO ME.” Xena's powerful voice rang out across the courtyard.
“Xena,” whispered Gabrielle, closing her eyes again, relief coursing through her.
- - -
“What in Tartarus do you think you're doing?” Ares was almost incandescent with rage.
Xena had returned to her chambers from the balcony to find Ares already waiting for her. She hadn't acknowledged his presence but had immediately started to pace back and forth through the room with a puzzled frown on her face. At his outburst, she stopped and looked at him as though he had just appeared. “What?” she said, at last.
“We agreed that getting rid of that Amazon was a good idea. Now you're bringing her up to your room. What are you doing?”
Xena considered the question carefully for a few heartbeats. “Honestly, Ares, I don't really know.” She puzzled over it for a while longer while Ares continued glaring at her. Eventually she lifted the chakram that she held in her right hand and looked at it as if she had never seen it before. “I just… had to… save her.” She sighed, exasperated.
A flicker of concern flashed through Ares' eyes before he spoke again. “Well, all is not lost. Just have the guards turn around with her and finish the job.”
“NO!” Xena turned to the god with murder in her eyes, took one step and then stopped dead, confusion on her face.
At that moment there was a knock on the door.
Both Ares and Xena turned to face it in a synchronised movement.
“Go away!” shouted Ares
“Get your ass in here,” bellowed Xena.
The door opened very slowly, a guard peering through the opening cautiously.
Xena stared at the door, not at all sure why she was feeling nervous.
Eventually the guard ushered his captive into the chamber and stood beside her holding one of her arms tightly.
“Hello, Xena,” said Gabrielle quietly. Her own heart was pounding in her chest as she looked at the one person that she never expected to see again.
Xena looked at the shackles on Gabrielle's arms and legs. “Take those off,” she instructed the guard, who obeyed immediately. “Now get out.”
The three long-time friends and adversaries looked at each other for a long moment before Ares found his voice first.
“Xena, you know me, you trust me. This is a bad move. You need to get rid of her, now!”
“Ares, just shut up will you. Something's not right here but I just can't seem to grasp what it is.”
Gabrielle started moving towards Xena. “Xena, it's so good…”
Xena held up her hand, silencing the Amazon. “You just stop right there too. First you turn up in my bed, now you appear to be an Amazon Queen. Just who in Hades are you…”, Xena trailed off suddenly her eyes going unfocussed. Then she looked up directly into Gabrielle's eyes. “Gabrielle?”
“Yes, Xena, it's me.”
Xena shook her head. “I don't know how I know that.”
“It's just a trick, Xena,” said Ares. “Come on, you can trust me but you don't know her at all.”
“Why can you trust him, Xena?”
Xena looked across at Gabrielle and frowned. “What do you mean, why do I trust him? I just … do.”
“Xena, this is crazy.”
“SHUT UP, ARES!” Both Xena and Gabrielle shouted together.
“Xena,” Gabrielle continued, moving slowly towards her friend. “Think carefully. What has Ares done to earn your trust and friendship?”
Ares answered while Xena pondered the question. “I have been a good friend to her, helped her, guided her,” he smirked at Gabrielle, “made love to her. We have achieved great things together.”
Gabrielle ignored the jolt in her gut and remained focussed on Xena. “But what about before? How did it all begin for the two of you?”
“Xena, how long are you going to let this…”
Xena silenced him with a glare. “That's actually a very good question,” she said thoughtfully. She turned back to Gabrielle. “What are you saying?”
Gabrielle moved closer. “Ares has tricked you, Xena. He has had Mnemosyne remove your memories of the last eight years and replaced them with some of his own.”
It was ridiculous, preposterous but Xena found that she believed this petite, blonde Amazon. “Do… we know each other?” she asked quietly, hopefully.
Gabrielle raised her hand and gently cupped Xena's cheek. “Oh yes, my love. We most certainly do.” She closed the final distance between them and moulded her body against the tall, powerful warrior, wrapping her arms tightly around her torso.
“Oh gods!” mumbled Xena, closing her eyes against the flood of emotion pouring through her.
“Oh crap!” said Ares. He shrugged. “Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.” With that, he vanished.
- - -
Xena and Gabrielle sat, side by side, facing each other on the couch in Xena's chambers. Gabrielle had trouble keeping her hands still, wanting to keep touching Xena to confirm to herself that she really was there.
“I can't believe that you're here, you're back,” she said.
Xena sighed and looked mournfully at Gabrielle. “I wish I could remember. You say that I left all this behind seven years ago and yet, this is all I can remember.”
Gabrielle picked up Xena's hand and gently rubbed her knuckles. “Maybe you will, in time,” she said encouragingly.
“But what if I don't, Gabrielle? I mean, I knew that this was not right but I didn't know why, and Ares just kept pushing me on. I didn't know any other way.”
Gabrielle smiled at her, the odd echo from the past causing sadness and an odd quirk of amusement at the same time. “Well in that case, we'll just move forward from here, won't we.”
Xena looked deeply into Gabrielle's eyes, finding the trust and strength reflected in them to allow her to be honest and vulnerable, a feeling that was surprisingly familiar. “I don't think I can do this on my own,” she whispered.
Gabrielle squeezed the hand she was holding and smiled. “Don't worry,” she said around a lump that appeared in her throat. “You're not alone.”
=== The End and a new beginning ===
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