Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Ares etc. etc. are all the legal property of MCA Universal, Renaissance and Studios USA… Alex and co. on the other hand are all mine. 

Violence: Well duh! She didn't get the title Xena: Warrior Princess by dancing around a meadow in a tutu and petting bunnies, now did she? So yes, there is violence. This is a war story, I get a chance to cut off limbs, no way I'm gonna let that pass me by...

Subtext: Nope, not really. Some hints here and there, but nothing really solid. 

Mythology: I'm what you would call a mythology addict. If you know a little about myths yourself you'll find a couple of links to ancient mythology in this little story here and you'll probably understand some parts of it better. I've used a lot of the actual names, places and events, but the characters are mine and probably have nothing in common with 'the real thing'. I try to stick to the timeline… but I have to admit I'm doing a lousy job… 

Time in Xenaverse: All right, this is a project of mine spread across three years of watching Xena. I've decided to ignore the fifth season and place this story somewhere at the beginning of season four, before Gabby got all hooked up on good ol' Eli and became a saint and all that.  

If you've got any feedback on this story, mail me at allmightyannie@hotmail.com

Father of All Evil
by AnneM

The sun was shining brightly as three shadows were moving down the small path that was leading into the valley of Macedonia. 
"So, uhm, Xena...." 
An irritated looking face shot in her direction. "Gabrielle! Will you just shut up about it. I told you about a thousand times now..." 
"Don't exaggerate. Just ten or eleven." 
"...whatever....that I don't know much more then you do. Look, we're almost in Pella. A soon as we get there I'll go and find Alex and you can ask him everything. All right?" 

A sigh escaped the bard. Gabrielle really hated waiting. Especially when there were so many things to be cleared up. Who was Alex? How did Xena know him? Why did she practically jump up and run to Macedonia when she got that letter from the guy? And Xena of course wasn't helping. The only thing she had gotten from the warrior was "Knew him. Liked him. Owe him." That didn't really give her any deep insights. 

Gabrielle glanced over at her silent travel companion. All right, let's try a brainstorm. Maybe it's one of those old flames of hers. Maybe he saved her butt one time or another. I never heard any stories about her trashing Macedonia, but that really doesn't say anything. Could just be one of those Xena-past things you never heard about. Maybe.... 

"Wow, a new record..." 
"Ha ha." The bard gave her friend a bored look. "If you don't want me to talk, then why do you start to?" 
"I don't mind you talking..." She raised her hand to cut off Gabrielle's words "...unless it's about a certain Alex from Macedonia." Silence from her partner. "All right...why don't you...tell a story?" That should get your mind of the Alex thing. 
"OK. There once was this woman from Potedaia who really wanted to know who this Alex from Macedonia was..." 
A low growl "Gabrielle..." 
"So she asked her friend, the 'I never tell anything about my past' Warrior Princess..." 
A hand closed over the young woman's mouth. "Gabrielle, would you please shut up about it before I give in to the enormous need I feel right now to stick your head in the ground and leave you standing upside down." 
"Fwell, fif fyou rtput stsit sftat fway." The hand released it's grip and they walked on. "All right...have I ever told you the story of Eo?" 
About a hundred times. "No, I don't think you have." 
"OK...A long time ago, Zeus fell madly in love with this woman named Eo...." 

The day was almost over as they reached the walls of Pella. 
"Halt! Who goes there!" 
Xena grinned as she recognized the low voice of the watchman and stepped away from behind Argo who had been blocking the watchman's sight. "You should've at least noticed the leather outfit Par." 
The soldier looked at her for a moment, then his face creased into a smile. "Xena! By the gods, it's been too long." The tall, broad shouldered man pulled the warrior into a one-armed hug. "What brings you to these parts?" 
"Well, a few days ago..." 

"Ahum...excuse me." The soldier and warrior both turned around to look into a pair of confused green eyes. "Could somebody please tell me what's going on here?!" 
"O... ehm...Gabrielle, meet Parmenios. He and I fought together once." 
"In the Persian war. The famous battle of Salamis ." Parmenios helpfully added. 
Xena sighed Oh boy... 
"You were in the Persian war?! And you didn't tell me?! Xena, I'm pretending to be a bard here, I need to know these things!" 
"Gabrielle, we'll talk about it later..." 
"Don't you "Gabrielle, we'll talk about it later" me. I thought we.." 

"Did I say something wrong" Parmenios asked, whispering, trying not to disturb Gabrielle's word flow too much. 
"Nah, not really. Just let her rattle for a while. She'll get over it. Come on." 
"And then there's another thing. Last time you....Hey, Xena, wait up!" Gabrielle ran after the two strolling down the road into the center of the city. 
"So, Alex called for you. Well, he's absolutely right. With you on our side, we can't possibly lose." 
"Lose?" Xena said, raising an eyebrow at the man. 
"O, he didn't tell you? Well, he must have had his reasons. He's in that inn over there. Go ask him yourself." 
"You're not coming with us?" Gabrielle, who had just caught up, dropped into the conversation. 
"No, I gotta stay on my post. We'll talk later, right?" He directed at Xena, who nodded. "It was nice to meet you Gabrielle." 
"Same here." Gabrielle watched as Parmenios jogged back to the city walls. Then she turned around to face Xena. "Nice guy." Xena nodded. "He just made sure we're gonna have a lot to talk about this evening." Gabrielle gave her friend one of those 'this bard means business' looks. 
A sigh. "Yeah, yeah...I'll tell about the Persian war thing and all." 
"Good. Now let's go find this Alex." The bard took front lead and headed for the small building Parmenios had pointed to, followed by a slightly grinning warrior. 

After they had placed Argo in one of the stables next to the inn, Xena pushed open the door. In spite of what it looked like on the outside, it was a pretty big place. Pretty crowded too. The room was filled with people, mostly soldiers. All around her the buzzing of laughter and the clinging of ale mugs. Xena's eyes slowly began to scan the room for.... 
"Looking for me?" 
Xena quickly turned around. In front of her stood a boy, about Gabrielle's height, maybe even a little smaller. Blond curly hear and very familiar brown eyes. "Well, well, little Alexander." 
"Not that little anymore. I'm a king now, remember." 
"Whoa! Hold it." 
Alexander turned to face Xena's smaller companion, with a questioning look on his face. 
"King Alexander? Like in, king Alexander of Macedonia? Alexander the Great?" 
"Some call me that." 
"Gee." Gabrielle said, "I thought you'd be...different." 
"Taller? Bigger? Older?" Alex laughed. "I get that a lot. You must be Gabrielle." 
"You...you know me?" 
"Hey, I'm Alexander the Great. What did you expect?" Alex grinned. Gabrielle was already starting to like this guy. He looked really friendly. His dark brown eyes glowed with a sense of intelligence. And he knew her! Usually she got the "You must be Xena... and who in the name of Hades are you?" kinda routine. This was turning out a lot better then she had expected. 
"I'm afraid Xena didn't humor me by telling me something about you." She spared a grim look for the ex-warlord, who just shrugged back. "All I really know is your name." 
"What do you wanna know?" 

Another laugh from Alexander. "Well, we'd better sit down then." He walked over to the nearest table, whispered something to the soldiers that were occupying it after which they left. He signed with his hand for them to come over. "All right where do I start....Xena and I met when I was just a small boy. My father had just been called to gather his troops and come to Athens to make a stand against the forces of Xerxes, who were marching up against the city. Xena came to offer her services." 

"My father allowed her in, knowing she was a valuable asset. She stayed in the castle for a week, until the troops were set up and ready to march. I got to know her a little. She taught me a lot of things in that short time." A smile crossed Alex's face. 

"What did I tell ya...stay on the horse!" Xena walked into the meadow and helped the little boy on his feet. 
"Why did I have to start with the wildest stallion we've got." The 5 year old glanced up at her, tears twinkling in his eyes. 
"Better to start with the worst you've got. Then it'll just become easier." 
Well, that did make sense. 
"Let me show you a trick." She turned Alex around so that he was now staring straight into the sun. 
What do ya see?" 
"Nothing, the sun is blinding me." 
"Exactly." Xena grabbed him by the shoulders and made him face her again. "Now, how would you feel if you were a horse, you couldn't see a thing and some little boy was sitting on your back, kicking you?" 
A moment of thought. "Bad." 
Xena nodded. "So what you have to do is make the horse face away from the sun, so he can at least see... and stop kicking him so hard! Just lay your heels against his stomach." They walked towards the stallion that was standing in the corner. Xena gave him a boost up. The horse began jumping around again. "And don't forget to stay on the horse!" 

"Very useful. It came in very handy a couple of times." He looked at Xena who grinned back. "Anyway, what exactly happened after that I don't know. My father wasn't a talking kinda guy. All I really know is that we won and that Xena fought magnificently." Xena gave him a bored look. "I've heard stories of her sinking ten ships all on her own." 
The warrior nodded in disapproval. "Not true at all" She grinned "Thirteen ships." 
Alex laughed. "Knowing you, even that's probably an understatement." 

"Now, my father didn't speak of the battle of Salamis, or the lost fight of Athens for that matter. But he never forgot about his fight against the Persians. They stole many things from him. You know what he has lost in that battle. Not just money, or a city that he had grown to admire. But family too. For that he wanted revenge. Shortly after he returned to Pella he started to gather money and treasures and recruit men to form an army. After his death I continued his quest. And now his army is ready and there is enough money to..." 

"Hold it!" Xena interrupted. "Don't tell me you want your revenge on the Persians after all these years. Alex, I too have lost a lot in that fight, but revenge is not the answer. I'm the best example to prove that." 
"I know what you mean, Xena. But this is not just a matter of revenge, it's a matter of honor. I promised my father this on his deathbed. This was his final wish. To crush the Persians in the core, to stop them from attacking Athens or any other Greek city ever again. I'm not going after them out of bloodlust, but out of protection. And yes, out of revenge. Would you not have revenged the death of your brother if you could do it all over again?" 
Xena sighed and shook her head. "I would have revenged him, you're right. But when you've started this cycle, there is no way back. When you feel the power, you'll forget your good intentions. You're a good man Alexander, but no mortal can resist a challenge like that." 
"I can, with some help. Your help Xena. You have been able to resist that challenge for over four years now. You can show me how, to avoid me from making mistakes. I want you with me for your fighting skills, but more than that for your experience, in battle and in life." Alex looked at her, question written in his eyes. 

Xena looked down. What to do now? She owed him… his father. She had promised him a long time ago to protect the boy in case he died. She had never backed out on a promise like that before. 
She had to go, she knew that. But dragging herself, and more important, dragging Gabrielle into a war like this.... Could she just put the young woman in danger like that again. Not that traveling on the road wasn't dangerous . And the young bard could very well take care of herself. But this was war. And the last time they entered war was still clear in her mind. Gabrielle's form huddled over Flanagan's lifeless body. Xena could still feel the pain she saw in her eyes when she'd sat beside her. The pain that remained there for weeks, months. The pain that still hadn't faded and probably never would. Could she scar her friend like that again? 

Xena sighed. "I...I have to think this trough Alex. There is no right choice in this for me. I have to decide which of the two is the lesser evil. I need time." 
"I understand that. I can see you have more responsibilities now." 
"If you're talking about me.." Gabrielle, who had been listening to the two of them in silence for a quite some time now, decided to pick this moment to join the conversation. "...I can assure you that I'm very able to be responsible for myself. Xena doesn't make my decisions for me. We decide what's best for us." 
"I...I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that. I.." 
Gabrielle held up her hand, silencing him. "I know, I know. But I just want you to know I can make my own decisions. I'm not just a reliability in this." 
Alex nodded. "And what have you decided?" He asked, a grin edging on his lips. 
"I have decided.." Gabrielle gave him a smile. "Not to decide yet." Not until a certain warrior princess I know tells me a little more about this. "I need to sleep on this one. And a nice dinner wouldn't hurt either." 
Alexander returned her smile. "You've got it. I've taken care of the part about your room. You're staying at the castle." He looked towards Gabrielle with a mock grin on his face. "Unless you decide to stay in an inn of course." 
"No, a castle will be fine." 
"Come on then. I'll run ahead and tell the cooks to prepare your dinner.." 

It was a small walk from the inn to Alexander's castle, but long enough to think some things over. Gabrielle glanced over at her silently walking friend. Xena was sunken in thought. 
The bard had decided to keep her curiosity locked up a little while longer. She wanted Xena to tell her everything, and not in a fly-through kinda way, like she usually did, so she needed more time than this walk was going to give them. 

A part of her really wanted to go to Persia. What a story it would make! Traveling with Alexander the Great, helping to make history! The dream of any bard. 

But she had seen war before. Troy. Thessaly. The Horde. Caesar. They were in the past, but still very clear in her mind. So clearly she remembered the screams, the blood, the tearing up of her heart as she saw the destruction. 

Was this worth the price of war? 

Fame? No. Honor? Friendship? That was something completely different. 
Directing her eyes in the direction of the warrior showed Xena still very much in thought. The look in her eyes was almost desperate. 

"Don't worry. We'll figure this one out. We always do." 
A sigh. "This time it's different. We've always faced enemies. Now I feel like I'm facing a friend. There was always a wrong. Even with The Horde, we knew that what we were fighting for was right. The way I fought was wrong, but the what was right. This time, I don't know if I even agree with the what. There is no right or wrong. There's just bad and worse. But I haven't figured out which one is worse yet." Xena pulled Argo to a halt and turned to face Gabrielle. "It would be easier if you.." 
"O no, no, no. I'm going with you. I told you before and I'm telling you again, I ain't leaving. Sorry, you're stuck with me." 
Xena could do nothing but smile. "I kinda like it that way." That got her a dazzling smile in return. "But it would be a lot easier if I just had to decide what to do about my own life." 
Gabrielle was silent for a moment. "What would you do?" 
Xena stared at the ground for a while then lifted her eyes up to meet the bard's. "I would go to Persia." And then she waited for the expected. 
"OK, then do that, and I'll decide to follow you there. My life is just as much in my hands as in yours Xena, and vice versa. I would never forgive myself if something happened to you that I could have prevented if I had been there." 
They had made their decision. I was wrong Xena pondered There was no choice between bad and worse. There wasn't even a choice at all. This was the only real option. 
"Anytime. It's gonna cost you though." One eyebrow raised in question. "One story about a certain Persian War and what the part of a so called Warrior Princess was in all that." 
"You've got it." If you're gonna throw yourself into something that might turn out to be the biggest war in the history of mankind, I at least owe you that. The thought sent shivers down her spine. She knew the bard was right. Then why did it still feel so damn wrong? 
"Come on, let's get you some dinner." She gave a short pull on Argo's reins to get the horse moving the last mile over to the castle gates. 

Big is a definite understatement for this place Gabrielle realized as they passed through the enormous gates to enter the castle. It was really a fortress. Strong thick walls and lookout towers. 
They just had a little light from the torches as they passed through the hall towards what Xena said was the dining room. Everything looked so gray and dim. Some more torches would've been nice. Some carpets maybe, paintings and....wow. 
Gabrielle stood in the door opening for a while. Stunned. 
The dining room was huge, but somehow it didn't look that big, which made it a lot more cozy. The stones on the floor weren't all gray, but had little yellow sparkles in them. On the floor, the table that was partially laid out, was placed on top of a light-brown carpet. There was a fire place on both far sides of the room, which were both lit and filled the room with a warm glow and the scent of burning wood. 

A painting hung over both fireplaces. One showed what Gabrielle thought had to be Alexander when he was about 4 years old with his mother. There was another boy, a little older then Alexander, who she couldn't quite place yet. 
On the other side hung a portrait of a man. Half long, dark hair, a short beard and honest, brown eyes. Alexander's father, Fillip's. No doubt about that. 

"Ah! What took you so long?" Alexander walked in, followed by servants carrying plates on which lay some of the most delicious food Gabrielle had ever seen. They both walked over to the table and sat down. 
"You didn't say we had to rush." Xena answered him while she reached over to a platter with roast. 
"Ah...fgmood." Gabrielle mumbled swallowing a piece of cheese. 

After a long meal in which Xena and Alex exchanged battle techniques and discussed the troops and in which Gabrielle had just... eaten, a servant led them upstairs to their rooms. Two rooms in one of the castle towers. They weren't big, but nice and comfy. There was a big bed in the corner and the floor was partially covered by a carpet. Both rooms had one window. One looked out over the town, the other faced the south-west, looking out over trees and a small lake, a little way off. 

After the servant had left, Gabrielle sat on her bed and patted the patch beside her. "Time for a story." 
Xena complied. She sat a while in silence, trying to turn her thoughts into words and then started. "It was a little while after the war at Corinth. I was really confused then. A side of me had surfaced with Solon's birth and Borias' death, a side I didn't know I had anymore. It hurt. I plundered some villages after that, but hated myself more after every conquest. I stopped robbing and just rode through Greece, pointlessly. One by one my men left me. When I heard about the Persians that were marching against Athens I decided I wanted to join the fight against them. I don't know why exactly. Maybe because I wanted to make up for what I did and thought this was the way to do it, maybe because I just wanted to belong. Stop roaming the countryside on my own and finally be part of a whole, part of Greece. Maybe because I wanted the knowledge that finally I was on the right side." 

"Pella was the only place I wasn't wanted yet. I hadn't committed any crimes there, cause it was to far off. Not an interesting target. So I went there to join the legions of Fillip's. He knew who I was and what I had done, and therefore distrusted my motives, but he let me join anyway. He needed every man, or woman, he could get. He let me stay in the castle. So he could keep an eye on me, I guess. Alex, for some mysterious reason, decided he liked me. He kept hanging around me. And he... he reminded me of something I'd lost..." 

A moment of silence, remembering her son. She'd felt so lost those months after his birth. Like a part of her heart had stayed with him and had left a hole the size of mount Olympus. Alex had somehow kind of, partially, filled that hole. 

A hand on her shoulder brought her back from the past. She swallowed and then continued. "I excepted him and taught him some stuff he asked me to teach. Like riding a horse and holding a sword. He was a smart kid. Learned fast. Determined too. He helped his father to see me as something else than a murderer. And from acceptance grew friendship. Between me and the young Alex and between me and his father." 

"I sometimes still wonder why he let me in. Maybe he saw that I wasn't all evil. That the part of me that was not infected with bloodlust was trying to make it's way up. Fillips helped by making sure that I knew what I was fighting for now was right." 

"He didn't really give me control of his army, he just told me to 'check things out and see what I could do.' So I did. From the first moment on I got a kind of respect. Everybody knew what I could do. But of course they didn't wanted me to just step in and..." 

"...take over, you harlot. What makes you think you have the right to do that!" Parmenios was facing her with great determination. 
"Well, there's nobody here who's gonna stop me, so that kinda gives me free access, don't ya think?" 
"No. I 'm gonna stop you." 
Xena couldn't stop herself from bursting out in laughter. This young man, just out of boyhood, was going to stop her? Yeah, right. He had potential, true. But in this stage he was no match for her. Everybody could see that. Everybody but the boy himself. At the moment Xena had started laughing he had drawn his sword and he was now lunging forward. Xena just stepped aside and let him pass. "Look, I don't want to fight you. Athens is gonna need...." He tried an overhead strike for the head. Now she got her own sword out in a flash and caught the blow. She pushed the sword away from her body, shifting her weight, which made Parmenios stumble and fall on the ground. "...every good man it can get." He recovered quickly and started to circle her, waiting for an opening. "Of course, if you really want it this way..."Xena suddenly jumped, flipped, and landed neatly behind the stunned soldier. With a quick jab from her sword hilt she knocked the young man over, who landed flat faced in the sand. When he turned around he saw a sword point a few inches from his eyes. "Look, I know you don't trust me. I can't blame you for that. But this time I know I'm doing the right thing. Now, you can either follow me to Athens and share in the glory, or I can do it on my own. Your choice." 
Parmenios sat and stared at her for a moment. Could this woman really defeat the whole Persian army? A look into those determined blue eyes made him realize he wouldn't even be surprised if she could. "I'll follow." 

" I became a chief-lieutenant. Fillip's of course led his army, together with Elis...his son." 
Gabrielle looked stunned. "Alexander has a brother?!" 
"Had a brother." Xena corrected sadly. "I knew him pretty well. We had our differences, but I respected him and he me. He was a brilliant fighter, one of the best I've ever seen, but he hated to fight. He said he was only going to war to see if he could avoid a battle. " 

"When we got to Athens the battle had already begun. We fought our way in. But it was really too late. Many men had already been lost, Athens was half collapsed. But Elis wouldn't see that Xerxes would never give up on the destruction of Athens now. He thought that the Persian king was a man of reason. He wanted to talk peace. We all disagreed of course. Xerxes would never give in. The man was crazy and a crazy man which is about to destroy the greatest of the Greek cities was not going to be willing to talk peace." 

"Elis went anyway. Early that morning he walked onto the battle field. Alone, unarmed and carrying a banner of peace. Xerxes let hem approach..." 

Xena's voice had grown hoarse. She stopped a moment and stared down at her hands. She briefly closed her eyes and then she took a deep breath "And he killed him. The bastard went against every battle code there is and killed him." The anger was dripping from her voice. Gabrielle thought she could see tears sparkling in the warrior's eyes. "Then...he hang him on the flag pole and let him dangle there, like a flag of victory." A tear now slowly descended down Xena's cheek. There were no shocks going through her body, no sobs. Before Xena could lift her hand, Gabrielle had already wiped it away. She draped her arm around her friend. Pieces were beginning to fall into place. Why Xena had never liked going to Athens. Her talk with Alex. And Xena went on.. 

"He hang there for two days. Then I could take it no longer. I went on my suicide mission to get him out of there, to give him a proper burial. Late at night, after a rough day of battle I sneaked into their camp and got him out. I killed every Persian that I could get my hands on." 

"I don't know how I did it, but I got out of that place alive. What I did impressed everybody. All those who distrusted my motives before didn't anymore. But I could care less. Elis' death had opened the door for the part that I had been able to tuck away. The part that wanted blood. Revenge." 

"We knew there was no way to protect Athens. The city was lost, but the war didn't have to be. I knew Xerxes would follow us. Me especially, because of the way I had made a fool of him and his army like that. We evacuated the citizens and moved the army to the port of Salamis. That's where we set out a trap to destroy Xerxes' army." 

"As I had expected Xerxes followed. He called in his gigantic battle ships. Well armed and strong and therefore lying deep in the water. He hadn't counted on the fact that the waters around Salamis were very shallow and that the place was covered with small islands. Our ships were agile and fast, while his were slow and hard to steer. 
His ships crashed or we boarded them and killed every man in sight. Blood everywhere. That's how I let out my rage about my friend's death. No one that stood in my way survived. " 

"And afterwards everybody called it heroic, called me a savior. I didn't understand. I was so confused. So I walked away. Many men followed me. They became my army and followed me in the slaughters that followed." 

"Because of them I heard what happened in their homeland. After king Fillips had returned to Pella and told his wife about the death of her son, she died of grief. Fillips was heartbroken. He started to form his plans to revenge the death of his loved ones. But before he could finish he died himself. He was murdered. Some decision he'd made that a Macedonian family wasn't happy about." 

"I didn't come to the funeral. I was to busy trying to kill Hercules." A sigh in self disgust. 
Gabrielle just hugged her friend. They sat like that for a while, in silence. 
"I think you should go with Alexander." 
Xena turned her head and faced Gabrielle, not understanding. "Why?" 
"Because you'll regret it if you don't. He needs your help Xena. He's a good guy. Smart, kind. But also inexperienced and young. I don't want him to go through what you went trough, or see your pain when he does. To me, that's worse than any war." 
Xena just stared at her hands, not knowing what to say. 
"Look, if you don't want to do this, we'll leave. We'll just tell Alex 'no deal' and leave. But I know you can't do that. You feel you have to stay. If you stay I'll stay and that's all there is to it. " 
"I know you're right, but that doesn't make it any easier. I can't just drag you into another war Gabrielle" 
"You aren't dragging me, I'm walking." Their eyes met for a moment as Xena lifted her head. Then stared at the ground again and slightly shook her head. "Look, Xena, I don't want to step into another war, you know that, but sometimes we have to. For the greater good, remember?" 
Xena stood and turned away from her friend. "What is the greater good in crushing some Persians out of revenge?" Xena started to pace, trying to order her thoughts. "Because that's what this is Gabrielle, we both know that. For Alex, for his soldiers... for me." She walked over to the window and let the soft breeze run over her face. Slowly she exhaled, dropping her hands on the windowsill. " This is a personal war for me and we both know what happens to me when things get personal. The Horde, Britannia..." 

A soft hand touched her shoulder "The last 2 times you met Caesar nothing like that happened and nothing like that will happen now. I won't let it." She moved over next to the warrior. "And as for Alexander... He has to have Xerxes life in his hands in order to let go of his hate. Like Toris did with Cortese. And maybe so do you." 
"Maybe... I'm just..." 
"Scared" Gabrielle smiled "Even warrior princesses get scared sometimes, shocking huh?" 
Xena smiled back "Yeah... Aren't you?...scared I mean." 
"Of course I am. I hate war, I hate what it does to people. I hate seeing the pain and the suffering. But this is going to happen with or without us Xena. I'm just hoping that, maybe, we can help to end it sooner or something. Maybe...." Gabrielle let the thought drift off and just stared out the window at the stars overhead. 

Xena looked down at her friend for a moment, then enfolded her in a long hug. "Thanks." She murmured in the bards ear as they broke apart. 
"No problem." 
"Come on, let's get some rest OK? It's been a long day." Xena said 
"Yeah, I.." A low rumble suddenly came from Gabrielle's stomach. 
Xena chuckled despite of her still confused feelings. "I'd be protesting too if I was him. You stuffed yourself to the limit at that dining table. I think your body's gonna need some time to digest." 
"No, that's not it. Actually, he wants more food." 
"You're hungry again!" Xena looked at Gabrielle in disbelief. Then she dropped her eyes to the bard's stomach. "Where do you put all that stuff!" 
Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her belly as another low growl erupted. "I can't help it, the food just...disappears. When I was a kid I always thought I had a monster living in my stomach, who ate all my food before I could." 
"Well, that's an explanation." The bard gave her a hurt look. Xena rolled her eyes. "There are some leftovers from our lunch in the saddlebag in your room." She could do nothing but laugh when the bard's face shot from hurt to delighted. "Go on you. I'm gonna turn in and you'd better do the same. It's gonna be a long day tomorrow." 
"You'll be OK?" 
"Yeah. I'll be fine. I just need some good night's sleep, that's all. Good night, Gabrielle." 
"Good night"

Again within the walls of Athens. As Xena looked around her she saw the destruction the city had suffered. Many houses destroyed, The Parthenon covered with soldiers, death everywhere. 
Then she spotted Parmenios running over to her. He looked awfully young. "Lieutenant! Lieutenant! It's Elis. He's outside the walls!" 
'No. No! Not again. Please don't let this happen again!' She turned around and looked over the walls into the clearing. But it wasn't Elis...it was... 
She wanted to scream her name. But there was no sound. O gods...no. She jumped off the walls and started to run. But her feet didn't seem to be moving, they kept sinking into the sand. Hopelessly she watched the young bard as she walked into Xerxes' hands. Watched as she collapsed on the sand, coloring it bright red. 

In a flash the image was gone and Xena was sitting up straight in her bed. Trying desperately to catch her breath she wiped the sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand. Thank the gods. She sucked in a deep breath, then stood up and strode over to the window. Slightly hanging out of it, she looked out over the city. The town was at rest. Only the sound of birds in the early morning. She turned her eyes to look at the forest on her left. Then a voice rang through her head. 

"I think honoring the dead is very important." 

Xena looked at him in disbelief. Why did the boy never agree with her on anything. "Why? They're already dead. They don't feel anything." 
"Yeah, but the dead can hear your thoughts remember. If you honor them properly, you'll show them you cared, and still care." 
"You show them you care because you burn their bodies? You believe in that soul stuff right? That the person isn't the body, but the soul that's inside? Then why honor his body?" 
A long silence followed. "I think that the burning ritual isn't so much about burning the body, but more about remembering who that body belonged to and somehow finding peace with the loss. And the grave or urn doesn't just specify the place where his or her remains are kept, but also revives the memories. It makes you remember all the things the person did for you, and for others." 

The warrior sighed and then turned away from the window and headed for the chair she'd put her stuff on. She pulled on her boots and leathers. For a moment she gazed at her armory, then shook her head slightly and headed for the door. 

For some reason Gabrielle woke up early. She walked over to the window and pulled away the rag, that kept the sunlight out. Just after sunset?! Hades, this waking up early stuff must really be getting to me. She let the cold morning breeze wake her up a little more. As she turned to walk back to her nice, warm bed, she suddenly spotted a dark form walking below. Xena? Why in the name of Zeus.. She quickly slipped into her skirt and top, grabbed her staff and ran down the stairs to...bump into Parmenios. 

"Where are you rushing of to so early in the morning?" 
"O, I'm just ah...." Where am I rushing of to? 'Oh, I'm just darting off after my travel companion, cause she's trying to shut me out of something again.' No. Well, the only thing I'd get up for this early, except seeing Xena sneak away, is... "..getting some breakfast." 
"Oh..." He looked a little puzzled. 
Luckily Gabrielle's stomach chose exactly that moment to speak up. Phew.. Thank you, thank you, thank you...I promise I'll give you some nice dessert tonight. "Can't help it, he's got a big appetite." She said pointing at her stomach. 
"So I hear." Parmenios grinned. "Uhm... do you mind if I joined you. I kinda wanted to talk to you." 
O boy, just when you don't need it... "Sure." 

They silently walked to the kitchen. There weren't any servants up at this hour, so Parmenios reached into the cabinet and pulled out some bread and cheese. As he started to cut the loaf into pieces he began to talk. "So...uhm...You and Xena have been around each other for a while?" 
"Yeah, 'bout four years now." 
"She hasn't...I mean.. not like she used to...?" 
"No. She's off the 'destroy and conquer' stuff." 
The soldier took a relieved breath. "Good...I heard she'd turned good, but the mainland of Greece is pretty far off, so you never know if those are just rumors or... Well, I'm glad she's OK now." 
Gabrielle watched the man as he kind of shyly handed her a slice of bread and some cheese. "It's nice to know she has a friend like you, who cares." 
He leaned awkwardly against the dresser. "She's been a good friend to me too. Saved my life more times then I can remember." 
"Then why didn't you go with her when she left after the victory over the Persians?" One of the questions that had been bothering her the moment she'd lay down on her bed that night and started thinking about the whole thing. 
He looked down, striking the dark hear out of his eyes with his left hand. "I knew she'd....I noticed the change in her a couple of days before. She hardly ever talked to me anymore. She'd grown hard, unreadable." Bright gray eyes looked up at her. "She told you about Elis, right?" 
"Yeah, she told me everything last night." 
"Good.... His death was really tough on her. I mean, they were totally different, but it seemed like that made them even more close. They could talk for hours about nothing. Everything." 
"What was he like?" 
A smile crossed the man's face. "Elis? He was a great guy. Most leaders never really talk to their men, but Elis always did. He'd always ask me how the troops felt about things. I'd tell him and he'd adjust the plans a little so everybody'd agree. He was like that, considering every option. Putting peace before war. His goodness got him killed." He glanced down for a moment, then back up at Gabrielle. 

Gabrielle considered things. What this man had meant for her friend, how Parmenios obviously needed to talk and mostly about whether to follow Xena or not. All things considered..."Could you tell me more about him?" 
Parmenios gave her a grateful smile. "When we were just kids....." 

The lake reflected the morning sun that was now just shining over the trees. Slowly she started to climb 
up the small hill on the southern side. The hill itself was made of a deep brown colored stone, steep on the lake side, a lot less on the other. Reaching the top of the hill she remembered why it had been one of her favorite places. The view here was fabulous. The beginnings of the southern mountains on her left, the town and castle on her right, the deep blue lake down below. It would be one of the most beautiful places on earth if not for the three graves. 

Xena knelt down. "I...I'm not really good at this, but I thought....I should at least let you know, that... I cared. I still do. You all meant a lot to me. I didn't show you that, but you did. I've disgraced your belief in me, and I'm sorry. I never meant for this all to happen. I.." She stood, turned away from the graves and closed her eyes for a moment. Then she turned again and faced Elis' grave. "You died for peace. How can I respect your memory by starting a war? What if I....? What if she dies too? She's so much like you, Elis. She hates war too. She'd do anything to protect the innocent. How can I take her into a war like this when I know what happened the last time? You wouldn't..." 

Xena fell as she felt a sharp blow against the back of her head. She tried to fight the blackness that was trying to cover her eyes. Somehow she managed to turn around. A blurry shape was standing over her, a sword in his hands. She could see his mouth move, but heard nothing. Then he raised his sword and she saw the shining edge move in the direction of her head. She tried to move her hands to block him, but nothing happened. 
A familiar shape blocked her view as she stopped struggling and let the dark come.

Gabrielle couldn't even remember how she got to the top of the hill as fast as she did. She didn't really care. With a quick jab of her staff she knocked the sword out of the man's hand. He turned and looked at her in puzzlement. Then his blue eyes turned to hate and he charged at her. 
He was a big man. Strong. Probably a soldier, or at least he had been. But he was nothing she hadn't faced before. She stepped aside and let him pass, smacking her staff onto his back. He stumbled, but didn't fall. Then he turned around and stared at her. "Stay out of this, girl. This is between her and me." 
"If this concerns her, it concerns me too. She has done nothing to you. She..." 
"Done nothing?! She killed them!" He pointed at the three graves. Gabrielle let her gaze drift into the direction his hand was pointing in. 

She'd already expected him to make a move. As he jumped she dropped on one knee and lifted her staff overhead. She gave him an extra push to make his landing a little more uncomfortable. 
"Not very nice." She remarked in a calm voice, as he thumped on the ground. He slowly stood again and started to walk towards her. "Now listen to me. I don't know what you think she did. But she didn't kill these people." With a quick move she pressed the point of her staff to his neck, silencing any comment. "I don't care if you believe her. I do and I'm gonna make sure you aren't laying a hand on her. You got me?" 
You got me?!? Ugh, Gabrielle, you have to get some lines of your own. 

But it worked. The man gave her a last stare and then turned around, and walked away. 

She watched him until she finally knew he wasn't coming back. Then she dropped the staff and ran to the black shape huddled between two gravestones. "Xena?" No answer. She felt the warriors pulse. A strong heartbeat. Thank the gods. "Come on, you're not going to let a hit on the head get to you, are you?" She grabbed Xena's head between two hands. "Come on, snap out of it!" No reaction. 

What to do now. She couldn't carry her back to the castle. Argo wasn't around. No, Xena had to wake up. "All right, you asked for it." Gabrielle started to walk back down the hill. 

Everything was dark. Dark and very cold. She was probably in some kind of room, maybe a cave. As she started to walk around to look for a wall or door it suddenly started to rain. Rain? 

"What the Hades..?" She opened her eyes and sat up straight, letting the water run down her leathers. "What did you do that for?!" 
"Sorry. Had to wake you up. Remember, you were hit on the head by some soldier-guy." 
Xena rubbed the painful spot on the back of her head. "Thanks for reminding me." 
"You're welcome. Glad you're back. Come on, let's get back to the castle." She reached out her hand and helped the warrior on her feet. 

They walked down the hill in silence. Xena glanced over at her friend expecting a questioning look asking her what the hell she was doing out here, early in the morning, unarmed. And was surprised not to see one. 
"Don't you wanna know why I went here?" 
"I already know." A smile started to creep up Gabrielle's face. "You're really a gigantic mush ball, you know that?" 
"Mush ball?" A glint appeared in the warrior's eyes as she grabbed one of her friend's arms and gave it a hard tug, pulling the helpless bard towards the water of the lake. A hard splash followed. 

"And how are we gonna explain this when we get back?" She'd tried to wrench all the water out of her clothes, but they were still dripping. 
"We're not." Xena twisted the last bit of water out of her long hair. 
"We're not? No, of course not, we're just gonna walk in and pretend nothing happened. They're not going to notice that we're dripping from all sides." Gabrielle protested as they reached the edge of the forest and saw the castle walls a little way off. 
"We're not walking." Before Gabrielle realized what was happening she felt two arms wrap around her and her feet suddenly left the ground. Xena jumped on one of the branches of a tree, took three steps and jumped as the branch veered up. She pulled both of them into three lazy flips as they floated through mid air, flew through the window and then landed neatly in Gabrielle's room. Then she let go of the bard. 

Wide green eyes stared at her. "Wow." was all the bard could get out. 
Xena chuckled and walked over to their saddlebags and pulled out two towels. She walked back over to the bard, who hadn't moved an inch, and handed her one. 
Gabrielle took it, blinked a couple of times and then came back to reality. As she rubbed her hair dry she walked over to the window and glanced out, to see the tree they'd jumped from in the distance below. She turned and looked at the warrior, who was taking off the metal parts of her armor. "Xena?"
"Next time you decide to do something that is humanly impossible and want to drag me along… warn me, OK?"

"Good morning." Alex greeted them cheerfully as they entered the dining room. "You look...wet." 
"We took a bath. You tend to get wet in those." Xena remarked dryly. 

Gabrielle had already started to fill her stomach with the delicious food on the table. 
"I thought you'd already had your breakfast?" Alexander remarked as he watched her reach over to the dish of bread. 
"Ir mhlad." She swallowed the piece of cheese. "But that was just one piece of bread." 
"Don't get her started on food, Alex. You could fill this whole room with food and she'd still eat it all." Xena commented as she reached for the platted with roasted quail. "She could eat you into the poor house." 
"Wnort tgrou! WOmK, Ir ert a limle tomuk, brut fnort trhat muk." 
"What did she just say?" Alex looked at Xena, frowning his eyebrows in question. 
"She said: "Not true! OK, I eat a little too much, but not that much."" 
Alex stared at her, totally confused. "How in Hades'..?" 
"Hey, when you walk around with her a couple of years, you learn the language." 
"Mha, mha." Gabrielle muttered as she swallowed a piece of meat. "Very funny." 

They argued a little more, but when silence fell again Alex decided to get to the point. "So, about Persia..." 
Xena's eyes moved up to meet his. "We're joining you." 
Alex let out a sigh of relief. "Thank you. This really means a lot to me." 
"I know. There's just one thing I wanna get straight. You'll lead the army. You can ask for my advise, that's fine, I can help to train the troops, but when it comes to the final commands, you'll give them, not me." 
Alex gazed at her in amazement "You don't want control?" 
"The army is yours, not mine. And I don't want it to be." 
"How about I make you chief lieutenant. Then you'll..." 
Xena cut of his words with a short hand gesture. "Too many bad memories." 
Alexander looked at her a moment longer, then nodded "All right..." 

After dinner Xena returned to her room. Gabrielle wanted to go shopping, but she hadn't really felt like it (did she ever?) so she'd told the bard to go ahead without her. 
She thought about the last couple of days. Could've been worse. A lot worse. OK, so the knock on the head was a bit painful, but except from that. Gabrielle had been a big help. The talk they had last night really had straightened some things out. The young bard had also managed to keep her mind off the whole thing. This morning had been great. Wet, but great. She hadn't thought about Persians or Alex or war. She'd only thought about the best way to dunk the bard in the ice cold water. 
"Hi there" 
How did he managed to sneak up on me like that? "Hi Par." 
Parmenios opened up the door a little wider and stepped in. "Mind if I join ya?" 
"Course not." Xena pointed towards a seat in the far corner. Parmenios walked over and moved the chair closer to the bed. "So, what's up?" 
"Nothing really. I just wanted to talk to ya. I heard you're coming with us to Persia." 
"I also heard you're not going to lead us. That true?" 
"Yes, it's true." A sigh. "I'm not really looking forward to this war business, Par. And stepping back in a role like that, leading an army..." 
"I kinda already figured that out. If I were in your shoes, eh boots, I would've probably done the same." Parmenios grinned at her. "It's OK, really. I...I don't think... There are probably some men who wouldn't want you as their leader anyway." He glanced at Xena, seeking a reaction. Nothing. 
"I already realized that. Someone tried to kill me today." The tone in her voice was cold. Emotionless. 
"What! Who..? I'm sorry. I didn't.." 
"It's OK. It all worked out fine. Except for a mayor headache, I'm OK." 
"What happened?" 
"I got knocked over the head. Fell down, lost conscience. Gabrielle came by. Twirled her staff around a little. He ran." Well, that's about as short as possible. 
Par looked at her, stunned. "Gabrielle...saved you?!?" 
"Yeah. What's so strange about that? You did notice the big Amazon fighting staff she was carrying, didn't ya?" 
"Yeah, but..." 
"What do you think she does with that? Pet little fluffy bunnies?" 
Par grinned. "OK, OK you got me. She just doesn't really look that....you know....aggressive." 
"She's not. But when she has to, she can kick butt." 
Parmenios laughed at the expression. A short silence fell. "Does she remember what he looked like?" 
"I....I don't really know. Haven't talked about it." 
Par's eyes widened. "You almost get killed and you don't talk about it?" 
"Hey, when you're out on the road with about a dozen people after your head almost getting killed isn't that unusual." 
"OK, I get that. But what did you talk about then? I mean, you almost get killed by some guy, the girl saves your life, the two of you walk away and you say...what? 'Nice day, isn't it?' " 
"Well, we didn't really talk..." No, brings up too many questions. "She called me a mush ball and I dunked her in the pond" ...No. All right, lying sounds good. "I can't really remember what we talked about. Got knocked on the head, remember?" 

Pella. Great city! Gabrielle had already managed to buy some fabric, some small pieces of leather to stuff that hole in Argo's saddlebag with and this really nice meat roll. All that for only five diners. Happy bard she thought, while stuffing the last piece of the role in her mouth. Maybe she could turn the fabric into a new skirt or something. She really didn't feel comfortable in her leather Amazon outfit, but her other clothes were still soaked, so she didn't have much of a choice. 
A low whistle sounded from her left. When she looked over she saw a couple of young soldiers standing in front of an inn. "Hey, cute stuff, nice outfit. We just loooove leather." 
Cute stuff?!? Gimme a break! She gave them a bored look and walked over to the next booth. They were probably drunk. Drunk and soldiers in a group was a bad combination. She glanced over at the small group. A girl just walked out of the little shop next to the inn and was carrying far more packages than she should. They wouldn't.... 

But they did. One of the boys suddenly jerked out his leg and she tripped. All the packages went flying around. "Oh, we're sooooo sorry. We'll help you with this." He grabbed the girl by the waste and drew her in close. "For a price." 

A tap on his shoulder caught his attention. "I suggest you let her go now and help her with that." Gabrielle pointed her staff at the packages lying around. 
He burst out laughing. So did his friends. "Who's gonna make me?" 
"I am." 
"You hear that guys, the little girl's is gonna make me behave." He turned to Gabrielle again. "How are you gonna do that little girl?" 
A hard crack sounded as the staff hit his head. He stumbled back, releasing the girl who ran into the crowd that had gathered to watch the spectacle. 
"I am NOT a little girl." 
He stood again and rubbed his jaw. "You harlot..." 
"Not my favorite nickname either, but it's better than little girl." That got some laughs out of the crowd. 

And the laughter just made him angrier. He drew his sword and raced at her. O well, here we go again. She jabbed her staff forward and hit him in the stomach, then made a move upward and smacked the staff against his head again. He fell down, and stayed down. Well, that was easy enough. And this bunch is gonna defeat the Persian army?! 

"She knocked out Polinios! Get her guys!" Oops, forgot about those. The other twelve warriors came flying at her, swords drawn. 
She dropped one by using a sweep move, another she nailed in the stomach. She smacked the sword out of a third's hand. He quickly picked it up again, so that only left...ten. This could be a problem. 

Suddenly a wild war cry erupted. The boys stumbled back as a dark shape suddenly jumped up next to the bard. "I can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?" 
"Hey." She gave the warrior a grateful look. "'Bout time you got here. I thought I'd better teach these guys some manners if we're gonna have to travel all that way with them to Persia." 
"What'd they do?" 
"Let a girl trip and harassed her." 
"Now boys, boys, boys. That's not very nice, now is it?" The warrior looked at them in a menacing way. 

Gabrielle stepped back and let her partner do the intimidating stuff. She walked over to the girl. "You OK?" 
The girl gave her a grateful smile. "Fine now. Thanks.... Are you Gabrielle? 
I like this city. No, I LOVE this city. "That's me." 
"Great! We heard you are one of the best bards in Greece. Could you perform in our inn? My father would really appreciate it." 
Gabrielle almost gloated. "Don't believe everything you hear. But sure, I'd love to perform." She smiled. "Come on, let's go pick up those packages of yours." 
The girl grinned and pointed at the group of soldiers. "I don't think that'll be necessary." 

Gabrielle turned around and immediately slapped a hand over her mouth to stop herself from bursting out laughing. One of the soldiers was just picking up the last package and they were lined up, all standing a little awkwardly, each with some packages in his arms. 
"And what do we say, boys?" 
"We are very sorry and we would like to escort you to your house." They said like a bunch of scared, little schoolchildren. 

Gabrielle couldn't stop it any longer and burst out laughing, together with the rest of the people gathered around. The girl took front lead and headed towards the inn a little further down the street, followed by twelve soldiers. 

Xena walked over to Gabrielle, carrying the last one. "You knocked him out senseless. Couldn't wake him up." She said, pointing at the man slung over her shoulder. 
"You are the best, you know that?" 
"Yes, but it's always nice to hear you say that." Gabrielle raised an eyebrow at her. The warrior just grinned back. "Come on, let's get moving." They strolled down the path after the girl and her soldiers. 

Her father was, to say the least, surprised when the parade of warriors, led by his daughter walked into the small inn. After his daughter had told him the whole story, with a huge smile on her face, he grinned and walked over to the two women standing a little way off. He offered his hand which the two of them shook. 
"I'm Valadios. Thank you, for protecting my little girl like that. If there is anything I could do, name it." 
"It's OK, we..." Gabrielle started. 
"There is something you can help me with." 
"There is?" The bard looked at her friend, both eyebrows raised in question. 
"Yeah, could you tell me a little more about the troops here? Are they all like this?" She gave the small group, huddled in the corner a disgusted look which made them huddle even closer. 
"Some are very kind. Some aren't. These young ones, they think they own the place. Walking around in their armor, waving their swords. Nothing but trouble." 
Xena nodded in understanding. "I'll see what I can do." 

"So, I heard you were willing to perform for us." 
Gabrielle turned to look at the innkeeper. "Sure, anytime." 
"Would now be a good time. I know it's just early in the afternoon, but I was kind of planning on closing early you see. My wife's birthday's today, so we..." 
"Say no more." Gabrielle hopped on to a small platform in a well lit corner of the room. The people that had followed the small parade to see what would follow stepped into the inn, grabbed some chairs and sat down. Soon enough the room was filled. "All right...let me see." Gabrielle searched her repertoire for something useful. Something that would make Xena look invincible, so the little boys in the back could tell their friends not to bug the Warrior Princess. "Let me tell you the story of Cecrops, the lost mariner. After the trading ship we were sailing on was attacked....." 

Xena sighed. That one again! Well, I'm not going to just sit around when she gets to the part where I jumped on the stupid boat. She stood and walked over to the back of the room where she'd left the boys and their unconscious friend. They immediately stiffened when they saw her approach. "Take it easy. I'm not gonna hurt you... not yet anyway..." She produced an evil grin which made them back of a few paces. Bad warrior, Xena. They're just kids. Give 'm a break, will ya! "All right, you." She pointed at a small blue eyed boy. He looked up at her with fear in his eyes. "Relax. Go over to the innkeeper and ask him for a herb set. And a bowl of water." 
"Yes ma'am" He pushed himself through the crowd towards the bar. 
"All right, you guys, lift him up on that table. I'm gonna try to wake him up." Four of them stepped forward and each grabbed a limb. They had just dropped him on the table when blue eyes returned with some herbs and a mug filled with water. Xena took the herbs from him and started to look for the right ones. 

"Now, the ship had already sailed far from the shore, but that would not stop Xena. She jumped on a branch of a nearby tree and used it to shoot herself up in the air. With a wild yell she flew over the stretch of water and landed neatly on the ship's deck." Gabrielle stopped for the standard pause to let this sink in. 

Xena tried to ignore all the eyes on her back, but couldn't stand it any longer and turned around. Most people quickly diverted their eyes, some kept looking at her in amazement. She gave them a chilling look which made them come back to their senses and turned again to listen to the storyteller. The warrior rolled her eyes with a sigh and then turned around to face twelve more pairs of eyes, goggling at her. 

"Did you really do that?" 
Xena rubbed her temples in frustration. "Yeah, I did." She aimed her attention at the herbs. 
"Wow! Are you gonna teach us to jump on ships too?" The small blue eyed boy looked up at her hopefully. He didn't seem afraid of her anymore at all. The girl is ruining me with all that mushy stuff in her stories. "All in the name of friendship. Yada, yada, yada." "I don't think that would be really useful in Persia." 
"I guess, but it would be nice anyway." 
"What's ya name?" Xena looked up at the boy, the nicest way she could under the circumstances. 
"Now Gladius, if you wanna talk heroics, talk to her." She pointed her thumb in the direction of the bard. 
"Not to me. And hand me the cup of water, will ya." Gladius handed over the cup and Xena threw the herbs in. She stirred them for a while until a horrible smell rose up from the cup. "That'll do." She placed the cup close to the unconscious boys nose and waved the damp over. 

It didn't take him long to wake up with a shock. "That's gross!" He yelled and was immediately hushed by the audience who were listening to Gabrielle, telling how Xena defied Poseidon.. 
He looked around him and saw the bard standing on the platform. He wanted to scream some swears at her, but was kept from that by a strong hand that slapped over his mouth. "Will you please shut up!" Xena hissed. "Now listen to me and listen good. If you think she hurt you, you ain't seen nothing yet. Now you boys go on and get out of here. And behave. If I hear any stories about you tripping any girls or anything of the sort I'm gonna make sure you regret that. REALLY regret that. You got me?" The boy nodded with frightened eyes. "Good." 

She released her grip and let the boy go. He ran out the room and disappeared out of sight. Some followed him, others didn't. They stayed at the exit and waited for Gabrielle to finish her story. 

The sun had already set when two forms were moving over a small path through the forest, returning to the castle. 
"How's the voice?" 
If looks could kill, Xena would be a dead woman. "How do you think it feels?" Gabrielle muttered in a horse voice. "I just talked non-stop a whole afternoon long. And don't tell me 'I told you so'! You don't wanna make me mad, now do ya?" 
Xena laughed. "And now you're stealing my lines? You're loosing your touch, Gabrielle." 
The bard gave her a look, then laughed "Yeah, I know. When I was fighting that guy that attacked you I used one of your lines too. I think I'm coming down with the warrior flu or something." 
"We never talked about that, you know." 
"About what?" 
The warrior knocked twice on the young woman's head. "Hello? Is Gabrielle in there somewhere? 'Bout the guy of course! It would be nice to know who he was so I can punish him bad for trying to kill me." 
"All right, all right, take it easy. Lemme see.... He was a man.." 
"I kinda already got that." 
"Just shut up. Lemme finish, will ya. All right, he was about 30 years old, I guess. Maybe a little older. Dark brown hair. Strong guy. He looked like a soldier type to me. I...I can't remember anymore." 
"Nothing specific? Scars? Rings? Necklaces?" 
Gabrielle closed her eyes a moment, trying to remember that morning. "Yeah, there was a necklace. It flipped out from behind his shirt when I knocked him on the ground. It had a pendant hanging on it. Something with swords, I think." 
"Swords shaped in a triangle, with a crown in the middle?" 
"Could be...why?" 
A sigh. "If it was it's not really gonna help us. That's the symbol of the royal family. Lots of people around here wear that. We'll just have to pay attention when we get around to meeting the troops." 
"We're doing that tomorrow?" Gabrielle asked. 
"That's the plan. We really need to teach these guys some manners." 
Gabrielle nodded. "Yeah, and some more fighting skills. I mean, if I could knock those guys down, imagine what those Persians will do to them." 
"It's not that strange you could beat the stuffings out of those boys, you know. You're pretty good with that thing" Xena replied, pointing at her staff. 
"You think?" 
A dark eyebrow lifted "Would I say something like that if I didn't mean it?" 
"I guess not..." 
"Exactly. While we're on the subject, don't forget to bring your staff over to the training area tomorrow." 
A mischievous sparkle glinted in the warrior's eyes. "Oh, I just want to learn the boys a lesson they won't soon forget...." 

It was still pitch-dark outside when two silent shadows were walking towards a group of barracks standing next to a large square. 
"Xena, don't you think this is overdoing it just a bit?" 
Gabrielle let out an audible sigh "All right, fine by me. You're the expert on the army training stuff. But please don't tell me we're gonna have to do this every day." 
"Of course not." Xena grinned "Tomorrow we get up a candle mark earlier." 
"What? You're kidding me, aren't you?" Gabrielle shot a desperate look towards her friend 
"Nope" The warrior laughed as she saw her friend staring at her with sad eyes. "Don't worry, it's worth it." A glint appeared in Xena's eyes as they reached the abandoned training square. "Watch. ... Could I borrow your staff for a moment?" 
"What do you need it for?" The bard asked as she handed her friend her staff. 

Xena walked over to a large round metal disc hanging on a platform at the head of the square. Than she swung the staff back and smacked it onto the plate with great force. A loud bang echoed over the square. Gabrielle slapped her hands over her ears trying to stop the sound from snapping her eardrums. 
"Are you just doing this to kill me or is there a point somewhere" She muttered, walking over to Xena. 
"Just lean back and enjoy" Xena replied with a big smile on her face. 

As the last echo's faded away a group of sleepy, irritated looking, half dressed soldiers stumbled onto the square. The one in front hobbled over to the platform, using his sword to keep him standing. "Where are they" he yawned, "Where are the Persians?" 
Gabrielle took another look at the group of dazed looking soldiers and then busted out laughing. "Great Gods" She gasped. "You were right, this was absolutely worth it." 
Xena grinned back "Told ya." 
The young soldier stared at them in confusion. Then suddenly his dazed mind understood the whole situation "There aren't any Persians?!" 
"Nope, no Persians" Xena replied 
"You mean you woke us up for nothing!!" He turned to the group. "Just a stupid joke guys. Let's get back to bed." The whole group headed for the barracks muttering curses. 
"Hold it!" Xena's voice rang over the square. Sleepy heads turned towards her. "This is not a joke, this is training." 
"Training?!" soldier spoke in a disgusted voice "Before dawn?! Oh, come on!" 
Xena raised an eyebrow at him. "Do you think those Persians will just say ' Ah, the poor guys are sleeping, let's hold of our attack until day break?" Eyes stared at her. "Well?" 
"Exactly. So get your butts over here and stand in formation." Xena growled. 

The soldiers didn't hesitate a second this time and lined up in groups of ten by ten. "This isn't the entire army, is it?" Xena asked a soldier, looking out over the small group of about hundred men standing before her. 
"No ma'am. We are the defense team. If someone hits the gong we are the only ones who have to get up. If it's big trouble the gong rings twice, then everybody gets up." 
"You're kidding me right?" 
"No ma'am" 
"By the gods Par, where's your head?!" Xena muttered. "All right..." She walked over to the gong and smacked it again. One by one more sleepy looking soldiers entered the training field. They all glanced around, not understanding the whole situation, but seeing the other men lined up they decided to do the same. 

"Great gods, this is the saddest looking army I have ever seen." Xena said, shaking her head. "You don't really expect to beat the Persians looking like this?" The soldiers muttered a little to themselves. "Well boys, playtime is over. From now on we'll get up at this hour every morning and do drills to you drop. All right.... I've gotta go get Alex and Par and give 'm a piece of my mind. While I'm gone Gabrielle here will be your sparing partner." She turned around and walked towards the gate. As she walked past her friend she patted her on the shoulder. "Take it easy on them, OK". 

Xena stormed towards the castle gates, seeing Parmenios on watch there. "Hey Xena, what's... Whoh, hey, hold it!" He yelled as Xena dragged him into the castle by his ear. "What did I do?!" 
"You did nothing Par, absolutely nothing, that's the problem." Xena muttered. 
"What do you mean?" 

They walked into Alex's room. The young king was still lying snugly in his bed. Xena threw Parmenios on the bed, scaring Alex half to death. "What the...?! Par? Xena? What are you doing here?" Alex wrapped one of the sheets around his body, sat up and looked at Xena. 
"You know, I just went to inspect the troops." Xena said in a sweet voice. 
"You have? Well what do you think?" 
"What do I think? What do I think?! I think that you're kidding yourself if you think this bunch is gonna defeat the Persians, Alex! They have no manners, most don't wake up when the alarm sounds and the ones who do couldn't even kill a bunny. Now, your battle experience is limited, so I could even forgive you, but Par! You should know better... " 

Silence fell. Both men stared at their feet, guiltily. "I'm sorry Xena" Parmenios said. "The troops were always under Fillips' control and..." 
"That's no excuse" Xena spoke in a softer tone. 
"I know that..." 
Xena sighed ,"Well, come on boys, I have Gabrielle doing some training sessions with them right now, we'd better get back and see how they're doing. After that we can start some kind of training program." 

The two men both nodded and got up and the three of them moved down the stairs and out the castle gates towards the training square. Alex walked behind the other two silently. Xena walked a little slower and fell into pace beside him. 
"Some king I turned out to be huh?" The young man muttered 
"Alex..." Xena put a hand on his shoulder "You can't expect everything to go right the very first time." 
"I can't afford to make a mistake Xena, you know that. That might kill them." A silence fell between them. "Everybody always told me that I was meant for greatness. My mother, my father... And I just thought all good things would just happen to me because it was meant to be..." 
"Things don't just happen Alex, you have to make them happen. You have to learn how to train troops, how to think up battle plans, how to plan attacks... War really isn't any fun Alex." Xena turned to look at him. "You can still reconsider now." 
Alex shook his head "I promised him." 
"If he'd told you to drown yourself in the pond, would you have done that too?" Xena mocked 
Alexander looked up at the warrior. "Yes." 
Another silence fell. "All right. Then we'll just have to get these soldiers into shape." Xena said. "We'll have to..." Suddenly she stopped speaking. Screaming voices were coming from the training square. "Oh for the love of Zeus, Gabrielle!" she muttered starting to run toward the square. 
Alex followed right behind her " They won't dare hurt her Xena." 
"That's not what I'm worried about" Xena yelled back.

They entered the square and almost tripped over a lying form blocking the entrance. Scattered over the square lay about 50 dazed looking soldiers. Some had even managed to get up and were staggering back over to Gabrielle. Gabrielle who was just smacking two more opponents in their faces with her staff and then used a sweep move causing them to both fall on the ground. 

"Gabrielle!" The warrior yelled at her friend "Didn't I say to take it easy on them?" 
The bard turned and started to walk over to the warrior "Wasn't my fault" She ducked and let the soldier who was trying to jump her from behind pass over her head "I just wanted to do a one on one and then they all came flying at me." 
Xena raised an eyebrow, then moved forward using a hand gesture to stop another pair of soldiers from rushing her friend "Enough of this." She said in a menacing tone, giving them a dangerous look. They halted immediately and even staggered back a little. "Get back in formation, all of you." The soldiers muttered but complied. 

Xena moved over to the platform. Gabrielle, Parmenios and Alex followed right behind her. 
"Hey Gabrielle, could you teach me that when Xena is through yelling?" Parmenios whispered. 
Gabrielle chuckled softly "Sure." Then she moved to the back of the platform and watched. 

Xena just stood there staring out over the troops in silence. She glared at them with a look of anger and disappointment. It obviously made the men nervous. Some were staring down at their feet, others were softly kicking up dust trying to avoid her eyes. "I'm not angry at you for not being able to defeat my friend here." She started in a low tone, "I am disappointed." She was silent a moment letting this sink in then raised her voice. "This is not an army, this is just a group of individuals. A small group attacks while the rest of you men just stand by and watch?! Everybody here fights for his own honor and glory and in war will fight only for his own life. And I will not accept that. Not in my... in an army I am a part of. You are a team and you're supposed to act like one. If one of you is threatened you are all threatened." 
"So you mean that the whole army should have attacked her" A voice asked.
"Gee thanks Xena" she heard Gabrielle mutter from behind her and allowed herself to let a brief smile cross her face. 
"Yes, you should have all attacked her, if...if this hadn't been just a training session. What you should have done in this case is just do a one on one like she told you to. Then you would have learned something from her instead of her just beating the stuffings out of you." She let her eyes roam over the men seeing at least some understanding faces. "Soon you will have to go up against a force twice the size yours is. Defeating them is not impossible, but it will take strategy, skill and teamwork. You don't have to worry about the strategy, but the other two are of your concern. If you want to survive, you'll have to be able to rely on yourself and on the others." 
Gabrielle silently observed her friend and the men in front of her. Xena's words were nothing but a blur to her and she realized it was the same for the men. It really didn't matter what she said, it was her presence alone that mattered, that impressed them. This is your army Xena. You may deny it, but we both know better, don't we? Xena's words became clear again as the warrior ordered the troops to start a group of sword drills. 
The man came forward and halted beside the warrior. "Yes lieutenant?" he asked, smiling slightly. 
Xena turned her head and gave him a raised eyebrow, but then smiled back. "Can you still do those sword drills we used to practice?" 
"Of course" 
"All right then" Xena said, patting him on the shoulder, "You teach these guys how to do them. I want those drills to haunt them in their nightmares tonight, got it?" 
"Got it." Parmenios sighed happily, "Just like old times." 

Xena grinned back at him, than stepped back and let Parmenios get to it. She walked towards the wall at the back of the platform. Contentedly she leaned against the wall and watched Parmenios turn his sword around in his hand. 
Gabrielle moved over and found a spot next to her. "Very nice" She spoke in a soft tone "Couldn't have done it better myself." 
Xena chuckled "Thanks. You weren't bad yourself. You followed the plan perfectly." 
"What plan?" Gabrielle replied in a confused tone 
Another chuckle from the warrior "The plan I didn't tell you about." She smiled "The plan where you kicked these guys around a little so they'd realized they aren't as good as they thought they were." 
"How did you know?" 
"Observation and instinct" The warrior replied. "That guy you knocked out yesterday, he wanted his revenge. This was the perfect place for him to get it, or so he thought." 
Gabrielle smiled. "Oh, talking about revenge... second squadron on the right, third guy in the front row." 

Xena turned her eyes in that direction to see a well built soldier performing the drills without any flaws. "Alaran" Xena whispered 
"You know him?" Gabrielle asked. 
"Yes. I know that whole squadron. They were the men who didn't follow me after Athens, who went back to Pella with Par and Fillip's." 
"And he wants to kill you because...?" 
"Because I got his friends killed, because he probably blames me for getting Elis killed and with him the rest of the royal family." Xena replied. 
Gabrielle nodded quietly. "What are you going to do?" 
"Confront him." Came the soft answer. 
"Want some help?" Gabrielle offered. 
The warrior smiled, "Thanks for the offer, but I think I should handle this myself." 
"I had a feeling you were going to say that" 
Xena chuckled softly "See if you can help Par with the training later on OK?" 
"Sure. Good luck." 

Xena merely nodded as she started to walk in the direction of the squadron. Suddenly she felt a hand on her shoulder. 
"Xena?" Alexander asked softly "What am I supposed to be doing here now? Don't get me wrong or anything, I heard your speech and you're right and I want to do something to improve all of this, but what can I.." 
"Do you know these drills?" Xena asked. 
"Sort of, haven't done these in a while" 
"Then get in line and practice." The warrior replied simply and walked away, leaving a silent Alex behind. He gave her words a moment of thought, than shrugged and walked over to a rack with swords on them, then walked towards the edge of the platform, jumped off and joined the men in their drills. 

"Alaran. Let's step outside, right now." 
The broad shouldered man stopped his drills and stared at her a moment. "Well Xena, you still know my name. I'm honored." He drawled. 
"Cut the small talk. Outside, now." Xena answered in a growl than started to move toward the gates, followed by the soldier. They exited the training square and Xena closed the gates behind them then faced the man before her. 
"What do you want?" he asked. 
"You tried to kill me." 
"Yes I did. And I would have succeeded if I hadn't underestimated your baby-sitter in there." He answered. 
"I thought I told you to never underestimate your opponent Alaran." 
"I don't give a damn about what you told me!" He yelled back. "All you told us was lies. 'I've turned good' you said 'I've changed' And all those stupid fools believed you and you killed them!" 
"Alaran, until four years ago, my life was a mistake." Xena replied in a calm voice. "And I'm sorry, I'm truly sorry for what I did to them and to you. If I could do it all over again...." 
Alaran laughed "If you could do it over again?! But you can't, can you? They are dead, all of them, because of you!" he snarled. 
With one quick move Xena grabbed the man by his neck, lifted him of the ground and pushed him against the wall. "Don't you think I know that?" She yelled back. "Don't you think it still hurts me when I think about the things that happened, the things I did? I have lived with that for four years now and will have to live with that for the rest of my life!" She dropped Alaran to the ground. He immediately gasped for breath and softly rubbed a hand over his sore throat. "I'm not here because I want to be Alaran. He asked me to come, so I came. I owe him. And I'd die myself before I'd let anybody touch him." Alaran stared at her, a look of fear, respect and hatred mixed together. Xena sighed and turned away from him "I won't ask you to trust me. I couldn't ask that of you. I'm asking you... I'm asking you to allow me to help Alex. To not stand in between me and the debt I have to pay." 
"I won't" Came the soft reply. "Not because I don't want to, because I can't. But I'll be watching you warrior princess, and if you so much as breathe wrong I will kill you.. or die trying." 

Xena turned back to face him. Quietly they stared at each other for a moment. "All right," Xena finally broke the silence, "so I won't have any assassins at my back anymore?" 
"Not from my group you won't." 
"Good, because I have enough on my hands with these boys calling themselves soldiers." 
Xena was sure she heard a soft chuckle, "They are young and inexperienced. Like we were." Alaran said, then walked back to his squadron and easily picked up the drills again. 

Xena surveyed the area. The men had been divided into three groups. One doing sword drills, one training sword fights and Gabrielle had started staff practice with the last group. 
Slowly she walked over to Gabrielle, who was watching Parmenios square of against a young soldier. Par was just trying a sweep move which hit the boy against his knee. "Try to hit him a little lower next time. About here." Gabrielle said, pointing at the boy's ankles. Par nodded as they continued their sparring. 
"Not bad Par" Xena commented, watching the chief lieutenant deflect an overhead strike. "A little rusty, but not bad." 
Parmenios smiled "It's been too long. I haven't touched a staff since Athens." He said catching the young soldier on the ribs. 

"So how did it go?" Gabrielle asked, as they moved on to the next sparring duel. 
"Actually, not so bad. We have an understanding, for the moment. He still doesn't trust me though... But I hadn't expected him to, really." Xena said. "So, what do you think? About these guys?" She continued, looking at the soldiers practice. 
"They're not bad. The older soldiers are in perfect shape, handle the weapons well... The young ones are OK, they just have a lot to learn... They're scared" Gabrielle added in a softer tone. "A lot of them became soldiers because they wanted the glory and the fame. You're little speech back there woke them up a little." She slightly shook her head "They have no idea what war is..." 
Xena nodded. "We'll have to make sure the ones who're having doubts stay home." 
"We could lose the whole army that way." Gabrielle replied 
"I'm not going to drag young people into a war like this if they aren't sure, Gabrielle' 
"I know you won't." 

They walked past some more sparring. "Nice move" Gabrielle commented to a young, brown haired woman who had just knocked her opponents staff out of his hands. 
Dark brown eyes looked at her, then the woman nodded. 

They walked on and halted near another sparring match. Two young women were blocking each other's strikes. One tried to catch the other on the ribs, but the other girl moved back in time which made her miss and left her out of balance. "You should've tried to make a sweep move" Gabrielle commented to the first. 
"Overhead strike" A low voice interrupted from behind her. 
Gabrielle turned around. "Sweep move" 
"Over head strike" 
Gabrielle let a smile creep onto her face "Are you challenging me Warrior Princess?" 
"Maybe I am" Xena replied grinning as she grabbed a training staff from the rack and swung it towards Gabrielle, who immediately blocked it with her own. 
"You're gonna have to do better than that." Gabrielle stated swinging her staff in the direction of Xena's head, but finding her path blocked. 

They traded blows for a while, getting into a relaxed rhythm of striking out and blocking. The other staff fighters had noticed the spectacle and started to gather around, watching the two women move their staffs at a high speed. 
"Had enough practice?" Xena asked, raising an eyebrow at her friend 
"Have you?" The bard returned smiling. The warrior answered by picking up the pace, which Gabrielle easily matched. 
"Overhead strike" Xena said, as she raised her staff over her head in a flash and pushed it down toward Gabrielle's head. 
The young woman deflected the blow. "Sweep move" She countered and moved her staff towards the warrior legs, but suddenly changed direction and caught Xena in the ribs. "Gotcha" She smiled. 

Xena quickly recovered her balance "Very nice" She commented, catching another blow heading for her left side. "Very tricky. But guess what?" She grinned. "I can be tricky too" with that she launched herself into the air, flipped over Gabrielle, turned around in a flash and swept the staff at the bards feet dumping her flat faced on the ground. 
Gabrielle turned spitting some sand out of her mouth and looked up at a grinning warrior towering over her. 
"You were right Gabrielle, the sweep move was better" 
"Ha ha, very funny." She said, getting to her feet. "That was not fair. Flipping over your opponent is not allowed." 
"Says who?" 
"Says me. Want to do another round, Warrior Princess?" Gabrielle challenged with a glint in her eyes. 

"Hold it you two" Parmenios intervened. "Please don't. You're making me tired just watching you." 
"All right Parmenios, I'll let her of the hook, for your sake:" Gabrielle replied. 
Xena laughed "Yeah right!" 
"You saying I can't win?" 
"Yeah, that's what I'm saying." Xena's eyes sparkled mischievously 
"Oh no you don't" Parmenios jumped in between them. "Xena, please go and play with the sword fighters or something." 
Xena raised an eyebrow at the chief lieutenant, then smiled. "All right, all right, I'll be good. We'll finish this tonight, right?" She directed at Gabrielle, who was leaning on her staff. 
"Definitely" The bard replied grinning. 
"Good" Xena grinned back, then walked away in the direction of the group doing sword drills. 
Parmenios and Gabrielle watched her walk over to the group and replace the drill master, starting a new series of drills. 

"Well well, look who we've got here." A blond haired woman walked up to the staff fighter Gabrielle had been talking to earlier. "I thought you didn't like armies." 
Brown eyes turned in her direction. "You know I don't, but I have no choice this time" The woman replied, directing her eyes towards Gabrielle's form. 
"Ah, you're finally going to defend your little chosen one, are you?" 
The dark haired woman swung her staff in the direction of the other's face. The blond woman caught the end in her hand, seemingly without effort. "Don't you dare say that again! I've always tried to protect her. Ares should have handled things better last year, like he promised. And now you're dragging her back into this again." 
"What did I do?" The blond replied in an innocent tone 
"You and your stupid revenge" The dark haired muttered. 
"They destroyed my city!" Blue eyes snapped at her. "They need to pay for that!" 
"Oh, you and your city. Your beloved Athens. Are you willing to sacrifice my chosen one for some stupid temple that got thrashed? Well, I'm not..." 
Eyes narrowed at her "You're not going to do anything, my sister. I'm more powerful than you are, and you know it. And I tried to get the kid to stay home, but she wouldn't. Those two just won't be separated." 
"Then just leave the two of them out of this." 
"I need Xena. She's the only one who can stop him. And he needs to be stopped, you know that." The blond replied. "We don't need anymore of his sons trying to take over Greece." 
Brown eyes closed briefly. "I know." 

The rest of the day had been spend doing some more training. Xena had stayed out of any more sparring matches, knowing there was no one there who could be a real challenge except for Gabrielle. She'd mostly watched the men's progress and had observed their behavior. It really wasn't as bad as she'd thought. Most men were in good condition and knew how to handle their weapons. The only real problem was that they were all very specialized. The sword fighters were pretty good with their blades, but knew nothing of quarter staffs and vice versa. And most of the young ones were pretty scared. Of course, that was normal before a battle such as this one, but still... 

Well, she'd have the time to discuss all of that tonight. Alex had called for a meeting. After the training was over and she'd told everybody to be at the same spot a candle mark earlier tomorrow morning, Gabrielle and she had split up. The bard had returned to the castle, but she'd wanted to find a nice path for the running she'd planned for the next morning. She remembered a small path with a couple of obstacles from the last time she was here and was happy to find it still there, though it was a little overgrown. 
"Well Xena, it's about time you went for a good run again huh" she said to herself, then took off on a easy pace, flashing past some memories... 

"Good morning Xena" Elis spoke to her in a cheerful voice, matching her pace after he'd caught up to her. 
The warrior gave him a bored look and picked up her pace. The king's son was really getting on her nerves. It wasn't that she didn't appreciate someone in good shape, who knew how to handle basically every weapon there was. She did. Really. And it wasn't that he was kind to every one, including herself, and everybody adored him. She could care less about what anybody thought of her. Right? Right... And it certainly wasn't the fact that he'd beaten her in a sparring match... twice... 
Xena sighed as Elis easily caught up to her again. "You know Xena, I have the feeling you're trying to avoid me." 
"Oh you do, do you? Now how can that possible be?" the warrior muttered, staring in front of her. 
Elis chuckled softly. "It's not so bad to lose once in a while, you know." 
"I never lose!" Xena snapped at him. 
"You lost yesterday"
"Yeah well, I was having a bad day yesterday" The warrior said annoyed. 
"Want a rematch?" Elis said. "I'll race you to that tree over there." He said, pointing at a huge tree in the distance. 
"Deal." Xena nodded. "OK, on three. One... two... three" The both of them took off, increasing their speed even more. For a long time they ran side by side, avoiding small obstacles in their path. When they were just a few meters away from the finish Xena fell back a little. Elis smiled, ensured of his victory. Suddenly, before he realized what was happening, a war cry erupted closely behind him . The young prince looked up to see a shadow passing over him as Xena flipped and landed neatly in front of him, just past the finish line. "I win" the warrior said, with a triumphant smile on her face. 
"That's... that's not fair! This was a running contest. Jumping is not allowed" Elis said, a little disappointed. 
"You were in my way. You were an obstacle, so I jumped over you. What's wrong about that?" Xena replied with deadly precision. 
"You..." Elis grumbled. They stared at each other for a moment, then they both started laughing. "OK, OK, you win." Elis chuckled. "Are we even now?" 
Xena smiled "Yeah, we're even. Come on, let's head back. Don't wanna be late for breakfast." 
"You're right." Elis said, as they started jogging down the rest of the path. "Hey Xena." 
"Could you teach me how to jump like that?" 
Xena chuckled softly. "I'll see what I can do." 

Xena slowed her speed as she exited the small woods and jogged towards the castle. She met Parmenios at the gates. 
"You know Xena, sometimes you really make me sick." The chief lieutenant muttered as they entered the castle together. 
Xena lifted an eyebrow at him "What's that supposed to mean?" 
"Well, you get up way before sun up, you spend all day training the troops, doing sword drills and sparring, at the end of the day you go and run your butt of just for fun and after all that you don't even break a sweat... To normal people, that's really annoying you know..." 
Xena chuckled. "You're just out of shape Par. But you'll get the change to catch up on that tomorrow morning. Then you can take the first group out for a nice long run, OK?" 
Parmenios sighed. "What are you trying to do, turn them in to little Warrior Princesses or something?" 
"Oh, that's a scary thought" Gabrielle's voice interrupted, as she joined the two of them. Xena gave her a hurt look. Gabrielle laughed, "You go on and fresh up. See you down here in a couple of minutes?" 
"Yeah, yeah. Just you don't eat everything before I get back, OK?" 
"Ha ha, very funny." Gabrielle said, poking her in the side. "Go on, get outta here." 

Xena mounted the stairs and entered her room. Suddenly her head shot up, recognizing a familiar presence. "Ares, can't you just leave me alone?!" 
A light flashed as the god of war appeared in the room. "Well, Xena. I'm hurt." He drawled. "But don't worry, I won't bother you too long. I just dropped by to congratulate you on your new army." 
"It's not my army Ares." 
"Oh no, I forgot... It's Alexander's... Officially anyway..." Xena gave him an evil stare. "Hey, that's fine by me." He said, raising up his hands in defense. "You wanna pretend you're not their leader, fine. But we both know better, don't we Xena?" 
Xena gave him a bored look. "Go away, Ares." 
"Oh, come on Xena. We both heard that little mistake in your pep talk earlier." 
"Old habit" the warrior replied 
"If that's what you want to believe." Ares mocked, patting her on the cheek. Xena slapped his hand away with a quick gesture. The god of war laughed, then  suddenly there was another flash and he disappeared again. "Bye Xena. Good luck with the army." 

Xena let herself fall down on the bed. "How I hate gods." She muttered to herself. "Especially when they're right."

Part 2

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