Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and others mentioned, belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No infringement on their rights are intended.

Subtext Disclaimer: If you’ve been reading the series, you know that their two thousand years old, back in their original bodies, in love and have a very hot sex life, but not in this story. Sorry. In this story original bodies are really original.

Timeline: Plan D #8d. (Told ya there would be more. See note.)

Shock Factor: 3. This story has moments of extreme graphic violence.

Note: Okay, here’s the scoop. I’m introducing a new character to the Plan D series, but her origins go way back to the Greek times. So I’m doing a little sub-series called Ancient Secrets to lay the foundation for the character. Once that is completed, it will be back to Plan D as usual and you will catch glimpses of Grace and Faith along the way.

Send any comments to asdease1@gte.net

Ancient Secrets (d)

By FlyBigD

“I can’t believe she put that in.” Shaking her head in disgust, Xena rolled up the scroll and tossed it in the safe. “I’ll have to remember to have a word with that little bard later.” Picking up another scroll, she laid it out on the holder and looked at the title. “The Prize. Well at least I don’t end up looking like a jealous idiot in this one.” Rolling her eyes, the warrior laid the scroll in the holder and started reading. . .

I sing of the prize. Of the intangible crown of greatness and the mystery of those who sought it. Of the Warrior who possessed it and of the King who owned it. And of the true prize, not those sought by warlords and thieves, but those found by the ones who sought it not and cherished it’s worth until the end of time.

“She does have a way with words.” Smiling warmly, Xena read on.

“Try again.” Xena shouted to the bard and threw a rock in her direction, watching it splash.

“Xena, why am I doing this? I don’t even like fish that much.” Standing in water, up to her knees, Gabrielle put her hands on her hips and stared indignantly.

“You have to learn to fend for yourself, Gabrielle.” Smiling wickedly, she threw another rock and saw it bounce off the bard’s arm. “Sorry.” Wincing as she lied.

“Ow.” Rubbing her arm, the bard went back to looking indignant and mad. “Why would I have to fend for myself, when you take such great pleasure in killing nature’s creatures?”

“Because I’m not always here and you might need this one day.” Sitting under the tree, by the lake, Xena picked up another rock, tossed it in the air, then caught it and put it down quickly when Gabrielle shot her a menacing glare. “Just try again.”

Bending over, the bard sighed and lowered her hands into the water. “I’m beginning to hate fish.” Muttering under her breath, she waited for something to swim by.

Picking up the rock again, Xena tossed it between her hands. “Are you thinking fish?” Smiling at the scowl that she got. “Just checking.” Chuckling, she closed her eyes and rested her head on the trunk of the tree.

Sighing again, Gabrielle stared into the water. “I don’t think there are any fish in this stupid lake.” Then she felt something brush her leg and smiled at the trout. “Come on fishy, fishy, fishy.” Whispering to it and waiting for it to swim between her hands. Grabbing it, she brought it out of the water, with a gush and held it over her head. “Xena, I got one!” Then she saw the men in the trees and dropped the fish. Thrashing forward, she ran for the shore. “Xena, look out.”

“Did you get one?” Opening her eyes, Xena saw the bard running toward her and jumped to her feet, hearing the warning. Drawing her sword, she caught a blade as it swung toward her head. Shoving it back, the warrior came around the tree and spotted the men surrounding them. “Gabrielle, stay back.” Edging backwards, Xena stopped at the shoreline. “You guys out fishing today?” Shifting her eyes between the semi-circle of goons, she jabbed at whichever one made a move. “Me too. Spear fishing.”

Coming up behind the warrior, Gabrielle spotted her staff on the ground, between a goons feet. “Xena?”

Giving the bard a quick glance over her shoulder, Xena held out her arm to hold the bard behind her. “Let’s see what these guys want.”

“We want you, Xena.” One of them growled, raising his sword and charging at her.

Swinging upward, Xena blocked the blow and kicked the guy in the leg and the fight was on.

Staying back, Gabrielle punched or kicked anybody that Xena sent her way and kept an eye on her staff, looking for a chance to get to it. When the warrior pushed the men back and to the left, she dashed for it, picking it up and felt and felt something hit the back of her head. Stumbling, she dropped the staff and was lifted off her feet, as a strong arm wrapped around her and she saw the dagger come at her throat. “Xena!”

Holding the struggling bard, Nados smiled. “Well, it looks like I’ve caught something a little better than fish, today.”

Turning, Xena drew her chakram.

“Move and she dies.” Nados shouted, holding the dagger against Gabrielle’s neck.

“Xena?” Weapon less, Gabrielle saw the warrior hesitate.

Still holding her weapon high, Xena eyed the man. “What do you want?”

“Like my man said, Xena. We want you.” Easing the bard down, Nados kept his hold on her and the steel at her throat.

“If it’s me you want.” Nodding at the bard. “Why don’t you let her go?”

“No!” Struggling, Gabrielle winced, feeling the blade cut into her skin.

Xena raised the chakram again, but stopped when she saw the blood trickle down Gabrielle’s throat.

Chuckling, when the bard stopped struggling, Nados shook his head. “Sorry. Without her, there's no telling what you might do.”

“What do you want with me?” Snarling at him. “ I don’t even know you.”

“Ahhhh, but I know you.” Smiling wickedly. “You’re Xena, the warrior princess.”

“What are you? A bounty hunter?” Staring a steely blue stare at him.

“Close, Xena, but no.” Shaking his head. “I’m a salesman.”

“And what, pray tell, are you selling?” Not changing her stare or her stance.

“Details will come later.” Taking a tighter hold on the bard, Nados smiled. “But first there's the matter of your weapons?”

“I’m not going with you.” Clenching her jaw, Xena looked at Gabrielle.

“Unless you wish to see, your blonde friend here, bleeding like a stuck pig in two seconds, you’ll drop your weapons and cooperate.” Driving the blade a tad deeper.

“I’m dying my hair.” Gabrielle winced. “Xena don’t!” Seeing the warrior start to lower her weapons.

“What are you going to do with her?” Xena asked, lowering her weapons, but holding on to them.

“She’s coming with us.” Smiling viciously. “As insurance against your complete cooperation and as long as you don’t do anything stupid, she won’t be harmed.”

Sighing, Xena nodded.

“Xena, no!” Struggling again, Gabrielle tried to kick her captor.

“Gabrielle, stop.” Getting the bard’s attention, Xena smiled then dropped her weapons.

“Chain her up.” Speaking to one of his men, Nados kept the bard in check. “Don’t make me regret my decision to keep you alive, Gabrielle.”

Sighing with frustration, the bard watched as Xena was shackled around her wrists and ankles. “I’m sorry, Xena.”

“Just another day in paradise, Gabrielle.” Smiling warmly, the warrior winked.

Once the warrior was secured, Nados handed the bard off. “Tie her hands and gather their belongings.” Walking over to Xena, he picked up her sword and chakram. “You’ll be needing these later.”

Staring at him without emotion, Xena shrugged. “Who are you?”

“My name is Nados.” Bowing slightly. Straightening, he smiled viciously.

“Never heard of you.” Xena smiled smugly.

“Neither has anyone else, . . . yet.” Tucking her weapons under his arm, he signaled his men to head out.

“Oh, joy.” The warrior stated flatly and stepped sideways when her chains were yanked.

As she was tied, Gabrielle saw them gather their things, including her staff. Then followed behind as she was led to Argo.

“She rides that one.” Nados said to one of his men, pointing to the bard and Argo. “Tie her hands to the saddle. The warrior goes in the wagon.”

“Xena.” Gabrielle said as she was hoisted onto the mare.

“It’ll be all right, Gabrielle.” Smiling at the bard, Xena was tossed into a wagon and her chains were attached to a iron ring behind the driver.

Mounting his horse, Nados pointed to Argo. “Tie the mare to the wagon. I don’t want the girl to get lost.” Smiling at the bard, he winked.

Gabrielle turned away and looked at the warrior, who winked, which made her smile.

Signaling for them to move out, Nados rode beside the wagon. “Comfortable?”

“Like riding on air.” Xena smiled and tested the iron ring.

“Good. You’re going to be in there for awhile.” Leaning on his saddle horn he raised one eyebrow. “Tell me, Xena. Aren’t you the least bit curious about where you’re going?”

“Nope.” Smiling, the warrior settled into the wagon and denied Nados the satisfaction of verbal torture. “Wake me when we get there.” Closing her eyes, Xena laid down.

Gabrielle smiled.

“That’s my girl.” Xena smiled and rolled the scroll up further.

As the day wore to sunset and as Xena pretended to sleep, she covertly rubbed the shackles together, etching the iron thinner and thinner. When they made a sudden change in direction, she pretended to wake, sitting up and stretched, looking around. “Are we home yet?” Yawning for effect, she brought her knees up, dropping her hands between them and continued to rub them together.

“We will be there by the morning.” Nados answered without looking at the warrior.

“We’re going to ride all night?” Gabrielle asked with much dread.

Turning in the saddle, Nados nodded. “No rest for the wicked.” Turning back, he chuckled.

“Great.” Gabrielle muttered. “My butt’s killing me.”

Chuckling herself, Xena smirked. “Not enough padding on . . . the saddle?” She asked and got a very nasty glare.

“No talking.” Nados said, turning to the warrior.

Shrugging, Xena rolled her eyes. Looking around casually, she saw that they were heading south. At least we’re going in the same direction, she thought. Taking a more detailed scan, she recognized where they were and realized the reason for the change in direction. He’s steering around Maintinea, she thought and nodded. Smart move. Checking their pace, she tried to calculate where they’d be by morning, if they stayed the course they were on. The ruined fortress of some warlord that died a hundred years ago, she thought, remembering the site as one she’d used to house her army for a couple of weeks. Remote, deserted, stinks to high heaven. Sighing, she hoped she was wrong. Glancing at Gabrielle, she could see that the bard was truly uncomfortable and sighed again. “Hey, Nados.”

“Yes?” Looking down at the warrior.

Pointing to the bard, she moved her hands back and forth. “Why don’t you switch us? Let Gabrielle get out of the saddle for awhile.”

“I’m all right, Xena.” Shaking her head, the bard didn’t want to make any waves, having noticed what the warrior had been doing all day and not wanting anyone else to find out.

Twisting to look at the bard, Nados shook his head. ”She stays where she is.”

“Why?” Xena asked. “Do you think I’ll take off and leave her behind?”

Staring down at the warrior, Nados frowned at her smile.

“Not much of an insurance policy then, is she?” Continuing her prodding, Xena smiled innocently.

“Xena.” Gabrielle rolled her eyes. “I’m all right. Argo and I are bonding.”

Argo nickered.

“Sorry, my mistake.” Shrugging, Xena sighed and stared away from Nados.

Holding up his hand, Nados brought the party to a halt. Riding back to the bard, he untied the rope holding her to the saddle and pulled it gently. “Dismount.”

Rolling her eyes, Gabrielle slid out of the saddle and followed Nados as he walked his horse a little distance away.

“You two move her to the mare.” Pointing to the men behind Argo. “Make sure her chain are secured to the saddle.”

Getting to her knees, Xena smiled, but sat motionless as the two men removed the chains from the iron ring.

Gabrielle watched closely, waiting for the warrior to strike, which she didn’t and sighed when Xena was chained to Argo’s saddle. Being pulled back to the wagon, she gave the warrior a silent scowl for not taking advantage of an escape opportunity.

Smiling, Xena shrugged and watched them lift the bard into the wagon and tie her to the iron ring. “Better?”

“Oh, much.” Gabrielle smiled an insincere smile, but sent a silent thank you.

Xena winked and smiled.

Moving back to his place beside the wagon, Nados signaled for them to proceed. Looking down at the bard, he smiled. “Comfortable?”

“Like riding on mare.” Xena answered with a smile.

Gabrielle chuckled.

Nados glowered and returned to watching the horizon.

“Nobody appreciates good humor.” Xena chuckled and read on.

Once she was settled in, Xena noticed that Gabrielle was slowly drifting off to sleep. Good girl, she thought. I’m gonna need you fresh in the morning. Smiling, she started rubbing the shackles together.

By the time the sun started to rise, Xena confirmed that her calculations were correct, when the ruined fortress appeared on the dark horizon. Lit up by torches, it glowed faintly in the darkness. Couple more hours, she thought and tested the shackles. They still held firm, but she could tell they were almost ready to break. Glancing down at the sleeping bard, she smiled. Something she was noticing she was doing a lot lately, but didn’t know why. For some reason she just smiled when she looked at Gabrielle. Shrugging, she continued to rub and waited for her chance to make her move.

“Now wait a minute.” Staring down at the scroll, Xena frowned. “How did she know that I wondering why I was smiling? She couldn’t have known way back then. I didn’t know way back then.” Shaking her head, the warrior scratched her head. “Unless she did know way back then and I was a complete idiot.” Frowning harder. “No. She couldn’t have known that I was falling in love with her. This must be the poetic licensing she’s always talking about.” Sighing heavily. “Okay. I was a complete idiot. Self awareness is not one of my many skills.”

As they the sun came up, Xena realized her mistake, when she heard the sounds, reminiscent of a camped army, coming from the fortress. Pulling on her chains, she scowled at the fact that they held. Dammit. Looking down at the bard, she rolled her eyes. Why didn’t he tell me it was a party. Shaking her head, she rubbed the shackles together with more fervor, trying to get them to break while there was still a chance to get away. Come on, give. Dammit. Give.

Gabrielle woke up, just as the wagon was pulling through the gates of the fortress. Looking around, she sat up quickly, taking in the mass of people surrounding her. Everywhere she looked there were soldiers, horses and an array of surly looking people milling about. Glancing at the warrior, she saw a concerned expression on Xena’s face. “What’s going on?”

Nados looked down at her with a wry smile. “Welcome to my home, Gabrielle.”

“Nice family you got here, Nados.” Xena smirked, glancing around at the dirty faces gawking at her.

“Oh, they aren’t here for me, Xena.” Smiling wickedly. “They’re here for you.”

“What does that mean?” Gabrielle was not happy and she knew Xena wasn’t either. Just from where she was, she estimated that there must be a couple of thousand people there.

“What that means, Gabrielle, is that they’ve come to see the event of a lifetime.” Waving his arms outward.

“Cut to the chase, Nados.” Letting some of worry show through, Xena glared at the man, who was having a wonderful time at her apparent expense.

Raising his hand, Nados brought the party to a halt, just outside the doors to the inner fortress. Turning, he waved his hand again.

Turning as well, Xena saw the outer gates closing. Dammit. Realizing her opportunity was gone, she shook her head, staring at the high outer walls. Returning her gaze to Nados, she put on her warrior mask. “Well?”

Dismounting, Nados stepped into the wagon and squatted by Gabrielle, untying her from the iron ring. “You see, Xena. Though you’ve turned over a new leaf, there are still plenty of people that would pay for the chance to meet you in combat. Pay quite handsomely, as a matter of fact.” Pulling the rope, he stood, bringing the bard up as well.

“You’ve sold fights with Xena?” Gabrielle asked with fear in her heart.

“Not exactly.” Turning to the warrior. “I’ve invited two hundred of Xena’s most ardent admires, for a considerable fee, to take her on in single combat and given them the opportunity to become known as the man, or woman who killed the warrior princess.

“No!” Pulling on the rope, the bard tried to shove Nados out of the wagon.

“Gabrielle!” Xena shouted and sat forward in the saddle pulling on her chains. “Gabrielle stop! Stop!”

Gabrielle stopped when the driver turned around and hit her in head with a club and she crumpled to the bed of the wagon, unconscious.

“Gabrielle!” Yanking the chains, Xena felt them start to give and pulled harder.

Nados dropped the rope and drew his sword, lowering it to the bard’s exposed chest. “I suggest you calm down, warrior princess. Otherwise I might stumble and puncture that pretty blonde.”

Giving the chains one last yank, the warrior stilled. “You touch her and I’ll rip your heart out, Nados.”

Looking at the warrior, he smiled. “Perhaps, but not right now.” Waving to the two men behind Argo. “Take Xena inside and you,” pointing at the man who rode beside Xena, “collect the blonde and bring her in as well. Take them both to the arena.” Hopping out of the wagon, Nados walked to the inner doors and opened them. Pausing, he turned back to the party. “If Xena tries anything. Kill the girl.”

Worried about Gabrielle and angry she hadn’t acted sooner, Xena fought down the notion of killing the man and let the two thugs take her off Argo. Keeping an eye on the bard, she followed quietly behind Gabrielle’s bearer, smelling the familiar stench and hearing voices coming from every crevice of the fortress. As they entered a long hallway, Xena started to remember the layout of the fortress and shook her head. Dumb dead warlord, she thought. Paranoid bastard couldn’t make a back door. With that memory, she considered her options and weighed it against what Nados had told her. Two hundred of my most ardent admirer’s, huh. I guess I’m not as popular as I thought. Smiling, she followed the man in front of her down the corridor and heard the voices getting louder. Arena? What arena? Going over the layout in her mind again, Xena tried to remember an arena, but couldn’t think of anything that fit that description. Shaking her head, she saw the man she was following, turn a corner and head up a flight of stairs. Thankfully, the ankle chains had been removed for her to ride Argo and nobody had put them back on, which made going up the stairs much easier. Reaching the top, the noise level jumped up and the warrior winced, then she frowned when recognized what they were saying. “What the. . .” Hearing her name being shouted over and over again in a thunderous chant, she raised one eyebrow.

“Bring back fond memories, Xena?” Nados asked, stepping out of a doorway and stopping the warrior.

“I wouldn’t exactly call them fond memories.” Xena gave him a unimpressed look.

“Hmm.” Taking her by the arm, Nados led her to a small opening in the wall and pointed. “Well, do any of those faces bring back any memories?”

Looking through the hole, Xena saw where the term ‘arena’ came from. Nados had removed the ceiling from the first floor of several rooms and cleared the walls to make a huge hole in the middle of the fortress. Around the hole, he’d knocked out some more walls on the second floor and built stone benches, tiering up several levels. In them, Xena found her ardent admirer’s. It was virtual who’s who of every warlord from Gaul to Chin. “Only the worst of the worst.” Nodding her head at the selection he’d made, as every person was known for their prowess with a sword and their ruthless fighting style.

“Precisely. Only the most successful could afford the price of admission.” Pulling her back, he looked in. “Yes, Xena. You have made me a very wealthy man.”

“Glad to be of service.” Smiling smugly. “You said two hundred? Who are all those guys outside?” Staying close to him.

“Each warlord was allowed to bring ten men as security.” Glancing at her, he smiled. “They also provide a nice barrier against you possibly escaping.”

“Thought of almost everything, huh?” Standing as close as possible to Nados, Xena smiled as she wrapped her hand around the pommel of his sword.

“Almost?” Chuckling, Nados shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

“I do.” Pulling the sword quickly from it’s sheath, Xena brought her arms up, nailing one thug in the jaw with her elbow, sending him to the floor. The next, fell from a pommel to the side of his head. Spinning, she nailed Nados’s surprised mug with a round house kick. Kicking the first thug, as he tried to get up, she moved to the one holding the bard. Raising the tip of the sword to his throat, she smiled. “Put her down, slowly.” Following his movement with the sword, she directed him to take his place with his buddies. “Over there.” Nodding in their direction. Extending her arms, Xena flipped the sword around, bringing the tip to her chest and turned to face the recovering group.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Glaring at the warrior, Nados waved to his men. “Get her.”

“Wrong answer.” Bringing the point closer, she felt it prick her skin. “One more step and it goes in.”

“Wait!” Nados shouted, putting his arm in front of his men.

“Smart move, pretty boy.” Holding her ground, Xena sneered.

“You can’t escape, Xena. I don’t know what you expect to accomplish by holding yourself hostage.” Rubbing his jaw.

“I don’t plan on escaping. I plan on Gabrielle escaping.” Looking quickly down at the unconscious bard.

“What?” Laughing out loud, Nados shook his head.

“You’re going to let Gabrielle go.” Staring at him and raising an eyebrow.

“I don’t think so, Xena.” Taking a step forward, Nados stopped when the blade went deeper.

Wincing, Xena held the sword still. “Now you listen to me, you little weasel.” Stepping over the bard’s body to put it behind her, Xena growled. “You brought me here to take on that crowd out there.” Nodding in the direction of the arena. “Well that’s just fine with me, cause I’m more than willing to take those guys out. The world will be a much better place without them, but I’m not gonna do that, until Gabrielle is safe. Got me?”

“You’re willing to stay and fight, if I let Gabrielle go?” Nados eyes narrowed to slits.

“You go it.” Nodding, she smiled.

“And if I refuse?” Folding his arms across his chest.

“You’ve got one dead warrior princess, on your hands and two hundred, very deadly and very nasty warlords looking for a refund.” Giving him a knowing look. “Plus their security blankets, to boot.”

Rubbing his chin, Nados looked down at Gabrielle. “She’s worth dying for?”

“She’s worth it to me. Is she worth it to you?” Glaring at him, when he met her gaze.

Turning to look through the opening, Nados sighed. “I’ll releaser her when you enter the arena.”

“Nothing doing.” Shaking her head. “Call me paranoid, but I don’t trust you.”

“What do you want?” Almost growling, Nados faced the warrior.

“What I want is for you to send one of your goons there to get all our stuff and put it in the wagon and then he’s gonna hitch Argo up to it.” Watching him closely, Xena stole a glance at the bard and smiled sadly. “Forgive me Gabrielle.” Whispering.

Turning to one of his men, Nados shoved him. “Go hitch up the mare and you,” shoving another, “get their things and put it in the wagon. Move!”

“Delegation of responsibility. Good.” Stepping back, Xena stood behind Gabrielle’s body. “Now. Untie her and pick her up.” Taking a step back. “Gently.”

Shoving the last of him men toward the bard, Nados growled. “Do as she says.”

“Hold it.” Shaking her head. “He goes down and waits by the door, you untie her and pick her up.”

His face turning several shades of red, Nados nodded to his man. “Do it.” Moving to the bard, he knelt down and untied her hands. “What makes you think I won’t send somebody after her, once you’re in the arena, Xena?”

“Because, Nados.” Smiling down, when looked up. “Once Gabrielle is through those gates and they’re closed, you’re gonna tell those security blankets that the game has begun and any one caught leaving will forfeit their master’s ticket and that if they catch anyone and I mean anyone near those gates, they should kill them and bring the body to you for immediate identification for revocation purposes. Or something along those lines.”

As his face lost all it’s color, Nados clenched his jaw. “Apparently you’ve earned your reputation.”

“You ain’t seen nothing yet.” Chuckling, Xena read on.

“I have many skills.” Raising one eyebrow. “Now. Pick her up. Gently.” Smiling down at him, Xena stepped back when he took her into his arms and lifted the bard off the ground.

Sighing, Nados turned toward the stairs.

“Not that way.” Waiting for him to turn around, Xena nodded at another opening. “That way.”

“It doesn’t lead anywhere.” Scowling at her.

“This fortress may only have one door, Nados, but there are a lot of ways to get to it.” Raising her eyebrows, she nodded again. “Move.”

Realizing he wasn’t going to win, Nados started walking. “I see I underestimated you, Xena.”

“Yea, well don’t feel bad. You’ve got a lot of company in that department.” Walking behind him, Xena gave him directions through the fortress. When they got close to the door, she stopped him. “When you get outside, you’re gonna put Gabrielle in the wagon and open the outer gates, got that?”

“What will you be doing?” Keeping his eyes forward.

“I’ll be watching from the door, so anything goes wrong and you get a brand new blanket.” Smirking at her own joke, Xena gave him a shove. “Move . . . slowly.”

Walking slowly, Nados nodded his head to one his men. “Open the door.”

“Then go outside.” The warrior added and watched him do as he was told. “Go.” Following behind Nados, she checked the hallway and moved to the open door. Watching him closely, she smiled when he put Gabrielle in the wagon, then went to open the outer gates. “Argo.”

Argo turned her head to look at the warrior.

“Rato T. Rato T. Kasay.” Watching the mare bob her head then turn back, Xena mentally crossed her fingers. “I hope all those nights listening to Gabrielle paid off.” Sighing, she looked at the bard. “Please don’t hate me, Gabrielle. It was the only way.” Glancing up, she saw the outer gates open. Taking a deep breath, she took another look at the bard. “I love you, Gabrielle.” Closing her eyes, she sighed heavily. Opening her eyes, she felt a tear trickle down her cheek. “Argo. Go. Rato T. Kasay.”

Argo took off at a trot, making her way through the crowd, to the gates.

“Go on girl.” Xena whispered watching the wagon pass through the gates. “Goodbye, Gabrielle.” As the gates closed, Xena waited for Nados to make his speech.

Watching the warrior, Nados smiled.

“Do we go after her?” One of his men asked.

“No, I’ve got my prize and tell the men to say inside.” Turning to the throng of ruffians, Nados raised his voice over the din. “Attention! Attention!” Clapping his hands, to get their attention, he waited until the crowd got quiet. “The game has officially begun.” As a cheer went up, he smiled. “Now that it has started.” He had to shout to get their attention again. “Now that it has started, no one is allowed through these gates, or to leave at all, until it is completed. Anyone caught leaving will forfeit his, or hers employer’s right to compete, without a refund. Should you discover anyone, anyone,” nodding to the warrior, “trying to leave, you have my permission to kill them and bring their body to me, for identification so their employer can be ejected from the game.” Looking around at the nodding and suspicious glances, he smiled congenially. “Does everyone understand?” There were some mutterings, but everyone nodded. “Then enjoy my hospitality and wish your employer the best of luck.” That got another cheer and as Nados walked back to the door, he saw the warrior lower the sword from her chest and toss it on the steps.

“Let the games begin.” Xena said as he picked up his sword off the steps.

Outside the gates, Argo changed to a gallop, heading south.

“Well at least he kept his word, weasely little bastard.” Rolling up the scroll further, Xena read on.

Nados had the warrior’s shackles removed and led Xena back to the arena entrance. Smiling, he handed her her sword. “I told you you’d need it.”

Taking the sword, Xena smiled. “So, you wanna give me the low down on the rules of this little game?” Checking the weapon over.

“It’s quite simple.” Pointing to a side stairway, he smiled. “You’ll go down those stairs and through the door, into the arena. Once inside, I’ll pull a number at random and select your first opponent. If you survive, there will be a short period between matches, to remove the body and select the next opponent.” Regaining his wicked smile, he plied it on her and got a chuckle for his effort.

“How long is this supposed to go on?” Sheathing her sword, she shook her arms, to work out some kinks.

“It will continue without ceasing until either all your opponents have been killed, or you have.” Folding his arms across his chest, Nados took a superior stance.

“What happens when they’re all dead?” Looking quite confident, the warrior gave him a little confident smile.

“Then you face me.” Unfolding his arms, he rested one hand on the top of his sword.

“Ahhhh. Now, I get what you meant by no body knew you yet. Nice little set up to fame, huh?” Rolling her eyes, Xena headed for the stairs, then turned around. “Oh, yea.” Snapping her fingers. “By the way, what happens when you’re dead?”

“That isn’t going to happen, Xena.” Smiling. “You see I’m a master swordsman.” Drawing his sword, he held it up.

“If you’re so good, why not just take me on yourself, now?” Raising her eyebrows with the question.

“Because the glory will be much greater once you’ve defeated the best and fallen to me.” Returning his sword to it’s sheath, Nados nodded toward the stairs.

“You want to be known as the best of the best?” Nodding herself, Xena smiled. “Huh. Well, let’s just see who that really is then, shall we?” Chuckling, she turned and went down the steps. At the bottom were two of Nados’s goons. “Oh look, doormats.” Smiling smugly, she waited for one of them to open the door, then took a deep breath and cracked her neck. Letting the breath out slowly, she walked into the arena and went deaf. Wincing, at the din above her she looked at the faces, moving in a circle taking note of the ones she recognized. Smiling, she saw Nados sitting in a large chair directly above the doorway she’d come through. Drawing her sword, she smiled. “Well?”

Reaching in a large bowl, on a table by the chair, he pulled out a small wooden disk. “Forty seven.” He shouted.

Turning, Xena spotted her first opponent when he got up and headed for the stairway. “Maloeacea” She said and smiled. Stepping to the far side of the arena, she bounced a couple of times and spun her sword.

Nados watched, from his perch, as the first contestant entered the arena and a cheer when up. Smiling, he chuckled. “Now, Xena. Show me what you’ve got.” Talking for his own satisfaction.

Xena circled around, sizing up the large man. Smiling smugly, she winked, which got her a charging bull. Spinning, she caught the blow, rotating his sword against her’s and sending his up in the air. Catching it, she plunged both swords into his chest, and held onto hers, drawing it out as he fell.

Sitting forward, Nados’s eyes went wide.

That quieted them down, Xena thought and turned to look at Nados’s surprised expression. “Next.” She shouted with a smile.

“Okay, so I like to show off, once in awhile.” Shrugging, Xena rolled up the scroll and read on. “It was a nice move, though.”

Gabrielle woke up to the pounding in her head and the moon above. Feeling the motion of the wagon, she tried to sit up, but fell back, her head spinning. “Xena?” Bringing her hand to the side of her head, she closed her eyes. “Xena, where are we?” Hearing nothing, but the sound of the wagon’s creaking and Argo’s hoof beats, she opened her eyes and looked at the driver’s seat. Squinting, she tried to clear her vision, but in the darkness, she couldn’t see anything. “Xena?” Bouncing around, she tried to sit up again and got high enough to see Argo’s blonde body, through the space under the driver’s seat. Squeezing her eyes shut, she felt the pounding in her head getting worse and whispered, just before she passed out. “Xena?”

“Next.” Xena shouted and whipped the blood from her lip. “Only a hundred and thirty-one to go.” She whispered as the door opened across the arena and the two goons stepped out to drag the latest loser out by his heels. “Take your time.” Smiling to them. “I’m not going anywhere.” Watching them look at each other, she shook her head and closed her eyes.

“Tired, Xena?” Nados asked from his perch above.

“Tired of looking at you.” Opening her eyes, Xena looked up and smiled, then turned taking in the faces staring down at her. “Apparently some of them are too.” Seeing that there were a few closed eyes among the dwindling crowd. The ones, that were still awake, looked eager. They were waiting for they’re chance to die, or become famous. Xena chuckled at the thought. “Get a life.” She whispered as the next number was called. Looking toward the door, she waited and stretched. After she’d done the dumb thing and shown off, on the first one, the rest had learned that it was smarter to use strategy instead of brute force and the warrior had lamented her mistake with the beating she was getting. Feeling the aches and pains, Xena shook her head. When I get out of this, I’m going to smack myself in the head. As the next opponent stepped through the door, Xena sighed and rotated her sword. Moving to her right, she stalked the next man, smiling her blood stained pearly whites and cracking her neck. At least Gabrielle isn’t here to see this, she thought and blocked a pass aimed at her head.

T brought Artaq do a halt, when she spotted Argo charging down the road, as it entered the outer forest. Sliding out of the saddle, she ran toward the mare, her hands up. “Whoa, Argo. Whoa. Whoa.” Lowering her hands, she took in the condition of the mare, who was drenched in sweat, frothing at the mouth and limping. “Easy girl. Latour!” Giving the boy a glance over her shoulder, before she moved to the wagon.

“I’m on it.” Sliding from behind his father, Latour ran to the mare and started unhitching her from the wagon.

Jumping in the back, T saw the bard and knelt down. “Lemet, bring me my things and a water skin!” Scowling, she turned Gabrielle’s head, touching the large bruise gently and growling. Taking the bard’s hand in her’s she squeezed it. “Gabrielle?” Leaning down, she stroked Gabrielle’s cheek. “Gabrielle?” Grabbing the water skin, when Lemet dropped it beside her, she to the stopper off and poured some in her hand and rubbed it over the bard’s sunburned skin.

Moaning softly, Gabrielle opened her eyes and saw a shadow in the sun. “Xena?”

“No, Gabrielle. It’s T.” Lifting the bard’s head, T held the water skin to her parched lips. “Here, drink some of this.” Holding it for Gabrielle to take a long drink, she tried to slow the bard’s intake. “Drink slowly, Gabrielle. Slowly.” Shaking her head, she put the water skin down and laid the bard’s head back gently. “Gabrielle, where’s Xena?”

Knitting her brow, the bard squinted at the sun and blinked. “Isn’t she here?” Confused by the question.

“No, it’s just you and Argo.” Shaking her head in response, T gave Lemet a worried glance. “Move the wagon into the trees and call Katai.”

Nodding, Lemet waved to the Guards. “Move the wagon into the trees.” Looking skyward, he whistled.

Gripping T’s arm, as the wagon started to move, Gabrielle tried to sit up but was gently pushed back down. “T, where’s Xena?” Her voice become tinged with fright. “Where’s Xena?”

“I don’t know, Gabrielle. I was hoping you could tell me that. She’s not here.” Laying her hand over the bard’s, she frowned.

“I’ve got to get to her. She’s in trouble.” Closing her eyes, Gabrielle put her hand over the bruised area.

“Where is she?” Concentrating on the bard, T’s expression got more worried.

“Nados.” Opening her eyes, Gabrielle looked up at her friend. “We’ve got to get her out of there.”

“Nados?” Glancing at the Captain, T saw no recognition. “Where’s Nados?”

“No, no. It’s not a place, it’s a man.” Trying to sit up, again, she was pushed back down again. “T! We’ve got to get her, she’s in trouble.”

“Easy, Gabrielle.” Nodding, T took the bard’s hand. “We’ll get her, but I need to know where she is. Where does Nados have her?”

“I . . . I don’t really know.” Trying to think of where the fortress was. “I slept part of the way and when I woke up, we were there.”

“That’s okay. Do you know where you were when you fell asleep?.” Brushing Gabrielle’s hair out of her eyes, T smiled.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and thought. “It . . .it had to be somewhere near Maintinea, I think.” Concentrating, she saw the mountain and the sun. “I think we were heading south.”

“Okay. That’s a start.” Taking a deep breath, T wrinkled her forehead. “What time of day was it?”

“A few hours before sundown. Xena had Nados trade us places and she got on Argo and I got in the wagon. I fell asleep a little while after that.” Closing her eyes, she shook her head. “I should’ve stayed awake, dammit.”

“Easy, it’s not your fault.” Stroking the bard’s cheek, T leaned a bit closer. “When did you wake up?”

Sighing, Gabrielle closed her eyes again. “About a couple of hours after sunrise, I think.” Sighing again, she opened her eyes. “Everything happened so fast that I didn’t really get a chance to tell.”

“What happened when you woke up?” Not liking anything she was hearing, T was starting to feel her eyes shifting and brought them back to normal.

“We were coming through the gates and all these people were staring at us.” Remembering the swarm of attention they’d gotten.

“Gates?” Gaining another piece of the puzzle.

“Yes, there were gates on the outer wall.” Thinking clearer, she continued. “It was some kind of abandoned castle, or something.” Wrinkling her nose. “And it smelled, but that could have been from the horses and people.”

Taking the information she was given, T tried to think of where the warrior was being held, but came up with nothing. “How many men did Nados have?”

“Eight, maybe.” Counting the goons in her head.

“But you said there were people everywhere.” Missing a piece, T frowned.

“Nados had about eight, but there were . . . maybe a couple of thousand in the castle.”
Nodding with her assumption, the bard bit her lip.

Raising an eyebrow, T turned to Alancius. “How many men can you have ready to ride in an hour?”

“A hundred, tops.” Pounding the side of the wagon, in frustration, Alancius shook his head.

T looked at Lemet, who nodded. “Send Katai to the palace. I want the Deltatier here yesterday and tell Treyma to check the maps for anything that looks like a ruined castle, within a two day ride north of here of here and send word back as soon as he has anything. Call Tarnea.” Glancing at the king. “You can use him to get a message to Tarlon.”

“I’ll write the message now.” Turning, Alancius left with Lemet.

“T?” Looking up at the King, Gabrielle felt a tear running down the side of her face.

“We’ll get her, Gabrielle.” Leaning down, T kissed the bard’s forehead. “I promise.” Sitting back up, she pulled a jar out of her bag. “I’m going to put this on your head and it might sting.”

“No.” Shaking her head, Gabrielle’s eyes filled with tears. “Nados, T, he’s got Xena in some kind of death match.”

“Death match?” This time, T let her eyes shift to gold. “What kind of death match?”

“I don’t know all the details, but he said that he’d gotten two hundred of Xena’s . . .most . . . ardent admires and sold them chances to kill her.”

T’s ears went back and she let out a low growl. “Lemet!” Shouting, she stood in the wagon. “I want them here NOW!” Growling out the command.

Nodding, Lemet scribbled on a piece of parchment then put in the tiny leather cylinder attached to Katai’s leg, sending the eagle skyward.

Coming to the wagon, Latour peeked over the side. “Is there anything I can do?”

Looking down, T knelt again. “Yes.” Calming, somewhat, she nodded to him. “When we leave, take one of the horses and hitch it to the wagon. I’m gonna leave two of the Guards with you and you’re gonna take Gabrielle to the palace.”

Nodding fervently, Latour smiled. “My pleasure.”

“No!” Sitting up, Gabrielle grabbed T’s arm. “I’m coming with you.”

Turning to the bard, T shook her head. “No, Gabrielle.” Placing her hands over the bards, she smiled sadly. “You’re in no condition to ride, let alone fight.”

“I’m coming.” The bard said with more determination. “You’re not leaving me behind.”

“Gabrielle, look at you.” Glancing down the bard’s body. “You’re sunburned, you’ve got a concussion and you’re suffering from dehydration.” Looking into the sea of determined green. “Go to the palace. Let me find Xena and I’ll bring her to you.” Speaking softly, T smiled.

“No.” Shaking her head. “I’m coming, whether you want me to, or not. I’ll take Argo and follow you.”

“Argo’s not going anywhere for a while.” Pointing to the mare, T sighed. “She’s exhausted, Gabrielle. She’s been running, non stop for at least a day and a half. You ride her now and you’ll kill her. She’s given everything she has just to get you here.”

Turning, the bard saw Argo and couldn’t believe her eyes. “Oh, Argo.” Sighing heavily at the weary mare, Gabrielle closed her eyes. “Will she be all right?’

“With Latour’s help, yes.” Removing the bard’s hands from her arm, T held them. “Gabrielle.” Waiting for the bard to open her eyes. “Stay here, please. Let Latour take care of you, too.”

Gabrielle looked at the boy, peeking over the side of the wagon. “No, T.” Whispering. “I’ll get there if I have to crawl.”

Sighing herself, T clenched her jaw. “Gabrielle.”

“Ha! Now you know what I had to put up with all the time.” Smiling smugly, Xena rolled the scroll up further.

Xena bent over, leaning against the wall of the arena, breathing heavily and watched the blood drip to the already blood stained floor. Closing her eyes, she waited for the body to be dragged out and coughed, tasting the blood in her mouth. Opening her eyes, she spit out a bloody wad. Catching her breath, the warrior heard another number called and looked up, seeing the sun streak through a crack in the roof. Smiling, she chuckled, then coughed. “Gods I could use a nap.” Chuckling again, the warrior raised her sword. Straightening, when the next opponent arrived, she tried to recognize him, or her, but with one eye completely swollen shut, she shrugged. “They all look alike anyway.” Glancing up at Nados, she smiled. “What a jackass.” Whispering to herself. Taking a deep breath, the warrior moved away from the wall. “The least you could do is bring flowers, or something.” Swinging upward at a unamused face.

Racing north on Artaq, T glanced at Lemet, riding just behind her. “When you get there, don’t stop to ask for an invitation to get in.”

Smiling, the Captain nodded. “Don’t worry about us, Nibahtu. We haven’t been twiddling our thumbs all these years.”

Chuckling, T felt the bard’s arms wrap tighter around her waist. “Are you okay?”

“Like he said. Don’t worry about me.” Hugging T, Gabrielle grimaced but kept her tone light. “You just concentrate on getting there.”

Nodding, the King watched the horizon. After giving the bard every reason for her not coming, like the fact that they’d be constantly riding and that it would take sometime to get to the fortress and about a hundred other reasons. T had finally given in, like the warrior princess she was trying to save, when the bard said please. With a heavy sigh and a stipulation that Gabrielle ride with her, they’d taken off at the first sign that the reinforcements were coming, leaving Latour to take care of Argo.

Turning, T waved at Alancius. “Can you find your way from here?”

“Yes.” Shouting of the rumble, the king nodded.

Glancing over her other shoulder, T nodded to Lemet. “We’ll see you there.”

Lemet nodded and saw the stallion start to pull away, stretching out his immortal legs and leaving them behind. Turning to look at the stunned face of Alancius, he smiled. “You should see him when he really gets going.” Urging his horse for more speed, the race continued.

Inside the arena, Xena didn’t hear the thunder that rolled with five thousand mounted, screaming Ungara, racing toward the fortress and she didn’t hear the panicked security blankets, when the gates burst open and a black stallion started trampling them, while a golden sword cut a bloody path to the inner doors. She didn’t see one of Nados’ men whisper in his ear and she didn’t see the few remaining ticket holders start to look around, then run out. Sliding slowly down the wall, by the door, she merely stared at the body, not realizing no one was coming to take it away and waited for the next number to be called. In her mind, she didn’t really see the body, but saw the face of the bard. Wondering where she was, but knowing she was safe. Gabrielle, she smiled, seeing the blonde hair, green eyes and the smile that moved her soul. Looking up, she heard the door’s creak open, then close with the click of a lock. Sighing, she struggled to get up, but slid back down the wall, dropping her sword beside her. Glancing at her new foe, she squinted one eye and focused. Smiling, she leaned her head back. “We done all ready?” Closing her eyes, the warrior sighed, then heard something echo through the halls above. Knitting her brow, she listened and opened her eyes, staring up at Nados.

“The game’s over, Xena.” Growling, Nados twirled his sword. “It’s time to claim my prize.” Taking a step toward the warrior.

Holding up her hand, the warrior coughed. “You won’t get what you want, by killing me, Nados.”

“Yes I will.” Sneering at the woman. “Killing you will make me the best there is.”

“No it won’t.” Sighing, Xena smiled. “That’s what everyone thinks, but it’s not the truth.”

“Humility doesn’t suit you, Xena.” Smiling wickedly, he raised his sword.

“You’re right, it doesn’t, but that doesn’t change the facts.” Raising her eyes to the rim of the arena, Xena heard the echo getting louder. “Have you ever heard of Lavius?”

“Of course. Until he took his life, he was known as the greatest swordsman who lived.” Thinking of his second victim, that escaped his plan.

“Do you know why he killed himself?” Listing as the echo go louder, Xena stalled.

“He’d lost his mind.” Remembering the rumors that had gone around and the shroud of secrecy that followed.

“That was only part of it.” Letting the Lavius’ face play before her eyes, the warrior hung her head. “He killed himself because he was beaten in combat.” Raising her eyes to Nados, Xena shook her head. “You say you want to be the best? Well, I don’t hold that crown, Nados.” Pointing above his head, Xena looked back at him. “She does. She defeated Lavius.” Looking up again, the warrior smiled, when a roar came thundering to her eardrums and she saw T flying through the air, coming to land in front of her. Perfect timing T, she thought as she stared into golden eyes and a very angry face of the King of the Ungara.

Crouching, T’s eyes turned red, seeing the condition of the warrior, who smiled. Growling loudly, she turned to Nados and stood slowly.

“There’s the best, Nados.” Whispering, Xena let her arm fall to her side. “You want that prize, you’re gonna have to take it from her. She’s got it, not me.”

Taking in vision of the woman, with red cat eyes and a golden tiger head dangling above them, he laughed. “What’s another stepping stone to get to the top.” Spinning his sword over his head, he shifted it from hand to hand, moving it around his body in swift sure strokes. “If this is the best, so be it. Once I finish her, I’ll take your head.” Continuing to show his prowess, Nados moved to the side, starting to circle.

T moved to the side, keeping between Nados and Xena. Standing motionless, she watched the steel cut the air with precision, raising her golden sword, the King waited for the show to be over.

Gabrielle ran in, coming to a quick halt at the edge of the arena. “Xena!” The bard shouted, seeing her friend.

Looking up at the sound of the bard’s voice, Xena smiled. “Gabrielle.”

Dragging her eyes off the warrior, the bard saw the two opponents sizing each other up. “Come on, T.” Whispering, she leaned on her staff. Shaking her head, she glanced at Xena again. “Make this quick, please.”

Ignoring what was happening above, Nados spun his sword and growled, when T didn’t circle as well. Raising his sword, he rotated it in a figure eight, slicing the air at his sides. Moving slowly, he smiled and lunged, aiming high, with an angry growl. “Aarrrrrrrr.”

Filling her lungs with air, T roared at the man and swung, rotating her wrist and removed Nados sword from his grasp, sending it up and over the edge of the arena, out of sight. Growling a true growl, she took a step toward him, as her claws came slowly out.

“I don’t think she was impressed, Nados. Maybe you should’ve practiced a little more.” Xena said and coughed, closing her eyes.

Backing up, Nados drew a dagger from his belt. Throwing it at T and watched her catch it and send it into the side of the arena with a flick of her wrist. His eyes wide, he backed up further, feeling the wall come in contact with his back. Searching and finding no escape, Nados tried to run past her, to the door and was caught around the neck and brought off the ground. Wrapping his hands around her wrist, he tried to breath, as he felt his air supply being cut off.

Sinking her claws further into his neck, T brought their faces together. “U nu ru. U kara.” She growled and tossed him at the far wall, hanging onto the flesh of his throat and ripping it from his body. Slinging the bloody mass off her hand, as she watched his lifeless body drop to the arena floor, T sheathed her sword and returned to the warrior. “Xena?” Bringing her hand to the warrior’s face, she touched it lightly, waiting for Xena to respond.

“You should’ve worn the white outfit. He would’ve fallen at your feet.” Smiling, Xena opened her eyes and saw the smile on T’s face, as her eyes returned to dark brown.

“I would’ve but I didn’t want you to bleed all over it.” Picking up Xena’s sword, with a chuckle, she put it into the sheath on the warrior’s back. “White leather is a real bitch to keep clean.” Smiling wickedly, she brought the warrior’s arm around her neck and eased her arms around Xena’s body, cradling her.

“T?” Xena whispered, closing her eyes and resting her head on a muscled shoulder.

Gently lifting the warrior off the ground, T turned to the door and kicked it in. “Yes, Xena?”

“Thank you” Feeling the pains of her body drift, the warrior sighed as a much needed nap started taking hold.

“My pleasure.” Walking slowly up the stairs, T felt Xena’s body go limp.

“Your lucky she didn’t bring the whole Ungaran army, Nados.” Thumping the scroll, Xena rolled it further up and read on. “Little rat bastard.”

Seeing them disappear, Gabrielle walked the edge of the arena, searching for where the stairs came out.

“Gabrielle!” Alancius called, entering the arena to her rear. “Where’s Xena?” Looking down, the king saw two bodies, neither of which belonged to the warrior.

“T’s got her.” Turning to Alancius, the bard waved him to follow. “I think they’ll come out around the corner.”

Following Gabrielle, the king came up behind her, holding his sword at the ready, but put it down when T and Xena appeared out of the hallway. “Is she?” He asked with trepidation.

“She’s asleep.” T answered, looking down at the woman in her arms and feeling her breath, then at the bard, who had a very worried expression. “Xena will be all right, Gabrielle. She’s very strong.”

“I know.” Gabrielle smiled and rubbed Xena’s hand. “I know.” Sighing, she let out some of the fear she’d accumulated since they’d been taken prisoner. “What about Nados?”

“He won’t be getting up for awhile and when he does, he’s still got to find his sword.” Nodding to Alancius, she followed Gabrielle as they went back around the corner. “Gabrielle.”

Turning back to T, the bard raised her eyebrows. “What?”

Using a finger and her eyes, T pointed to the far side of the arena, to the uppermost corner.

Following the finger, the bard saw a glint of steel sticking out of the arena’s ceiling and smiled. Nodding, she turned back to follow Alancius with a grin from ear to ear.

By the time T, Gabrielle and Alancius came out of the fortress, the security blankets had been folded and put away. Lemet met them at the door, giving his report and taking orders, he commandeered a wagon and instructed it to have a tent put on it and even took it upon himself to tie Artaq to the back of the wagon.

After T had placed Xena in the wagon, she helped Gabrielle in as well, then walked over to where her Captain was organizing the return trip. “Lemet.”

“Yes, my King?” Turning, Lemet gave the Ungaran salute.

“Burn that.” T growled, pointing to the fortress. “It stinks.”

“I noticed.” Wrinkling his nose, Lemet nodded. “It will be done. Will you wait for an escort?”

“Just round up a couple of the Guards and send them along.” Nodding, T smiled back at the wagon. “I’ve got to get those two back on the road to recovery.”

“Understood.” Smiling as well, the Captain snapped his fingers as the King departed. Turning to his second in command, he gave the instructions for the escort, then set about burning the fortress to the ground.


“How are they?” Alancius asked, standing as T came out of the room.

“They’re going to be find.” Smiling, T wiped her hands on a cloth at her waist. “I had to give Gabrielle something to make her sleep.”

“She driving you crazy?” The king chuckled.

T gave him a scowl, then chuckled. “And I thought I was overly protective.” Shaking her head, she sobered and frowned.

Catching the change, Alancius sobered also. “Xena?” Asking the question he didn’t want to here the answer to.

“If I didn’t know she was tough before, she’s proven it by surviving this.” As a smile played briefly on her lips, T turned back to the door. “She’s got some serious healing ahead, but she’ll be back on her feet soon.”

“How long do you think you can keep her down?” Raising his eyebrows as she returned her attention to him.

“I’ve got Lemet looking for the heaviest rope he can find, as we speak.” Smiling, T heard something from inside the room and rolled her eyes. “Speaking of Dahok. Excuse me.” Turning to the door.

“T.” Taking hold of her arm, Alancius smiled. “Look, I’ve got to get back to the castle, before my wife sends out a hunting party. Can you tell them I’ll be back day after tomorrow?”

“I’d be happy to.” Rubbing her hands on the rag, T smiled.

“Thank you.” Alancius nodded his head and smiled in return, then left.

Waiting until he’d left her chambers, T sighed and turned to the door. Opening it slowly, she saw the warrior princess sitting up in bed. Rolling her eyes, she entered and closed the door. “You’re supposed to be asleep.”

“Where am I?” Xena asked, looking around the unfamiliar room.

“It’s my bedroom.” Speaking softly, T went to Xena’s bed and eased her back to the bed. “Or should’ve been my bedroom.”

“What?” The warrior knitted her brow.

“This is one of the bedrooms in my chamber. It’s where I would’ve stayed had I grown up here.” Glancing around the room at the furniture and wall coverings. “I sleep in my parent’s room up stairs.”

“Oh.” Whispering, Xena glanced over at the bard. “Gabrielle?”

“She’s a lot better off than you are.” Looking at the bard with a warm smile. “I gave her something to sleep, so she’d stop hovering.”

Smiling, the warrior reached over to the bed beside her and touched the bard’s hand. “She can hover.”

“She’s got it down to an art form.” Bringing the warrior’s hand back, T held it in her own and gave Xena a worried once over. “How are you feeling?”

Moving her eyes from the bard to T, Xena smiled. “I’ve had better days.”

“Huh.” T smirked. “Anything giving you a lot of pain?”

“My head.” Bringing her hand to her face, the warrior touched her swollen eye.

“Well, no permanent damage there.” Chuckling, T got a one eyed glare. Standing, she moved to a table and picked up a mug and returned to sit on Xena’s bed. “I figured you’d wake up, so I made this. It’ll help with the headache and the swelling.” Handing the warrior the drink.

Sniffing the contents, the warrior wrinkled her nose. “What’s in it?”

“None of your business, now drink.” Tilting the bottom of the mug with her finger, T helped Xena drink the elixir.

Xena’s face distorted into a plethora of disgusted expressions, as she drank. Finishing off the last of it, she handed the empty mug back to T. “That’s horrible.” Wiping the horrid concoction off her lips.

“I know.” Grinning impishly, T put the mug on the floor beside her feet. “But it works.”

“Gods I hope so. I’d hate to think I went through that for nothing.” Still frowning, Xena sighed.

Laughing out loud, T shook her head and smiled. Chuckling, she took the warrior’s hand in hers. “You’ll feel a lot better when you wake up, I promise.”

“And you always keep your promises.” The frown eased up and was replaced by a somber stare.

“Always.” Winking, T made to stand, but was held by the warrior. Sitting back down, she gave Xena a warm smile. “That was your cue to get some rest.” Seeing the solemn expression of Xena’s face, T squeezed her hand. “What, Xena?”

“T.” Xena said softly and studied her hand as it held the kings. “What you did at the fortress.”

“Was something I’d do again in a heartbeat, Xena.” Lifting the warrior’s chin, T saw a tear filled blue eye. “I’m just glad I got there in time.” Releasing the warrior, she leaned over and kissed Xena’s forehead. “It was a smart thing you did, sending Gabrielle to Alancius.”

Shaking her head, Xena felt the tear fall. “I didn’t send her to Alancius. I sent her to you.”

“Me? But I thought.” Cocking her head, T gave Xena a questioning stare.

“I knew she’d be safe with you.” Sniffling, the warrior closed her eye and sighed.

T kept silent and watched Xena struggle with something.

“What you did.” Xena started then paused. “You rescued me.”

“No. I came to your defense.” Shaking her head, T wiped the tear form Xena’s face.

Opening her eye, the warrior stared into the dark brown pools of her friend. “What’s the difference?’

“The difference is, Xena, is that rescuing implies that the person is defenseless.” Raising one eyebrow, T smiled. “I hardly think that applies to you, no matter what physical condition you’re in.” Seeing the warrior wasn’t convinced, T shook her head. “Xena, let me tell you something.”

“What?” The warrior whispered.

“I have spent almost everyday of my life looking over my shoulder, being hunted and staying one step ahead of death. All that time, I never really let myself truly care for anyone, except when I was aboard ship, because I’d seen too many people suffer and die trying to protect me.” Sighing, T knitted her brow. “My father died before I was born, I saw my Mother burned alive by Democles, when I was nine and my aunt was cut down by his men a few years later.” Closing her eyes, T let out a long sigh. “I’ve been on my own since I was twelve, carrying that sack and hiding my identity, so that their sacrifice wasn’t in vain.” T opened her eyes and looked at the warrior. “You were the first person I told my story to, when you were on board the ship. The Captain accepted me as is, as did the crew, no questions asked and they became my surrogate family, like brothers, but you were different. You were a friend. Something that I’d never had before and even though you were snotty and arrogant and pushy and even a little irritating, you were worth the trouble. You were the first person I’d talked to, I mean really talked to and once you got over yourself and opened up, I found out what the real Xena was like. Not the bluster and bravado Xena, but the one that’s in there.” Pointing her finger at the warrior’s chest. “And you became my friend.” Smiling, T tapped Xena’s chest. “The heart doesn’t lie, Xena and no matter what you’ve done, in your past, or will do in the future, I know what’s in there and it’s worth protecting. I didn’t rescue you, I was protecting someone that I care about.”

Xena did a split lipped pout. “I was irritating, wasn’t I.”

“A little, but you don’t like being cared for, Xena.” Smirking, T leaned down and kissed the warrior’s forehead. “It goes against your grain.”

Nodding, Xena smiled. “I’m supposed to be the one who does the protecting.”

“Well, I’ll make you a deal.” Bringing Xena’s hand to her lips, T kissed it lightly, then smiled. “You can have anybody that get’s past me.” Raising her eyebrows for a second. “How’s that?”

“Oh, great.” Shaking her head, Xena rolled her eye. “I’ve seen you fight, T. With that body and the way you wield that sword, mine will get rusty, waiting for someone to get by you.”

“Good, I’m glad that’s settled.” Shaking the warrior’s hand, T winked. “Now get some rest.”

“I didn’t agree.” Xena said, trying to sit up in protest and taking her hand back.

Pushing the warrior back down, T raised a warning finger. “You get up and I’ll have Ungara come sit on you.” Grinning impishly. “Now, do I let him in?”

Growling, the warrior sighed. “No, keep that tiger away from me. He was eying my boots the last time I was here.”

“Good. Now go to sleep.” Smiling warmly, T leaned in again and kissed Xena’s forehead. “I’ll be here right over there, keeping an eye on you two.” Pointing to a chair by the door.

Glancing at the chair, Xena sighed, feeling the medicine starting to take effect. “Is it dark outside?”

“No, why?” Thinking maybe she shouldn’t have made the medicine so strong.

“I don’t want to be accused of keeping you from a perfectly good nap.” Yawning, Xena smiled.

“Like the idea would keep you awake.” T chuckled as the warrior closed her eye. Brushing a stray hair out of Xena’s face, she got up and went to the chair. Sitting down, T opened the door and let Ungara in. “Come here, bud.” Closing the door, she ruffled up his furry face. “You keep an eye on those two, while I take a nap.” Scratching behind his ear, as the tiger lay down at her feet, T closed her eyes.

“T.” Xena whispered.

Sighing, T opened her eyes. “Yes, Xena.”

“Thank you.” A little smile played on the warrior’s lips. “For taking care of Gabrielle.”

“You’re welcome.” Closing her eyes again, T rested her head against the wall. “My pleasure.”

Gabrielle awoke two days later, finding two sets of eyes on her and one attached to a big furry face a few inches from hers. “Sweet Mother of Zeus!” Leaning hard into the pillow, she brought her hand to her chest as it heaved, staring up into tiger eyes.

“Get down, bud.” Chuckling, T pushed Ungara away from the bard and sat down on the edge of the bed. “Sorry about that, Gabrielle.”

“I think I’m having a heart attack.” Closing her eyes, Gabrielle tried to catch her breath.

“I doubt that.” Placing her hand on the bard’s chest, T smiled. “Nope, still beating.” Feeling the pounding under her hand.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and gave T a dirty look. “Why is HE in here?” Giving Ungara a dirty look as well and hoped he hadn’t chew her boots to bits.

“HE, is in here because he’s a good babysitter and he likes you.” Turning to the tiger, T scratched under his chin. “Isn’t that right, bud?”

Ungara purred and layed his head in T’s lap.

“Bud?” Raising her eyebrows, Gabrielle sat up and scooted back, giving the pair a studious glare.

“Ungara is too formal.” Smiling down at the tiger, T chuckled. “He’s more of a casual kind of guy.”

Rolling her eyes, the bard sat forward and scratched his nose and got her hand licked. “Yuck.” Wiping her hand on the covers, Gabrielle sighed. Glancing to where the warrior slept, the bard took a more serious tone. “How is she?”

Still staring down at Ungara, T smiled. “She’s going to be fine.” Looking over at Xena, she continued to scratch the tiger’s head. “She woke up the day we got back and I gave her something to bring down the swelling and help her sleep.”

Gabrielle sat forward, taking a better look at the warrior and noticed that her swollen eye was almost completely back to it’s normal size, as was her swollen lip. “She looks a lot better.”

“Thank you.” T and Xena said in unison, with the warrior opening her eyes and turning her head, to stare at two surprised faces and one fuzzy curious one. “He’s not here to sit on me, is he?” Xena looked pointedly at Ungara.

“Not as long as you stay in bed.” Bringing Ungara’s head back to her lap, T chuckled.

“Can I take him with us?” Gabrielle added for the warrior’s benefit.

“Don’t even think about it, Gabrielle.” Shaking her head, Xena tried to sit up and got a glare and a snort from Ungara. “What?” She asked him. “I just want to sit up. I’m not trying to get out of bed, okay?” Laying back down, when he got to his feet, Xena sighed and tried to fluff her pillows, in lieu of sitting up.

T chuckled, got up and helped the warrior do some fluffing. “How’s that?” Putting her hands on her hips and stared down into an agitated face.

Xena snarled at Ungara in response and got a throaty tiger growl.

“Looks like a stand off.” Gabrielle laughed.

“I guess there are advantages to having a half ton tiger around, after all.” Grinning impishly, T sat back down on the edge of the bard’s bed. “How do you feel?” She asked Xena.

Giving the tiger one last snarl, Xena rolled her eyes. “Better.” She admitted grudgingly.

“Good. Are you two hungry?” T asked.

Gabrielle nodded fervently and Xena sighed.

“That’s one yes and a ‘if I have to.’” Smiling, T went to the door and opened it. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Closing the door, she smiled.

Xena stared at Ungara and Ungara stared back. “I think I hear T calling you.” The warrior tried and got a sort. “Brat.” Rolling her eyes, with a sigh.

Gabrielle laughed. “Xena, give it up. He’s not going to leave.” Pulling back the covers, the bard swung her legs over the side of the bed and pulled them back quickly, when Ungara turned his attention to her and growled. “Oh, give me a break! I’m fine.” Scowling at him, she put her legs back under the covers and folded her arms across her chest.

It was Xena’s turn to laugh and she winced with the pain it caused. “Simple, yet effective.”

“I don’t like either of you, right now.” Turning her head away from the pair, Gabrielle tapped her foot, under the covers.

“Poor baby.” Xena pouted for the bard and reached out, scratching Ungara’s furry neck. “Good tiger.” Chuckling at the glare she got from Gabrielle.

Ungara purred, but kept his eyes on his charges.

Except for visits from Alancius, Lemet and Latour, who gave Xena a update on Argo and Gabrielle flowers, the next few days went the same way, with Ungara keeping an eye on the bard and warrior and T taking care of them. Eventually though, T gave them the nod and released them from Ungara’s watchful eye and her own, deeming them fit and even had Xena given the ‘you’re boots untied’ test, which Xena passed after wrestling with the tiger for half an hour and still lost her boot. Sending her chakram after his departing form, she was infuriated when he dropped her boot and caught the weapon and ran off with that instead.

Mended and healed, the warrior and bard stayed for longer than Gabrielle would’ve estimated Xena could stand, but didn’t complain as T made them feel at home and even started calling the room they’d stayed in ‘your’ room. She had spare clothes made up, with Xena’s being identical to what she wore, but in varying shades of green and blue colors and Gabrielle got another set of ‘skimpy’ outfits and some less functional and warmer ones as well. Together, the three of them entertained themselves with T being her usual impish self and the bard and warrior cutting up and relaxing. When T had to do her King thing, they would wander the forest and the palace and were usually joined by Latour, who played guide and used his position as Apprentice Historian to tell the tales of the Ungara.

Gabrielle also noticed that the jealousy Xena had originally felt had transformed into a rivalry for dominance in anything and everything, which she usually lost with much irritation and her new vocabulary of Ungaran curse words. Thankfully, T played the innocent good sport and didn’t rub anything in, but always managed to barely edge Xena out and shrug, giving the warrior an impish grin.

Finally Xena announced that it was time for she and Gabrielle to leave and the three of them spent their last night together, just sitting in T’s chambers and talked.

Sitting on the couch in the living room, T stared into the fire across from her and cracked her neck, moving her eyes upward to a small wooden box on the mantle. A smile played across her lips as her eyes moved higher and took in the painting of her parents, that hung above the fireplace.

“They were a very handsome couple.” Gabrielle spoke softly, from T’s lap as he followed the King’s eyes to the painting.

“Yea.” Xena nodded and slid the bard’s feet out of her lap as she stood. Walking around the small table, in front of the couch, she went to the fireplace and got a closer look. “You look like him.”

“I noticed.” T chuckled and lifted the bard’s head from her lap and joined the warrior.

“Did all the Kings look the same?” Gabrielle asked as she joined the pair.

“According to the archives, they had similar features, like any family line, but I’d have to check the Hall of Kings to be sure.” Smiling up at the images of her parents.

“What’s the Hall of Kings?” The bard asked, finding something Latour had left out of his tour.

“It’s in the Palace of the Ancients.” Giving Gabrielle a warm smile. “All of the Kings of the Ungara are buried there and have a life sized statue of themselves and their wives.”

“Will you be buried there?” Xena asked and toyed with something on the mantle.

“Eventually.” Noticing that the warrior wouldn’t meet her gaze, T picked up the small wooden box. “I have something I want to give to you.” Opening the box, she stared down at the two bracelets inside.

“What that?” The bard asked with much interest.

Pulling the bracelets out, T set the box back on the mantle. Holding them in her hand, she closed her fingers around them and closed her eyes. Smiling, she opened them again and showed the bracelets to the warrior and bard.

“They’re beautiful.” Gabrielle gasped, seeing the tiger head, dangling from each one.

Xena shook her head, knowing what they were. “I can’t take that.”

The bard looked from T to Xena and back, picking up on the stares they were giving each other. “What are they?”

Taking a deep breath, T separated the bracelets, holding one in each hand. “They’ve belonged to every King, his wife and the heir to the throne.” Raising her left hand. “This one was my Mother’s.” Handing it to Gabrielle, with a smile. “And this one was mine.” Holding the other one out to Xena. “I wear my Father’s.” Looking into a sea of blue sorrow.

“T.” Looking down at the bracelet in her hand, Gabrielle felt tears welling up in her eyes. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Say you’ll take it as a token of my friendship, with my promise that you will always have a sanctuary in my home and the forest, and that should you ever need me, you will allow me to stand by you in times of trouble.” Still holding her hand out, T smiled at the warrior. “Please.”

Gabrielle looked at the warrior, who took the bracelet from T’s hand and closed her eyes. Clasping hers in her hand, she brought it to her heart. “Thank you, T.”

Cupping the bard’s chin, T kissed her forehead. “You’re welcome, Gabrielle. Wear it with the knowledge that you’re always in my thoughts and that it grants you safety from the predators of the world. They will not attack a member of the Ungara and you can stop worrying about having to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys.”

Smiling, as a tear escaped down her cheek, Gabrielle wrapped her arms around T’s neck, giving her a big hug. “I love it.”

Xena opened her eyes and looked down at the gold in her hand. Rubbing her thumb over the tiger head, she smiled. “Thanks.” Looking up, she nodded, accepting their agreement and sighing with the thought of not getting anybody to thwart, while T was around.

Smiling warmly, T took the bracelet from the bard and worked the hidden clasp. “Once these are on, you probably won’t ever get them off.” Separating the two ends, T wrapped them around Gabrielle’s right wrist. “The clasp is designed so they can’t be removed by anyone other than a member of the royal family, who are the only ones who know how to get them open.”

Rolling her eyes, Xena handed the bracelet to T and held out her right wrist. “Branded for life.”

“Exactly.” Grinning, T put Xena’s on and stepped back, watching the gold sparkle in the firelight.

Gabrielle spun the bracelet, bringing the tiger head to rest, face up, on the top of her hand. “I like it. It stands for something.”

“Yea.” Smirking, Xena raised an eyebrow. “We’re never getting away from her.” Doing the same with her bracelet, the warrior smiled anyway. “Thank you, T.”

“T?” Gabrielle knitted her brow and looked up at the King. “Say your name again.”

“Tiegra Empario de na Nihate. Tigress Emperor of the Night.” Bowing, T straightened. “My mother named me that, knowing I was the last King.”

“So?” Xena frowned.

“The first King was Tiger Emperor of the Night.” Shrugging, T smiled. “It’s like being a book end.”

“I like it.” Gabrielle smiled. “Tigress Emperor of the Night. I like the way it sounds.”

“I’m sticking to T.” The warrior rolled her eyes.

“Me, too.” T nodded. “You have no idea how many weird looks I get when I say my name.”

“Sure I do.” Xena smiled. “I gave you one.”

“True.” Smirking, T brought the warrior’s forehead down to her lips and kissed it lightly. “These will also keep anything like Nados from happening again.”

“How’s that?” The bard inquired.

“The animals are going to keep tabs on us and high tail it back here if we get into anything.” Raising her eyebrows, Xena smirked. “Right?”

“You’re not going to be shadowed, if that’s what you mean.” Shaking her head with a grin. “They just signify you as members of the Royal House of Ungara and you’ll be treated with respect and that also includes that if you just happen to run into any major trouble, I’ll be notified. That’s all.” Raising an eyebrow. “I’m not going to come running every time you get into a fight, Xena. I’m just here if you need me. That’s what friends are for.”

“A friend who fights like a tiger and has an army of predators, to back her up.” Nodding her, Xena smiled. “I guess that’ll work.”

“I’m glad it meets with your approval.” Gabrielle sighed and rolled her eyes. “I, for one, will sleep a lot better knowing nothing that goes bump in the night is going to try and eat me.”

“Damn!” Xena gave a mock cry of dismay. “There goes my plans to have to dragged off by a pack of wolves, in the middle of the night.” Giving the bard a smirk.

“You’re not funny, Xena.” Huffing, Gabrielle went back to the couch and sat down, as the two dark haired harpies laughed their heads off.

“Yep, she loves me.” Smiling, Xena read the last of the scroll.

And so the friendship was sealed and the bond created, that time and history never recorded and the fates held no sway over and so, the Royal House was restored, not by blood ties, but by friendship and love. And a new portrait was hung over the throne, of three contented smiling faces of the King, the bard and the warrior, side by side, sitting under a tree. The prize, so greedily sought was vanquished in the flames of the fortress, as were the lives of those who sought to take it from it’s heir and were never to know the true owner of the crown of greatness.

Rolling up the scroll, Xena smiled. “The prize.” Chuckling, she tossed it in the safe and sat back in the chair, running her eyes over the remaining scrolls. “What to read?”



Epilogue: As Nados’s body went up in flames, so did his chance at fame. Xena and Gabrielle never spoke his name and doomed his notariety to the ashes, along with the namelss warlord who’d built the fortress.

Thanks for reading.


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