To Rescue A Friend:
Part Three

by: Katelin B.

See Part One for Disclaimers and Warnings.

--this is for my wife... who’s inner light is my beacon, my inspiration and my soul. I don’t know what I’d do Without You...

I hold you close to me
Feel the breath of you,
The wonder of you,
And remember a time...

...Without you

But only as one would recall
A bleak and distant nightmare...

You shudder against me in your sleep
Do you dream of days passed?

And you smile...
Do you share the hope of times to come?

The future holds such promise...

And just as I cannot imagine
How I survived the past
Without You
I cannot imagine a future...
Without You...

--(don’t ask me who wrote it... I can’t remember, but I saw it in a Star Trek novel and it just seemed to fit perfectly) I love you sweetheart.... forever and a day.

Now that I’ve had my lapse into mushballism *G*... on we go!!......

--a short note before I continue with the tale... my apologies for taking so long with this part... but I’m sure that you’ve all heard about the Great Ice Storm of ‘98 (or maybe you haven’t). It decimated parts of southern Ontario, Canada... where I happen to live... so I’ve been pretty busy helping in the clean up. Such is life in a disaster area I guess... ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

from part two...

“Bring me four of the best warriors we have left,” she ordered, trying to sound authoritative.

“My Queen?” Solari let her confusion come through in the question, recognizing the steel in the bard’s voice.

“If we can’t force our way in, we’ll sneak in, Solari,” she explained, her expression darkening in a fair imitation of her dark warrior princess, “But however we do it, we will get Xena and Ephiny back. Even if I have to kill Metreus myself.” Her voice dropped to a low growl at that last statement, and Solari hobbled out to do her bidding.

As she walked away, she remembered the look on Gabrielle’s face when she spoke of killing Metreus, and for the first time since meeting the little bard, Solari was actually afraid of her.

...and now... part three...

Chapter Five: Fears Realized

The hand that caressed her arm was warm. At first the dark haired woman flinched, expecting another attack, but it never came. The gentle touch traveled up the inside of her arm, light as a feather, then shifted to her ribs, tickling for a moment before sliding down to her waist. Short cropped nail, practical for staff use, scratched her belly slowly through the thin fabric of her sleeping shift, the gentle motion relaxing her tense muscles.

Experience showed in the touch, moving down her belly with agonizing slowness, to her well muscled thigh, stroking and petting with care. The dark haired warrior finally allowed her eyes to open and gaze on the woman, who’s touch was like magic. Soft eyes, full of love, crowned with a halo of shimmering hair that looked golden in the moonlight, gazed right back.

Their eyes locked as the gentle hand dipped into the crevasse between the dark woman’s legs, moving close, then away. Never touching what was beginning to scream for contact. Something in their eyes changed, and though not a word was uttered, in the briefest of moments, permission was requested, and freely given.

Nimble fingers separated the dew soaked folds of skin, and a single digit gently pressed it’s way in, bringing a gasp from both women. The dark woman’s hips arched toward the finger, aching to take it fully inside. To shelter it in wet warmth. But her eyes never left the woman’s, as the hand worked its magic in the most sensitive places.

Another gasp tore free of her lips as a second finger joined the first, slowly working in and out, sliding easily in the growing moisture. Her hips ing out to catch the droplets of dew collected there.

Slowly, almost painfully so, the lips kissed a path down to meet the fingers, that wonderful pink tongue emerging again to taste the nectar right from its source. The dark warrior groaned softly, arching her hips against the fluttering tongue as slender fingers worked a steady rhythm inside her. Opening her eyes, she gazed down at the silky head of hair nestled gently between her legs, seeing a pair of soft, loving eyes staring back, and felt her excitement peak in a wonderful, shuddering climax.

At the height of her pleasure, she felt the mouth leave her nether lips and a body sliding up her own. The fingers inside her still moved with every pulse of the climax, sending new jolts of pleasure rumbling through her. Soft eyes met her own and the fair haired woman smiled. Finally she spoke, her voice like the softest silk. “I love you, Solari.”

Solari woke with a start, her eyes darting around the darkened hut for any sign of an intruder. It was only a moment before she remembered the dream, and tears filled her eyes. Curling up in the blankets once again, Solari clutched her hands under her chin, and prayed reverently to Artemis that Ephiny would be returned safely. Tears spilled onto the blankets as the dark haired Amazon sobbed quietly, regretting not listening to Xena’s advice, and never telling her Regent Queen how she felt. She wondered now if she would ever get the chance.


Gabrielle poured over the maps in her hut, having been awakened by a nearly frantic Solari several candlemarks before sunrise. The little Amazon Queen blinked sleep out of her eyes and gazed over at the now slumbering warrior, thankful that she had been able to get the dark haired woman to finally close her eyes. It had been an emotional visit, leaving them both exhausted, but the little bard wouldn’t allow herself to sleep until she had come up with a way to win.

As it was, Gabrielle had been nearly beside herself when Solari burst into the royal hut nearly two candlemarks ago. She had pounded heavily on the door until it had woken the Queen, ignoring the guards that tried to pull her away.

Not usually a good morning person, the bard was more than a little irritated, not only at being woken so abruptly, but also of being forced to leave the dream she had been having. Fully prepared to bawl out whoever had the nerve to wake her, feeling more Queenly in her grogginess, Gabrielle had barked the order to enter and sat up, glaring icily at the figure that lurched inside.

One look at the tortured expression Solari wore, and Gabrielle’s anger disappeared from her face and her mind, replaced with worry for her friend. “Solari??” she asked, tossing back the blankets of her bed and jumping up, ignoring the chill air outside her warm cocoon, “What’s wrong??”

“I have to go with you tomorrow,” she blurted, breathing heavily. The short walk across the village to the royal hut had exhausted her, still recovering, body, and her hip flared indignantly every time she moved. “I have to help.”

Gabrielle gestured to a chair near the warrior while she dressed quickly and called to the guards to bring her some tea from the kitchens. When she turned around to find Solari still standing, though obviously in great pain, the bard assumed her most stern expression and pointed sharply at the chair. “Sit down, now,” she commanded in her Queen’s voice, as she called it, and breathed a sigh of relief when the Amazon obeyed, lowering herself carefully into the chair.

Both remained silent until the tea arrived a short time later, the guard grumbling something under her breath about stubborn cooks and their aversion to being awakened. Gabrielle took the tray at the door and dismissed the guards for the night, using the excuse that Solari would be more than adequate protection against any attack, even if all they could do was scream for help.

With the guards gone, the little bard-turned-Amazon Queen poured tea for Solari and made her drink it all before speaking. The warrior had obeyed without question, gulping down the scalding liquid. She barely noticed the pain in her throat as the tea burned her, concentrating on what she could say to convince the Queen to let her go along. Solari stared deeply into the empty cup, lost in thought until Gabrielle finally spoke.

“Solari?” she said softly, sitting down at the table across from the warrior, “What’s going on?”

The dark haired amazon took a deep breath, closing her eyes against the Queen’s concerned expression, and tried to calm her racing heart. It wasn’t just the dream the scared her. She had a terrible feeling that something was going wrong. That the Queen and her small group wouldn’t succeed in their mission to get Ephiny and Xena back. Her mother had possessed the powers of an oracle, but it had seemed to end there. Solari never thought she had been gifted with the sight, but now she wasn’t so sure.

“My Queen,” she began, and opened her eyes, “Sorry.... Gabrielle.” She had added that quickly when she saw the stern look on the bard’s face. “I... need to go with you. I have a terrible feeling that something is going to happen, and I need to be there. I have to save Ephiny.”

Gabrielle opened her mouth, then closed it quickly, thinking for a moment before trying again. “Solari, I know you want to see Ephiny returned. We all do. I’m worried about her too, but...” she started the lengthy lecture that she was preparing, but was immediately cut off by an irate warrior.

“No! Gabrielle,” Solari snapped, holding up a hand to prevent her from continuing, “You don’t understand. I *have* to save her! I’m sorry but I can’t just sit here and do nothing while she’s in danger.” A pause, then she whispered. “I love her.”

Gabrielle’s face registered shock for only the briefest of moments before she covered it expertly. “Ephiny doesn’t know?” she asked, already knowing the answer, her expression neutral. Inside she was a roiling sea of emotion, but outside she was the picture of calm. What do you know, she mused silently, I’ve learned more than I thought from Xena.

Solari heard the question and squeezed her eyes shut, trying futily to stop the tears from falling. The amazon warrior shook her bowed head silently, feeling the regret climbing up to engulf her once again. “I can’t lose her,” she finally managed to choke out around the lump in her throat before her emotions cut off her ability to speak.

The mighty amazon looked more like a lost child to Gabrielle at that moment as she dropped her head into her hands and sobbed silently. The bard’s kind nature couldn’t let her simply watch the woman cry, feeling the same worry for Xena’s safety, and she moved forward quickly and placed a gentle hand on the dark hair.

Gabrielle let her cry for a moment before coaxing her to her feet and moving her to the bed she had so recently been sleeping on and sitting beside her. The smaller woman took Solari into her arms like a mother would a small child and cradled her, letting her cry. She rocked and whispered reassurances, feeling her own tears near the surface. Gabrielle knew Solari’s pain better than she wanted to admit, but couldn’t let herself feel that weakness at the moment. There were too many people depending on her to be strong.

She had let the woman cry until it exhausted her, and gently laid her down on the bed, rolling her legs up and covering her with a heavy blanket. “Rest, Solari,” she murmured, brushing a lock of dark hair out of the warrior’s eyes. Gabrielle waited another moment, listening to the warrior’s steady breathing, before being assured that she was asleep, and daring to get up. She briefly considered going back to sleep, but knew she would only lie awake and worry about Xena. It was nothing short of a miracle that she had gotten any sleep to begin with.

Now she stood at the table, pouring over the maps, trying to find a safe route for the plan she had come up with. The most feasible plan she could come up with was to take advantage of the drainage pipe some of the warrior’s had reported on seeing near the south wall of the castle. But it was out in the open, where they would be seen, even at night. She knew their only hope of succeeding was a diversion large enough to draw the guards away from their posts, but there weren’t enough warriors left for another attack. So many had been wounded in the first battle.

Gabrielle pulled another map out from the bottom of the pile and squinted her eyes, realizing that she had pulled the wrong one. She was prepared to toss it aside when a word caught her attention. “Gods above,” she muttered, shaking her head, “Why didn’t I think of that before??” she spread the map out fully across the table and because tracing the best and fastest route for a single amazon to travel.

The little bard wanted to call her guards in and ask them who was the fastest messenger in the village, but remembered that she had sent them away for the night. Silently she vowed not to do that again. It had cost her much needed time. Gabrielle knew she could wake Solari, or go looking for someone to talk to, but neither of those seemed to be good ideas at the moment.

She spared a glance out the window and smiled a little when she saw the outline of several trees. The sun was rising anyway, and soon the warrior’s would be up, nursing their broken egos by trying to get to the practice field first and knock each other down. She knew the seriousness of the situation, and that nearly 30 of her sisters had fallen less than two days earlier, and a dozen more were gravely injured, but tried to see the good in everything. Though it was getting harder to do these last few days.

Ever since Urisa had come to her, mortally wounded, struggling to get the words out that the Amazons were at war, Gabrielle’s panic had raged just below the surface. She couldn’t let it show to her family, and she didn’t dare show it here. Not when her people needed her so badly. Not when they looked to her for their strength.

Now that she knew what to do about a diversion, Gabrielle turned back to the map of Metreus’ castle and touched the dark ink carefully. Xena is in there somewhere, she thought grimly, her heart aching with the though of her warrior being held prisoner. She must be injured, Gabrielle surmised silently, her brow creasing with worry, Or she would have found a way for her and Ephiny to come back to us.

The little bard shoved the thought away angrily, along with most of the maps on the table, not willing to accept that Xena was hurt. As scrolls went flying across the floor, Gabrielle sat down and dropped her head into her hands. She didn’t want to give in, but her emotions would be denied no longer. And Gabrielle cried. Soft whispers of sound escaped her lips, as tears fell onto the remaining parchments, staining the paper, and making the ink run. But she didn’t notice. Gabrielle had squeezed her eyes shut as she prayed fervently to Artemis that Xena was safe and relatively unharmed. She didn’t even notice when Solari woke to the soft sounds and came over, lowering herself into a chair at the Queen’s right side, placing a hand on her shoulder.


By the time the Amazon village was fully awake and preparing for the day, Gabrielle had regained most of her composure, but lack of sleep had made her a little short tempered. She had called her morning guard, Jayla into the hut when she arrived and immediately had to stop her from spouting a lecture when she found that Gabrielle had dismissed the night guard hours earlier. Once she was calm, Gabrielle had told the young warrior her plan, and was now bearing the brunt of her disagreements.

Jayla was only one summer younger than Gabrielle but already as fierce as Xena in battle. Just slightly taller than the bard, her lithe, toned body revealed her strength and skill. Deep red hair flowed around her shoulders in soft waves, and bright green eyes peered intently from a startlingly beautiful face. No wonder she’s called the catch of the village, Gabrielle mused silently before ordering her mind back to matters at hand.

She wanted Jayla to ride for the Tyldus and the centaurs immediately, and bring them back to the castle to act as the diversion her small team needed to free Ephiny and Xena from the dungeon. The plan itself, both Jayla and Solari were okay with. But the tasks Gabrielle had dolled out to each of them, were a point to be argued.

“Absolutely not!” Jayla snapped, shaking her head, “I won’t allow it!” The young guard crossed her arms over her chest with a scowl, that made Gabrielle’s temper flare.

“You won’t allow it?” she growled, using Xena’s intimidating look again, “Need I remind you *who* is Queen around here?!!” She saw Jayla flinch and began storming around the hut, trying to ignore the pleading looks she was getting from the chastised guard and Solari. Neither of them wanted to disobey their Queen, but in this case, they considered her life to be in danger, and felt obligated to object to the plan.

“Gabrielle,” Solari spoke up, and backed up a step when fiery green eyes pinned her, “Jayla is the best hand to hand fighter in the village. She escaped the last battle without even a scratch. That skill is much to valuable to be wasted on a short run to the centaur village.” When the dark haired warrior didn’t get an angry snap right away, she continued, noticing the look of acceptance on the Queen’s face. “Everyone would feel better if she was with you,” she commented softly, “Xena would wipe this village out if anything ever happened to you. And besides, anyone can deliver a simple message to Tyldus. Even me.” The hopeful look on Solari’s face, finally clued Gabrielle in to what injured Amazon had up her sleeve.

“Oh, no, Sol,” Gabrielle shook her head, “You’re recovering from a stab wound. If it gets infected...” She let the unfinished statement hang in the air, knowing she would understand.

“Gabrielle, please,” Solari’s voice dropped to a whisper, and a quick glance at Jayla showed the young Amazon had the good manners to turn her attention elsewhere, “I have to do something. I can’t sit here.” Her eyes brimmed with unshed tears, and a pleading look that nearly broke Gabrielle’s heart.

“All right,” the bard said after a long, thoughtful, pause, “But be careful, okay?” She gave Solari a quick hug when she saw the relieved smile on her face, and tried not to worry too much when she saw the warrior limping quickly for the door. “Oh, Solari?” she called when the dark haired woman reached the door. Gabrielle waited until she turned around before speaking. “When you deliver the message, stay there. That’s an order.”

Solari nodded grimly, not willing to push her luck and disappeared into the sunlight. Gabrielle watched the empty doorway for a moment, sending a quick prayer to Artemis for Solari’s safety, before turning her attention back to the young guard who was busily studying a rough map of the castle.

“Let’s go over this one more time, Jayla,” Gabrielle said firmly, shoving the worry aside for the moment to deal with the coming battle. Her Queen mask was solidly in place, but inside she was a jumble of emotions. None of them good.

Xena floated in the realm between sleep and awake for a moment, wondering what was different from the night before. Musty smell of the dungeon. Check. Cold stone floor. Check. Sharp straw on bare legs. Check. Throbbing shoulder. Check. Xena stretched out her senses as she battled with the fog in her mind and finally caught it. Soft crying met her ears. So soft that she could barely hear it. But it was close.

Xena forced her eyes to open a little and scanned her surroundings, trying not to alert anyone that she was conscious. Soft light slanted in through the heavily barred opening near the top of her cell and laid a pattern across the stone floor. That and the damp smell of dew, just barely noticeable to her normally keen senses over the strong mustiness, told her it was early morning.

Her slitted eyes scanned the dimly lit cell for a moment before coming to rest on Ephiny, wanting to make sure she was still there, and relatively unharmed. She was also, Xena soon realized as her mind cleared little by little, the source of the soft crying.

“Ephiny,” Xena rasped, surprised at the ragged sound of her own voice. She broke of abruptly into a coughing fit that pulled at her injured shoulder and made it burn in protest. She felt cool hands on her a moment after the hacking started and a small part of her mind registered that her body temperature was too high as she struggled for breath. Beads of sweat stood out on her face at the effort it took to calm her raging lungs, and finally she lay back on the cold stone, exhausted.

“Gods, Xena,” Ephiny whispered, pulling a hand away from the warrior’s injured shoulder. She had tried to support it as best she could through the coughing fit, but new that the dark woman had to be in agony from the pain. A moment later, the Regent’s mind realized something else and sniffed once as she brought a hand up to press against Xena’s cheek. “Hera’s knickers, Xena,” she muttered, trying to keep her fear down as she tucking their only blanket tighter around the prone warrior, “You’re burning up. Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

Concern showed plainly in the blonde’s eyes and Xena blinked to clear her suddenly fuzzy vision before attempting to speak again. “Didn’t... notice,” Xena forced out, holding back another fit of hacking that threatened to take her, “Not till... you touched me.”

“Xena,” Ephiny continued, peeling back the bandage on the warrior’s shoulder to take a look, apparently not hearing what she had said, “We have to get the healer back here.” She grimaced at the bright red coloring of the skin around the wound, and felt the head radiating from it.

“No,” Xena rasped and shook her head, stopping suddenly as the simple motion made her queasy, “It’s not bad yet.”

“Not bad?” the Regent countered with a harsh whisper and a scowl as she noticed the amount of yellowish seepage staining the bandage, “This is infected! You need to be treated!” Ephiny understood the warrior’s tough act, to a point, but this was going a little too far.

“I don’t want them knowing,” Xena argued before another coughing fit started and she grimaced as while hot pain lanced through her shoulder. Ephiny cursed again and braced Xena’s upper body as it spasmed, feeling deep sympathy for her injured friend.

“Water,” Xena croaked after the attack was over, her body still trembling in pain. Tears of frustration at the loss of control, leaked slowly from her eyes as she tried to stop the shaking in her limbs.

Ephiny hurried over to the bars of their cell and retrieved the water bucked Metreus had been kind enough to have filled. It was heavy, but she lugged it back over to the straw pile where Xena was reclined, without complaint. There was nothing in the cell to use as a cup, so Ephiny used her hand.

The Regent supported Xena’s neck and head with one hand, as she dribbled the cool water into her mouth with the other. She repeated the motion until Xena signaled with a nod that she wanted no more. She had tried the tough act after two handfuls, telling the Regent to conserve their water, but Ephiny had protested quickly and Xena relented. The Amazon informed her that the guards had been instructed to keep the water bucket full by the healer and were doing just that.

“Xena,” Ephiny whispered, tearing a corner off the threadbare blanket and dipping it in the water bucked to bathe the warrior’s heated skin, “We can’t even think of escape if you get much worse. You can barely lift your head, let alone fight the guards.”

I’ll be okay, Eph,” Xena rasped, wincing and straining to sit up, “We can’t let them know. The longer they think I’m dangerous, the better.”

Ephiny helped Xena up, and pulled the blanket around her shoulders when she leaned back against the stone wall. “But Xena,” she argued, busily bathing the warrior’s forehead and neck, “Even I can see you’re burning up with fever. How are you going to keep it a secret?”

Ocean blue eyes narrowed in her direction and a corner of Xena’s mouth twitched up. “I have...” the warrior began, but was caught by another fit of coughing.

“Many skills,” Ephiny finished, supporting the warrior until the spasms passed, “Yes, I know.” The Regent winced at the raged sound of Xena’s breathing as she struggled to force air into her lungs. Gods, she doesn’t sound good, Ephiny worried silently, a concerned frown crossing her face.

Though the expression was brief, Xena caught it, naturally. She opened her mouth to reassure the blonde Amazon, but nothing came out. Before she could speak, the warrior princess caught a sound on the breeze. Her normally keen hearing had been muted by the fever, and it was several moments of intent listening before she could tell that it was more than just rustling leaves. They weren’t just moving in the wind, they were being crunched underfoot.

“Xena?” Ephiny was a little concerned at the prolonged silence, and reached out to lay a hand on the overheated shoulder.

“Guard coming,” she clipped, her already dark expression deepening to one of stern determination. The Regent had seen that look many times, in battle or when Xena was angry, but never had she seen the woman’s expression change so rapidly. Ephiny stared in shock as every visible symptom of Xena’s raging fever disappeared before her eyes just as the dungeon’s heavy oak door was thrown open.

Xena pushed the blanket down to her waist as the scruffy guard can into sight, and tried to look intimidating. It was more difficult than she was willing to admit to Ephiny, with the fever making her dizzy, and sapping her strength. But the guard seemed to be taken in by her act and passed their cell with no more than a cursory glance.

Xena was satisfied with her performance of strength where there was barely any, until she heard a soft whimper of fear coming from the cell to her left. She felt Ephiny clutch her arm in a vise like grip that was unnecessary as she turned her head to see what had caused the sound.

The warrior felt her gorge rising as the smelly guard unlocked Ipona’s cage, knowing what his intentions were even before he began spouting lewd comments at the young girl. After only the briefest of moments, Xena’s mind began assessing the situation, taking in everything the guard was saying.

It was only seconds later that she thought of a way to distract him from raping Ipona, but she was not quick enough. Before she could even open her mouth, Ephiny’s clear voice sounded, rising above the guard’s harsh taunting and the young Amazon’s terrified whimpers.

“Hey!” the Regent called, leaving Xena’s side to stand and approach the bars of their cell, “Why take that little girl when you could have a woman?”

“Ephiny!” Xena hissed quietly, narrowing her eyes at the guard as he seemed to consider the Regent’s offer, “No!”

Ephiny ignored Xena’s protest and kept her eyes on the leering guard, running a hand seductively down her rigid abdomen. She forced a smile at the repulsive man, fighting the urge to vomit as he approached and the horrid stench reached her nostrils. Gods, doesn’t this man ever bathe?” she thought, struggling to keep a grimace off her face, He smells like rotten centaur crap.

“You gonna show Tidus a good time, Amazon whore?” he taunted, grabbing his crotch lewdly. The guard laughed, his rancid breath blowing right in Ephiny’s face. She closed her eyes sure that she had turned green as her stomach rebelled violently, not only at the smell, but also at the thought of this putrid man pawing her again.

“Come and get me,” Ephiny purred seductively, a genuine smile crossing her face as she envisioned gutting the man personally when her sisters arrived to rescue them.

Eager at the prospect of having his way with the wild Amazon a second time, Tidus hurried out of the girl’s cell and unlocked the other. He stepped inside quickly, barely noticing the dark haired warrior sitting in the corner, and failing to see the deadly glare she was hurtling in his direction.

Already breathing heavily, Tidus moved to within arm’s reach of the Amazon Regent and squeezed her breasts painfully. Ephiny closed her eyes with what she hoped was a blissful look on her face and sighed. She had to force herself not to lash out at the man, keeping her fists tightly clenched at her sides. The Regent could feel the tenseness in the air and knew it was coming from the injured warrior at her back. She only hoped Xena had enough sense left in her fevered mind to hold off an attack until she gave the signal. She prayed to Artemis the dark haired warrior remembered Amazon bird calls.

Ephiny waited until the guard decided her breasts would taste better than they felt. When he roughly yanked her top out of the way and bit into the already tender flesh, the Regent bit her lip to keep from crying out at the pain. Drawing in a shaky breath and wincing as the guard broke her skin with his teeth, she flexed her throat muscles and warbled. It was deep enough to be mistaken for a shaky moan, but only to someone who didn’t know what it meant. Xena did.

The warrior princess had been slowly working herself into a crouch while the guard’s attention was on the Regent. With her legs tucked under her body, tensed like a coiled spring, Xena rested until Ephiny called her. At first she wasn’t sure the Amazon Regent even had a plan. But one look at Ephiny’s clenched fists told her otherwise.

When Xena hear the call, at first she thought it was just the fever making her hallucinate. For a moment, she didn’t remember the sound was an Amazon alert call, and tilted her head up to the barred window, looking for a bird. The warrior saw nothing through her hazy vision and turned her attention back to Ephiny. She saw the Regent’s entire body tense in anticipation and suddenly the meaning of the bird call hit her like a slap in the face.

Silently, Xena launched herself at the unknowing guard, her fevered, weakened body still moving with the grace of a jungle cat. Caught totally unaware, the guard didn’t even have time to lift his head as Xena’s long fingers tangled in his greasy hair. The warrior princess sailed smoothly over Ephiny’s head and past the guard, tugging on his hair as she landed in a roll that brought her back to her unsteady feet.

Tidus crashed heavily on his back, cursing loudly just before his head struck the stone floor, momentarily dazing him. His vision doubled and he groaned, wondering what had happened as he gazed blearily up at the Amazon, who had suddenly split to reveal twins. Another woman appeared in his vision, along with her twin, much closer to him than the one he had been playing with.

Xena didn’t straighten to her full height when she rose from the tumble. Her shoulder flared so painfully that spots danced behind her eyes and she had to force herself not to retch. Her fevered mind barely registered the prone guard as she stood over him, fixing him with what she hoped was a menacing glare. Xena knew she had to make sure he wouldn’t get up, but her first priority was compartmentalizing the pain so she could move without passing out.

Ephiny noticed Xena’s delay and barely took a moment to wonder why before stepping up to place a booted foot firmly against his exposed throat. Feeling a trickle of blood slowly moving down her left breast, the Regent pressed her foot down harder, making the guard sputter and wheeze. Her rage swelled and her blood boiled at the memory of what Tidus had done to her, and every part of her cried out for revenge. Ephiny felt the pain of the violation and wanted nothing more than to make him hurt just as bad. But it was not to be.

“Hey! What’s going on here!”

A harsh voice broke into her thoughts, and the Regent looked up only a moment after Xena. A second guard had come in search of Tidus, and was now sounding the alarm at what he saw.

Xena launched herself forward for the second time, through the reopened cell door, and tackled the newly arrived guard, sending them both to the hard stone floor. Pain flashed in the warrior’s shoulder as it slammed, first into the guard, and then into the floor, making her cry out. Colors danced behind her eyes as she rolled off him, clutching her arm to her chest in a protective gesture.

Having seen the attack coming, the second guard was able to react where Tidus hadn’t been and tucked his chin to his chest. When he hit the floor, his head didn’t strike the ground as Xena had hoped, and now had the upper hand.

“Bitch!” he snarled, enraged as he caught his breath and rolled over with her. Seeing her pain and realizing where it came from gave him the opening he needed to drive a meaty fist into her damaged shoulder, laughing harshly as the warrior woman screamed in agony at the renewed pain.

Helpless to do anything against the fire ripping through her body, Xena could only roll into a fetal ball and whimper. The pain, coupled with her raging fever had dulled the warrior’s senses to the point that she barely noticed the second guard getting up off the floor. Nor did she feel the blows he rained down on her as he shouted curse after curse about her parentage and sexual practices. She only recognized them as unending waves in a flood of agony that threatened to drown her.

When Ephiny came back to herself and realized the guard had been choked to death by her foot pressing against his windpipe, she felt a tiny pang of remorse. Not that she had killed him, but that he had died so quickly. She stared numbly at the body lying at her feet for a few moments, until the second guard’s curses reached her ears. The Regent looked up and felt her rage grow again at the sight that filled her vision.

“Xena!!” Ephiny lunged at the second guard with an inhuman snarl, driving her shoulder into the small of his back. “Bacchae spawn!” she cried as he tumbled to the floor, grunting at the force of the impact. The Regent smiled grimly in satisfaction at the sound the guard made and scrambled to regain her footing first.

Taking advantage of her superior position, Ephiny drove a booted foot into his back with as much strength as she could muster. Taking great pleasure from the sound of his bones crunching under the force of her blow, she didn’t notice the reinforcements arriving until it was too late. She smiled ferally as the guard collapsed, screaming in pain and prepared to deal another blow to his already broken back when two powerful arms grabbed her from behind.

Ephiny bellowed as the strong arms locked around her in a vise like grip, pinning her arms to her sides and squeezing the breath out of her. “Tidus! Mylar!” he shouted at the fallen men. When neither one rose, the Regent’s captor cursed loudly and tightened his arms. Ephiny felt her ribs creaking and grimaced as the guard barked orders at his men.

“Hades balls!” he cried, giving the Amazon a shake and taking in her gasp of pain, “Will you idiots get that whore back in her cell?!!” He nodded his head at Xena’s semi-conscious form and readjusted his hold on the struggling blonde. When she didn’t stop squirming, the guard released her, laughing as her arms flailed, her balance precarious. With lightening fast reflexes, he tangled a fist in her curly blonde locks and shoved her head forward, ramming it into the nearest wall.

Ephiny lost control of her body as her head collided with the stone, and she leaned against the guard, stunned. Unable to put up a fight, she allowed the guard to toss her back in her cell, barely getting her arms out in time to stop her head from striking the floor. The Regent tried to blink the fuzziness away as she rolled over and watched helplessly while Xena was afforded the same treatment.

Xena was too weak to even whimper when the guards wrenched on her arms to lift her. She sagged bonelessly against the strong arms while they dragged her, then a moment of panic as she was airborne. Before she could even cry out in surprise, Xena felt the impact of the stone floor along her body, and groaned once before the blackness she had been fighting closed over her.

Ephiny saw Xena loss her hold on consciousness as her battered body went limp. The Regent rose to a crouch, wanting to go to the warrior, but kept still, watching as the guards dragged Tidus into the hallway. She didn’t dare move until the cell door was locked, taking the extra time to clear her foggy head. A trickle of blood from the small wound on her forehead ran into her eye, stinging for a moment before she wiped it away with a knuckle.

Terribly worried for Xena, Ephiny scampered over to the prone warrior and placed two fingers under her nose. She let out a sigh of relief that Xena was still breathing, and hurried to reposition the blanket and water bucket closer to where she lay unconscious. Ephiny was no healer, but she knew that it was unwise to move an injured person unless it was necessary. In less than time than it takes to decide what outfit to put on for the day, the Regent had everything within reach and settled herself down, with her back to the stone wall. Ever so gently, she rolled the warrior onto her back and lifted her upper body into her arms, cradling the feverish woman like a mother would a child.

Taking in the condition of her shoulder wound, discouraged that it had begun bleeding again, Ephiny replaced the bandages and did her best to cover Xena with the too thin blanket. The Regent took in Xena’s appearance and grimaced, having seen the beating, she was now witness to the after effects of it. Deep red welts covered Xena’s arms and legs, defensive wounds as she had tried to protect her stomach and injured shoulder. Ephiny knew they would be livid bruises soon. If Metreus let them live that long.

Beads of sweat sprang out on Xena’s forehead, despite the chilled air in the cell and her brow creased slightly with some dream vision. Idly, Ephiny wondered what she was dreaming about, but dismissed it when she thought about what they faced. There was a good chance that Metreus would have them killed or severely punished for the incident that had cost him two of his men. The Regent thought about that, and felt her hope beginning to falter. She didn’t want to give up, but even the mightiest of warriors must know when to face the end, and this warrior was determined to face it with the honor of a true Amazon.


Solari had ridden hard most of the morning before reaching the outskirts of the centaur village. Eager to do something to help, she had left immediately after Gabrielle dismissed her, not even bothering to pack a midday meal for the road. The stable hand had nearly been forced to call the guards while she saddled the horse, because Solari had been in such a rush that she was prepared to ride bareback on her chestnut mare just to be on her way a little faster. Finally, after a brief shouting match with the younger girl, Solari relented and had paced outside until her horse had been brought to her.

The mare jumped a fallen log across the road, jarring her painfully in the saddle, and she grimaced. Her hip had started to bleed again about a candlemark earlier, though not much more than seepage, and Solari had chosen to ignore it, in favor of getting to Tyldus as quickly as possible. Now she was paying for it. Her hip flared with every pounding of the horse’s hoofs on the hard packed dirt, and a thin line of blood ran nearly to the edge of her boot.

Finally, the pain in her leg was getting too strong to ignore, and she thought she’d have to stop and rest before she passed out. Just as she was about to rein in her mare, a second pounding of hoofbeats reached her ears. Solari jerked her horse to a stop and cocked her head, listening to the sound get closer and closer. It was coming over the next hill. The warrior in her knew it wasn’t good to be sitting out in the middle of the road with someone coming, but the woman in her was too concerned for the woman she loved to let even highwaymen stand in her way.

Solari was fully prepared to draw her sword and fight to the death, when a familiar head popped into view over the top of the hill, followed by the rest of him. “Kraylor!” she called, waving a hand over her head excitedly. She kicked her horse into a canter to reach him even faster.

“Solari,” he smiled, reaching out to embrace her arm in a warrior’s handshake. The grin was soon lost when he saw the state she was in. “What’s happened?” he asked, seeing the blood on her leg and imagining the worst. He was one of the most avid supporters of the alliance with the Amazons, had been from the beginning, and worried about them when trouble was brewing, as it had been with that new King Metreus.

“Is Tyldus in the village?” she demanded, ignoring her own injury and Kraylor’s questions about it, “I need to see him, *now*.”

The young centaur nodded curtly, seeing that she was all business and motioned with a thumb over his shoulder. “Hop on,” he said, moving over to stand beside the Amazon war-horse, “I can get you there faster, and I’ll avoid the big bumps.”

Not having the time to argue, and feeling her wound more than ever, Solari maneuvered herself onto his back, leaving her steed to fend for itself. Without a word, she tightened a firm grip on the back of his leather vest and settled herself firmly, close to his torso. “Go!” she shouted, resisting the urge to kick him in the sides as she was accustomed to with her own horse.

“Solari,” he said before daring to move, “What is it?”

A grim emptiness filled her eyes as she stared deeply into his. The look frightened him for a moment, having never seen that expression on her beautiful face before. “War,” she said softly, and finally gave him a gentle nudge with her boot heels. Without another word, Kraylor faced the road and took off at a racing gallop for the village he had just left minutes ago.

Kraylor tried to make the ride as gentle as possible for Solari, knowing she was injured, but there was only so much he could do unless he grew wings and flew. Seeing the same log across the road that he had jumped earlier, the young centaur looked around for a way to avoid it. Finally he realized that he was moving too fast to detour even if he found a way around it. “Hold on!” he called over his shoulder, just as he tucked his forelegs and pushed off with powerful hind legs, vaulting over the obstruction.

Kraylor landed a little harder than he would have liked and winced when his keen ears picked up Solari’s hiss of pain. “Sorry,” he apologized, puffing for breath, “You okay?”

Solari tightened her hold on his leather vest to stay upright as colors danced in her eyes. “Just keep going!” she called, purposely avoiding the question. She had felt her stitches rip on the landing, and blood was now flowing freely down her leg, but she ignored it. The Amazon warrior thought about Ephiny and what Metreus was probably doing to her, and it strengthened her resolve. She wasn’t about to let a tiny stab wound stop her from saving the woman she loved. She refused to be that weak.

Kraylor thundered into the village square shouting at humans and centaurs alike to get out of the way. The young centaur made a bee line for Tyldus’ hut, pulling Solari’s arms around his stomach to hold her in place. “Tyldus!” he called urgently, trying not to prance around nervously.

“What?!” came an irritated voice just before the centaur leader emerged, “Lor? Why are you shouting?” Tyldus was prepared to give the young warrior a major tongue lashing for interrupting his private time with his grandson, Xenon. That was only until he saw the Amazon perched on Kraylor’s back, looking like she had just escaped from Tartarus.

“Solari?!” Tyldus blurted, his eyes going wide with shock, “Ares’ codpiece, girl! What happened to you?” He reached forward to help her down and cursed again when her knees buckled, his arms the only thing keeping her upright. “Lor,” he said quietly, lifting Solari into his brawny arms, “Go fetch the healer.” Kraylor hurried to find Mira while Tyldus carried the injured warrior inside his hut.

“Aunt Solari!” Xenon cried happily, kicking his toys aside and running up as Tyldus laid her gently on the boy’s bed.

“Xenon,” the older centaur said quietly, helping the Amazon shift into a more comfortable position, “Get some water from the well. Aunt Solari needs to see the healer, then you can visit with her.”

Even in her pained state, Solari couldn’t help but smile at the change of expression on the young boy’s face. “Yes, grandfather,” Xenon said quickly, and raced out the door, his tail swishing wildly.

“He’s getting big,” Solari commented once the young centaur was gone, “Looks a lot like his father.”

“Yeah,” Tyldus agreed with a wistful smile, pressing a clean rag against the Amazon’s hip to slow the bleeding, “He reminds me so much of Phantes at that age.” Suddenly the older centaur grew serious and met her eyes. “What’s going on, Solari?” he asked, the concern clear in his voice, “Ephiny is usually here once a week at least to see her son. When she didn’t show up, and we didn’t receive any word, I knew something was wrong.”

Solari looked down at her wounded hip, then focused on the ceiling for a long moment, thinking of the battle and the last time she had seen Ephiny. “It’s war, Tyldus,” she said softly, feeling the change of air in the small hut once the words were out of her mouth, “The talks with King Metreus fell apart. The battle... he knew we were coming... we didn’t have a chance.”

Slow down, Solari,” Tyldus said, holding up a hand, just as the healer, Mira, arrived and Xenon came back, lugging a too full water bucket, “Tell me everything, from the beginning.”

Solari nodded as the elderly healer went to work, cleaning the wound and told the centaur leader the whole story. Mira began restitching where it had been torn open while Tyldus listened, silently wondering where Xena’s plan had gone wrong. he knew the warrior princess was a great strategist, and if she had been outsmarted, then Metreus was a dangerous man indeed.

“So what does Queen Gabrielle want of the centaurs?” Tyldus asked when she was finished her narration.

“We need a diversion,” Solari explained, “Nothing big. Just enough to draw their attention away from the south gate so the rescue team can get in.”

Tyldus thought it over quickly and nodded. “When?” was all he asked.

“Immediately. Gabrielle wants to get them out of there as soon as possible.”

A sigh. “Okay,” he said finally, motioning Kraylor forward, “Lor, assemble the warriors. I want everyone ready to leave in one candlemark. We’re going to help the Amazons.” The young warrior smiled once at Solari and left to carry out his commander’s orders.

“Tyldus,” Solari said once the healer had left, after giving her strict instructions to rest, “I’m going with you.”

The centaur turned to look in her eyes, ready to argue the point, but what he saw in the deep brown orbs silenced him. Something in their intensity told him she wouldn’t be denied. He nodded once, his expression grim. “All right,” Tyldus conceded, heading for the door, “I’ll get the healer to wrap that wound tight before we leave. Don’t want you tearing out the stitches again.” He saw the Amazon smile in gratitude and left the hut, anxious to rally his warriors for the battle ahead.

Ephiny was still holding Xena’s battered body when she woke, alarmed at first that she had fallen asleep. She knew enough about head wounds to realize that some people never woke up from them. The dizziness and fatigue from fighting earlier had exhausted her, and after a little while, she hadn’t been able to keep her eyes open. The Regent looked around the cell, wondering what had jolted her awake. Nothing was different.

A tiny moan reached her ears, and Ephiny looked down at the warrior in her arms, searching her face for signs of movement. “Xena?” she whispered, brushing a lock of hair off her sweaty forehead, “Xena, can you hear me?” Just from the touch of the warrior’s bare arm against hers, Ephiny knew her fever had gotten worse.

Fishing the rag out of the water bucket, she squeezed the excess water out of it with her hand and resumed bathing Xena’s too hot skin. Anything to keep her mind off the aching in her head that threatened to send her back into the blackness she had fought her way out of. The Regent was so intent on keeping Xena as comfortable as possible, that she didn’t notice the movement in the other cell until a tiny voice broke her concentration.

“M-my Queen?” The voice sounded disbelieving, and regretful at the same time.

Ephiny’s head shot up from her task and she narrowed her eyes, peering in the dim light to see who had called her. She knew it had to be Ipona, but part of her had hoped the next time she heard those words would be from Solari, slaying guards to reach her. “Ipona?” Ephiny responded, wanting to scream at her for betraying her sisters, but knowing it wasn’t really the child’s fault.

There was a small sound, like a choked sob, and a sniffle before the child spoke again. “I’m sorry, My Queen,” she whispered, her voice cracking with unshed tears, “I-I... didn’t know....” Ephiny heard the young girl crying, and closed her eyes, wanting to embrace the child, but at the same time, wanting her to feel the pain. Knowing that many of her sisters had died because of her actions. More than would have, had the girl not betrayed them.

“What you did was wrong, Ipona,” Ephiny said softly, returning her eyes to the unconscious warrior in her arms, resoaking the heated rag, and resuming her care, “None of us would be here, if you hadn’t betrayed us. If you hadn’t betrayed Artemis.” The last blow was a harsh one, but it was out of Ephiny’s mouth before she could stop herself.

It was silent for a long time after that, and the Regent felt her eyes drooping before Ipona spoke again. “Thank you,” she whispered, “For what you did.” The girl had stopped crying, only a note of acceptance of her fate in her words.

For a moment, Ephiny didn’t understand what the girl meant. She was going to ask her to explain when she thought about her treatment by the guards. She had offered herself to them in Ipona’s place, wanting to spare the child such humiliation and pain. Tidus had taken her once, but not the second time. Never again, she thought grimly, her expression hardening to one of hatred and rage. I’ll kill every single one of them when I get out of here, she vowed savagely, gritting her teeth so hard it made her jaw hurt.

“Are you hurt?” Ephiny asked finally, remembering how the guard had drawn blood on her.

No answer.

Ephiny tried again. “Ipona?” she called a little louder, “Are you hurt?” She feared the answer, having gone through the violation herself, and knowing that Ipona was so much younger and smaller than her.

“Yes,” came a very small voice, sounding like she was holding back more tears.

Ephiny regretted making her remember those terrible moments, but knew it couldn’t be helped. She had to know if Ipona would be all right. What an irony, she thought grimly, I’m hoping she’s all right, but if she survives this, the Amazons will probably stone her for the betrayal.

“Where?” The Regent pressed, never halting the soothing rag on Xena’s arms, neck and forehead.

“Inside,” Ipona responded, sniffling again, “I’m torn. My tummy is swollen and black, and I can’t move anything but my legs. It hurts to lift my arms.”

Ephiny closed her eyes at the description, and a tear trickled down her cheek. “Gods above,” she breathed, knowing it was a miracle the girl was still alive, let alone conscious. An internal wound like that killed quickly, and painfully, and The Regent cringed as she remembered seeing a few of her sisters die from that same wound. The girl must be in agony, she thought, feeling her anger at the betrayal melt away.

“My, Queen?” Ipona spoke again, sounding much younger than her 13 years, “Will Xena be okay?”

Ephiny looked down at the battered warrior in her arms, and knew she couldn’t lie to the child. “I don’t know, Ipona,” she replied, refreshing the rag once again, “I really don’t know.” The Regent heard nothing else from Ipona and guessed that she had fallen asleep, or passed out. For a moment, she wondered if the poor thing was dead, then dismissed the thought. She wouldn’t even consider that until she could see for herself. There were more important things to think about at the moment.

“It’s okay Xena,” she whispered, knowing the warrior couldn’t hear her, “Everything will work out.” Smiling at the thought of what Xena would say if she could hear the mushy words, Ephiny smiled and shook her head. A part of her knew she was only saying them to make herself feel better.

One final look around, and Ephiny was satisfied that they were alone, at least for the moment. She pulled Xena closer to her, cradling her like a child, and tucked the blanket tighter around her, wondering how high the fever would go before it broke. On impulse, she brought her lips to the warrior’s fevered forehead briefly before leaning her head back on the stone wall and letting her eyes close. Only for a moment or two, she promised herself. She wasn’t aware, and was unable to stop it, when that moment or two of rest became a very deep sleep.


Gabrielle stared at the small cooking fire Jayla had made, idly picking at her food, not really noticing either. The journey from the village had been exhausting and her insistence on riding Argo instead of walking had left her bone weary and saddle sore. She knew she should rest before the centaurs arrived, but her mind was stuck on Xena. She was too worried to eat, and sleeping was out of the question, though Tirin and Valeris were curled up on either side of the fire, getting their rest before the long night to come.

Gabrielle looked them over, marveling once again at their loyalty to her. Neither of them liked Xena very much, having known her before her redemption, but they offered to come because their Queen was in pain. Tirin was the taller of the two Amazons, nearly Xena’s size, with light blonde hair, and pale blue eyes. She wasn’t the most beautiful woman Gabrielle had ever seen, but she had the biggest heart by far. So opposite from the warrior princess that it shocked Gabrielle to look at her.

Valeris was just a few finger shorter than Tirin, still well over Gabrielle’s diminutive size with mousy brown hair. When her eyes were looking at Gabrielle, they seemed, to the Queen, to be the exact same color as her hair. That coupled with her extremely dark tan made for an amazing appearance. Both young women were extraordinary fighters, trained in rescue and infiltration. Gabrielle was pleased that Jayla had chosen so wisely.

Looking back at the fire, the young Queen thought about the guard that looked so much like her. Jayla was younger than her, but possessed the maturity of a woman twice her age. And her main concern, if not her only one, was Gabrielle’s safety and comfort. Jayla had forbidden the bard from helping with any of the chores when they packed earlier, and again when they were setting up camp. The guard had even cooked dinner so she wouldn’t have to.

Now Jayla was sitting across from Gabrielle, methodically sharpening one of her many daggers. Though it sounded much different from a sharpening sword, the bard found the steady rasp to be comforting. It was familiar enough that if Gabrielle closed her eyes, she could imagine that there was no war, and Xena was safe with her, going through her nightly routines as usual.

Jayla looked up from her sharpening and saw her Queen smiling with her eyes closed. “My Queen?” she asked softly, putting the dagger and sharpening stone down beside her on the log, “Is everything all right?” She prepared herself for the response, chastising herself mentally for asking such a stupid question. Of course it’s not all right, centaur dung, she shouted mentally, wanting to slap herself, We’re in the middle of a war! Jayla was more than a little taken aback when she saw the Queen open her eyes and smile a little wider at her.

“Just remembering something, Jayla,” Gabrielle said, reassuringly, running a hand through her hair, “Xena sits across from me at the fire every night and sharpens her weapons for the next day.”

Jayla smiled shakily and nodded, tossing another piece of wood on the fire. She was glad that Xena took the Queen’s safety very seriously. “My Queen?” she spoke again, unsure if she should ask her next question. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt the bard.

Gabrielle smiled. “Jayla,” she said softly, “Please call me Gabrielle. I don’t go much for titles.”

The Amazon guard relaxed a little and smiled easier than before. “Gabrielle,” she nodded, then looked down, fumbling with the ties on her left bracer, “Um... tell me about Xena?” There was a look of worry on the bard’s face for only a moment before it was covered expertly, and Jayla hurried to explain. “I mean,” she continued quickly, meeting her Queen’s green eyes again, “We don’t hear much other than the stories you tell about your adventures. What’s the real Xena like? The woman. Not the hero.”

Gabrielle finally understood what Jayla was asking and smiled wistfully, wondering where to start. She wasn’t sure if the guard really wanted to hear about Xena or if she was just trying to take the bard’s mind off the impending battle. Either way, it was touching, and Gabrielle couldn’t deny her.

“Well,” the bard said, thinking carefully about what she could say that wouldn’t damage the warrior’s fierce reputation, “She’s the most honorable person I know. She chose not to fight a group of villagers that wanted to execute her for murders she didn’t commit. When I asked her why, she just looked at me and said it didn’t matter if she killed them or not, because she’d done a lot worse in her life.”

Gabrielle tore her eyes away from the fire and spared a look at Jayla, smiling at the expression of awe and wonder she saw on the younger woman’s face. “There’s also a side of her that she doesn’t let many people see,” the Queen continued, sure that Xena would have plenty to say about spilling this to an Amazon, “The side that likes to get into water fights when we’re traveling alone. The side that likes to play word games, and stare at the stars after a long day of helping those in need.” Gabrielle smiled wistfully, looking up to the sky, wishing it was dark enough that she could see those familiar patterns that she playfully argued with Xena about.

“She sounds like a really good friend,” Jayla spoke softly, not wanting to ruin the moment by talking to loud.

The little smile turned into a huge grin. “Yeah,” Gabrielle replied, bringing her eyes back to the young Amazon, “She’s my best friend.” But I wish she was so much more, the bard mused silently, staring back into the flames.

Jayla caught the flicker of pain that crossed her Queen’s face but said nothing. Everyone in the village knew how Gabrielle felt for Xena, and Xena for their Queen. It seems everyone knows how they feel, except them, the royal guard concluded mentally, smirking, Oh Gods, Aphrodite must be having a field day with these two. Jayla shook her head and took up a short stick, prodding at the small fire, realizing that the conversation was over.

Gabrielle forgot all about talking as she thought of her warrior. The bard’s fear for Xena’s safety grew as she remembered the night on Mt. Nestos. She had never felt such pain as when she had lost Xena. Gabrielle’s face darkened with grim determination as she silently vowed to prevent that from happening again. She would stop at nothing to save Xena, even if it meant losing her blood innocence and killing Metreus, because she couldn’t bear the thought of losing her warrior again.


In the Royal chambers of the castle, Metreus fussed and primped in front of the full length mirror, adjusting his robes to perfection. In only two candlemarks, his guests would be arriving to celebrate the first victory over the Amazon Nation. Two neighboring kings and their generals had been invited to the feast as thanks for their assistance in the battle that had netted him the Regent Queen and the warrior princess herself.

Metreus smiled as he thought about the battle, and the look of utter defeat on Xena’s face when she saw the hundreds of soldiers emerge from the forests on either side of her forces. He had been facing off with her, about to clash swords, when his reinforcements arrived and cut through the Amazons like a hot dagger through butter. It was the best moment of his life, knowing that he had outsmarted the great Xena.

A soft knock on his door startled Metreus out of his thoughts and he barked out the order to enter. “What is it?” he snapped at the guard who shuffled in nervously, smiling when he saw the man cringe in fear.

“Y-You summoned me, Sire,” he replied meekly, looking as white as a sheet.

“Oh yes. So I did,” Metreus said, chuckling slightly, and still adjusting his robes, “I want the wall guards doubled for tonight’s festivities.”

“You expect trouble, Majesty?” the guard asked, feeling a little more confident.

“Of course,” Metreus replied, turning around to smile at the guard, “Do you really think this little Queen what’s-her-name, will let her Regent and the great warrior princess sit in my dungeon, without trying to rescue them?”

“No, Sire,” the guard said automatically.

“Good, I didn’t think you were that stupid. Double the guards after our guests arrive. I don’t want them to think I’m afraid of those Amazons. And make sure the prisoners are in leg irons when they are brought up to the Great Hall. I don’t want any mistakes. Those two have already killed two guards. I don’t think you want to see what they’ll do to you if they get away.” Metreus paused to glare at the trembling guard. “And you really don’t want to see what I’ll do to you if they get away.”

“Yes, Sire!” the guard barked loyally, and spun around, nearly running from the room to carry out the King’s orders.

Metreus watched him go, chuckling to himself before turning back to the mirror and resuming his primping. He thought about the wooden beams he had the men put up in the center of the Hall and smiled, imagining Regent Ephiny and Xena tied between them for the duration of the feast. It’s going to be a wonderful party, he thought, and whistled a little tune as he finished preparing for the arrival of his guests. “Yes, indeed,” he murmured aloud, “A wonderful party.”

The guards outside the King’s chambers spared a glance at each other as they heard the roaring laughter drift through the heavy oak door.


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