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 #8c. (Told ya there would be more. See note.)

Shock Factor: 4. 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 comments to asdease1@gte.net


Ancient Secrets (c)

By FlyBigD

The fact that they were being watched didn’t seem to bother the wildlife, which continued it’s business. Buzzing, chirping and bringing to life all the sounds that made up a wooded area. Gabrielle even found the ride enjoyable, ignoring the fact that she was riding, of course, but loving the tranquility around her. She felt comfortable here, with T’s promise of safety, she knew they weren’t going to run into bandits, or thieves, or any of the normal things that made up their daily life. Here, everything seemed at peace and the bard forgot, for a little while, why they were making the trip and just enjoyed the trip itself.

Watching the clouds, through the tree tops, Gabrielle didn’t see the river come into view, but felt Argo slow to a walk. “What it it?” Knowing it was far too soon for them to be there, she looked around the warrior and saw the problem.

“I think we’ve got a greeting party.” Xena whispered. Standing on the bridge, that splayed out across the river, were a group of men dressed in uniforms. As they approached, the men gave the Ungaran salute and one walked down to meet them. Smiling, Xena brought the mare to a halt in front of them. “I guess we’re expected.”

Bowing, Lemet glanced at the warrior. “My name is Lemet. I am Captain of the Royal Guard. We are here to escort you to the Palace.”

“Do we need an escort?” Gabrielle asked Lemet.

“It’s so you don’t get lost.” Bowing again.

“Now I know why there’s nothing on the maps beyond the river.” Xena whispered. “You can’t find them, if you don’t have an escort.”

“Oh.” Gabrielle smiled. “Makes sense to me.”

Raising a questioning glance to the warrior, Lemet conveyed his inquiry.

“Lead on.” Xena said.

Snapping his fingers, the Captain saw his men disappear and a horse came trotting over the bridge. When it came to him, Lemet mounted and smiled. “Xena, Gabrielle if you will follow me.”

“What no written invitation?” Xena smirked and gave the mare a nudge.

“The King surmised that it would be useless, since you don’t read Ungaran.” Chuckling, Lemet took the lead and crossed the bridge.

“Wry humor must come with the Ungaran thing.” Gabrielle smiled.

“The King?” Glancing at the Captain, Xena sobered. “T accepted the Crown?”

“Yes.” Lemet nodded. “Last night.”

“I’m so good.” Gabrielle whispered, mentally patting herself on the back.

“Hmmm.” Xena thought about what that meant and what they were heading into.

“Does everybody have uniforms?” The bard asked, her natural curiosity kicking in.

“Actually, no. I don’t even wear this on a daily basis.” Rubbing his hand over the gold tiger head on his breastplate. “It’s reserved for coronations, weddings and funerals.”

Wincing with the last occasion, Gabrielle sighed. “How is T? Is she sleeping?”

“Miada Nibatu was informed of your entrance to the forest and awaits your arrival.” Smiling big.

“You woke her up?” Xena closed her eyes. “We’re dead.”

“Miada Nibatu? What does that mean?” Cocking her head at the Captain.

“It is Ungaran for My King.” Lemet answered.

“That brings up another subject.” Moving right along, Gabrielle wondered about the whole ‘king’ thing. “How come T is King and not Queen?”

“There is no word for Queen in our language. The King’s wife was his wife, not Queen and the word Nibatu is a generic term. It’s literal translation is ‘the one who rules.’ In Greek, it comes out as King” Checking the men around them, he nodded. “And we’ve never had a female as King before, so we went with what we knew.”

“The last King is a woman.” Chuckling, Xena shook her head. “Now that’s funny.”

“Why is she the last King?” Poking Xena in the shoulder, Gabrielle wanted information.

Lemet answered. “It takes two tigers to make a tiger, Gabrielle. The King is the last tiger. There is no one for her to marry that can produce an heir.”

“You’re just making thing worse, Lemet.” Xena smiled. “Let me explain.”

Shoving the warrior, Gabrielle waited for her explanation.

“The soul of Ungara was given to the first King and it has been passed down, upon the death of the King to his heir, transferring from one body to the next. That’s why only the King has claws and T said she got it from her father, but only a tiger can be king and since it takes two tigers to make another tiger, T’s children wouldn’t be true tigers and the soul couldn’t pass to the next generation. There would be no King. That’s why she’s the last one.” Xena smiled sadly.

“That’s so sad.” Resting her head on Xena shoulder, Gabrielle sighed. “What happens when she dies?”

“The soul of Ungara stays within her and the kingdom will disperse.” Lemet sighed as well. “We will return to the land of our forefathers.” Smiling he tapped the bard’s shoulder. “But, since the Ungara are long lived, I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon, Ungara willing.”

“What clan are you?” Xena tried to get them to a new and less depressing subject.

“Wolf.” Placing his hand over his heart, Lemet bowed his head. “I am the head of my clan.”

“I see.” Nodding Xena smiled. “How many clans are there?”

“Every predator has a clan. All the hawks, eagles, leopards, bears, etcetera. Any meat eater.” Showing his pearly whites.

“Lions, tigers and bears, oh my.” Gabrielle gasped. “What about snakes?”

“No reptiles, or fish. Just fuzzy, feathery ones.” Chuckling at the bard’s reaction, Lemet smiled warmly.

“Good. I hate snakes.” Shivering, Gabrielle checked the ground around them, just in case.

“Actually they’re pretty tasty.” Lemet added, seeing the bard’s wide eyes.

“Okay, okay.” Xena waved her hand, before the bard squeezed the life out of her. “Enough of that.”

“I liked him from the get go.” Smiling, Xena saw the face of the Captain and read on.

Lemet laughed and bowed his head. “My apologies.”

Gabrielle glared at him.

“How much further?” The warrior inquired, while she tried to loosen the bard’s hold on her waist.

“Two hours, at this pace.” Still chuckling, Lemet glanced at the warrior.

“Let’s pick it up, shall we?” Nudging Argo back into the slow canter, Xena felt the bard relax. Breath, Xena, breath. She thought.

The forest moved past them and they kept silent, their questions asked and answered and now Xena and Gabrielle looked to the forest ahead of them, wondering what the Palace meant in Ungaran terms and went bugged eyed when it started to come into view.

Bringing Argo to a halt, Xena stared at the vision before her. Moving her head from side to side, she took in the expanse of the Palace. It stretched for, what appeared to be a league and was carved into the face of a small mountain. “Wow. Now that’s a Palace.”

“It’s beautiful.” Gabrielle whispered. Expecting the stark white of Athens, she was surprised to see the rich colors sparkling in the sunlight. Sliding off Argo, she walked slowly toward the wide steps that rose up a slight incline to the Palace proper. The promenade was lined with large dark blue marble columns and had dark green cornices. Running along the top of the promenade was a horizontal row of carvings, depicting each clan’s ensign with the center being a large tiger head, in it’s natural colors directly of the top of the steps. Behind the columns, were three tiers of doors, the top two having a long balcony in front, with the same green and blue pattern. Looking back at the large tiger head, Gabrielle moved her eyes downward, seeing the recessed area that split the balconies in a wide berth. Turning to the warrior, she smiled.

“It’s now or never.” Snapping her head as a boy came running. Watching him, as he held out his hand. Getting the drift, she handed over Argo’s reins.

“You’re the boy from the cage.” Seeing him as well, Gabrielle smiled.

The boy bowed. “I am Latour. Apprentice historian and chief horse watcher.”

Chuckling, Lemet smacked him in the back of the head. “He’s also my son.”

“I can see the family resemblance.” Xena said sarcastically.

Smiling big, Latour bowed again and led Argo off.

“Apprentice historian?” Gabrielle looked at the proud father.

“Don’t even think about it, Gabrielle.” Grabbing the bard by the shoulder, she turned her toward the steps. “You’re not going to pump him for information. We’re here to see T, remember?”

“Right.” Rolling her eyes, the bard started up the steps. Maybe I can get him later, she thought wickedly and smiled wickedly.

Keeping her eyes on the recess, Xena walked upward, taking in the design and smiled when the throne stared to peek over the edge of the promenade. Nudging the bard, she pointed.

Nodding her head, Gabrielle watched it come into full view, as they reached the top and stepped onto the promenade. The recess was actually an open air throne room, with the throne in the back, on a dais and an altar looking table set in front of it. Walking in, Gabrielle’s eyes fell on the golden crown on the table. “Xena.” Whispering to the warrior.

“The Crown of Ungara.” Nodding in appreciation, Xena smiled. “Passed down since before the dawn of time.” Looking around, the warrior took in the rest of the area. In the back there was a semi circular staircase leading to the second floor and above the throne a balcony, hidden behind silk drapes. Below it was a portrait of a man and a woman, standing side by side, arms wrapped around each other. Elbowing the bard, she pointed. “I think that’s T’s parents.”

Walking nearer, Gabrielle saw the resemblence T had to her father. He’d been a big man and was very hansome and his wife had the reddest hair, Gabrielle had ever seen, with sparkling dark eyes and her face had the same exotic looking shape as T’s. The king was a good combination of her parents basic features, getting the best of both. Smiling, Gabrielle looked around.

Going bact to her inspection, Xena looked to the sides of the large room, seeing hallways disappeared into the them and with another set way behind the balcony, leading back instead of off to the side. “There must be tunnels back there.” She whispered her thought and turned to take in the view. Walking to a pillar, she leaned against it, glancing at the large grassy clearing that ran in front of the promenade, from end to end. Feeling the bard’s hand on her arm, she smiled down at Gabrielle. “Some view, huh?”

“It’s magnificent.” Wrapping her hand around the warrior’s arm.

Hearing footsteps, Xena turned and drew her chakram. Coming down the staircase was the largest cat she’d ever seen. Putting Gabrielle behind her, she stood still and watched it go to the throne and crawl up on it and sit, staring at her.

From behind Xena, Gabrielle watched the huge tiger as well. “Xena?”

“It can’t be.” Shaking her head, the warrior eased forward, reaching the table she stopped, when the tiger jumped down and came around the table. Raising the chakram she paused when the big cat rubbed hit’s head on her hip.

“What a couple of dummies we were.” Shaking her head, Xena rolled the scroll up further.

Taking a chance, Gabrielle rubbed it’s back and got a deep purring sound in response.

“Well, well, well.” T said from the top of the stairs. “If it’s not my own personal gods of insomnia.”

Turning, Xena looked up at T and dropped her chakram and her jaw.

Gabrielle did the same, but managed to hang on to her staff as the King started down the stairs. By the gods, she thought, since her voice was somewhere else. The woman she’d met had some how transformed and was decked out in even less clothes than she was. T wore a halter top of green and blue, fringed at the bottom with gold and silver, tapering into a ‘v’ shape that swayed with her steps. Her pants, well her whatever, looked more like leather underwear and had the same fringe at the top and bottom, the lower one dangling several inches longer and swayed as well. She had green arm bands, with gold tigers on them and her gauntlet had the same, but were blue. Her boots were jet black and had the same design going up the front. On her head, she wore a golden band, that circled her head and had shorter fringe, and a tiger head dangling in the middle, but that was nothing compared to the body that wore the outfit. Underneath the fringe was muscle, toned and tanned. T’s arms were about the same size as Hercules’ and her abs made the bard drool with envy, seeing the muted definition of strength tapering to a narrow waist, that worked it’s way down to the thighs. And she said mine were powerful? Gabrielle stared at tanned versions of small oaks coming at her.

Xena just gawked.

“I did not! I was startled, that’s all.” Frowning, Xena read on.

Coming to the pair, T smiled and tapped their chins into place. Picking up the chakram she handed it to the warrior, them moved around the table and took the throne, crossing her legs. Placing her hands on the arms, she raised one eyebrow. “Well?”

Glancing down at her cleavage, Xena confirmed that T was larger in every way, except height. Looking up, she finally found her voice. “That’s some outfit.”

“You just had to put that in there, didn’t ya. You just couldn’t leave that out.” Covering her face in solitary embarrasment, Xena sighed. “That is going to haunt me till the end of time.” Moving her hand, the warrior went back to the scroll. “I must be masacistic.”

Leaning to one side, T smiled. “Thank you.”

Rolling her eyes, Gabrielle shook her head. “Miata Nibatu.” Bowing before the king.

“Gabrielle, I’m not your king.” Chuckling, T got up. “And even if I were, I’d never allow you bow.” Coming to the bard, she put out her hand. “You can still call me T and I hope you will.” Smiling wickedly.

Shaking hands, Gabrielle smiled. “Sorry.”

“Now.” Turning to the warrior. “Why are you two here? Or should I guess?”

Feeling something against her leg, Gabrielle looked down and saw the tiger trying to gnaw on her boot. Kicking at him she frowned. “Get off me.”

“Ungara.” Looking down, T put her hands on her hips. “Leave her alone.”

Taking one last swipe, the tiger laid down and closed his eyes.

“Ungara?” Xena asked, looking at the tiger.

“Every ensign is called the name of the god that chose them.” Nudging the tiger with her toe, T rolled her eyes. “I get a big fuzzy nuisance.”

“Why is he so big?” Gabrielle asked, scanning the huge form on the floor. “What do you feed him?”

“He’s doesn’t eat. He’s immortal.” Nudging the tiger again and getting a swipe at her foot, T laughed. “Unfortunately and his size is just the way he is.” Sighing, she looked up at the pair.

“Business?” Xena cocked her head with the question.

“Let’s walk.” Placing her hand behind the bard, she trailed them to the steps. “Well?” Following them downward, T glanced at the people, who were mingling around. “Are you here on the behalf of the mad king?”

“Alancius.” The warrior answered, looking at the people as well. “I told him about his ancestry and he’s not too happy.”

“I’m sure finding out you come from a long line of obsessed murders would dampen your mood.” Smirking, T rolled her eyes. “What’s he want?”

“To know what you’re going to do.” Reaching the bottom step, Xena turned around. “He’s scared.”

“I see.” Sobering, T continued past the pair, moving toward the forest.

Not being included in the conversation, Gabrielle trailed the two and took in the expanse that was T’s back and her broad muscled shoulders. Rolling her eyes, she shook her head. Now that’s packaging, she thought.

“Forget it, Gabrielle. She’s straight.” Laughing, Xena continued.

“The prince is afraid I’ll come for his father.” Rubbing her chin, T frowned.

“That and he’s wondering what will happen to his people.” Glancing side long at the king, Xena noticed a scowl.

“We are his people, Xena.” Stopping at the edge of the trees, T turned to the warrior. “He’s Ungaran.”

“He know that, now, but he’s got his own kingdom to consider.” Sighing, Xena walked a sort distance away and turned back around. “This is all new to him.” Holding out her arms. “This place doesn’t even show up on their maps.”

“And what do you want me to do about that? I’ve got a whole race of people to consider.” Putting her hands on her hips, T lowered her head.

“These people have done without you for years, can’t you take the time to get to know Alancius.” Looking at the bard’s worried expression she smiled. “Can’t you see him for who he is?”

“Why should I waste the effort of making nice, when that mad man is still king?” Looking up. “Lavius won’t stop, Xena, he’ll continue till somebody puts an end to the insanity.”

“He was a good man once, T.” Sighing, Xena closed her eyes. “He’s not the man he used to be. Can’t you see that?”

T growled. “No, Xena I can’t. All I see is the man who’s been trying to kill me all my life. What do you expect me to do? Tap him on the head and say all is forgiven?”

“No.” Opening her eyes, the warrior paced. “I know what he did was unforgivable, but he was a good king and he loves his people.”

“And I don’t.” Growling again, T grabbed Gabrielle, wrapping her arm around her shoulders. Drawing a dagger from her boot, she held it to the bard’s neck.

“T.” Gabrielle whispered, her eyes wide.

Xena spun around, raising her chakram. “Don’t do this T.”

“Do what, Xena? What am I doing?” Bringing the blade closer to the bard’s throat. “You say that he loves his people? Well look around you, Xena and take a look at how much he loves his people. Do they looked loved to you?” Nodding to the people, who stopped mingling and were now staring at them.

Keeping her eyes on the king, Xena shook her head. “Don’t.”

“What’s wrong, Xena? Afraid? Wondering what I’ll do to Gabrielle?” Smiling viciously.

“Yes.” Hissing, the warrior kept the chakram raised, but stood still.

“Then do us both a favor.” Nodding at the crowd. “Take a good look at them and tell me again how good a man Lavius was and that he loves his people. Forget about what he did to me and just look at them. They’re the one who know him best. They’re the ones who’ve felt his kindness. Look and tell me what you see.”

Moving her eyes only, Xena scanned the faces of the people. Looking into their eyes, she saw the pain and worry behind the curiosity. Glancing at the faces of the children, clinging to their parents, she saw something she’d seen every day she’d been a warlord and relished. The eyes of the children always told her how successful she’d been and now she hated the image etched into their young faces. “Fear.” Lowering the chakram, Xena turned back to stare at T.

“Yes. Fear.” Sheathing her dagger, T eased her grip on the bard. “They’re afraid, Xena. They’ve lived their lives under Lavius’s thumb, being tormented and harassed. No matter how he treated his own people, his kindness ended at the tree line. These people, my people, have felt his wrath for longer than I’ve been alive and most have never know true freedom. The freedom to come and go as you please and the freedom to sleep at night and not be afraid of what torment awaited you tomorrow. He wanted their loyalty and made them suffer when the wouldn’t give it.” Releasing the bard, T sighed. “Lavius was never a good man, Xena.”

Seeing the truth, Xena closed her eyes.

Gabrielle looked at the crowd and felt a tear running down her cheek. “I’m so sorry.” Turning to T, she put her hand on her shoulder. “I’m so sorry.”

“I’m sorry, Gabrielle.” Bringing the bard gently to her, T kissed her forehead. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just couldn’t think of a better way to get Xena’s attention.”

Smiling, the bard leaned into the king as T wrapped her powerful arms around her shoulders.

“What now?” Opening her eyes, Xena looked at the sky.

“What would you do to protect the one’s you love?” Stepping to the warrior, T sighed. “I don’t want to kill him, but I can’t let him stay on the throne with the ability to do harm.” Glancing at the crowd, that was breaking up, T sighed again. “I won’t let him hurt them anymore.”

“What if he wasn’t king?” Gabrielle asked quietly.

“He’ll never give up the crown willingly.” Shaking her head, T closed her eyes.

Looking at the bard, Xena got an idea. “What if Alancius was king?”

“Do I stutter?” Opening her eyes, T looked at the warrior. “The only way you’re going to get that crown away from Lavius is to pry it out of his cold dead fingers.”

“Not really.” Shaking her head, Xena continued. “Not if Alancius named himself king because of his father’s madness. Everybody’s seen the state the king is in and no body would question Alancius’s decision. They might even welcome it.”

“Xena’s right.” Putting her two dinars in, Gabrielle smiled. “If he’s been ranting and raving for the past couple of months, there are probably plenty of people who’d be glad to see him step aside.”

“What’s the prince going to do? Lock his father up in a padded cell?” Shaking her head. “I don’t think so.”

“Yea, but it wouldn’t matter. Once Alancius crowns himself king, Lavius will lose the power to cause any more havoc. No army, no giving orders.” Letting a smile creep across her face, Xena put her hand on T’s shoulder. “He’d be harmless.” Seeing the raised eyebrow on T’s face she edited it. “Okay, maybe not harmless, but he couldn’t cause the Ungara anymore pain. And isn’t that what you want? For your people to stop suffering?”

“I don’t know.” Frowning, T walked a few paces away. “Even if you’re right, is the prince willing to take that step?” Turning back to the pair. “He loves his father, I’ve seen that for myself and I doubt if he’s be willing to intentionally cause his father pain.”

“Maybe.” Nodding Xena bit her lip. “But he’s also kind and compassionate. You saw what happened when he found Latour caged, he was not a happy camper. And besides, he’s the one who’s had to deal with Lavius first hand. He’s gotta be tired of chasing after soldiers all day, countermanding his father’s orders and trying to keep the king quiet the rest.”

“All this is speculation.” Folding her arms across her chest, T looked around. “But it is worth pursuing.” Taking a deep breath, she let it out slowly. “Go back to Alancius and see what he has to say. I’ll give him two days to make a decision, then I’m coming after Lavius.” Whistling, she held out her arm and looked up as an eagle circled then swooped down, landing on her gauntlet.

“Yeow.” Stepping back, Gabrielle moved behind the warrior when the bird spread it’s wings, then settled down.

Chuckling, Xena walked, dragging the bard, who held her tightly, over to the king. “Little large for a messenger pigeon.”

Ignoring the warrior, T stroked the golden eagle. “I’ll send Katai to the window of your room, at sundown in two days.” Touching a small pouch, hanging from the bird’s leg, she smiled. “Put his answer in here.”

“You’re doing that.” Gabrielle informed the warrior, from behind Xena’s back.

“Figured as much.” Reaching out, Xena fingered the small chain around the eagles neck, holding up the small tiger head. “I guess you’ve got friends in high places.”

“So do you.” Laughing, T lunged forward, grabbing the bard and dragging her to her.

“Aaaaaaaaa.” Gabrielle squealed.

“She won’t hurt you.” Pulling the bard’s hand to the bird’s chest. “See.”

Stretching her arm as far as it would go, the bard felt soft feathers touching her fingers. Relaxing a bit, she stepped forward and continued to stoke the feathers, when T let go of her wrist. “She’s so soft.”

Katai called out, which made the bard jump back.

“She’s just saying hello.” Laughing, T drug the bard back. “No Ungaran ensign will ever hurt you, Gabrielle. They might annoy you and pester you, but they’ll never hurt you. I promise.” Smiling warmly.

“Hmmm.” Gabrielle considered the promise. “How am I supposed to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys?”

“By this, I presume.” Holding up the tiger head, for the bard to see.

“Correct. They all have it, except Ungara himself and he is a tiger, so.” Shrugging, T smiled. “And since tigers aren’t indigenous to Greece, I think you’re pretty safe.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Smiling, Xena held out her arm. “May I?”

“Rato keena, Katai.” T whispered and the eagle stepped onto Xena’s gauntlet.

“Do they understand Greek?” The warrior asked, petting the eagle.

“Yes. They understand every language there is.” Putting her hands on her hips.

“Could you teach me Ungaran?” Gabrielle asked T.

“I don’t know, Gabrielle. You could spend a couple of lifetimes trying to pick up all the nuances.” Shrugging with a smile.

“How about the basics?” Perking up. “I’d love to be able to chat with some of your people.”

“Greek is their second language, Gabrielle. You don’t need to learn Ungaran for that.” Putting her hand on the bard’s shoulder.

“Still.” Smiling big.

Xena rolled her eyes. “Just say yes, so we can get out of here, please.”

“Maybe.” Chuckling, T nodded. “We’ll see.”

“Great.” Bouncing with excitement, she looked down when something brushed her boot.

Staring at the scroll, Xena shook her head. “You learned it all right.” Smiling at the Ungaran language on the scroll. “Good thing I learned something besides the dirty words”

Sending the eagle skyward, Xena looked down at the tiger, trying to maul the bard’s leg. “I think he likes you.”

“He’s drooling on my boot.” Bending over, the bard tried to shove Ungara away. “Stop that. T!”

“Ungara!” Snapping her fingers, T bent over. “Find somebody else to annoy.” Laughing, she watched him crawl over and start on Xena’s leg. “My work is done.” Turning, T headed for the palace.

“Hey!” Trying to extricate her leg from the tiger’s grip, Xena shouted. “Get this thing off me.”

Following behind T, Gabrielle laughed out loud. “Thanks, T.”

“My pleasure.” Hearing her name being cursed, T grinned impishly.

“Snotty little brats!” Huffing, Xena rolled up the scroll further.

The two days passed and Katai came to the window at sundown, landing on the ledge. Smiling, Gabrielle placed a folded piece of parchment in the leather tube and put the top on it. Stroking the golden feathers, she whispered. “Rato keena, Katai. Neela sin nibatu.” Watching the bird lift off, she waved as it climbed skyward.

“Proud of yourself, aren’t you?” Xena asked from the bed.

“It’s a start.” Closing the shutter, she smiled at the warrior. “I hope she likes the news.”

Taking out the message, T read it aloud to the men around the throne. “Alancius agrees it’s time for a change. He will take the throne one week from today at midday and says you’re all welcome to come. He’s looking forward to meeting the Ungaran people and says he intends make every effort to restore their trust in his family. Xena. PS. Gabrielle is driving me nuts speaking in Ungaran. Thanks a lot.” Chuckling, T looked up at the faces.

“Are we going?” Lemet asked.

“It’s not wise.” Treyma said, shaking he long gray hair. The old historian shook his finger. “We’d be better off to stay and see what transpires from this change.”

“Alancius is undertaking a great responsibility.” T said, rubbing her chin. “His decision was difficult, I’m sure and though it’s not clear what will come of this change, I believe his intentions are honorable. Though the origins of his crown are tainted, it is still legitimate and is his by birthright, as is mine. I will not disrespect him by turning away from his courage. He has earned our support in taking this step and we will attend the coronation.”

“My king, what about Lavius?” Treyma didn’t give up. “He may try to kill you, if you go and you know his reputation.”

“His reputation is well known to me, Treyma. You laid my father to rest many years ago, but I will no longer run from that man. If he wishes me dead, he will find that I am far harder to kill than my father. I’ve benefited from being hunted and he will reap the harvest he has sown, should he try.” Standing, T looked at the hopeful faces. “This throne has been held hostage for too long, by obsession and fear and I will not let it continue. I may be the last King of the Ungara, but I will not hide behind that river, trembling with every footfall, to preserve this reign. My father died to protect me from that man and I’ll be damned if I’ll let my father’s memory be tarnished by the whims of cowards. Lavius holds his fate in his own hands, as do I. If he chooses to test destiny, I will not deny him. We will go to the coronation.”

Treyma bowed his head, then looked up. “Of course, my King.”

Waiting for the men to disperse, T sat back down. “Lemet.” Calling the Captain back.

“Yes?” Moving to stand beside the throne.

“Spread the word, that everyone is welcome to go, but make sure they don’t go armed to the teeth. We’re there as guests, not an invading army. I don’t expect any trouble and I don’t want to induce any either.”

Nodding, Lemet smiled. “What about the Royal Guard?”

Tapping the arm of the throne, T frowned and raised an eyebrow. “They’ll go as my escort and the flag bearers, but don’t wear the shiny stuff, we’d end up blinding half the kingdom that way.” Biting her lip, she rubbed her forehead, then shook it. “Have Latour get Artaq’s tack ready.”

“You’re riding Artaq?” Raising is eyebrows to the stratosphere, Lemet’s jaw dropped. “No body’s ridden him in five hundred years.”

“Well it’s about time the son of Pegasus starts earning his oats.” Smiling wickedly at the Captain. “Besides. If I survive the ride, Lavius will be a pushover.”

“May Ungara have mercy on your soul. Now who’s gonna go get him?” Shaking his head when she looked at him, Lemet backed up. “Oh, no. I will gladly fall on my sword at your command, but I’m not going anywhere near that beast.”

“I’ll do it.” Rolling her eyes, T got up. “I guess I better get started. I’ve only got a week.”

“You’ll need it.” Chuckling, Lemet bowed and went to spread the word and tell his son the news.

The week went slowly by as Xena and Gabrielle helped Alancius make preparations for the coronation. No one told Lavius what was happening, at the prince’s instruction and the king continued to rant and rave about the tiger coming for him. Oblivious to the fact that, not only was he not going to get the Crown of Ungara, but that he was losing his as well. The bard practiced her Ungara, on the mirror and Xena rolled her eyes, thinking of ways to pay T back for her gesture and worried about the king. Despite all she knew about him, she still didn’t want to see him come to any harm. He’d shown her nothing but kindness and if she could avoid it, she would try to keep him from suffering as well. She also related her pirate tales to Gabrielle, who filled in the history part that T had told her and together they related this to Alancius. Who took the information to heart and felt the shame of his father’s actions. So much of his childhood was explained in their words. And as he watched his father, over that week, he wondered where the evil stemmed from that drove Lavius to such acts. He also wondered if it would come for him one day.

“Ooo, Xena. You look spiffy.” Gabrielle smiled at the warrior.

“Gabrielle this is the same outfit I wear every day.” Rolling her eyes, Xena adjusted her breastplate. Checking her sword and chakram, she cracked her neck. “Ready?”

“Yes.” Sighing, the bard shook her head. “You really know how to take the fun out of a my first coronation.”

Picking something out of her teeth, the warrior shrugged. “They’re not that big a deal. Crown. King. Crown on King’s head. You’re done.” Throwing her arms in the air in conclusion.

“I’m all a shiver.” Gabrielle said in a dead pan tone. “Let’s go.” Opening the door, Gabrielle sighed going down the hall.

“Hey. What’s Ungaran for move your fanny?” Smiling at the bard’s back.

“Kiss my ass.” Gabrielle, sneered over her shoulder.

“That translate well.” Chuckling, Xena caught site of the prince. “Alancius.” Moving past the bard, Xena jogged over to where the prince stopped. “Have you found your father?”

“No.” Shaking his head, the prince closed his eyes. “I’m afraid he’s found out about the coronation and is hiding somewhere.” Opening his eyes, the prince looked tiredly at the warrior. “Xena, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

“I know and I know you’ll get through it, Alancius. You’re strong and I believe this is the right thing to do.” Placing her hand on his shoulder, Xena smiled. “Your people deserve a good king.”

“Thank you, Xena.” Placing his hand over hers, the prince kissed her cheek.

“Ah ha!” Patiera shouted with a smile. “I finally caught you, you sneaky, two timing weasel.” Coming to her husband’s side, she smacked his arm.

Alancius laughed and took his wife in a big bear hug. “I love you too, sweetheart.”

“And you.” Staring at the warrior, when she was released from the hug.

“If you think I’d take even the remotest chance of having to put up with him, you’re sadly mistaken, Patiera.” Smiling, Xena gave the future Queen a hug. “He’s all yours.”

“You sure you don’t want him?” Smiling covertly at the warrior.

“I’ve already got my hands full.” Pointing to the bard, standing a short distance away.

“Gabrielle!” The prince shouted. “We’re being bartered.”

“It can only be an improvement.” Smiling she joined the trio.

“Ooooooo. That hurt.” Patiera said to Xena.

“She’s just mad I’m not all a flutter over the coronation.” Wrapping her arm around the bard, Xena kissed her head.

Rolling her eyes, Gabrielle smiled. “Take me, please.” Reaching for Patiera.

Holding up her hands, Patiera stepped back. “Like Xena said. I’ve already got my hands full.”

A guard entered from another room and came to the prince. “The preparations are completed.”

“Thank you.” Nodding, he dismissed the guard and sighed. “I guess it’s show time.”

“You’ll do fine.” Standing on her tip toes, Patiera kissed his cheek. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Bending to kiss her lips, Alancius smiled.

“Let’s do it.” Xena winked and followed the future King and Queen out into the courtyard and to the gates of the castle. Scanning the crowd in the distance she looked for the familiar face of T and sighed.

“See her?” Gabrielle asked.

“Not yet.” Moving closer to the platform, constructed just beyond the gates of the outer wall, Xena turned to her right, looking into the forest. “Come on, T. This is no time for a grand entrance.”

“Xena?” Alancius turned to the warrior.

“She’ll be here.” Xena smiled and saw something out of the corner of her eye. Turning her head, the warrior’s smile got bigger. “There.” Tapping the prince on the shoulder, the warrior pointed to the forest.

As the heads turned, royal and peasant, all saw something they’d never seen before.

“The King of the Ungara.” Gabrielle said, as the procession started coming out of the trees.

“Where did she get that horse?” Xena asked the air, seeing the huge black stallion prancing and throwing it’s head from side to side.

Looking up at the warrior, Gabrielle again saw a twinkle of jealousy and smiled.

Seeing the look on Xena’s face, T smiled. Yea, it was worth the trouble. She thought, patting Artaq’s rock hard neck and looking down at the white version of the outfit she had worn all week. Seeing the gold and silver sparkle in the sunlight. “I’m so bad.” Smiling, despite the revelation, she looked to the prince and winked. Rotating her shoulders, T adjusted the weight of the sword on her back and checked it out of the corner of her eye, seeing the tiger head sticking out of the sheath.

Trailing behind the King were the twelve Royal Guards, led by Lemet, dressed in the traditional dark blue leather pants and shirt, with green leather armor, sans the shiny stuff in a rows of two, but still wearing their golden torques with the tiger head on them. Behind that, Latour walked, carrying the tiger flag, then in rows of four came the other flag bearers holding their poles firm, as the wind fluttered the white flags around. Finally, the Ungara themselves started coming from the trees, dressed in their normal clothes and looking a little timid.

Coming to the large crowd, staring at her, T reigned Artaq to a halt. Dismounting, she whispered in Artaq’s ear and gave him a serious look.

Tossing his head, the stallion balked at the command but stayed where he was.

“Good boy.” Patting his neck again. Waiting for the others to dismount, she gave Xena and Gabrielle a smile.

“Show off.” Xena whispered and smiled.

Gabrielle chuckled.

Once the guards had dismounted, she directed them to take their place beside the platform and sent the flag bearers off out of the way, except for Latour, who was told to stay by the stallion. Turning, she took a deep breath and headed for the prince, walking through an eagerly parting crowd. Coming to him, she put out her hand. “I am Tiegra Empario De Na Nihate, King of the Ungara and it’s a most honorable pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

“Why can’t you be like that?” Gabrielle whispered to Xena, who turned and snarled.

Letting out the breath he’d been holding, Alancius took T’s hand. “King of the Ungara, you are most welcome and the pleasure is all mine.” Bending, the prince brought T’s hand to his lips, kissing it lightly, then straightened and shook it. Turning to his wife, he put his arm behind her back. “Allow me the pleasure of introducing my wife, Patiera.”

“Madam.” T smiled warmly and shook her hand.

“Your majesty.” Curtsying.

Xena winced, but T didn’t move.

Smiling, T leaned forward. “You can call me T, everybody else does.” Whispering to the future Queen with a wink.

“T it is.” Smiling back, Patiera nodded at her husband.

Sighing, Alancius took his wife’s arm and walked up the stairs of the platform.

Moving to stand beside T, Xena and Gabrielle gave her devious looks.

“You look good.” Gabrielle whispered looking up at T.

“Where did you get that horse?” Xena asked quietly, looking down a T.

Ignoring both, T watched the prince.

“Ladies and gentlemen of Tarlon and the Ungara, it is with the greatest of sorrow that I am before you today.” Speaking loudly, Alancius scanned the crowd. “As you all know my father, your king, is suffering from an illness of the mind. His bouts, in the past have become more frequent and have finally robbed him of his sanity and with it, his ability to rule with the kindness and mercy he has shown in the past.” Taking a deep breath, the prince closed his eyes and felt his wife give his hand a gentle squeeze. Opening his eyes, she let the breath out slowly. “Therefore, I am relinquishing him of the responsibility of rule and claiming my right as sole heir, by proclaiming myself King in his stead.” Turning, he looked at the Chancellor beside him, who held the crown on a red velvet pillow. Sighing, he nodded and watched the man kneel before him, raising the pillow. “With this crown, I take full and total responsibility for the rule of Tarlon, may the gods guide me to be merciful, just and wise.” Picking up the crown he held it for a moment.

“Nooooooo.” Running full speed, toward the platform, Lavius raised his sword. “No one will have my crown.”

“Shit.” Moving around the platform, Xena drew her sword and met the king before he could get there, but was shoved out of the way by the madman, tumbling over and dropping her sword. “Lavius, no!”

Hearing no ones voice, but the one in his head, he leapt onto the platform.

“Father, no.” Alancius shouted, moving his wife behind him and holding up his hand.

“You’ll die for your betrayal.” Snatching the crown from his son, Lavius raised his sword and struck downward, but felt his blade vibrate in his grasp. Wide eyed, he saw his blue eyes reflection in gold before him. “No.” Stepping back, he tried to strike again and was again blocked. Finally seeing his opponent, he growled. “You, little bastard. I’ll kill you like I killed your father. I am the true King of the Ungara.”

Growling herself, T’s eyes changed to gold and her incisors extended as she blocked another blow, stepping back, trying to get the king away from his son. Parrying, she continued to retreat until she was at the edge of the platform, then jumped off backwards, swinging at the man’s feet and making him jump as well. Leading him further away, she waited until they were clear of the crowd, before she held her ground.

“Xena?” Helping the warrior to her feet, Gabrielle watched the battle.

“We’ve got to stop them.” Heading for the combatants, she was stopped by Alancius.

“No, Xena.” Shaking his head, he watched his father. “It’s not your fight.”

“What?” Trying to move past him, she was held firm. “They’ll kill each other.”

“It’s not your fight!” Looking into her eyes, he shook his head again. “This is their fight, Xena. Let them have it.” Letting go, the prince moved to the edge of the crowd and watched the battle.

Shaking her head, Xena turned to the bard.

“He’s right, Xena. From everything we know, this is their fight.” Wrapping her arms hands around the warrior’s arms, Gabrielle smiled sadly.

Sighing, Xena looked at Lemet, who nodded. Shaking her head, she sheathed her sword and moved to stand beside the prince and watched destiny unfolding.

Using his height to his advantage, Lavius struck down hard, feeling his steel slip off the gold. Shouting unintelligibly, he swung madly from every angle, with the force of a hurricane and the skill of a master. Swinging and thrusting, keeping the offensive on and yelling with his failure.

T countered each attack and held her ground, feeling the sting of each contact made and using the skill she possessed to drive him into maddening rage. Feeling her own rage, she felt her fangs grow and knew her eyes and changed to red, but she didn’t stop. Her determination engulfed her like a tidal wave and she fought down the desire to take the madman to his grave. Driving her sword upward, she blocked another and twisted her wrist, catching his sword in a bind and holding it. His blade inches from her face and her’s a hair’s breath from his. Feeling him lean into the hold, T bent backwards under the force and growled, straining to stay up right and waiting for an opening. Her arms shaking, she stared into the blue before her, looking deep into his soul, at the hatred and evil that lurked behind his eyes. Answering the evil, her mouth opened and her fangs showed, as the sound of thunder echoed and she felt the growl coming from her soul. Shoving, with all her might, she lifted Lavius skyward and propelled him back, in one quick movement and lunged for him, swinging the golden blade for his heart.

Gabrielle gripped Xena’s arm and held her breath.

Stumbling back, Lavius screamed in unadulterated fury, the veins sticking out on his neck and forehead. Dropping the crown, he took his sword in both hands and blocked the lunge for his chest. Raising his blade, he swept it down at an angle and spun out of the feint, bringing it instantly around in the other direction.

T stopped the blade an inch from her waist and shoved it outward, swinging her’s inward and up, raking it lightly across his exposed chest, slicing his shirt and drawing a fine line of blood. Stepping back, she blocked his parry and countered with a thrust to his head, missing his ear by a hair. Drawing her sword back, she side stepped his lunge, sending him past her.

Xena felt the bard’s grip get tighter and put her hand over Gabrielle’s. Watching the battle, she was torn between her loyalties, wanting neither to die. As the battle raged, she saw T’s strategy and closed her eyes. She’s wearing him out, she thought and opened her eyes. Seeing the strain on Lavius’s face and the sweat mingling with the blood on his shirt. Minutes passed and still they fought and Xena watched the tides of power slowly shift from the man who’d befriended her in her time of need to woman who’d taken her into her world and brought her back from death’s door. Closing her eyes, again, she listened to the echoes around her and felt her heart pounding in her ears. “Just let it end.” Xena whispered and opened her eyes.

T saw his chest heaving and swung at his thigh, driving him back. As his sword came at her head, she felt the world stand still. Swinging with a power she didn’t know she possessed, she brought her sword up in a wide arc, blocking his blow and digging her blade into the edge of his steel. Pivoting, she completed the arc, pulling Lavius forward, as he held onto his blade, then ripped it from his grasp sending off her sword, deep into the stone wall. Continuing to pivot on her left leg, she brought her sword up and stepped over his body with her right leg, straddling the fallen king.

Lavius rolled over and saw the blade raised to strike. Screaming in terror, he closed his eyes, covering his face with his arms.

“No.” Xena whispered as a tear ran down her cheek.

Raising the golden sword higher, T spun the blade, changing her grip, bringing the blade to a vertical position then drove it downward, with a yell.

Closing her eyes, Xena opened them slowly and stared.

Lavius heard the voice above him and cringed, then waited. Opening his eyes, he moved his arms and saw tiger eyes burning just above him.

Filling her lungs with all the air they could hold, T roared into his face, releasing the rage she felt and making the madman cower under her. When the anger was spent, she pulled her sword out of the ground, beside his head and stood staring down at him, waiting. When he opened his eyes, she bent over, once more, holding his eyes in hers. “It’s over.” Standing again, T stepped away and watched him get up and run off. Breathing heavily, she turned to the faces of the crowd of people watching. Sighing, she sheathed her sword and walked over to the blade, sticking out of the wall. Taking a firm grip, she yanked it from it’s tomb. Holding it up, she let it fall. Spotting the forgotten crown, she went to it and picked it up with the steel sword, letting it slide to the hilt. Sighing again, T slowly walked over to the prince, holding the tip of the sword a few inches from his chest. “A crown does not make a man a king . . . his heart does.” Flicking her wrist, she flipped the sword, rotating the blade end toward her and caught it. Holding it up again, she gave it to the Alancius. “Long live the king.” Turning, she paused to look into the eyes of the bard and warrior, then walked past them, through the crowd.

Turning to watch her disappear, Alancius whispered. “Long live the King of the Ungara.” Lowering the sword, he caught the crown and held it up. “So much pain for so little reward.” Lowering the crown, he let it slide out of his fingers to the ground.

Xena and Gabrielle watched the crown fall, then looked back to the new king and saw his eyes fill with tears. Exchanging glances, they bowed to Alancius then turned to follow their friend. Making their way through the crowd, they saw T standing by the stallion, stroking his neck slowly. Coming to her, they realized her eyes were closed.

Opening her eyes, T turned her head to look at the worried faces of her friends. Sighing, she smiled a little smile. “I’m okay.”

“I don’t know what to say to you.” Xena frowned. “Why?”

“Lavius was dead before I was born, Xena. The hatred and evil in his soul killed him long ago.” Stepping toward them, she sighed. “The only thing I would’ve done was propel that hatred to his people. They loved him and didn’t deserve to see him slaughtered before their eyes.”

Nodding, Xena sighed. “What do you think he’ll do now?”

“He won’t live to see the sun set.” Looking at the sun above her head.

“He’ll kill himself?” Gabrielle whispered.

“Probably.” Looking into the bard’s eyes, T smiled sadly. “Gabrielle, he’s been driven mad.” Shaking her head. “Whatever you might think and whatever you might feel for him, you have to realize that he is merely a shell and he’s lost the only thing that kept him alive and even if he doesn't take his own life, he will still die and soon. Nothing we do will prevent that.”

Gabrielle lowered her head. “I understand.”

“So what are you going to do?” The warrior asked softly.

“Go home. Take a nap. Come back in a couple of days, to start building a bridge between our two kingdoms.” Putting her hands on her hips, T chuckled. “Why?”

“No reason.” Shrugging, Xena looked around and scratched the back of her head.

“No, Xena, you can’t ride my horse.” Knowing what the warrior wanted, T smiled wickedly.

Dropping to her knees, Xena wrapped her arms around T’s legs. “Pleeeaaassseee.”

“Xena!” Gabrielle gasped. “People are watching.” Turning her head, the bard saw quite a few curious glanced in their direction. “For gods sake, get up.”

“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. . .



Epilogue: Later that day, Lavius’ body was found laying across the throne, a vial of poison clutched in his hand. Alancius laid his body to rest along side his mother’s, finally giving his father the peace he’d never known. After the funeral, T gave the new king the Lion ensign flag, staying that it was time for old wounds to heal and Lavius’s obsession with hunting her had done one good thing. It kept him from passing his hatred to the next generation. Alancius made a trip across the river, for the first time, the next day and started the process of finding out who he really was.

Xena and Gabrielle spent two more days with Alancius and then three with T. The bard learned as many Ungaran words as she could, from Latour, her new buddy and found out what the term ‘your boots are untied’ meant, when T said it and Gabrielle was pounced on by Ungara, who took it as his cue and removed her boot. Running with it for some time, while being chased by a one booted bard. Xena learned as many dirty words as she could, from Lemet and found uses for them almost constantly. T took a nap.


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