Justice in Walsas

by Enginerd

(Original - Oct 96/Rev 1 - Oct 97)

Chapter 1 - A promise is a promise

Tripping in the poorly lit corridor, Gabrielle reached out for something to stable herself.  Her fingers contacted a small stone statue.  Unfortunately, she had just found one of the many secrets in the labyrinth which she activated tripping forward.   The floor disappeared into a cavernous pit.  Her fingers slipped off the statue, allowing her to plummet helplessly into the darkness.

"Gabrielle" Xena called to her friend as she entered the Tavern.    Gabrielle jumped, knocking her plate of food into her goblet of water.

"Sorry, but you really should be more alert in a place like this,"  Xena relayed as she sat down.

Gabrielle grunted what was interpreted as agreement as she started cleaning up the mess she made.

Something had been on Gabrielle's mind for a few days now and Xena thought a good meal at a Tavern might lift her spirits. After Gabrielle was finished dabbing up the water from her skirt, Xena noticed the bags under Gabrielle's eyes when she lifted her head. The reason for Gabrielle's lack of attention was pure exhaustion.

"You weren't asleep were you?" Xena asked incredulously.  Gabrielle still tired, sighed.

"How could anybody sleep in a place like this?!?" Gabrielle responded with irritation.  Xena reached out to check her friend's forehead for a temperature but Gabrielle pushed her hand away.

"I'm not sick" Gabrielle protested.

"You look horrible" Xena spoke plainly.

"Thanks. That makes me feel so much better."  

Gabrielle's sarcasm was a small relief to her concerned friend.  It was a sign Gabrielle was not that sick.  Xena eyed the tired bard.  Before she could question her friend, Gabrielle spoke.  "We should really get going if we intend on delivering that wedding gift on time."

Gabrielle was right. Their travel pace was slower than usual and they had no time to waste.  Xena nodded getting up.  If Gabrielle wanted to talk about it she would, Xena concluded, deciding not to press. Gabrielle then touched on a point of contention between the two.

"And besides, you promised you would deliver it - and you can't break a promise."  Gabrielle grinned to herself.

"As I recall Gabrielle, you were the one who promised,"  Xena countered with a raised eyebrow.

That evening, Gabrielle jolted out of a sound sleep with a gasp.

Hearing Gabrielle, Xena instinctively reached for her sword but quickly realized it was only a nightmare.  Sitting up, Xena looked at her friend, who volunteered no information.  What ever she was dreaming, it seemed to be upsetting her more every night. 

Xena finally broke the silence.

"Do you want to talk about it?" 

Gabrielle took a calming breath. She thought a moment, then looked over to Xena.

"Just a dream.  Must have been something I ate.  Or maybe this..." Gabrielle smirked, pulling a rock from her bedding and tossed it over her shoulder.

"Dream? Sounded like a nightmare," Xena responded skeptically. 

Gabrielle shrugged it off. "Just a dream,"  Gabrielle repeated unconvincingly and laid back down on the bedding, staring into the starry sky.  Xena decided not to press the issue but her curiosity grew. Why was Gabrielle not willing to discuss what was bothering her?

The dreams were vivid, so incredibly vivid, Gabrielle thought to herself. The detail and intricacy of her dreams would have been better appreciated if not for being so disturbing and the fact she was loosing precious sleep over them.

Gabrielle's thoughts briefly took her back to Poteidaia and that crazy old lady, Sybil. Sybil lived alone just outside of Poteidaia and used to warn people of the horrible things she saw in her dreams. She scared and alienated people because of her overly passionate, and always inaccurate, warnings. "That's all Xena needs," Gabrielle thought.   "A companion who not only has to be frequently bailed out of trouble... but who is also losing her mind."

The dream that abruptly woke her this evening, repeated through Gabrielle's mind.  

The dimly lit maze she had traveled unsucessfully through in her dreams before was covered with elaborate murals on each stone wall.  At first and second glance, the murals seemed to be exactly the same.  However, upon further critical inspection, Gabrielle found there were small differences which pointed the way. 

The texture of the dream mural was so real to her.   As her hand brushed across its surface, she tripped yet another surprise in the danger-layden labyrinth.   The stone walls started to move.  Frantically, she tried to stop them.   They were closing in on her.  But she didn't have the strength.    The walls started to press against her with increasing pain.  The vivid sound of her ribs cracking woke her.

"Falling to death, being impaled, drowning, or being squished to death...really friendly places I visit," Gabrielle thought, taking another deep breath to calm herself down.  However, something in this evening's dream disturbed her more than risk to her own life.  The dream evoked a familiar emotion of grief, of having failed and losing someone close.   Remembering her own experience of grief, she looked over to her friend and discovered Xena was watching her. 

No words were exchanged. 

Gabrielle revealed a small smile of appreciation and reassurance before she turned her head back and closed her eyes in an attempt to allow one of them to sleep that night. Gabrielle knew there was little chance for a good night's sleep for herself. 

The former Queen of Walsas sat alone, in shock, in a prison cell of the castle that used to be hers.  So much happened so swiftly. The full impact and pain of the days events still did not hit her.  Her attempts at getting help to save her beloved were unsuccessful.  The overthrown King, the love of her life, had just been brutally executed in front of her. 

Grickas, the cause of all her pain, now stood before her cell.

"Well my Queen, you've witnessed your King loose his kingdom and his head - but frankly I expected more of a fight from him." 

Grickas was feeling pleased with his successes and enjoyed tormenting Sarah about her inner most doubts.

"The Great Warrior Enerall," he spoke with great bravado then laughed.   "Perhaps, if you hadn't softened him up over the years he would be alive today.  He was never really much of a king anyway.  A fitting end for a weak ruler."

Grickas smiled, playfully twirling the keys to the cell.

Sarah's eyes were full of hate. She wondered if she had weakened him over the years.   Perhaps he would be alive today if it weren't for her, she thought, briefly falling into Grickas' web.  However, her feelings of guilt were overcome by her great grief. She would find a way to make him pay for his crimes.

"It is not over" Sarah pulled herself together and spoke with a controlled calm, disturbing Grickas for a moment. The small victory gave her a small smile.   Angered at her reaction and realizing he had nothing to fear from the beaten Queen, he forced a laugh.

"Well it will be, my Queen, when you die. Since you have given me much more trouble than your husband, I will ensure you die a slower, more painful death than Enerall. The fun will be to figure out how," Grickas smiled, placing the keys on the wall and left the dungeon.

After Grickas was gone, an elderly woman emerged from the darkness.  Her face was worn with many years of a hard life.

"Cumae, thank the Gods" Sarah spoke with hope still in her heart.  Her hope was to exact revenge on Grickas.

"Oh my Queen, I have failed you. I didn't get you that help. I could not save King Enerall."  Cumae's eye were full of tears.

"Our time for morning must be delayed."  Sarah summoned her strength for the two of them.  "We must continue to summon help to defeat Grickas. The battle is not over yet."

Cumae admired her Queen's conviction but had great doubts her dream visions would be understood. "How do you know they will come? Dreams, by their very nature, are not clear messages."

Sarah was surprised that this normally confident woman would have such doubts about her remarkable ability. This wasn't the first time Sarah was surprised a strong person she thought she knew very well, exhibit unusual self-doubt.  Enerall acted similarly before he was overthrown.

"I have faith in you - and them." Sarah informed her with a confidence that was infectious.  She held Cumae's hand through the bars which served to reinforce that confidence.  Sarah closed her eyes, praying to the Gods for help as Cumae spoke her chants softly.

In the morning, Xena was surprised Gabrielle was up so quickly and ready to go.   Xena eyed her.

"How do you feel?"  Her friend looked more exhausted.

"Just peachy and you?" Gabrielle blurted and started down the road.

Xena mounted Argo and reached down a hand for Gabrielle. " Ride with me,"   the warrior ordered. 

"No thanks,"  the bard declined with a shrug.

Xena wouldn't take no for an answer, keeping her arm out.  Gabrielle sighed.

"I guess I have slowed us down a bit haven't I?" Gabrielle took her arm and sat behind Xena. "I would hate to think I prevented you from keeping your promise,"  Gabrielle grinned, recalling how she volunteered Xena and herself to deliver that wedding present before Xena could protest.  It was the right thing to do, even if Xena didn't see it that way.

"Your promise." Xena countered.

"A promise is a promise." Gabrielle responded.

Xena sighed and shook her head.  At least Gabrielle was getting a rest from walking, she considered.

Chapter 2 - The Mystery of Dreams

The gate of Argo and Gabrielle's exhaustion lulled the bard to sleep as Xena had hoped.   Xena held Gabrielle's arm securely against her waist to ensure the sleeping bard wouldn't fall.

The promise to deliver the wedding present was less amusing now.  Xena wanted to stop and give Gabrielle a break from traveling and figure out what was bothering Gabrielle.  However, the bard made yet another promise, having been swept up in the romance of romance.  Now Xena was stuck with a promise to fulfill and was acutely aware how important promises were to Gabrielle.  Worrying her almost as much as Gabrielle's lack of sleep was this little matter of Gabrielle not telling her what was wrong.

Gabrielle tensed up as she experienced another vivid vision in her dream. 

Xena debated whether to wake Gabrielle or to let the dream take its course.  While Xena was still deciding, Gabrielle once again jolted out of a dream into consciousness. This cycle was becoming too familiar Xena thought.

"Well?" Xena asked after a moment of silence, tired of waiting for Gabrielle to volunteer information. Gabrielle returned her cheek to Xena's warm back, seeking strength from her friend.

"Another dream," Gabrielle said softly, taking a deep breath.  Wide awake now, she sat up straight and rubbed her eyes. 

Enough was enough, Xena thought, stopping Argo.

"We are going to discussing this - Now," Xena finally insisted, her patience at an end.

Gabrielle reluctantly dismounted, not thrilled with the prospect of sounding like a fool or like that crazy woman Sybil.

Xena's gaze down at her companion was diverted to the nearby bushes.  Five soldiers came out brandishing swords and big grins.  Xena let out an annoyed grunt.  

However Gabrielle, for the first time, found an attack against them a welcome diversion.  She quickly assembled her staff.  Xena had already dismounted Argo with a flip that mesmerized the attackers, giving the Warrior Princess her usual fighting edge.

Xena easily disarmed and knocked out two guards.  Although, she wasn't taking her usual pleasure in defeating boorish ruffians. They had interrupted her talk with Gabrielle.

Gabrielle always enjoyed watching Xena's fighting skills.  However, she could enjoy this show for only a moment. She had two men to deal with herself.  In the beginning of their travels, attackers would typically dismiss Gabrielle as simply hostage material and focus their attack on Xena.  However, this was becoming a thing of the past.  Gabrielle wasn't so sure she was entirely happy about that. 

In the process of knocking one attacker, Gabrielle's grip loosened and her staff was whipped from her hands. The exhausted bard mentally scolded herself for being so careless.   

The eyes of the remaining attacker twinkled with vicious glee as he raised his sword over his soon to be dead victim. 

Fighting the urge to look over to Xena for help, Gabrielle kept her eyes on the attacker to avoid his inevitable blow.

Seeing Gabrielle in a bad situation, Xena finished her third attacker and pulled out her Chakrum.  The familiar noise of the Chakrum made Gabrielle smile, confusing the attacker.  He understood the reason for his victim's smile after he looked up to his empty hands in disbelief.  Gabrielle had retrieved her staff and didn't look very friendly.  Her attacker ran to the forest followed by the rest of his defeated and groggy group.

Gabrielle sighed as she plopped down on a near-by bolder to rest. 

"Well that was fun."  Seeing Xena walk over to her and return her sword to its sheath, Gabrielle blurted.  "We should be going, times-a-wasting."   

"Not so fast." Xena called out to the bard.

"The present, remember?"  Gabrielle informed her as she started to stand.  Xena pushed her back down.

"Why are you being so evasive? TALK to me Gabrielle," Xena demanded.

Gabrielle was surprised at Xena's level of annoyance with her.  After thinking a moment, she realized she had been so preoccupied with her sleeping problem she had not noticed how worried Xena was getting.  An explanation was due.

"OK, OK" Gabrielle concedes, pausing a bit.  "Only because you requested so nicely...Pull up a rock,"  Gabrielle remarked, the bard in her coming out.

Xena, a little embarrassed with her outburst, sat down on the boulder and intently listened as Gabrielle spoke of her dreams in amazing detail. 

"The textures, the sights and sounds," Gabrielle summed the experience up. "It is as if I really experienced each and everyone of them.  I never had such vivid dreams before. The only really disturbing parts are the endings - my ending."

Xena thought a moment. "It sounds like someone wanted you to explore the labyrinth without really getting killed. Do you know where the labyrinth is?"

Gabrielle tried to answer. "In some castle or maybe a cave...."

"I'm glad you could narrow it down,"  Xena said flatly.

"I'm sorry, I was a little DISTRACTED trying to survive, which I may add, I failed at MISERABLY," Gabrielle snapped, then shuttered at the various endings of her life.   Gabrielle's situation was making her a bit testy.

Xena, continued her questioning, although careful to avoid sarcasm. "Did you sense why you were there?"

Gabrielle shook her head no.  Her annoyance turned to sorrow.  "I was supposed to be - to help. But I never did, I never got through the labyrinth...."

No matter how much Xena wanted to, she couldn't solve this mystery alone.  They needed help.

"I know a woman, Cumae of Walsas, who may be able to help you understand your dreams, we can make it there in a day easily," Xena informed the bard, consumed with concern for her friend and momentarily forgetting about the present.

"This is your way at getting back at me for promising something without consulting you - isn't it!  OK, I admit I got carried away, I should have asked you but XENA, a promise is a promise!"  Gabrielle insisted. 

Xena had different opinions than Gabrielle had on promises, considering they had varying degrees of importance. However, to Gabrielle, they all were important.

"Gabrielle," Xena offered a compromise. "I will take you to Cumae then ride on, really fast, and deliver the present - on time. OK?" Gabrielle disagreed with that plan and countered.

"There is no time for a side trip Xena."

They stared at each other in determined silence.  Xena had never encountered such a strong willed opponent as Gabrielle. She both admired that trait and was annoyed by it - especially now.

"The answer is simple Xena." Gabrielle offered. "You deliver the present while I go find this Cumae of Walsas. You can get there much faster alone and meet up with me in Walsas in no time,"  Gabrielle seemed please with her solution.

"No!" Xena strongly objected.

"Xena," Gabrielle spoke forcefully, cutting off any more objections from her friend. They stared at each other once again in determined silence.

"By the Gods, she is so stubborn!" Xena thought to herself. If it were only a battle of physical strength, Xena reflected, slowly accepting the fact she wasn't going to win this battle of wills.  "I don't suppose I could say ...or DO anything to change your mind,"  Xena asked, knowing the answer, which was confirmed by Gabrielle's   expression.  Xena sighed "I didn't think so".

After mounting Argo, Xena was still uneasy about Gabrielle's solution.  Gabrielle knew her friend wasn't pleased but was glad the promise would be kept. "I won't take long.  Don't get into....trouble,"  Xena sighed, recognizing Gabrielle would always find trouble. 

"Don't worry...I'll see you in Walsas," Gabrielle responded confidently, trying to reassure her friend. 

An unhappy Xena grumbled something then departed on Argo with great urgency.

Grickas sat on the thrown in Enerall's royal robe and ordered his lieutenant to continue his search for loyalists to the old regime.

"That wonderful haze of doubt and fear will be wearing off in a few days. The remaining loyalists will start getting organized again. I don't need any more resistance from these people. Go find them and kill them." The lieutenant nodded to his king. The captain of the guard was confused.

"Why can't we continue to drug them? We've put many barrels of the that water in the town and it works quickly enough. You seem to have plenty of this stuff in storage." 

Grickas was annoyed at the suggestion.

"I don't want to waste any more of my supply on these stupid people, they've been conquered and all we need to do is clean up a few loose ends. We should be focusing on using the drug for the future. You never know when you'll need to prey on the doubts of your enemy." He laughed with amusement, then his annoyance with his captain returned. "The supply is not unlimited you idiot,"  He snapped, stroking his precious pendant.

After going many miles, Gabrielle stopped to rest. She could finally see Walsas. It boasted of a beautiful country side and a very impressive castle. The sight of the castle seemed familiar as were other sights of this land, yet she never traveled to Walsas before.

Once in the town, her stomach growled, reminding her how famished she was.  She sought out a tavern for some food and information about Cumae, hoping Xena was right about Cumae being able to shed some light on those dreams.

The service in the tavern was quick.  A waiter came by immediately after Gabrielle sat down.

"How may I help you?" He asked.

"Some water and cheese please,"  she informed him with a warm smile.   He nodded and left. 

Business was slow.  Gabrielle noticed she was one of two customers.  As a result, the waiter came back very quickly with the water and cheese.  She gratefully guzzled the water noting it had a slight sweet taste to it.

"I'm new in town and am looking for a woman named Cumae.  Do you know where I could find her?"  She asked with a friendly smile.

Discussion of Cumae made the waiter extremely nervous.  But the young woman's smile and features reminded him of someone he trusted and respected.  He spoke cautiously, looking around the tavern.

"Cumae is considered an outlaw by the new regime miss. You best not discuss her name in public."

Gabrielle looked around uneasily, concerned she may not get her answers and get herself in trouble for mentioning Cumae's name.

"Why do you seek her Miss?"

For some reason, which Gabrielle didn't understand but was thankful for, the waiter warmed to her and was going to help. "A friend told me she could help me understand the dreams I have had."  Gabrielle hoped he didn't think that sounded too odd and suspicious.

"Have you been summoned here?"  The waiter asked with hope, surprising Gabrielle.  Before Gabrielle could answer, two soldiers came in for a drink. "Go to the inn and tell them 'Farr the barkeep' sent you and then ask for Cumae. Go now!"   The waiter whispered.  He quickly left her to tend to soldiers who just entered.  Thankfully, Farr thought, they more interested in wine than seeking out a few loyalists.

This kingdom was in trouble, but so were so many others the bard considered.  Why would she be "summoned" to this one.  She also thought about that word "summoned," it wasn't really accurate.  Her dreams didn't come out and tell her "Come to Walsas NOW and save someone," she thought, trying to make sense of this. 

Spotting the inn, her progress was hindered when she heard a familiar and loud voice in an alley. "Get your hands off me!" Gabrielle thought her lack of sleep must be finally getting to her.  She thought she heard her sister Lila's voice - but that was crazy.

"Great, I'm hearing things," she blurted out loud. "And I'm talking to myself! Ugh,"  Gabrielle shook her head.

The familiar voice yelled again. "I mean it!"

Gabrielle realized it was real and ran towards the voice to find her sister Lila at the center of attention in a band of four soldiers.

"I suggest you do as she says," Gabrielle spoke low and deliberate, holding her staff at the ready.  Lila smiled with relief as the soldiers smiled with amusement.

"Another pretty girl to add to the fun," one spoke as he advanced.  The soldiers quickly reconsidered their first impression of Gabrielle when she, in a graceful yet effective motion, swiped the feet from underneath the first soldier who made the mistake of coming too close.   He landed hard on his back, knocking the wind from him.  Her next blow was as swift and to his head, rendering him unconscious.   The remaining soldiers exchanged surprised looks and took her more seriously now, drawing their swords.   Her fatigue was overcome with adrenaline - she had to protect her sister.

Gabrielle questioned if she could keep Lila safe while she fought.  She appreciated Xena's fighting skills more, if that was possible.  Gabrielle considered all the times Xena had to fight multiple attackers AND protect her without any assistance.   Not an easy task to worry about two, Gabrielle was learning.  Two soldiers came at Gabrielle while one stayed back observing.  Gabrielle surprised even herself with the ease she clobbered them. Three soldiers unconscious and one to go.  The last one grabbed Lila and placed a knife to her throat. Gabrielle was stopped in her tracks.

Her mind raced with options. She found this situation very familiar, only with the knife at her throat and Xena with the task of saving her. "What a burden I must be to her," Gabrielle thought to herself.  The voice of the last soldier snapped her thoughts back to the present situation.

"We underestimated you Red.  I'll give you that," Gabrielle thought hard on what to do remembering Lila had learned a few things in Poteidaia from Meleager. "Now drop your staff."

Gabrielle, focused now, looked into Lila's confident eyes.  Lila understood and was ready.  Gabrielle dropped the staff close to her feet.  The soldier relaxed his arm from Lila's throat, amused at his easy victory.  With this opening, Lila gave him a hammer fist to the groin.  In a blink of the soldier's teary eye, Gabrielle retrieved her staff and finished the attack Lila started.

"Good move. They shouldn't have underestimated you either," Gabrielle smiled.   Lila smiled back, happy for the acknowledgment. Gabrielle was going to ask her sister why she was there by Lila spoke first. "Are you OK?" Lila asked.   Gabrielle nodded.

"They were no match for the two of us," Gabrielle smiled. 

"No, I mean, isn't there other trouble?" Lila tried to explain.

"Other than my lack of sleep and vivid dreams," Gabrielle responded but it dawned on her.  "You thought I was in trouble?"

Lila shrugged.  "Yes. I've been dreaming too.  Someone very close to me really needed help.  Of course, I thought it was you...so...here I am.  There must be something to this dream stuff - here you are."

Gabrielle smiled that her sister would go to such lengths to help her.  "I'm fine.  I can't believe you would come all this way for me," Gabrielle's smile faded as she realized how far Lila was from home. "Wait a minute, you came all this way....alone?!" Gabrielle scolded her.

"I don't see anyone with you Gabrielle!" Lila snapped back defensively and looked around to emphasize Xena wasn't around.

"You haven't traveled this far alone before. The roads are dangerous," Gabrielle remarked assuming her sisterly role as Lila rolled her eyes.

"I had to and I wasn't alone.  Meleager came with me," that was good news to Gabrielle but she didn't see him anywhere.

"Meleager?" She repeated his name but the stirring of one of the guards interrupted her train of thought.

"We should leave."

"Agreed," Lila blurted nervously.

Chapter 3 - Finding Cumae

"Where are we going?" Lila asked.

"To hopefully find answers to our dreams." Gabrielle explained.

"Good,"  Lila responded.  Finally arriving at in the Inn, Gabrielle asked for Cumae the way the waiter told her too. As they waited for the woman, Gabrielle blurted she was somewhat relieved Lila shared the dream problem with her.

"Thank the Gods I am not crazy...." Lila chuckled at Gabrielle's remark, squeezing her sister's arm.

"Perhaps that only means we are both crazy..." Despite, or perhaps because of, Lila's sarcasm, Gabrielle was glad Lila was there.

"You didn't happen to discuss your dreams with anybody did you?" Gabrielle asked.

"NO, are you crazy?" Lila responded emphatically, then revealed a grin. Gabrielle and Lila giggled.

Gabrielle asked her sister how she then got Meleager to bring her.  Interrupting Lila's answer, Cumae appeared, startling the two sisters.

"It's about time you two came." Cumae was a direct woman.

"You were expecting us?" Lila asked, excited to be apart of an adventure.

"I was the one who summoned you.  Although, I was expecting...more."   Cumae eyed them and wondered whether Sarah overestimated their help.

"Hey!" Gabrielle and Lila took offense in union.  They were not timid, these two, Cumae thought.

"She said you two would help gather the loyalists and help with the rescue."   They look at each other as confused as ever.

"Exactly what," Gabrielle started with Lila finishing "are you talking about."

Cumae's stern face broke into a smile.  A young boy came into the Inn to warn Cumae and the sisters.

"Cumae, the soldiers are searching every building for them, they have been declared outlaws."  Lila looked at her sister grinning, enjoying this excitement.

"I knew it was a matter of time for you Gabrielle, but I never thought I'd be one."

Gabrielle eyed her sister, "What is that supposed to mean?"

"We outlaws prefer the term loyalist." Cumae noted.

"Loyal to whom?" Gabrielle asked trying understanding why they were there. The look in Gabrielle's eye's was very familiar to the old woman.

"King Enerall.  Go now, you will get your answers when it is safe to talk. GO!" Cumae ordered. 

Gabrielle and Lila left for cover in the forest.  Cumae's explanations would have to wait.  Attention to their safety was the first order of business.

"I still don't know why we couldn't have hidden in the Inn, with a bed."   Lila shut up after Gabrielle gave her a cold look.

"Where did Meleager go?" Gabrielle asked, still concerned there was no sign of him.

"After I mentioned this was the place I thought the trouble was, he was going to find out about this overthrow and to see if he could find you.  He told me to stay put at our camp until he could determine what was going on," Lila explained.

"And of course you listened to and obeyed his words of warning," Gabrielle responded, her thoughts drifted to Xena.

"How many times had Xena told me to stay back, only to have to be bailed out of a dangerous situation because I didn't listen," Gabrielle thought guiltily to herself.

"What a heavy burden I must be for her," Gabrielle darkening thoughts were interrupted by Lila's justification for not listening to Meleager.

"He took a long time.  I was worried!"

Gabrielle nodded in understanding. "I know. I'm sure he is ok Lila. He is Meleager the MIGHTY remember." Gabrielle tried to convince herself of that as well.

Lila tripped over a tree root and bumping into Gabrielle. "Sorry...Gabrielle?   Who do you think this 'SHE' is Cumae kept referring to? And what does 'SHE' have to do with us?"  Lila asked very good questions.

"I hope Cumae will tell us soon. This place looks good."  Gabrielle made camp and wondered when she would ever get a good night's rest.

"Don't worry Gabrielle. We will get through this."  Lila smiled at her sister.  Gabrielle smiled back but she was weary and not as confident.

What ever happened to Meleager might happen to them. Gabrielle wasn't sure she could protect her sister. "It will certainly make for a good story."  Lila reminded her sister.

"Hey! I thought I was the bard!" Gabrielle shot back.

"Great, you get to travel, you get to be the Amazon Princess, you get to be the bard...there is not much left for me. Humph." Lila joked.

"Nonsense, you have many skills - you make great clay pots, and your nut bread is outstanding,"  Gabrielle offered.

"All true.  I can't believe I wanted more,"  Lila smiled at her sister.  They had succeeded in lifting each other's spirits.

Lila slept as Gabrielle stayed up guarding the camp.  Unlike Lila, there was no way she could sleep now, so she didn't try.  A noise in the woods alerted her someone was approaching.  Gabrielle realized the night would not be uneventful as she had hoped.  Standing with her staff in hand, she motioned the now wide-awake Lila to stay put. 

Proving she had to be related to Gabrielle, she ignored the warning and stood beside her sister.  When the noise came closer Gabrielle instinctively pushed Lila out of the way of an attack, landing her into the bushes. Within a now rapid heartbeat, Gabrielle thrust her staff into the darkness at the approaching body. It hit, thankfully, a friendly sword.

"I'm glad to see you too," Xena's voice, even if sarcastic, was a welcome sound.  Gabrielle breathed a big sigh of relief.  As Xena came from the darkness, they exchanged warm smiles.

Gabrielle's expression quickly changed when she realized she pushed her sister into the bushes for a false alarm.

"Ugh oh," Gabrielle uttered and called out her sister's name and apologized.

"Lila?!" Xena questioned.

Lila came from the bushes with twigs and leaves in her hair and on her clothes.

"If this is what I am missing by not getting out of Poteidia more, I think can go without it." She brushed the dirt and leaves off with Gabrielle awkwardly helping.   Lila eyed Gabrielle with annoyance.  Gabrielle took the hint and stopped 'helping'. "Great! We have some help!"  Lila remarked happily, spotting Xena.

"Help for what?" Xena asked.

"We are still trying to piece that together" Gabrielle sighed as they walked to the camp.

At the camp, the Gabrielle handed a thirsty Xena her skin of water and discussed what happened to them so far.

"Cumae she was the one who summoned us," Gabrielle relayed. 

"Why?" Xena asked.

"Don't know." Gabrielle sighed with obvious frustration. "We didn't get a chance to 'visit' before the soldiers came looking for us." Xena, always amazed at the trouble Gabrielle could attract, shook her head.

"You are in town for ONE day and you already have soldiers after you?  I thought I told you not to get into trouble...."

The sisters looked at each other with a playful glint in their eyes.

"They don't like aggressive strangers,"  Lila explained looking back to Xena.

"They thought we were loyalists,"  Gabrielle corrected, trying to be more specific.

"You beat them up,"  Lila added to correct her.

"I wouldn't of had to if you didn't attract their attention," Gabrielle countered defensively.

"I didn't attract their attention, I was just new in town and they questioned me, very rudely I must say!"  Lila turned to Xena to explain.

Xena sat back in amazement at the two debating over useless facts.

"You wouldn't have attracted their attention if you stayed put - like Meleager had told you to."  Gabrielle looked over to Xena. "By the way, we don't know where he is," Gabrielle explained then turned back to her sister who continued.

"Which is WHY I went into town,"  Lila explained and added "and I was a stranger. THANK you." Lila spoke with triumph.

"You are strange all right." Gabrielle muttered.  They looked at each other and grinned.

"Are either of you ever going to tell me something useful?" Xena finally asked, not sure of what just happened. She wondered, with some apprehension, whether they were always like this. 

Lila yawned, her fatigue overcoming her.

"Excuse me, I've got to get some sleep. Glad you're here Xena" Lila smiles and drags herself over to her bedding and plops down.

"Guess she's not use to all the excitement." Xena notes as she watches Lila.

"I'll be right back." Gabrielle got up.

"Isn't she a little old to be tucked in?" Xena responded. 

Gabrielle looked down at her friend not sure if she was being serious or sarcastic. "You're never too old to be tucked in." Gabrielle spoke with a sly grin.   Xena's eyebrow raised as she watched the young woman join her sister on the other side of the fire.

"I'm glad you are here and safe." Gabrielle told her sister.

"So far so good, no thanks to you." Lila playfully slapped Gabrielle's arm.

"For that, no bed time story - get some rest." 

Not a bad idea Lila thought. 

As they hugged good night, Xena watched. The sisters spoke again quietly then laughed.   Xena guessed it had something to do with their 'discussion' about their adventures in town which amused at least two of the three in the camp.  Xena tried not to stare but she found it hard not to watch the precious gift of affection as Gabrielle kissed her sister on the forehead.

What it would be like to be as open and free to express herself as those two did, Xena pondered. Out of necessity, she had perfected the skill of hiding her true emotions.   Expressing them was only a liability to a Warrior.  Over time, Xena successfully buried her feelings so deep she thought she could not resurrect them, even if she wanted to.  Yet without warning, a young woman named Gabrielle had arrived in her life and managed to extract long dormant emotions.   Even so, it would not be wise to completely forget that skill.  Xena knew she still had many enemies.    Because Gabrielle traveled with her, Gabrielle was already a target. 

Xena's thoughts returned to her concern about Gabrielle's reluctance to tell her about the dreams.  Perhaps Gabrielle was tired of this one-sided friendship, Xena guessed as her distorted perceptions grew.

"OK." Gabrielle came back and sat across from Xena. "Where was I?" She asked.

"You weren't really anywhere," Xena answered and stared as she was still pondering what she did to prevent Gabrielle from confiding in her. 

Assuming that stare was one of impatience, Gabrielle felt an embellished story, however artfully told, wouldn't be appreciated at this moment. "Ah, well, ... OK ...the short and sweet version."  Gabrielle took a breath ready to begin the explanation.

"A first..." Xena interjected, her thoughts and wits back to the present situation. Gabrielle feigned annoyance and looked coolly at Xena.

"I'll remember that,"  the bard responded before continuing with what she knew. 

"Anyway...King Enerall was overthrown and killed, there are still loyalists who the new King wants killed. Cumae summoned us for the mysterious "SHE", who thought Lila and I could help round up the loyalists and save her. Before we could find out who "SHE" was, soldiers came. Cumae said she would explain tonight." Gabrielle, finished her quickly told story with a large gasp. "There! Any questions?" 

Xena leaned back with amusement. "Gabrielle, 'short and sweet' really doesn't suit you."

The response made Gabrielle wonder what she meant by that.  Didn't she think Gabrielle could get the points across without having to embellish or did Xena actually start to appreciate her skill at embellishment?  Xena grinned, her response had the intended effect.

Xena kept waiting for Gabrielle to go to sleep but Gabrielle looked out to the forest waiting for Cumae. "You should go to sleep. I won't let you sleep through anything." Xena tried to convince her friend.

"I can't sleep now, we're so close to getting some answers." Gabrielle was not going to agree so easily.

Xena thought a change in subject would help lighten things up. "Hey, you didn't ask me whether I delivered the gift." Xena commented, holding back a grin.

"I don't have to."  Gabrielle, too tired to banter, said honestly not realizing how deeply that simple comment touched Xena.

Gabrielle's trust in her seemed absolute. Was it? Xena was still bothered by Gabrielle not willing to confide in her about the dreams. "You should really try to get some rest." Xena repeated.  Gabrielle could see a change in Xena's mood, incorrectly attributing it to annoyance with her decision not to go to sleep.

"All right. You won't even have to tuck me in...this time,"  Gabrielle smiled, giving in without much fuss.  Xena looked surprised, which pleased Gabrielle, as her comment had the intended effect.

Chapter 4 - Another Sister

Xena looked over at the Potedian sisters occasionally.  They were resting well she noted with relief.  The sunrise had struck Xena as particularly beautiful with it's vivid pastels.  Xena finished off the skin of water when she heard the noise of somebody coming from the woods.  In an instant, Gabrielle was standing ready with her staff, beside Xena.  There was no need for a fight this time, Xena and Gabrielle realized.  Both relaxed as Cumae emerged from the darkness.  Gabrielle and the now awake Lila exchanged hopeful looks.

"Xena? Ah ...now things really are looking up." Cumae took Xena's arm in greeting.

"I want some answers." Gabrielle interrupted the greeting rudely.

Xena cleared her throat in an attempt to get Gabrielle to show some more respect for the old woman. Cumae just smiled. "You are direct, much like your sister Gabrielle." Gabrielle looked over to Lila who also didn't understand how Cumae could make such comparisons. "Not that sister - your other sister, the one who needs your help - Sarah."

It took a moment for the words to sink in but when they did, Gabrielle's anger at the woman grew rapidly.  Xena noted a change in Gabrielle, who took a moment and gathered her strength to bury her anger.  This change left Xena uneasy. Gabrielle's eyes turned very cold as she spoke.

"Why are you saying this. Sarah is dead." Cumae shook her head no.

"She is alive, for now....Queen Sarah is captive in her own castle awaiting her death."  Gabrielle couldn't believe this woman, even if she was Xena's friend.   Gabrielle displayed no hint of her thoughts which were racing through her mind.   What exactly was she supposed to do with that information?  Sarah's alive. Sarah's about to be killed.

Lila waited for Gabrielle to make sense of the situation.  Yet seeing the usually verbose bard numb and speechless, Lila explained. "Our sister Sarah died many years ago. This is not ....an easy or welcome subject."

Gabrielle's eyes turned to Xena's for help.  Seeing the painful emotional upheaval that just occurred in Gabrielle, a feeling of helplessness overwhelmed Xena.  A feeling of panic filled her... that Gabrielle was growing away from her.   With her improved fighting skill, she didn't need Xena's protection anymore - and now, when she needed emotional support all Xena could offer was "Listen to what Cumae has to say."

They sat listening quietly to Cumae explain. Lila seemed more receptive to Cumae's words than Gabrielle, who stared at the fire. "Your sister Sarah is alive, but not for long. Grickas overthrew King Enerall and executed him. He plans on killing our Queen...your sister... at the end of the week."  Cumea obviously cared for the Queen.

"There is so much we don't understand." Lila spoke truthfully. "How she survived ... We were told she was killed trying to escape after she was captured by slavers."

Xena saw that Lila's words bothered Gabrielle. 

Cumae knew the answers but wouldn't share them. "It is Sara's story to tell." Cumae spoke simply.

Gabrielle stared at the fire. Xena recognized the look on Gabrielle's face.   Surely Gabrielle couldn't have felt responsible for what had happened to her sister all those years ago.  "Sarah needs your help or she won't be able to tell you that story."  Cumae added.

Lila and Gabrielle looked at each other for what seemed a long time.  Xena felt incredibly uncomfortable waiting but kept quiet.  After all, there was nothing she could do now but wait.  She wondered what was running through their minds. 

The sisters were not convinced the woman in trouble was their sister but a person was in trouble -and someone went to an awful lot of trouble for their help. Lila's look evoked a nod from Gabrielle.

"We've got a Queen to save." Lila spoke for both of them. The absence of comment from Gabrielle was disturbing to Xena. It was clear Gabrielle didn't object, but Xena grew more concerned the longer Gabrielle kept quiet. Gabrielle looked to her worried friend.

"Hey, it will give us something to do,"  Gabrielle shrugged, letting Xena know she was going to handle this.  Xena wasn't so sure.

They planned to rescue the Queen at dusk. The day would be a very long one for Gabrielle, Xena reflected. Cumae could do no more now.

"Well, Xena" Cumae walks with to the edge of the clearing with her old friend. "We've certainly got our work cut out for us. Those two are already outlaws you know." Cumae chuckled.

Xena looked back with a smirk, not surprised.

"Cumae, is it true. Sarah is their sister?" Cumae looked a bit annoyed.

"You know I would never say such things if they were not true." Xena immediately regretted asking. 

Cumae looked over at the two sisters. "They are not convinced, yet they will try to save the Queen. Sarah will be pleased her sister's have turned out to be such fine women....that is if we are successful." Cumae added. It was unlike Cumae to express any pessimism Xena noted.

"Be careful Cumae." Xena bid her friend goodnight.

Lila was getting ready to sleep again, having an extraordinary ability to sleep through anything. She would have preferred a bed.  Lila watched as Gabrielle left to fill up the water skin.  Gabrielle would have to sort things out herself, Lila concluded.    When Sarah was first thought dead, Lila had tried to tell Gabrielle there was nothing that could have been done, many times, too many to count.  Gabrielle never accepted that, instead accepting some blame which infuriated Lila.  Eventually, Lila and Gabrielle agreed never to discuss that topic with each other to avoid the arguments.

Gabrielle sat by the stream staring at the water.

"Well, we've got a plan." Xena noted to her friend after following her to the stream.

"Yes, we have a plan." Gabrielle agreed as Xena sat next to her friend.   

"Are you OK?" Xena asked.

"I'm scared we won't succeed." Gabrielle spoke honestly.

"We've faced worse before, why the doubts now?" Xena joked, not sure how to respond.

"I've failed before trying to help Sarah.  I ran to get help.  I wasn't fast enough." Gabrielle explained, then sighed. "And I never even checked out the messenger's story." Gabrielle added with disgust. 

Xena wanted to choose the right words to comfort her, just like Gabrielle had done for her so many times.  "That was a long time ago Gabrielle.  We both know it helps no one to live in the past."  Xena spoke with great feeling.

Gabrielle understood and agreed with Xena's point but emotions disregarded common sense. "Why didn't she  try to contact us before now?"  Gabrielle felt a new hurt.  Her question was rhetorical but Xena answered.

"Cumae says Sarah is like you.  If that is true, she must have had good reasons."

Chapter 5 - The Rescue

As the three women started their trek to the Castle's outer wall, they ran into the soldiers who did not give up their search for the two girls.

"Oh great." Gabrielle sighed to her sister, both recognized the soldiers.    As a soldier lunged from the forest, Gabrielle instinctively wanting to protect Lila, pushed her into the bushes - again. 

Xena somersaulted behind the attackers.  The soldiers were no match for Xena's sword and Gabrielle's staff.

"Friends of yours?" Xena asked after the brief attack was over.

"We ran into them in town.  I guess they were still upset,"    Gabrielle responded then realized she was in Lila's dog house again.   Lila emerged from the bushes.  Xena restrained a smile.  "Ah, are you OK?" Gabrielle tried to help an annoyed Lila, who pulled her arm our of Gabrielle's hand.

"This is getting old," Lila answered coldly.

The three found themselves at a heavily fortified wall of the Castle.

"Well?" Xena asked the young women. The sisters looked at each other a little confused.

"I thought it was this wall. The dream was so vivid."  Lila spoke with Gabrielle nodding. 

Xena sighed as she started to believe they were relying too heavily on the dreams. "Wonderful,"  Xena uttered.

"It's got to be this wall, I saw it too. We both can't be having the same dream and it not be true," Gabrielle spoke with conviction.  Xena gave Gabrielle an impatient look which was interrupted as an odd noise came from the wall.  Both, Xena and Gabrielle grabbed Lila, pulling her with them into better cover.  She was slower to realize they were going to encounter more trouble very shortly but caught on quick.

An entrance appeared when a secret stone door opened.  The now validated Gabrielle and Lila gave a look to Xena, who knew it was going to be a long night. 

A small band of guards came out for a night patrol and passed very closely to them.    Xena watched Lila, noting with appreciation she was alert and showed no fear.     She looked to Gabrielle,  who was also concerned about Lila tagging along.  However, Gabrielle knew Lila wouldn't have it any other way. 

Lila, surprising Xena, was first to head to the now visible entrance.  Xena looked back to Gabrielle who shrugged. "She's like me Xena" Gabrielle explained volumes, looking at her sister with respect.

"That's what I am afraid of," Xena  remarked dryly as she and Gabrielle quickly followed Lila into the castle. Xena's sarcastic comment stung the sensitive bard.

Lila seemed to have no problems with direction in the dark corridors as she kept leading them.

"Does any of this look familiar to you?" Xena asked Gabrielle but didn't get the conformation she was hoping for.

"Huh?" Gabrielle's mind was still on Xena's last comment.

"Good thing Lila knows where SHE is..." Xena remarked.  Gabrielle never felt more of a burden to the warrior then now.

Lila did an abrupt about face and came running back towards them.

"They seem a little upset." Lila spoke as she passed them and three soldiers followed.  The soldiers expressions changed when they saw Xena's sword drawn.    One ran to warn others.  After knocking out one soldier, Xena glanced over to Gabrielle to confirm she had everything under control before she went after the potential messenger.  Gabrielle easily handled the last threat to her sister. Gabrielle almost panicked noticing Xena had left.  She wasn't aware of all the surprises in the Labyrinth.

"We shouldn't waste any more time. Xena is buying us time," Lila commented and went in a different direction than Xena did.

Gabrielle didn't like leaving Xena alone in the Labyrinth, yet Xena was too fast for Gabrielle to warn her and was now out of sight.

Xena caught up to the guard and prevented his alerting the castle army.  However, she quickly appreciated the value of the castle's defensive design. She found herself unsure of which direction to go.


Gabrielle and Lila approached the dungeon cells cautiously but found that the guards were few and far between. Probably due to the confidence in the Castle's defensive design, Gabrielle thought. The sisters saw the outline of the woman they came to save.  The prisoner wore a white dress which almost glowed as she walked closer to the torch light. Her long hair was a beautiful red which matched Gabrielle's. They turned to each other unsure of how to feel. Lila saw a shiny object behind Gabrielle's head.

"Look," Lila blurted, spotting a key on the wall, and grinned.    "This is too easy!" 

That was precisely what worried Gabrielle.

Sarah looked over not able to focus on the two rescuers but knew who they were.    Hearing the guard come, she not so subtly warned her two sisters.

"Hour after hour you stop by...but we never really do get to visit.  Don't you have something you want to tell your Queen?" 

He grunted as he passed. She knew the guard was a dungeon guard for a reason.    "I bet no one ever said you talk too much."  Unbeknownst to Sarah, her usual humor was actually appreciated by the guard who didn't like the job he had to do.  A job he would do never-the-less.

After he left, Lila ran over with the key as Gabrielle stood guard a distance away.

"Sarah!"  Lila gasped with mixed emotions of joy, fear and relief as she fumbled to get the cell door open and release her beloved sister.

"Lila, if you calm down you'll be more likely to get the door open."    She place a calming hand on Lila's shoulder and looked into her eyes.   Sarah always was able to keep her head in a crisis Gabrielle noted, considering it a useful trait, especially now.  Unexpectedly, the guard came back. He saw Lila with the key.   Lila laughed nervously.

"Just visiting, I'll be going now."  Lila stumbled back as the Guard grabbed a sword.

"Hey," Gabrielle got his attention "Did you know it is very rude to pull a weapon out on someone who's unarmed?"

Gabrielle was ready with her staff.  The guard shook his head, she was obviously a fool.

"Gabrielle!"  Sarah spoke with great concern.

"Don't worry, she's really good," Lila informed her sister, then focused on the door, confidently leaving Gabrielle the task of taking care of the guard.    "She saved Poteidaia from a warlord once."  Lila explained as she opened the door.

The two watched Gabrielle disarm the Guard and quickly knock him out.

"How many more guards?" Gabrielle asked directly to Sarah, the first words she spoke to her sister in many years. She was all business. Sarah appreciated that in this situation.

"This level is the least guarded - there are ten guards who patrol."

"That makes five left," Gabrielle counted, surprising Sarah.

"We have help,"  Lila explained.

Gabrielle looked back at the corridor with concern that Xena was still gone.

"Do you think she got lost?" Lila asked.

Xena was getting really annoyed.  It seemed as if the path kept changing on her.   

Four more guards came at the Warrior Princess.  Noticing a stone statue sticking out of the wall, like the one Gabrielle mentioned in her dreams, a sly grin crossed her face.   She rested on the statue, calmly waiting for the men to get closer.    Finally getting close to her, Xena pushed the statue forward.  As in Gabrielle's dream, the floor opens up.  Unable to stop in time, the four men tumble to the bottom of the pit with thuds and groans.

"Thanks for dropping in...but I really have to go,"  She remarked then looked around, wishing she knew where.

Xena sighs with relief hearing a familiar voice.

"There you are!" Gabrielle called out, a sight for the warrior's sore eyes.    Walking towards Xena, Gabrielle jumped.

"What is it?" Xena looked around.

"A rat! Ugh!!!" Gabrielle responded with great disgust.  Xena sighed, refraining from a grin.

"I just don't like rats - OK?" Gabrielle spoke defensively.

"Did you find your sister?" Xena asked.

"They are outside the walls waiting for us," Gabrielle relayed no emotion or information - unlike what Xena had come to expect from Gabrielle.

"What now?" Lila asked Sarah as the warrior and bard met up with them outside the castle.

Xena couldn't help but notice how much Sarah and Gabrielle looked alike.  Sarah was about 10 years older but with strikingly similar hair and facial features.  Her eyes revealed weariness and experience that Xena hoped Gabrielle would never share.    Even so, Sarah was quite beautiful.

"I'm going to get my kingdom back and punish Grickas."  She spoke with utter confidence. "But first sanctuary and something to eat.  I'm starving.    The dungeon food was really bad." Sarah relayed, causing Lila to smile.

There was no question these three were sisters, Xena thought.

"You're placing a lot of faith in the strength of the loyalists, how can you be so confident there are enough and that they are willing to fight again?" Gabrielle asked not amused.

"Gabrielle, I am confident in the people's will to survive and their heart."

Lila could see her sisters look at each other without speaking. The silence was too much for her.

"Food sounds good," Lila spoke up.   

"And food you shall have," Sarah turned and put her arm on Lila's shoulder as she had done so many times in the past.

Gabrielle had a bad feeling as she watched them walk ahead.

"Are you OK?" Xena asked.

"She will try to get her kingdom back and Lila will be by her side." Gabrielle said matter-of-factly.

"You said she was like you.  In fact, they both seem to be as stubborn as you." Xena relayed.

Gabrielle nodded with a slight smile but thought to herself how often Xena had tried to protect her from situations like this.  The thoughts of her being a burden on Xena resurfaced stronger than before.

"Didn't your sister mention food?" Xena eyed her, troubled friend.

"I think she did." Gabrielle's spirits were somewhat lifted. 

Xena felt satisfied with the evenings successes. 

Gabrielle's thoughts kept returning to her concern about her being a burden.  She knew she had to do something to be less of a burden on the warrior.

After stealing a glance back at the Warrior Princess and Gabrielle silently following them, Sarah spoke softly to her youngest sister.  "Lila, what do you know about this woman Xena?"  Sarah quietly asked her sister as they traveled ahead.

"She is Gabrielle's best friend,"  Lila said simply.

"I think I've figured that out Lila. I can see they are ...close.  But what do you KNOW about her?  What I have heard, well, troubles me." Sarah revealed honestly.

"She was a ruthless warrior once, but she's changed for the better.  She would have to be to be Gabrielle's best friend." Lila reminded her.

Sarah nodded relieved and reflected on the parallels to her own life.

"Gabrielle has changed too." Sarah commented smiling. "She swings a pretty mean staff doesn't she?" Sarah added.  Lila laughed in agreement.

"We are here" Sarah said with cautious enthusiasm to Lila.

Unaware the rescue would be successful so soon, Cumae came to the door to tell the visitors the Inn was closed. "Go on now we don't stay open late anymore. Good Gods, your majesty is it you?" She squinted her eyes.

"Yes Cumae, thanks to my sisters and Xena." Gabrielle and Xena caught up to them.

"I am afraid I need your help again my friend." Sarah stated concerned about everyone's safety.

"Ma'am what ever you need is yours. Come you'll be safe here."  Sarah held back Lila when she started to enter.

"Cumae, you have risked your life for me before - and you are doing so again now. If caught, you will die."  Sarah was painting a bleak picture.

"We are dying now ma'am, only very slowly. Now are you going to stand out here and make it happen quicker!" The woman motioned them in.

"No ma'am," Sarah answered and they entered.

"I'm going to make sure this place is secure," Xena mentioned to Gabrielle and her sisters, wanting to give them a chance to talk.

"I'll go with..." Gabrielle responded, but was quickly interrupted by Xena.

"That's OK, I think I can handle it." Xena looked at Gabrielle then Sarah, who appreciated what the Warrior friend was doing.  Gabrielle sighed, dejected at yet another sign of Xena considering her not helpful, a burden. Xena left with Cumae following.

In front of the Inn, Xena and Cumae looked around. 

"It won't be long before this place is covered with soldiers looking for Sara."  Xena mentioned to her friend.

"We have a place underneath the Inn that will hide all of you. I will start the round up of the loyalists now." Cumae started to leave when Xena held her arm.

"Cumae, do you know what you and these loyalists are getting into?" Cumae turned.

"Oh yes Xena, I know exactly what we are getting into." Xena released her arm and watched her dart across the street to the tavern.  Xena explored the Inn's unremarkable exterior.

"You are angry," Sarah stated to Gabrielle after a long silence.

"We lost so much time." Gabrielle spoke cautiously.

"I have imagined this day when we would be together again. I didn't think it would ever happen. So much time has passed. I don't know where to start." Sarah sighed with pain.

"Well ...how about the beginning?" Gabrielle offered coldly, torn inside with annoyance being the only reaction she would let out.  Lila sat silently listening to Gabrielle ask the questions.

"The beginning...." Sarah sighed heavily, ready to explain the unpleasant past. "As you know, I was captured by the Ouzas and sold into slavery." She paused unable to meet her sister's eyes.  "I had six owners in a short period of time. They found me...difficult.  I ended up very far away from home and found unsuitable for hard labor when the last owner got me pregnant." Sarah spoke matter-of-factly.  Gabrielle and Lila glanced at each other.

"He wanted me to kill the baby because he had no use for one.  I refused and he took it upon himself to kill his own child.  But before the owner could kill Beula himself, we were rescued by a Warrior.  Despite his harsh reputation, Enerall showed us great compassion.  He was feared by so many, but I found his heart."

Lila looked over at Gabrielle who was entranced by this long overdue tale.

"He accepted Beula and me into his life.  I fell in love with him despite his warring ways." 

Gabrielle and Lila wondered what happened to their niece but allowed Sarah to continue.

"Eventually, Beula and I were able to change his ways. He became a good leader and eventually king of this land." 

Lila looked over at Gabrielle again, this time commenting.  "That seems to be a trend in this family."  Gabrielle dismissed the comment.

"What happened to Beula?" Gabrielle finally asked.

Sara's eyes moistened, revealing the sad answer.

"She died two years ago...playing by the river."  Sarah couldn't continue as the memories of the recent and distant past overwhelmed her.  The sisters held hands tightly.

"What ever you need, we will do." Gabrielle spoke for Lila who nodded.

"I am so sorry Sara, I had no right to treat you so harshly."  Gabrielle added with an aching heart for her sister. Sarah looked up at her sisters gaining strength.

"We must live for now and the future." Sarah assured Gabrielle of no ill feelings.  With one problem resolved, Gabrielle thought about the next.

"We will need to assess our strength against the enemy's and then come up with a full proof plan." Gabrielle spoke confidently.

"Obviously" Lila commented rolling her eyes. Sarah was happy to see her sisters were as close as they were in childhood.

A loud thumping at the door made the sisters jump. 

"Castle guards probably looking for me."  Sarah said to her sisters. "Time to hide," she added, leading them to the hiding place.  Sarah opened the entrance to a well supplied hideout - a welcome sight to Lila and Gabrielle.

"Remind me to thank Cumae.  Although, I would have liked to have a bed the other night,"  Lila noted to Gabrielle.

"Outlaws can't be choosers" Gabrielle remarked, gently pushing her sister to move her more quickly.

"I'm going, I'm going,"  Lila blurted.

Xena came in from the back. "Very nice," she relayed, also impressed with the setup. 

"A bit jumpy are we? They'll be here soon though - go on in, there's food and water inside," Cumae remarked with amusement as she came in and closed the door behind them.

Sarah and Lila sat down away from the door while Xena and Gabrielle were poised near the entrance just in case.

"Is everything OK?" Xena asked nonchalantly as she picked up a water flask and took a drink.  This water was sweet like the water at the camp, Xena noted as she sipped it.

"Except for the current situation. Not too bad..." Gabrielle smiled warmly.    Xena grinned and handed her friend the water flask.

"Thanks" Gabrielle eagerly took a drink.

Sarah watched the two together, remembering how Enerall would also know what she needed without a word spoken between them.  Even after Lila's assurances that Xena was "good" now, that seemly simple gesture convinced her. 

As Gabrielle went over to the basket of food by Lila, Xena noticed Sarah looking straight at her.

Xena returned the stare.  "We need to discuss a few things,"  the warrior remarked, ready to make plans.

Sarah, not intimidated by Xena, nodded.

"Agreed," Sarah responded, glancing towards Gabrielle.

"But the first thing we should discuss is our plan," Sarah added, returning her gaze to a now uneasy Xena.

Xena's eyes widened in surprise.  She also glanced over at Gabrielle, who came over when she heard the word "strategy." 

Sarah held back a smile at how the fierce Xena could be made so uncomfortable.

"Have I missed anything?" Gabrielle asked, eyeing Xena and Sarah.

"No Gabrielle, we have just started,"  Xena responded.

Chapter 6 - The Offensive

The access to the castle was not as easy the second time around.  Finding the Queen missing had put the castle on full alert.  The town and the castle walls were teeming with many more guards.

"Looks like we are going to have to find another way in," Xena noted.    Gabrielle's mind raced through her dream clues for an answer.

"Cave..." Gabrielle uttered.

"What?" Xena asked, not sure if she hear her friend right.

"I remember a cave with a pond..." Gabrielle looked right through Xena as she recalled the vision of a cave.

"You never mentioned a cave dream," Xena thought she had told her everything.   What else was Gabrielle withholding from her, she wondered. Gabrielle got up and looked around.

"That way. Come on."

"Gabrielle," Xena spoke after having followed her unusually quiet friend for a mile. 

Gabrielle turned, annoyed.  "You don't think I know what I'm doing do you?" Xena was surprised at her friend's tone.

"I never said - I just thought it would nice if you let me in on what you were doing," Xena snapped.  Why would she expect Gabrielle to confide in her now, Xena thought.

"I am LOOKING for the way into the Castle." Gabrielle responded with a grating tone.

"By going far AWAY from the Castle?" Xena shot back with a good observation for someone who had not received clues through her dreams.

"Yes! If you want to go back that's fine with me," Gabrielle was getting tired of Xena's apparent criticism of her abilities even though she knew she was a burden.    She started back on her quest for an entrance.  Xena was shocked at Gabrielle's comment. 

"Oh no, I'm too interested in your Cave," Xena responded with sarcasm.

"There it is," Gabrielle found the entrance to the cave.  It was as she remembered.  A murky, natural looking pool drew Gabrielle towards it.

"Nice cave. Now what?" Xena asked with sarcasm as she looking around.    Gabrielle took a breath and jumped into the pool and felt around for the passage.

"What are you doing?"

Gabrielle was now waist deep in the murky water. "There is a passage from this pool to the Castle. Here."  After locating that passage, Gabrielle tied her hair back.

"You can't be serious. The castle is very far away. You have to breath Gabrielle," Xena walked over to the side of the pool.

At first Gabrielle was upset by her comments, taking them as lack of confidence in her.    Looking at Xena's worried face, Gabrielle's feelings made no sense to her.    Trying to allay Xena's concerns Gabrielle explained.

"There are spots of air along the way...and the passage is not underwater the entire way."

Xena eyed her thinking that this sounded like something the designers of the Castle would create.  "OK, let's go," Xena relayed. 

Gabrielle stopped her. "No. I should go first to make sure the way is clear.    There are a few....obstacles that I remember from my dreams. Oh yeah." Gabrielle got out of the pool.  She went to her bag and pulled out a dagger.

"Don't want to forget this.  A little big to pick a lock for my tastes but it'll work." Gabrielle put the dagger back in her bag and draped the bag over her head and shoulder.

"Wait a minute, what lock?" Xena grabs her arm, keeping her from entering the pool.

"About half-way there is a locked gate. Not a problem with the right tools," Gabrielle patted her bag.

Xena shook her head with exasperation, seeing there is no way to change Gabrielle's mind.  The only thing she could think to do, she did with reluctance.

"Wait." Xena ordered her.

Gabrielle turned with annoyance, starting to get angry with Xena's interference.    Xena removed her breast dagger and held it out.

"Is this a better size?"  Xena asked. 

Her emotions a jumble, Gabrielle just nods. As Gabrielle reaches for it, Xena takes her hand and squeezes it.

"Promise me you will be careful."  Xena's request was not fulfilled.

"If I was going to be really careful, I wouldn't be doing this," Gabrielle joked.

Xena wasn't letting her go without promising.

"Xena, promising won't take the risk away.  But I WILL be careful." Gabrielle responded.  She had to prove to Xena she could do this and carry her own weight.  She also had to do it for Sarah and the people of Walsas. Even with Xena's skill, Gabrielle had insight Xena didn't have.  Gabrielle knew she the right person to go.

As Gabrielle entered the pool the second time, she spoke to Xena with an aura of maturity and confidence that was both attractive and disturbing. 

Where would she fit in Gabrielle's life once this was all over, Xena pondered.    Xena's doubt that there was any place for her weighed heavy as she watched Gabrielle.  "You should wait about twenty minutes before following."

Back in town, Lila and Sarah finished speaking to another small group of loyalists.

"There are so many loyalists." Lila smiled.

"They are friends," Sarah corrected. The group started to express concern about taking on the soldiers in the Castle as did every other group.  However, this group had the most vocal opposition.

"We will just get killed." The blacksmith blurted.

"I can not guarantee your safety or anyone's safety.  You must believe in the cause and go with your heart." Sarah spoke looking directly into the Blacksmith's eyes. This quieted the blacksmith but not the group. Some friends, Lila thought.

"We are not warriors" The baker spoke.

"Yeah!" Others spoke up in agreement, not convinced their efforts would be successful.

"Neither am I," Lila spoke in a firm yet soft voice which got everyone's attention.

The crowd had an interest in what this young girl by their Queen's side had to say. "And I don't live here.  Yet, I am willing to fight for what is right. Grickas is not the ruler who will support or protect you - he will exploit you until he can exploit you no more. Then he will kill you - remember what happened to your king. You may die trying to get the kingdom back. But as Cumae said, you are already dying - just slowly." 

The group was impressed with this young woman but not as impressed as Sarah.

Xena swam for a long time wondering if there really were places to breath along the long underwater passage. She came across the first stop surprised at how difficult the swimming was and wondered how Gabrielle was faring.  She continued her underwater trek and finally reached the halfway point - the gate.  The door was wide open, evidence of Gabrielle's lock picking skill.  It appeared Gabrielle was doing very well indeed.  Swimming through to the next air pocket, Xena came upon the end of the watery passage and into a dead end.  She swam back to the previous breathing spot. "Gabrielle, you didn't mention a dead end."  Xena muttered contemplating her options.

Gabrielle was thrown into a cell with a thud.

"Hey!" She yelled back at them, still soaking from the watery passage.

"Gabrielle?" A familiar voice came from the other side of the cage.

"Meleager?" Gabrielle turned and saw her friend emerge from the darkness.

"In the flesh..." She gave him a big hug.

"I was worried about you when Lila..." He stopped her in mid sentence.

"Is she OK? And you? You are OK?" Gabrielle smiled.

"Yes we are both fine.  Lila is with Sara.  And I am fi..well, a prisoner."  Gabrielle looked around realizing this may not be a good definition of fine.  Meleager smirked.

"Rather informal with the Queen's name aren't we?"

Gabrielle smiled. "She's why we were brought here, she's my sister."

Meleager blinked. "Hun? You mean Lila thought ...you ....but ...your sister Sarah?" Meleager didn't hide his confusion.

"Yes. It will make a good story - for another time. We have to get out of here." Gabrielle didn't want Xena to have to bail her out yet again.  She wouldn't have to with Meleager's help, Gabrielle thought.

Meleager eyed her dripping clothes.

"I won't have to wait to find out why you are all wet, will I?"

Grickas was dining on a wild boar with four slave women tending to he every need.    His overthrow of Enerall was sweeter than expected.  His lieutenant interrupted his evening of pleasure with disturbing news.

"Sir we caught a young woman coming out of the water in the southern corridor." He looked him in the eye with interest.

"What? Was she alone?" He asked feeling a rebellion coming.

"Yes, but we've posted guards and will send someone to secure the gate." Grickas, momentarily relieved, stood up and paced.

"Who is this girl?" He asked.

"We...didn't ask" The lieutenant admitted with embarrassment, averting the angry glare of the new king.

"What!?! Someone, a woman, is found getting past our defenses and you didn't bother to ask her name when you catch her?" Grickas was truly amazed at the stupidity.

"I guess we should have..." The lieutenant scratched his head. Grickas smiled and patted the lieutenant on the back as he leaned towards the man in confidence.

"Yes I think that would have been appropriate." He said with great restraint.

"So, I guess I should go get that information from her?" The lieutenant asked.

"Oh, no, no don't bother yourself." Grickas patted him on his back in a friendly gesture just before he thrust a dagger into the lieutenant's abdomen. "I'll get someone else do it." Grickas says matter-of-factly as the body falls on the floor. "Oh, corporal!!"

"It will never work." Meleager complained.

"Quiet." Gabrielle instructed, wondering why Xena was taking so long.

"I'm cold." Meleager whined.

"Me too. Shhh." She responded. "I hear him coming." Gabrielle announced.

The guard came to the cell with some food for them.  He looked in the cell to find the warriors clothes on the ground and Meleager under the covers apparently in the throws of passion. The guard smirked and placed the food in the cell, noticing a dinar just out of reach of the cell bars.  The guard saw no threat from a couple going at it, so he opened the cell door to retrieve the gold. Gabrielle jumped down from a dark corner and knocked the guard out cold with the cell door.

"See!" Gabrielle looked triumphantly over to an impressed and chilly Meleager.

Xena finally came upon the cell and her friend after the excitement was over.

"What took you so long?" Gabrielle smiled having everything in hand. Xena looked over to Meleager putting on his clothes.

"Do you mind?" He barked.

"I shouldn't ask should I?" Xena looked back to her friend.

"Well, we've solved the Meleager Mystery." Gabrielle takes the keys off the guard.

"You didn't tell me about the dead end..." Xena mentioned, a bit annoyed.

"What dead end?" Gabrielle asked, genuinely surprised.

"Never mind..." Xena remarked noticing Meleager coming forward, now dressed.

"Don't tell me we could have just waited for Xena to come," he suspiciously eyed Gabrielle who grinned and changed the subject.

"We've got work to do."  Gabrielle led the way towards the armory.

"That wasn't funny!" Meleager remarked, a bit annoyed. "Does she do this to you?"  He asked Xena.

"Do WHAT exactly?" Xena glanced over to where Meleager had dressed the back to the man.

"Sound the alarm, the prisoners have escaped!" The corporal had ordered, finding a guard unconscious in the prison cell. Upon further inspection of the area there was no sign of the woman he was to interrogate. "So much for my promotion."    The corporal gulped, thinking of his fate.

A dull gong rang through the kingdom which signaled to the loyalists to rush the castle.

"May the gods be with us," the blacksmith spoke to Lila.

"They are." She spoke confidently.  Sarah prayed her sister was right -there was no turning back now.  Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other in the armory, hearing a premature gong.

"They must have noticed you've escaped," Xena concluded.  Xena started for the door with Meleager but Gabrielle stayed behind. "Gabrielle!" Xena called out with impatience.

"We are not done yet." Gabrielle said with panic, seeing about half of the weapons have not been destroyed. There remained too many spears and arrows, Gabrielle thought as she assessed the inventory with concern.

"Gabrielle, we have to make sure the gate is open for the loyalist attack," Xena reminded her.

Gabrielle thought a moment. "You two go on, I'll finish here." Xena grabbed her arm.

"NO! The guards will be here any second."

Gabrielle looked into her eyes with anger that Xena had never seen before.

"Too late, they are already here." Meleager called out, tripping two guards and killing them instantly.  Four more came quickly after them.

"You've got to get the front gate open! I'll do my best to hold them off." Meleager yelled.  Gabrielle reluctantly followed his instructions.

Gabrielle and Xena fought what seemed like an endless number of soldiers along the way to the front gate. Gabrielle was exhausted but continued on with Xena leading the way. "By the gods, doesn't she ever tire?" Gabrielle questioned but was thankful Xena was as strong as ever.  Xena thrived on the challenge of the fight against overwhelming odds. Gabrielle simply wanted to get to the front gate.

They were within sight of their objective. Gabrielle considered what they still needed to do with concern...cross a large open courtyard, deal with a dozen soldiers, move the large dead bolt and open the gate.  However, the close proximity of the gate and Xena's war cry gave Gabrielle her second wind.  She skillfully blocked and parried three soldier's sword blows with renewed vigor.

With a big grin, Xena somersaulted over the amazed guards.  After Gabrielle and Xena took care of most of the guards, Xena attempted to slide the door's incredibly heavy and complex looking gate bolt.  It was more difficult to free than she expected.    Gabrielle, finishing up with two soldiers came over to lend a hand.

"On the count of three." Xena instructed her.

"Wait!" Gabrielle called out, spying something - a small metal nail. She pulled it out and the large complex gate bolt falls apart.

"Hmmmm," Xena stared at the bolt pieces on the ground.

"I'm sure you loosened it up," Gabrielle offered.

Xena's attention was diverted to the two arrows that were coming directly at them.    Xena caught one that was aimed for Gabrielle's heart and let the other fly past her head.  Gabrielle gasped. 

"Gods, she must get tired of having to protect me all the time," a surprised Gabrielle thought to herself.

"I've got a couple of archers to take care of,"  Xena announced and left in pursuit of the roof top danger as more soldiers appeared from the castle interior.

Gabrielle opened the gate. The Loyalists' charge in allowed her a small moment of relief during this conflict. That relief was replaced with a new anxiety as she saw her older sister Sarah ride in with a dozen horsemen and her younger sister Lila rush in on foot with the rest of the Loyalists.  Her sisters were now in the midst of the battle and danger.

Grickas spied the events unfolding from his castle window. The number of loyalists surprised him. He saw a young, familiar looking woman with red hair fighting well. Yet she was not Sara.

"It looks like Sarah has friends AND family I will need to deal with." He rubbed his chin grinning at the prospect. "But at another time. This battle is theirs ...." He turned to his advisor. "Quickly, distribute the rest of the drugged water.  We will have our final victory soon." Grickas stroked his pendant, containing a small vile of concentrated forgus, the last of his supply. He might have to actually work to conquer his enemies once the forgus was gone, he mused. He decided to worry about that when the time came.

The fighting seemed to go on for an eternity as Gabrielle watched her sisters out the corner of her eye.  When Meleager appeared, Gabrielle's hope grew that this signaled that the fighting would soon be over.  The soldiers realized they were defeated and started to flee.

"We should stop them!" Meleager spoke, meeting up with Gabrielle and her sisters. There were no more soldiers standing on the field of fierce fighting.

"No, we have fought enough today." Sarah spoke on horseback. The loyalists cheered their Queen. "Secure the castle." She announced to the group.

"Have we won?" Lila asked with enthusiasm, as Sarah dismounted from her horse.

Gabrielle felt uneasy still not seeing Xena.

"Victory is ours," Sarah spoke with a smile.

"What about Grickas?" Lila asked realizing the unfinished business. "There will be justice Lila, but not today." Sarah spoke placing a hand on her shoulder.

Two archers on the castle's tower quickly fired their first and second round of arrows towards the unsuspecting party.

"Gabrielle! Archers!" Xena could only yell a warning.  She was delayed by a fight with three guards as she ascended to neutralize the archers. 

With a sweep of her staff, Gabrielle stopped only two of the arrows, preventing Lila from getting hit.  However, two arrows hit their targets. Meleager and Sarah fell to the ground. Xena arrived at the two archer's location stopping anymore rounds by delivering swift justice with her sharp sword.

Lila was in shock as Gabrielle looked over the wounds of Sarah and Meleager.

"Xena!" Gabrielle called for her friend with a chilling urgency.

Chapter 7 - The Aftermath

The injured were taken within the Castle. Lila assured Xena and Gabrielle space as she directed the concerned loyalists away from the newly designated hospital area. Xena looked over the injuries.

"Meleager needs attention first."  Xena looked Gabrielle in the eye wondering if she would argue.  Xena wasn't sure of what to expect from Gabrielle's these days, remembering her odd responses in the cave and armory.

"What can I do?" Gabrielle asked which reassured Xena there wouldn't be a conflict over this at least.

"A hot sword to cauterize the wound."

Gabrielle nodded and retrieved what Xena needed.

Meleager gritted his teeth and tried not to yell out as Xena pushed the head of the arrow through.  He moaned then passed out from the pain.  Xena was glad because the cauterization would hurt more - in addition to smelling really disgusting. 

Without words, Gabrielle understood Xena and held down Meleager just in case he awoke.    Unflinchingly, Xena, with more experience with this treatment than she cared to recall, placed the hot sword against Meleager's wound. The stench caused Gabrielle to cough.

"Are you OK?" Xena asked.  Gabrielle had heard that question so many times from Xena.  Am I OK? Gabrielle asked herself.  Having been captured and causing the alarm to sound prematurely, having been too slow to catch the arrows that hit her sister and good friend, Gabrielle would have to say no.

"What's wrong?" Xena asked seeing an odd look on Gabrielle's face.  Now was not the time to breakdown and add more proof that she was truly a burden, Gabrielle decided.

"Are you guys going to treat Sarah?" Lila asked impatiently seeing them stare at each other and apparently finished with Meleager.  Sarah was in pain but good spirits.  Xena and Gabrielle moved to Sara's cot.

"Any time," Sarah looked Xena in the eye.  The arrow was already through her shoulder.  Xena snapped off its head and removed the arrow shaft. "So far so good." Sarah breathed heavily. 

Xena looked at her and explained what she was going to do next. "I can block the pain for the cauterization but it must be temporary.  You will then have great pain until I can get you herbs." 

Sarah nodded.

Xena pressed the appropriate nerve points causing numbness in Sara's body.

"I can't move." Sarah voiced a small amount of concern.

"That's expected." Xena remarked.

"Oh. " Sarah looked at Gabrielle who nodded in confirmation. 

The wound was quickly sealed with no pain. Gabrielle took the sword from Xena. From Xena's expression, Sarah realized she was sorry to have to return the feeling and pain.

"I know, this will hurt me more than it will hurt you. I'm ready - I think." She spoke with a dignity and humor that gained Xena's respect.  Tears filled Sara's eyes as she silently endured the pain until she passed out.

"Thank you," Gabrielle spoke to Xena as if she was a stranger.    Gabrielle turned and walked out of the room.

"Gabrielle?"  Xena called out and started to follow.  Lila stopped her.

"Xena, Gabrielle needs to be alone."  Xena's eyes disclosed annoyance with Lila's interference.

"She feels this is her fault..." Lila looks to the unconscious patients Meleager and Sarah.  "For not stopping all the arrows." 

"And you think we should leave her alone thinking that?"  Xena questioned Lila's advice. 

Lila nodded, remembering it was easier to talk some sense into a calmer Gabrielle vice one still emotionally distraught.  "She's not in a listening mood right now." 

Xena thought a moment, her emotions a jumble.  She wanted to help Gabrielle through this but Lila must know better.  She was her sister after all.  Xena's thought's crept back to her where her place would be in Gabrielle's life after this was over and the only answer she came up with was nowhere.

Hours later, after seeing that her patients were resting well, Xena went for a walk in the castle in hopes of distracting her from her thoughts of Gabrielle.  She made her way down to the soldier's post at the entrance to the labyrinth.  A rat crossed her path and made her smile recalling Gabrielle's reaction to those creatures. This detour, while interesting, was not going to distract her enough to push out thoughts of Gabrielle.   

Continued - Part 2