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Athena's Village

by Sundevil

Chapter One

The two women walked into town weary and looking as if they had just fought for their very lives. The two were equally beautiful but strikingly different. One was small and had the look of someone who saw the world as if it were something wondrous, while the other was a raven haired beauty that had the unmistakable look about her that said "look but don't touch, but I'd prefer you not even look. They were leading a beautiful palomino horse that had her head down showing that even she needed her rest.

"There, there Argo. We'll stop here in this village for awhile so that all of us can take a rest," the dark haired woman said to the horse petting it affectionately. "I know how tired you are."

"You know, sometimes I think you would rather be around animals than human beings," her companion commented.

"Animals are easier to read than people. People can lie very easily and are not always to be trusted. You should know that by now," glancing sideways to her friend.

"I know Xena, but I still think it's a shame that people have to be so cruel and deceitful to each other. I don't understand why we all can't just be more honest with one another."

Xena just looked at her friend and smiled. After all that Gabrielle has seen and been through since joining her, she still had a way of looking at the world with the hope of a child. After Perdicus was killed, Gabrielle lost that look and Xena was afraid for her friend then. All Gabrielle could think about was killing Callisto in revenge but Xena knew that even Callisto's death wouldn't have eased Gabrielle's pain. She was proud of Gabrielle when she fought the urge to kill and won. Xena didn't even want to think of what might have happened to Gabrielle had she gone through with her plan. The guilt of Callisto's death was almost more than Xena could stand, she didn't even want to think of what it would have done to her gentle natured friend.

As if sensing her friend's pensive mood, Gabrielle quickly changes the topic. "So just where are we anyway? I don't think we've stopped here before but, then again, we've stopped so many places that I sometimes forget."

"I came through here once with my army. I think it's called Phoenicia." Noticing Gabrielle's look when she mentions her army, "No. I didn't attack the village so there shouldn't be any problems. We were on our way to try to destroy Hercules."

Gabrielle wisely decided to let the subject drop and they continued down the street in silence. Even though she was a bard and had a natural desire to always talk and tell a story, Gabrielle knew there were times when Xena preferred her to be quiet if only for a little while. As they walked in silence through the village, Gabrielle had a chance to look around at the people there. She noticed that the wares being sold by the merchants were of the finest quality ever seen in Greece. They were the type of merchandise that a warlord would love for his very own and she wondered why the people didn't seem concerned but, in fact, seemed as if they didn't have a worry in the world.

"Xena have you noticed how peaceful this place is? The merchandise is some of the finest I have ever seen and yet no one is around to protect it or the merchants themselves."

"I've been noticing that. I'm surprised that one of the local warlords I've heard so much about hasn't tried to make this town part of his conquests and raided it yet," picking up a beautifully decorated bowl. "Look at this, pure gold. This is exactly the kind of town I preferred to attack in my past." Xena starts looking around and finally finds what she was searching for. She goes over to the shopkeeper whose bowl she had picked up.

"Can I get you anything miss," the shopkeeper kindly asked. He's an older man who looks as if her might have been in many battles but decided that the quieter life was for him. "My name is Avondale, but everyone here calls me A-guy," he stated with the biggest smile Gabrielle has ever seen.

"Why are there no guards to prevent an attack? With such fine merchandise surely there must be raids by the warlords that are nearby. Why aren't people afraid of such an attack?"

"We have no need to be afraid Xena." Xena looks at the shopkeeper sharply when he says her name. "Yes I know who you are. I was here when you passed through all those years ago and I was one of the many who thanked the Gods that you decided to spare our village and go on your way. Today we have nothing to fear because we are protected by the great goddess Athena herself. She sends her warrior Deanlu to protect us whenever we are in danger."

Gabrielle leaned closer to the shopkeeper. She has always prided herself on knowing all the stories about of the Gods and their warriors, but had never heard of this Deanlu before and she found herself curious. "Who is this Deanlu? I have never heard of him before."

Emphasizing the first part, "She's a warrior like no other, not even Xena. She does not need an army to help her for she has defeated whole ones by herself. I have personally seen her do battle and it is truly an amazing sight. It has been said that even Callisto herself was afraid to do battle with one of Athena's chosen." At the mention of Callisto, Xena's and Gabrielle's interest was truly peaked. "I am not the best storyteller in town though so I can not do the warrior proud with my own recollections. If you like I can take you to the local tavern and the owner will tell you all you want."

Xena merely nodded and Gabrielle was silent but both were thinking the same thing. The mention of someone who could frighten even Callisto took them by surprise. Even Xena, who eventually defeated Callisto, never frightened her. They were both interested in hearing more about this Deanlu person, whoever she was. Each also had a private reason for wanting to hear more stories. Gabrielle, being the bard, was always looking for more stories about heroes, and one that could scare the woman who murdered her husband was one she would enjoy telling. Xena wanted to know more about why Athena had sent this warrior to protect a specific village. It was unlike the gods, especially the Goddess of War, to care that much for mortals that they would send a protector.

Xena left Argo in the trustworthy hands of the shopkeeper's apprentice and followed him to the tavern. On their way Xena and Gabrielle took a closer look at the village. It was different from many of the other villages they've been through. Although the wares the merchants sold were the same as in other villages, they were of a much better quality and there was a substantially larger variety to choose from. Also the way that the shops were set up was something not seen often. Instead of clogging up the streets with their tables, the merchants were in the buildings that made up the town with displays in the windows to show what was inside.

As they were getting deeper into town Gabrielle made a sudden realization. "Where are all the children?"

"What do you mean?" A-guy was genuinely puzzled by Gabrielle's question. Xena looked around and noticed that Gabrielle was right. Other than a few very young children with their mothers, there were no children in sight.

"I mean where are all the children? It's the middle of the day and there are no kids playing." Gabrielle waved her arms as if to emphasize the point. Xena faced the shopkeeper and gave him a look that dared him to try to lie to them.

The shopkeeper never even noticed the look. "Why they are all in school of course," pointing toward a building in the middle of the village square. "They go everyday. We feel it's important that the children learn about their fellow people."

This satisfied Xena and Gabrielle's curiosity about the children for the moment, but it only made them more interested in the town itself. There was something not quite tangible in the air and it bothered both that they couldn't quite figure it out. Finally they stopped in front of the tavern.

"Here we are. Come on, I'll introduce you to the owner." A-guy led them into what had to be the largest tavern that anyone had ever built. It had a long bar on the side that extended all the way from one end to the other. There were three bartenders doing their best to keep up with the customers orders. Waitresses, dressed in garb similar to Gabrielle's own Amazon outfit, were hurrying from table to table refilling orders. Finally the bartender closest to them noticed them and came over.

"Hey Avondale, it's a bit early for you to be here isn't it? I wasn't expecting to see you until sundown," she says with a hint of affection. Noticing Gabrielle and Xena by his side, "and I see you didn't come alone today either. Cat will be so disappointed."

"Knock it off Okie," he replies grinning to his oldest and dearest friend, "this is Xena and her friend Gabrielle. They wanted to hear some stories about Deanlu so I brought them to see your boss."

"Why don't you check in back," Okie says as she heads to another customer and the trio are quickly forgotten. A-guy leads the two woman toward the back of the tavern. They come across a door that is ornately decorated and plastered with pieces of parchment that hold various messages. A-guy knocks on the door and without waiting for an answer opens it. There is no one in the room but they can hear someone in the closet nearby.

"I've got some people I'd like you to meet." A woman comes out of the closet and Gabrielle's breathing all but stops. The woman is wearing a dress of a deep blue and white and is made of the softest material that anyone had ever seen. Xena, becoming aware of her friends heightened emotions, is curious about this woman but also cautious. Before any introductions are even made, though, she gets an unexpected shock.

"Becky," Gabrielle whispers in the quietest voice that Xena has ever heard her use before, "is it really you?"

"Hello Gabrielle. It's really me," the woman replies.

"You two know each other?" Xena asks Gabrielle, surprised that she should know someone so far from Poteidaia.

Gabrielle responds so quietly that Xena can barely hear her, but she never expects Gabrielle's response. "She"s my sister."

Chapter Two

Xena's shocked. "Your sister. I thought you only had Lilla."

Becky turns to Gabrielle. "So father told you never to speak of me again and you kept your promise not to, like a good little daughter," Becky says sarcastically. Her attitude toward Gabrielle is anything but sisterly. "What must he think knowing that you followed in my footsteps and ran away from home?"

"I didn't run away like you," Gabrielle sneers at her sister, "I've been back to visit since I've left which is more than I can say for you."

Xena has never seen her friend react this way to anyone other than Callisto and is worried about Gabrielle. "Gabrielle why didn't you ever tell me about," turning toward Becky, "Becky you said right?" Becky nods her head at Xena and waits for Gabrielle to answer. Instead Gabrielle runs out of the office and heads for the exit of the tavern with Xena close behind. She doesn't stop until she reaches the stables where Argo is and finally breaks down and lets her emotions wash over her. She picks up her staff and starts hitting one of the support beams that is holding up the stable with all the force she can muster. Xena finally catches up to her and is concerned to see Gabrielle acting like this.

"Gabrielle are you okay?" She goes to comfort Gabrielle and is almost hit by her staff in return. Xena grabs the staff but doesn't completely take it out of Gabrielle's hands. "Whoa take it easy with that thing. What is it about your sister that has you so worked up like this?"

Gabrielle realizes what she almost did and sits on a pile of hay nearby. "I'm sorry Xena, but it's just the sight of my sister after all these years, it's..." Gabrielle looks for the right words but, for once, cannot find any to express her feelings. Xena senses this and tries to comfort Gabrielle. Gabrielle breaks down into Xena's arms and cries the tears of all that she has lost and left behind.

"Gabrielle I want to try to help. Why don't we just start with why you never mentioned your sister before? You are always telling stories about your childhood and your family, but never before have you mentioned Becky. She mentioned that you were following in her footsteps by running away from home, what did she mean?"

Gabrielle wanted to tell Xena everything about her sister, but found that Becky had been right in that her father told her not to say anything and she hadn't. Even now, with Xena, she knew that she had to keep her promise to her father. With all else that she had done in the past, she could not betray that one promise made to him so long ago. Xena could see that Gabrielle was struggling with her emotions and decided that the matter could wait until both were rested and fed.

"Come on," Xena says while forcing Gabrielle to her feet,"let's leave Argo alone for awhile so she can rest and then we can do the same. Let's go talk to Avondale and see if there is any other place in town that we can stay at."

Xena leads Gabrielle out of the stables and gently prods her along the open streets. As they get close to the shop where they first met Avondale, Xena becomes aware of being watched by the townspeople. Glancing around her she notices that everyone is staring openly at her, but it isn't in the unfriendly manner in which many of the towns she had visited recently did. It was more like a look of curiosity was being directed toward her and, especially, Gabrielle. Finally a little girl, of no more than 5 or 6, walks right up to Xena without any trace of fear.

"Excuse me," the little girl said, not to Xena but to Gabrielle, "are you really Becky's sister Gabrielle?" Gabrielle is startled that the news of the sibling's reunion has spread so quickly. She bends down toward the child.

"Yes I am, but how did you know my name?"

"Everyone knows about you Gabrielle," a woman says coming up behind the little girl. We have heard many stories about you and your sister Lilla's adventures when you were younger." She picks up the little girl's hand. "My name is Amber and this bold little one is Stella. I want to welcome you to our town, although I am sure that no such welcome is necessary," she stated, extending her hand.

Sensing Gabrielle's confusion over being told that everyone in town knew her and Lilla's name, Xena took the hand offered to them by Amber and even took the hug offered her by Stella.

"Thank you for that welcome Amber. My name is Xena."

Amber nods her head at Xena implying that she already knew the Warrior Princess' name. Also noticing Gabrielle's silence Amber picks up Stella. "Come you must be tired after your long journey. The tavern can get too noisy to rest comfortably, so I invite you to spend the evening at my home." Noticing Xena about to protest, "Don't worry I have plenty of room."

She calls out to her other children to follow her. Xena and Gabrielle are amazed when three more youngsters come running over to Amber. She hands the oldest child Stella and the group is on their way. The journey to Amber's home is a quiet one with the children making the only noise. Amber knows that as a warrior, Xena would not be all that talkative, but she also senses that Gabrielle is trying to adjust to seeing her older sister again. It has always been common knowledge in the village that Amber had this special way of knowing when someone was hurting. Not in the physical sense, but in the emotional sense that so many feel but donUt understand. She knew when people needed help getting something off their chest, but also when they needed to be alone with their thoughts. She could tell that Gabrielle was fighting a battle inside herself that was on of the toughest ones she had ever dealt with. It wasn't like the battle over whether to kill Callisto or not, yes Amber knew that story. It was the battle between old loyalties to her family and new ones to Xena. She wished that she could help the young woman, but knew that only time could heal all the wounds of the past.

As they leave the village, Xena becomes aware that the houses on this side of the village are much grander than the ones that they passed on the other side when they came in. They consisted of two or three level buildings that had stables near but not a specific area for a barn. The fields surrounding the homes were not plowed as if they were to be used for farming but, instead, were filed with many different kinds of flowers. Every once in a while, they came upon a house that had a statue of Athena in front as if it were protecting it. Gabrielle even forgot her feelings at seeing her sister as she took in all the sights. When they came to one of the larger homes, Amber went to lead them in. Xena and Gabrielle paused at the front door.

"Is this your home? It looks like an inn." Gabrielle commented.

Amber just laughed. "Everyone who has never seen it says that, but it's home to my lot." She's pushed aside by the four children as they run into the house. Xena finds herself intrigued by this woman who has offered her home to her and Gabrielle. She gives Amber a closer look.

"Hey sis, who are you talking to out there?" a voice says from somewhere within the house.

"That my brother Scauwen. I share the house with him." She shouts over her shoulder, "I brought some house guests to spend the night here. It's Becky's sister Gabrielle and her friend Xena."

Xena can hear footsteps coming from behind the door and gets ready to be introduced to Amber's brother, but the next thing she hears isn't an introduction but Gabrielle fainting. She looks up to see why and can not believe her eyes. Gabrielle had seen Scauwen coming before Xena and what she saw just completely drained her of what little strength she had left.

"Is she okay?" Scauwen asked concerned.

Xena doesn't know how to respond. It's the same face almost perfectly, but it was an entirely different voice and attitude being reflected from it. She quickly recovers her senses and focuses on the unconscious Gabrielle.

"I think we better get her inside out of the cold air," she says to Scauwen without looking up at him. She is still too unnerved by the resemblance. As Scauwen bends down to pick Gabrielle up, she regains consciousness only briefly and mumbles someone's name. She then becomes still once more.

"What did she call me?" a bewildered Scauwen asks.

Xena is slow to respond, but eventually decides to tell them before Gabrielle awakens. "She called you Perdicus."

Chapter Three

Scauwen carried Gabrielle into the house and laid her gently on the couch. Xena checked Gabrielle's pulse to make sure she was alright and after determining that she was fine, Xena turned to Scauwen. She looked at him long and hard and it made him feel as if he were being judged by the gods themselves. Xena wanted to make sure that he, along with everything else there, was real and not some cruel trick that one of the gods had decided to play on Gabrielle and herself. There have been entirely too many coincidences, and too many strange new ideas, in this small village for her not to be suspicious. First they find out about a warrior sent by Athena herself to protect the village, then they discover Gabrielle's sister and, now this, and almost exact double for Gabrielle's dead husband Perdicus. It was all too convenient for Xena. While these thoughts were going through her mind, the trio stood over the unconscious form of Gabrielle. The silence was finally broken by a loud knock at the door.

"That must be Lasha. She said she was coming over for dinner," Scauwen says as he jumps up to get the door.

"Scauwen I think it might be better if the two of you stay in the other room until Gabrielle regains full control of her emotions," Amber tells her brother, while looking over at Xena. "You better let us explain to her that you're not a spirit but, in fact, a very mortal man." Scauwen nods his head in agreement and leaves the room. Afterward you hear voices in the kitchen. Amber then turns her full attention to Xena and, with the uncanny ability that has frightened many, she picks up on Xena's reservations about both the town and it's inhabitants.

"I'm sure you have many questions Xena. I'll try to answer them."

"I do have many question Amber but I'm not sure that you're the one who should provide the answers," Xena says as she takes a glance at the now sleeping Gabrielle. She is torn between caring for her friend and trying to figure out what was going on there.

"Go on Xena. After handling four very active children, I think I can take care of one sleeping young girl."

Xena looks at Amber gratefully and then back down to Gabrielle. Finally with her decision made, Xena heads to the door and back into town. Xena knew exactly who she wanted to talk to.

When Xena walked into the tavern, it was even busier than it had been that afternoon and, of course, much nosier. It had the usual assortment of people found in any tavern in any town. Warriors reliving past battles, women with less than upstanding morals, weary travelers looking for lodgings, but also something more. The everyday people that make up the village were also there. Somehow, in this tavern, people who normally would not associate with one another, had found a way to get along. Xena was surprised to see that men, who would rather grope a woman than show her affection, show respect towards the ladies of the town. It was as if Aphrodite herself had come down and placed a spell over everyone there. It was just one more thing Xena had to add to her growing list of questions.

Xena kept an eye out for trouble, while searching for the person she needed to talk to. She was nowhere in sight. Eventually Xena found the next best thing. At the end of the bar sat Avondale and next to him a beautiful woman in a shimmering red dress. As she walked over to the obviously in love couple, Avondale finally noticed her.

"Xena over here. How is Gabrielle doing? I got really worried when she took off the way she did." Turning to the woman next to him, "Cat this is Xena. You remember me telling you about her. She's the one who...." he's stopped by Xena who puts her hand up.

"I don't have time to socialize. I'm here looking for Becky." Avondale nods his head as if he was expecting that reply. "Do you know where she is?"

Avondale knew enough about Xena not to be upset over her abrupt answer. "I think she's still in her office. They said she hasn't come out of it since the two of you took off. You remember which way it is right?" he says and points toward the back.

Xena nods her thanks and walks to the back to confront Becky. She is not leaving the tavern until she gets the answers to all her questions. The other patrons in the bar seem to sense Xena's mood and clear a path for her to get through. When she gets to the office door it suddenly opens up in front of her.

"Come in Xena, I've been expecting you," Becky says ushering Xena into her office. She has changed out of the dress she wore earlier and into a pair of black pants and a top made of the sheerest white lace. "I thought you would have been here sooner."

Xena walked into the office and shut the door behind her, The noise from the bar was instantly diminished. Never one to mince words, she let Becky know exactly why she was there.

"I want ot know about this town and also why Gabrielle reacted to you the way she did."

"That could take all night, It's a rather long and complicated story. Would you settle for only one of those answers.?" When she sees Xena's head nod for her to continue, "I didn't think so. Well make yourself comfortable and I'll tell you all I can. Although I know you're curious about, and even a bit cautious about, the town I think I should start with my relationship between myself and my sisters."

Chapter Four

"First of all Xena, I want you to know that no matter what I did to Gabrielle and Lilla when they were younger, I always loved them. The things I did, I did only to help them in lofe." Becky stops for a minute to decide where to begin and then continues.

"I was around seven when Gabrielle was born. I was never the golden child my parents wanted, so they turned all their attention toward her and I wanted to hate her for it, but I couldn't. Just one look at her and I saw everything that I wasn't and never could be. I would sit and tell her all the stories I would hear from the people in town. My parents weren't sure how to react to this but, because Gabrielle seemed to enjoy it and Lilla had since been born, they allowed it."

As Becky talks about the past, she seems to go into herself. Xena recognizes that look. It's the same one that Gabrielle gets when telling a story. Now Xena knew where she got it from. As Xena listens she tries to picture Gabrielle's childhood. Becky continued her story.

"Even as a child Gabrielle had a look about her. You just took one glance at her and knew that she was destined to be more than a farmer's wife. She was going to do something with her life. She needed to do something with her life and I tried to encourage her. I saw a lot of myself in her and I wanted to do everything I could to teach her the things she would need to know, but she never needed much encouragement. Gabrielle was as fearless as any of the older boys in town. She never backed down from a challenge and she was getting better at telling stories. The kids in Poteideia loved her.

"Of course it was only a matter of time before Lilla wanted to play with Gabrielle also. They were of the same age almost and Lilla idolized her older sister. Lilla joined in all of Gabrielle's and my adventures, but she just didn't have the same spirit as Gabrielle. Soon Lilla decided that she would rather stay at home then traipse across the countryside and occasionally Gabrielle stayed at home with her, although she preferred the outdoors. Our mother began to be concerned about my influence over Gabrielle. She was afraid that Gabrielle was becoming too much like her big sister, so she encouraged her to play with Lilla more. Her and father felt that it would be better if Gabrielle stayed closer to home than roam the woods with the older kids doing only the gods knew what.

"Pretty soon Gabrielle preferred spending all of her free time with mother and less with me. It made me angry and I felt resentful toward my parents. I felt they had taken something precious to me away as a punishment for my behavior. I guess I was around fifteen or sixteen at the time and I began to rebel against my parents even more. The best way to get me to do something, was to have them tell me not to do it. My parents and I never had the closest of relationships, so they just put all the support with their two perfect children, Lilla and Gabrielle. There were times when I would disappear for days and when I returned not a word was said. They just acted like I was an annoyance sent by the gods as a test, for what I don't know.

"At first when I went on my adventures, I would tell Gabrielle the stories that I had picked up in the neighboring villages and, as always, she loved to hear them. They seemed to fascinate her but, after a year or so, I noticed her distancing herself from me. Out parents attitude toward me was beginning to rub off on her. It wasn't that Gabrielle disapproved , she was just choosing our parents over me. Now I understand why she did it, but then I felt that it was the bitterest of betrayals. I hated Gabrielle for it, even more than my parents." Throughout the telling of her story, Becky had been pacing the floor to her office. Xena, for once, was sitting passively listening to Becky talk about the childhood the Gabrielle never mentioned. Xena had always wondered why Gabrielle was so different from the rest of her family, wondering about the fearlessness that allowed her to follow Xena and listening to Becky gave her an insight into her travelling companion. Now there was only one more thing about the past that Xena wanted to know about.

"What eventually made you leave and why did Gabrielle run away from you the was she did?"

"Well around five or six years ago, an army came through Poteideia. They were on their way home from a battle and they wanted to stop in our village to get a rest and something to eat. They weren't a band of thieves out to cause harm, just family men that had wanted to help some people who needed it, but that didn't matter to the villagers. They refused the men." When Xena shows surprise that Gabrielle's peaceful village would refuse hospitality to a friendly army, Becky explained further.

"There had been quite a number of attacks on neighboring villages and the people were wary of strangers. They made the men spend the night outside of town and would not even allow them to purchase food from them. Some of my friends and I disagreed with the town leaders. We felt that the men should be made to feel welcome. That night I snuck out of my room and brought some food and drink to the men. I wanted them to know that not everyone in town was the same. I hadn't planned on staying long, but I did. There was a young man there and I fell in love with him at first sight. It sounds unbelievable, I know, but it was like we were destined to meet. We didn't want to separate but finally, as the sun rose, I went home. My parents were both up and furious at me for what I had done. They forbid me from going anywhere near the soldiers again and when I refused, my father slapped me. I was shocked. He had never done anything like that before. I ran to my room because I didn't want them to see how upset I was. That's when Gabrielle came in. She had heard everything and she agreed with my parents. She had come to feel that I was some evil thing that was brought into the family as a punishment for some crime they must have committed. That's when I decided to leave. I packed up all my belongings and crept out the window, I left with the army and I haven't returned since. Xena I want you to know, I wasn't planning on leaving until Gabrielle had turned on me. She was the only person in that family that had ever given me unconditional love and to see that love turn into hatred was more than I could stand. I had no other choice than to leave."

"What happened to the young man?" Xena queried.

"We came her to town and were married. He died three years ago at Troy battling the Spartans. I took over the tavern and have thrown my life into it. The patrons here are my only family now. I have no one outside of Phoenicia."

Xena is stunned. She had never imagined that Gabrielle's family, not to mention Gabrielle herself, could be so cruel that they would force one of their own away. Her parents have even forgiven Xena for taking Gabrielle with her and have since welcomed her with open arms. This was a side to them that she did not know even existed. Xena didn't know what to say so she just remained silent. Finally Becky spoke up.

"Well now you have heard my whole sad story so now I guess you want to hear about Deanlu?" As she is about to start another story, they hear a commotion outside. Surprisingly Becky is the first one out of the office. "Okie what's going on?" She says while surveying the quickly emptying room.

"We're under attack in the northern part of the village," the faithful bartender says. "We are going to try to hold them off until Deanlu arrives." With this said, Okie grabs her sword from behind the bar and follows the crowd.

"Wait a minute Okie," Xena says catching up to her. "Who's doing the attacking?"

"It's Dancyer McCoy and Caryn the Tigress," Okie tells Xena and leaves the bar.

Chapter Five

"Dancyer and the Tigress together. That is not good news," says Becky who had just caught up to Xena. She had a sword in her hand, and Xena noticed that by the way she was holding it, that Becky obviously knew how to use it. "By themselves they're bad enough, but their armies combined..."

"Are virtually unstoppable," Xena finished for her. "That is until now. Come on there's a fight I want to be in."

"Right behind you."

Becky and Xena head to where the battle is taking place and are soon separated. Xena is quickly confronted by two soldiers. The two men look at each other, silently saying that they should be able to handle one woman, even if she did have a fierce looking sword. Xena just laughed to herself as she watched the men line up on either side of her and lunge with their swords. Xena just ducked and the men's momentum carried them the rest of the way, one impaling the other. With these two taken care of, she went to help the other villagers. She looked around for Becky, knowing that Gabrielle would never forgive herself if something happened to her, but was unable to locate her. Suddenly from out of nowhere Xena heard it.


Xena turned in the direction of the yell and there she saw her. She was dressed in leather, something of a combination between Callisto's and Xena's clothing, but only instead of black it was white. Xena watched as the woman methodically challenged all the men that dared to stand against her. Even the men that Xena was about to engage in battle joined in the fray against this new intruder, feeling that she was the more threatening opponent. All Xena thought was "This must be Deanlu."

Deanlu was truly amazing. She had no problem defeating all the men that rose their swords against the village. On her own she took care of 15 men in the course of only 3 minutes barely breaking a sweat. She then turned toward what was left of the army that had invaded the town and, who were now fleeing in retreat, and did something that made Xena do a double take. Deanlu pulled out a chakrum and threw it with such control that it looked as if she had been born with the ability to control it. Xena had never seen anyone use a chakrum with such control other than herself. In fact, she rarely saw anyone use a chakrum at all. The chakrum struck a heavy branch above the men and broke it in two. The branch then fell on the men, pinning them underneath. Deanlu grabbed the chakrum effortlessly and hooked it back onto her belt. She walked over to the men who were now laying helplessly on the ground trying to get the branch off of them.

"Where is Dancyer and the Tigress? Have they no courage to come and fight their own battles?" Deanlu demanded of the men.

The men lay there mute. None were willing to answer the warrior's question. Eventually though one of the men, a terrified youth who looked no older than eighteen, spoke up.

"They are back at the camp. It's about a two day ride between here and there," he said all the while avoiding the glares by his companions. "The rest of the army is with them. We were sent ahead to test the village's strength's and to try to find their weaknesses."

"How many in their army?" Xena asked from the crowd.

The boy replied, "About 75 to 100 men. Some on horses."

A murmur went through the crowd. "That was too many. Surely the boy must be exaggerating," more than one man thought. Deanlu seemed to think about this new information and looked over at Xena as if to assess her fighting ability. Apparently deciding that if push came to shove, Xena would help with the fight, she split the branch in half with one blow from her sword and helped the men free themselves."

"I want you to tell Dancyer and Caryn that this village is not for the taking and that any attempts will result only in bloodshed on your part. We are protected by the gods and they will let nothing harm us here." The men scramble to their feet and hurry away. Deanlu does nothing to stop the men but does stop the boy who talked. "How did you become a part of this band of mercenaries?" demanded Deanlu. "You are no warrior."

The boy shrunk from Deanlu's glare. "My family was killed when I was only fifteen," the scared youth told her. "Ever since then I decided that I would never be that helpless again. I've been learning to fight ever since."

Deanlu turned to Xena, "Well Xena what do you think? You have battled many warriors, do you think this boy will ever be a great fighter?"

Xena walked through the crowd and looked at the boy. She then faces Deanlu. "I saw the way he fights and there is a slight possibility of improving, but no," shaking her head, "he will never be a great fighter."

Deanlu nods her head in agreement, then takes a good long look at the boy. "Do you still wish to be a warrior? If so I will allow you to join your friends in their retreat." The boy just shakes his head and remains silent. "That's what I thought. If given the chance would you change?" The boy nods his head yes. "Then we will give you that chance. Keewee and Greenmt please come here." Xena is puzzled about Deanlu's intentions but does not comment as she notices two women stepping forward. "This is Keewee and Greenmt. They are sisters who own a farm on the other side of town. They are in need of help and can provide you with a room and food. That is if you want to truly change your life." A big grin spreads to the boy's face making him appear even younger than he actually was. He had grown tired of the bloodshed and had wanted out, but was always too afraid to leave. Deanlu then turns to the sisters, who nod their agreement to the suggestion. They go pick the boy up off of the ground and lead him away. Everyone else takes this as their sign to depart.

"Okay everyone, you know the routine," Okie yells above the crowd. "First rounds on the house." A cheer rises from the people as they head back to the tavern, leaving Deanlu and Xena alone.

The two women stand there silently and regard each other as they would any possible enemy or ally. Xena could see why Athena had chosen this woman to be protector of this village. She was a powerful warrior, the proof of that lay around her, but she was also a wise woman. Xena would never have thought of making that boy a part of the village he had just tried to destroy. She had to admit it, if only to herself, that this Deanlu was possible even more powerful than her. Xena was only glad that she and her were on the same side in this battle.

"Xena. Xena," a breathless Gabrielle runs up to the pair. "I saw the whole thing. It was great. It will make an excellent story." Gabrielle turns to Deanlu, "My name is Gabrielle, you must be Deanlu. I've been wanting to meet you."

Deanlu just grins at the bard and then to Xena. "So Gabrielle you're the reason Ares has yet to win Xena back. Keep up the good work, the gods are watching. Well I really must be going," she says while turning away.

"Wait a minute, I want to ask you a few questions." Xena says running after Deanlu.

"Another time Xena. Why don't you head to the tavern. I'm sure someone there will tell you all you'd like to know. I hear these celebrations are pretty wild. Besides I have a feeling you might see some friendly faces," she says mysteriously and then vanishes.

"Where'd she go. She's not a goddess so she couldn't have vanished into thin air, could she?" a confused Gabrielle asks. Xena isn't too sure about what to think. All she knows is that she has to find out more about Deanlu. "And what did she mean about seeing some friendly faces. I've already seen two too many today."

That last comment brought Xena back to the present. She turned to face Gabrielle and give her a piece of her mind about her not taking it easy, but then she heard someone calling her name.

"Well Xena I see you didn't leave anyone for us did you? You had to have all the fun for yourself, as usual," the stranger said in a mocking tone that if it had come from anyone else, would have warranted a punch from Xena and, possibly, a hit by Gabrielle's staff. But the new arrivals got away with it.

"Hercules" was all Xena said.

Chapter Six

"Hercules and Iolaus, why am I not surprised to see you here?" Gabrielle said. She knew that under normal circumstances, she and Xena would have been surprised run into the two of them, but these were far from normal circumstance.

"What do you mean you're not surprised to see us here?" a confused Iolaus asks. "We were passing nearby on our way to Athens and decided to stop in the village for the night. When we heard about the trouble we came to help out."

"And that's when we saw the two of you," interrupted Hercules. He had been observing Xena since they arrived and he had noticed how tense she was. He didn't think it was because of the fight , because it didn't look like she had even exerted herself. He wondered what the problem was. "What have we missed?"

"It's a long story," Xena answers, looking at Gabrielle, but she didn't elaborate.

"Well, why don't we go over to the tavern," says Iolaus, noticing the tension and trying to lighten the mood up. "I'm thirsty, not to mention starved. There's also a few people I want to see and say hi to."

"Like Becky," Hercules says to his friend, grateful at his attempts to break the tension, but the look that passes between Xena and Gabrielle at the mention of Becky is anything but pleasant. He made a mental note to ask Xena what was bothering the two friends. Iolaus had a smart remark, about a certain lady Hercules likes in town, but keeps it to himself when he sees that Gabrielle is not in her usually cheerful mood. Xena is the first to speak.

"I think its best if I got Gabrielle back to Amber's house. She's had a rough day, as have I." Gabrielle is about to do her usual protesting, but finds that Xena is right. When Xena sees that Gabrielle is going to go quietly, it shows her how tired Gabrielle really is. All at once, Xena realizes that she is worn out also. Gabrielle isn't the only one who had gotten shocks to her system that day and Xena was looking forward to sleep.

"What happened?" a concerned Iolaus asks her as he goes over to Gabrielle, all manners of teasing put aside. She looks at him gratefully and allows him to support her. Xena is touched by the look of concern and affection that shows openly on Iolaus' face. She's glad that he has arrived ad hopes that he will help her sort out her emotions, especially about Perdicus.

"Xena, I meant to ask this earlier, but who exactly was doing the attacking?" Hercules asks Xena. He's also concerned about Gabrielle, but he knows that Iolaus will take care of her. He is more worried about Xena. He has never seen her this preoccupied and it bothered him.

"Walk with us back to Amber's and I will try to explain." Hercules nods his head in agreement, partially due to curiosity, but also due to the fact that he knew Iolaus would not leave Gabrielle's side until she was safely in the house.

The four head off to Amber's home. Hercules and Xena quickly move ahead of Iolaus and Gabrielle so that they can talk privately and not be overheard by the emotional young woman. Despite the exhilaration at watching Deanlu battle the men earlier, Gabrielle was still not fully recovered from the events of the day, and the effects were starting to take hold again. Soon Iolaus was carrying Gabrielle more than she was walking.

"It was a scouting party," Xena explains as soon as she is sure they are out of hearing range of Gabrielle. "They were a part of Dancyer McCoy's and Caryn the Tigress' army. The two warlord have combined and have apparently decided that this village will be their first show of power." "Well it looks like you gave them something to think about," Hercules stated with pride. He didn't like fighting and tried to avoid it at all times, but he knew that some circumstances just required a show of force and he was glad that Xena was as good as she was. He was proud of her for the way she has turned her life around.

"I barely did anything," Xena said as Hercules stared at her incredulously. "It was Deanlu who did all the work.." Hercules nodded his head in understanding. Although he had visited the village many times on his journeys, he had never seen Deanlu in action, but he did hear the stories about her and they have made him curious.

"What did you think of her?" "She's good. The best I've ever seen. She took on all the men in the scouting party that raided and defeated them all without breaking a sweat. Then when she saw that one of the men was really no more than a scared boy, she had him become a member of the community. She had seen, somehow, that he wanted a second chance and she gave it to him."

Hercules just listens as Xena describes that battle and doesn't press for details. Finally he decides to end Xena's game of avoidance and he asks her about Gabrielle.

"Why is she, when she didn't even fight, that Iolaus is carrying her?"

"She's had a number of nasty little surprises today," Xena says hoping it would be enough for now, but when she looks at Hercules, she can see that she will have to explain further. "Well it started this morning.." and with this Xena begins to explain all the events that had taken place earlier. She tells him about Becky and Scauwen and finishes with them running into Hercules and Iolaus. By the time she finishes they have arrived at Amber's home.

"Poor Gabrielle, no wonder she's so worn out. It has not been a good day for her." Hercules finally says.

"I'm hoping a good night's rest will help her. I think she's over the shock of Scauwen, or else she wouldn't have come out tonight, but her sister is another matter." Xena says as Iolaus finally catches up to them. Gabrielle is asleep in his arms. Xena takes her from him and nods her head in appreciation. "Where will you be staying?"

"At the tavern. Becky usually keeps a couple of rooms on standby in case we stop by. We'll see you in the morning," Hercules answers.

"Til tomorrow then," Xena says as she goes into the house and shuts the door behind her.

"Okay Herc, what's going on? What's wrong with Gabrielle?" Iolaus asks.

"It's a long story." Hercules starts telling him the story that Xena told him. Suddenly you hear Iolaus shout.

"Becky's her what?"

Inside the house, Xena just shakes her head and carries Gabrielle to bed.

Chapter Seven

The next day began with a beautiful spring morning. The birds were singing, the sun was shining, and not a cloud was anywhere to be seen. It was the type of morning that made both young and old feel glad to be alive and Xena noticed none of it. She had been in the stables since early that morning tending to Argo, who hadn't quite forgiven Xena for ignoring her the day before. After finally placating the horse, she headed to the tavern to see Hercules. As she walked in to the tavern, she saw him there, eating breakfast with Iolaus. Xena walked over and joined them.

"It looks like the two of you are making yourselves right at home," Xena says to them, giving Hercules one of her rare but beautiful smiles. Hercules gives her one of his own smiles in return.

"We were just waiting for you and Gabrielle." Looking around he notices that Xena is alone. "Where is she by the way?"

"After the shocks of yesterday, I thought it best if she just rested," Xena explained. "Besides with all the pent up hostility between her and her sister, I thought that Becky might be more willing to talk without her around."

"I still can't believe that Becky and Gabrielle are sisters," a still awed Iolaus says. "The two of them are so different. They don't even look look one another."

"Well they are, so I guess we better get used to it," Xena says going over to Iolaus. "If it makes you feel any better, I didn't know she had another sister. Gabrielle never mentioned her before." Iolaus just looks at Xena and does something she never thought he'd do. He smiled at her.

"Thanks Xena. It makes me feel a little better that I'm not the only one she kept secrets from."

Hercules just looks at the two most important people in his life, glad that they are starting to put the past behind them. "Who knows," he thought, "they might actually become friends."

"I hate breaking up this mushy stuff, but if we want to talk to Becky, I think she's up in her room." Iolaus just grins at Hercules, while Xena just gives him a look that says "Just wait until later"

Iolaus leads the two of them up the stairs and down the hall to Becky's room. When they get to the end, Xena sees a door that is partially open. Iolaus knocks on the door. "Becky, it's me. I have Hercules and Xena with me. We were wondering if we could come in."

"Come on in." The trio walk into a richly decorated room. There were curtains made of a rich blue material covering the windows and it was decorated in a variety of colors. Somehow the room seemed to fit Becky. "I'll be right with you," came the reply from the other room.

"Becky," Xena started, "we came here to talk about Deanlu."

"I know Xena," Becky said coming from the other room. Like yesterday she was dressed in a strange dress, this one made of red silk. Xena began to wonder where she had bought such exotic clothing. "We never finished the story last night."

There seemed to be an air of tension radiating from the two woman, Hercules noted. It wasn't hate or even dislike, but more like they couldn't figure out how much they should trust each other. Hercules decided to try to ease it a little.

"Becky, you now I've heard many of the stories about Deanlu, but I've never heard the whole thing. You are the best storyteller in town, so it's only natural that we would want to hear about her from you." Deanlu nods to Hercules in appreciation and she takes a seat on an oversized chair. She then nods for the others to do the same.

"Well it began about three years age, around the time my husband died...."

Chapter Eight

"The majority of men were still in Troy trying to help the Trojans. Unfortunately, that left the village somewhat unprotected and the vultures began to circle. The first being your old enemy Cortese. He came almost as soon as the men left. He took all he could carry and then tried to burn everything else. But even the fact that we had nothing left, kept the others away. They came one right after the other. Finally after about six months of this, Draco showed up. It was winter and he was looking for a place for his men to stay warm and have some fun before the upcoming battles he would be leading them into, and he thought our village, with nothing more than women and some old men and children, would be the perfect spot. We didn't go easily, but there were more of them, so we ended up surrendering anyway

"Suddenly, a beautiful woman rode into town. She was all in white and was riding a gorgeous white stallion. The men were awed by the sight of her riding into an obviously dangerous situation without a trace of fear. She didn't appear to even notice that her life might have been in danger. She didn't have any weapons that they could see and they wondered where she had come from. She was brought before Draco, who appraised the woman and he liked what he saw.

""My name is Deanlu," the woman said. "I have been sent by the Goddess Athena as protector of this village. Anyone who dares defy me, defies Athena and shall be punished."

"Of course Draco just laughed at her. He wasn't afraid of such an obviously frail woman, even if she was indeed sent by Athena. He was one of Ares best soldiers and he knew that he had that god on his side. "Ares will not help you this time Draco. He will respect Athena's authority over this village and will allow her to do what she will on those of his soldiers rebel against her."

"Even with this pronouncement, Draco wasn't afraid. He didn't believe that Ares would abandon him in favor of this puny woman. He ordered her arrested and brought to his chambers for her punishment. He watched as the soldiers approached the woman. No one saw where the sword came from, it was just suddenly in her hands. The first soldier went down, not even knowing what hit him, and the second quickly followed. At this point, the other warriors that were in the room had realized that their formerly easy prey was now armed with a sword and not afraid to use it. They circled her, as if they were stalking a bear. She kept moving making sure that she wasn't always in one place for such a time that she fell victim easily. Suddenly two men, one on either side of her, ran toward her. She jumped in the air at just the right moment, and delivered a split kick that rendered them both unconscious. That was the moment the others had been waiting for. They rushed her all at once and what had been a circle was now reduced to a confusing mass of humans in battle. We couldn't see Deanlu and we feared for the brave woman's fate, when suddenly the men went flying out of the pile as one. Deanlu was left alone standing there. She walked up to Draco with her sword held high to his throat.

""Now Draco, are you willing to obey Athena and leave this village in peace or shall I give you another demonstration of her power?" Draco's men were already starting to scurry from the tavern like scared rabbits. Draco looked at his men scornfully and stood up. "You may have won this battle, woman," he said, "but I shall be back."

""Not unless you have a death wish," was all Deanlu said. Draco then followed his men out the door and left that day. He has respected Athena's wishes and not returned. The villagers thanked Deanlu and offered her anything that she liked, even though they didn't have much themselves. "I want you to continue living. This village will be protected. You have nothing to fear any longer. Your husbands and sons will be returning in a day or two, so you shall be able to start rebuilding. All I want is for you to live your lives. When you are in trouble, I shall return to help you." Deanlu then turned and she climbed onto her horse. Some of the children tried to follow her, but it is said that she just disappeared into thin air, to return to Olympus and be by her mistress' side.

"We needed her protection often those first few months after Draco left, but soon word spread about Deanlu and how she defeated the armies that attacked and we were left alone. The village flourished and now we are once again the envy of many of the neighboring villages."

"That's an amazing story Becky. Have you figured out who Deanlu is or where she really came from?" asked Hercules.

"At first we did, but now we no longer question her presence in our lives," was Becky's answer.

"I would like to talk to Deanlu, if it is possible," Xena said. "Is there a way to get in contact with her?"

"We have not found one, although she has a way of being where you least expect her. With this upcoming threat of Dancyer and Caryn, I'm sure she will contact you." Becky states as she stands up. "Now if you'll excuse me, I must get ready to open the tavern. My customers wait for no one." Hercules, Xena and Iolaus stand to leave. "Iolaus will you stay a minute? I'd like to talk to you."

Iolaus looks at Becky and remembers what he had just found out about her and Gabrielle. "I think I better go with them" and he heads out the door before he can see the hurt look on Becky's face

Outside Hercules says to his friend. "Why didn't you talk to her? It's been awhile since you've seen her."

"Just drop it Herc, okay?" Iolaus says and walks ahead of them.

"I wonder what that's all about." Xena looks to Hercules for an explanation.

"Iolaus and Becky have had a relationship in the past, and I imagine he is torn between her and Gabrielle. He is dealing with some conflicts." Xena just nods her head in understanding and the two of them run to catch up with Iolaus.

Chapter Nine

At the same time Xena and the others were meeting Becky, Gabrielle finally began to stir. Although she has amazed Xena with her ability to sleep through anything, this was the first really deep sleep she has had in awhile. "Man I miss sleeping in a real bed," Gabrielle muttered to herself as she dragged her body out of bed and over to the washbasin to clean for breakfast. Her stomach started growling as soon as the first smells reached her nose. She smelled fresh baked nutbread, eggs, and honey cakes. "Mmm, that smells delicious," Gabrielle says to herself as her stomach continues to growl. There's a knock on the door.

"Gabrielle are you awake?" Amber asks through the door.

"Come on in," Gabrielle replies. Amber walks into the bedroom carrying a tray full of food. When she sees Gabrielle up and around, she smiles at the girl. She puts the tray down on one of the tables in the room. Gabrielle eyes the food like a man who hasn't eaten in days.

"How are you feeling today? I hope you've recovered from the shocks of yesterday. You had quite an eventful one."

"I've recovered from most of it," Gabrielle says, still looking at the tray. She can almost taste the food there. She then forces herself to look at Amber. "You didn't really have to bring me breakfast. I was about to come down."

"Nonsense, what you need now is some good old-fashioned pampering," Amber states while leading Gabrielle over to the table. "You've had a lot to absorb since yesterday and, besides, I feel partially responsible, because of Scauwen. Becky had commented on the resemblance when she first saw him, but I didn't even think about it." When she sees Gabrielle about to protest that she couldn't have known, Amber continues. "Hush now child and eat. You need to rebuild your strength if you are going to be of any use to your friends."

Amber seats Gabrielle in the chair, "You can come downstairs when you are through. Xena told me how much you can eat, so I expect that whole tray to be empty when you bring it down with you." Amber leaves Gabrielle alone in the room. She quickly starts eating and is surprised at how good it is. She didn't doubt that Amber could cook, with four kids she had to, but Gabrielle was surprised at how good. She quickly devoured her food and finished getting dressed. She went downstairs and found Amber in the kitchen. No one else was around.

"Where is everyone? Xena, Stella, Scauwen?"

"Well Xena went into town to talk to Becky." When Gabrielle starts for the door, Amber heads her off. "Wait a minute Gabrielle. She thought it would be easier for the both of you if Xena went alone, and I agreed." Finally Gabrielle stops trying to pull away and sits down. Amber continues, "The children, except for Stella, are in school. As for Scauwen, he took Stella with him into town to do some shopping for me. They should be back shortly. Are you sure you are ready to see him?"

Gabrielle nods her head yes and then begins to look around the kitchen. It has a homey feeling to it but, she can see underneath the breakfast dishes that Amber keeps it immaculate. As Amber hustles around the kitchen cleaning up, Gabrielle become more uncomfortable just sitting there.

"Can I help you with anything? I feel bad just sitting here and not helping after all you've done for me. There must be some way I can repay you for you hospitality."

"I don't want you to do a thing," admonishes Amber. "I want you to rest and regain your strength. You should never have gone out last night. You were in no condition."

As Amber continues to fuss over her, Gabrielle begins to relax. She's missed having her mother around and it makes her feel safe. Amber notices Gabrielle relaxing and is pleased. "That's one step toward recover" the woman thought to herself. "Now if only I could find a way to get her to discuss her sister." Amber worked in silence for awhile trying to think of a way to bring up the subject. She was startled when Gabrielle brought it up herself.

"I guess you're wondering why I reacted so strongly to seeing my sister." Amber merely nodded her head, but she sat down in one of the other chairs in the kitchen. Gabrielle took this as a sign to continue. "I don't know how much about our family Becky has told you, but she didn't exactly have the best relationship with our parents. She did everything that they told her not to do and they had no idea what to do about it.

"When I was younger, I never noticed the hostility between them, and I don't think I would have cared. I loved Becky. She would sit and tell me stories for hours and she had the patience to answer all of my questions. As I got older, I started to notice how my parents treated her. At that point, I had started to go with her and some of the older kids when they would go on adventures through the countryside. Whenever we came home, though, they would always yell at her for taking me along. They didn't seem to mind that she went, it was that they didn't want me to go too.

"I always hated those fights. I blamed myself for Becky getting in trouble. Lilla wasn't like us. She always stayed with mother and she never got into trouble, so I thought that if I spent more time with mother also and less with Becky, then maybe they wouldn't yell at her anymore. It didn't work. I think Becky thought I was choosing them over her. I think that's why she started going against our parents even more and it got to the point where they didn't even care what she did. When Becky would disappear for days, I got so scared that I would sleep in her bed. I was afraid something terrible had happened to her and my parents just acted as if nothing was wrong. When she returned, I would sit with her for hours listening to her describe the places she had been to and the people she had seen, just to be sure that it really was my Becky. Soon my mother forbid even my listening to Becky and I was too afraid that if I didn't listen to them, they would make Becky go away forever. And, again, I think she took that as a betrayal, because she began to act differently toward me. She never tried to talk to me. She wouldn't even acknowledge my presence and it hurt."

Gabrielle stopped to take a breath. She had never told anyone what she was now telling Amber. There was something about her that just made Gabrielle feel comfortable. For her part, Amber just listened and nodded her head when she thought that Gabrielle might need a little encouragement. When she stopped, Amber got up and poured herself and Gabrielle a glass of water. She had known most of the story from Becky, but she wanted to hear Gabrielle's side of things. Both because she knew it would help the girl and ,also, in the long run, she wanted to try to get the two sisters together again.

"What happened between the two of you that finally drove you apart? Amber gently asked Gabrielle, hoping that she was ready to talk about it.

"An army came through town. They were only interested in spending the night, but the town elders wouldn't allow it. That night Becky snuck out, like usual, and brought them some food and drink. When she got in the next morning, our parents were furious with her. My father even went so far as to hit her, he had never done anything like that before or since. She ran into her room and I followed her. I had been so scared that something had happened to her, but now I was angry at her for what she had done. It was one thing to disobey our parents, but it was something else to defy the town leaders. I said some things that I wish I hadn't and I think that is why she left, because when I went back to apologize, her things were gone. I went to the place where the soldiers had camped, but they were already gone. I haven't seen or heard from Becky since. It's all my fault that she ran away," Gabrielle says looking at Amber with teardrops running down her face. "If I hadn't said what I did, she never would have left. I didn't mean any of it."

Amber's heart goes out to Gabrielle. She goes over to her and tries to soothe the hurt that she is going through. "There,there. It wasn't your fault. The fates meant for her to leave, so that she could find her destiny. Just like they meant for your village to be attacked when Xena was going by. Everything has a purpose and you must never question it." This seems to calm her down.

"Is it okay to come in, or would you prefer I wait out here." Scauwen asks from the doorway. He had seen the interaction between his sister and their guest and he didn't want to interrupt.

"Come on in dear brother." Standing up, but still looking at Gabrielle. "That talk may have help you deal with that particular problem, but you still have to confront Becky, but not right now. Scauwen, why don't you show Gabrielle around the property. I think she could use the fresh air."

"Whatever you say sis," Scauwen says, handing the bags of food over to Amber, "If you want Stella, she's over at Jana's house playing with the kids. Come on Gabrielle you'll love it."

Gabrielle stands and gives Amber a hug. "Thanks" she whispers in her ear and then joins the man who resembles her husband so much. "I'm ready when you are."

When Gabrielle and Scauwen are gone, Amber finishes her chores, but she can't keep her mind off of Gabrielle. "That girl has been through so much, Athena. I hope she doesn't have much more to deal with."

Chapter Ten

"And over there is the place where I'm planning on building our home," Scauwen tells Gabrielle pointing to a piece of land about 50 yards from where they are standing. "It'll have a great view of the hills and also of the village down below. Lasha wants a big house with lots of room for kids."

"It'll be lovely Scauwen. I'm sure the two of you will be very happy," Gabrielle says and then turns away. She doesn't want him to see the tears that had begun to stream down her face thinking of what might have been. She looks toward the village and remembers when she first fell in love with Perdicus and all their hopes and dreams. Scauwen understands why Gabrielle won't look at him and he gives her time to compose herself. When it appears that she has regained control of her emotions, he takes her arm and leads her back toward the house.

"You know, Lasha is looking forward to meeting you. Out of everyone in the town, she is the closest to Becky." Gabrielle stops and stares at Scauwen and he feels compelled to tell her about Lasha's relationship with Becky and he hoped that Lasha wouldn't mind. "Lasha's mother died in childbirth, leaving her alone with only her father. He never remarried, nor did they have any other family, so it was always just the two of them. When the men in the village went to fight in the Trojan War for a few months, it left both Lasha and Becky alone so, naturally, they grew close. Becky had Lasha move into one of the rooms above the tavern and they became as close as sisters. When the men finally made it back, only two had not survived, Becky's husband and Lasha's father." Gabrielle gasped. She didn't realize that her sister had gone through the pain of losing someone she cared so much about. To find out that she probably understood the pain that Gabrielle had gone through was something that she didn't expect. Scauwen continued.

"Lasha was devastated. Her father was all that she had and it nearly killed her when he didn't return with the others. If it wasn't for Becky, I don't think she would have survived. Becky put all her being in to helping Lasha move on with her life, and that allowed Becky forget her own pain of loss. Becky didn't have time to grieve and that is how she preferred it. She's become the closest thing to a mother that Lasha's ever known. I had even asked her permission for Lasha's hand in marriage."

Gabrielle doesn't know what to say. She had always imagined that Becky was traveling the country, much like herself and Xena. She never imagined that Becky would have settled down and gotten married. Becky never was the stay at home type and she wondered about what or, more specifically, who had changed her sister. She wished that she had a chance to meet the man that Becky had married. He must have been someone very special."he said as much to Scauwen.

"I never thought that Becky would ever settle down. I always saw her as a travelling bard. Always finding adventure and never staying in one place."

"Oh, don't get me wrong. Your sister travels quite a bit. In fact, she just got back from Athens two days before you arrived. When she first married Lald, the two of them were inseparable. She went everywhere with him. And when the time came for him to go to battle, she was by his side. It's one of the things that he loved about her, her fearlessness. She never showed any hint of being scared, even in the heat of battle. And, boy, could she take care of herself. She was never a hindrance to the men fighting. If anything, she was an asset."

Gabrielle smiled. That sounded like the Becky she knew. One that never let anyone, or anything, stand in her way. As they came into view of Amber's home, Gabrielle could see Xena talking with Hercules and Iolaus in the front yard. Iolaus was the first to see them coming down the hill and he frowned at how close the two apparently were. His frown, though, quickly turned into a grin so wide you could drive a chariot through it, because as soon as Gabrielle saw him, she ran to him and jumped into his welcoming arms.

"Well this is an unexpected and pleasant change from last night," Iolaus said, not letting her go. "What did I do to deserve this kind of welcome? Tell me so I can keep on doing it."

"You're here and that's all the reason I need," Gabrielle said happily and meant it. Now that she had purged herself of her feelings of guilt over her sister's leaving, Gabrielle felt alive and free. She hadn't realized how much those feelings had weighed her down. Xena couldn't believe the change that had come over her friend. Where was the weak, young girl that could barely stand up only last night? Instead there was this vibrant young woman in the arms of a man she cares deeply about. Xena nodded her head in approval.

"I told you a bit of fresh air would do you good," Amber says as she comes out of the house. "You're feeling better already." She turns to Scauwen, " Lasha's in the house waiting for you." He heads indoors to his fiancee.

Xena is curious about the change in Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, what happened? I haven't seen you like this in a long time."

"I wouldn't know where to begin Xena. Let's just say I've come to terms with my past."

"I'm glad to hear that Gabrielle," comes a voice from behind. "I wasn't sure if you were ready to deal with it just yet." Turning to Xena, "Xena, I believe you were looking for me."

The group turns to face the newcomer and are startled to see Deanlu standing there. She is in the same outfit as the night before. Hercules and Iolaus just stand there dumbfounded. They had never seen anyone like her and they are stunned by her beauty.

"Deanlu, how did you know that we wanted to talk to you and how did you manage to sneak up on us," Xena asked as she and Gabrielle hit the two men out of their trances. a little harder than they had to.

"I have my ways Xena, but it doesn't matter. I also wished to speak to you about the upcoming threat. Knowing Dancyer and Caryn, they will not heed my warnings and are preparing to attack as we speak. I can normally handle an attack on my own, but if the boy's count is indeed accurate, there may be more than I can deal with this time and I will need your help."

"Why don"t I leave the group of you alone. I promised Jana that I would come over today and now seems like a good time." Amber turns away from the group and heads down the road toward her neighbor's home.

Chapter Eleven

Deanlu watches as Amber leaves and then she turns to face the others. "That woman amazes me," shaking her head. "She's an excellent warrior, but she knows enough about battle that she prefers staying on the sidelines. She'll fight when forced to, but would rather find another solution."

"Deanlu, there's a few things that I would like to know," Xena states. There are quite a number of questions still unanswered and Xena doesn't feel comfortable with that. The foremost on her mind is why Athena had sent her to protect this village.

"I know Xena, but not right now. Your questions will be answered, I assure you, but Caryn and Dancyer area more immediate problem. Let's go talk to the boy, Bernard is his name. We will need to find some things out from him if we are going to defeat them." Deanlu starts walking toward the road. Xena , seeing that Deanlu had once again avoided answering her questions, follows but is somewhat wary. "Why won't Deanlu talk? Is there something more going on than meets the eye?" she thinks to herself. Up ahead, Hercules is trying to find out more about Deanlu with no success.

"So, Deanlu, why is it that my dear sister has never told me about you?"

"Do your siblings ever tell you everything Hercules. Perhaps she felt that you didn't need to know." He felt the sting of truth in that statement and it bothered him. This woman knew so much about them, even Hercules and Iolaus, but they knew so little about her. "No wonder Xena is still so cautious around her," Hercules said to himself. "Deanlu certainly seems to be hiding something."

They continued that way, with Hercules and Iolaus near Deanlu and Xena and Gabrielle trailing behind. As they reached what appeared to be a very prosperous farm, Deanlu shouts, "KeeWee, Greenmt are you around?" The two women answer from one of the fields.

As the group grows closer, Xena notices the wide variety of crops that are growing. In one section, it appears to be grains of some sort, in another there are vegetables, and the one they are walking through has different kinds of fruits, like berries and apples. Gabrielle, hungry as usual, grabs an apple and looks around to see if anyone noticed. Of course, they all did, but no one says anything to her. She bit into it and found that it was as juicy and sweet as anything she had ever had. "This has to be one of the best apples I've ever tasted" she thought and took another big bite.

"I see the harvest is coming along well," Deanlu said as they got close to the sisters. They smile and look around the farm, showing that they were indeed pleased with it. "We've come to talk to Bernard. There are a few things we need to find out."

"He's over in the barn. We just bought a new horse and he is trying to break him in," KeeWee said. "That boy just took to his chores like he was a natural," added Greenmt.

The five of them left the sisters to their farming and walked over to the barn. Inside, they found Bernard looking very different than the night before. He was cleaned up and in peasant clothing and they found that Greenmt was right. He did indeed look like he was born to be a farmer. When he saw Deanlu, he stood up.

"I had a feeling you would come. You want to talk about the attack, don't you?"

"We need to know details of where they are planning on coming from and how many men," Xena broke in before Deanlu had a chance to answer.

"I don't know anything about their plans. Dancyer and Caryn always keep the plans to themselves and their captains until the time comes, to prevent any spies from finding out. I wasn't exaggerating last night, though, when I said that were about 75 to 100 men in their army. It's one of the reasons that they chose to attack. They had heard about Deanlu and know that no one will oppose them if they can take Phoenicia."

"It makes sense, but I guess they didn't count on my getting help this time." Deanlu thinks a minute about what they could possibly plan. "Bernard do you know of any weaknesses that they might have?"

"Yes. There are a few men that are not as loyal as they should be. They are in it, because they felt they should be. They are young, like me, and they didn't know any better. Before they could change their minds though, it was to late and they could get out. They will run it the opposition is to strong."

"Well, I think that they are the ones that we are going to have to find first. I'm going to head over to their camp and see if I can try to talk some sense into Caryn and Dancyer. I doubt it will work, but at least it will give me an insight on what they might be planning."

"They won't let you anywhere near that camp. They'll kill you on sight," Hercules said. "You should at least take one of us along with you."

"Hercules, I'm a big girl and I have a few tricks up my sleeve that you don't know about, and neither do they. I'll be in the camp before they even know it." Deanlu turns and walks out the barn. The others run after her to try to get her to change her mind, but when they get outside she is gone.

"Man, I have to learn how she does that," an awed Gabrielle says. The others just stand there.

Chapter Twelve

The camp is bustling with anticipation. They are only a day's ride from Phoenicia and the men are preparing for the attack. The aren't sure yet how it will begin, but the are sure that victory will be quick. To the side is a group of about fifteen men. These are the men who were in the raiding party the night before. They had come into camp earlier looking ragged and when the others had heard how they had been defeated by a woman, they had been ostracized. Their only hope was that they could redeem themselves in the upcoming battle. They made no mention of the boy who had stayed behind.

The biggest tent in the camp was home to a meeting of the minds. Dancyer McCoy and Caryn the Tigress were gathered with the captains of their army and were discussing strategy for the pending battle.

"Now, Misto, I want you to take your men to the northern part of town. It is mainly farmland,"the shorter of the two said. She is blond and has a strong physique. "It is sparsely populated and should be easy to handle. I want you to destroy everything in sight. Crops, buildings, everything."

"As that is being done," the other woman, Dancyer, joined in,"I want you, Cathbad, to take your men....."

"Well I see you didn't take my warning seriously. Why did I have a feeling you wouldn't?"

The warriors turned quickly and were surprised to see Deanlu standing in the entrance of the tent. At her feet was the guard who had been on watch. She stepped over his inert body and into the tent. The captains reflexively drew their swords and prepared to attack if their leaders signalled them to. That signal never came. Deanlu did not prepare herself for attack. She just motioned toward the men, R"Tell them to go Caryn. I didn't come here for a fight, but you know I'm always willing to oblige." Dancyer and Caryn signalled for their men to put away their swords and leave. The men do so reluctantly.

"How did you get past our men outside?" Caryn asks as soon as they are left alone. "I can understand one or two, but nor seventy-eight."

Deanlu just shakes her head. "Now Caryn, you should know by now that I have my ways. My question to you, though, is what are you doing here?"

"That should be obvious, even to a goody good like you," Dancyer says. "This village is ripe for the picking. With it's food and merchandise it will make a fine addition to our domain."

"Even you can't stop all our men," Caryn adds.

"Dancyer we have never met in battle, so I don't expect you to realize just what you are about to get into but, Caryn, you and I have met before. I'm surprised that you are so willing to be defeated again."

"Please spare us your talk Deanlu," Caryn sneers. "There is no way you can defeat this many men by yourself."

"I am not alone this time Caryn. Hercules and Xena will be by my side, along with their friends." Caryn and Dancyer share a look that does not go unnoticed by Deanlu. "I hope that news will make you think a little more before you attack." Deanlu turns and leaved the tent. Caryn and Dancyer go after her, but once again Deanlu had vanished.

"Where did she go? Misto did you see which way she went?" Dancyer asks the closest warrior.

"I didn't see her come out at all," was the reply.

Dancyer and Caryn go back into the tent. Dancyer toward Caryn, "Is that what you meant by be prepared for anything? Does she always pop in like that and then just disappear?"

"Yes, unfortunately she has acquired that nasty habit. It's one of the reasons why she hasn't been defeated yet. With this many warriors, though, it shouldn't be a problem to us. I wasn't kidding when I told her she couldn't stop all of us. Even Deanlu can't be in two places at once."

"And what of Xena and Hercules. They are some powerful allies. I've heard stories about how they defeated Hera's legions and freed Prometheus," Dancyer said. Now that she has seen Deanlu in person and discovered who else will be defending the village, she is beginning to have second thoughts. Dancyer knows that even the most heartless of warlords wouldn't go into a battle they would certainly lose. "What have you gotten me involved in?"

"Don't worry about it. I don't care what the stories say, Hercules and Xena are only mortal, even if his father is Zeus. They can be defeated," Caryn says calmly. She has no doubts that their army will be victorious.

"But that means that two gods will be protecting the village. I say we leave it alone and go somewhere else."

"No," Caryn yelled, "we attack Phoenicia. Zeus has proven time and again that he won't get involved in Hercules' battles and this will be no different." Dancyer still is not willing to chance it. Some of her warriors have been with her for years and she is not willing to risk their lives over one small village. When Caryn sees that Dancyer is wavering, she pulls a dagger out of her belt and threatens Dancyer. "We will attack and you will lead your men into battle as we planned or you won't have to worry about tomorrow at all. I will not allow that woman another opportunity to humiliate me. I have come to far to just turn away. We attack tomorrow. Are you with me or against me?"

Dancyer just stares at Caryn holding the dagger. She recognizes that look form her own past and realizes that Caryn is mad with blood lust. "This must be why Xena finally turned away from Ares?" Dancyer thought. She knows that no amount of reasoning will talk Caryn out of the attack. She is out for revenge on the woman who had defeated her years before. Dancyer also realizes that unless she consents, Caryn will most definitely kill her where she stands.

"Okay Caryn you win. We attack Phoenicia tomorrow." Dancyer just hopes that her soldiers will forgive her for leading them to certain death.

Chapter Thirteen

Gabrielle was wandering around the town alone. Xena, Hercules, and Iolaus had all decided to go back to Amber's house to discuss ways of protecting the village. Gabrielle had said that she wanted to take a walk. Iolaus volunteered to go with her but she declined his offer. Xena, knowing that Gabrielle needed the time, took the men with her. Gabrielle wasn't sure where she was going at first, but when she found herself standing in front of the tavern, she knew what she had to do.

When Gabrielle walked in, Okie was the first to spot her. Pretty soon, though, all talk diminished as heads turned to face her. In just the one day that Gabrielle and Xena had been in the town, everyone had heard the tale of the two sisters, and they wanted to get a good look at the person responsible for causing their friend so much hurt. Suddenly the office door opened and Becky and another woman, no more than a young girl, stepped out.

"Becky, do you mind having the reception here?"

"Of course not, Lasha," Becky replies and then notices the quiet in the bar. When she sees Gabrielle standing nervously in the middle of the floor, she gives her a tentative smile. "Gabrielle, I was hoping you would come."

" I thought it was time we talked." Turning to the other woman, "You must be Lasha. Scauwen has told me so much about you. I'm glad we finally have a chance to meet."

"It's a pleasure to meet you too, Gabrielle," Lasha said, surprising Gabrielle with a hug. "I feel as if I've known you for years what, with all the things that Becky has told me over time." Gabrielle looks at Becky surprised that she has spoken of her so often, but then she remembers how Stella knew who she was. Gabrielle understands now that Becky is the reason everyone knew who she was. Sensing that the two sisters needed time to talk and get to know one another again, Lasha decided that it was time for her to go. "Well I've got to get going and finish my wedding dress. With the battle tomorrow, things will get kinda hectic." Lasha heads to the front door.

"Don't worry, Lasha. Everything will be perfect for the wedding," Becky shouts after her. Becky then turns her attention to the patrons of the bar, who are still staring at them. "What, haven't you guys ever seen a woman before? C'mon, eat, drink. I have to make a living you know." With that Becky takes Gabrielle's arm and leads her to the back office so that they could talk in private. As soon as Becky closes the door, conversation starts up once more.

Inside the office, the two woman face each other. Neither knows where to begin, so both remain silent. There is so much to say, but both felt unsure of how the other was feeling. Finally Gabrielle breaks the silence.

"It's been a long time Becky. I was afraid you were dead. You just disappeared without a word and you never sent a message telling us where you were, not even me." Gabrielle vents all of the emotions that have been kept inside for so long. Becky just lets Gabrielle continue without interruption.

"I mean, do you know what that was like? I felt as if you left because of me and that tore me up inside." She looks as if she is about to break down again, but this time Gabrielle refuses to give in to the tears that want to come. She didn't want Becky to see how much hurt she still carried. Becky, though, couldn't help but see. She went over to Gabrielle and hugged her with all her might. Gabrielle lost control as soon as Becky touched her. The tears came rolling freely down her face and she returned the hug with a ferocity that her small stature hides.

"Come on now little sis. What's all this crying for? I would have written or sent word if I knew you were worried that much." Becky is stroking Gabrielle's hair, like she did when she was a child and had hurt herself playing around. "I didn't think that you still cared about me after that last incident. You had made it pretty clear what you thought of me."

Gabrielle just shakes her head and still holds on to Becky. Her tears have subsided, but her voice still cracks, "I didn't mean what I said. I went back to apologize, but you were already gone. I even went searching for you, but I couldn't find you. How come you had to leave?" Gabrielle finally pulls away and goes to sit in one of the chairs. Becky, seeing that she is over the worst part of it, gives her little sister a second look. She approves of what she sees.

"I left for the same reason you did." Becky goes over and sits on her desk. "I couldn't have continued living in Poteideia any more than you could. I was willing to try, but after that final incident, I realized it was hopeless. The Fates meant for me to move on and that's what I did. I'm truly sorry for the pain I caused you."

Gabrielle winces as she remembers that final confrontation with Becky. Becky sees the pain that is on Gabrielle's face and she wants to release her from any lingering feelings of guilt. "Gabrielle, I didn't leave because of you, alone. You're statements just made me understand that I was living a lie. I left because I felt that I had done all that I could do in Poteideia and that my life now lead me somewhere else."

"Is that when you met your husband? Scauwen told me that you had gotten married."

Becky got a far away look in her eyes as she remembered that night they met. "Llad. He was in the army that the town leaders refused to let in. In fact, the army was from Phoenicia. When I met Llad, it was like we were meant to be together. We understood everything about one another. He's the reason I had come in so late that morning, otherwise mother and father would have been none the wiser. I didn't want to leave him. He had even volunteered to stay in Poteideia to be near me. When he died at Troy, I was devastated. He was my whole life. My whole reason for being. I was angry at the Fates for the hand they had given me. I didn't understand how the gods could be so cruel as to punish someone over and over again for something," looking over at her sister then. "I guess you've wondered that a few times this past year also."

Gabrielle nods her head. "I thought the same thing when Perdicus died. It was as if a light inside me had gone out. When he was gone, I didn't think anything would be the same, but I had Xena with me and she helped me get over the worst of it. I still think about him, especially at night, but I'm moving on with my life."

"That's all one can do. I'm glad Xena was with you at the time. She has shown you a lot and you are growing up to be a fine woman. I always knew that you were meant for something other than farm chores and I'm glad I was proven right. Now you are an Amazon princess and you are quickly becoming legendary alongside Xena. After this battle, I'm sure many stories will be told of you."

"Is that how you know so much about me?" Gabrielle asks. "Everyone in town seems to know my life story, but how have they found out so much?"

"I've been keeping an eye on you over the years. Just because you have never been to this town, does not necessarily mean that quite a few other people haven't come through here and they are quite willing to tell the tales they hear. I've also sent others to Poteideia and other places that you have been to in order to," Becky stops and looks for the right word, "spy, if you will. They know not to tell anyone why they are really there, but they always manage to bring me stories of your adventures. Also, with Athena protecting the village, Deanlu has found out quite a bit about you for me."

Gabrielle doesn't know what to say. She can't believe that even through everything that has gone on in the past, that Becky still was keeping an eye on her. All her feelings of anger and guilt are gone and now all she feels is love toward the big sister that helped make her into what she is today.

"I'm glad we finally got to talk, Becky. I've missed you so much that it hurt sometimes."

"I've missed you too, little sister," standing up,"but I think it's time for you to go." When she sees the hurt come back to Gabrielle's face, she smiles. "No, I don't mean I'm kicking you out, but I have a wedding to plan in two days and I'm sure that Xena would like to go over plans for the protection of our humble village with you. Besides I have a feeling that there is a certain young man who is anxiously awaiting your return." Gabrielle is embarrassed that Becky knows so much about her and Iolaus. She turns to go. As Gabrielle opens the door, Becky calls her to her once more. "Gabrielle do me a favor will you? When you see Iolaus, tell him I said it's alright, I understand." Gabrielle is about to ask what Becky means, but decides not to. When Gabrielle walks out, Becky goes over to the door and shuts it behind her. Now that she is alone, Becky finally breaks down. "Iolaus I will always care for you, but I know that you were the one meant for my sister and I will gladly give you up for her"

Chapter Fourteen

"Okay, Hercules, I think you and Iolaus should go to the south end of town. It's the quickest way into the center of the village, so that will probably be the main part of the attack. I'll be there also to back you up."

"What about me?" Gabrielle says from the doorway. "Where am I going to be?"

"Right here out of harm's way," Iolaus replies. He remembers the last time he saw Gabrielle attempt to fight and he doesn't want her to get hurt. Gabrielle just gives him a look that says "Oh please" and walks toward Xena. She answers the question that is in Xena's eyes about Becky with only a nod. Xena then continues to outline her plan.

"Amber says that the villagers are well prepared to defend their homes. I'm not sure where Deanlu will be,but,at this point I wouldn't be surprised if she was a little all over. Gabrielle, I need you to stay in the tavern." When she sees that Gabrielle is about to protest not being in the fight, Xena stops her. "Wait a minute. The villager's are bringing their children into town tomorrow before the attack and I want you to protect them. They'll be safe with you."

"I think I should stick by Gabrielle in case of any trouble." Iolaus says. His feelings have grown for Gabrielle since the first time they met and he doesn't want anything to happen to her.

"I'll be fine Iolaus. I'm not a helpless farm girl anymore. You worry about you're own head."

"That's a good idea Xena," Deanlu says from the living room entrance. No one is surprised that she has shown up now. "I've just come from their camp and I overheard some of their plans. They plan on dividing their army in groups. That way they can divert your attention from the frontal assault."

"Well they are in for a surprise then. We'll be prepared. Did you get a chance to talk to any of the men like you had hoped?"

Deanlu shakes her head. "No, but I don't think they will be as big of a problem as we thought."

"What do you mean, you think?" Hercules said.

"Well basically, I don't believe that Dancyer wants to go through with the attack, especially since finding out that you and Xena were here to help. I also know that, even if the two armies are combined, the men will still follow their originally leader. That means that whatever Dancyer does, her men will follow suit. If we can separate her from Caryn, that should make out task somewhat easier."

"That's be pretty difficult, because if Caryn knows that Dancyer is having second thoughts, she's going to stick to her like sap to a tree," came Iolaus' response. "She's not going to give Dancyer a chance to tell her men to pull back from the attack."

"I know that Iolaus, but in the middle of the attack, with her life on the line, I don't think Caryn will be able to worry about what Dancyer is doing."

"And if one of us were to fight Dancyer, we can force her away from Caryn and try to talk to her," Xena said, catching onto Deanlu's plans. She had to admit that her plan made sense, especially if she was correct about Dancyer's state of mind. At worst, Dancyer wouldn't listen but, at best, maybe she would and they could prevent more bloodshed than was necessary.

"That's right Xena. And if Dancyer agrees to throw down her arms, most of her men will follow suit. The only question now is, which one of us will talk to her?"

"Well if Caryn hates you as much as you say she does, Deanlu, she'll probably be focused on you the whole time. Hercules and Iolaus will be leading the villagers so I guess that leaves me. It makes sense to have me talk to her anyway, since it sounds as if she may be having the same type of conflicts I once had."

With the majority of details about the village's defenses settled, everyone tried to relax, even Deanlu and Xena. Xena and Hercules tried to gather more information about Deanlu, but to little or no success. Deanlu only gave them answers to a few questions and, even then, they were vague. Amber was with Lasha and Scauwen finalizing details of their wedding that was to take place in two days, attack or no attack. Iolaus and Gabrielle decided that they wanted some time alone and went outside to take a walk.

"It's a beautiful night Iolaus. Everything is so peaceful. It doesn't seem as if a battle is about to be fought here. I hope everything will be alright."

"If everything goes as planned, it should be fine." Taking her hand in his, "I'm just glad that we finally have a chance to be alone. I've missed you."

"I've missed you too," she says as she looks at the moon. She allows herself to be guided by Iolaus because it gives her a chance to think about Perdicus and her feelings toward the man by her side. He is so different than her husband but, yet, she cares about him deeply. "Iolaus would you mind if I asked you a question?"

"Go ahead."

"What was your relationship with Becky?"

Iolaus stops and stares at Gabrielle. He didn't think that she knew about that and he doesn't know how to answer her question without hurting her. Gabrielle sensed that he doesn't want to answer, so she just continues.

"It's okay to tell me Iolaus, I won't break, contrary to popular opinion. It's not like we had made a commitment to each other or anything. I know you've been seeing other woman and I don't mind. I mean, after all, I got married so it's not like I've been faithful."

"Gabrielle, it was before we even met. I've only seen her once or twice in the past year. I would have told you sooner, but when Hercules explained to me about the two of you being sisters, I didn't know how to. I want you to know that even though I care about her, it isn't the same way I care about you."

"I know you care about me Iolaus and I understand that you have feelings for Becky. Any man would. She understands that too. She wants you to be happy. I think she knows that your future isn't with her. That it lies somewhere else."

Iolaus takes Gabrielle into his arms and gives her a passionate kiss. When it ends, he doesn't release her from the embrace,but holds her tightly to him. He smiles at the face that is looking up at him in the moonlight.

"What has happened to you that has made you so wise? What have I done to deserve even having you as a part of my life?"

"Nothing. You're just lucky I guess." She gives Iolaus a hug. As she does so, she notices several fires in the distance. "C'mon. I think we need to get back to the house."

"Why, what's wrong?" a confused Iolaus asks. He notices the difference in Gabrielle's attitude but doesn't know what caused it.

"Look." Gabrielle points the lights and he quickly understands the situation. He grabs Gabrielle's hand and they run as fast as they can back to Amber's house. As they reach the front door, they can hear the noises in the distance. They rush into the house and all eyes turn to face them. Before anyone can ask what had happened, Gabrielle blurts out.

"They're here."

Chapter Fifteen

Xena looks right at Deanlu. "I thought they weren't going to get here until tomorrow."

"I didn't know Caryn would get here so fast. I'm not a prophet you know," she shrugs. "She's never pushed her army this hard before."

"Thank the gods we are ready for them. Gabrielle, I want you to take the children and get to the village. Alert everyone you see that the attack is on the way." Xena turns to the others. "You all know what to do." Everyone heads in different directions as they go to prepare for the attack. As usual, Deanlu vanishes, but this time no one had time to take notice of it.

Gabrielle gathered up Amber's children, and some others that had planned on spending the night in order to save their parents the trip into town, and with Iolaus at her side, headed for the village. Right after Gabrielle left, Xena and Hercules prepared themselves to go.

"Are you sure you'll be alright here, Amber." Xena asks the woman who had so kindly put her and Gabrielle up. She doesn't want anything to happen to her or her home.

"We'll be fine. I know how to handle myself and besides, Scauwen and Lasha will be here to help. I'm not going to let some army ruin my brother's wedding."

Xena smiled and satisfied herself with the knowledge that Amber did indeed know how to protect her home. She and Hercules opened the front door to leave, and as they did so, they could hear the chanting. It was becoming louder and Xena knew that the army was close at hand. She also knew that, despite the villager's protests, the village would not get through this battle unharmed. She only hoped the villager's themselves survived.

As Xena and Hercules travelled into the village, they could see all the villagers preparing themselves. "They really are well armed," Xena thought. "Maybe they will be able to get through this." The town itself was bustling with activity. Everywhere you went you saw men and woman preparing themselves. The villagers were even setting up some traps to help them in their defense of their homes. When Xena and Hercules arrived at the tavern, Gabrielle was in the middle of a group of children, who were nervous about what was about to happen. When she saw them walk in, she excused herself from them and went over to talk to Xena and Hercules.

"Well all the children are here. Some of them, were here even before I was. Jana said that she would help me out with them, since there are so many."

Xena nodded her head in approval, "Good. Now remember to be on guard at all times. If you need any help, just scream. You do that rather well." Xena gives her friend a smile. Suddenly they hear something from outside. The battle has begun.

Xena, Hercules, and Iolaus race outside to confront the incoming army and are instantly engaged in battle. Hercules and Iolaus defeat their attackers quickly and head out to help the villagers. Xena, on the other hand, goes to search out Dancyer and she wonders where Deanlu is. As she turns the corner, though, her question is answered. Deanlu is in the middle of the street and facing her is about twenty men from Caryn's army. They all rush her as one.

Two of the men grab her from behind and Deanlu does a back flip and then pulls her arms together, causing the men to collide. She then takes out her sword and defends herself against the rest. Xena doesn't like the odds so she joins in the fray.

"AYAYAYAYAYAYAY!!!!" she yells as the men turn to face their new opponent. Deanlu also faces Xena and gives her a look of gratitude. Together they quickly take care of the men.

"Caryn," Deanlu yells, "if you want me dead, it looks like you're going to have to kill me yourself."

"It will be my pleasure." Caryn says coming from behind. Deanlu turns around just in time to deflect the sword that was coming straight at her. Caryn is on her horse and next to her is Dancyer. Xena goes over to engage Dancyer in battle, while Caryn's attention is diverted.

"Come on Dancyer. What, are you afraid to fight me." Dancyer gets off her horse and draws her sword. She then swings it high and then drops it.

"I have no quarrel with you Xena, nor this village. I will not fight you." Xena is shocked. She didn't think it would be this easy to change Dancyer's mind. What she didn't realize was that since Deanlu's visit to their camp that day, Dancyer had been doing a lot of thinking. She couldn't remember why she started fighting, but all she knew was that she was tired of it. There had to be someway to end it and she knew that it had to begin with this village. That same afternoon, she had talked to her men, those that she knew where loyal to her, and told them her plans. They too had grown weary of the life they had been leading and had agreed with her. Even as Caryn's men battled in town, Dancyer's were laying their arms down outside the village.

Caryn notices Dancyer and Xena. "What are you doing Dancyer. Kill her while you have the chance." Dancyer just shakes her head and walks away. Caryn takes out a dagger and throws it at her. "If you won't kill her, then I will kill you." Xena catches the knife before it hits Dancyer. Dancyer justs looks at Xena and the two instantly understand each other.

"Well Caryn, even you're allies are leaving you. What are you going to do now?" Deanlu asks a very annoyed Caryn.

"I'm going to do what I intended to in the first place. I'm going to kill you myself." She says and begins the fight. Xena just watches as Deanlu defends herself from Caryn's vicious blows, never attempting to attack herself. Finally when left no choice, she begins her attack. The two woman are evenly matched, but Caryn's fury blinds her to Deanlu's attack. Suddenly, one of Caryn's blows connects, and Deanlu begins to bleed heavily from her leg. She tumbles to the ground. Caryn, sensing victory, goes over for the kill.

"Well, Deanlu, this looks like the end to your career as a protector. Say goodbye to all of this, as you shan't be seeing it anymore." Caryn raises her sword to finish Deanlu off, when Deanlu brings her own sword up and lodges it into Caryn ribs.

"May Hades have mercy on your soul," Deanlu says as Caryn falls to the ground dead.

Hercules and Iolaus come running from behind. The villagers have defeated the army and the men are in retreat. They stop short when they see Deanlu on the ground next to Caryn. Gabrielle rushes up behind the two men. As soon as the army started to leave, the villagers had come to relieve her of her charges, so she had gone in search of Xena and Becky, whom she hadn't seen all through the battle.

"Well, this is a first. I have to admit that she had gotten better. Before she never even came close to getting me."

"Let me take a look at that wound." Xena says as she kneels by Deanlu. Deanlu tries to keep her away, but because of the loss of blood, doesn't have the strength. As Xena removes part of the legging that is around Deanlu's legs, she sees a birthmark. Gabrielle gasps as she sees it too.


Chapter Sixteen

"Hey sis, I guess you found out my little secret." Becky says, not daring to look into Gabrielle's accusing eyes. No one had known her secret, but now that it was out, Deanlu seemed to transform before their very eyes. Instead of the warrior dressed in white, there was the tavern owner dressed in her usual blue.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Xena asked. Becky was still bleeding and she was working hard trying to stop it. The villagers came up from behind and as they heard about Deanlu and Becky being one in the same, they all said the same thing. It made sense. Becky was never in any of the battles and that she always seemed to know when Deanlu would appear.

"Tell you what? That the Goddess Athena changes me from this, into a fierce warrior that makes others quake in fear. Would you have believed me?"

"Why you Becky? " Gabrielle was confused. It was one thing to finally come to terms with her sister leaving, but something else entirely to find out that Becky was a favorite of the gods. "How come Athena choose you?"

"Because, my dear Gabrielle, she is my daughter." came a voice, seemingly out of nowhere. Suddenly, a vision appeared. It was a beautiful woman, the Goddess herself. Athena.

"Well if it isn't my favorite sister," Hercules said. "Why am I not surprised?"

"Hercules, don't be mad. You couldn't have known. Not many do."

"Is she really your mother Becky? We aren't really sisters." Gabrielle cried.

"Of course we're really sisters. Didn't we grow up together? Didn't I teach you things?" Gabrielle nods her head. "Just because we aren't related by blood doesn't make us any less of family."

"Is Becky the reason you are protecting this village?" Xena asks the goddess.

"Alas no. I had already made a deal with Ares not to attack another village and he wasn't willing to make it too. I had to do the next best thing and make my daughter into Deanlu."

"Which village is already under your protection?" Xena asked. She had finished binding Becky's leg and the bleeding had stopped. She knew that it would be fine.

"Poteideia. Ares agreed not to allow any of his warlords to attack the village, in exchange for a future favor. He has yet to claim it though."

"Wait a minute. He allowed Draco to attack. He didn't stop him." Gabrielle's shock over finding out about Becky was fading away and her curiosity was getting the better of her.

"Actually I allowed Draco to attack. I knew that Xena was nearby and that it was the only way to get the two of you together. It worked."

"But what about this village. I mean, everything here looks as if it were made by the gods." Iolaus asked.

"In a way it was. All the villagers here are descendants of us. Including Amber. She is the daughter of Apollo. Avondale Guy who you met when you first arrived is the son of Aphrodite and Okie over there is the daughter of none other than Hades himself. It is the reason this town flourishes so."

"A whole town of relatives I never even knew about. No wonder I felt so comfortable whenever I was here." Hercules said as he helped his newly discover niece up off the ground.

"Well I really must be going. There's a wedding I have to attend tomorrow." Athena vanishes into thin air, leaving the villagers alone. Okie speaks up.

"Okay everyone, you know the routine."

"First rounds on me," Becky finishes and they all head to the tavern to celebrate their victory.


The wedding was magnificent. Lasha made a beautiful bride and Scauwen was a very handsome groom. Becky had the honors of giving the bride away, since she was the closest thing to family that Lasha had. All in attendance basked in the glow of the couples love for each other. Even the various gods attended, including Hades who had his own mate Persephone beside him.

The village had survived the attack well. Only a few homes were damaged and some crops destroyed. The villagers were already making plans for the repairs. Xena, Hercules and Iolaus were standing around waiting for Gabrielle to say goodbye to her sister.

"Now I want you to keep in touch, you understand," Gabrielle said. "I just found you again and I don't want to lose you."

"I promise. And I want you to keep up with your training on that staff. One of these days you'll get good enough to even beat me," Becky teased her little sister as they walked over to the group. "Take care of my sister Xena. I trust you with her life."

"I will Becky. Be well."

Becky walked over to Iolaus who was still avoiding her. "Take care my dear friend. I shall be forever grateful to the Fates for bringing you into my life." She gives him a kiss and then walks away. Gabrielle watches her go.

"Are you okay Gabrielle?" Xena asks her friend.

"I'm fine Xena. I'm just glad I finally got to see her again. Let's get going."

Xena picks up Argo's reins and the four of them head of down the road toward their next adventure.

The End

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