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Destroyer Of Nations: Book One

Part 4 of 4

by Gabrielle, Warrior Bard

translated by Phillip Howell

Copyright Statement

'Destroyer of Nations Book One' and "Song of the Warrior Princess" -- all:

© Copyright 1997 by Phillip Howell, Powder Springs, Georgia

Xena: Warrior Princess and the names, titles, and backstory used in 'Destroyer of Nations' are the sole property of MCA. The author intends no copyright infringement through the writing of this work of fiction.

This story may not be sold and may be archived only with direct permission of the author. Any archive must carry this entire copyright statement.

**WARNING: This story contains graphic sexual activity between male/female and female/female participants. If you are under 18 years of age (or the legal age in your country) please do not read this story.

Three more days the army marched towards the city of Larisa, three more days the army fought off the raiding incursions of enemy cavalry. Finally, on the fourth day, the capitol of Thessaly rose out of the early morning mist. The army had arrived, arrived at its objective. The battle was on.

But the upcoming battle would be like no other battle fought by the army. For here in the plains of central Thessaly, the land was flat. No longer would the spearwall have the advantage of topography, no longer would the army be able to occupy the commanding high ground that had given it an edge in earlier battles. No, this would be a stand-up fight, and a bloody one.

The Thessalian cavalry far out numbered Manus' mercenary horse. And while the enemy infantry was equal in strength to Xena's infantry, the centaur cavalry gave the Thessalians a marked edge over her army. It would be a very bloody fight. But a fight, Xena would win, win or die trying.

The morning of that fourth day, the army marched straight from the line of march into a line of battle. The spearwall took up the center position. The swordsmen and peltist auxiliary, forming on each flank, spread outward into a loose skirmish formation, protecting the spearwall but allowing for freedom to face danger from either flank. Manus and the cavalry formed up behind the spearwall, a solid mass of men and horses adding depth to the line of battle and giving the cavalry a central position from which to cover both flank. Philemon and his horse-archers were formed in a tight formation well behind the line of battle. They were Xena's one surprise, her one edge against the more numerous Thessalian cavalry.

Xena was uncomfortable as she stood in front of her command group and laid out her battle plan. Her third set of leather armor chaffed against her stomach, despite the chamois underblouse Manus had made for her. The addition of bronze straps across her lower stomach made the armor most unwieldy and stiff. She could hardly bend over, feeling imprisoned in its hard grip.

"All right, gentlemen. We let them come at us first, as always," Xena commanded, looking at each man in turn. "We split the spearwall in two equal halves, just like Aroilus. Pelius, you and Draco make sure the flanks of the wall stay clear of enemy cavalry. Keep your men digging those mantraps out in front and along the flanks as long as possible. And make sure you cover them. We want the enemy cavalry to be surprised.

"Borias, you and Lykus wait for their infantry to charge. As soon as you see them begin, start pulling back. Make a bow in the line of battle. Pelius and Draco, cover the wall's withdrawal and bend around to cover the flanks and rear. Philemon, you're our surprise. As soon as Borias and Lykus begin moving back, bring your horse archers forward. Have every archer loose twenty arrows in rapid fire just before the enemy infantry closes with the wall. Pelius, you and Draco have your crossbowmen do the same. If discipline holds, we'll draw them into a bowl and beat them to death with arrows and bolts. Those short spears their infantry carry won't bother the pikes of our wall."

"What about the cavalry, Xena," Manus asked, mopping sweat from under his helmet.

"I expect they'll try and hit both flanks at once, so be prepared to go either way," Xena commanded. "Philemon will take whichever flank you leave uncovered after his men have shot their quivers dry. Philemon, make sure you replenish your quivers before you move to whichever flank is exposed. Once their infantry is decimated, we'll draw back the flanks and prepare for the centaurs. I don't think the Thessalians will send them in until the end. Honor has to be preserved, after all. No, the Thessalians will want first crack at us."

Borias shifted uneasily, looking up at Xena from where he crouched next to her side. "Are you going to stay with the wall, Xena?"

"Yes, my friend, I'll honor our agreement," Xena smiled down at him, reaching down with a hand to touch his armored shoulder. "I'm even leaving Argo behind. She'll stay with the baggage train and help the guards. No, I'll stay out of this fight, Borias. As long as you strong men protect me, that is." Xena smiled at each man, laughing as they smiled back.

"Let's do it!" Borias said, rising to his feet and shaking hands with each man in turn. Then he gave Xena a big hug before walking away, back to his half of the spearwall.

Xena watched as her lieutenants went about their business. Beginning to pace back and forth, Xena pondered the coming battle. She was not overly concerned for the outcome. She had the utmost confidence in her army. But the ugly centaur who had killed Samos had returned to her dreams lately. Returned to chase her two Solans through her dreams. The centaur seemed determined to catch the son of her dreams. She longed to meet this menace to her unborn baby, meet him in battle and kill him. Kill him before he could harm her child.

Draco watched the Thessalian cavalry off in the distance across the flat plain that separated the two armies. He had risen rapidly through the ranks of the army to leadership of half the swordsmen and auxiliary. Draco had become a much feared man amongst hard men. He had put the training given him by Pelius and Lykus to good use. His own use.

A natural with any weapon, Draco's abilities ran the gamut of athletic grace and deadly fighting skills. Many of the hard eyed men who had joined for the plunder found themselves at the mortal end of his sword when they opposed his ambition of leading Xena's army. For this was exactly what Draco wanted. He had fallen in lust with Xena the first time he set eyes on her. The same age as she, Draco was amazed that she could take up with an old man like Borias. No, Draco wanted her for himself and he wanted her army. He just wasn't quite sure yet how to achieve these ambitions. But give him time, and his fertile brain would come up with a way to supplant Borias and quench his lusts.

Today, his fertile brain was centered on completing the mantraps to his front and flanks. He paced back and forth behind the line of struggling men, watching as they worked to complete the traps before the battle began. Each hole was dug down an arms length and measured two hands breadth wide. Thus, each was just the right size to capture and break the stoutest of limbs. The Thessalian and centaur cavalry would have a nasty surprise waiting for them as it charged Xena's army.

Draco had taken a suggestion from his sergeant, Dagnine, and filled the holes with lamp oil and candle wax. Flaming crossbow bolts would light each mantrap at the right time, the resulting wall of fire covering his men as the enemy cavalry floundered amidst the flames. Draco had made sure that Pelius knew of his little addition and the latter was presumably adding the same surprise to his traps over on the right flank.

Draco motioned for Dagnine to join his pacing as their men continued digging in the hot morning sun. "Have you figured out a way for Xena to find out about this stone you're always talking about?" Draco asked the other man.

"No, not yet. Not a convincing story, anyway," Dagnine replied as he walked beside the younger man.

"I still don't understand this stone of yours," Draco said.

"You don't have to, just understand that when we find it, it's mine," Dagnine said. "My mother was raped by those centaur bastards. I even have a half-brother amongst the brutes. She told me about Ixion's fabled stone. And she told me about the power the possessor of the stone can acquire. We'll rule the world, you and I. When we get the stone, that is."

Dagnine fingered the ugly scar that disfigured his once handsome face, a scar given him by the gauntlet he had been forced to run following the sack of Aroilus. Dagnine had sworn to reap revenge on Xena for that scar. He hated her and her new lover, Borias. And he hated centaurs. His mother had graced a centaur herd five years before he was born.

She had not been one of those human females who enjoyed the experience. She had discovered the secret of Ixion's cavern quite by accident one night as she followed her centaur lover as he went on guard duty at the Ixion Cavern. The woman had escaped after bearing a centaur brat, escaped back to humans and another child. She had raised Dagnine to hate centaurs as much as she did.

Dagnine had always meant to search for this so called evil stone and possess it for his own purposes. But he realized he could not search alone. His mother had told him how well the centaurs guarded the stone and its hiding place. No, he would need an army to find it for him -- Xena's army. He had not quite figured out how to entice Xena to search for it, he still needed a convincing story to lull her suspicion. But he was working on it. Working hard.

And he was working hard on other matters, matters of revenge and murder. He still owed Xena for his face, still owed the bitch for the agony and pain of the gauntlet. He had recruited Draco into his twisted plot of revenge. Together, they started many rumors against Borias, the bitch's lover.

Rumors of Borias' involvement with the centaurs, involvement in the rape of human females. The men of Draco's detachment began to believe the rumors as they had marched through village after village and seen the aftermath of a centaur culling raid. It had become common knowledge that Borias had gone against Xena's order to kill all centaurs and that knowledge made Dagnine's lies and innuendos believable. A revolt against the army's chief disciplinarian was beginning to boil. Dagnine fueled the fires against Borias and waited for the right moment to strike. But right now, Dagnine and Draco had to live out the day first. Tomorrow, if they survived, they could begin to stir their little plot anew.

The hot sun continued to rise in the sky as the two armies stood and watched each other in silence. Neither side seemed prepared to start the battle. No, each side waited for the other to take the plunge first. Xena and Borias stood, out in front of the spearwall, and watched as the Thessalian infantry stood silently across the dusty distance that separated the two armies.

This time there would be no heroic challenge of single combat between champions, no gauntlet for Xena to hurl at her opponent. This time she just quietly watched and waited. She felt alone without the comforting presence of Argo beneath her and she longed to hear the stamp of Samos' feet. No challenge this day.

As the silence pressed in on her, Xena shrugged off Borias' arm and began walking forward. Stopping a good bow's shot in front of her army, Xena turned and faced her men through the dusty haze. Raising her arms high in the air she swept her iron sword in a circle above her head. The army responded as she had expected. Xena smiled a dazzling smile as the army's battle chant began to rise, from a low growl as the men of the spearwall started the chant, to a crescendo as the rest of her army joined in.


Her men chanted at her, their praise making her laugh as she drank in the thunderous words.


The chant was soon accompanied by the pipes and drums of the army's makeshift band. The swordsmen beat a clanging tattoo, swords clashing against iron cuirasses. Xena drank it all in, drank in the heady wine of her army in full throat, making music that freed her soul from the internal turmoil that sometimes threatened to overwhelm her. Her heart felt full to bursting as she drank in her army's chant.


Xena bowed before her men as the chant continued. This would be the last time she would hear those words for a long time. Soon she would have to bow to mother nature and leave the army, leave the army to become a mother, the mother of her son, Solan. She would miss the music, miss the words, miss the heady rush it gave her soul.

As the chant continued, Xena walked back to stand beside Borias. Borias grasped her in a fierce embrace as the chant washed over them. They laughed together as the words of the chant beat against their ears. Borias was continually amazed at the devotion this tall beautiful woman could inspire in men, even the hardened men that composed her army. And he was amazed that she loved him, loved him alone amidst all those other men who now chanted their devotion to her. Though her bulky armor and early pregnancy had robbed her of some of her natural grace, she was even more beautiful than ever. She positively glowed in his arms; the words of the army's battle cry echoing across the line of battle.


"Time to go, Xena. Time to find a place inside the wall," Borias told her, kissing her nose.

"Take care, my friend. Stay alive. Stay safe for our son," Xena told him, pulling the chin strap of her leather helmet under her chin and lacing the side pieces tight against her cheeks. "Remember Solan, my love." And with those words, Xena broke out of his arms and ran for the safety of the spearwall, the men chanting to her as she disappeared into its massive human bulk.

Borias watched the love of his life until she vanished from sight amidst the men of his spearwall. Walking to the front of the wall, Borias took up his normal position, ten swordsmen surrounding him, men prepared to follow him into the heart of the Thessalian infantry when the time was right. Borias looked off to his right and waved at Lykus. Xena's friend from Amphipolis waved back, a huge grin plastered across his bearded face.

As the army's battle cry wound down, a growl was heard across the distance that separated Xena's army and the Thessalian infantry. The growl rose in volume as the enemy infantry began a ragged charge, their short spears coming down into position. Borias turned to the piper at his side and gave the word for the spearwall to begin its withdrawal. The notes of the signal split the air, the men of the spearwall beginning to shuffle backwards, their pikes remaining at the carry position.

Philemon heard Borias' signal and signalled his horse-archers forward at the trot. The archers spread out as they crossed the short distance to the rear of the withdrawing spearwall. As his men readied their short horse bows, Philemon cantered forward to a place between the two halves of the spearwall. He stood in the saddle and waited for the enemy infantry to come within arrow range. Off to the flanks he could see the flanking formations of swordsmen and auxiliary falling back and angling to protect the army's flanks. Looking back toward the advancing enemy formation, Philemon judged the range. Sweeping his arm up and down, he gave the signal to loose.

A flock of arrows winged their way toward the enemy infantry. Philemon had judged well, he watched as the first rank of enemy infantry went down en masse under the onslaught of his archers arrows. He smiled a grim smile as he watched the crossbowmen on the flanks add their deadly bolts to the flock of arrows. By the time his men had shot their twenty arrows, the enemy formation had broken, its center decimated by the accurate archery of Philemon's scouts. He cantered back to his men as he heard a new signal pierce the air.

Borias signaled the charge. He instinctively ducked as the pikes of his spearwall came down around him and his ten swordsmen. As the pikes leveled out, his men charged, their battle chant louder than ever.


The chant rose above the cries of pain and death that came from the destroyed Thessalian infantry formation. The chant continued until it was replaced by a loud grunt as the pikes of the wall impacted on the remnants of the enemy formation. The twin walls led by Borias and Lykus continued a slow walk forward, impaling those Thessalians who stood their ground. The spearwall faltered as the tight formation of shoulder to shoulder pikemen stepped over the dead and dying bodies of the enemy. Soon, the wall stood alone on the field of battle, the enemy infantry finally breaking and running from the field, running back to where the centaur cavalry could be seen forming up for its own charge.

Draco laughed as the battle chant coursed through his veins, warming his blood with the heady rush of battle. He stood aside and watched his crossbowmen as they loosed bolt after bolt into the stalled enemy assault. His laughter was silenced when he heard the unmistakable sound of fast moving cavalry. Looking off to his left, Draco saw the Thessalian cavalry charging down upon his men and the army's left flank.

Draco sprinted to his appointed position on the extreme left flank, the most exposed position. A select body of crossbowmen followed. These were the men who would light the mantraps when the time was right. As he and his men arrived at their destination, Draco looked off to the left and watched as the enemy cavalry dressed its ranks for the final charge. Then it was time and Draco gave the signal that sent bolt after flaming bolt off into the distance. Instantly the mantraps were in flames. Draco laughed a grim laugh, watching the Thessalian cavalry flounder amidst the holes and shooting flames.

The Thessalian cavalry charge was broken completely, the ranks going down as horse after horse ran into the arm deep holes. The resulting mass of downed horses and riders sent the rear of the formation into chaos. Draco laughed heartily as his men ran out to slaughter the mass of struggling humanity and horseflesh.

Dagnine looked up from the dead Thessalian. Pulling his sword from the dead man's chest, he was surprised by the sound of many hooves thundering against the earth. His eyes opened in shock and amazement as he saw a massive formation of centaur cavalry charge through the smoke and dust that surrounded the ruined Thessalian horse. Screaming at the top of his lungs, Dagnine forced his men to retreat back towards the remainder of the left flank, the towering centaurs in full pursuit.

Draco heard the centaur cavalry come thundering through the remnants of the enemy cavalry just as Dagnine brought his men back to the line of swordsmen that angled back to protect the left flank of the army. He swore as the centaurs swerved around the mantraps and charged directly toward his location. He and Dagnine shouted the commands that brought the swordsmen and auxiliary into a ragged formation of two man teams. Then, before they were prepared, the centaurs overran the left flank. The two man teams tried desperately to fight off the numerous centaur cavalry, but to no avail. The left flank broke and was overwhelmed by the towering brutes.

Draco dragged Dagnine back toward the rear of the army, away from the melee that engulfed the left flank. He looked around, expecting to see Manus and the cavalry riding to their rescue. But they were nowhere to be found. He and his men were on their own. As he pulled enough men from the melee to form a new battle line, Draco was surprised as a flock of arrows swept over head, to land in the midst of the pursuing centaur cavalry.

He watched as Philemon and his scouts charged by, to crash into the milling centaur cavalry. Soon, the vicious cavalry battle swept from his field of view, the centaur cavalry retreating, pursued by Philemon and the horse-archer scouts. Draco's crossbowmen gave the centaurs a final volley before slumping to the ground in a collective heap of tired men and boys.

Draco and Dagnine cursed, cursed Borias and Xena for leaving them alone. Cursed at the loss of over nine-tenth of the infantry that had comprised the left flank. They would have to begin again, their mini-revolt against Borias and that bitch, Xena, now mostly lay dead out where the left flank had been overwhelmed by the centaur cavalry.

The battle was won by the time Manus brought his cavalry across the right flank of the army and charged the Thessalian cavalry that menaced that flank. Pelius' men had not been heavily engaged, their mantraps had broken the enemy's charge, as expected. Despite the battle being lost, and the Thessalians very much the loser, the main centaur cavalry formation had yet to intervene. Now they did. Though their timing was badly chosen, they came on nonetheless. Surprisingly, the centaurs did not head for the right flank.

No, the mass formation headed directly for the main spearwall, directly for Xena. Borias and his men stood their ground as the centaurs thundered ever closer, the sound of their hooves rising above the cries of the many Thessalian wounded that surrounded the wall. Pikes dropped back into position as the centaurs closed the remaining distance. The long pikes won out against the valor of the centaur charge. The centaur cavalry fragmented and broke itself against the fifteen feet of stout wood and iron tips.

Her heart racing, Xena watched her hated enemy impale themselves on the long pikes of the wall. Then out of the dust that surrounded everything, he was there. The ugly centaur from her dreams. The ugly brute that had killed Samos was there.

Just out of pike range, Kaleipus stood his ground and growled his war cry. And starred directly into Xena's eyes. Blue eyes locked with hazel eyes as the two foes watched each other over the heads of the pikemen of the wall. Xena and Kaleipus fought their silent duel as the rest of the centaurs died under the wicked pikes of the spearwall.

Xena could tell the centaur wanted to get at her, wanted in the worst way imaginable to get within sword range of her, but she did not flinch under his stare. Xena stood on the small mound of dirt that allowed her a vantage point over the height of the men to her front and watched the centaur glare back at her.

Suddenly, the old centaur made a decision. With a flourish, Kaleipus bowed deeply, his hand going over his heart as he bent forward in respect. Then with a piercing battle cry, he galloped away from the wall, his remaining centaurs following rapidly behind.

With the centaur withdrawal from the field, the battle quickly wound down to its inevitable conclusion. The spearwall ordered its ranks and began advancing forward, forward to occupy the position where the Thessalians had stood throughout the morning. The right flank swept forward ahead of the wall, killing those Thessalians not yet dead. The destroyed left flank remained where it had fallen, the survivors just happy to be alive.

As the spearwall reached its objective, Manus and the cavalry arrived and took up positions on each flank, just in case the centaurs decided to rejoin the battle. They were still out there, still complete as a fighting formation, still a threat. Not so the Thessalians. No, the Thessalian army had been utterly destroyed as a fighting body. Xena's army had won, the field of battle was hers.

The next morning, Xena led her army into Larisa. Thessaly was hers. As she led her army up the main street of the capitol, her men chanted their battle cry, the roar of voices crashing and echoing off the houses that lined the route.


The streets were mostly empty, the local people not caring who this new conqueror was. They just hoped she would leave them in peace, and spare the capitol the threat of rape and pillage. Not this time, Xena had seen to that. Manus and the cavalry, Lykus and her guard, had made it known throughout the army that any breaches in discipline would be met with instant death. No, Xena would not need the gibbet and gauntlet this time. This time her conquest would be bloodless. Larisa was hers.

And as she brought Argo to a halt in the center of the capitol of Thessaly, Xena realized she could add a new title to her growing list of honorifics. Scourge, general, admiral, warrior princess, and mother-to-be were all from her past. Now, this day, this glorious day of life after a deadly battle, she added the new title of Xena, Destroyer of Nations. Xena smiled a dazzling smile at her men as their battle chant continued.


The army continued its chant as a wagon was drawn forward, drawn to the center of the town. The wagon halted beside where Xena and Argo sat, sat and listened as the chant continue. Bloody runnels dripped from the wagon. Xena smiled as a soldier began throwing onto the ground the severed heads of those centaurs who had been captured during battle the day before.

Xena laughed as the severed heads splattered against the dirt of the street. Destroyer of Nations, indeed!


Chapter 5

And so Xena, the scourge, general, admiral, and mother-to-be, the self-proclaimed warrior princess and publicly recognized Destroyer of Nations, was once again a hero, saving the people from a dangerous menace. It was propitious that her conquest of Thessaly coincided with the growing of the centaur herds. Xena and her army declared war on Ixion's fabled creation.

Xena knew she could not occupy all of Thessaly, so she didn't try. She had other business, other nations to conquer. Next would come Parnassus, then Boeotia. But first, she had to make it to the sea, make the rendezvous with her fleet at Heraclea. Three months, give or take of few days, to march the distance from Larisa to the linkup point on the coast. Another hard march faced the army, a hard march south through the mountains of Phthiotis, the true home of the Achaeans.

But this long, dusty, march would not be like the others her army had made of late. No, this march would be a triumphal procession. Xena and her army were welcomed deliverers against the predatory culling raids of the centaurs. These brutish creatures, who Xena hated so much, were now without the backing of the Thessalian army. On their own for the first time in over a decade, the centaur raids became more vicious as the growing of the herd continued. Xena and her army fought the centaurs at every opportunity as the march south to the rendezvous continued. Behind the army lay a long line of centaur heads, mounted on stakes for all to see. The local people smiled as the line of heads grew longer each passing day.

Borias was beside himself with remorse over what he was forced to do to his old friends. At every opportunity, he continued his private campaign to dissuade Xena from her murderous course, her revenge against the centaurs. But Xena resisted his arguments, resisted his persuasive words. She was adamant that the debt the centaurs owed her for the murder of Solan could only be repaid with the death of every centaur that crossed her path. The line of severed and staked heads grew longer.

The army was content and its confidence soared after the defeat of the Thessalian army at Larisa. Only the dead, mainly from the left flank of the army, remembered the cost of that victory. Eight-hundred infantry and four-hundred cavalry had fallen or been severely wounded during the battle. One-fifth of the army remained behind, their ashes sowing the fields around Larisa, the cries of the wounded heard only by the healers left behind to minister to their wounds. Once again, the army was victorious, which was all that mattered.

But the seeds of deceit sowed by Draco and Dagnine against the worthy Borias grew and began to sour the army against Xena's lover. At every opportunity, Draco and his friend planted rumors of Borias' collusion with the centaur enemy. A word here, a word there, the rumors made the rounds. Most of the men of Xena's army did not succumb to these evil words, but enough did. And the numbers grew as the march south continued and the line of severed heads stretched out behind the army. Only Lykus and his guard, those men from Amphipolis who still marched at Xena's side, were impervious to these rumors, these evil words of malice.

Lykus and his Amphipolians were more than content. They were happy and marched without complaint. They were happy, joyfully happy as Xena's pregnancy became noticeable and could no longer be disguised. The guard mirrored the joy that beamed from their commander's face every time she walked amongst them after camp was made at night. They reveled in her joy as she sang to them every night while the long march south continued.

Xena became rounded, her breasts fuller, with the arrival of the fifth month of her pregnancy. She could no longer fit into her leather and bronze armor, no matter how skillful the alteration. So Xena went without, returned to wearing the full skirts and embroidered blouses she had once loved so much. Argo had a new look as well. No longer could Xena ride astride her friend, not in her current bulging state. Xena bowed to the inevitable and accepted Manus' gift of a new saddle, one that would allow her to ride sidesaddle.

Xena felt ridiculous, high atop Argo, her long legs wrapped around a canted saddle horn, her buttocks firmly planted in a side sweeping saddle bow. But Xena rode anyway, rode sidesaddle in embarrassed silence. It had taken only one half- day bouncing around in the back of a wagon to convince the woman. A ridiculous pose on top of Argo was much preferable to having her son's body bashed back and forth inside her womb by the jostling wagon. So Xena returned to her rightful place at the head of the line of march, ridiculous but safe.

Xena's body had finally come to grips with her pregnant state. She was no longer sick, but the high altitudes of the passes through Mount Narthacius and Mount Othrys made her head pound and her breath shortened to where at times she feared she would pass out. Her sinuses began to bother her again, wounds from a ferocious night battle a winter ago, as the cold winds from the mountain passes knifed through her body. Xena remained happy, however. Happy because her son grew and grew deep inside her.

But Xena's happiness was fragile, as fragile as the baby that grew in her womb. Her dream had returned, and it returned with a vengeance. The ugly centaur of her dream, the centaur who had fought against her twice in the real world, pursued her nightly, pursued her son and her young friend.

The dream came vividly alive as the young boys ran in desperation from the pursuing centaur. And the blond haired child returned to her dreams, that sexless child snatched from her hands by her lost lover, Petracles.

"This child is not for you, Xena!" The words haunted her nightly. Only Xena's joy at impending motherhood kept her from succumbing to the nightly incubus of her dreams.

Borias was more than concerned; he was frantic. Every night as Xena dreamed, as she thrashed about in their bed, he sat beside her in sleepless agony not able to help, not able to stop the insidious dreams that plagued the love of his life. Every night, he held her as her sweaty, bloated body thrashed against his. Every night, Borias felt her sweat soak his clothes as he held her close, keeping her warm in the cool mountain nights.

Borias agonized over Xena's need to find a safe haven for the birth of their child. He desperately wanted to be with her when her time came, but he knew he could not. She would soon leave his side, his bed, for a place of safety while he took the army ever onward south, south to Parnassus and then Boeotia.

His marvel at being a father, his wonderment at watching his baby grow and his lover's body change so dramatically pulled at his soul. As he sat, night after night, and held his lover and their child, he realized that his days as a soldier and mercenary were over. No longer could Borias stand the thought of killing the sons created by other loving couples. Those long nights, as the march south continued, transformed him from hardened soldier to bemused father.

Night after night, as Borias held Xena in his arms and stroked her sweat dampened bangs from her dream laden face, his old self warred with this new manifestation, this new Borias. He would look down at her thrashing body and wonder what it would be like to hold a Xena at peace with herself and her world. The tears would flow down his hard face when he realized that he had no idea how to accomplish that change, did not know how to persuade his lover to leave her self-imposed world behind.

For it was a self-imposed world which griped Xena and held her soul captive. Borias finally came to that realization as he held her tight, night after dreadful night. And this aching revelation deepened his dilemma, for he realized that only Xena could restore her equanimity, only Xena had the power to heal herself. What he feared, the dread that haunted him nightly, was that no outside force could persuade Xena of this truth. Borias' nightmare was that no one, not even himself, could motivate Xena to tear apart her self-imposed world of anger and hate. Xena had become a force of nature and who could change the wind?

Night after night, Borias cried tears of sorrow at his inability to change that one person for whom he would give his life. So he took his own advice, the advice he had given Petracles so many months ago. He remained her soldier, her strong right arm, her disciplinarian. He vowed to remain at Xena's side no matter how scarred his soul became as he was confronted with the need to kill the sons of other loving couples. Borias would remain her soldier for now, but he promised himself that he would use every opportunity to change this woman who thrashed by his side, night after night.

The endless days passed, the dull drumming of tired feet continued, the triumphal procession marching ever southward, southward toward the rendezvous with Tellus and the Fleet at Heraclea. Soon, the mountains were left behind and there before the Army stretched the plains of upper Parnassus. One week remained to the long journey south, one week to Heraclea.

But as the army wound its way out of the mountains, the Dorians once again made their presence felt. Xena had almost forgotten her old, hated enemy from the north. Almost. No, when the Dorians began raiding her army's flanks, she remembered them. And her hatred for them boiled anew. Once again, Xena was reminded of Lyceus' crusade and of his death at their hands. Her anger returned and got the better of her.

Her army was flush with supplies, supplied willingly by the villages saved from the centaur culling raids. Xena no longer needed the rendezvous as badly as she had feared five months prior at Meliboea. Despite her promise to Tellus and Visirius, Xena decided to delay along the rout of march, to linger long enough to destroy this new Dorian army that stood in her way.

Borias and Manus tried to dissuade her from giving battle before the rendezvous. Xena would not listen to their arguments. The Dorians were there and she would fight them, fight them as she always had at every opportunity. So, the army prepared to fight one last battle before reaching the sea. Xena chose the town of Hypata for her battlefield.

The ground around Hypata was as flat as that around Larisa and again the army would suffer from a disadvantage. But then, the land was flat as far as the army could march for two days in any direction. Xena and her men were not concerned by this unfortunate fact of topography. They had beaten the Thessalians on flat ground -- they would do the same to the Dorians.

A hot sun baked he fields around Hypata the day Xena and her army finally met up with the Dorians. Borias was worried, worried because the Dorian army had formed its line of battle in a most peculiar manner. Gone were their customary sword formations, replaced by a huge spearwall. From his vantage point, he could tell that the Dorians had learned the hard lessons of their defeat at Aroilus. Their spears had given way to pikes, pikes the same length as those carried by his men. So there the Dorians stood, one large formation without flank protection. Borias sensed a surprise in the offing, but without high ground he could not see into the center of the massive spearwall opposing him across the dusty field.

Xena had formed her army in its usual formation. Twin spearwalls were flanked by formations of swordsmen and peltist auxiliary. Manus and Philemon augmented this flank protection. But she had decided to make one alteration to the traditional line of battle, an alteration that did not please Borias in the least. Xena spit her guard, her trusty Amphipolians, off from the main spearwalls and formed it into a compact formation that would act as an infantry reserve for the upcoming battle. And she had decided to command it herself, Lykus being much to valuable leading the second spearwall. Borias was furious and had let Xena know of his anger at every opportunity the last two days before the battle.

Xena made one concession to her lover, one concession to Borias and her pregnant state. She had Pelius take one of the smaller wagons from the baggage train and cut it down to make a chariot for her personal use. No longer able to ride Argo or run along side her men, the chariot would give Xena the ability to command the upcoming battle. It also gave her the mobility to lead her guard.

This day there was no need for a final command conference before the battle. Xena and the army now had a well-tried method of fighting a battle and the army's leaders knew what to do without a final conference. Only Xena had the flexibility to change the course of the battle, she and her guard.

There would also be no chant, no heady rush of her name to announce to the world that Xena, Destroyer of Nations, was on the field of battle. Xena had decided upon this at the last minute. She knew the Dorians understood who faced them across the dusty field outside Hypata and she no longer felt the need to shout to the world who it was that fought this northern menace. If the world didn't know by now, she had told her incredulous lieutenants the night before, then it never would. So this day, her army would fight a silent battle against the northern invaders.

Xena stood beside her driver as he wheeled the chariot around the left flank of the army and raced it across the front. The young woman, her pregnant state obvious for all to see, smiled and waved at her men as the chariot raced past each formation in turn. Her men, true to her orders, did not chant her name. But a growl could be heard as she raced by; after all, a growl of warning was not a full throat chant. Xena laughed out loud, the growl pursuing her across the front of the long line of battle. As the chariot flew around the right flank of the army and headed in the direction of her guard formed up to the army's rear, Xena checked the quiver of javelins fixed to the left side of the chariot. She was ready.

The Dorian army growled its own warning as it watched Xena's chariot speed along the front of the Greek army. The growl rose to a crescendo when the large mass of pikes suddenly surged forward after Xena's chariot passed out of sight around the Greek right flank. Down came the long pikes as the Dorian spearwall went into motion. Soon, a cloud of dust had risen to neatly obscure the Dorian formation behind its protective screen.

Borias and Lykus exchanged waves when the Dorian formation began to move in their direction. The pikes of both spearwalls came down into the ready position as the pipes and drums of the band played the signal for the flanking sword and auxiliary formations to change front and protect the flanks.

Borias squinted, trying to see through the dust cloud that enveloped the enemy formation as it charged toward him. Suddenly, a brisk wind appeared and blew the dust away to reveal a much changed enemy formation. Gone was the massive spearwall of the Dorian army, replaced by a much smaller spearwall and twin flanking formations of swordsmen. What captured his attention most, however, was the unmistakable sound of centaur cavalry breaking out from around the enemy wall. Borias turned and waved to get Lykus' attention as the band gave the signal to repel cavalry. Borias ordered his wall into the charge after Lykus acknowledged his frantic waving.

The two armies met in a clash of opposing pikes and swords. Immediately, Borias and Lykus and their spearwalls were involved in a murderous battle of impaling pikes. Borias and his ten swordsmen had no way to get into the opposing Dorian spearwall, so he took his swordsmen off to the flank, there to await an opportunity. As he cleared his right flank pikemen, Borias saw that Lykus and his swordsmen were doing the same.

It was now up to the pikemen to win the shoving match. As Borias and Lykus met between their respective spearwalls, they could see that their pikemen were in trouble. Already, the first three ranks were decimated and the front was crumbling fast. Without an opening, the twenty men who surrounded the two commanders could not find a way into the Dorian formation. In frustration, Borias and Lykus stood and watched their spearwalls slowly wither under the Dorian assault.

The flanking formations of Xena's army were also being hard pressed by the Dorian sword formations. Draco's men on the left flank were holding their own against a smaller body of Dorians but not so the right flank under Pelius. The right flank was nearly overwhelmed by a more numerous body of Dorian swordsmen before Manus could bring the cavalry around to their assistance.

Any assistance that Manus and the cavalry could give was soon offset by the charge of the centaur cavalry out from behind the Dorian left flank. Manus was forced to leave Pelius and his swordsmen to their fate and change front to meet this new threat. Unfortunately, the cavalry was not prepared for battling centaurs, their wicked impaling beams had been left with the baggage train. But charge they did, Manus yelling his battle cry at their lead. The experience gained from fighting centaurs over the past weeks paid off, however, and the cavalry was able to drive the less numerous centaur cavalry from the field.

Without the flanking protection of Manus and the cavalry, Pelius and his men were overwhelmed by the Dorian sword formation. It was now the army's right flank formation that was destroyed as that flank gave way and retreated from the field, the Dorians close behind.

Xena stood and watched her army being ground down by the Dorian assault. Off to her left, she could see that Philemon and his horse-archers had yet to engage. Nodding to her driver, Xena raced her chariot over to his position on the left flank.

"Philemon, take your men and close the gap between Draco and Borias. Hit the flank of the Dorian spearwall. I'll take my guard and do the same on the other flank," Xena yelled over the sounds of battle that rent the air.

"As you say, Xena," Philemon yelled back. "It's our only chance."

"We haven't lost yet, my friend," Xena yelled back. "But don't hold back. Protect Borias!" And with those words, she had her driver wheel the chariot and race back to where the guard was preparing for its own charge.

As the chariot thundered past, Xena motioned for the guard to follow her at the run. Pikes in carry position, the small formation of Amphipolians followed her toward the right flank. As the formation rounded the flank, Manus and the cavalry finally succeeded in driving off the remainder of the Dorians who had destroyed Pelius' swordsmen. Xena waved as her chariot sped past Pelius, motioning him to reorganize his survivors and follow her guard.

Xena led the guard and Pelius' remnants into the exposed Dorian left flank and rear at the same moment as Philemon and his horse-archers began loosing arrow after arrow into the opposite flank. The main Dorian formation withered under the twin assault to its exposed vitals. Borias and Lykus were the final blows that broke the Dorian spearwall. Borias and the twenty-one men who followed him through a gap, made possible by the horse-archers, gutted the heart of the enemy spearwall.

What had been a Dorian victory rapidly became a disaster for Xena's hated enemy. The guard ripped into the enemy rear and fought its way toward where Borias and his swordsmen were destroying the enemy's heart. The battle degenerated into the chaos of a general melee as pikes were flung aside by both armies and swords and daggers were drawn. The battle became a close combat for survival on both sides.

In the end, the discipline instilled by Borias and Lykus paid off and Xena's army got the upper hand for the first time during the long day. The killing ended when the Dorian survivors broke free from their encirclement and hacked their way back to where the remnants of their sword formations stood in stunned silence, surrounded by Manus and his cavalry.

Xena raced her chariot away from the slaughter of the spearwall and pulled up near where Manus sat his horse and watched the Dorian swordsmen form a final line of battle.

"Let them retreat, Xena," Manus pleaded with his commander. "My men are almost done in. The horses as well."

"Very well," replied Xena as she looked over the tired formation of men and horses that surrounded Manus. "I'm afraid we've lost too many men this day. You're right, Manus, no pursuit."

"Thank you, Xena," Manus said, his voice full of emotion at the cost of the battle. "We'll just herd them away to the north and make sure the centaurs don't return."

"Very well," Xena replied, looking back to where the last of the Dorian pikemen where being overcome by her guard. "I'm off to find Borias. Keep after them, Manus." Xena's driver followed her command and wheeled the chariot, whipping the horses into a fast gallop. The chariot raced back around the flank to where Borias and his men stood defiant amongst a pile of dead Dorian pikemen.

The battle had taken its toll on both Xena and her army. The Dorians had been soundly defeated, but at a fearful price in men and horses. Two thousand men had been killed or dreadfully wounded on the field outside Hypata. Xena's army, while victorious, was not much of an army. Manus and the cavalry had lost over half its mounts to the centaurs, those cavalrymen unhorsed now being told off to augment the remnants of the swordsmen and auxiliary. The wall had suffered the least of all, but only its discipline held the survivors together. Another victory like Hypata and Xena would not have an army left to command.

As the wounded were collected and tended to by Lamia and her band of healers, Xena and her army made a painful march to Heraclea and the rendezvous. Fortunately, the Dorians left the army alone as the final three-day march to the sea continued. On the fourth day following Hypata, Xena could see the sea glistening in the distance. That afternoon, the ship Tellus sent daily to look for Xena and her army, made contact and the fleet was soon making its way into the roadstead of Heraclea.

For the next week, Xena and her army rested along side the fleet. Daily, the cavalry swept the local area, patrolling for remnants of the Dorian army and their centaur allies. Fortunately, supplies were still plentiful and the army began to heal itself after the terrible battle at Hypata. A much shrunken army, indeed. The losses incurred during the battle left the army unbalanced and shaken. A long period of restoration seemed called for before Xena and her men could continue forward, forward to the conquest of Parnassus and Boeotia.

Borias and all the other lieutenants began an intensive period of training. Training much needed since many were now required to do the job of two or more soldiers lost to the crows and vultures around Hypata. Xena left her subordinates to their collective tasks and set up house onboard Tellus' flagship. Grudgingly, the ship's captain surrendered his cabin to his employer. Xena had already informed him that she would be departing with him at the earliest opportunity. Tellus and Visirius were glad, being this close to land for any length of time made them very uneasy. Yes, they would welcome a return to the open sea.

So the army went back into training, Borias and his friends harried the men incessantly. Daily, Xena strode the quarterdeck of Tellus' flagship. Paced and watched her army training along the sandy beaches around Heraclea. She was unsettled of mind. It was as if something was about to occur. But what that might be, Xena had not the foggiest.

Chapter Six

There before her, stood the dark stranger from her past. Hands outstretched, he advanced toward her. She could see his mouth moving, but the words were indistinct. A cold wash of dread flowed over her as the words suddenly became utterly clear. "My dear," his words spoke to her soul. She recoiled from the stranger's presence as the words of greeting smashed against her consciousness. The dark stranger had returned.

Xena whirled around to flee only to find that the stranger followed her twirling body. No matter which way she tried to run, he was always there, there in front of her, beckoning. His haunting laughter at her discomfort acted as a dead weight to her attempts to flee. A decision made, Xena stood her ground, awaiting the stranger and what he would do next.

"One more, Xena. One more army, my dear. One more and then you are free of me -- for a while," the dark stranger told her over and over again. "ONE MORE!"

Suddenly, out of the mist that swirled around the dark stranger's form rode a huge centaur. Behind the half-man, half-horse stood another human. Cortese. Yes, Cortese, head Dorian. Chief instigator of her pain and anguish. Murderer of her beloved Lyceus. Cortese!

Xena watched in amazement as the centaur withdrew a beautiful green gem stone from a pouch around its human waist. The beast looked at the stone with revulsion but nonetheless handed the stone to the Dorian. Cortese roared with laughter as he took the stone from the centaur. He tossed the stone into the air but before he could catch it the dark stranger intercepted the stone and stole it from his outstretched hand. Cortese's laughter died a sudden death as the stone pulsed in the hand of the dark stranger. Green rays shot from the stone and impaled the Dorian and his centaur companion. A flash of green lightening, and both man and beast disappeared leaving the dark stranger once again alone with Xena.

She flinched and drew back as the dark stranger offered her the stone. Turning, Xena fled from her tormentor. As she ran from him, his parting words burned themselves into her consciousness.

"The stone, Xena. The stone, my dear, is your only chance. Ixion's Stone is your path to salvation, Xena. Find it and bring it to me and all will be as before. You will be free." The stranger smiled a dark smile as Xena suddenly halted her flight and turned back toward him.

"Why? How?" she screamed at her nemesis. "What stone?"

"Find the stone, Xena," he whispered in her ear, suddenly beside her in the billowing mist. "You last chance, my dear."

Xena screamed as the stranger disappeared and left her all alone on a desolate field of battle. "WHAT STONE???"

She staggered over the bodies of the dead, not yet realizing she stood amidst the remnants of the field of Hypata. Her questioning scream became a howl of anguish as the dead soldiers of her army began rising and chanting at her: "FIND THE STONE, XENA!!"

A flash of white caught her attention and Xena turned to watch a bloody Samos and an equally grotesque Solan pursue a huge centaur. She watched in amazement as the young boy rode down the ugly beast he chased. Solan dismounted, and together, he and Samos ripped the heart out of the dead centaur's breast. The heart transformed itself into a brilliant green gem stone.

In a flash, Solan was once again mounted on Samos and together they charged straight at Xena. She screamed in horror as Solan and Samos were suddenly transformed into a single beast, a beast of immense proportions and power. Then this new manifestation was upon her. Xena cringed as the thing crashed over her body....

Gut wrenching pain brought Xena back to wakefulness. Gasping for breath, she tried to sit up in her bed but could not quite manage it alone. The distended belly which marked her pregnant state kept her from bounding out of bed in horror as the dream left her mind and reality returned. Eyes open but unseeing, Xena rolled over on her side and pushed off, literally flopping onto the rolling deck beneath her bed.

Xena sat, her back against the swaying captain's bed, and tried desperately to regain her composure. The pounding at the door to her cabin brought her back to the present. Xena pulled the tangled shift back over her lower body as Borias crashed through the door and ran to her side.

"XENA! What in hades?" Borias knelt beside her, looking into her eyes while his hands went to her swollen stomach. "Are you all right?"

Xena merely stared open mouthed at her lover, still in shock over the effect of the dream. Looking around wildly, she tried to stand only to sit back down with a solid whump. Borias immediately moved his hands up to her shoulders and helped Xena to her feet. Pushing backward slightly, he steered her back unto the captain's bed. "Xena?"

"By all the Gods of Olympus," Xena gasped, finally realizing that it was Borias who stood before her. "Yes. Just another nightmare, my friend. Please, help me off with this damned shift." Xena pulled the sweat soaked garment off her body and threw it into a corner of the cabin. Still breathless from her nightmare, she lay back down and watched Borias search her baggage for another night shift. Her hands instinctively went to her pregnant belly as if her unborn son needed her immediate protection.

"Stone," Xena whispered. "Ixion's Stone."

"What? What did you say?" Borias had found a clean shift and helped Xena put it on. "Ixion's Stone?"

"Oh...ah.... Borias, have you ever heard of a green gem stone called Ixion's Stone?" Xena's low voice sounded shaky, as if the dream still had its hold over her mind. "Centaurs and Ixion's Stone...they are the key, Borias. We must find this stone. Find it and we win. Yes, we must find this stone and make it ours, my friend."

"Xena, what are you talking about," Borias asked softly. "Please, just relax and tell me what the hades you are talking about, okay?"

"Huh? Oh...right. I think I have found a way out of our current problems," she told him, her voice becoming firmer. "I've never heard of it either, but there appears to be this Ixion's Stone and it has the power to help us defeat both the centaurs and the remaining Dorian army. Ixion. Ixion...didn't he create the centaurs?"

"So legend tells us. Yes Xena, Ixion created the centaurs. Ixion is well known to my centaur friends. But I've never heard of a stone named after him," Borias told her.

"Well my friend, it appears there is a stone with great powers given to the centaur by this Ixion. Find that stone and we not only steal their gift of creation but we steal the power to crush our enemies. We must find this stone!" Xena exclaimed.

"But how?"

"In the morning, I want you and Lykus to canvas the men. Find anyone who has ever dealt with these centaurs before. And send Manus and Philemon out amongst the locals, see if anyone here abouts has heard of it," Xena told her lover.

"As you wish, Xena," Borias replied. "I'll have the word sent out tomorrow morning. But I don't see...."

"Please...please Borias, do this thing for me without comment. Without us getting into a fight over my wishes, please?" Xena placed a still shaky hand on Borias' arm, looking up into his eyes, pleading.

"As you wish, my love," Borias responded, his hand coming up to cover hers. "Without comment or fight." He smiled down at her sweaty face. Tenderly, he helped her into a more comfortable position on the bed. "Now go back to sleep. Dawn will be here soon and you need your rest. I'll have Lamia see to you first thing in the morning. Okay?"

"Very well. And thank you, love." Xena settled back and watched her friend and lover as he silently left her cabin. The stone. Ixion's Stone. The words echoed through her mind. Finally, I'll have the edge I need, she thought as sleep once again captured her. The stone...YES!

Xena waited impatiently for two days while Borias and her lieutenants sought word of Ixion's Stone. The dream had not returned. It seemed as if the dream was to play only once and then pass forever into her subconscious. But once had been enough, the seed of that very vivid dream had marked her soul and Xena found that she responded to its siren call every waking moment. It haunted her days, though her nights were now peaceful in the extreme.

About bloody time, she thought to herself as she paced the quarterdeck of Tellus' flagship. I need the rest, Solan needs the rest; the thought of her unborn son brought her hands up to her distended belly. Hush little one, she muttered under her breath as Solan gave a feeble kick of acknowledgement to his mother's intimate caress. Xena chuckled as her hands felt the pressure against her stomach muscles, now slack from non- use over the past five months. No, her nights were now peaceful.

But her days became a maddened search for a remedy if this silly stone could not be found. She was to be off soon, to return to Amphipolis and the birth of her son. But while she was absent, Xena knew her army and Borias must prepare for the final showdown with the remaining Dorian army. It was out there, watching and waiting, she could feel it in her bones. Yes, one more army. The words echoed through her mind incessantly. One more army!

"Boat ahoy!" The shout of the sentry startled Xena out of her thoughts and she slowly walked over to the side rail and peered downward into a skiff tying up alongside. A beautiful smile broke out on her face as she recognized Borias at the bow of the tiny boat. Then her smile withered as she spied Draco and another man standing behind her lover. Dagnine, yes that's his name, she thought to herself. Now what the hades do these two want with Borias and myself.

Xena knew the nasty rumors concerning Borias had started from Draco's command but she could not prove it. Not enough to move against him. Xena regretted giving the young man such an important command so soon after joining her army. But he fought and fought well so she had left him in charge of her left flank sword formation. But she didn't like it and sought to change it, if only she could. Draco had become a force to be reckoned with and she and Borias had to tread wearily before they could move against him.

But Dagnine, now there was a really dangerous man. Xena knew him from the aftermath at Aroilus. Yes, Dagnine had felt the hand of the gauntlet over his body that day. Unfortunately he seemed to have become elusive of late and once again Borias and Xena did not have the proof needed to rid themselves of this dark and dangerous man. Soon though, soon. She hoped.

Xena turned and slowly walked the slightly tilting deck to the companionway where Borias and the other two men were standing, having hauled themselves up the ship's side to the main deck. Xena motioned for Tellus' marine guard to allow the men onto the quarterdeck. Suddenly, Xena knew that something was wrong, that Borias was unsettled about something. The frown on his bearded face told her he was deeply troubled. She walked toward him, a smile on her face as if that alone would erase Borias' deepening frown.

"Borias, what news?" Xena asked before leaning forward to softly kiss his bearded cheek in greeting. "Do you have word?"

Borias' frown disappeared, momentarily replaced by a look of love as he peered into Xena's ice blue eyes. Then the frown was back. "Yes Xena, I have word. It appears these two have all the information we need to begin our search for this stone your dreams told you about," Borias informed her, a sweep of his arm acknowledging Draco and Dagnine. "Dagnine, tell Xena what you told Draco and I earlier today."

"Yes, of course. Xena, there does exist a stone called Ixion's Stone," Dagnine told her. "It is a very powerful stone which contains the power of the Olympian Gods. Ixion bound these powers into a green gem stone long ago before he created the centaur. The legend says that Ixion gave the stone to his centaur creation to safeguard. And the legend also says the stone is for the centaurs to use at a moment of crisis, a moment when their very existence is threatened by mankind. Then they are empowered by Ixion to draw forth the stone's power and use it to defeat their enemies in battle."

"So this stone is to be a centaur weapon?" Borias asked, his frown ever present.

"Yes, a weapon of immense power that no mortal army can withstand," Dagnine replied. "Xena, if I understand the legend correctly, now is that moment of crisis for the centaur. You have become their mortal enemy and we are about to defeat them entirely. We must find this stone before they use it against us."

"Yes, well how come you know so much about this so called Ixion's Stone, Dagnine?" Xena asked, her eyes searching the man for lies. "What is your source of information?"

"My mother was raped by those bastards!" Dagnine replied, his voice suddenly impassioned. "My half-brother rides amongst the beasts. My mother had the legend told to her by her bestial lover. Then she killed him and escaped their evil grasp. Xena, my human family has hated these beasts since before I was born. I think I know where the stone's hiding place is, and I will help you and Borias search for it. Xena, we must rescue this stone before the centaurs use it against us. Or give it to the Dorians to use against as. The fate of all humanity rests with us finding the stone before they can use it."

Xena was shocked by Dagnine's revelations about his mother and she shuddered. Her womanhood was deeply offended at the thought of being raped by one of those menacing monsters. And the thought of being forced to bear a bastard half-man, half- horse child left her sickened. She paced in front of the trio, weighing what Dagnine had told her. Everything he had revealed coincided with her dream and that dream now seemed a portent of the future. If she acted on Dagnine's word then she and her army would triumph, her dark stranger would finally be put in his rightful place and she would be at peace. Yes, find the stone Xena, she told herself as she reached a final decision.

"Very well. Borias, get Manus and Philemon and the cavalry started on the search immediately," Xena commanded, disregarding Borias' deepening look of disgust. Now what is his problem, she thought to herself. But this can wait for a private moment, she decided. "NOW BORIAS!"

Borias was startled from his contemplation of Xena's orders by her bark of command. "Yes, Xena. I'll see they start out first thing in the morning."

"Right," Xena replied as she continued pacing. "Draco, you and Dagnine will be at Borias' beck and call from now on. Draco, you are relieved of your responsibilities over the left flank until this search is complete and the stone is securely in our hands. Dagnine, you will give Borias and Manus your complete attention, right?"

"Yes Xena, as you command," Dagnine responded. It was hard for the man to keep a straight face. The bitch swallowed my half- truths hook line and sinker, he though to himself as he watched Xena pace back and forth in front of him.

"Very well. All right, everyone about your business," Xena commanded. Turning her back on the trio, Xena made her way to the leeward railing and watched her army as it trained along the sandy beach. She could hear Lykus and Pelius yelling at their men even at this distance. But Borias' reaction to her command was already beginning to haunt her. What now, she thought to herself. I leave day after tomorrow and I feel a fight brewing. I can feel his displeasure like ants crawling across my soul, she thought as she heard Borias' skiff begin making its way back toward the shore. The shore and the beginning of the search for the Ixion Stone.

Xena sat and combed her long, raven black hair. The events of the day and Dagnine's revelations played heavily across her mind. She both desired and feared what finding the stone would entail. Xena instinctively knew that finding the stone had the potential for being her salvation as well as her destruction. She had always had an aversion to having anything to do with the Olympian Gods and the prospects of gaining some of their power repelled her. But in the back of her mind, almost totally hidden from her consciousness, was the dark stranger from her dream.

She knew, and knew him well, but every time she tried to call up the where and how of that knowledge it slipped through her fingers like sand. Xena did not understand his connection with this stone she was supposed to find and make her own. But she was resolved that whomever, or whatever, this stranger was would not impede her in her search. She just knew that she had to find an edge against the last Dorian army in central Greece. Destroy it and she would be free and clear. But even that mental statement worried her. Free and clear of what? Just find the stone Xena, she thought to herself as she heard the door behind her open and Borias silently slip inside the cabin.

Xena waited breathlessly as he approached her, continuing to comb her hair as his soft tread came closer and closer. Then his warm hands were on her naked shoulders, his touch sending the customary shivers up and down her spine. He can always get to me, she thought as she leaned back into his caress. When his hands descended to her swollen breasts, Xena suddenly turned toward him and buried her face in his chest, hugging him fiercely to her naked body. "By the all the gods, I love you Borias," Xena whispered into his sweat-soaked tunic.

Borias pulled Xena away from his body and tilted her face up to his. He stared into her ice blue eyes, watching the tiny reflections look back up at him. Along with those tiny reflections, he could see her love for him looking out from behind the wide irises. He gently stroked her face as tears began forming in the corners of her eyes. Slowly, Borias bent forward and kissed her on the forehead. Then, he was on his knees before her, his head coming to rest against her distended belly. He could almost hear Solan whispering to him from the silence of her womb. His heart began beating fast and furious inside his chest as he felt a tiny, feeble kick against Xena's warm flesh. Solan, my son.

Xena caressed Borias' hair while tears streamed down her face, to drip onto the head of her lover. She shuddered as the warmth of his breath tickled the fine hairs of her stomach. How I love this man, went through her mind as she felt his tears begin to slide from his cheek and onto her stomach, there to slowly roll down her belly until they were mere streaks of moisture in the heat of the summer evening. This warrior, this man of action, can still be so tender it hurts my heart to think of him as anything but a loving father to our son, she thought.

The two lovers stayed like this for sometime, each silently shedding tears against the other. Then, Borias rose to his feet. Silently taking her hand, he pulled Xena up beside himself and led her to the gently swaying bed at the back of the cabin. Ever so gently, he helped her onto the bed and into a comfortable position on her side. Xena watched with hooded eyes as Borias removed his cloths and lay down beside her, his chest warm against her back. Soon, the two fell into a dreamless sleep, their bodies still touching wherever possible.

Some time during the middle hours of the night, Borias was roused from sleep by the sound of waves lapping against the sides of the flagship, and by something else. He lay there and tried to figure out what it was. Then suddenly, he realized that Xena was no longer resting next to him. Looking over toward the desk, he saw Xena sitting awkwardly n the chair. He could tell she was writing on a parchment, a small shielded candle outlining her working hands. The sound he had heard was the sound of her quill marking the papyrus parchment.

Silently, Borias got out of bed and padded softly over to stand behind Xena as she continued writing, evidently not sensing his presence. He gently placed a hand on her shoulder, his grip tightening as the woman jumped under her touch.

"Borias!" Xena exclaimed, looking up at his face. "Sorry, you startled me. Did I wake you?"

"Yes and no," Borias responded.

Xena smiled and placed a hand over his. "Aren't we enigmatic this morning?"

"Well no, you didn't wake me with sound, but yes you woke me with thoughts," he told her. "I sense you are unsettled about something. What's wrong, Xena? And what are you writing?"

"Instructions for you and Manus," Xena replied. "And this stone thing has me worried. What do we do if you can't find this Ixion Stone? I mean how do we take on the last Dorian army and the centaurs in our weakened condition without it? Neither will give us the time necessary to recruit and cover our losses from Hypata. We need help, Borias. Badly."

"Xena? Lets forget about this stone business. Manus and I can find the men we need to bring the army up to strength. Why do we need to dabble with the Gods?" Borias asked her. "Why not just do as we've been doing all along?"

Xena looked him in the eyes, her brow becoming furrowed with concentration "I thought I had your support in this search, Borias? I've told you what my dream showed me and how closely it resembles what Dagnine told us. Why this sudden change of heart?"

"It's not a change, Xena," Borias replied. "I never liked this idea of a search, but you didn't want to talk about it so I went along. But that was before I knew what this stone was all about. Xena, messing with the Gods is not a good idea."

"I know. I know, my friend. But I'm convinced this stone is the easiest way to end our problems once and for all," Xena told him. "We can be rid of these twice damned Dorians and the bloody centaurs -- all in one fell swoop."

"Oh come on, Xena. There has to be more to it than that," he replied. "I know how much you distrust anything that has to do with the Olympians. So why the sudden change? I don't believe you've told me the real reasons behind you wanting us involved with this Ixion Stone."

Xena's skin began to crawl with apprehension. She could feel Borias' mistrust as a palpable presence, standing there between them. A shiver of dread went up and down her spine. She realized she would have to tell her lover the truth, or what she suspected to be the truth. If she did not, Xena knew she would lose his trust forever. With effort, she rose from the chair and began pacing the canting deck, avoiding all the while Borias' face and eyes.

"I haven't lied to you, Borias," Xena told him as she paced back and forth before him. "But you don't understand how these dreams I have affect me. Somehow, these dreams always turn into reality for me. This stone is the key to our destruction of the centaurs as a predatory force. And, it puts a final end to the Dorians as well. Lyceus' crusade will be fulfilled when we find the stone, I know it. Everything I have tried to do over the past two years is bound up in our finding and using the powers of this Ixion Stone...."

"But why destroy the centaurs?" Borias interrupted. "What is this obsession you have with destroying the centaurs? And the Dorians? I have never understood this crusade of yours. Yes, the Dorians are our enemies and we should fight them. But should we compromise what we stand for to see them destroyed? Do we have to become monsters to defeat them? You say your future is bound to this stone. Well, I say you're wrong. YOU! ARE! WRONG! XENA! This whole world you live in is a self- delusional, self-imposed hell you have created because you feel remorse over losing Lyceus and Petracles. You, Xena. You have the power within yourself to rid us of these evils. Destroy your self-created reality and we win. And without upsetting the Olympians or destroying my friends!"

"YOUR FRIENDS?" Xena shouted at him in anger, turning to face the man fore-square. "Your friends? These maddened beasts, these rutting animals you can call friends? And how dare you bring up Lyceus! He died a hero and his memory should be on the lips of all Greece. By the Gods it had better be because if it isn't then I will personally make it so. Do you understand me, Borias? Every Greek should honor my dead brother for his vision and martyrdom. And how dare you bring that snake Petracles into any conversation between you and I."

"Petracles was your soldier, Xena. He did your bidding and yours alone," Borias told her, his own anger mounting. "He was my friend and you treated him badly. Oh, I know he was a snake, but he loved you Xena and...."

Without thinking, Xena drew back her arm and smashed it into Borias' face, rocking the man backwards onto his heels. She staggered against him, awkward and unbalanced by the effort. Borias hugged her flailing arms to her side and held on tightly while Xena struggled against his grip. "By the Gods, woman, he fathered your first child. Can't you give his memory at least some credit?"

As Borias' words of anger flowed over her, the fight went out of Xena and she sagged in his arms. Without effort, Borias keep her standing and sat her back down in the chair. She sat there, huddled around her pregnant belly as tears of anguish and rage and fear fell from her eyes. The tears blinded her as she looked up into Borias' still angry face.

"What do you want from me, Borias?" she asked in a ragged whisper. "Just what in hades do you expect of me, huh?"

"Xena, you are a kind and gentle woman and the mother of my child. A child I never expected to have," Borias told her. "But this passion for death and destruction you have embraced threatens all that. The world already sees you as a monster as menacing as the Dorians or the centaurs. Oh, they proclaim you hero every time you drive off a culling raid. But, they see the lines of severed heads and then they remember Aroilus and they all wonder when you'll turn on them. Will they be your next victim? Will their heads or their loved ones heads be mounted as trophy on the next stake driven into the ground by your ambition and bloodlust?"

Xena gasped at Borias' angry words. And she suddenly realized that her friend and lover and the father of her son was correct. She suddenly saw herself as the blood-stained harpy who slew her opponents without remorse, without mercy. But the back of her neck prickled with tension as if she was being called by a force beyond her understanding. The tension knotted the muscles of her shoulder and back as it crept along her body. NO! No, she was not that bloody horror.

IT IS NOT MY FAULT! The words screamed through Xena's mind. The Dorians are the enemy, not I. The centaurs are the enemy, not me and my army. Why can't people see that? Why can't they see what Lyceus and I saw years ago as we sat and watched our first Dorian corpse grow cold in an early summer night's breeze. NO!!

"And what would you have me do, Borias?" Xena's voice had hardened. Her eyes took on the look of cruelty and unimaginable vengeance. She stood up awkwardly and leaned against the desk for support. "Huh? WHAT DO YOU WANT?" Her scream echoed around the still cabin.

"Change! Change the future, Xena." Borias reached forward and grasped her shoulders in a tight grip. "Make good the past and turn a helping hand to the centaurs. If we make them our friends and allies then the stone will not be used against us. The Dorians will not gain access to it. Besides, we can defeat them without it, Xena. You know that as well as I do. Lets defeat these northern bastards but make all Greece our friends and allies. Let us, you and I, go home, Xena. Give our son a home, not a blood drenched battlefield as a playground. That was what Petracles tried to tell you that last night. Give it up Xena. Give love a chance, give me...."

Something inside Xena snapped as the second mention of Petracles smashed against her consciousness. Borias' head rocked back as Xena hit him with both fists. The man went down under her half-strength, but still powerful blow. Only her distended belly kept Xena from doing further damage to the man as he lay before her. Then she looked into his eyes and saw her own reflection. The anger, anguish, remorse, and self- hatred of that reflection seared itself into her psyche. As rapidly as it had reappeared, Xena's anger flowed out of her. Like a ghost, it was suddenly just not there anymore. She backed away first one pace and then a second, bumping against the chair. Then she turned and sat down, reaching for the parchment as she sat.

"Here are your instructions, Borias. And I expect you and Manus to carry them out as ordered. Do you understand me?" Xena held out the parchment to Borias. Silently, she waited for him to acknowledge her command.

Borias realized he had lost. Lost the battle for dominance and lost the battle for change. Had he lost her love as well? He slowly stood and took the parchment from Xena's outstretched hand. Folding it, he placed the parchment inside his tunic and turned to leave the room. As he reached the cabin door, his body went stiff at Xena's parting words.

"You didn't answer me, Borias? Do you understand?"

Without further acknowledgement, Borias opened the door and walked out into the early morning sunrise. As he walked away from the cabin, he heard the door close softly behind him. Xena was leaving with the tide. Would he ever see her again or had he lost his soul in a moments angry words? Had he made the same mistake his friend, Petracles, had made? Borias felt tears fall down his blood stained face as he shouted for his skiff to be brought around so that he could return to land and begin the search for Ixion's thrice be-damned stone.

Turning one last time to look at the closed door, Borias whispered to no one in particular. "Good-bye, Xena." Then he turned and descended into the waiting skiff. As the boat was slowly rowed away from the flagship, three words flooded his mind.

Solan, my son.


Xena stood at the port side railing, her hands resting lightly on the worn wood of the hand guard. The sails flapped fitfully overhead, the solid swishing of the oars drowning out the snap of rigging. A tear rolled down her young face as she looked back toward the land and her army. The battle chant that had so warmed her soul on countless occasions did nothing for her today. The words were still present; Xena could hear her army even out at this distance from the rocky shore. But the chant was like the faint echo of a haunting dream, no longer part of her waking days.


The chant made her heart heavy, heavy with remorse and longing at the knowledge that it would be many days before she heard its heady rush again. She was leaving, leaving her army to bind the wounds of its fight with the Dorians. But Xena was leaving her army at a most dangerous time. She knew that the search for Ixion's stone would be costly both for her army and for Borias. The angry words she and Borias had exchanged the night before still pained her deeply.

Why do I always leave with anger in my heart and meanness on my tongue, she thought, the sea breeze sweeping the hair out around her face. Why couldn't we have just made love and left the words unsaid? Then she felt a tiny movement deep down inside her body, a tiny kick that answered her question. But with that kick, a multitude of other questions rose to the surface of her mind.

Oh Borias, she though, I didn't want us to part like this. You're worse than Petracles ever was, you never leave me alone, never. You say you can change, that you can leave this life we lead behind. Fine, my friend, you're welcome to try. But I can't and you never seem to understand that. I wish it were different, that I was different, but I'm not. I'm not you, my dear friend, my love; I'm just Xena, the mother of your child. Let it go, my friend. Let ME go.

For just a second, for just a fleeting moment in time, Xena thought she heard a voice in the wind. A voice so very familiar to her, a voice she remembered from the nights when her nightmares came and she thrashed her life away in their bed. The words stung her soul with longing, and with dread. "I love you, Xena!", the words seem to say. "And our son!" And then the haunting voice was gone, gone with the freshening breeze of her departure.

Xena turned away from the railing, away from the land and her army drawn up on the beach, away from the man she loved above all else. The man she loved above everything except that tiny little bit of herself that kicked so weakly deep in her womb. She walked away from the railing, back toward the quarter deck where Tellus and Lykus stood at the tiller. Xena shuddered as the faint voice found her again. "You are my other half, Xena. My soul."

"Ready to leave, princess?", Lykus asked in a quiet voice, sensing his friend's melancholy mood at departure. "Tellus says it's time if we want to make the tide."

"Very well, Lykus. Lets do it.", Xena said softly, placing a hand on the man's shoulder. "Lets sail for home, huh."

"Won't it be great to see Amphipolis again?", Lykus asked her, helping her negotiate the ladder that led to the raised quarter deck. "I'm looking forward to it."

"Yeah, right! Home.", Xena grumbled. She pulled the hood of her sea cloak tight about her face. Xena didn't want her friend to see her fear at going home.

Home. Home to Amphipolis, not as conquering hero, but as pregnant mother-to-be. Won't mother be surprised, she thought, grimacing at the thought of seeing the old woman again after all the long months. No, Xena was definitely not looking forward to it. But she knew that her friend Lykus was, so she played along with him. He deserves it, she thought as the man helped her sit down in a chair placed near the tiller especially for her.

Yes, Lykus has been my firm right hand. My steady helper. Through two love affairs and numerous battles, this man has stood quietly at my side and done what was needed without any questions asked.

Why can't I fall in love with a man like you, my old friend? A man who would just accept me for what I am and what I've become without the angry ranting for change. If I can live with myself, why can't Borias. Oh well, maybe when Solan is born and I return, Borias and I can patch it up, make things right again. Maybe then, she thought.

But Xena knew things would not be that simple, never be that easy. Rising from the chair, she slowly negotiated the canted deck over to the port railing and looked back at the land fast receding in the distance.

Goodby Borias, my love.

Looking down at her swollen abdomen, Xena patted where her son rested peacefully. Hello Solan, she said to her tiny child, his feeble kicks barely perceptible under the distended flesh.

Solan, my son.


Xena put down the manuscript she had been reading and looked over at her friend. A glistening tear rolled gently down the aging, but still beautiful face of the one-time warrior princess and Destroyer of Nations. She wiped the tear from her cheek and gave her friend a soft smile. Rising from her chair, Xena walked over to where Gabrielle silently watched and placed a hand on the other woman's shoulder.

"Gabrielle, this is a wonderful story. You captured my emotions perfectly," Xena told her friend in a soft voice.

Gabrielle touched Xena's hand at her shoulder and smiled up at her life-long friend and lover. "Xena, what was it like to just sail away like that?"

"Well, it was very hard for me, but Borias and I made up when I returned with Solan," Xena said as she sat down in Gabrielle's lap.

Gabrielle shifted her weight briefly to accommodate Xena on her lap. "I wish I had known him."

"So do I, Gabrielle, So do I. Borias was a wonderful man and I loved him dearly," Xena said in a near whisper. "We loved to sing together and we loved our child....together for a brief time....".

Gabrielle reached up and gently wiped away the fresh tears falling from Xena's beautiful, ice blue eyes, "I know Xena. I know you loved him. It shows every time you speak of him. And, every time you look at Solan. Xena?"

"Yes, my love."

"What is it like to bear a child?"

"Like nothing you have ever imagined. Like nothing you have ever felt," Xena whispered, searching Gabrielle's face. "Why do you ask?"

"I just wondered, that's all. When I was writing this story I kept wondering what is was like for you. Commanding an army, loving a man, and bearing a child -- all at such a young age," Gabrielle said, her voice as low as Xena's.

"Well, you did almost as much when you were that age! I mean -- we were doing almost as much, you and I," Xena replied, reaching out to frame Gabrielle's face with her strong hands. "We didn't lead an army, but we did our share of fighting -- you and I. And we did our share of loving, as well."

"Oh I know, Xena. But somehow I don't think it was the same for you. I mean I had YOU to help me," Gabrielle told her friend. "And....".

"No, Gabrielle. I had YOU," Xena told her friend as she reached down and tenderly kissed the bard on the cheek. "There are two people who have kept me going, who have kept me alive. Borias was the first. You were the second. I don't know what I would have done, how I could have kept on living, without the two of you in my life. You and Borias...and Solan...have been my life."

"Oh Xena!" Gabrielle gasped, her own eyes now filled with tears. "Let's just say -- we have each other."

"Okay. But I meant what I said."

"I know you did, Xena," Gabrielle said softly. "By the way, isn't Solan due back tomorrow?"

"Yes he is," Xena replied. "Then we can see what sort of horseman my son has turned out to be. I just hope he followed my directions concerning what type of stallions to buy for breeding stock."

"Well, I don't think we need worry that much. Solan is a very capable young man. He takes after a certain warrior princess I used to know!"

Xena laughed at her friend's reminder of her past. Warrior princess, yeah right!! Not these days, Xena thought as she rose to her feet, bringing the bard with her.

"To bed?" Xena smiled at Gabrielle and took her hand.

"Yes, to bed," Gabrielle replied. "My love."

Hand in hand, the one-time warrior princess and Destroyer of Nations and the often-called warrior bard walked together toward their room at the rear of the house. As they approached the doorway, Xena swept Gabrielle up into a fierce embrace. "Thank you, Gabrielle, for the wonderful story," she whispered into the bard's ear as she drew her friend into the room and softly closed the door.

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