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A Hunting We Will Go

by Yellowjacket

Gabrielle awakens at dawn in a camp in the woods, she shivers, she looks at the camp fire, it is out.

Gabrielle, perplexed: "Xena let the fire go out?"

She scans the camp. Argo is standing there, still saddled with Xena's bedroll tied in place.

Gabrielle mutters "I guess it wasn't a good night for hunting despite the full moon. No fire, no food, no hot tea and Xena's still out there. Well, I'll have to make do with hard biscuits for breakfast."

Gabrielle walks over to Argo and gives her an affectionate pat, saying to the horse: "Well I wonder what Xena's been up to, it's not like her leaving you with your saddle on all night. Let's see if I can at least find you a treat in here."

Gabrielle reaches for the saddlebag, she pulls out a small box and with a quizzical look she opens it. Inside is a crystal ball. Gabrielle takes the ball out of the box and looks at it curiously: "I wonder where Xena got this."

Gabrielle's eyes widen in surprise as she stares into the ball. In the ball she sees images of Xena, she is in a small room, fighting two men. The fight is brief but intense, in the end both men are clearly unconscious, possibly dead. Xena picks up a small wooden box with carvings on it. The vision fades with Xena staring into the box.

The vision ends and Gabrielle is left standing with the ball in her hand and a look of disorientation on her face. Gabrielle hears some movement in the woods, pulling her back to awareness, she puts the crystal back in the saddlebag and picks up her staff.

Gabrielle nervously calls: "Xena, is that you?"

Several men emerge from the woods and surround Gabrielle. She brandishes her staff and says: "I wouldn't pick on defenseless women, they may not be as defenseless as they look."

One man steps forward, asking in a gruff voice: "What was that you had there in the saddlebag?"

Gabrielle: "I don't think that's any of your business."

A couple of the men attempt to grab her but she manages to knock a few of them out before she is restrained. As Gabrielles' struggle subsides one of the men goes through the saddlebag and withdraws the crystal, showing it to the rest of the band. One of the men near Gabrielle draws his sword to strike Gabrielle but the man who holds the crystal grabs his arm in mid swing saying: "No Ruker, it's not for us to punish her."

Ruker protests: "But Hemut, she has desecrated the sacred Orb of Huron! The punishment is death."

Hemut: "Yes, the punishment is death but it up to the Council of Sages to judge her and determine the method of execution."

Gabrielle interjects: "The Orb of Huron? Is that what that is? I've never seen it before in my life and I don't know how it got in the saddlebag. Just wait till my friend Xena gets here, I'm sure there's a good explanation for this."

Hemut: "So you have an accomplice? We'll wait for this friend of yours but in the meantime you will be brought before the Council, they will determine your fate."

Hemut to Ruker: "You and your men stay here. Capture this friend of hers if she returns. I will return the Orb to the council and bring the girl to them for judgment."

Gabrielle is brought into a room where three women dressed in religious robes are seated in chairs on a platform. Hemut bows and extends his arms with the crystal towards the woman in the middle.

Hemut: "Mistress, this woman was camped just outside of town. We recovered the Orb in her saddlebags. She claims that she does not know how it got there but thinks that her friend, Xena, will be able to explain. My men are watching the camp to see if this friend returns. I have heard of Xena, she is a notorious raider of defenseless villages. I leave it to your wisdom to pass judgment."

The sage nods to one of the other women who takes the crystal and places it in a small shrine behind the chairs. Rising and facing Gabrielle the sage speaks to her: "I am Reja, the Prime Sage of the Council, you are accused of the theft of the sacred Orb of Huron for which the punishment is death. How do you plead, child?"

Gabrielle sputters excitedly: "Like I told these guys, I've never seen this crystal ball before and I certainly didn't steal anything. Last night Xena mentioned that she wanted to hunt for some fresh game. With the full moon she enjoys hunting small game at night. So I went to sleep and when I awoke Xena still wasn't back and I found that orb thingy in the saddlebag when I was looking for a biscuit.That's all there is to it. I was having some weird daydream when this bunch of louts attacked me and dragged me here. Now I don't know what's so special about this crystal ball but my friend Xena will be able to explain where she got it when she comes looking for me...and she will come looking for me. And Xena does not raid defenseless villages, she has changed and seeks to redeem her bad deeds by helping anyone in need."

Reja, looking a little startled: "Do you remember the dream?"

Gabrielle: "Yeah, I remember it."

Reja: "Tell me about it."

Gabrielle ponders for a minute, remembering the dream: "Yes, it was quite vivid. Xena was fighting two men. They were wearing some kind of vests and scabbards with an odd design on it. It was a short battle but Xena defeated the two men. When the fight was over she picked up a wooden box with strange carvings. Xena opened the box and that's when the dream ended. Actually, now that I think about it, I think the box in my dream is the same box I found in the saddle bags."

Reja, displaying a tapestry with designs on it: "Would the designs on the men's vests look like this?"

Gabrielle, with some misgiving: "Yes, that's the same design."

Reja: "There is no doubt that you were blessed with a vision from the Orb. Most who are granted a handling of the Orb receive nothing. It is a great mystery who will be blessed with its power. Sometimes great comfort is received by tormented souls, people have received some very specific answers to their questions, questions of the past, the present, the future. Others have received visions which they cannot understand or accept. No one has ever experienced a vision which could be proven false. It would appear from your story that you were indeed a witness to your friend stealing the Orb and killing two guards."

Gabrielle: "No, that's not the whole story. Xena wouldn't have stolen anything, she wouldn't fight unless she were attacked first. You're wrong."

Reja: "As I said, often the message from the Orb is difficult to accept, but there is no doubt, it is the truth. You, yourself bore witness to the crime. I do not think you were an accomplice, but we will hold you here until we arrest this Xena. You will be called upon to testify at her trial. If found guilty she will be sentenced to death."

Gabrielle: "Wait a minute, can't we just ask the Orb for a clarification on this? It obviously wants to get some message across and maybe it will reveal what this is all about."

Reja, patiently: "The Orb makes its revelations only under the influence of the full moon. There is only a six hour period during the full moon when the Orb reveals its wonders to the seekers. The full moon was last night, by now that influence has passed".

Gabrielle, a little confused: "So who gets to ask the Orb their questions?"

Reja: "It is both the honor and the burden of the council to hear the queries the people wish to pose to the Orb. The Orb will help those whose heart is pure and whose quest is honorable. Each seeker whose quest is judged worthy by the Council is given an opportunity to beseech the Orb for enlightenment. The council and the chosen seekers gather as the full moon approaches. Each seeker is prepared by the Council through meditation training for their audience with the Orb. Sometimes the answers come quickly, sometimes after a long period of mediation and prayer, but mostly there is no response at all. Each seeker is allowed a full hour to meditate on their quest and seek a response from the Orb. With only six queries each moon cycle it is difficult to make the selections from the many applications we receive. To hear each sad tale, to be able to help but a handful and not be able to help them all is both our privilege and our sorrow."

Reja: "Hemut, see that she is confined and increase the efforts to find this Xena. It's been a long day for us all. With the theft of the Orb last night and our frantic search to recover it I would like to settle this quickly and begin preparations for the next full moon."

Gabrielle is tossed in a cell, as Hemut turns to leave she says: " I know the circumstances look bad, but I know Xena, I know there is a good explanation".

Hemut smiles but looks doubtful: "I admire your faith in your friend, but your vision was quite clear, Xena did steal the Orb, she did kill the guards. She will be caught and punished."

Gabrielle is resting on the cot in the cell, she hears a commotion and Xena is carried in on a stretcher and placed in the cell next to hers. Xena is unconscious. She has a bad looking head wound but she is still chained to the wall. Ruker roughly tightens the chains and kicks her saying: "She put up quite a fight, we will take no chances with this one. Tomorrow, she dies."

Ruker to the other guards: "I want a dozen men on guard outside at all times. Now move!" The guards leave except for Rukor.

Xena moans in pain.

Gabrielle calls to Xena: "Xena. Xena, are you ok?"

Rukor: "Don't worry, your friend will live...until tomorrow."

Gabrielle, pleading: "Rukor, please listen, Xena didn't steal the Orb. There is a good explanation, just wait until you hear what Xena has to say before you judge her."

Rukor, disdainfully: "I've been a guard for twenty years and I know every criminal insists they didn't do it. Don't think that I'm easily swayed by those innocent looks of yours. You were caught with the Orb, that's all I need to know."

Xena moans again.

Gabrielle, begging: "Please Rukor, let me tend to her wounds."

Rukor: "She looks pretty tough, she's not going to die from those wounds."

Hemut comes in as Ruker plants another kick on Xena. Hemut grabs Rukor by the throat and says: "I told you this morning that it is not our place to judge and punish. If I see you harm either of these women without provocation I will personally see that you are held accountable for your actions."

Ruker glares at Hemut and Gabrielle, he turns and leaves.

Hemut: "Ruker is getting to be a real problem. He has never been a very pleasant man. Four months ago his wife disappeared without a trace. There was some evidence of a struggle. Some believe she was kidnapped by slavers. Others believe Ruker did her harm in a jealous rage over a suspected infidelity, she was quite beautiful. Still others believe that he mistreated her so she chose to leave him and faked her own abduction. Ruker knows that many people suspect him. But he also seems sincerely distraught over her disappearance. He has been granted two attempts to query the Orb about what happened to her, both times he was given a vision of, how did he describe it, several small animals as if frozen in place. It was a strange message, but the Orb is known to give strange messages. Anyway, there is little chance that the Orb will give him anything more than that. I doubt that the Council will give him another chance."

Gabrielle: "I'm sorry to hear of his personal troubles and I can see why he is so protective and possessive of the Orb. But there is a grave miscarriage of justice here and given a chance Xena can explain how she got the Orb."

Xena moans softy in pain. A whisper escapes her lips: "Gabrielle."

Gabrielle, a growing concern showing on her face: "Hemut, please, she is badly hurt. Let me tend to her. You must give us a chance to prove her innocence."

Again Xena moans: "Gabrielle."

Gabrielle: "Please Hemut, I'm begging you, let me help her."

Hemut hesitates but then releases Gabrielle from her cell and lets her in to Xena's cell. He gives her a pail of water and some bandages.

Gabrielle begins to clean and bandage Xena's wounds, Xena moans in pain.

Gabrielle: "Hemut, you intervened when Ruker wanted to kill me this morning. You have shown compassion for myself and my friend who you don't even know. And you risk the wrath of your own people for aiding someone they think has committed a terrible crime against them. I can't thank you enough. No matter what the Councils judgment, no matter what the evidence shows, I want you to truly believe Xena is innocent."

Xena begins to rouse, she looks at Hemut and then at Gabrielle, tries to move but grimaces in pain and lays back, exhausted.

Gabrielle: "Don't try to move, you've taken a bad hit on the head but I can't find any other injuries. Where do you feel pain?"

Xena: "My head feels like I've been kicked by a centaur, I don't think there's any other serious injuries."

Gabrielle: "Well that's a relief."

Xena: "Gabrielle, what's going on? Where are we?"

Gabrielle gives her some water and tries to explain: "We are in a jail in Tarnus. Apparently someone stole a sacred object, the Orb of Huron, from the temple last night, killing two guards in the process. The Orb was found in your saddlebags. And I'm the prime witness against you because of some vision I had. Do you know how this thing got in your saddlebags?"

Xena giving Gabrielle "the look": "You're a witness against me?"

Gabrielle, squirming under "the look": "Like I said, I had this vision. You were fighting two of the temple guards for the Orb. Around here a vision from the Orb is considered irrefutable evidence."

Xena struggles to sit up, with Gabrielles help she manages to sit on the edge of the cot. Gabrielle gently supports Xena with an arm around her shoulder.

Xena gives Hemut an appraising look.

Gabrielle: "This is Hemut, he saved me from being killed by the search party. He is a member of the temple guards, but I trust him. Now, how did the Orb get in your saddlebags?"

Xena, accepting Gabrielle's assessment of Hemut: "I was hunting near the river just outside of town. It was a little after sundown and the moon had not yet cast it's full light, but I could see three men sneaking along the low banks of the river toward the town. They were obviously up to something. I followed the men to the entrance of a temple. They went inside. Then there was what sounded like a brief fight. The three men emerged, one of the men was holding his arm over his stomach, he must have been injured. The injured man was carrying a small wooden box which he handed to one of the other men and he pointed back the way they had come. The injured man walked into the village, the other two snuck back down the riverbank. I left Argo near town and followed the men down the riverbank. They headed for an abandoned house not very far from here. I listened at the door. They were celebrating their accomplishment, drinking wine and boasting of the ease of their attack. I heard them discussing how easy it was to surprise the guards and how much money they were going to get for stealing the Orb. They were pretty pleased with themselves. I stepped through the door and told them to surrender, they chose to fight. The battle was brief but both men were unconscious so I couldn't question them about the other man."

Gabrielle: "Yes, the vision I saw was of your fight with these men but I couldn't tell if they were dead or unconscious. The last thing I saw was when you picked up the box, then the vision faded."

Xena: "They were alive, there is no doubt about that. I never gave either of them a life threatening blow. I opened the box and removed the crystal. I was thinking about how I could track the third man. As I stood there I too had a vision. It was a vision of an eagle with wings spread wide, but not in flight. I don't know what it means."

Gabrielle: "Well, I hope when the Council hears this they believe you. But how did the Orb get in the saddlebags?"

Xena: "I thought I might be able to pick up the trail of the other man. I tied up the two men, planning on sending the village guards back for them. I followed the riverbank back to town, but I wanted the Orb in a safe place so I put it in the saddlebags and sent Argo back to camp while I went into town. When I got back to the village I could see there was tremendous excitement in the town. Obviously the alarm had been raised. I could not pick up the trail, it had been obliterated by all the activity in town. I found the village tavern where the villagers had gathered. I heard about the theft of the Orb and the killing of the guards. I thought the best thing to do would be to return the Orb to the priestesses in private so we could figure out how to find the other man. I headed back to camp to get the Orb and fill Gabrielle in on the situation. I got to camp and was ambushed by the temple guards."

Hemut: "That seems to fit pretty well with Gabrielle's vision. Unfortunately there's no real evidence to prove or disprove your story."

Gabrielle: "What about the two men Xena left tied up?"

Hemut: "Yes, I'll have them brought in for questioning. I know where they are from Xena's description of the place."

Hemut: "Gabrielle, I'll have to lock you back in your own cell for now. We'll get this cleared up in the morning when the Council hears yours and Xena's testimony."

Gabrielle helps Xena lie back down on the cot, covering her with the coarse blanket on the bed. She gives Xena a gentle kiss on the forehead saying with a smile: "You sure know how to get me worried."

Xena, softly: "Why worry, you know everything always turns out ok."

Gabrielle returns to her cell.

Hemut leaves.

Gabrielle: "Xena, they have to believe your story, right? It explains everything."

Xena, sighing: "They'll believe what can be proven to them and unfortunately there is no real evidence. Hopefully Hemut can get those two men to confess and name the third man."

Gabrielle: "I have my suspicions on who that might be. The guard Ruker has good reason to want to possess the Orb, he is trying to find his wife who disappeared. He was given two audiences with the Orb but it looks like he won't be given another try. I think he wants it for his personal use. Since he and those other two are members of the guards they had access to the temple and would easily have been able to surprise and kill the guards who were on watch that night."

Xena, wearily: "Maybe we can figure this out tomorrow. Better get some rest."

At the temple, Xena and Gabrielle are brought in. Xena has iron manacles binding her arms, she is escorted by four guards with swords at ready. Gabrielle and Xena are escorted to seats near the front of the room. There is a row of guards behind them. The room is packed with villagers who are obviously convinced that Xena is guilty.

Reja: "Everyone please quiet down, we need to hear testimony to find the truth in this matter. Bring the prisoner forward."

Xena rises and walks unsteadily to a position before the panel.

Reja: "Do you swear before the gods that all you will bear witness to is the truth?"

Xena: "I swear this before the gods."

Reja: "I am told that you are Xena, the Warrior Princess, is this true?"

Xena: "Yes."

Reja: "We have heard of your reputation as a great warlord and a conqueror. A woman who takes what she wants, using force if necessary."

Gabrielle jumps up and fervently tells the sages: "Xena gave those ways up long ago. She now works to help and protect people...."

Reja: "Guards, restrain her! You will speak only when the Council asks you a question. You will be given your chance to speak in due time."

The guards move forward and Gabrielle is moved back into her chair.

Reja to Xena: "Is it true that you once led an army which preyed on defenseless villages?"

Xena: "Yes. That was my past. But I work now to make amends for those deeds. I try to help where I can. I am trying to help all of you find the real thieves and murderers in this crime."

Reja: "Then tell us how you came to possess the Orb."

Xena tells the story she told Gabrielle and Hemut, how she followed the three men up the river, how she followed the two to the abandoned house, the fight, her vision in the Orb, and then her attempt to find the third man.

Reja: "I find it difficult to believe that a woman of violence like you would have been blessed with a vision. It has been our belief that the Orb blesses those with a true heart and soul."

Xena: "I do not know anything about the blessings bestowed by the Orb, I only know what happened to me. This I have told you. The vision of the eagle makes no sense to me either."

Reja: "So you claim you intended to return the Orb to us."

Xena: "Yes, I wanted to return the Orb and catch the thieves who stole it. The thieves were dressed in the uniforms of your guards and I believe they must be members of your guard. They were able to get close to the guards on duty that night because the guards knew them. It would have been a surprise attack and an easy slaughter."

Reja: "Return to your seat. We will hear from Gabrielle now."

Gabrielle and Xena exchange a reassuring touch as they pass near each other, Xena: "Don't worry, it will be all right."

Gabrielle stands before the council.

Reja: "Do you swear before the gods that all you will bear witness to is the truth?"

Gabrielle: "Of course I do, there's nothing to hide and when you hear all the details you're going to realize how foolish it was for you to even think that Xena..."

Reja, cutting her off: "Just take the oath, do you swear before the gods?"

Gabrielle: "Oh. Yeah. Right. I swear before the gods that all I will bear witness to is the truth."

Reja: "Then tell us what you saw in your vision from the Orb."

Gabrielle: "I saw Xena fighting two of your guards, at least, that is, they were wearing the uniform of your guards. Xena defeated them. Then I saw Xena holding the box that contains the Orb."

Reja: "You are the companion of this woman, Xena?"

Gabrielle: "Well, yes. We've been together over a year now."

Reja: "And you know of her reputation as a conqueror and a plunderer."

Gabrielle hesitates, looking at Xena, she does not want to answer this question.

Reja: "I remind you, you have sworn an oath to tell the truth."

Gabrielle looks to Xena who gives her a slight nod of reassurance.

Gabrielle, still looking at Xena, responds defensively: "I know she has done many things in the past which she truly regrets. But what she did was meant to safeguard her village and the surrounding villages. Perhaps her methods were a little... aggressive... but when she realized that she had become what she sought to protect her village from she disbanded her army and began to atone in her own way, by fighting tyrants and helping their victims."

Reja: "We have no further questions of you, you may return to your seat. Ruker come forward."

Ruker makes his way from the crowd, glaring at Xena and Gabrielle as he passes.

Reja: "Do you swear before the gods that all you will bear witness to is the truth?"

Rukor: "I swear this."

Reja: "Tell the Council about the apprehension of these women."

Rukor: "The alarm was raised when the priests arrived to prepare the Orb for the ceremony last night and found the guards dead and the Orb missing. We organized search teams and spread out. My team heard a horse galloping through the brush. We tracked the horse to the camp where we found this Gabrielle. She fought us from the first, I think that shows she was involved in the crime."

Gabrielle stands and vehemently denies this: "You came out of the woods like a band of thugs, how was I to know you were the temple guard. I was defending myself!"

Reja: "Silence! One more outburst and you will be bound and gagged. Rukor, continue."

The guards once again return Gabrielle to her seat.

Rukor: "We subdued the girl and searched her camp. The Orb was found in the saddlebags. We questioned the girl and she told us of her companion, Xena. While Hemut and his men brought Gabrielle in to town I waited with my men at the camp. Xena returned to camp, calling for her friend. She went straight to the saddlebags. She was obviously looking for the Orb. We surrounded her and ordered her to surrender. She drew her sword, ready to fight. She asked where Gabrielle was, I told her she had been arrested. We were at a stalemate, she was not going to surrender so I ordered my men to move in. She fought back, it was a tremendous battle, several of my men were injured, though none seriously. We only managed to capture her when she leaped to swing from a tree branch and the branch gave way. She hit her head when she landed on a rock. We thought she was dead at first, but she was just unconscious."

Gabrielle, whispering to Xena: "I told you you were going to try that tree limb thing once too often. I'm just surprised that rock had any effect on that hard head of yours."

Xena, whispering back: " You think I got it bad, you should see that rock."

Rukor: " Xena was put in a jail cell where she told Hemut the story of finding two of our guards with the Orb. Hemut went to the abandoned house and found the guards, Percival and Luke, tied up. They were hurt pretty bad, Luke has still not regained consciousness. Percival was unconscious when Hemut found him. He regained consciousness at the healing temple. When he regained consciousness Hemut and I questioned him. Percival said he and Luke were part of the search party. They found this Xena hiding in the house and tried to capture her but she overpowered them."

The crowd grumbles at his testimony, Xena and Gabrielle both look shocked at this turn of events. Xena: "That's a lie! It happened like I said!"

Reja: "I will not tolerate these outbursts! Sit down and remain silent! You will be given a chance to refute this in due time. Rukor, you are dismissed. We will hear testimony from Percival."

Percival is brought in, his head is bandaged. A chair is placed before the Council for him to sit in.

Reja: "Percival, do you swear before the gods that all you will bear witness to is the truth?"

Percival: "I swear by the gods."

Reja: "I know your wounds are causing you much pain so we will try to keep this brief. What do you know of this woman, Xena?"

Percival: "Luke and I were searching along the riverbank for whoever had taken the Orb and murdered the temple guards. We came to the abandoned house south of town. I could see a candle burning in the house though no one lived there any more. Luke and I went to check on it. We crept up to the house and saw that woman (pointing at Xena) holding the Orb. We should have gotten reinforcements but we were enraged, seeing this murderess desecrating the Orb. We charged into the house but she fought like Ares himself, we were both knocked out. The next thing I remember I was being tended to in the healing temple."

Reja: "Percival, how long have you been a temple guard?"

Percival: "Almost three years. I have twice been injured in battle defending the temple from invading warlords. I would give my life for the protection of the Orb and the priestesses of the temple."

Reja: "I have no further questions. You are excused."

Percival hobbles from the room.

A messenger enters the room and whispers to Rukor. Rukor stands and addresses the Council: " I have just been informed that Luke passed over to the other side."

Reja: "Even more tragedy to this already tragic affair."

Reja: "Xena come forward."

Gabrielle gives Xena a reassuring touch as Xena stands and walks toward the sages.

Reja: "You are accused of stealing the Orb of Huron and of killing three temple guards. The Orb was found in what you admit to be your saddlebags. You resisted arrest. And there is eyewitness testimony against you from one of our guards. You yourself have admitted, and your companion has also testified, that your past has not always been an honorable one. What can you say in your defense?"

Xena: "I have spoken the truth in all things. Percival lied. He, Luke and another man are the guilty ones. I know it is easier to believe someone you know rather than an outsider, especially an outsider with my reputation. But why would I have left these men alive if I stole the Orb? Why would I have taken the time to tie them up? Why would I have allowed them to live to bear witness against me? You will do what you must, but remember, if I am telling the truth, there are traitors in your guard. You'd better be absolutely sure or your treasure, even your life, may be taken when these traitors think it is safe to strike again."

Reja and the other sages whisper amongst themselves.

Reja: "We will adjourn for discussion. Our verdict will be issued tomorrow. Xena, you are to be returned to your cell. Gabrielle, there has been no indication that you participated in this crime and the Council has decided to release you at this time. You are free to go. Guards, return Xena to her cell."

Back at the jail, Xena is again chained in her cell, the guards leave. Gabrielle paces outside the cell, obviously very upset.

Gabrielle: "Xena, what are we going to do? Should I try to break you out of here? What if one of these guards is the missing accomplice? They could try to kill you and you'd be defenseless without your weapons."

Xena: "Gabrielle, calm down. I'm not hardly defenseless just because I don't have any weapons."

Gabrielle, sheepishly: "Oh, yeah, right."

Xena: "Besides, they're hoping that I'll be found guilty and executed. That will ensure their own safety until they get another chance to take the Orb."

Xena: "I don't think it would be wise for me to break out of here. They would just assume that is proof of my guilt and I'm not convinced that the Council will find me guilty anyhow. It's my word against Percival's because of the lack of evidence. No, we need to think our way through this carefully. With Luke dead that leaves Percival or the third accomplice as the key to proving my innocence. Gabrielle, this may be dangerous, but I want you to follow Percival, he may lead you to the third guard."

Gabrielle: "No problem, I can do that."

Xena: "Don't take any risks, just see who he contacts. My guess is he'll need reassurance that everything is going to be all right. I'll bet that whoever he meets has a nasty little wound in his side from the attack on the temple guards."

Rukor and Hemut enter the room. Rukor carries a tray of food which he pushes under the cell door with a sneer: "Here's your dinner Xena, enjoy it for it may be your last."

Rukor sits down at the guard table across the room, obviously having drawn guard duty for the night.

Xena, sarcastically: "How nice, looks like I've got company."

Gabrielle: "Hemut! Where have you been all day? I thought you'd be at the trial."

Hemut: "I was with Luke all day, hoping he would regain consciousness and tell what happened. He never did."

Gabrielle: "Luke might have been a big help. If he and Percival hadn't had time to agree on their story we might have been able to discredit Percival's testimony."

Hemut: "That's what I thought too. Things are not looking too hopeful for you right now Xena. Is there anything I can do to help?"

Gabrielle: "I think you might be able to help me with an errand, is there someplace we can go to talk in private (casting a glance at Rukor)."

Hemut: "We can go to my house, it is not very far from here."

Gabrielle: "Don't worry Xena, I'll get the proof we need. I'll be back soon."

Reaching through the bars, Xena and Gabrielle exchange a brief hug.

Xena, worriedly: "Be careful."

Gabrielle and Hemut enter Hemut's home. It is sparsely furnished but has a collection of armaments and hunting trophies displayed in the room.

Hemut: "Ok Gabrielle, what is this errand?"

Gabrielle: "Xena and I figure that the best way to prove her innocence is to find the real culprits. Obviously that would be Luke, who rather inconveniently died, Percival, who is lying through his teeth, or the missing third man who I still think might be that lout Rukor."

Hemut: "Hmmm. That's interesting, you suspect Rukor?"

Gabrielle: "He has motive, wanting the Orb to find his wife. He knows the Council won't give him another shot at it. It makes sense that since Luke and Percival are members of the temple guard that the third man is also a member."

Hemut: "So how do you intend to prove this?"

Gabrielle: "I'm going to follow Percival. Xena thinks he will probably try to talk with his partner in crime. His identity will be confirmed if he has a wound on his stomach."

There is a knock on the door, Hemut indicates to Gabrielle that she should hide in the next room. Gabrielle goes into the room and stands with her ear to the door to listen but she can not make out what is said. Looking around the room Gabrielle sees a large stuffed eagle mounted on the wall. Her eyes open wide as she realizes: "By the gods! Xena's vision! An eagle with it's wings spread wide!"

Gabrielle turns to the door but Hemut is there and he knows now that she knows he is the third thief. Hemut draws his blade and in the close space Gabrielle knows she is trapped. Grabbing a small stool she lunges at Hemut, hitting him squarely in the gut. Blood seeps through his shirt as the wound from the day before is reopened. Hemut doubles over in pain. Gabrielle tries to run past him but he trips her, she falls hard and he is quick to bring the sword to her throat.

Hemut: "That will be enough of that now."

Percival enters the room, a dagger at the ready.

Gabrielle: "Percival, of course. The gangs all here."

Percival: "Now what do we do? Her dead body will surely complicate the trial and verdict. If she just disappears questions will be raised too?"

Hemut: "Now don't panic. I might have a good plan for ridding ourselves of this annoying little blond. Let's tie her up, I have an errand to run."

Hemut quickly ties Gabrielle to a chair.

Hemut: "You'll have to guard her. If she tries anything, slit her throat."

Hemut stanches the wound in his side with some bandages, slips on a clean shirt and a long tunic to hide the bandages.

Gabrielle: "You know you're going to get caught. It's all starting to unravel now. You'd better just run while you have the chance."

Hemut: "Nice try Gabrielle, but I know what I'm doing. You'll be dead and Rukor will be accused when the murder weapon is found to be his knife. Yes, everyone will believe that he killed you for your role in helping Xena steal the Orb. Everyone knows what a fanatic he is, how mentally unstable he can be. Yes, this will certainly work."

Gabrielle: "You'll never get away with this."

Hemut: "Of course I'll get away with this. These people are sheep, they can easily be manipulated. Besides, Rukor might just resist arrest and inadvertently be killed when we try to take him in to custody. Yes, I like it. I like it a lot."

Hemut leaves, quite pleased with himself.

Gabrielle: "Percival, Hemut's probably leaving town right now. He's going to leave you here to get caught. You know, I don't think Luke died from the injuries in that fight with Xena. She knows how to fight to cripple her opponent, she is too skilled to make a fatal blow unless she meant it. I think Hemut killed Luke to shut him up so he didn't contradict the story you two had concocted. It makes sense now, it was Hemut who rescued you and Luke from the abandoned house. He knew what Xena and I had told him at the jail. He knew how to cover his tracks."

Percival: "Your pretty bright, too bad you figured it out too late. Yes, Hemut found me and Luke at the abandoned house. He told me about Xena and how we could turn this around to cover our tracks. I pretended to be unconscious until I was in the healing temple so there would be plenty of witnesses to hear my version of the story when I "regained consciousness". He's one bright guy that Hemut. He'll not only get us out of this but eventually we will get the Orb and then we'll be rich."

Gabrielle: "You're right, he is a pretty bright guy. Too bright to be leaving a loose end like you around. He'll kill you, you know. He'll have you help him get the Orb and then he'll kill you, just like he disposed of Luke."

Percival, moving threateningly towards Gabrielle, raising the butt of the knife over her head: "Shut up!"

Xena was lying on her cot, trying to focus on the problems at hand. There was something about the testimony today that was nagging at her. She had been thinking. Thinking about Percival's testimony. Somehow somebody got to him, told him what to say when he was questioned. Told him to say that he and Luke had come upon Xena in that house. That Xena had the Orb. Who was the first to get to Percival and Luke? Of course, it was Hemut. Thunderstruck by this realization, Xena's thoughts leaped to the next logical thought: Gabrielle! She's in danger!

Xena heard the jail door open and saw that it was Hemut. She felt an immediate panic for her friend, dreading that the worst had happened, but she waited, pretending to be asleep, hoping that the charade had not yet ended, that he had not yet tipped his hand to Gabrielle.

Hemut walked to the cell, looked at the sleeping Xena, walked over to the table where Rukor sits: "Hello Rukor, everything ok? I brought you some fruit and nuts, I figured you might get hungry."

Hemut tosses a satchel on the table before Rukor.

Rukor, rather surprised and suspicious of Hemut ignores the offered food: "So far, no problems. What are you doing here, Hemut? I thought you left with the friend of this thief and murderer."

Hemut: "She still insists that Xena is innocent, but come on, who can believe that after the testimony in court today. Yes, tomorrow the judgment will be made, and thank the gods, tomorrow she dies (Hemut points towards Xena)."

Xena watched through slitted eyes as Hemut slowly circled Rukor at his table. She sensed he was up to something but couldn't figure out what. She continued watching every move Hemut made.

Rukor, relaxing a little and opening the satchel to see what snacks Hemut brought him. Pulls out an apple and peels it with his knife, finishing peeling the apple, he leaves the knife on the table: "Yes, everyone will be relieved when this is over and justice is served."

Hemut pulls a chair up along side Rukor and gives him a big slap on the back: "And you are to receive no small credit for that. I heard that your testimony today was perfect. You'll probably make captain of the guards for this."

Xena sees Hemut take Rukor's knife, hiding it under his tunic. Rukor never noticed because he was falling for the distraction. "I've got a very bad feeling about this," Xena thought.

Rukor, almost blushing, "I was so nervous before the Council, but I knew she did it. Justice will be served!"

Hemut: "Are you on duty all night?"

Rukor: "No, I'll be relieved soon."

Hemut: "Stop by my house and I'll open a cask of mead and we'll celebrate."

Rukor, smiling: "I will."

Hemut: "See you later then."

Hemut leaves.

Xena sits up, tension in her face. "Rukor, I figured it out. Hemut is the third thief! You've got to let me out of here, he may have harmed Gabrielle."

Rukor, with disdain: "You really don't think I'm going to believe you? With your reputation, the testimony of a temple guard against you, and the Orb found in your saddlebags? I'm not that stupid, Xena."

Xena, desperately: "No, Rukor you're not that stupid. But I have a question for you, where is your knife?"

Rukor: "My knife?"

Xena: "Yes, your knife. The one you used to peel the apple."

Rukor, checks the sheath on his belt, looks under the table, perplexed: "Where could it have gone?"

Xena: "I saw Hemut sneak it under his tunic when he had you distracted. I think I know what he's up to. He must have Gabrielle and is planning on killing her with your knife when you go over to his house tonight. You'll be blamed. He may even kill you and claim he had been trying to protect Gabrielle from you."

Rukor, visibly shaken: "I don't know...Percival said..."

Xena, furtively: "Percival lied! It was Hemut who went to the abandoned house to get Percival and Luke. Percival must have been conscious and Hemut told him to twist the story around and say they had found me with the Orb."

Rukor, crumbling: "That fits..."

Xena: "If Hemut has Gabrielle he needs to get rid of her before she can tell anyone about him. She can't just disappear and not be at the trial tomorrow, that would raise too many questions. He has to find a way to silence her and blame it on somebody else. He invited you over to his house to frame you and shift suspicion from himself. Has he ever invited you over before?"

Rukor, contemplatively: "Hmmmm"

Back in Hemut's bedroom, Gabrielle is slumped over in the ropes, a trickle of blood down her face. Percival paces. Hemut comes in, smiling broadly.

Percival, nervously: "Well, now what?"

Hemut, smugly brandishing Rukor's knife: "Now we wait for that fool Rukor to show up. I kill the girl with his knife, and I'll run him through with my blade and testify that it happened when I tried to arrest him for murdering the girl."

There is a knock at the door.

Hemut: "And there's the fool now. Stay quiet in here. I'll lull him into a sense of security and when I see an opportunity I'll kill him. Don't come out until I call for you."

Hemut closes the door to the bedroom and crosses the livingroom to the front door. Hemut opens the door, Rukor enters.

Hemut, jovially: "Rukor, I was beginning to think you weren't coming."

Rukor: "I'm pretty tired, but I said I'd come, so here I am. I can't stay long."

Rukor has been nonchalantly walking around, Hemut follows him, waiting for an opportunity to pounce. Rukor stops in front of the display of hunting trophies. His eyes widen as understanding tears through his brain. Rukor turns as Hemut pulls a sword from the arms display, Rukor reacts quickly, unsheathing his own sword and parrying Hemuts assault.

Rukor: "These animals! They are from my visions!"

Hemut, laughing: "Yes."

Rukor, nearly out of control: "You killed her! You killed my wife!"

Hemut, laughing evilly: "Yes, I killed her. She thought she was too good for me. I went to see her one night when I knew you were on duty. I told her I had so much more to offer than you. She would have been well cared for. I wanted her, it could have been real nice for the both of us, but she refused me, saying how much she loved you. So I took her anyway. When I was done with her she managed to grab my knife and she tried to kill me. She said she was going to tell you and the rest of the village what I had done. I tried wrestling the knife from her and in the struggle she fell on the knife, it went straight through her heart. I buried her body where it will never be found."

Rukor lunges at Hemut but in his rage and pain his charge is more valiant than wise, Hemut sidesteps the charge and clobbers Rukor in the back of the head with the butt of his sword. Rukor falls to the floor unconscious. Hemut raises the sword to finish Rukor off as Xena bursts through the door with her cry: "AYIYIYIYIYIYI."

Xena flips through the air, throwing Hemut back away from Rukor's prone body.

Xena lands on her feet and quickly unsheaths her sword: "Give up Hemut, it's over."

Hemut, regaining his composure and facing Xena, his sword at the ready: "I don't think so Xena. You see Percival is in the next room, we've got your friend Gabrielle. Percival, come out here!"

Percival emerges, he supports a groggy Gabrielle, holding the obligatory knife to her throat.

Xena sees the blood on Gabrielles face. Seething, she turns towards Hemut.

Xena, angrily: "You'll be handed over to the authorities to pay for your crimes, Hemut. Stealing the Orb, murdering the two guards and Luke, and hurting Gabrielle."

Hemut: "Oh, I can't take credit for that (nodding towards Gabrielle), that's Percivals handiwork."

Xena glares at Percival who shrinks under her gaze: "Then he'll answer to me," she says coldly.

Hemut: "Try anything and she dies, Xena."

Xena, turning her attention back to Hemut: "Ok. So now what do we do?"

Hemut: "Drop your weapons, Xena"

Gabrielle: "No Xena, don't do it. They'll kill us anyway."

Percival tightens his grip on Gabrielles arm and shakes her hard, he snarls: "I'm tired of you and your back talk, shut up!"

Gabrielle, goading, trying to prey on Percival's irritation: "And I'm tired of you and your foul stench, are you allergic to soap and water?"

Percival draws Gabrielle tighter to himself. As Gabrielle steps back she stomps hard on his foot, grabbing his arm she deftly twists it behind his back as she steps around behind him. Twisting his wrist at the same time, Percival drops the knife. He continues to struggle so Gabrielle knocks his legs out from under him. Grabbing a staff from the weapons display, she pins Percival to the floor with the staff at his throat.

Gabrielle, appraising the weapon: "Nice staff, a little out of balance, but serviceable."

Xena reacts at the same moment as Gabrielle makes her move. Charging across the room she engages Hemuts sword with hers. After several thrusts and parries Hemut is visibly suffering from the wound in his side, Xena is not even winded.

Xena: "You can't keep it up Hemut, surrender and you'll get a fair trial."

Hemut: "Yes, I'll get a fair trial and then a speedy hanging. I think I'd rather take my chances fighting my way out."

Hemut has managed to lead the fight to where Rukor lies on the floor, he stands over Rukor with the point of his sword on Rukor's chest.

Hemut: "I'm a desperate man, Xena. Desperate men do desperate things. All I want is to get away."

Xena sees Rukor's eyes flutter open, throwing her sword at Hemut's feet: "All right Hemut, take me as a hostage and leave Gabrielle and Rukor here."

With Hemut's attention focused on Xena, he does not see Rukor pick up Xena's sword. With one strike Rukor knocks Hemut's sword away and Xena moves in to knock him out with one high kick to the head.

Xena, grinning: "Well, good morning Rukor, you picked a good time to wake up."

Rukor struggles to his feet, rubbing his head.

Gabrielle: "Excuse me, but would one of you like to give me a little help with mister personality over here?"

Xena: "Sure Gabrielle. By the way, you could have let me know when you were going to make your move. Maybe we should work out some kind of hand signals or something."

Xena, Gabrielle and Rukor stand before the Council.

Reja: "Xena, we owe you an apology for having falsely accused you and our gratitude for your capturing the perpetrators of these crimes. We would like to give you a reward."

Xena: "I want no reward. Justice is it's own reward."

Reja: "Then please accept our thanks for recovering the Orb and teaching us a valuable lesson: truth is not always obvious, it needs to be pursued and constantly examined. For what we often take for granted as truth can in fact be a devious deception. "

Reja: "Gabrielle, we also must thank you for your help and for showing us our own precepts in action. Your faith in your friend exemplifies that which is most honored in the temple of the Orb of Huron, the nobility and power of a pure heart and a noble cause. The Orb would never refuse to respond to a heart such as yours. If ever you wish to pose a query to the Orb we would be honored to grant you an audience"

Gabrielle, smiling, looking at Rukor: "Don't forget, the Orb also spoke to Rukor. Perhaps some of us can learn from this fact that we shouldn't be judging people by their exterior or by the gossip we hear from other people."

Gabrielle, looking at Xena: "And the Orb also spoke to Xena. It proves that although she may have done some bad things by following the wrong path for a time, everybody makes mistakes. Eventually the truth of the heart will shine through; sometimes in heroic unselfish acts, and sometimes in small loving ways. It doesn't take the Orb to prove this about Xena, all you have to do is get to know her."

Reja: "Yes Gabrielle, from this experience we are all hopefully wiser about how we judge people."

Reja: "Rukor, your service to this temple merits more than just our praise and thanks. We would like you to be captain of the temple guards. A position of authority and honor."

Rukor: "I'm sorry, but I must decline the position. Now that I know what has happened to my wife, since Hemut showed me her resting place, I can now grieve. In time, I hope to start my life again. I just know I can't stay here, it's too painful."

Reja: "May the gods favor you with the peace and happiness you deserve, Rukor. If ever you choose to return you will find you are welcome here."

Xena and Gabrielle walking out of town.

Gabrielle: "You know, we could swing by this way in another 25 days for the next full moon and see what the Orb has to say about our future."

Xena: "Well we can if you want to, but I'd just as soon wait and be surprised by whatever comes our way."

Gabrielle: "Yeah, you're right. Wouldn't really want to know what's ahead, life might get boring."

Xena: "Boring? Not a chance..."

The end

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