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Chapter 8

After leaving Salmoneus and his friends, Gabrielle and Xena went down the hall to their own room. After bathing and eating a light dinner, they retired for the night.

Xena pulled the coverlet up over Gabrielle's nude body which was stretched out on top of her. Gabrielle was tracing circles over Xena's shoulder with her fingertip, her brow was furrowed, indicating that she was deep in thought. Noticing the intent look on Gabrielle's face, Xena gave her a gentle nudge. Gabrielle sighed and spoke, emotion deepening her voice.

"Xena, have you thought about having another child?" she asked, looking down into Xena's azure eyes. A touch of sadness passed over them before Xena smiled sadly and cupped Gabrielle's face with her hand, wrapped her other arm around Gabrielle and whispered softly into her hair, "Yes."

Gabrielle picked up a silky strand of raven hair and twirled it around her finger, the thoughtful look back on her face. Taking a deep breath she spoke hesitantly, "I've...I've thought about it too. I'd like to have a.." There was a short pause as she met the cool blue gaze below her. "I'd like to have a daughter." Gabrielle whispered finally. "And...and I'd like to raise her as an Amazon." She breathed a sigh of relief. This was something she'd been meaning to talk to Xena about for some time now and seeing the children today made her more aware of her desire to have another child.

This was a sensitive topic, it was a fresh wound, still slightly raw, because both of them had recently lost their children. Lost them forever, and they will always remember the emptiness, the pain, and the sorrow.

Xena's heart lurched as she thought of her son. She swallowed hard and opened her mouth to speak but Gabrielle placed a finger over her lips gently, silencing her.

"I know that Hope will always be my daughter, but she is evil. She belongs to Dahak now and nothing I do or say will change that. She's lost to me, just as I am lost to her."

Gabrielle closed her eyes as memories of Hope surfaced. Memories of the painful and rapid birth, the bright eyed innocence she portrayed as a baby, and finally, the small lifeless form lying on the grass, poisoned after drinking from a water flask, poison Gabrielle herself had put into it. Gabrielle experienced a stab of guilt and then sorrow when she remembered touching the childlike hand, feeling the warmth of life seeping slowly from it until the hand had turned cold. She tilted her head to the side as she saw herself lifting that same flask to her lips, intending to poison herself as well. It was her love for Xena, and her will to live that stopped her from drinking it.

She remembered the despair she felt after the funeral, how Xena blamed her for the death of her son. The stinging of tears as she turned and walked away, leaving Xena to stand alone. The pain of the purification ritual at the amazon village, and the realization of her own anger and hatred for Xena. The sound of a whip snapping and painfully wrapping around her ankles. Of Xena dragging her behind a horse and attempting to throw her over a cliff in her quest for vengeance. How the hatred swelled inside her when she freed herself from Xena's grasp and how it propelled her forward, dragging them both over the cliff to their death and into a world of illusion where they were forced to find a way to absolve their hatred for one another or remain dead.

"Gabrielle, I..." Xena stopped, she searched for the words that would not come. Images of her dead son, Solan, flooded her thoughts. The most vivid image was of his form slumped over the altar. Her heart thudded when she thought of his lifeless form which she cradled gently in her arms. She shut her eyes at the memory of the screams of anguish that were torn from her throat. The intense feelings of hatred for Hope and for her best friend. Gabrielle, in a torn and mangled toga, blood trickling from numerous lacerations after being bound tightly by her whip and dragged across the valley, was an image she will never forget. She was saddened that she allowed her hate to once again weaken her. Weaken her enough so that all it took was a little taunting from Ares to turn her back to her dark side. She never expected something like that to ever happen to them. She never expected Gabrielle to become the target of her hate. It hurt to think about this, to think that she was capable of hurting the most important person in her life. She realized that she will never be free of her past, the darkness that claimed her will always lurk just beneath the surface, waiting for her to succumb to the evil power. Tears burned her eyes and she squeezed them, willing the painful memories to the back of her mind.

Each remained silent, wading through their own memories. A tear escaped from between one of Gabrielle's closed eyes, leaving tell-tale moistness on the lashes. Xena broke from her reverie when the tear splashed onto her face. Looking up, she reached out with her finger and traced its path along Gabrielle's cheek. They gazed deeply into the eyes of the other for long moments, communicating emotions, feelings, and thoughts without uttering a single word.

Leaning her forehead down to rest upon Xena, Gabrielle whispered, "Xena, I don't think anything needs to be said. We have both suffered, we both know what it feels like to lose a child, and we both want to have another. But, this time I want you there with me." She picked up another raven strand and twirled it around her other finger.

Xena's smile was sad at first, then it brightened as she lifted Gabrielle's face up and brought it towards her, kissing her gently. When the kiss broke, Xena's eyes were dark with emotion.

"Gabrielle, do you really want me there? I don't think I would feel comfortable observing such an intimate act." she said, a corner of her mouth twitching into a smile that brought with it a welcome cheerfulness, eliciting a small smile from Gabrielle.

"Intimate? It's not intimate. It'' Besides, I didn't say anything about you observing. I am perfectly capable of doing this on my own" Gabrielle said cheekily.

"All right. But it has to be someone I approve of. Someone who won't hurt you. Besides, if it were me, would you want to be there?" Xena clasped both of Gabrielle's hands, stilling them from the idle twirling.

There was a pause as Gabrielle thought about this.

"No. Absolutely not." she answered truthfully.

Xena chuckled. Their lips bushed together and Gabrielle slipped her hands under Xena's shoulders. The kiss was soft and sensual, then it became deeper, more passionate. Gabrielle broke away and said softly, "I love you Xena."

Xena smiled and answered just as softly, "I love you too, Gabrielle."

Their feelings and thoughts now acknowledged and out in the open allowed them to experience together an inner peace that they had been searching for alone. They stared deeply at one another, silently communicating their love for one another and an understanding of what had just transpired.

Xena's hands slid from Gabrielle's face to her shoulders, then to her side and then under and over the swell of her breasts. Gabrielle's breathing quickened and she sank deeper between Xena's legs. Her hips began to move slowly and rhythmically between Xena's thighs and Xena found herself moving with her. Xena's hands moved up across Gabrielle's waist and down her lower back to smooth over firm buttocks, caressing them gently. She let out a low growl as she squeezed and caressed, pushing Gabrielle into her, her body moving in synch with Gabrielle's, and she spoke of erotic things into Gabrielle's ear. Gabrielle moaned and kissed Xena with even more passion, then pulled Xena's ear with her teeth, and bit lightly at the curve of her neck, eliciting a low moan. Xena's eyes closed as her passion heightened and then they opened slowly. They had darkened with desire, with need, with raw passion. She flipped Gabrielle over onto her back and knelt over her like a cat regarding her prey. Gabrielle's heart hammered in her chest as she looked into pools of azure, sparkling with fire, and then gasped in anticipation as the firm, smooth form of her warrior lowered onto her.

Chapter 9

Down below in the lodge, the party was still going at full swing. People gaily danced and laughed and the servants were busily hustling food and drinks to the partying patrons. It wasn't until the wee hours of the morning that the lodge began to empty and quiet down. Upstairs, Gabrielle and Xena rested peacefully, their desires satiated. As morning approached, the sun rose higher and its golden rays crept between the slits of the shutters in their room. As the light grew stronger and the morning progressed, the streamers of light moved across the bed, flitting over the still sleeping forms. Gabrielle was snuggled against Xena's side, her head resting in the hollow of Xena's shoulder. Xena woke and looked over at Gabrielle and reached out to caress a lock of golden hair with her fingertips. Her mouth curved into a slow smile when Gabrielle opened her eyes sleepily.

"Good morning." Xena said, smiling.

"Hmm." Gabrielle mumbled and snuggled closer to Xena, draping a leg over Xena's thigh. Xena chuckled and shifted so that Gabrielle's knee fell down between her thighs and was pressing against her. Gabrielle, her mouth quirking into a smile, raised herself up on one elbow and looked down at Xena inquiringly. Her face became pensive as she reflected on the conversation from the night before.

"Xena, last night you said you had thought about having another child, right?"

"Yes." Xena looked away, reluctant to talk any more about this issue.

"Xena, please, talk to me. How long have you felt this way?" Gabrielle said gently.

Looking back, she saw the aching pain in Gabrielle's eyes and took a deep breath, noticing that her heart began to beat faster.

"Gabrielle, I don't know, I guess just recently. Perhaps someday when I feel I can settle down, I'll stop and maybe have a child." she said slowly and looked up in to Gabrielle's eyes, eyes filled with calm compassion. Xena took a shaky breath and continued, "Will I ever be able to stop, Gabrielle? What I have done, what I did was unforgivable." Xena spoke with sadness, her voice broke slightly and her heart pounded painfully against her chest.

"Oh, Xena." Gabrielle murmured. She saw the fear in Xena's eyes and cupped her face in her hands gently.

"Xena, I know the world needs us right now, but we have people who care about us and would be willing to care for our children when we can't be there. I can't tell you when it's time to stop. That's something you'll have to decide on your own. You have to forgive yourself." Gabrielle said with such confidence that she surprised herself.

Xena gazed up at Gabrielle, her eyes were clouded with the bleakness of her situation but then brightened with hope and Gabrielle smiled. Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle and held her tightly. It was at times like this that Gabrielle saw how vulnerable Xena was and would catch a glimpse of the woman behind the warrior. For Xena, Gabrielle was like a beacon. When she was lost or when she would fall backwards towards evil, Gabrielle was there to help her find her way back.

"Um, Xena...about having children...isn't there another know..." Gabrielle asked, fidgeting a little.

"Hmm, perhaps. I have many skills." Xena's mouth quirked into a quick grin.

Gabrielle chortled and swatted Xena playfully.

As they were getting dressed, a knock sounded on their door. Xena hurriedly slipped the straps of her corset over her shoulders and opened the door slightly. Salmoneus stood there holding a squirming young girl by the ear.

"Xena, this urchin tried to ply me with one of Gabrielle's scrolls." Salmoneus said as Xena's eyebrows rose in surprise.

Gabrielle's ears perked up at the mention of her scrolls. Snatching her satchel, she rooted around and found that she was indeed missing more of her scrolls. Shaking her head, she strode angrily to the door, elbowed Xena aside and yanked it open.

"Mica!" she exclaimed in surprise.

"Mica?" Salmoneus repeated, his face clouding with confusion. "Mica?" he said again, and blinked. Salmoneus placed his hands on the young girls shoulders and turned her towards him. Leaning down, he looked directly into her face. Brilliant blue eyes shot daggers at him.

"By the Gods!" he breathed. "I've been looking for you, child!"

"Huh?" she said questioningly.

"Mica, your father, tell me his name!" Salmoneus asked urgently.

"His name was Duren." she replied hastily, noting the urgency in Salmoneus's voice.

"Mica, I'm Salmoneus. I'm your uncle. You sent me a note, remember?"

"You're Uncle Salmoneus?" she said hesitantly, her eyes searched Salmoneus's face eagerly as her recognition of him surfaced.

Salmoneus nodded his head vigorously. Overcome with emotion, he gathered her into his arms and hugged her. The young girl wound her arms around his neck as tears streamed down her face. She sobbed quietly into his shoulder.

When they pulled apart, Salmoneus stood up and wiped a tear from his eye. He reached into his cloak and rooted around. Frowning, he gave up and then began searching the other side of his cloak.

"I know I put the scroll in here. Those kids! I remember one of them bumping into me. And he got my purse too!" Salmoneus grunted as he searched further down looking for his change purse.

"Another scroll gone AWOL." Gabrielle said dryly.

"Great. That's just great." Xena said between clenched teeth.

Xena turned away to walk over to a chair by the window. She put on her armor and boots, while Salmoneus walked over to Gabrielle's side.

"What's the matter with her?" Salmoneus whispered.

"Well, I think she's just a little bit upset about the scroll, well actually, scrolls. Two are still missing." Gabrielle explained.

"Well, we'll find them. I bet you've written some very good stories in them." he said with a hint of curiosity.

"Oh, you have no idea." Gabrielle answered, glancing over at Xena, her mouth twitching with amusement.

Overhearing, Xena turned and scowled at Salmoneus darkly. Moving past them, she cleared her throat and said "Let's go."

Mica looked from Xena to Gabrielle and then to Salmoneus and asked, "Where are we going, Uncle Salmoneus?"

Salmoneus started when she called him 'Uncle' and then replied, "We are, but you're not. I want you to wait here until we get back, okay?" He touched her face gently and then rested his hand on her shoulder.

Mica frowned in disappointment and then nodded, "All right. I'll stay."

"Good, good." Salmoneus said and they turned and left the room. Mica gently shut the door behind them and turned to the table that was still laden with the morning's uneaten breakfast. Licking her lips, she sat down and heaped fruit and soft cakes onto a plate.

Chapter 10

As Xena strode on ahead down the hall, Salmoneus whispered into Gabrielle's ear, "Whatever did you write in those scrolls? She really looks upset."


Xena turned to look over her shoulder at Gabrielle and gave her a dark scowl. Gabrielle quickly changed her mind about what she was going to say.

"Um, poetry. Yes, poetry. Really boring stuff. You wouldn't be interested." she answered and snickered to herself.

Gabrielle, Salmoneus, and Xena were crouched at the side of the hill behind a stand of brambles and trees overlooking Vinson's large villa. It looked deserted except for a few sentries that were posted at a prefecture just outside the villa. The barracks that housed the militia were on the other side of the hill. The activity within forced them to choose this deserted spot to observe the villa below, so they wouldn't be detected.

"Ouch!" Salmoneus exclaimed as he yanked his hand back out of the blackberry bush in front of him. Pulling up the sleeve to his robe, he reached back in and plucked a plump blackberry from the bush and popped it into his mouth. He chewed merrily and picked out another juicy berry and popped it into his mouth as well, closing his eyes in gratification.

Gabrielle grinned and Xena merely rolled her eyes. Xena, shaking her head, said, "Salmoneus, I want you to get a wagon and meet us just over that ridge right after sundown."

Salmoneus opened his eyes and said, " I don't know where I'm going to get a wagon..." Noting Xena's frank stare and raised eyebrow, he paused and then continued hastily, "...uh...but I'll find one." He turned clumsily, extracted the hem of his robe from the berry bush and ambled off.

"What now?" Gabrielle asked.

"We wait." Xena answered.

Gabrielle sat down below a large elm and rested her back against it. She set her staff next to her and looked at Xena kneeling behind the hedge. She closed her eyes and let her head fall back against the rough bark of the tree.

Xena remained crouched behind the hedge and observed the villa below. She heard Gabrielle sigh lightly as she sat down and then there was silence. Shortly after that, the silence was broken by light snoring and Xena smiled inwardly. The sun was setting and the valley below was shrouded in shadow. Light amber and violet hues from the setting sun colored the mountains at the end of the valley. She turned around and scuttled over to the sleeping form. When she shook Gabrielle awake, Gabrielle started and reached for her staff. Xena grinned at her companion's groggy state. Gabrielle smiled once she realized that the hand on her shoulder belonged to Xena. She reached out and pulled Xena down into a hug and Xena hugged her back and then sat down next to her.

"It's almost time." Xena said.

Gabrielle stretched and they both stood up and made their way past the shrubbery to the valley below. They scampered across the open field to the wall of the prefecture. Hugging the wall, they edged around it and ran quietly through the villa entrance. They stood with their backs flat against the wall and Xena's head swiveled around to observe her new surroundings. Deciding on a direction, she touched Gabrielle's arm and nodded in the direction she chose. Gabrielle nodded back in understanding and followed Xena to an open window at the side of the villa. Xena peered through the filmy curtains searching for signs of movement inside. Seeing none, she parted the softly billowing curtains with her hand and slipped inside. Gabrielle followed Xena into the room, guarding Xena's back. As they approached a doorway at the opposite end of the room, they heard sounds of splashing and feminine voices. Xena opened the door and stopped short and Gabrielle ran smack into her back. Puzzled, Gabrielle turned and stepped around Xena to see what caused Xena to stop so suddenly.

"Oh, my." she whispered and her eyes widened.

There were at least a dozen women lounging or bathing in various states of dress or undress.

"Let me guess, this must be Vinson's harem." Gabrielle quipped dryly.

Xena's eyebrows rose as she observed the women. Her head swiveled over to a woman who was emerging from the bath. She strode smoothly across the marble floor to stand directly in front of Xena. Her body was full but fit and her skin was smooth and tanned. Long dark hair, curling at the ends, cascaded down over her shoulders. The water glistened and dripped from her nude body and Xena swallowed, hard. Xena brought her eyes back up and met the woman's amused gaze and raised a rakish eyebrow. Without looking to her right where Gabrielle was standing, she just knew Gabrielle's eyes were boring into her back. Xena raised her other eyebrow when the woman raised her arm and began tracing the brass plating of her breastplate with a long slender finger. Gabrielle narrowed her eyes and cleared her throat, loudly. The woman paused, her finger resting squarely on the center of Xena's chest and looked over at Gabrielle with amusement. Gabrielle stared back, her eyes were narrowed and her mouth was set firmly. The woman's mouth curved into a smile and she walked around Xena, appraising her from head to toe. When she returned to face Xena again, she reached out to touch Xena's breast plate once more, but Xena snatched her wrist and pulled the woman against her. The woman gasped and looked up into the clear blue eyes seductively, but Xena's face betrayed no emotion, she was all business.

"I'm taken." Xena said softly and her eyes widened to make her point clear.

The woman's mouth curved into a knowing smile and she removed her hand from Xena's grasp and stepped back. She looked over at Gabrielle with admiration.

"Lucky you." she whispered silkily.

When she glanced back at Xena, she continued in her silky voice, "I'm Lyza, the mistress of this harem. And you must be...Xena, The Warrior Princess." Her eyebrows quirked when she said Xena's name and the other women began talking and whispering excitedly.

"Well, Lyza, we really can't stay and chat." Xena said as she turned and walked towards Gabrielle.

"Oh, too bad. I was looking forward to entertaining you." Her voice dripped with sweetness and Gabrielle stifled the urge to wrap her hands around the woman's neck.

"I'm sure you did." Gabrielle muttered. Xena's mouth quirked and she took Gabrielle's hand.

"Xena, do tell me why you're here. Maybe I can help?" Lyza turned and sat down on a low divan, bending her legs and folding them gracefully beneath her. She reached over to a table next to the divan, plucked off several plump grapes, tilted her head and tossed them into her open mouth. When she finished chewing, she licked the tips of her fingers slowly and cast a sidelong glance at the raven haired warrior.

Gabrielle tried not to stare, but her eyes roamed over the nude and shapely figure reclining lazily on the divan. She could feel a flush creeping up her neck so she averted her gaze, only to have it caught by another lovely woman who had been appraising her earlier. Gabrielle smiled at her awkwardly and the woman returned the smile with a brush of her hands down the front of her body. This caused the flush on Gabrielle's neck to reach her face. Gabrielle unconsciously wiped her hand across her forehead, wiping away a light sheen of perspiration.

Xena squeezed and slowly dropped Gabrielle's hand, but before she walked away she winked at Gabrielle. She then bent down and whispered into Gabrielle's ear, "Don't worry, my bard, this is just a game."

Xena turned and walked over to Lyza and sat down on a identical divan across from her.

"Lyza, we're trying to find the children. Do you know where they are?" Suddenly there was a flurry of activity and the women began chatting among themselves again. Gabrielle and Xena looked over at the women curiously and then back to Lyza. Lyza picked up her wine glass as she waited for their chatter to die down before replying.

Lyza sighed deeply and spoke in a weary voice, "Yes. I've seen them take children to the east wing of the villa. I haven't been there, none of us have. We aren't allowed in that section of the villa."

"Thank you,. Lyza." Xena got up to leave and put her arm around Gabrielle's waist.

Before they reached the door, Lyza called out, "You will stop by and visit before you leave, won't you?"

Xena chuckled and turned back around.

"Like I said, I'm taken, but I can stop by for" Xena replied smiling.

Lyza smiled back and raised her wine glass in salute.

Chapter 11

Xena opened the door and peered cautiously outside. They snuck out and stood in the empty hall and Gabrielle rounded on Xena. "Stop by for a chat! Xena..." Gabrielle hissed and shook her finger up at Xena.

"Not now, Gabrielle. You can yell at me when this is over, okay? Let's just get those kids out of here." Xena said as she turned and strode down the hall.

Gabrielle snapped her mouth shut and glared at Xena's retreating back. As they rounded the corner, sounds of activity could be heard. They walked quietly down the next hallway, hugging the stone wall and then ducked quickly into a deserted alcove when they heard voices coming their way.

"...and she was there. I swear Vinson, Xena was in the city, she's probably even here as we speak. And we found this man sneaking away from the villa."

They peeked around the corner of the alcove and saw a group of men standing before a large burly man dressed in blue breeches, a white tunic and soft tan boots. His tunic was open to reveal a thick gold chain with a medallion. His arms were beefy and veins stood out in relief against his smooth skin. His face was deep and angular and framed by a short beard and dark short curly hair. His shoulders seemed to strain at the seams of his white tunic just as his legs strained against the fabric of his breeches. He was a handsome looking man, but a trace of hardness was etched along the lines of his mouth and coldness seeped from his stone gray eyes.

"You were given an order! I do not like to be disappointed, Balbos!" he shouted angrily. He stepped forward and loomed over the group of men who seemed to shrink back from his imposing glare. He turned and glared down at Salmoneus, who blinked and smiled back at him with false courage.

Xena grinned when Gabrielle looked over at her. Gabrielle nodded when their gazes met and they stepped forward out of the shadows of the alcove startling the group of men.

"Looking for me?" Xena quipped and a slow smile appeared on her face. The men blinked in surprise then reached for their swords in fine leather scabbards at their waists. Xena reached back behind her and slid hers out from its sheath on her back in one fluid motion. She twirled the sword in invitation and waggled her eyebrows.

"Xena!" Vinson said in triumph and then his mouth curved into a snarl. "Kill her!" he bellowed and the men quickly scrambled up the steps towards Xena and Gabrielle.

Xena tilted her face down and leveled a dark menacing gaze at the men that were now approaching her cautiously. They obviously knew that she was a dangerous woman and should not be underestimated. Taking the initiative, she lunged, stabbing one in the thigh and slashing another across the chest in one fluid motion. The injured men yelped in pain and surprise. More men appeared from the corridors and came at them from almost every angle. Gabrielle hopped and spun, her staff whistled as it sliced the air. Xena kicked and punched, her feet and hands snapping as she made contact with bone. Then several men surrounded Xena and attacked her from all sides. She swung her sword up to effectively block a downward thrust and brought her foot up and around to kick a man to her right, sending him back several feet to crash against the wall. Swinging her arm across, she backhanded the man on her left and cold cocked another on her right who had gotten through and sliced her arm with his dagger. Snarling, she plunged her sword deep into his chest. She smiled when she heard the gurgling sounds he made as blood welled up in his lungs. She placed her boot on his shoulder and began to pull the blade from his chest. Suddenly she yanked hard, causing the sword to rasp against bone, freeing the sword in time to swivel it under her arm and imbed it into the stomach of the man attacking her from behind.

"I hate backstabbers." she said distastefully as she stood up and pulled the sword from his stomach.

While Xena was busy fending off her attackers, several men paired off and ran towards Gabrielle. Gabrielle shook her head in exasperation, bent her knees and readied her staff. Her eyes darted between the men, determining which ones would reach her first. With a powerful swing, the butt of her staff smacked into the jaw of the nearest man. Dropping low, she pivoted on the balls of her feet and swung the staff again, knocking men off their feet and onto their backs, the air crushed forcefully from their lungs. Smiling, she turned the staff and quickly jabbed upwards, connecting with the groin of another attacker. He instantly went down, groaning and cradling his injured loins in his hands.
Smoothly she swung the staff in an arc over her head to deflect a sword aimed for her neck. Grimacing, she flipped the staff underhand, forcing her attacker to lose his grip on his sword. The sword clanked to the ground as she brought the staff back across smashing the butt end against the crown of his head. He spun around from the impact and crumpled to the floor, unconscious. She looked around at the men that were sprawled around and breathed a sigh of relief that it was over.

Seeing his men fall rapidly, Vinson picked up a discarded sword and backed up slowly towards a corridor. Turning abruptly, his robes swirling about and almost tripping him, he ran down the corridor and disappeared around a bend.

Salmoneus, meanwhile, watched nervously as Gabrielle and Xena fought off Vinson's men in front of him. Wringing his hands, he winced and ducked with each blow and grunt he saw and heard as if he were experiencing them himself. When he saw Vinson pick up a sword, he stood on tiptoes and craned his neck to watch Vinson's movements. When the fighting ended he saw out of the corner of his eye, a man crouched down in the corridor aiming a bow at Gabrielle.

"Xena!" he shouted in warning.

Xena looked up and followed his line of sight. The bowman was leveling the bow against his chin, the string already stretched taut. Snatching her chakram from its hook, she flung it in the direction of the bowman. The chakram whined, then hissed as it struck him in the chest but the arrow had already been released and Gabrielle stood directly in its deadly path. Xena leaped into the air and snatched the arrow by the shaft just inches from Gabrielle's chest. Xena tucked herself into a ball and landed feet first on the floor. Gabrielle stood frozen, her eyes wide, as she stared down at the arrow in Xena's hand. Angrily, Xena snapped the arrow in two and tossed it aside. Placing her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders, she shook Gabrielle gently to get her attention.

"Gabrielle, are you all right?" Xena asked, concern etched on her face.

"Um, yeah. I'm fine. I have got to learn to catch those." Gabrielle admitted.

"Yes, you do." Xena acknowledged.

Xena looked around and asked, "Where's Vinson?"

Salmoneus gathered his robes and shuffled forward. He lifted his arm and pointed down one of the corridors. "He went down there." he said.

"Lets go." Xena said and they both followed her as she turned in the direction Salmoneus indicated.

When Vinson reached the end of the corridor, he stopped at a set of huge oak doors that had darkened with age. He placed his hands on the thick brass handles and flung them wide open. He turned his head to look behind him at the sound of echoing footfalls. Gathering his robes in one hand, he raninside leaving the doors open.

Chapter 12

From behind a richly woven tapestry hanging on the far wall, a wizened old man emerged. He wore a dark green robe bordered with blue silk and belted with a gold sash. His face was wide but thin and wispy copper hair formed a short goatee on his chin and his hair flew wildly about his head. Here and there were strands of white. His eyes were dark blue orbs, hauntingly hypnotic and serene. A sense of unharnessed and wild power emanated from his being.

He strode forward and pointed behind Vinson saying, "We have unexpected guests." His voice was calm and cool. His robes whispered as he pulled them around him when he came to a stop.

Vinson spun around just as Gabrielle, Salmoneus and Xena entered the room. He shifted his body, leaned on the sword, then smiled and mockingly curtsied to them, sweeping his other arm before him.

"Welcome." he intoned, his voice held a hint of amusement. His tone got Xena's attention. Her head snapped up and she narrowed her eyes at him and then moved her gaze over to the wizard standing next to him. She sensed danger from the wizard and her hand moved involuntarily towards her chakram.

The wizard moved his gaze from Vinson to Xena as her hand touched her chakram. When their gazes met, Xena gasped inwardly and froze, recognizing the power that was harnessed in his body. The wizard smiled evilly and moved his gaze over to Gabrielle.

"Dahak!" Gabrielle gasped and reached out to grasp Xena's hand when she too, recognized the entity behind the wizard.

"No, I am but his humble servant." the wizard answered, bowing slightly.

Vinson tossed the sword on a divan and seated himself in a chair next to an ornate desk. He ran his finger across the thickly carved wood and casually crossed his legs.

The wizard glided forward to stand next to the desk and folded his arms, sliding his hands into the wide sleeves of the robe. His eyes darkened until they were but black orbs, the whites had all but disappeared.

Glancing first at the wizard, Vinson moved his gaze over to the threesome in front of him.

"Let's see..." Vinson tilted his head and observed Gabrielle, his eyes raking her from head to toe and then back again, lingering at certain parts of her anatomy. He smirked when Xena's mouth twitched into a snarl.

Pointing at Gabrielle, he said, "Gabrielle, the bard. You write some very, very good stories." he said sarcastically, his mouth twitching in amusement when she scowled.

He reached over to the desk and opened the top drawer. From it he pulled out two scrolls and held them up for all to see. Gabrielle and Xena exchanged a glance.

"Yes, very nice indeed. I enjoyed them immensely." His mouth curved into a wicked smile and he looked pointedly at Xena and rested his hand at his crotch, his fingers lightly fondling the flesh underneath. "I enjoyed reading about, ah... shall we say fantasies. And the poetry, oh, so touching." He put the scrolls down and clasped his hands together at his chest, and batted his eyes, as a bulge grew where his hand once was. Gabrielle ground her teeth and Xena snarled when Vinson looked down at them and laughed mockingly.

Salmoneus raised an eyebrow and glanced over at Gabrielle. He then shot a glance at Xena, her fists clenched at her sides. He leaned in towards Gabrielle and whispered into her ear.

"So that's why Xena was so upset." he remarked innocently and Gabrielle cut a dark look in his direction.

"And who is this Dahak?" Salmoneus asked. Gabrielle turned her head to meet his gaze. Her eyes were sad and he saw the suffering there. His eyes widened when it dawned on him. Dahak, the One God. The Evil One and Hope's father. Salmoneus swallowed audibly and stared at the wizard.

"I'm sorry, but I can't let you have the children. They are for Dahak." Vinson intoned, spreading his arms and looking up as if in benediction to Dahak.

Vinson then brought his gaze down and smiled as he nodded at the wizard. The wizard grinned evilly as he raised his arms and pointed them towards Gabrielle.

"Gabrielle! Gabrielle, don't look at his eyes! That's how he controls you!" Xena shouted as she grabbed Gabrielle's arm. It was too late, Gabrielle's gaze was already captured by the wizard and Xena watched helplessly as Gabrielle struggled to move her now rigid body. With a battle cry, she somersaulted over Gabrielle's head to land before Vinson. With a short kick to the throat she sent Vinson sprawling backwards, chair and all, onto the hard stone floor, his windpipe partially crushed. Xena pivoted sharply and fixed an icy glare at the wizard and her hand reached down for her trusty chakram.

Gasping, Vinson struggled to sit up and wheezed, "Wizard, do something!"

Calmly, the wizard brought up his other hand and pointed at Xena. Xena's hand had reached her chakram but she couldn't avert her gaze in time. Her body stiffened, halting any further motion. She snarled inside and fought against his will, her face twisting with the effort. With a wicked smile, the wizard nonchalantly flicked both of his hands. Gabrielle and Xena found themselves, against their will, pivoting around slowly by some unseen force to face one another.

Gabrielle saw her arms lifting and bringing her staff to a fighting position. A calm, gentle voice penetrated her thoughts and commanded her to stand still. She knew the voice was deceiving and she fought inwardly, but at the end was powerless to resist it, so strong was the hypnotic effect. Her eyes widened when she saw Xena's arm reach back and pull her sword free from it's scabbard. Xena was grimacing as she strained against the wizard's commands, whispering, ghostly tendrils of thought reaching in for control of her mind.

Gabrielle's eyes widened further when she realized what the wizard was manipulating them into doing. She saw Xena's body jerking spasmodically, still fighting against the power, trying to break the wizards spell. A light sheen of perspiration shone on her forehead and damp wisps of raven hair stuck to her face.

The wizard manipulated them into attacking one another. As Gabrielle's staff and Xena's sword met, they glanced into each other's eyes. Gabrielle saw desperation in Xena's eyes, and Xena saw anger and fear in Gabrielle's. Gabrielle parried with her staff and held her own against Xena's solid thrusts. She pivoted smoothly, bringing the staff back around and smacked Xena across the back. Xena fell forward and looked up at Gabrielle with surprise.

"Ah, wizard, not so soon. Give Xena a chance before Gabrielle kills her." Vinson admonished. The wizard merely raised a brow.

Xena brought her sword up in time to deflect the staff as it came crashing down towards her head. Xena kicked back and connected with Gabrielle's knee. Unbalanced, Gabrielle fell back and landed on her knees, but was able to swing her staff upwards in an arc to parry Xena's downward thrust. Xena's eyes were wide with dread and she grimaced with the strain. Gabrielle jumped to her feet and spun, swiveling the staff in a powerful arc, connecting solidly with the side of Xena's head.

Xena's head snapped to the side, and her entire body followed. Staggering, she blinked through the fog and snatched the staff as it headed for her open face. Gabrielle pulled her arm back and hit Xena in the face with her fist. Xena stumbled backwards from the blow, as Gabrielle hit her again and again. Xena was reeling, the sword held limply in her hand.

Tears were streaming down Gabrielle's face and her eyes were flashing with anger, not at Xena, but at the wizard. Her body was no longer hers to control and she was very angry.

Inside, Xena's dark side was screaming at her to fight, but she couldn't. Try as she might, the wizard had complete control, and he wanted her hurt, he wanted her beaten, and he wanted to break her spirit. A piece of her pride clawed its way to the surface and she smiled.

The wizard balked when he saw Xena smile. He narrowed his eyes and summoned more power from within, causing his body to tremble with the strain.

"NO! Enough!" a young voice cried out from behind them. Startled, the wizard lost his focus and Gabrielle and Xena were released from the spell. Angrily, he snapped his attention to the voice that disrupted his concentration.

Chapter 13

The young voice belonged to Donan who stood at the doorway. His feet were planted firmly apart, his eyes were narrowed in anger and his mouth was curled in disgust.

"Leave my friends alone." his voice vibrated deeply and it echoed dully. It didn't sound like Donan at all.

"Welcome to the party...little man." the wizard cooed. He raised his arms again and pointed them towards Donan.

Swiftly Donan brought his arm up and in his palm hovered a blazing fireball. It was so bright everyone averted their gaze, everyone except the wizard. Donan brought his arm back and released the ball of fire. It streaked from his palm and struck the wizard full in the chest. The wizard gazed at him in shock as he was propelled backwards, crashing against the wall. He slid down and landed heavily on the wooden floor.

Donan looked over at Gabrielle, Salmoneus and Xena and shouted, "Go! Get out of here! I'll take care of this!" Xena began to protest, but changed her mind when a determined look crossed Donan's face. Xena grasped Gabrielle by the arm and guided her towards the door as Salmoneus followed close behind.

Shifting his shoulders, the wizard smiled and gingerly picked himself up from the floor. Inspecting the scorched area of his tunic, he looked up and sneered, "Very good. A young wizard, are you?"

"Hello, father." Donan replied bluntly.

Stunned, Gabrielle and Xena looked at one another briefly.

The wizard laughed. "My son! Come! Join me!" he coaxed.

"No." Donan answered firmly.

"I am your father. You belong with me." the wizard demanded and he moved closer to Donan.

"No. You are a servant of the One God. An evil entity that cannot be let into this world. You may be my father, but I am not your son!" Donan snarled.

The wizards face turned white with anger and his eyes reverted back into the black orbs they were before.

Sensing the power building within the wizard, Donan waved his arms in an arc and created a transparent dome over him as his father sent a bevy of fireballs towards him. The fireballs bounced off the invisible dome and exploded against whatever surface they came in contact with. Several of the dangerous balls hit the ceiling and debris exploded downwards. The wizard looked up in horror and was unable to create a shield in time before the debris crashed down over him. With a cry, he went down and was trapped inside the tangle of beams, stone, and mortar.

Donan clapped his hands together sharply and the shimmering wall around him dissolved. He walked slowly to where the wizard was buried and looked at the heap of rubble sadly.

Xena had tucked Gabrielle into a corner and used her body as a shield when the explosions began and the debris rained down on them. Xena moved back when things quieted down and checked to be sure Gabrielle was all right. They were relatively uninjured except for a nasty burn on Xena's exposed shoulder. One of the fireballs had whizzed passed her and grazed her shoulder, leaving a blistering red welt. She remembered gasping as it struck her. Not only did it burn but it sent an odd icy chill down her arm that made her shiver. She was thankful for her shoulder pads for they protected most of her shoulder from the worst of the fireball. Xena looked over at her shoulder pad and grimaced. Gabrielle noticed it too and looked at Xena's shoulder pad as well. The leather was now blackened and distorted and the intricate copper plating had melted into indiscernible lumps.

"Xena, are you all right?" Gabrielle asked, reaching out and placing a hand gently on Xena's forearm.

"Yeah." Xena replied, placing her own hand over Gabrielle's.

Xena turned and they both looked over at Donan. The rubble shifted slightly and Xena suddenly sprang into motion, leaping into the air and landing front of Donan. When she landed, she pulled forth her sword just as the debris exploded upwards. The wizard shot out of the rubble and swung his staff at Xena. The tip of the staff sparkled and Xena brought her sword down forcefully, cutting it off. The sharp blade fell to the floor and she kicked it behind her towards Gabrielle. She smiled at the wizard and then chuckled. The wizard closed his eyes and began levitating from the floor. Suddenly, she was rising as well and she looked over at Donan. His arm was outstretched, palm up and as his arm rose so did she. Xena smiled down at him. The wizard snarled as Xena rose with him and swung his staff again. Xena caught it and yanked it from his hands almost effortlessly. The wizard, recovering quickly from his surprise, lowered his head and gazed at Xena evilly.

"NO!" Donan cried and sent a searing fire ball up at the wizard.

The fire ball struck the side of the wizards head. He blinked a few times then his eyes closed and his head lolled back. His body came crashing down to lay in a rumpled heap on the floor. Donan lowered his arm and Xena descended to the floor slowly. She walked over to the crumpled figure and checked for a pulse. There was none, and when she flipped an eyelid back there was nothing, the body was empty, a husk. She looked over at the young boy sadly. Donan looked away as tears welled up in his somber brown eyes. Gabrielle walked up to him and took him into her arms. The boy sobbed into her shoulder as she steered him away. Seeing movement from the corner of her eye, Xena stood up and swung her chakram without a second thought. It thunked into a beam just in front of Vinson who was trying to sneak out of the room.

"Going somewhere?" Xena asked, smiling coldly.

Vinson thrust his hands out from under his robe. Xena turned sideways and smiled as several blades whizzed past her.

"Nice try." She said, her voice dangerously low.

Vinson's mouth curled and he pulled his sword out from under his robe. It was curved and thick like a scythe.

Xena slid her sword from its sheath and circled Vinson, which made him uneasy. Vinson pivoted slowly, following her and switched his blade from hand to hand. He moved first and struck Xena just below the ribcage. The blade sliced through leather to the muscle beneath and Xena gasped in pain. Steeling herself she moved off his blade and swept it aside with her own then lunged at Vinson. He stepped aside, which allowed Xena to pass by him so he could butt her on the back between the shoulder blades with the hilt of his sword. Wincing, Xena stopped and changed her tactic. Crouching low, she lunged forward then danced back trying to draw him to her. He followed and she struck the exposed lower portion of his body. Her sword sliced into him smoothly and slid back out just as easily. Xena then kicked out and landed a solid hit between his legs as he clutched his wound. When he stumbled back, she backhanded him, spinning him around. He slid slowly to the ground, resting on his back. Xena looked down at him with disgust and sheathed her sword. She walked over to her chakram and tugged it free from the beam where it rested.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Vinson roll over and reach into his robe. Without thinking she spun and sent the chakram towards him. The chakram deflected from the blade he held and embedded itself into him, knocking him backwards to rest against the far wall. He gasped as he looked down at the metal disk protruding from his chest. His gaze moved upwards to the woman with raven hair and cold blue eyes. He gurgled as the blood frothed in his mouth. Xena shook her head and yanked the chakram carelessly from his chest, after which he slumped over, his eyes open and staring into nothingness.

Xena turned and went back to where Gabrielle and Salmoneus were waiting. Gabrielle was asking Donan questions about his father.

"Donan, how did you know he was your father?" Gabrielle asked, her voice soft and comforting.

"I came here once, several months ago, and heard Vinson call my father by his first name. Before that I thought he was dead." Donan replied. He lifted his hand and wiped a tear from his eye.

"And then you discovered him here. He had traded his soul to Dahak, and in exchange he became a wizard and protected Vinson so that he could send the children off to be sacrifices for Dahak." Gabrielle said sadly as she reached the only logical conclusion.

Donan could only nod sadly.

"But, how did you become a wizard so soon, and to have enough power to defeat your own father?" Gabrielle asked as her forehead crinkled in thought.

"My father started training me when I was just three years old. I have also inherited the powers which only a few of my ancestors had. Without that I wouldn't have been able to defeat him." Donan answered proudly.

Gabrielle smiled at him and cupped the side of his face. Remembering why they were here, she turned to Xena.

"Xena, the children. We should go find them and return them to their families."

Nodding, Xena lead them out of the room and down the hall towards the east end of the villa.

Chapter 14

The children had been returned to anxious parents and families were reunited. This night the city of Pompaus was alive with celebration. Gabrielle sat in a straight backed chair facing an audience of several hundred gathered at the main square. The square was well lit and the flames from the sconces brought out the fiery highlights in her golden hair. Her rich voice carried across the crowd as she told the story of how Xena, The Warrior Princess saved their children.

Xena stood at the edge of the crowd leaning against a pillar. Sipping from a pewter mug, she looked over the rim at Gabrielle. She swallowed her port with a satisfied sigh and then rolled her eyes when she heard the sounds of sobbing. Turning her head, she looked down at Salmoneus and grinned wryly when he wiped at his eyes with a hanky that was bordered with delicate lace. Soon more sounds of sobbing came from the crowd in front of her and Xena shook her head again. Then there was a brief moment of silence before the applause began and then grew in intensity. Gabrielle bowed and shook hands with people as she made her way to where Xena was standing. Leaning against her staff, she stood next to Xena and smiled mischievously. Xena narrowed her eyes at that look and then jumped in surprise as gentle fingers slid up the back of her thigh. She felt the warmth of a hand resting against her bottom underneath her battle skirt. Salmoneus, noticing Xena's little jump, looked over at her and his eyebrows rose when he noticed Gabrielle's wandering hand. Grinning, he looked away quickly and dabbed at his eyes, feigning another outburst of tears. Xena licked her lips and then pursing them, she looked down at Gabrielle who was staring straight ahead as if nothing was going on.



"What do you think you're doing?"

With that, Gabrielle's smile widened and she took Xena's hand in her own and led her away from the crowd into the dense forest. With the moon as their guide, they walked down a narrow path to a deserted glen. Here the flowers glowed silver and white in the moonlight and the grass made a soft thick carpet. The cicadas sang a soothing melody as Xena tilted Gabrielle's face up and leaned down to kiss her. The staff fell from Gabrielle's hand as she wrapped her arms around Xena's neck. Xena kissed Gabrielle passionately, her tongue questing. Gabrielle trembled, her hands sank into Xena's dark silky hair, and pulled her down. Xena bit into the hollow of Gabrielle's throat and Gabrielle moaned. Nimble fingers unlaced the top and pulled it away. Xena sighed with pleasure at the sight before her, the moonlight accentuating the curves and bathing Gabrielle's skin in its milky glow. Xena knelt and kissed the valley between the pearly white orbs and her nimble fingers once again worked to remove the last stitch of clothing from Gabrielle's body. Xena ran her hands down the taut stomach and across firm thighs. Gabrielle grasped Xena's shoulders to balance herself and to keep herself from falling over. Her legs trembled when Xena nudged them apart. A cry escaped from her lips and her head fell back. She opened her eyes and gazed at the full moon as another cry came forth.

The moon continued to shine brightly on the lovers below, bathing them with its purity. The trees around the grove stood like dark sentries, but their limbs glowed with the moon's essence. The lovers lowered themselves to carpet of grass and the cicadas continued to sing as Gabrielle and Xena gave their love to each other.

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