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LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The characters Xena and Gabrielle, along with others who have appeared in the TV series XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, are the sole property of Universal/Studios USA and Renaissance Pictures. All other characters are the clever invention of the author. The use of Universal's characters in this story does not constitute the author's intent to make a profit or otherwise infringe on the existing copyright. The interpretation of the characters in this story is purely the author's own. Copyright for this fanfiction held by Eva Allen, September, 1999.

SEXUAL DISCLAIMERS: This story begins three weeks after the close of my earlier story, "The Cottage," and is meant to be a sequel to that story. Because "The Cottage" contains sexual violence, and not everyone felt comfortable reading it, I have tried to write the sequel in such a way that the reader can understand everything that is going on without having read the previous story. There is NO SEXUAL VIOLENCE in "Under Western Skies." However, in the early part of the story, the characters are still trying to deal emotionally with the rape which occurred in "The Cottage," so there is some reference to it and its aftereffects. In addition, later on in the story, there is an incident of domestic violence involving two minor characters. For readers who would like to read "The Cottage," it can be found on MaryD's site or on the Lynka site.

REGULAR VIOLENCE: Yep, there is some.

This story includes the depiction of sex between two consenting adult women. If this offends you, please find something else to read!

My special thanks to Jeanne and to Sylvia, for all their time, encouragement, and expertise. It really meant a lot to me.

If you have comments about this story, I'd love to hear them. It's always nice to know that people are actually reading this stuff! You can write to me at

Chapter 1-3 4-6 7-9 10-12 13-15 16-18 19-20


There was no answer when she knocked at the door of the doctor's office. She hesitated for a moment, then turned the door handle and stepped inside. "Nicholas?" she called. She heard footsteps in the back room and then the door opened. The physician appeared, holding a broom in one hand and a dustpan in the other.

"Xena!" he said, smiling. "What a nice surprise!" But then his smile faded. "Your wound's not getting infected, is it?" he asked.

"No, it's fine," she said quickly. "I just wanted to-- Well, I had some questions and I hoped-- But maybe this is a bad time."

"No, it's a very good time, because your being here saves me from having to do housework." He laughed, then set the broom and dustpan down, and closed the door to the other room. "I went over and bought some of Gabrielle's dinars this morning. Have you talked to her since then?"

"Yes, she's quite happy with her new fortune," Xena said. "I think she and Lizzie are going on a shopping spree to the General Store later on."

"They'll have a good time, I'm sure. Lizzie is so excited about having you two here," he said. Then, moving to the wash basin, he poured out some water from the pitcher and began scrubbing his hands. "I had a dream about you last night, by the way," he said, looking at Xena over his shoulder.

"I hope it wasn't a nightmare," she commented, then walked over to one of the shelves and stared curiously at the array of neatly-labeled bottles.

"No, I wouldn't call it a nightmare," he said, "but it wasn't exactly cheery, either." He picked up a towel and turned to face her while he dried his hands. "I dreamed that I lived in a little shack of some sort, up in the mountains. I'm not sure where it was, or when, except that it seemed to be a long time ago. Anyway, I had all these herbs, and I apparently had some skill in using them, so people came to me to be healed." He stopped speaking and laid the towel down, never taking his eyes off of Xena.

"And did I come to you to be healed?" she asked, looking at him.

"Yes," he said. "It was very curious. Both your legs had been broken -- the tibia -- that's this bone down here," he said pointing to his shin. "I had a vivid image of setting your legs and then sticking needles of some sort in you to relieve the pain. There may have been more to the dream, but that's basically all I remember. I know it sounds kind of crazy."

She shook her head and smiled. "It's not crazy," she said. "It actually happened."

"What do you mean?"

"My legs were broken and you set them. You took care of me until I was well again."

"Are you saying it's a past-life memory?"

"Yes, I guess that's what Lizzie would call it, anyway," she said. "Your name was Nicklio. You were a healer who lived on Mt. Nestos."

"How did your legs get broken?"

"I was crucified."

"Crucified!" he exclaimed. "How did you manage to survive that?"

"A friend rescued me. She's the one who brought me to you. A small woman with brown skin and black eyes. Her name was M'Lila. Wasn't she in your dream?"

"Yes, I guess she was, now that you mention it. But you're the one I remember most clearly," he said. Then he walked over to where she was standing and set a chair in front of her. "Why don't you let me look at that arm, since you're here?" he said.

Xena sat down and unbuttoned her shirt sleeve.

"Why are you wearing that star?" Nicholas said as he carefully slid the sleeve up above the wound.

"Oh. I'm a deputy now," Xena said with a grin.

"A deputy?"

"Yes. Herbert had to take a prisoner to Denver on the train and he wanted someone to help Ellis out in case something came up."

"Hmm. I hope this means Ellis is getting some rest."

"Well, he was in bed when I left there, anyway," Xena said.

"I'm glad to hear that," Nicholas said. "He's not an easy man to make slow down and take care of himself." He bent to study her injured arm. "This seems to be healing well," he said. "Is it giving you much pain?"

"No, not really."

"Good," he said, and eased her sleeve back down. "You know, it really amazes me that I remembered part of a past life. Lizzie does it all the time, but I've only remembered tiny fragments of a couple of lives before. And now this one." He looked at her for a moment. "I take it that you believe in reincarnation," he said.

"Well, I hadn't really thought about it until I talked to Lizzie last night," Xena admitted, "but it does explain why some of the people here seem like people I know back home."

He nodded. "Souls who have a bond with each other often tend to be reincarnated together," he said. "I'd like to hear more about this Nicklio at some point, but that can wait. You said you had some questions, so let's hear what they are."

"Actually, I have so many that it's hard to know where to start, but here's one. Why did you make me wash my hands yesterday before I helped you?"

"Ah. That's because we've learned that infection and disease are caused by tiny organisms called 'bacteria.' They're so small that they can't be seen with the naked eye, and yet they're everywhere -- on every surface, inside our bodies, and even in the air. Come over here and I'll let you look through the microscope."

The next hour passed very quickly. Xena stared in amazement at the slides Nicholas put under the lens of his magnifying device. Then he let her use the stethoscope to listen to his heartbeat and her own. After that, he took out an anatomy book and showed her diagrams of the body, explaining briefly how blood circulates and how the various organs function.

"This is incredible," she said, shaking her head. "There's so much here to learn. I don't know if I can remember it all, but at least now I understand some things I've wondered about, like why people die when they lose too much blood."

He smiled. "Now you know why people have to study so many years to become doctors," he said. "But let's switch roles for a while, because there are some things I'd like to learn from you."

"From me?" she asked in surprise. "What could I possibly teach you -- about healing, I mean?"

"Herbs," he said. "I suspect that you know a great deal about them, and I'm interested in learning."

"You're a healer and you don't know about herbs?"

"Well, I know some things, of course, but modern medicine tends to view most herbs as folk remedies and therefore not very reliable."

"Hmm. All right. What do you want to know?"

*     *     *

"Let's start with pain relief," Nicholas said. "We already talked about opium. What else do you use?"

"Willow bark is good," she said.

"As a tea?"

"Yes. Or you can just chew on it, if you don't have time to make tea. It doesn't taste very good, though," she added with a grin.

He laughed. "This sounds like the voice of experience speaking," he said. "What about fever? What do you use for that?"

"Well, yarrow works well. And it's also good to use when a woman has problems with--" She stopped suddenly and listened intently. "There's a wagon outside," she said.

"There is? You've got good ears." He turned toward the door, just as the sound of a man's shouts reached them.

"Doc Spencer! Open up!" Then there was a heavy pounding, like someone kicking the door.

Nicholas hurried over and flung the door open. "Frank!" he exclaimed. "What happened? Just put her on the table there."

Xena watched as a man stumbled into the room, bearing the limp body of a woman in his arms. And she noted with some displeasure that the man was their wagon driver from the day before, Frank Brown.

"She must've fell down the stairs, Doc," Frank said, as he deposited the woman on the examining table. "My daughter come out and got me from the barn. Said she couldn't wake her ma up."

Nicholas said nothing, but briefly examined the woman's face, then opened each eyelid, and lifted her wrist to check the pulse. "Xena," he said, nodding toward a nearby shelf, "could you light that lamp for me and bring it over here, please?"

"You!" exclaimed Frank, apparently noticing the warrior for the first time. "What is that dirty whore doing in here, Doc?"

"She's not dirty and she's not a whore," Nicholas said firmly. "She's here because she wants to learn about medicine." Then he turned back to the injured woman, unbuttoned her dress, and laid his stethoscope on her chest.

Xena found a box of matches beside the brass lamp, and striking one, she quickly lit the wick. Carrying the light over to the examining table, she got her first close look at the woman. The face might have been pretty at one time, but now it appeared pale and gaunt. There was a large, dark bruise on her cheekbone and dried blood on her lips and chin. Her breath rasped erratically in and out through a half-open mouth.

"I see you got rid of them whoring clothes," Frank said to Xena, "and now you're trying to dress like a man. Well, that's even more disgusting, if you ask me."

He leaned forward as he spoke, leering at her, and Xena smelled the alcohol which hung heavy on his breath. Reaching out with her free hand, she grabbed his shirt collar and twisted it tight. "No one asked you," she growled, "so you'd best keep your opinions to yourself."

Nicholas cleared his throat nervously, and Xena saw that he was regarding the two of them with some alarm. She released her hold on Frank, who began rubbing his throat, gasping and sputtering indignantly.

"Frank," the doctor said, "did your daughter actually see your wife fall?"

"Huh?" said the farmer, still glaring at Xena.

"You said Abigail must have fallen down the stairs. Did anyone see her fall?"

Frank turned his attention reluctantly to Nicholas. "No, sir. No one seen it happen," he said. "I was out in the barn, like I told you. And James was mowing the hayfield. Hannah and Nellie found their ma when they come in from gathering eggs. She was just laying there at the bottom of the stairs, all crumpled up like."

"I see," Nicholas said. "You know, your wife suffered a bad fall just a few weeks ago, and now she's fallen again. Does she have any history of fainting spells or seizures?"

"No. None that I know of."

"How do you explain all these falls then?"

"Well," Frank said, scratching his head, "she's always been a mite clumsy, I guess you could say." He grinned a bit crookedly, then added, "She's gonna be all right, isn't she, Doc?"

"I don't know," said Nicholas. "I hope so, but she has gone into shock, and I suspect that some of her injuries are serious. I need to examine her more thoroughly, and I think it would be better if you waited elsewhere while I did that."

Frank's face brightened a bit. "Well, I don't want to get in your way, so why don't I just wait over at the Prospector," he said. "You can come get me when Abigail's ready to go home." Then he headed out the door.

Nicholas stared after him for a moment and then turned back to his patient. Xena watched his face, noting the deep concern and what appeared to be barely suppressed anger.

"You don't think she fell, do you," she said.

"No," he said, looking up at her. Then he reached out to take the lamp. "Go wash your hands," he instructed.

Xena quickly crossed the room to the wash basin. "If I had to guess," she said, "I would say that woman got badly beaten up in a fight."

The only answer was the sound of fabric ripping. Xena turned to see Nicholas fold back the torn dress, revealing a dingy, one-piece undergarment. She dried her hands and went back to the examining table. Just as she got there, the injured woman's body began to retch weakly. Xena slipped her hand under the woman's head and turned it to the side. A thin stream of brownish blood ran out of her mouth.

"Internal bleeding, just as I suspected," Nicholas muttered as he wiped the blood away. "I only wish I knew how extensive it is."

"There's dried blood on the back of her head," Xena said as she withdrew her hand. She picked up the lamp again and held it close while Nicholas examined the wound.

"She suffered a bad blow here," he said, shaking his head. "This may turn out to be more serious than the internal bleeding. But unfortunately, there's not much I can do about a head injury." He picked up a pair of scissors and cut through the undergarment, then handed the scissors to Xena. "Cut her sleeves, would you please?" he said.

When the bruised arms and battered body lay fully exposed, Xena drew in a sharp breath. Her mind flashed back and suddenly she saw not this woman, but Gabrielle -- the way she had looked that day at the cottage after Garron had-- Xena quickly shut the thought out of her mind.

"Are you all right, Xena?" asked Nicholas.

"I'm fine," she said, in a slightly choked voice. "I was just remembering something." She set the lamp down and began to probe the woman's bruised side. "There are two or three broken ribs here," she said. "And some of these bruises look like they've been around for a while."

"Yes, I was just noticing that," Nicholas said, nodding. He studied the marks on each arm briefly, then ran his hands over the abdomen, stopping to palpate carefully in several places. After that, he listened with the stethoscope again, and then took off the instrument and handed it to Xena. Surprised, yet pleased to be included in this way, she inserted the earpieces, and leaned down to listen. The heartbeat she heard was weak and fast. Straightening up, she looked at Nicholas. "What are you going to do?" she asked.

"I'm not sure," he said. "Internal injuries are difficult to treat, as I'm sure you know. I could operate and try to repair the damage, but there's always the risk that I'll do more harm than good." He ran his hand distractedly through his hair. "I just wish there were some way to see inside the body -- some way of knowing what's going on in there without having to cut a person open."

"Maybe someday there will be a way," Xena said.

"Maybe. But that doesn't help us now. And I'm worried about that head injury, too. It alone may be enough to--" He didn't finish the thought, just went to a cupboard and took out a blanket. Returning, he spread it over the woman. Then he looked at Xena. "I guess I should open her up and see what I can do," he said. "I'll get my instruments."

He moved away, and Xena stood looking down at the pale face, noting the lines of toil and worry which even unconsciousness had not been able to smooth away. Reaching out, she brushed the woman's hair back and then laid a gentle hand on the bruised cheek. The skin felt strangely thin beneath her fingers, and so very cold. The shallow, labored breathing continued, somewhat slower now. A few moments passed, and then there was a ragged sigh, followed by silence.

"She's stopped breathing!" Xena called to Nicholas. Quickly folding back the blanket, she applied the stethoscope to the still, white breast.

"Can you hear a heartbeat?" Nicholas asked, as he hurried back across the room.

Xena shook her head, then moved the stethoscope to a second position, and a third. She strained to hear some sound, but there was none.

Taking the device off, she handed it to the physician. He bent down to listen for a short time, then slowly pulled the blanket up over the woman's face. Sighing deeply, he removed a handkerchief from his pants pocket, took off his glasses, and wiped his face.

"Did you know her very well?" asked Xena.

"No. I don't think anyone did." He used the handkerchief to polish the lenses of his glasses, then held them up to the light. "Abigail didn't come to town very often," he said. "I don't think Frank let her. Either that, or she was ashamed for folks to see her all bruised up, like she usually was."

"Do you think he beat her?"

"Yes. I've suspected it for years," he said sadly. Then he stuffed the handkerchief back into his pocket, put his glasses on and looked at Xena. "I tell you, there's nothing I'd like more than to see that man spend the rest of his life behind bars," he said.

"Well, I'll just go arrest him and put him in jail," Xena said. "I can do that. I'm a deputy."

"I'm afraid it's not that simple."

"Why not?"

"Because we can't prove that Frank caused his wife's death, so no judge would convict him."

"But you said he's been beating her for years."

"No, I said I suspected he's been beating her. I could never get her to admit it. The few times she came to me for treatment, she told me she fell. Oh, except one time she said a horse kicked her and broke her arm."

Xena shook her head in frustration and began to pace the room. "Surely there's some way to prove it," she said. "Someone must know what's been going on." She stopped and looked at Nicholas. "How about the children? They must have seen him beating her."

"Probably so, but children don't make very good witnesses in court," the doctor responded. "For one thing, they often refuse to testify against a parent -- either out of love, or fear, or both. And even if they do testify, they're not usually considered reliable witnesses, especially if they're very young."

Xena regarded him for a few moments in silence. "Do you think Frank is hitting the children, too?" she asked.

"I don't know. It's possible, but I haven't seen any of them here for treatment."

She began to pace again. "So what you're telling me is that we have to let this man go unpunished for murdering his wife, and we also have to leave those three young children in his care, even though there's agood possibility he will hurt them, too."

Nicholas sighed. "Believe me, Xena, I don't like this situation any more than you do," he said, "but I don't know what other choice we have."

"The other choice is to arrest him and throw him in jail," she said grimly, "and that's what I'm going to do."

"You won't be able to keep him there."

"Maybe not, but I'll try, anyway." She walked over and stood in front of him. "I took an oath this morning to enforce the law. Now, are you going to tell me that it's not against the law for a man to kill his wife?"

Nicholas shifted uncomfortably. "Well, killing someone is definitely against the law," he said, "but to be honest, most courts are willing to overlook what a man does to his wife in the privacy of his own home."

She took a deep breath and then let it out. "I don't care," she said. "I'm going to try to prove that it was murder. What if he confesses?"

"Well, that would be fine, but you'll never get Frank Brown to confess to anything."

"I have my ways."

Nicholas stared at her for a moment. "No, Xena," he said. "You can't torture a confession out of him. That would never stand up in court."

"All right, then I'll go out to his house and talk to his children. And I'll talk to his neighbors. Surely someone will tell the truth about what's been going on." She laid a hand on his shoulder. "I have to at least try to do this, Nicholas. Don't you see?" she said.

He smiled. "Yes, I see. And I'm glad you feel that way."

"Then you'll back me up on this? You'll say that, in your medical opinion, this woman died from injuries received in a beating?"

"Yes. I'll say that."

"Good. Now, where did Frank say he was going?"

"To the Prospector. It's that saloon just around the corner, next to the hotel. But Xena, Frank tends to get violent when he's drinking, and now--"

"He'll be even worse than when he beat up his wife."


"Don't worry," she said with a smile. "I've dealt with his type and worse plenty of times before."

"Well, all right," Nicholas said, but he sounded unconvinced.

"Here's my plan," Xena said. "I'll go put Frank in jail, then I'll go out to wherever he lives and talk to the children."

"Okay. You can drive his wagon and take the body with you," Nicholas said, nodding toward the blanketed form on the table. "But someone will need to go with you to help take care of the kids. Ask Lizzie who might be willing to do that. She'll probably have some ideas."

"Okay. Good suggestion. I'll see you later," Xena said, as she turned and walked toward the door.

"Be careful."

"I will be," she said, and grinned at Nicholas over her shoulder.

*     *     *

The entrance to the saloon was a strange affair -- two half-doors which swung either inwards or outwards. Xena paused briefly to study the arrangement, then pushed her way in. The room had no windows and was lit with lamps even now, at midday. The mingled smells of liquor, sweat, and tobacco smoke permeated the air. Stopping just inside the door, the warrior took a few moments to survey her surroundings.

Three men sat at a table in the right-hand corner, playing cards. Another man sat alone, with a half-empty bottle in front of him. Two more lounged against the bar. To her left, Xena saw a woman sitting at a piano, picking out a hesitant melody while a second woman leaned close to listen. They wore dresses elaborately adorned with lace and ribbons. Their cheeks and lips were painted red, and long ringlets of hair brushed across their bare white shoulders. The appearance of these women told her that they were prostitutes, but the way they touched and whispered to each other told her something else about them, as well.

As her eyes adjusted to the dimness, Xena saw that Frank Brown was one of the two men at the bar. She strode across the room towards him, and the women at the piano glanced up, doing a double take when they got a good look at her. Xena nodded pleasantly to them, but did not slow her stride until she reached the bar.

The bartender stared at her in surprise. "Hey! You're a woman! What do you think you're doing in here?"

Frank turned to face her and let out a raucous laugh. "Well, would you look at that!" he exclaimed. "The harlot has finally come home to roost!" Then he took a big slug of amber-colored liquor from his glass and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.

"Do you know this woman?" asked the bartender.

"You bet your boots I do! She's one of them two whores the sheriff brung to town with him yesterday," Frank said.

His words were starting to slur, Xena noted, and he appeared a bit unsteady on his feet. When he raised his glass to drink again, she slapped it out of his hand.

"Hey! What're you doing?" he whined.

She leaned in close. "Don't you want to know about your wife?" she asked.

"Well, sure," he said, grinning. "Has the doc got her all patched up yet?"

"No," she said coldly. "He couldn't patch her up. She died before he could do anything to help her."

"Died?" Frank said. "What do you mean?" He stared at her, a mix of confusion and fear in his eyes.

"Your wife is dead," Xena said, speaking slowly and clearly, "and I'm here to arrest you for causing her death."

"Causing her-- What the hell are you talking about?" Frank demanded. "She fell down the damn stairs!" He turned to the other man at the bar. "You tell her, Sam," he said. "She fell down the stairs!"

The man called Sam nodded. "Yes'm, that's right," he intoned. "Frank here says she fell down the stairs, and I reckon he wouldn't lie about such a thing." Then he spat into a brass pot on the floor near his feet.

"Yes, I know what Frank says," Xena responded, "but Doctor Spencer and I believe his wife's injuries were the result of a beating, not a fall. Now, if you'll just come with me, we'll head on over to the sheriff's office."

"I'm not going anywhere with you, you bitch!" Frank growled. "You can't arrest me. Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?"

"Sheriff Lees made me a deputy this morning before he left town," Xena said. She tried to keep her voice calm, although her patience was rapidly running out. "See the star?" she went on. "I can arrest anyone who breaks the law."

"You can't be a deputy," Frank said, spitting on the floor. "A woman can't be a deputy." He turned to the bartender. "Did you ever hear of a woman deputy?" he asked.

"Nope, I never did."

"I haven't got time for this!" snapped Xena as she reached out to grab Frank's arm. "Come on. Let's get going!"

"Don't touch me, you filthy slut!" he exclaimed, then swung a fist at her.

She caught his hand in mid-swing and whirled around, yanking his arm over her shoulder. Then, bending forward, she flipped him neatly over her head. He landed with a loud thud on his back and lay gaping up at her, the wind knocked out of him.

There was dead silence in the saloon. Xena glanced around and saw that everybody was staring at her. After a moment, one of the card players murmured, "Did you see that?" and another one answered, "Shit yes, but I still don't believe it!" Then, from the two women, came a sudden burst of laughter and applause.

Xena grinned at them as she leaned down and hauled Frank to his feet. Pulling his hands behind his back, she held them there and turned to the bartender. "You got any rope?" she asked.

"Rope!" he exclaimed. "What the hell do you think this place is -- the General Store?"

The warrior shrugged and turned back to her prisoner.

"Would this work?" came a soft voice from beside her.

She glanced up to see one of the two women holding out a length of wide, red ribbon which she had apparently just pulled out of her hair.

"That would be perfect, thanks," Xena said, and began winding it around Frank's wrists. "I'll bring it back to you when I'm finished," she added.

"Oh, you don't have to do that. I got lots of ribbons. That one would look kind of pretty on you," she said, reaching out shyly to touch the warrior's black hair.

Xena looked at her for a moment. "What's your name?" she asked.

"I'm Sally, and this here is Caroline," she said, gesturing to the other woman, who stood nearby. "And who might you be?"

"I'm Xena," she said, and held out her hand to each of the women.

"That thing you did to him," Caroline said, nodding toward Xena's prisoner, "that was wonderful! How'd you learn to do that?"

"I learned by practicing it on my little brother," Xena said, laughing. "If I have time later, I'll come back and show you how to do it."

At that moment Frank, apparently having recovered both his breath and his dignity, began to struggle. "Hey," he growled. "Untie me! I ain't going to no jail!"

"Sure you are," Xena said cheerfully as she began pushing him toward the door, "and you're going right now."

Sally ran around and stood in front of Frank, staring up at his face. "You wife-beating son of a bitch!" she exclaimed. "I hope they hang you till you're good and dead!"

"I didn't hurt her!" Frank snarled, then glared around at the other people in the room. "I never laid a finger on her! She fell down the fucking stairs!"

"Come on," Xena said, prodding and shoving him toward the door. "You can tell your story later to the judge."

He walked sullenly beside her toward the jail, muttering a constant stream of obscenities, and stumbling fairly often. Only Xena's firm grip on his arm kept him from falling flat in the middle of the dusty street.

"Ellis!" she shouted as soon as they were inside the office. "Come out here and help me! I need to lock somebody up!"

Almost immediately, the inner door opened and Ellis appeared, followed closely by Lizzie and Gabrielle.

"Frank?" he said, eyeing the prisoner in astonishment. Then he looked at Xena. "What in blue blazes is going on here?" he demanded.

"I wanna see the sheriff," said Frank, slurring his words badly. "Where's the damn sheriff?"

"He's out of town," said Ellis. "He won't be back until late this afternoon."

"Well then, you gotta help me, Deputy Johnson. This woman's crazy! You can't let her lock me up!"

Ellis looked at Xena. "Why did you arrest him?" he asked.

"Because he killed his wife," Xena said grimly.

"Abigail Brown is dead?" asked Lizzie in surprise.

Xena nodded.

Ellis looked at the warrior with new comprehension, then went to the wall and took down a set of keys.

Opening the cell door, Xena steered Frank inside and untied his hands. "Sit down," she said, pushing him down on the cot. "You're drunk and you need to sleep it off. When you've sobered up, we can talk."

"I never did it," he moaned, burying his face in his hands. "I never hit her. She fell, I tell you. She fell down the stairs." Then he looked up. "You can't keep me here," he said. "I got kids at home. Who's gonna take care of them now, with their ma gone?"

"Maybe you should have thought about that before you beat her up," snapped Xena.

"I never--"

"I know, I know," she interrupted. "You never laid a hand on her." Then her tone softened. "Your children will be taken care of," she said. "I'm going out there and I'll find somebody to go along and help me."

Frank stared at her without speaking, his eyes bleary with alcohol. Keeping a careful eye on him, Xena backed out of the cell. Ellis clanged the door shut, locked it, and pocketed the keys. With a small sigh of relief, Xena turned to face the others.

Gabrielle met her gaze and said, "Xena, tell us what happened."

"Okay," Xena said, "but let's go in the other room."

Without a word, the four of them filed through the door and took seats around the table. Xena was still holding the red ribbon, and she sat smoothing it absently with her fingers. A thousand thoughts were crowding into her mind, and her head was beginning to ache. After a short time, she looked up and saw that the others were waiting for her to speak.

"I was with Nicholas when Frank brought his wife in," she began. "He said they found her at the bottom of the stairs, so she must have fallen, but no one saw it happen. She was unconscious -- badly bruised -- had a head injury and some internal bleeding. Nicholas was going to operate, but she died before he even got started."

"Does Nicholas think Frank beat her?" asked Ellis.

"Yes, and I think so, too. Nicholas said I'd never be able to prove it, but I told him I had to try. So I went over to the saloon, arrested Frank, and brought him here."

"The saloon!" exclaimed Lizzie. "He was at the saloon drinking while his wife was dying?"


"Well, doesn't that beat all!" said the older woman.

"Actually, it doesn't much surprise me, knowing Frank," said Ellis. "But Xena, how in the world are you going to prove that he's guilty?"

"I'm going to go talk to his children," she said. "And maybe to his neighbors, too. Surely someone knows something."

"You can't expect children to testify against their own father," Ellis said.

Xena sighed. "That's pretty much what Nicholas said, too," she admitted. "But I just can't let this bastard get away with murder. Not if I can help it. Maybe I can get him to confess."

Ellis laughed. "Now there's a long shot, if I ever saw one!" he said.

The warrior frowned, but said nothing, staring down at the ribbon, which she began to wind tightly around her left hand.

It was Lizzie who broke the silence. "Well I, for one, think it's about time we brought that man to justice," she said stoutly. "We've known for years that he was beating Abigail. It's too late to help her now, but we should be thinking about those poor children. We don't want the same thing to happen to them."

Xena gave her a grateful look. "Nicholas said you might know of someone who could look after the children," she said.

"The Millers," Lizzie said promptly. "They love kids, but they haven't been able to have any of their own. I'm sure they'd be glad to help."

"I'm going to drive Frank's wagon out there and take the body," Xena said. "They could ride with me."

"All right. I'll go talk to them right now," Lizzie said, getting up from her chair. "But I think you all should eat some lunch before you go. It ought to be ready by now."

"We'll be there in a few minutes," Xena said, then watched the older woman hurry out the door.

"I guess I'll stay here and guard the prisoner," Ellis said with a grin.

"Think you can handle it?" Xena asked, grinning back.

"Yes, I think so," he said. "Maybe I'll go see if he wants something to eat. Lizzie brought over enough soup to feed an army."

As soon as he had left the room, Gabrielle reached over and gently squeezed Xena's hand. "You're doing the right thing, you know," she said.

Xena looked at her. "Do you really think so? What if I can't prove that he did it?"

"You have to try," Gabrielle said firmly. "Now, tell me what I can do to help."

"I'd like you to go with me to talk to those kids. You're so good at that kind of thing. Maybe they'll open up to you."

"Okay. I'll be glad to help you talk to them."

"Thanks," Xena said with a soft smile.

Ellis came back through the door. "Well, he's passed out cold. I don't think we'll hear from him for a few hours, anyway."

"That should make your job easier," Xena said.

"You're right. I may even have to go back to bed and rest some more."

"Good idea," she said, and stood up.

Ellis walked over to her. "You're the one with the hard job to do," he said in a more serious voice. "I'm not sure how you're going to manage it, but I wish you luck. I'd sure like to see that man locked away where he can't hurt anybody else."

"Thanks," Xena said, then turned to her friend. "Come on, Gabrielle, let's go get some lunch."


The wagon rumbled along the road in the hot afternoon sun. Gabrielle and Xena sat in back, the blanket-wrapped body lying between them. The Millers occupied the seat up front, with Rev. Miller doing the driving. Argo, tied to the tailgate, plodded along behind.

"This is so strange," Gabrielle said in Greek. "We're in the same wagon, on the same road we were on yesterday, and yet everything seems so different."

Xena nodded. "I know what you mean," she said. The sunlight seemed particularly fierce, making her eyes water and her head ache. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a piece of willow bark and stuck it in hermouth.

"Does your head hurt?" asked Gabrielle.

"A little."

"I thought maybe t hat wouldn't happen here."

"Yes, well, apparently it does."

"I'm sorry," Gabrielle said softly.

Xena didn't answer. She closed her eyes for a couple of minutes. When she opened them again, she saw the bard gently running her fingers over the blanket where it covered the dead woman's face.

"What are you doing?" the warrior asked, still speaking Greek.

Gabrielle looked up. "Did she say anything before she died?" she asked.

"No. She was unconscious the whole time."

"I wonder what kind of person she was."

"I don't know. Apparently, not many people knew her."

Gabrielle turned her attention back to the blanketed form. "I want to see her face," she said.

"It's bruised," Xena warned. "It really doesn't look very nice."

"I don't care. I want to see it anyway."

Xena hesitated for a moment, then unpinned the blanket and folded it back to reveal the still, white countenance.

Gabrielle regarded it in silence for a time, then asked, "Do you think she found peace?"

"I don't know. I hope so," Xena responded.

Mrs. Miller turned around on the wagon seat. "What are you two girls jabbering about in that language of yours?" she asked. Then her eyes fell on Abigail's face. "Oh, that poor woman," she said, shaking her head.

"Did you know her?" asked Gabrielle.

"No, I just met her for the first time last week. Rev. Miller and I called on the Browns to ask why they hadn't been coming to church."

"And what did they say?" asked Xena.

"Well, Mrs. Brown told us she had been feeling kind of puny, and that it seemed like she just couldn't summon up the energy to get the children ready for church on Sundays."

"I wonder if that's the real reason," said Gabrielle. "Did she look sick to you?"

"No, not sick exactly," said Mrs. Miller. "Just tired. She was kind of soft-spoken and seemed a little nervous, like she wasn't used to folks calling on her, but she was real polite to us."

"Which is more than can be said for Mr. Brown," interjected the pastor. "I don't know when I've met a ruder man."

"Oh, dear yes!" said Mrs. Miller. "The things that man said to us, and the language he used! It makes my ears burn just thinking about it!"

"He certainly doesn't seem to have much use for the word of God," Rev. Miller said. "My guess is that he's the real reason his family never attends services."

"Was he mean to his wife while you were there?" Xena asked.

"Well, he seemed to be angry that she had invited us into the house," said Mrs. Miller, "but he didn't really yell at her -- just at us."

"I wouldn't be surprised if he yelled at her after we left," Rev. Miller put in, "or did worse to her."

"Had he been drinking?" asked Gabrielle.

"I couldn't say for sure, but I imagine so," the pastor said.

"Did you meet the children?" asked Xena.

"No," said Mrs. Miller. "They were all outside, I guess."

"When we get there," the warrior said, "I'd appreciate it if you let Gabrielle and me ask all the questions about what happened to Mrs. Brown. In fact, I don't even want to say that Frank is in jail until we've had a chance to ask some questions. Let's just say that he's staying in town for a while."

"Well, that's true enough," Rev. Miller said with a grin. Then he turned the team off the road onto a rough track that cut across the landscape at an angle.

Xena pulled the blanket carefully back over the dead woman's face and pinned it in place again.

"What will you do with the body," Gabrielle asked Mrs. Miller, "burn it?"

"Oh no, my dear! We bury our dead. If we were to burn our bodies, we couldn't be resurrected when Jesus comes again."

Gabrielle gave Xena a puzzled look, but the warrior merely shrugged.

"It would be nice to have a coffin," Rev. Miller said. "Just something simple. Maybe that boy of theirs can build one. If not, I reckon I can nail something together myself. I'm pretty handy with a hammer and saw, when I put my mind to it."

After that, no one made any effort to keep up a conversation. Xena occupied herself with studying the road and the landmarks, knowing that she and Gabrielle would have to find their way back to town later without the Millers' aid.

Ten minutes later, the wagon pulled up in front of a two-story, wood farmhouse. Chickens roamed the dooryard, pecking at the hard-packed dirt. Beyond the house stood a barn, from which the faint odor of manure wafted in their direction.

Rev. Miller climbed down from the wagon seat, then reached up to give his wife a hand. Xena hopped over the side and walked around to the rear of the wagon, where she lowered the tailgate and lifted Gabrielle to the ground. The door of the house swung open with a muffled creak, and a boy and two girls filed slowly out onto the porch. Xena estimated the boy to be twelve or thirteen years of age, and the older of the girls to be eleven. The younger girl, who was maybe eight, clung tightly to her sister's hand.

Frowning, the boy surveyed the visitors. "Who are you," he asked, "and what are you doing with our wagon?"

"My name is Xena," the warrior said, stepping forward quickly. "And this is Rev. Miller," she continued, "Mrs. Miller, and Gabrielle."

"We're here to help you," Rev. Miller added, somewhat lamely.

"We don't need any help," the boy said sullenly, then asked, "Where's our pa?"

"He's been detained in town for a while," Xena said.

"And Ma?"

Xena looked at the pastor and gave a slight nod. Taking her cue, he removed his hat, and turned to the three on the porch. "The angels have taken your ma home to live with Jesus," he said quietly.

The boy's face paled slightly and his eyes went to the blanketed figure in the back of the wagon. "You mean she's dead," he said flatly.

"Yes. I'm sorry, Son," said Rev. Miller. Then he looked at the girls. "We're very sorry to have to bring you all such sad news. But your mother has a new home in heaven now, where there is no pain or suffering."

"Her home is here, with us," said the older girl in a voice edged with bitterness.

"Yes, of course," Rev. Miller said quickly. "This was her earthly home, but we all have a heavenly home, too, and someday . . ." His voice trailed off.

The three children were staring at him with faces so expressionless that they might have been carved in stone.

Mrs. Miller moved toward the porch. "We've brought your mother's body with us in the wagon," she said. "We'll need to get her cleaned up and find a nice dress for her to wear. Do you think you girls can help me do that?" she asked.

The older girl nodded.

"Good. What's your name, Dear?"

"Hannah," said the girl. "This here's Nellie, and that's James."

"Well, we're very glad to meet you all," said Rev. Miller. "I just wish the circumstances could have been happier." He turned toward the wagon. "I'll carry the body on inside," he said in a low voice to Xena.

"All right," she said, then helped him slide the blanketed form out over the tailgate.

Mrs. Miller, meanwhile, shepherded the two girls into the house. James remained on the porch, staring after them, his arms crossed and his shoulders hunched.

"How do you want to do this?" Gabrielle asked in Greek as Xena fastened the tailgate and untied Argo.

Xena didn't answer immediately, but led the mare over to one of the porch roof supports and secured the reins around it. Then she turned and watched James climb onto the wagon seat and drive off toward the barn. "I'll talk to the boy," she said, looking at Gabrielle, "and you go talk to the older girl. Maybe, if we're lucky, one of them will tell us something and we won't have to question the little one."

"All right," said Gabrielle. "I'll let you know what I find out."

*     *     *

Xena followed the wagon to the spot where James had parked it beside the barn. Stopping a few paces away, she stood watching him unhook the harness traces. "Do you need some help?" she asked after a moment. "I'm pretty good with horses."

The boy started, apparently not having heard her approach. Straightening up, he stared at her, his eyes cold and hard. "I don't reckon I need your help," he said, "nor anybody else's either."

"All right," she responded, "but I'd like to talk to you for minute, if you don't mind."

"Why are you dressed like that?" he asked bluntly.

"I dress this way because it's comfortable," Xena said. "I need to be able to ride and run and fight."

"Pa says it's unnatural for a woman to wear a man's clothes."

"Yes, that sounds like something your pa would say," Xena agreed.

James glared at her and then bent to finish unhooking the team. Walking around to their heads, he took hold of one of the bridles and led the animals into the barn. Stopping them in the wide, central passage, he began unbuckling the leather straps.

Xena sauntered along behind the boy and then took up a position leaning against the railing of one of the stalls. "I'm sorry about your mother," she said quietly.

James glanced up for a second, but said nothing.

"Your father said she fell down the stairs. Did you see that happen?"

"No," he said shortly. Then he looked at her again. "Why are you wearing that star?" he asked. "And that gun?"

"Because I'm a deputy."

"You're not the deputy. Mr. Johnson is."

"Yes, but he got wounded yesterday. Maybe your pa told you about that."

James nodded.

"So when Sheriff Lees had to go out of town today, he made me a deputy so I could help out until Deputy Johnson is better."

"A woman can't be a deputy."

"A woman can be anything she wants to be, if she's tough enough."

James laughed. "That's a bunch of shit," he scoffed. "My pa says--"

"I've heard enough about your pa," Xena cut in. "I'm here to find out what you know -- specifically about how your ma died. Now, I'm going to ask you again. Did you see her fall down the stairs?"

"No. I was mowing the hayfield. I didn't see anything." He lifted the harness off of one of the horses, carried it over to the wall, and hung it up. When he came back, he gave Xena a long look and then said, "All I know is what pa told me when he come out to the field. He said ma fell and was hurt bad and he was taking her to town to the Doc."

Xena nodded. "Do you think she really fell?" she asked in a gentler tone of voice.

"That's what pa said," he insisted as he tugged at a harness buckle on the second horse.

"Did your father ever hit your mother?" Xena asked.

The boy was silent.

"Well, did he?"

"Why are you asking me all these questions?" he demanded. "What goes on here is none of your goddamned business."

It was Xena's turn to be quiet. James glared at her across the back of the horse. "Why did pa stay in town?" he asked. "Was he too drunk to come home?"

The warrior studied the boy for a short time, noting the hard lines set in his thin face, the neatly patched clothes, the bare feet. "Your pa's in jail," she said finally. "Doctor Spencer felt that your mother's injuries resulted from a beating, not a fall. I arrested your pa for causing your ma's death, but if I can't prove that he did it, I'll have to let him go." She hesitated for a moment, then said, "You must have seen him hit her sometime. It would really help if you could tell me what you've seen."

"I never seen nothing," James responded harshly. "I never seen him hit her." Then he carried the second set of harness over to the wall.

Xena followed him. "Did he ever hit you? Or beat you?"

James turned abruptly to face her. "If he did, it was only because I didn't do my chores like I should have," he said. "Now go away and leave me alone. I'm not answering any more questions!" Pushing past her, he went back to the two horses, gathered up their lead lines, and headed along the passageway toward the corral behind the barn.

Hearing a footstep behind her, Xena whirled around. It was Rev. Miller.

"How did it go?" he asked.

"Not well."

"You didn't find out anything?"

"No. He won't even admit that his father ever hit his mother."

"Well, that's a shame," the pastor said, shaking his head. Then he looked in the direction James had gone. "I guess I'll see what can be done about building a coffin."

Xena nodded to him, and then started for the house. She found Gabrielle in the downstairs bedroom, helping Mrs. Miller and Hannah lay out the body. Gesturing for the bard to join her, she stepped back out into the hallway.

"Did you have any luck?" asked Gabrielle in Greek.

"No. Did you?"

The younger woman shook her head. "Hannah wouldn't tell me much -- just that she was out in the chicken house gathering eggs and didn't see her mother fall. But she showed me the blood stains-- Come here," she said, taking Xena's arm and leading her to the bottom of the staircase. "There. See those spots?"

Xena crouched down and studied the dark blotches on the well-worn floorboards.

"Is it really blood?" Gabrielle asked.

"Looks like it," Xena said with a sigh. Then she sat down on the bottom step.

"This isn't turning out so well, is it?"

The warrior shook her head as she continued to stare at the stains.

Gabrielle sat down beside her and put an arm around her shoulders. "At least you tried," she said. "That's more than most people would have done.

"Where's the other girl? The youngest one," Xena asked.

"I'm not sure, but I think she went out back. She seemed pretty distressed about seeing her mother's body all bruised like that, so Mrs. Miller told her she didn't have to help us if she didn't want to." Gabrielle was silent for a few moments, then said, "Xena, don't you think it's strange how these children don't even cry?"

Xena nodded. "Yes, I've been thinking that too." She sighed again and looked at Gabrielle. "I guess I should go talk to that girl, but it's probably a waste of time. What was her name again?"


"Nellie. Okay, I'll go look for Nellie and see if she has anything to tell me. I'll be back soon."

*     *     *

She got up and walked through the kitchen, then out the back door of the house. Almost immediately, she spotted Nellie, sitting in a swing which hung from the only tree in the yard. She wasn't swinging, though, just scuffing her toes in the bare patch of dirt under the swing. Xena watched for a moment and then walked slowly out and stood in the shade of the tree.

The girl looked up at her and then back down at the ground. Her brown hair hung in braids on either side of her thin face. There was a tear in her dress and a scrape on her knee.

"My brothers and I used to have a swing like that," Xena said. "We played on it a lot when we were little."

"I can swing really good," Nellie said, looking up again. "But I don't feel like swinging today."

"No, I don't imagine you do," responded the warrior, then she asked, "Mind if I sit out here with you for a little while?"

"No, I don't mind."

Xena sat cross-legged on the ground. "I'm sorry about what happened to your mother," she said.

"Did it hurt?" asked Nellie.

"Did what hurt?"

"When she died. Did it hurt her?"

"No. She was unconscious. She didn't feel a thing. She just stopped breathing."

Nellie nodded. "Good. I'm glad," she said, "because it hurt her before."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, she was screaming and crying and I could tell it hurt her."

Xena studied the girl with new interest. "Nellie," she said gently, "did you see your mother get hurt?"

"Yes," the girl said hesitantly, "but I wasn't supposed to. If Pa finds out I saw, he'll whup me good."

"If I promise not to let your pa hurt you, could you tell me what happened? It's very important to me to know."

Nellie looked at her for a few moments, then nodded. "Okay," she said. "I'll tell you."

Xena drew in a long, slow breath and let it out again. Then she sat waiting quietly for the girl to begin.

Nellie stared at the house, still absently scuffing her toes in the dirt. Finally, she began to speak, but her voice seemed dull and lacking in emotion. "We was all eating breakfast this morning," she said. "All except Pa. He was drinking last night, so he was still sleeping when we got up. We all tried to be real quiet so we wouldn't wake him, but I guess we did anyhow. He come out there to the kitchen and he had a whiskey bottle in his hand. I was kind of scared, 'cause Pa alwaysgets so mean when he drinks."

"Yes, he does," said Xena. "I've seen him that way myself. So what happened after he came in the kitchen?"

"Well, first of all, he told James he better get on out to the field and start cutting hay, so James, he got up and left. Then Pa sat down at the table and wanted to know why his breakfast wasn't ready, and Ma said she would fix it right away. Then she told Hannah to go out and gather eggs in the chicken house, but I wasn't finished eating yet, so she didn't tell me to go anywhere."

She stopped speaking and Xena watched her face, so strangely expressionless for a child so young. "What happened after that?" the warrior asked gently.

"Pa just kept on sitting there, drinking and talking real loud," Nellie said, "and Ma was all kind of nervous like, and she burned the bacon, and then he started yelling at her. That's when she told me to go outside and play, so I went out in the yard, but I was scared about what might happen to Ma, so I snuck around the house and back in the front door. I hid in the hall and I pretty much saw everything."

"Did your pa hit your ma?"

"Yes'm, he hit her a bunch of times -- pretty hard, too. She had her arms up, trying to keep off the blows, but it didn't do her much good, far as I could tell." Nellie paused to take a deep breath, then went on. "Pretty soon, Pa hit her so hard that she fell down, and then he started in kicking her. She was crying and screaming for him to stop, and she said he was gonna kill her if he didn't stop soon. But he just kept on kicking and cussing at her. And then, all at once, he kicked her right in the face and her head went back and hit the cookstove real hard, and after that she didn't scream no more."

Nellie looked at Xena and then looked away again. "I reckon it was my fault she died. I should've done something to help her, but seems like I was just so scared I couldn't even move."

"It's not your fault, Nellie," Xena said quickly. "Don't ever think that way. There's nothing you could have done to help your ma. You would have just ended up getting hurt, too."

"Maybe you're right," the girl said slowly, "but it sure seems like I could've done something."

Xena opened her mouth to speak, but before she could do so, Nellie went on with her story.

"Anyhow," she said, "when I didn't hear Ma scream no more, that's when my legs started working again, and I run out to the chicken house where Hannah was. We waited till we seen Pa go out to the barn, and then we went in the house. I was real surprised 'cause Ma wasn't in the kitchen where she was before. So I thought she must've got up and walked off somewhere, and I went looking for her. I found her laying at the bottom of the stairs, but I don't know how she got there, 'cause it don't seem like she could've walked there by herself."

"Do you think maybe your pa carried her in there?" asked Xena.

"Maybe. If he wanted it to look like she fell down the stairs, he might've done that." Nellie sighed. "Hannah and me, we tried to get Ma to wake up, but we couldn't, so Hannah went out to the barn to tell Pa. He said just wait a little while and Ma would wake up, so we drug her in and put her on the bed, but she still didn't wake up. So pretty soon Hannah went out and told Pa again, and he come in the house, but he couldn't wake her up neither. That's when he said maybe he'd best take her to the doctor. He was looking kind of scared about then." She turned her gaze on Xena. "One time when I was real sick, he looked that same way," she said. "Pa can be real nice sometimes, when he ain't been drinking."

"Did he make this swing for you?"

Nellie nodded. "He used to push me in it when I was little."

Xena smiled sadly. "I'm sorry you had to see what your Pa did to your Ma," she said. "No one should ever have to see such a terrible thing. You were very brave to tell me about it. Thank you."

The girl bit her lower lip, then said, "I reckon Pa will kill me when he finds out I told you, but at least that way I'll get to see Ma again."

"Your pa won't kill you. I'm not going to let him," Xena said firmly. "Do you know where your pa is right now? He's in jail. I arrested him this morning because I thought maybe he had hurt your mother, but I couldn't prove it until just now when you told me your story."

Nellie stared at the warrior for a long moment, then she stood up and walked over to where Xena sat. Kneeling in front of her, she reached out to touch the metal star. "Are you the sheriff?" she asked.

"No, but I'm a deputy, and deputies can arrest people, too."

"Girls can't be deputies."

"Sure they can. I'm a girl and I'm a deputy. Maybe it doesn't happen a lot, but it can happen."

Nellie smiled a slow, tentative smile, and Xena smiled back.

"Come sit here by me," she said, patting the ground beside her, and Nellie sat down. "As long as your father is in jail," Xena went on, "he can't hurt you, or your brother or sister either. But we can't keep him in jail unless we can make the judge believe that he really did hurt your mother. So I need to know if you're willing to tell a judge the same story you just told me -- about how your pa hit and kicked your ma. Do you think you could do that?"

Nellie looked up at her and then nodded. "Yes, I reckon I could do it, but I'm scared."

"Of course you are," Xena said. "Anybody would be scared in your place." She hesitated for a moment, and then put her arm around the stiff little shoulders. "Being brave doesn't mean you're not afraid," she continued. "It just means that you go ahead and do something, in spite of the fact that you're afraid."

The girl didn't answer, but Xena could feel her relax a little. After a few moments, she looked up and said, "Are you going to be our new ma?"

"No. It would be nice if I could be, but I'm not going to be around here very long. And anyway, I'm not really the mother type. Maybe the Millers will be your new ma and pa. Do you think you'd like that?"

"I don't know."

"Well, it will take time to get to know them, but they seem like nice people."

Nellie sighed. "I just wish I could have my own ma back," she said.

"I wish you could, too." Xena looked down and saw the small chin quivering. "You know," she said softly, "I think you'd feel better if you let yourself cry."

"Pa says only weak people cry."

"Well, there was a time when I used to think that, too, but I don't anymore."

"You don't? Why not?"

"Because I've learned that strong people cry sometimes, too, and it doesn't mean they aren't strong. It takes a strong person to love deeply, and when we love someone deeply and then lose them, it hurts a lot. Tears can help us get through the hurt and go on being strong."

Nellie looked up, and Xena saw the girl's eyes fill with tears. She pulled her close and felt the small arms wrap around her in a fierce hug.


When the train pulled in at 5:15, Xena was waiting at the station.

"Well, I never expected a welcoming committee," said Herbert with a grin. "Are you having fun being a deputy?"

She looked at him without answering, and his grin faded. "What's wrong, Xena?" he said.

"I arrested Frank Brown."

"Let me guess. Drunk and disorderly conduct?"

"No. His wife died this morning. He said she fell down the stairs--"

"But you think he beat her. Xena, you can't prove something like that."

"I already have," she said grimly. "One of the children saw it happen. Come on. I'll tell you about it on our way to the jail."

He listened pretty much without comment, asking only an occasional question, and by the time they reached their destination, she had told him the whole story. Herbert opened the side door, and they stepped into the back room.

"Ellis Johnson!" he exclaimed. "I thought I told you to stay in bed. I suppose you haven't gotten a bit of rest all day."

"Sure I have," said Ellis, grinning. "A couple of hours this morning and a couple more this afternoon. I let your new deputy here do most of the work. Did she tell you what she's been up to?"

"Yes, she did," the sheriff said with a sigh. Then he looked at Xena. "I know you want to try to get a confession out of Frank, but to be honest, I think the chances of doing that are pretty slim."

"Probably so," agreed Xena, "but if there's any way I can keep that little girl from having to testify against her father, I'll do it."

Herbert shook his head. "You never give up, do you?" he said.

"No, I don't," Xena said, and then smiled, remembering that Hercules had once said the same thing to her. Turning to Ellis, she asked, "Is he awake?" and gestured with her head toward the jail.

"He was about fifteen minutes ago, anyway. I took him a bowl of soup and some coffee."

"Is he sober?" asked Herbert.

"Yes, pretty much. At least more so than he was this morning."

"All right, then. Let's go talk to him," said Herbert. "Ellis, you come, too. The more witnesses, the better. And if he does happen to confess to anything, you'll need to write it up so we can have him sign it."

Ellis nodded, and the three of them went through the door into the front room. The prisoner was sitting on his narrow cot, holding a tin cup in both hands. He looked up when the others came in, and quickly set the cup on the floor.

"Sheriff Lees," he said, standing up and moving to the cell door, "it's about time you got here!" Then he looked at Xena and scowled. "I don't know who this woman thinks she is, locking me up like this, but I don't belong in no jail. You got to let me out of here. I got to go home and take care of my kids."

"Your children are being taken care of," Xena said.

"Who's taking care of them?" he asked, in a suspicious tone of voice.

"Rev. Miller and his wife."

"Pshaw!" Frank said, spitting on the floor. "That pompous asshole! I don't want that bastard and his prissy wife anywhere near my kids!"

"I'm afraid you don't have much choice in the matter," said Herbert. "The Millers are good people and they won't harm the children. That's the important thing at the moment. Now, we need to talk." He nodded to Ellis, who produced the key and unlocked the cell. "Come out here and sit down," the sheriff said, beckoning to the prisoner.

Frank sauntered over to the chair Herbert had set for him in front of the desk, and sat down on it. He stared sullenly at Xena and Herbert, who took seats across from him. Ellis stood leaning against the wall.

"Okay, Frank, why don't you tell me what happened," the sheriff said.

"Well, Abigail fell down the stairs and hurt herself pretty bad," Frank said. "I brung her to Doc Spencer, but seems like he couldn't do nothing for her and she passed on. Then this bitch here--" he continued, glaring at Xena.

"Watch your language!" warned Herbert.

Frank fell silent and stared down at his hands.

"You were arrested on suspicion of beating your wife and thereby causing her death," the sheriff said. "How do you respond to that charge?"

"I never laid a hand on her."

"Have you ever hit her?"


Herbert looked at Xena. "Do you want to ask him some questions?" he said.

She nodded, then leaned forward, studying the prisoner while she tried to decide how to begin. "I went out and talked to your children this afternoon," she said. "I was trying to find out if anyone saw what happened to your wife."

Frank looked up at her. "They didn't see nothing," he said. "They were all outside when it happened."

"And you were in the barn, is that right?"

"Yes. I was getting ready to go help my boy mow the hayfield."

"So James was already out in the field?" Xena asked.

Frank nodded.

"Okay, and where were the girls?"

"Well, Hannah was in the chicken house and Nellie was . . ." his voice trailed off as he made an apparent effort to think back. "I don't know exactly, but she wasn't in the kitchen."

"She wasn't in the kitchen?" Xena said. "If you were in the barn, how did you know Nellie wasn't in the kitchen?"

"Because-- Well, because she already went outside before I went to the barn."

"So all three children went outside and you were the last person left in the kitchen with your wife."

Frank nodded. "Yes, I guess that's the way it was. And then I went out to the barn."

"You 'guess' that's the way it was," repeated Xena. "Are you having t rouble remembering what happened this morning?"

"No. Why would I have trouble remembering?"

"Maybe because you were drinking. Nellie told me you came to the breakfast table with a bottle in your hand. Is that true?"

"Well, what if it was? Ain't no law against a man taking a nip or two in his own house, now is there, Sheriff?" He looked at Herbert.

"No. No law against that," the lawman admitted.

Xena pressed on with her interrogation. "Nellie also told me that when Mrs. Brown burned your breakfast, you started yelling at her and hitting her."

Frank looked a bit confused. "Well, I reckon I may have said a few words to her," he responded. "Sometimes she gets a mite careless and I have to remind her how I want things done. But I never hit her. And Nellie, she wasn't even there. She don't know what went on. Kids make up the darnedest stories sometimes." He glanced at Herbert for confirmation, but the sheriff's face remained impassive.

"I'm going to tell you the rest of Nellie's story," said Xena, "because I don't think she was making it up. No child would make up such a terrible thing. She said that after her ma sent her outside, she came back in the front door and hid in the hallway. She claims she saw everything that happened."

Frank stared at her. His mouth opened, but no words came out.

"Nellie told me she saw you hit her ma and knock her down," Xena continued. "Then you kicked her repeatedly, even though she begged you to stop. Finally, you kicked her in the head and knocked her unconscious. That's all Nellie saw because after that, she ran out of the house. She said when she and Hannah came back in, they found their mother lying at the bottom of the stairs. I've seen the blood stains there, and I've also seen the ones on the kitchen floor. I believe you moved your wife's body so that it would look like she fell down the stairs."

She stopped speaking and waited for him to answer. When he looked at her, she could see the rage in his eyes, but she now also saw fear. He turned his gaze on Ellis and then Herbert. At last he said, "This is ridiculous! Who would take the word of an eight-year-old girl over that of a grown man?"

"I would," said Herbert calmly.

"And so would I," added Ellis. "Especially if that grown man was known to get mean and violent whenever he started drinking."

"If you plead guilty, the judge will go easier on you," Herbert said. "You'll still have to serve time, but probably not as long. If a jury finds you guilty, they just might decide to hang you."

"I'm not guilty!" Frank exclaimed, casting a panicked look around. "I didn't kill her! She fell down the stairs! I wouldn't kill my own wife! Why would I kill my own wife? It was an accident, I tell you! They can't send me to jail for that!"

Xena reached across the desk and gripped the prisoner's wrist. He stiffened, but didn't pull away. "Listen to me, Frank," she said in an urgent tone. "I believe you cared about your wife, and I don't think you meant to hurt her. But let's face it, when you start drinking, you lose control and sometimes you hurt people, whether you mean to or not."

He stared at her without answering.

Encouraged, she went on. "And do you know what else I believe? I believe you love your kids, and you don't want to hurt them. Am I right?"

He swallowed hard and nodded.

"Now, Nellie saw a terrible thing today, and she's going to have to live with that memory for the rest of her life. She told me that if you found out she saw, you would kill her, too. But she was brave enough to tell me about it anyway. And she agreed to tell the story to a judge, even though she's scared of what you might do to her." Xena stopped speaking for a moment to let her words take effect. Releasing Frank's arm, she sat back in her chair. "Don't make her tell that story again," she said quietly. "If you care about her -- and I think you do -- be man enough to admit to what you've done and take your punishment. That's the best thing you could do for those kids right now."

Frank was silent for several long moments. Then, finally, in a voice choked with emotion, he said, "I never meant to kill her. She was a good wife and I loved her. I don't know what come over me. I reckon it was the liquor, like you said."

No one spoke for a short time, and then Herbert said, "Are you willing to sign a confession, Frank?"

The man nodded dully.

Ellis quickly stepped forward and pulled a piece of paper out of the desk. Herbert got up to give the deputy his seat. Uncorking an ink bottle, Ellis dipped a quill in it and wrote busily for several minutes. When he finished, he carefully blotted the paper and held it up. "Here's what I've written," he said. "I, Frank Brown, do hereby confess that I, while under the influence of alcohol, and without prior intention, did inflict bodily injury on my wife, Abigail Brown, which injuries later resulted in her death. Signed on this 21st day of July in the year of our Lord 1880."

Herbert shook his head and grinned. "I tell you, Ellis, you should have been a lawyer. Nobody writes that legal stuff as good as you do!" Then he turned to the prisoner. "Do you agree with the wording of the confession?" he asked.

"I reckon it says what I done well enough," he said.

Ellis placed the paper in front of Frank and handed him the quill. Dipping it into the ink bottle, he made an "X" below the confession. The deputy took back the quill and added, "Frank Brown, his mark." After that, he wrote, "Witnesses," and drew three lines. Herbert signed on the first one and Ellis on the second. Then he gave the quill to Xena, who made a rapid series of bold marks and handed the paper back.

"What is this?" Ellis asked, staring at what she had written.

"It's my name," Xena said.

Herbert took the paper and studied it for a moment. "Is this how you write it in Greek?" he asked.

"Yes. I don't even know how to spell it in English."

"Hmm. How would you spell 'Xena,' Ellis?"

"I don't know. Z-E-N-A, I guess."

"Okay, maybe you better write that on there, just so people will know."

Ellis took the paper back and made a notation beside Xena's name.

Frank had been sitting glumly with his head propped in his hands. Now he looked at Herbert and said, "What will become of my kids if I go to jail? And my farm?"

"I don't know for sure," the sheriff replied. "Why don't you be thinking about whether there are some relatives or somebody the children could go live with. The farm might have to be sold. We'll talk about it, and I'll do what I can to help."

Frank nodded, then got up and walked slowly back into the jail cell. Herbert locked the door and motioned for Ellis and Xena to follow him into the back room.

"Well, I never would have believed it!" he said with a grin as he clapped a hand on Xena's shoulder.

She grinned back at him, suddenly feeling as if a big weight had been lifted off her shoulders.

"You almost had me in tears there for a minute," said Ellis. "I think I would have confessed, too -- whether I'd done anything or not!"

The other two laughed.

"I believe this calls for a little celebration," Herbert said, going to a shelf near the fireplace and taking down a bottle. He carried it and three tin cups to the table. "Whiskey, Xena?" he said, looking at the warrior.

She walked over, took the bottle from his hand, and sniffed at its contents. "Smells like strong stuff," she said. "Is this what got our friend Frank in trouble?"

"Yes, but we're just going to have one celebratory shot and be done with it," Herbert said and poured a small amount into each of the cups.

"Haven't you ever had whiskey?" asked Ellis.

Xena shook her head.

"Well, just think of this as another opportunity to sample the refined culture of the Wild West," he said with a wink. Then he handed her one of the cups.

Herbert raised his own cup in a toast. "To Deputy Xena!" he said.

"To Xena," echoed Ellis, "who saves lives and brings killers to justice!"

"Thanks," she murmured, feeling a little embarrassed.

"Now you just chug it, like this," Herbert said, and then demonstrated. Ellis followed suit.

Xena lifted the cup to her lips, threw back her head, and tossed the liquid down. It burned her throat and made her cough a little. "Wow," she said, blinking. "That really packs a punch." Then, as she felt a warm glow begin to spread through her body, she added, "But it's kind of a nice punch."

The two men laughed.

The clock on the mantel began to chime, and Xena glanced over at it. "Well, I see I'm late for dinner, so I'd better get going." She set her cup on the table. "Gabrielle is telling stories tonight after we eat, if you'd like to come."

"Oh, I'd love to hear that. Wouldn't you, Herb?" said Ellis.

"Are you sure you feel like going?"

"Of course."

"Well then, why don't you go? I'll stay here and keep an eye on Frank," said Herbert.

"Damn! I forgot about him!"

"Tell you what," said Xena. "I'll come over after dinner and guard the prisoner. That way both of you can go."

"That would be great," said Ellis. "Are you sure you don't mind?"

"Not a bit. I've heard all the stories already, so I wasn't really planning to listen, anyway."

"Do you think she'll tell any stories about Hercules?" asked Herbert.

"She will if I say there's been a special request," Xena said with a grin. "See you soon," she added, then went out the door and headed for the boarding house.

*     *     *

The group around the dinner table seemed small, even though only the Millers were missing. Most of the discussion centered on the day's events, and everyone seemed relieved to learn that Frank Brown had signed a confession.

"If you'll excuse me," Xena said as soon as she finished the last bite of her peach cobbler, "I told Herbert and Ellis that I would stay at the jail while they come over to hear the storytelling."

Lizzie frowned. "Ellis wants to come?" she said, then looked at the doctor. "Nicholas, do you think that's a good idea?"

"Well, he seemed to be doing pretty well this afternoon when I stopped by there," Nicholas said, "so I imagine he'll be fine. But if it makes you feel better, I'll walk over with Xena and check on him."

"Yes, that would make me feel better. Thank you," Lizzie responded.

"All right, then," the doctor said, giving her a fond smile.

Xena stood up and went to stand behind Gabrielle's chair. Bending over to bring her mouth close to the bard's ear, she said softly in Greek, "Herbert would really like to hear a story about Hercules. Do you think you could tell one?"

"About Hercules? Sure, I should be able to come up with something."

"Good. And could you tell one that has Nicklio in it? For Nicholas?"

Gabrielle twisted around to look at the warrior. "Hmm. That's a little trickier," she said, "but I guess I could tell about the time Caesar crucified you. Would that be all right?"

Xena considered for a moment and then nodded. "That will be fine," she said. "I'll see you later," she added, and gave Gabrielle's shoulders a gentle squeeze.

"Are you ready?" she asked Nicholas in English.

"Yes. Let me just get my bag. I left it in the parlor."

They walked out the door of the boarding house and headed for the jail, their footsteps echoing dully on the wooden walk. Xena felt her headache returning and wished she had thought to bring along some willow bark. Well, it was too late now.

"We didn't get very far in our discussion of herbs, did we?" said Nicholas.

"No. Maybe we'll have time to talk tomorrow," Xena said. They walked on in silence for a few moments, and then she asked, "What do you give people for headaches?"

"For headaches? Laudanum. It's another opium derivative. Works well for coughs, too. People can get addicted to it, though, the same as morphine." He looked at her curiously. "Why do you ask? Do you have a headache?"


"Hmm," he said, frowning. "I'm afraid I don't have any laudanum with me right now. But Ellis has some," he added, brightening. "I gave it to him yesterday. We'll talk him into letting you have a little. Do you get headaches often?"

"Well, only since I got hurt in a fight about a month ago."

"You got hurt?"

"I was hit in the head with a mace."

"A mace!" he exclaimed. "You mean one of those balls with spikes on it?"

She nodded.

"That must have been painful."

"Yes. More than I like to remember," she said with a rueful grin.

"Who were you fighting?"

"Some lowlife scum who were demanding protection money from my friend Lydia."

"Lydia," he mused. "Is that the Lydia that Lizzie keeps talking about?"


"Okay, now I remember. Lizzie told me about that fight." He shook his head in wonder. "That only happened to you a month ago?" he asked.

Xena nodded. "Lizzie -- I mean Lydia -- is the one who took care of me when I first got hurt."

"Amazing," he said.

They had reached the door to the room behind the jail. Nicholas knocked, but did not wait for an answer. Opening the door, he stood aside to let Xena enter first.

"Nick!" exclaimed Ellis. "What are you doing here? Aren't you going to the storytelling?"

"Yes, but I promised Lizzie I'd come check on you first. She's afraid you might not be up to a strenuous evening of listening to tales of adventure." He laughed and set his medical bag on the table.

"Honestly, Nick," Herbert said with a grin. "I think that woman has you wrapped around her little finger."

"Yes, she does indeed," the doctor responded pleasantly. "I have to keep her happy. Otherwise, she won't let me take my meals at the boarding house, and I'll be reduced to eating my own cooking -- a fate which I do not care to contemplate."

"Well, all right then, you'd better check me over," Ellis said as he took a seat at the table.

Nicholas moved the lamp closer and examined the throat wound. "Are you feeling okay? Not too tired?"

"Hell, I've been in bed half the day," he said. "How could I be tired?"

"Watch your tongue, there's a lady present," Nicholas warned, glancing at Xena.

"I'm no lady," the warrior said laughing, "and I've heard a lot worse language than that, believe me."

Nicholas shrugged and took out his stethoscope. Applying it to his patient's chest, he listened for a short time, and then said, "Are you sure you feel like going, Ellis?"

The deputy nodded.

"Okay. I'll leave it to your discretion. But if you get tired or start feeling bad, I want you to come on home and go to bed."

"Sure thing, Doc!" Ellis said and stood up. "Are we ready to go?"

"I am," Herbert said. He picked up his pipe and tobacco pouch, stuffed them into the pocket of his jacket, and put on his hat.

"Ellis, where's your laudanum?" asked Nicholas. "I told Xena you'd let her have a little of it. She's got a headache."

"Oh, it's right over here," he said. Then he took down a small bottle from a shelf near his bed and handed it to Xena.

"Thanks," she said.

"You two go on," Nicholas said. "I'll be there in a couple of minutes."

"Xena, feel free to look at any of my books," Ellis said, gesturing toward the book shelves. "Or if you want to read something truly exciting, you can try some of Herb's law books out in the front room."

"Okay. I'm sure I'll find plenty to do," Xena said. "Enjoy the stories."

"We will," said Herbert. "See you later." Then they went out the door.

*     *     *

Xena uncorked the bottle. "How much of this should I take?" she asked.

"I think one good swallow of it will be enough, unless your headache is really bad."

"No, it's not that bad," she said, bringing the medicine to her lips. When she had finished, she put the cork back in and returned the bottle to the shelf.

"Whereabouts on your head did you get hit?" asked Nicholas.

"Over here, on the side," she said, indicating the place.

"Would you mind if I looked at it?"

"I'd be glad for you to," she said, and sat down at the table.

Nicholas ran his fingers over the spot, probing gently. "There's still a little bit of a lump there," he said. "Does it hurt when I press on it?"


He parted her hair and studied the scar. "The wound itself has healed up nicely," he went on. "Have you had any numbness in your arms or legs?"


"Any problems with your vision or your memory?"

"A little bit in the beginning, but not now."

"So now it's mainly the headaches?"

"Yes. And I seem to get tired more easily than I did before."

He nodded. "I think you'll get over that, in time," he said. "And the headaches should go away, too, but it may take a while. Do they seem worse when you're anxious or worried about something?"

Xena nodded.

"Well, try to get as much rest as you can. That's about the only thing you can do. I know it's easier said than done, though." He sat down, took off his glasses, and began to polish them with his handkerchief. "You were very lucky," he said. "A blow like that could have killed you, or at least left you paralyzed."

"Yes, I know," Xena said quietly.

He put his glasses back on and shoved the handkerchief into his pocket. Xena thought he would get up and leave after that, but he didn't. He merely sat there, staring at nothing in particular, apparently lost in thought.

"You look kind of tired yourself," she commented.

"What?" he said absently.

"I said you look tired."

"Oh, not tired really," he said, glancing over at her. "It's more-- Well, I always find it hard to lose a patient, like I did Abigail Brown today. I keep telling myself that I can't save everyone, but I still wish I could -- especially when it's a young person." He sighed. "I see death so often in this line of work that it seems like I would be able to accept it by now, but somehow I just can't. Maybe it's because every time it happens, I find myself having to deal with all my own painful memories again."

"Lizzie told me about your son," Xena said. "I'm sorry."

"Thank you. It's been over a year now, but it still feels like there's a big, gaping hole in my life that will never be filled. I guess maybe it will always feel that way."

Xena studied him for a moment and then, without really thinking, said, "Nicholas, have you ever thought about getting married again?"

"Getting married again?" he said, looking at her in surprise.

"I'm sorry," she said quickly. "I shouldn't even be asking such a question, but-- Well, it just seems like you and Lizzie are so close and . . . " her voice trailed off.

He smiled. "Lizzie is a wonderful person and a very dear friend," he said. "And if I were going to marry anyone, it would be Lizzie."

"But you don't want to marry."

He drew in a deep breath and let it out again. Then, gazing off in the direction of the fireplace, he said, "My first wife died of pneumonia the winter after we got married. It happened very quickly. She simply took sick one day, and by the end of the next day she was dead. We were both quite young -- I was still in medical school at the time. It was my first hard lesson in just how powerless a doctor can be."

He stopped speaking for a moment, and ran one hand through the short, curly hairs of his beard. Xena sat quietly, noting the lines of sadness in the doctor's face while she waited for him to go on.

"Some years later I married again," he said. "We wanted to start a family, but we had almost given up trying when my wife finally conceived. It was a difficult pregnancy, and an even more difficult labor. I did everything I could for her, but I lost her anyway. I managed to save the baby, though -- my son, Benjamin. I devoted all the time and energy I could to raising him, and he brought me more joy than I can ever tell you." He looked at Xena and smiled a sad smile. "When he was ten, we moved out here to Colorado," he continued. "We both fell in love with the mountains and the scent of the pines and the wide, open spaces. Then last summer Ben went swimming in the river with some friends. It was nothing unusual -- he had done it a hundred times before, and he was a good swimmer. No one knows exactly what happened -- the other boys just suddenly noticed that Ben was missing. They dived down and found him, but by then it was too late."

Xena reached out and laid her hand on his arm. "Losing a child is so hard. I wish I knew what to say," she told him.

He shook his head. "There's nothing anyone can say. We all know the pain of losing someone we love. Lizzie has known a great deal of sorrow, and I imagine you have, too, young as you are."

Xena nodded.

"Some people get through their grieving bravely," Nicholas went on, "and others never seem to get through it at all. Call me a coward, but I just don't think I can set myself up for that kind of pain again. If I were to marry Lizzie and if something were to happen to her-- Well, I don't see how I could get through it."

Xena gave the doctor's arm a gentle squeeze and then sat back in her chair. She was silent for a short time, considering, then said, "I used to feel much the same way you do. It seemed like everyone I loved either got killed or betrayed me. So I decided it just wasn't worth it to let myself care about anybody."

"But you don't feel that way now?" he asked.

"No. No, I don't, because when Gabrielle came into my life, everything changed. She gave me purpose and direction, and showed me what is beautiful and good in life. She taught me to trust again, and best of all, she taught me to love."

"But Xena, don't you worry that something will happen to Gabrielle? How would you feel if you lost her?"

"I have lost her -- at least briefly. One time I thought she had died. Another time she left me, and I didn't think she would be back. Both times the pain was terrible. But both times I also knew that what we had shared had made it all worthwhile." She paused to take a deep breath. "You said your son gave you a lot of joy," she went on. "Would you give up all that joy just to avoid feeling any pain?"

Nicholas stared at her for a few moments, and then said, "No, I guess I wouldn't."

"There is pain in not loving, as well as in loving," Xena continued. "If Lizzie were to die tomorrow, you would still feel the sadness of losing her, even though she's not your wife. And you might also feel the pain of regret because you never took the opportunity to share life with her."

She stopped speaking, and watched the physician, who sat silently, gazing down at his hands. Had she said too much? She suspected that she had. Who was she, anyway, to give this man advice or meddle in his private affairs? "I'm not trying to tell you how to live your life," she said in a gentle tone of voice. "Only you can decide how much risk and pain you're willing to open yourself up to. This really isn't any of my business, and I apologize if I've said things I shouldn't have."

He looked up then and smiled. "No apology needed," he said. "I appreciate your concern, and you've definitely given me some things to think about. Thank you." Then, breathing a deep sigh, he rose from his chair and picked up his medical bag. "I guess I'd better get back to Lizzie's before I miss all the stories." He laid a hand on the warrior's shoulder. "Can you come by tomorrow to continue our discussion of herbs?"

"I don't know. Herbert and I are going out in the morning to look for Bill Garrison's gang. But I'll stop by if we get back in time."

"All right. Maybe I'll see you then. Is your headache better?"

"Yes, it is. I had forgotten all about it."

"Good. See you tomorrow," he said, patting her shoulder.

"Good night, Nicholas," she responded.

After the doctor left, Xena went into the front room to check on Frank. She found him sprawled across the cot on his back, snoring loudly. Moving on to the bookshelf, she took down one of the heavy law books, laid it on the desk, and opened it. The print was small and dense; the sentences were long and hard to understand. After a couple of minutes, she shrugged, closed the book, and put it back on the shelf.

Returning to the living quarters, she stopped at the gun case and stood looking at the weapons. After a few moments, she carefully lifted one of the rifles out and examined it, cradling its length in one arm while she ran her fingers over the design engraved in the blue metal. The gun smelled of oil and steel and black powder. Raising it into position, she settled the stock against her shoulder and sighted along the barrel. The rifle had a nice feel to it, she decided -- strong and reliable and deadly. If she and Gabrielle got to stay a few more days, she would definitely ask Herbert to teach her to shoot it.

With a small sigh, she set the gun back in the case, then went to the table and sat down. Pulling her pistol out, she laid it on the table and looked at it. She had just spent a whole day as a deputy sheriff, she realized, and hadn't once drawn her gun. She wished she could practice shooting it, but she couldn't leave her post as jailer. Besides, it was getting too dark out now for target practice. Still, she wished there were something she could do with the gun, but it did not need sharpening, like a sword. It didn't even need to be cleaned, since she hadn't yet fired it. Reluctantly, she picked it up and returned it to the holster.

She sat there for a few minutes more, enjoying the warm, peaceful effects of the laudanum, then she got up and walked over to look at Ellis' books. After scanning the titles for a time, she selected a volume on military history. Taking it back to the table, she sat down and began leafing through it. She read little of the text, but studied the maps and illustrations with interest until she found herself growing drowsy. When the struggle to stay awake at last became too much, she put the book away, curled up on Herbert's bed, and soon fell asleep.

Continues here

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