The Xena Scrolls: Volume #3: Scroll #48: A Necessary Evil

The Xena Scrolls

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Potedia

Scroll#48:  A Necessary Evil

September 18, 47 B.C.

After a long quest and much personal debating a decision was finally made by the amazon princess.  She prepared for a beautiful ceremony in masking the new queen of the amazons.  It was a peaceful and beautiful moment as the amazons passed the mask of queenhood down from the mighty Melosa to the elequent Ephiny.  Princess Gabrielle received the beautifully decorated mask and then turned to face the wise new queen.  Gabrielle had determined that Velaska was not fit to carry on the amazon nation ethically and respectfully as she herself was not prepared for the awesome responsibility that comes with being masked as the queen.  The amazon princess was certain that there was much more she could learn alongside the warrior princess and was confident that Ephiny would be the right choice.

The moment had come to present the new queen to all as Gabrielle stated before the amazon nation that the queenhood rightfully belonged to Ephiny.  Gabrielle was certain in her heart that Melosa would have wanted it that way in the abscence of the former amazon princess Terrais.  Ephiny’s response was gentle and selfless.  She declared before the amazon nation that she would only accept the mask of queenhood in Gabrielle’s abscence.  Ephiny reminded the inexperienced amazon princess of her rite to the amazons.  Amazon law still declared that Gabrielle was the rightful queen despite Gabrielle’s decision to pass the responsibility to Ephiny.  Then Ephiny smiled reminding Gabrielle of what the sisterhood of the amazons was truely about.  It was about selfless sacrifice, trust, and courage.

Gabrielle suddenly found herself embarressed and then managed to find a way to lighten the serious moment.  She turned to Xena and posed a challenge.  The bard wanted to know if an Amazon Queen beat a warrior princess.  Xena’s sarcastic smile said it all as she responded to Gabrielle’s question with another question.  She asked the bard if she wanted to really find out the truth of that.  Gabrielle took the hint realizing that titles meant only as much as could be proven by those who held them.  Gabrielle was certain that she was far from skilled enough to challenge a warrior princess.  Becoming an amazon queen would hardly sharpen her warrior skill by sheer title alone.  And then the bard turned back toward the standing queen and reminded Ephiny that it was not likely that she would ever return to reclaim the queenhood.  Still Ephiny held steady in her leadership and looked to Gabrielle in a serious manner.  It was a reminder that Gabrielle was still a young girl at heart.  Gabrielle knew this despite all that had transpired.

Suddenly the ceremonial drums sounded as Ephiny raised the mask above her head and prepared to wear it with dignity and pride.  The amazons shouted out with joy and celebration for their new leader as she prepared to complete the ceremony.  Yet just as the amazons were at the dawn of a new era an uninvited blood curtling  scream crept into the celebration.  It was the scream of Velasaka.  All were surprised to see that she was still alive.  Gabrielle had been certain that Velaska had died in the rope battle the day before.  Yet by some strange miracle Velaska had survived and she was filled with even more rage and anger than before.

As Velaska limped into the amazon camp it was clear that she was on the brink of death.  Gabrielle looked on in shock as the amazons drew their weapons preparing to defend their queens.  Velaska’s injuries were impressive yet haunting.  Her legs were bleeding from their large gashes and her left arm was completely broken.  Velaska immediately looked to Gabrielle after declaring that the mask belonged to her and no other.  She was still delusional about the truths of Amazon law.  Gabrielle felt almost regretful that Velaska believed her own truths.  Then Velaska spoke in her haunting death filled voice.  She saw right through the eyes of the bard and with the weapon of every single thought that came from behind them.  This haunted the bard for she found guilt knowing that in her heart she had been so afraid of Velaska that she had found some sort of solace in knowing Velaska was dead.  But now Velaska seemingly had Gabrielle’s soul at her mercy despite the hand of Celesta.

Xena stepped forward upon the ceremonial platform realizing the severity of Velaska’s injuries.  The warrior princess wanted to help Velaska realizing just what Gabielle had realized.  Xena offered to help Velaska, but Velaska responded with defiance and strength.  She declared that she needed the help of no one.  Gabrielle could see as Velaska spoke helplessly that she had felt betrayed by her sisters.  Though it was her own selfish aspirations which had brought her to this demise.  Velaska had sadly betrayed herself.

Suddenly the thought of pity for Velaska left the bard’s mind and the minds of all others who witnessed the next unexpected event.  Velaska smiled with darkness in her eyes as she reached into her belt pouch.  Then the worst nightmare possible came to pass.  She held up the ultimate weapon and the ultimate revenge upon her sisters and upon Gabrielle.  It was a small piece of ambrosia that had not been destroyed in the fire.  Somehow Velaska had been able to save just enough to bring her the ultimate gift from the gods.  Immorality with the power of the gods behind it.

Just as Velaska’s breaths were audibly becoming shorter and struggled she smiled and stuffed the ambrosia down into her mouth.  As her hand shook uncontrollably she suddenly fell to the ground in weakness.  Then all was quiet momentarily until the power of the ambrosia took the place of certain death.  Velaska’s mortal body lit up as it blinded all who beared witness.  Suddenly she cried out in pain and anguish and then the transformation came to pass.  For a moment all was quiet again as Velaska slowly rose from the ground and felt the power of the ambrosia running through her veins.  Then she looked up at her stunned audience seemingly uncertain of what she wanted to do next.

Gabrielle knew exactly what Velaska would do next and just as the thought crossed the bard’s mind Velaska fixed in on her.  She looked up and shouted out Gabrielle’s name in a commanding tone.  Then Velaska rose her arm and pointed her finger in the direction of the startled bard.  Gabrielle found herself frozen within her boots.  It was like a nightmare, but it was real.  Xena quickly acted noticing the fearfully frozen bard.  Xena called out to Gabrielle as Velaska took aim and  a powerful static beam eminated from her body.  The beam was perfectly on target taking down the queen’s ceremonial throne as Xena dove upon the bard to save Gabrielle from Velaska’s wrath.

Gabrielle found herself suddenly dragged back into the reality of the situation.  She found herself realizing that she had reacted to Velaska instead of acting as Xena had done.  Yet there was little time to think about this amateur mistake.  Xena and Gabrielle looked upon Velaska awating her next strike as Ephiny made a fatal choice.  She courageously gave the command to the amazons to attack the enemy, but Xena quickly responded openly against this idea.  The warrior princess was certain that Velaska could wipe out the entire tribe in just minutes.  Suddenly Velaska responded with more power and static beams.  She next took down the Queen’s hut demonstrating futher the wrath of her chaotic power.

Amazons rushed to dodge the flames and the beams as Velaska was testing her new strength.  She was exploring her new found power and the warrior princess knew it.  Xena quickly realized that this was the time to escape.  Velaska had quickly become distracted by her own power and was for the moment no longer focased on Gabrielle.  Suddenly Ephiny gave the commaned for the amazons to run.  Everyone fell back toward the woods with Xena and Gabrielle leading the way.  For Gabrielle there was little time to think.  The only thing she could feel was her legs carrying her away from the impending danger.

Then her mind was interrupted by the horrendous voice of vegence once more.  It reminded Gabrielle that it was coming for her and it would stop at nothing to destroy her.  Xena soon caught up to her helpless friend encourging Gabrielle to go on ahead.  The warrior princess would stay back and take care of the amazons.  She would be certain to bring them to safety.  Gabrielle wasted little time in allowing her legs to carry her to the safety of the woods as Xena returned to the battle.  While the bard continued to move toward the cover of the trees she could still clearly hear every moment of the battle.  It was a terrifying thought to imagine what Velaska’s power might do if Xena were to fall victim to it herself.  Yet Gabrielle could not allow herself to fix on that thought for too long.  Suddenly she heard Velaska’s voice chiming in again.  It echoed through the land and into the depths of the forrest.  Gabrielle had just reached the trees as she heard Velaska shout out against Ephiny.

The bard heard Velaska proclaim her vegenance against the new Queen and then there was the sound of a large explosion.  Gabrielle was uncertain if anyone had been injured.  There seemed to be little hope for any amazon or even the warrior princess of escaping the wrath of this newborn goddess.  Then the former amazon princess found herself having to stop for her heart was pounding seemingly outside of her chest.  Her legs were burning with exhaustion from running as her chest rose and vell violently.  Gabrielle leaned up against a nearby tree and suddenly felt a hand upon her shoulder.  The moment was startling as if Velaska were standing right there beside Gabrielle.  Yet as she turned to face the enemy and her fear she found that the hand belonged to the warrior princess.  Xena smiled softly hoping to comfort her terrified friend, but to no avail for Velaska again cried out.

The goddess seemingly held no mercy for the innocent despite it all.  Velaska then reminded Gabrielle again of her power as a god.  She strongly reminded all who could hear her that Gabrielle could run, but would never be able to hide from her wrath and power.  Then Velaska cackled and it echoed on for several moments and through every tree in the forrest.  Xena looked to her friend saddened for her.  She wanted desparately to be able to take away this burden from the bard, but it was obvious that there was no turning back for the rightful amazon queen.  There was a sense of regret within the bard’s heart for having ever thought that she could ever have led the amazon nation alone.

Quickly Xena and Ephiny led the amazons and Gabrielle to a cave.  There they hid from Velaska and regrouped.  Yet there were so many injured amazons who had laid their lives on the line for the glory of their queen.  Gabrielle felt almost undeserving of this.  She began to feel as if this were her fault.  The bard took full responsibility within her heart.  As Gabrielle tended to Eponin’s sprained arm Xena spoke to Ephiny and Gabrielle about the plan of action.  Xena mentioned that at the moment of the large explosion she had thrown herself in front of Ephiny.  The warrior princess expressed that there indeed was a powerful punch to Velaska, but not enough to destroy anyone yet.  Ephiny had also noticed this weakness, but there was another weakness to the goddess.  Xena told Ephiny of how she had noticed Velaska’s fascination with herself.  The warrior princess was certain that it would hold off Velaska for a while, but not for too long.

The main plan was for Ephiny to remove all of the wounded from the cave and to take them to Tyldus at the Centaur camp.  Xena was certain that they would be safe there for the moment since the Centaurs had not yet made it to Velaska’s target list.  As Eponin argued that they should go back and fight Velaska Xena reminded her that a goddess could not be defeated by warrior skill alone.  Xena had an alternate plan.  She instructed Ephiny to take the amazons out and use themselves as a distraction to keep Velaska from reaching Gabrielle.  The warrior princess needed as much time between herself and the goddess as possible.  It was obvious that she had a final part of the plan yet she did not choose to openly express it.  And then Gabrielle realized that it was time to make light of the situation.  It seemed the only way to make it bearable.  She chimed in reminding everyone that no one was in more trouble than she herself at the moment.  Despite her efforts to comfort herself with a sarcastic spin on the situation it came across with a serious emotional  response.  The dreadful feeling of being grippd by fear still found its way through the bard’s heart.  Everyone in the group looked to the helpless ametuer queen realizing her fears as their own.  Ephiny then reminded Gabrielle that she too was on the top of Velaska’s target list.  It was an attempt at comforting the inexperienced amazon.

Gabrielle had finished wrapping Eponin’s arm as Ephiny reminded the warrior princess of her own injury.  Xena had hit the ground pretty hard in challenging Velaska to protect Ephiny.  Yet the warrior princess never seemed to be phased by the pain of her dislocated arm.  Eponin jumped up with enthusiasm ready for battle once again despite her own brush with death against the power of Velaska.  There was something seemingly comforting for Gabrielle as she saw the great courage illuminating from every amazon and even the warrior princess.  It seemed that everyone had a much brighter perspective on this seemingly doomed situation.  Still Xena warned that the amazons were only to hold Velaska off without risking death to a single amazon.

Then Xena walked over to the wall of the cave and relocated her own arm.  Gabrielle found herself stunned knowing that in her own mind she would have been screaming with pain.  Xena joked about her injury and Ephiny responded with concern and duty.  Then Ephiny took Eponin and the other amazons into battle once again.  As they left Gabrielle began to feel ill in the pit of her stomach.  It was unbelieveable that she could ever find herself the prey to an all powerful goddess.  As she looked to Xena the warrior princess was concerned for her friend’s well being.  Gabrielle continued her thoughts aloud to the warrior princess unable to fathom what plan could be the solution to this disaster.  Yet Xena did have a plan as always.  Xena revealed that the only way to defeat Velaska was to enlist another immortal to help them fight her.

Gabrielle seemed hopeful for a moment, but the hope quickly passed when she realized that immortals were not a dinar a dozen.  Where would a person find an immortal was the next question to the warrior princess.  Fortunately Xena did have someone in mind that could do the job yet her response was cryptic and the look in her eye more terrifying.  Gabrielle couldn’t imagine what the down side of this could be.  Until she thought of a story that she had heard in a village tavern recently.  The bard had caught wind of a battle that had occurred between Callisto and Hercules.  Details of the encounter between them were foggy, but Gabrielle did remember that Callisto had been left in a state of immortality despite being killed by the quicksand in her last battle against Xena.  The good part was that Callisto was trapped for eternity in a place of Hercules’s chosing, but that place was not one that Gabrielle cared to visit again.

The bard argued with the warrior princess about this choice.  Xena knew that the bard would disagree, but the warrior princess felt that it was the only choice.  The warrior princess reminded Gabrielle that Callisto’s immortality was the key, and the fact that Callisto could fight well in a heavy combat would prove an asset when it came down to the final part of the plan.  Gabrielle still refused to accept that Callisto was their only choice.  There had to be a better choice, and then it occurred to her.  She spouted off the name of Hercules for he was half god.  He could most certainly go up against an inexperienced goddess like Velaska.

Xena was firm in her choice of immortals for the job.  She reminded Gabrielle that it could take weeks to find Hercules and time was not on their side.  Xena stated that every time Velaska would use her powers they would drain her into a weakened state yet those periods of weakness would grow shorter as her powers matured.  Gabrielle was still firmly against this ludicrus idea.  It was the worst idea she had ever heard come from the mind of the master.  She could not face the demon that had taken Perdicus.  It was enough to have to deal with the fear of being hunted, but to couple it with fresh emotional wounds was too much.  Xena was asking for something Gabrielle refused to offer up.

The warrior princess then rose from her spot on the rock and spoke softly to the bard.  She reminded Gabrielle that she knew how much it hurt inside to be reminded of Callisto.  Yet Gabrielle could not accept Xena’s condulances for the warrior princess could not possibly understand this kind of loss.  As Gabrielle expressed her anger and refusal Xena seemed hurt by it.  Yet Gabrielle did not care.  Nothing mattered because all she could ever see when she closed her eyes was the death of her husband and the sounds of Callisto which had followed.  That irriating phsycotic scream coupled with that ugly evil laughter.  It was too much to bare again.  As Gabrielle continued her anger at Xena she reminded Xena that Callisto would never help her.  There would be no way to convince the blond nemisis to fight on the side of the good.  Gabrielle was certain of this.

Xena responded to Gabrielle’s harsh words with a reflection of the bard’s ugly outburst.  The warrior princess insisted that they would just have to find a way to talk Callisto into siding with them in the matter.  And then that was the end of the conversation.  The plan was set and Xena was going to follow it through.  Gabrielle had no other choice, but to follow the warrior princess to the place she never thought she would have to return to.

And the day was long as it wore into the night.  The two friends traveled with Argo in silence and without a word.  Gabrielle’s fear dictated her direction for she knew deep down that without Xena there would be no chance at survival despite this horrid plan.  Xena was completely focased on the mission and ignored the pouting bard.  By morning Gabrielle realized how much Xena loved her for she could just as easily have walked away after the bard’s defiance of her plan no matter the cost.  Yet the bard was still uncomfortable in having to face her enemy again.  She found herself spending the next morning preparing her heart for the torment that it would most certainly face.

As the day wore on a certain peace found its way into the bard’s heart.  She began to realize how special and how brave Xena truely was.  Gabrielle had almost forgotten through her anger that Xena’s heart had stakes in this too.  Her heart had to deal with the pain of knowing that it was her army that had destroyed Callisto’s family.  And it was in that moment that Gabrielle realized that the score was truely even and that Xena too carried a burden.  Yet she was willing to face that burden.  Gabrielle found herself willing to face that same burden if not for her own life for the lives of her amazon sisters.  Xena soon interrupted the peaceful and clarifying thoughts with more details on the location of the trap that Hercules had set for Callisto.  He had left her deep beneath the collapsed ceiling of an old demolished temple.  It was clear to the bard that they had arrived at the ruins, but finding the small collapsed area underneath the rubble proved to be more difficult.

After several moments of prodding through the sight Gabrielle caught sight of a possible entrance into the world of the blond immortal.  The two friends approached their fears together as Xena prepared a rope to lower herself down into the pit of despair.  As Xena prepared the contraption using an old cross beam Gabrielle took a deep breath and closed her eyes in an attempt to visualize her challenge and face it with courage.  Then she looked to Xena and said a comforting word.  She expressed to Xena her confidence in Xena’s idea and solution to the true issue.  Xena gave Gabrielle cautious instructions.  She wanted to be sure that Gabrielle was aware that Callisto could be freed only in the event of a solid agreement and commitment to go up against Velaska.

Then Gabrielle watched as Xena faced the unknown.  On the way down Gabrielle wished her friend goodwill and listened intently to the moments that followed after.  There was a lot of fear, anticipation, and emotion racing through the heart of the bard.  Yet she kept a tight grip on focas knowing her duty at hand.  Still she was afraid for Xena and of what to expect next.  After many long moments Gabrielle suddenly felt the double tug on the rope.  It was Xena’s signal to bring it up.  There would be only one way for the warrior princess to return.  It would be in the success of selling the deal to Callisto.  There was no turning back from this moment.

Gabrielle then waited for what seemed to be an eternity.  She was begining to feel that maybe she was stuck within an immortal nightmare.  The bard finally rose from listening to the sounds that were not audible down below.  There was not one clue as to how things were transpiring between the dark forces and the light.  As she leaned on her staff for comfort for several moments she drifted off into more scenarios and attempts to prepare for Callisto’s arrival.  Torn by her fear of Velaska, responsiblity to the amazons, and her hatred of Callisto the bard could barely breath inside.  Until her thoughts were interrupted by a cheerful sound.  It was Xena’s command for Argo.  Gabrielle now knew that Xena would certainly return to her, but it was still questionable as to whether or not she had succeeded at rounding up the support of Callisto.

Reluctantly Gabrielle threw down the rope and the waited.  Moments later she could see the rope moving and could soon hear the sounds of heavy breathing.  Her heart lept with the hope that it would be Xena, but as the arms rose from the darkness one of them grabbed Gabrielle and pulled her toward despair’s pit.  The bard struggled to gain her balance and was startled with the horrible face of Callisto.  It was scared by a blade, but those eyes were still a passionate fire of evil.  Gabrielle jumped back and away from the pit and scooped up her staff preparing to do battle against evil.  Evil struggled toward its own freedom gleefully.

Gabrielle was certain Callisto would try to kill her, but just when it seemed that there would be a battle to the death Callisto rose from the pit, took a deep breath, and expressed how beautiful the day was.  Yet she imagined it a beautiful day of blood and battle rather than of peace and harmony.  Gabrielle found herself unable to act or react to this statement.  It was hardly unexpected, but then Xena emerged from the pit of despair.  As the warrior princess struggled to her feet Gabrielle expressed her concern hoping that Xena would answer with strength and stealth.

Xena was in one piece and ready to complete the mission now that she had obtained the prize.  Yet Callisto mocked Gabrielle’s concern for Xena.  Gabrielle sensed a bit of hurt coming from within the seemingly soulless immortal .  It was obvious that Callisto did not appreciate the  rejection from Gabrielle.  For a slight moment Gabrielle found herself intrigued and wanting to understand this glimpse into Callisto’s soul, but the moment passed.  Callisto began to small talk with Gabrielle as if they had been lifetime friends.  It was confusing and eerie for the bard as Callisto seemingly expressed an interest in life outside of death.  Yet this turned into a virtual stabbing within the heart as Callisto defied her own interest with the reminder of the death of Perdicus.

She was cryptic asking if Gabrielle had married again since their last meeting.  This enraged the bard who could only react out of raw emotion as she struck Callisto broadly across the face with her staff.  Callisto’s head took the sharp blow returning to face Gabrielle.  The blond laughed in Gabrielle’s face with a slight sarcastic scream amused by the bard’s reaction to her words.  Callisto then reminded Gabrielle that she was immortal and could not be killed.  Yet the blond continued on as if to understand how Gabrielle felt inside.  Callisto was calm and spoke with an understanding tone describing the pain of the loss which Gabrielle still felt over Perdicus.  She explained how she knew that Gabrielle wanted nothing more than to be able to draw Callisto’s blood even within her immortal state.  The taste of it was still there in Gabrielle’s heart and Callisto could see it.  She could also bring it to the surface faster than any other.  Only Callisto could win Gabrielle’s battle within her heart over peace and blood.

Then Gabrielle stepped back slowly with great intrigue.  There was something strange about all of this connection with the one she hated most.  Though the bard did not dare to verbalize it openly.  She only listened to Callisto’s words and Callisto’s eyes.  There seemed to be someone peaking through all of that darkness.  Yet it was still phsycotic.  Then Callisto proclaimed that she would even volunteer her assistance in helping Gabrielle to ease that nagging thurst and pain.  She unsheathed her sword and prepared to strike.  For some strange reason the bard could suddenly relate and was unafraid of Callisto for the moment.  Her heart knew that Callisto was not going to kill her.  Instead Callisto turned her own sword against herself as she plunged in straight through her bare stomach.

The bard could feel Callisto’s pain within the pit of her own stomach.  It was an empty pain and it was sickening.  Gabrielle could barely keep her eyes focased to watch.  She wanted to close them and to shield them from this horrid desplay of self-hatred and destruction.  Gabrielle suddenly realized that this was the path she would have followed if she had taken her vengance when Callisto was still mortal.  It was then that the bard realized that no blood was worth that kind of pain.  Within that moment there was a sense of sorrow for this tortured individual.  Yet just as the sword went through the fair stomach of the blond the sound of shallow breaths eminated from her being.  Then the sword slid back out of Callisto’s body as she displayed it proudly proclaiming that there was not one single drop of blood upon it.

Callisto flashed a smile and then reminded all that immortals heal quickly, but there was one drawback.  The only way to defeat an immortal was to find a way to put her into pieces and that was not as easy as it sounded.  Few mortals would have that skill and ability.  Yet Callisto seemingly respected the warrior princess enough to know that Xena would probably succeed if pushed to the threat.  With that comment Xena was pushed to stop Callisto’s self-destructive show of her own pain.  Gabrielle suddenly found herself aware of what Callisto was doing.  She was very good at it too.  Callisto was pressing the buttons of both herself and Xena.  It was the only way Callisto knew how to communicate with people.  There was a strange admiration present within Callisto though the bard could not grasp or understand it.  Yet it was still clear that Xena was ready to move on and to finish the job they had come to do.

Xena began to move forward, but Callisto again took control.  There was rage within her voice as she denounced Xena’s command.  Defiant Callisto made it clear that there was one stop that had to be made before she could completely sign the deal.  It was something that Xena could never have expected and it would shock Gabrielle.  Gabrielle found herself trying to take control of the arguement between Xena and Callisto.  As she whispered into Xena’s ear reminding both that the amazons would not be able to hold off Velaska for long.  Xena quickly snapped out of her own disgust for Callisto’s show and again stated what Gabrielle had reminded.  Yet Callisto switched her voice into more of a calm soothing tone.  She promised that their stop would  not take long.  Callisto then reminded the two helpless mortals that without her there would be no winning the battle against Velaska.  And with that the blond sheathed her sword and led the way toward her selected destination.

It was a small prosperous village near where her own village had once stood.  Callisto demanded that Xena announce to all what she had done.  Humiliation was on Callisto’s personal agenda for the day.  She desired that Xena’s crimes against her family be stated openly for judgement.  And so Xena stepped upon the town square platform standing before Callisto’s selected jury.  The people of the village were unknowns yet they played the part of Callisto’s family, friends, and village aquaintances she had once known in Syra.  Gabrielle watched with disgust at this unnecessary sharade as the warrior princess took a deep breath and began.

The warrior princess then spoke to the essence of the people whom she had once wronged yet they had all perished so long ago.  There was only one who had survived yet she her soul had not.  Though Callisto herself did not die when Xena’s army had come to her village her soul had been tarnished forever.  Gabrielle watched both Xena and Callisto as Xena spoke to the lone survivor.  It was as if the audience was no longer there.  It seemed that only Xena and Callisto stood within that village alone as the warrior princess continued her confession.  Gabrielle caught sight of deep remorse and regret within the warrior princess as Xena spoke of the small village that had perished at her hands.  It had been very much like the village that they stood in at this moment.

There were so many parallels and comparisons.  There were so many innocents that were taken upon the arrival of Xena and her army.  Gabrielle looked back to Callisto only to see how pleased the blond was to watch Xena’s personal humiliation of herself and her own actions.  At first Gabrielle had thought that Xena had only been playing Callisto’s silly game, but then Xena spoke of the innocent young girl that stood before her.  The child that was lost and who would never return for she had lost her life and her family because of the warrior princess’s wreckless ways.  Gabrielle found herself shocked to look back and to notice that there was a deep connection between two fiercely bitter enemies.  For a moment it was as if there was a personal reconsiliation going on between them.

The bard could see deep sadness emerging from the depths of Callisto’s eyes.  It was as if Callisto was going to shed her first tears, but the blond fought desparately to hold them back.  For a moment Gabrielle began to understand Callisto’s pain as the warrior princess continued on.  Xena spoke of the lost little girl whose true fate in life would never be known now that Xena had entered it so violently.  Gabrielle found herself astonished yet almost driven to want to console the pain of Callisto.  She wanted to forgive Callisto for killing Perdicas knowing now that Callisto could relate to losing somone she had once loved.  It was amazing to see that somewhere within all of the darkness there was a small little light that still shun through Callisto though still confused.

Then the warrior princess was finished.  She was finished with her regrets and finished with her attempts at healing the wound that she had cast upon the young innocent Callisto so long ago.  Xena stepped down from the town square and approached Callisto who appeared deeply stunned and unexpecting of Xena’s final statements.  It seemed to the bard that there was only one thing left that could be done now to finalize the healing process.  Xena stood before Callisto for a long moment.  All was quiet between the two of them as if they were looking into each other’s souls.  Gabrielle thought for a moment that the warrior princess might reach out to Callisto and embrace all of the pain that the blond carried inside.  The bard thought that Xena might aplogize and that Callisto would accept that apology and move on.

But then Xena turned away from the ruined soul and declared that the time had come to complete the mission against Velasaka.  Gabrielle thought for a short moment that it was cold, but then she looked into Callisto’s eyes once more only to see empty confusion.  Maybe there truely was nothing there, and maybe what she had seen inside moments before was only hope reflecting back into her own heart.  Gabrielle was uncertain now yet she knew that her own heart still ached for Perdicas.

For many long moments as the three traveled things were uncomfortable and quiet until they finally reached the temple of Artemis.  It was the only thing that could have broken the unbearable silence.  Callisto laughed candidly at the sight of the crushed temple.  She commented on how effective the power of ambrosia really was.  Callisto couldn’t wait to get her hands onto some ambrosia herself.  Xena looked to the blond with a slight sneer as Gabrielle noticed at the gate on the other side of the temple court yard a dead man lied alone.  When the three approached him Xena noticed that his death was a fresh one which meant that Velaska was near.  She had been by within the last hour for even the temple itself was still smoking with the energy of Velaska’s now destructive powers.

Xena quickly led Gabrielle and Callisto to a nearby canyon knowing that Velaska would be sensing Gabrielle’s presence soon.  When the three entered into the canyon the sun was high over head.  Callisto looked about as did Gabrielle as the two assessed the situation.  Callisto seemed impressed with the location Xena had chosen to do battle as she complemented Xena with a subtle coment.  She spoke of Velaska’s lightening bolts and of how their power would be useless to Velaska within this tall unstable canyon.  Gabrielle found herself concerned noticing that there was a pile of rock above across the canyon that looked as if it were about to fall.  Xena then expressed how much of an advantage it would be for the new team of three to use those rocks against the power of Velaska’s lightening.  The warrior princess was certain that Velaska never thought things through very thouroughly.  Xena was counting on this as the third element of the plan.

Of course Callisto switched from complementary to irritated knowing that she was the fourth element of the plan.  She was expected to be the bait that would lead Velasaka into a fight.  Callisto questioned  the warrior princess on how the duration of the battle between herself and Velaska was expected to play out.  Xena simply answered that it should last only long enough to lure Velaska into the trap beneath the rock ledge.  Though Xena played coy with Callisto the blond was certain that there was betrayal at hand in the mix.  The prize for her was to obtain the ambrosia from the goddess of chaos, but Callisto couldn’t calculate how she would be able to get to it at the bottom of a pile of rock.  Yet Callisto decided to handle this personal concern casually and with some humor.  She asked Xena how she felt about sharing in the wealth of the ambrosia.  Of course Callisto thought it might be fun for the simple purpose of battling against her rival for enterity.

There was something quite strange and futile about that thought.  It led Gabrielle to feel as if Callisto had a bit of compassion for Xena depsite their differences.  Gabrielle knew that if the situation were reversed she would never invite Callisto to fight against her for an enterity.  Of course Xena’s response was just as casual with a certain avoidance to it.  She just reminded Callisto that Velaska was the priority and that they would deal with the ambrosia later.  And as expected Callisto seemed irritated in knowing that Xena gave away nothing more than was necessary for the current problem.  With that there was only one thing left to do.  Sitting and waiting was the most difficult part of the plan because no one was really certain how long it would be before Velaska would find them behind their haven of the rock pile.  Several hours went by with mostly silence although Callisto couldn’t resist taunting and torturing Gabrielle emotionally.  The sun fell deep into the western canyon before anything was to transpire.  Waiting for certain doom seemed to take a lifetime as Callisto looked to Gabrielle with an evil smile and then a grin followed by subtle yet playful laughter.

Gabrielle found herself just about at the end of her emotional rope until just a moment later Velaska appeared at the opposite end of the canyon.  Callisto was suddenly fixated onto the new challenge that had arrived barely able to contain her lust for a healthy battle.  Xena had to calm the child within Callisto as the three hid behind the large rock pile awaiting the right moment to attack.  All was quiet as Gabrielle watched Velaska intently.  The bard’s heart began to beat harder as Velaska continued to scan the canyon with her eyes and atune herself to the canyon.  Then Velasaka stopped scanning as a smile spread across her face.  She stated quietly under her breath that she could sense that there were three heart beats instead of two.  Velaska seemed pleased at this new surprise for she had fully expected to be taking on only Xena to get to Gabrielle.  The goddess seemed pleased at the challenge yet fully confident in her certain victory.  Gabrielle found this chilling as her heart raced with fear.  Velaska quickly responded to this allowing her prey the knowledge of her impending death.  The goddess was ready to stop the beating of the heart of her rival the amazon princess.

Under her breath Xena stated that it was the time to take action and to put things into motion.  There was not a better moment of opportunity and Callisto agreed that the moment was indeed perfect; however, not for the greater good.  Callisto’s voice was sour as she spoke and then suddenly she grabbed Xena’s chacrkam from its resting place and flipped into the battle arena.  Suddenly Callisto made her next move of defiance as she threw Xena’s chackram into the canyon walls delfecting it right into the rock pile above the canyon securing it from a fall.  And then the chackram was tamed by the blond with little effort.  Gabrielle had known only Xena to be able to tame the beast that was the chackram, but Callisto was dangerous with it.  Gabrielle found herself confused for the moment as she inquired of the new situation with Xena.  The bard was certain that the rocks falling onto Velaska had been the original plan.  Now it was suddenly changing and with no warning.  That was when Xena confirmed Gabrielle’s fear.  Callisto had just switched sides in the battle against Velaska.  Now they were finding that they would be up against not one immortal, but two.  This was not looking good in the bard’s eyes, yet Xena seemed quite calm as if she had expected this to happen.

And then it happened.  Callisto greeted Velaska as if she were offering her a deal.  It was one that could seemingly not be refused.  Callisto wanted to take down Xena and Velaska wanted Gabrielle.  Though the deal couldn’t get any sweeter for the enemyVelaska seemed unaware of the advantage of having Callisto as an ally.  Her response was a simple one.  She seemed disappointed that this strange warrior woman wanted to ally with a goddess.   YetVelasaka was curious to know more about this Callisto person.  Callisto explained in her usual manner of sarcasm that Xena rarely spoke of her.  It was another open stab at Xena’s heart.  Callisto invited Xena into the confrontation indirectly as she openly insulted Velaska’s intelligence.  Velaska then responded raising her arm preparing to zap

Callisto into oblivion.  Yet Callisto calmed Velaska quickly asking that Velaska hear the details of the offer on the table.  Callisto reminded Velaska that she had only one ally in the moment and that was Callisto herself.  Yet Velaska did not seem amused or at all interested in the deal.  Her pride got the better of her as she firmly stated that she did not need any friends and that she didn’t want any friends.

Callisto was quickly realizing that allying with Velaska was one thing, but convincing Velaska of the need for an ally was another challenge all its own.  Of course Callisto masterfully chimed in that Velaska had that feeling in common with her new ally as well.  Yet Velaska’s response was rejection again.  She was uncertain as to why Callisto was so casual about the subject of her own death.  Callisto’s response was again candid and sarcastic yet the situation between them was begining to lighten with Callisto’s demeanor.  It was as if Velaska were about to respect and trust in someone.  Just as the conversation became less tense between Callisto and Velaska Xena decided that it was time to act for if Callisto succeeded in winning over Velaska there would be no victory or life thereafter.  Gabrielle grabbed Xena’s arm unable to figure out what advantage was left, but Xena was confident.  She flipped out from behind the rock into the arena shouting across the canyon at Callisto.  Xena gave the command to take Velaska to Callisto knowing full well that Callisto had already chosen Velaska over Gabrielle.

Callisto was taken by surprise as she whipped around behind to see that Xena was grinning and bearing down waiting for battle.  Velaska wasted no time as she threw out a lightening bolt in the direction of the warrior princess who flipped out of its path toward the rock ledge.  The goddess struck a second time as Callisto watched her plan fall apart in horror.  Callisto shouted at Velaska to stop as she violently pushed the goddess to the ground.  It was in that moment that Gabrielle realized that this had been part of Xena’s plan all along.  The warrior princess ahd known that it would be Callisto who would betray an ally.  Yet Callisto’s attempt to force Velaska to wise up did not work in her favor.  Gabrielle quickly realized that she had her own choice to make.  She could push Velaska over the edge and defeat Callisto’s plan of defiance by jumping out of hiding and taking a chance.  Gabrielle lept up from behind the rock pile and shouted out to Velaska challenging her to strike a third time.  Velaska did not resist and stuck effortlessly and without thought.

Rocks flew in all directions and with great force and destructive power.  Callisto was enraged at Velaska’s unintelligent response.  She bolted for the goddess pushing Velaska to the ground as she screamed in fury.  Then Callisto reiterated to Velaska the seriousness of using her powers within the canyon.  The blond was desparately trying to win Velaska’s emotions and control of the battle, but it was too late.  The fragile trust she had built with Velaska had been destroyed by Xena’s defiance of Callisto’s betrayal.  Suddenly Velaska’s powers were unleashed upon Callisto sending her across the canyon smahing into a pile of rubble.  Callisto was then motionless and silent.  Gabrielle looked across the canyon and saw little movement from underneath the rubble.  The bard found herself a bit worried realizing that Callisto being knocked out of action had definately not been part of Xena’s plan.  Gabrielle then heard Xena calling out her
name as Xena flipped into action to face Velaska alone and without Callisto’s help.

The pace of the battle began to pick up as both Xena and Velaska drew swords.  Strangely Velaska could have easily taken Xena with the simple strike of a lightening bolt, but she had seen the damage that she herself had done to Callisto.  Velaska thought better of using her powers.  Gabrielle found herself watching in horror as Xena went up against Velaska in a battle to her own death.  Though Xena was brave and hopeful Gabrielle was not certain that Callisto would recover in time to join Xena in the battle.  After several strokes of the swords clashing Velaska paused against Xena in a stale mate and pleaded that Xena give up.  She reminded the warrior princess that because she was a goddess and Xena was mortal that the battle would never end, but Xena was confident that it would not be a long fight.  Just three clashes later Velaska decided that she wanted to end the battle herself.  She grabbed the end of Xena’s sword and stopped it instantly.  Xena’s strength was no match for Velaska’s power.  Suddenly Velaska grabbed Xena’s neck and lifted the warrior princess off of her feet and into the air.  The goddess began to choke the life out of the warrior princess who hung helplessly unable to save herself.

Gabrielle found herself frozen and unable to move.  It was a like a nightmare as the bard tried desparately awaken.  As the bard watched Xena’s sword left the warrior princess’s hand in the struggle to survive and dropped helplessly to the ground.  Just as the warrior princess was about to lose her life something miraculous happened.  Callisto sprung up from the pile of rubble and jumped onto Velaksa’s back enraged that the goddess had treated her so disrespectfully.  The blond had been offended by Velaska’s careless nature in dealing with her and expressed her displeasure as she broke Xena free from Velaska’s grasp.

Xena quickly fell to the ground as Callisto flipped over Velaska with her back to her newest enemy.  Then Callisto slyly pulled her sword from its sheath behind her back turning to face Velaska.  Anger poured from within Callisto as she fought Velaska with a forceful power.  Soon Xena jumped back to her feet retrieving her own sword from the sand.  The warrior princess charged into the battle with Callisto at her side.  Gabrielle watched curiously as the two women fought on the same side.  Each had her own style and intension behind each stroke of her sword.  Callisto’s rage was her power as Xena’s love was the power of the warrior princess.  Strangely both fought with the same technical skill, but neither seemed to be more powerful than the other.  Yet together they were the perfect balance against the unbalanced goddess who fought with neither love nor hate.  Velaska’s intension was seemingly more about making a statment and less about emotion.

After several moments of two on one fight Xena dropped out of the confrontation leaving Callisto to handle Velaska on her own.  The warrior princess rolled toward the pile of rubble on the ground retrieving her chackram as she came back to her feet again.  Then the warrior princess called out to Gabrielle who knew that it was time to jump into the battle.  The bard quickly jumped out of hiding using her staff as a javalin and hurling it toward the rock ledge above to free the the secured rocks.  Xena’s chackram gracefully deflected off the sides of the canyon until it raced toward the freed rock pile upon the ledge.  Callisto could hear the sounds of the whispering chackram as she quickly sheathed her sword and withdrew from her battle against Velaska flipping backward and away.  In the next moment the chackram had struck the unstable rock pile and the rocks tumbled down below onto their victim the goddess of chaos.

Velaska screamed horrified and surprised as the rocks came down upon her.  She was powerless and unable to stop her doom.  The three women watched as their enemy disappeared underneath the rubble hoping that their battle was won.  Yet there was no one more relieved than Gabrielle as she asked Xena if the battle had been over.  Sadly Xena spoke with little hope in her tone realizing that Velaska had become too powerful to be held by a pile of rock for eternity.  It was the sidetrip to that village to satisfy Callisto’s ego that had cost them a certain victory over Velaska.  It was obvious to Gabrielle that Xena was quite disgusted with Callisto for that unnecessary trip.  Then Xena walked away as Gabrielle followed leaving Callisto to contemplate her mistake.

Soon after leaving the canyon Callisto rejoined Xena and the bard as the sun went down and the three set up camp.  Again there was the strange silence between them that had been present before the battle against Velaska.  Yet there was something different this time.  Xena had left Gabrielle alone with Callisto for several moments by the campfire.  There was a certain discomfort, but the bard was troubled by something else.  She watched as Callisto played nervously with her sword sharpening it and reshaping it.  The bard noticed that even Callisto seemed a bit peturbed by something which Gabrielle found to be unusual for the blond.  Gabrielle never remembered seeing Callisto appearing nervous.  And so the burning question passed through the bard’s lips.  She broke the silence with Callisto enticing the blond into a practical yet emotional conversation.  Callisto was flattered yet shocked that Gabrielle was even curious about her.  Gabrielle felt confident for a moment in knowing that there was a possibility that Callisto did have a soul underneath all of that rage.  Suddenly she posed the question that burned within.  Gabrielle wanted to know if it was true what she had seen and felt from Callisto back at the village.  She wanted to know if Callisto truely had felt remorse or sadness back there as Xena had confessed before the masses.

Just when it seemed as if the two could have a real conversation without Callisto’s wall of sarcasm and Gabrielle’s unforgiving pain Callisto snapped back into her defense.  At first Callisto did not answer.  Gabrielle pressed harder for the light that she had thought she had seen within Callisto back at the village.  Then Callisto suggested with a soft smile that the two play a game with one another.  She promised to answer Gabrielle only if Gabrielle were to volunteer an answer to her own question.  There was a serious tone within Callisto which did not appear threating yet Gabrielle was uncertain still.  The bard knew that she would never get her answer if she did not agree to the game.  Gabrielle decided that the risk of the game was worth Callisto’s answer to her own question.  And so Callisto began.

She spoke softly and regretfully and it was almost soothing as the blond described the feeling behind it all.  Callisto began with bits and pieces.  They were fragments of feelings and emotions, but nothing that she could grasp hold of.  She said that her heart was not capable of grasping feeling anymore.  Instead she described it in a way that Gabrielle could understand.  Callisto told Gabrielle to think of the love that she had for her own family back in Podedia.  She continued asking Gabrielle to embrace their love for her in her mind and in her heart.  Gabrielle was feeling the warmth and the comfort of Lila and her mother and father as she listened to Callisto speaking.  The bard began to feel the elequence of Callisto’s heart and of Callisto’s soul as the blond continued her epic spiritual struggle within.  Suddenly, the elequence was interrupted with the horror of having to kill Lila, and mother, and father.  There was so much pain and saddness within.  Gabrielle began to feel Callisto’s pain as her own and to embrace it with an understanding she had never been able to accomplish before.  There was a bit of comfort creeping into her heart in knowing that Callisto could relate and that she could relate with Callisto despite having lost Perdicus.

Just as Gabrielle felt that she might want to comfort Callisto for the first time Callisto’s spirit turned cold and black resuming the game it had begun with Gabrielle.  Callisto then posed her question as Gabrielle waited with fearful reluctance knowing that she was now vulnerable before Callisto’s darkness.  Darkness did not waste time in finding the thread to unravel.  Callisto’s voice creaked with evil as she was curious what she had evoked from Gabrielle’s innocent heart in the moment that she had sliced Perdicus open with her blade.  The bard’s heart felt the ache once again as if she were reliving Perdicus’s death.  She watched horror turn into pain, and then into rage.  Vegence soon followed leading into hatred.  It was the hatred and the rage that she had been fighting for months to hold back for she had never wanted to act on it.  Yet it seemed to be Callisto’s ultimate goal.  Callisto wanted to draw that bloodlust from within Gabrielle’s innocence and Gabrielle was highly aware of it yet still vulnerable.  The bard quickly rose from the camp fire and bolted out of the camp as Xena was returning.  Gabrielle was so enraged that she walked right through the warrior princess who was confused by the bard’s action for a moment.  Yet that moment was quickly realized when Callisto revealed that she had proudly caused the bard more pain.  As the bard walked on into the lonliness of the night Callisto’s laughter echoed in the darkness through the campfire and beyond.

For the bard the night could not end.  After several moments of silent meditation in the woods she found herself returning to the camp.  She had calmed her her heart of its rage and was again ready to face Callisto.  As the bard approached she overheard Xena discussing the day’s plan with Callisto.  Callisto had just posed a quesiton to the warrior princess wondering if she would trust Callisto with the plan.  Xena explained confidently that she could trust Callisto now for the battle at the canyon had ensured that both Velaska and Callisto were now enemies to each other.  The warrior princess also boasted that she was highly aware of how much the ambrosia meant to Callisto’s own cause.  Of course Callisto found it clever and amusing at the same time as usual.  Although there was a sense of annoyance within Callisto’s demeanor realizing that Xena knew her too well.

It seemed to the bard that Callisto’s hatred had turned into a sisterhood between herself and Xena.  There was a certain admiration and it was another way to relate to Callisto.  In a way Callisto was yet another of Xena’s students as Gabrielle was.  Yet Callisto had been a student of the darkness that Xena had once carried.  Gabrielle found solace in knowing that she couldn’t blame Callisto for being mislead as a young girl by the attraction of the warrior princess despite the darkness.

The conversation continued between the two women.  Callisto sighed in defeat and then posed another battle question to Xena.  Xena explained how there was a lava pit beyond the moutains in the canyon beyond some ruins.  It was not far from the camp.  This was the place that she had planned to defeat Velaska.  Suddenly it all began to make sense to Gabrielle.  The plan had never been to defeat Velaska in the first battle for the warrior princess had known that Callisto would betray her.  The first battle was set up to ensure that Velaska would be defeated alongside Callisto despite Callisto’s own feelings and desires.  Callisto of course had figured out Xena’s brilliance too.  She thought outloud as she spoke repeating back Xena’s thoughts.  The plan was simple.  Velaska would be led to the ruins where her powers would be contained.  Once those powers were contained Velaska would be easy to take out.  The lava pit would be certain to trap a godess forever and since Velaska was inexperienced she didn’t have much of a chance against an immortal with equal strength.

There was only one problem.  Someone had to draw Velaska into the trap.  There had to be a sacrifice to entice Velaska into the canyon ruins.  For Callisto the answer was simple.  She gleefully spoke of Gabrielle reminding Xena of Velaska’s obscession to kill the bard.  Callisto was certain that it would be enough to occupy Velaska’s ego so that she could push the goddess into the lava pit for enternity.  Xena reluctantly knew that she would have to ask Gabrielle to put her life into the path of Velaska’s destructive power.  And as Gabrielle listened she knew that it was the only way and so she would do her duty.

Early the next sun the three left camp for the canyon beyond the mountains.  They would have to hurry their pace to make it to the ruins before Velaska would catch up to them.  By mid morning they had arrived and as the three entered the ruins Callisto led the way.  At first all was quiet.  The morning was calm and serene with only the sound of three sets of boots sloshing through the dried leaves on the ground.  Yet Callisto couldn’t resist the silence.  It was as if it always made her feel uncomfortable.  It did not last as she commented on how the spot was perfect and she took another stab at Xena stating that it reminded her of home.  Gabrielle realized that Callisto was just irritated that Xena had won the first battle succeeding in pitting her against Velaska.  However, Xena responded by ignoring the comment and proceeding with the problem at hand.  She immediately spoke stating that the three of them needed to find higher ground before the arrival of the goddess.  It would give them an advantage.  Xena followed with a declaration marking certain within her mind that this would be the certain end for Velaska.

Of course Xena’s lack of response to Callisto’s emotional stab only made the blond more determined to get under Xena’s skin.  Callisto continued taking stabs as she inquired of Xena how to present Gabrielle to Velaska.  Callisto’s suggestion was to put Gabrielle upon a stake like a helpless little sacrificial lamb.  The blond insulted the bard further by alluding that the bard might run and hide otherwise.  Gabrielle found herself in need to defend herself against Callisto’s tasteless remarks, but it wasn’t a vengeful sense of defense.  It was more of a factual defense.  Gabrielle was begining to see that what Callisto preyed on within herself was her own innocence.  Callisto viewed it as a weakness.  Gabrielle was determined to prove her innocence was indeed the strength.  The bard could understand why Callisto felt this was for it was within her own innocence that Xena’s darkness had stricken her and her family so many years before.  Gabrielle followed up reiterating what Xena had stated before.  She spoke again of Velaska’s end yet her heart was even sensing that this could also be the end of her own pain.  Gabrielle hoped that maybe her forgiveness of Callisto could lead to Callisto’s forgiveness of Xena and the end of each suffering individual.  The three of them working toegether in a common cause could heal them.  But just as the bard had hoped to turn the light on within Callisto’s heart Callisto only responded with a reminder that once Velaska had met her end their alliance would be over.  It meant that Callisto would battle the warrior princess until the end.  Callisto could not forgive Xena which made Gabrielle her enemy despite Gabrielle’s forgiveness.

Gabrielle watched as Xena looked on knowing what Gabrielle had tried to do.  Callisto continued ranting about how she would have her ambrosia in the end which would make her impossible for Xena to defeat.  But Callisto paused a moment within her glorious victory realizing that Xena had probably already thought of a plan that would rob her of even that pleasure.  Callisto then turned away from the bard and paced in front of and then around the warrior princess going over this new scenario within her mind.  She did indeed know the warrior princess well as Xena had known her very well.  ThenCallisto paused and looked the warrior princess over while Xena again reminded Callisto that the first battle against Velaska would have to be won before she needed to worry about dealing with Xena again.  Xena’s next statement was a reminder to Callisto that staying alive against Velaska was the most important part of their plan.  Yet Callisto only snickered at Xena’s suggestion and retorted reminding the bard and the warrior princess that staying alive was no longer a concern for herself.  She was immortal.  It was all a silly joke to her really.  Callisto looked back to Gabrielle flashing a silly smile with a triumphant glance.  Even Gabrielle found herself realizing defeat, but not by Velaska and not in a life and death battle.  Gabrielle was defeated in knowing that despite her hopes for releasing Callisto from her pain there was no saving Callisto’s soul.  For the bard this was a frustrating yet saddening prospect.  Gabrielle then leaned upon her staff sighing within her own heart yearning to let go of Callisto’s pain and of Callisto’s crimes against Perdicas.

Just as Gabrielle had found herself lost within the emotional web between Xena, Callisto, and herself there was a strange sound.  It sounded as if there was a storm coming, but the sky was completely clear.  Yet the sound began to turn into a whispering wind and then suddenly into a strong gust.  The gust became the sound of Velaska’s evil laughter and then the goddess appeared.  She appeared within a cyclone that was so powerful that the bard could no longer stand.  Suddenly she found herself being dragged across the ground by a force stronger than her own will.  As Gabrielle went hurtling toward the cyclone she clutched her staff and called out to Xena.  Xena called back frantically unable to decide what to do next.  Gabrielle found herself unable to hold onto her staff and lost grip.  The only thing she could do to save herself from the vortex of evil was to grab a loose tree root sticking out from the ground of the ruins.

Next Gabrielle heard Xena call out to her to hold on and that she would come to help.  The bard did not feel that she could hold onto the root long enough to save herself from Velaska.  Yet just as the bard was about to lose her grip she felt Xena slide down upon the ground next to her.  Xena had grabbed hold of an old rod sticking out of the groun of the ruins directly in the path of Velaska’s vortex.  When she arrived by Gabrielle’s side she asked that Gabrielle grab hold of her, but the bard was not so certain that she would be able to transfer her grip successfully from the root to the warrior princess.  Quickly the bard switched to the warrior princess, but in the next second both were hurtiling toward Velaska’s ligthening filled vortex of wind, evil, and fury.  Just before reaching the grasp of the goddess Xena used the old pole to plunge them over top of Velasak’s fierce vortex to safety using an old fallen column as a catapult.  Gabrielle screamed with surprise and fear as the two landed safely away from the vortex on the other side of the ruins.

The two then hid behind a pile of columns to cover themselves from the fury.  Velaska had been unable to find them within her vortex and suddenly she dissappeared.  All that could be seen were a few rustling leaves and then nothing.  There was an eerie calm silence across the ruins.  Even Callisto appeared surprised and a bit confused.  It was as if Velaska had been fooled into thinking they were gone.  Until there was an echoing of a voice calling out Gabrielle’s name.  It was indeed the goddess and she had finally caught up to the amazon princess.  Velaska declared that Gabrielle had done well in avoiding her for the past few days, but that it was now time for the bard to meet her demise.  This statment was followed by that echoing evil laughter as the bard and the warrior princess desparately searched for Velaska’s visual.  Suddenly there was a moment of quiet and then the warrior princess quickly responded pushing Gabrielle foward to run toward the lava pit.  This action was followed by a sudden bold of energy which struck the place where Gabrielle had been standing.

Gabrielle and Xena continued to run across the ruins toward the lava pit as Velaska’s bolts of energy exploded in a path just behind them.  Xena dove behind and rolled foward over and around the columns which stood in their path.  Then the warrior princess grabbed the bard when they had reached higher ground concealing them behind an old stone wall.  Callisto was just in front of them now and behind the column which had sustained the most recent blast.  Callisto turned to the warrior princess candidly as she was about to rise.  Xena knew that they had the advantange when she realized that Velaska thought that she was only up against two instead of three.  She instructed Callisto to stay down and then told Callisto that all she needed to to was get behind the ruins on the other side of the canyon where the lava pit was.  Callisto responded looking forward to her challenge against Velaska.  She couldn’t wait to throw Velaska to her doom into the pit.  Xena continued explaining the plan to Callisto stating that there was a rope bridge just over the pit.  It would be there that they would have to lead Velasaka.

Callisto looked to the bard responding that that part of the plan would be easy since Gabrielle was the prize for Velaska.  Then she stood giving Velasaka every oppritunity to see her and stated that the next time they met she would be a god.  Callisto’s eyes burned of determination and fire.  She knew that to defeat Velaska would mean that she could easily rip apart the warrior princess.  Then Callisto ran for the lava pit.  There were a series of explosions which followed Callisto’s path, but they did little damage to Callisto.  The ground shook beneath the bard and the warrior princess as Gabrielle spoke up.  Her voice was grim as she reminded Xena that Callisto was right.  It was she who had to lead Velaska to the bridge.  Xena objected harshly explaining that it was never in the plan for a moment that the bard should sacrifice herself.  Yet Gabrielle did not care.  Though she was still fearful she knew that Callisto was still in the right.  It was the only way to be certain that Velaska would get onto the bridge.  Then Xena reminded Gabrielle that they also had to get Callisto onto the bridge as well.  The plan was to despose of not just Velaska, but Callisto too.  Xena’s final plan was revealed to the bard quickly and between blasts.  She said that she would certain that during Callisto’s battle against Velaska upon the bridge the ropes could be cut and the two would go plunging into the lava pit for eternity.  They would be so busy fighting each other that neither would notice Xena cutting the ropes.  Gabrielle quickly braced herself for action knowing that it was now the moment of truth.

Xena and Gabrielle then ran toward the rope bridge as they tried to out run Velaska’s blasts.  The warrior princess shouted when she saw the bridge instructing Gabrielle to get to the otherside quickly.  Just before the two reachd the bridge there was another loud crash and boom.  It knocked both off of their feet to the edge of the lava pit.  Gabrielle hit the ground hard losing her senses for a moment until she heard Velaska’s voice as the goddess stood over her.  Velaska was pleased that Gabrielle was seemingly an easy prey as the bard flipped over to face Velaska still upon the ground.  Xena jumped up quickly from the edge of the pit and drew her sword instantly to face Velaska.  Velask was annoyed by the warrior princess’s presence and with just one  raised arm she threw Xena across the lava pit effortlessly with her power.  The warrior princess could be heard struggling through the air as Gabrielle watched Xena slam onto the wall on the other side of the canyon.

Though Xena had not been killed she was incapable of helping the bard now.  Xena had to scale the side of the canyon to save her own life.  The bard was quickly ripped out of her concern for Xena into her own dire situation against Velaska.  Velaska asked if the bard was afraid.  Gabrielle took a deep breath and responded with honesty.  She told Velaska that she was afraid for she did not want to die.  Velaska seemed pleased by the honesty and thought for a moment that maybe she did not want to kill the bard.   Gabrielle urged Velaska to follow that feeling, but Velasaka would not.  Instead she laughed slightly and smiled reminding Gabrielle that her death would please her even more although Velaska had a bit of respect for Gabrielle.  It was the bard whom had given her the gift of godhood when Gabrielle guided her to the realization that she didn’t need to be queen of the amazons.  Instead Velaska could be a goddess and shape the world as she pleased instead of trying to shape an amazon nation that was already expired in her opinion.  In the next moment Velaska pointed her finger out toward the bard about to strike her dead with her powers, but as the bard closed her eyes awaiting her death and her last breath Velaska stopped.  The goddess could not kill her that way.  Instead Gabrielle opened her eyes again as her chest rose and fell violently to find Velaska reaching into her leather arm cuff for her knife.  Velaska had decided that Gabrielle needed to die a long painful death.  It was the only thing that would seemingly satisfy her rage.  Gabrielle’s muscles tensed and her heart raced within her chest as if trying to get out.  She watched the long thick blade approaching her.  Then as Velaska was about to strike she asked that Gabrielle deliver a message to Hades.  She told the bard that she would be dropping by to visit him in Tarturus soon.

Life was fluttering away from the bard until suddenly she saw hate jump upon the back of evil and scream out for the ambrosia.  Callisto quickly grabbed the knife and used it to cut the pouch of ambrosia hanging from Velaska’s belt.  There was a fierce struggle between the two dark beings as Gabrielle watched the ambrosia fall to the ground.  Her first instinct was to grab the ambrosia and go running across the rope bridge.  Just as the bard acted and was about to rise to her feet to run away Velaska kicked the bard hard sending Gabrielle through the air and falling directly into the lava pit.  The bard screamed with surprise, but was able to grab hold of the rope bridge barely saving herself from certain death for the moment.  When she looked down all that could be seen was the raging lava running beneath her.  The heat rose from the depths of it as if beckoning death to take its certain victim.  Gabrielle hung with just one hand gripping the rope.  She realized quickly that there would be a little chance of survival holding on with only one hand.  The bard transferred the ambrosia into her mouth and held tightly to the rope with both hands.  She looked across the canyon to see that Xena had reached the rope and was about to save herself from death.  Soon Xena would be able to rescue Gabrielle as Callisto and Velasaka continued their intense battle.

Suddenly Callisto was at the edge of the bridge about to climb onto it until she realized that it was not wise.  Then she begged Gabrielle to give her the ambrosia.  Gabrielle refused knowing that it would be Xena’s end if Callisto had the ambrosia.  Callisto found herself frustrated and screamed demanding that Gabrielle give her the ambrosia.  Gabrielle looked to the other side of the bridge for a sign from Xena.  The warrior princess shouted out that Callisto should have the ambrosia.  Reluctantly Gabrielle took her hand off of the rope and threw the leather pouch to Callisto who caught it gleefully.  She wasted no time in opening the gift from the gods as she stuffed it into her mouth.  Gabrielle watched as the immortal went into a painful transformation as she screamed and struggled to stand up upon the rope bridge.  There was fire and lightening emminating from her body as the bard held tightly to stay alive.  Callisto then rose to her feet now an immortal god as she took a few steps more onto the bridge and turned to face Velaska once more.

Gleefully Callisto smiled ready to do battle against chaos and Velaska wasted little time in enguaging with Callisto who was another annoyance to her.  Velasak was about to join Callisto on the bridge until she realized that Callisto had already eaten the ambrosia.  This meant that the battle had been evened and that to enter onto the bride would be a higher risk than before.  Velaska stayed close to the edge upon the bridge as Callisto was just feet from Gabrielle.  The two clashed in a battle of godly wills as lightening bolts emminated from their hands.  They screamed in their powerful struggle as the bridge shook violently.  It was becoming increasingly difficult for Gabrielle to hold onto the bridge as the two goddesses battled it out.  Gabrielle looked to Xena and called out to her frantically seeing that the warrior princess had finally reached safety.  Xena called out for Gabrielle to hold on as she prepared a rope.  Gabrielle was quickly losing her grip upon the bridge as the two gods continued to struggle and called out to Xena again.  There was no way that her will could battle against the wills of powerful gods.  Her mortal strength could not outlast theirs.

Gabrielle was quickly realizing that she would have to die in order to save the lives of others.  She asked that Xena hurry and cut the rope in that moment, but Xena refused to let go of Gabrielle’s life.  The warrior princess continued preparing the rope as she tied it to her waste.  Gabrielle knew that this would be Xena’s only chance to defeat the two goddesses.  The bard scolded Xena for not cutting the rope, but Xena refused to do it until she had Gabrielle safe.  Suddenly the bard noticed that the bridge jerked violently for the battle of the gods had ceased between their powers.  Neither could out will the other.  Suddenly the two met each other in the middle battling it out physically as if one could kill the other.  There was so much anger and rage to will against that the bard found herself begining to slip.  Xena kept calling out to the bard trying to get her friend to focas as she asked Gabrielle not to look away from her.  The warrior princess then grabbed her chackram and used it to slice through the first of three ropes which held the bridge in place.  It was enough to plunge both Callisto and Velaska into the depths of the fiery pit.

Gabrielle watched as the two fell and struggled all the way to their demise, but then lost grip on one of her hands upon what was left of the bridge.  Gabrielle called out to Xena once more in a last moment of desparation as she felt her other hand slipping unable to stop it.  Gabrielle watched as Xena dove into the pit to rescue her with a rope tied to her waste.  The bard’s will was finally exhaused as her fingers slipped off of the rope and she felt herself plunging toward the immense heat of the lava.  Gabrielle looked up for Xena and suddenly felt the comfort of Xena’s strong hands.  The bard grabbed hold of them tightly her arms stretched beyond their own strain.   Gabrielle’s chest rose and fell as her heart had almost stopped.  A sigh of relief had spread throughout her body as she looked up at the warrior princess who smiled in triumph.  Gabrielle looked down one more time realizing how close she had come to becoming a victim of hot running lava beneath.

Finally the end of a seemingly long journey had come as both Gabrielle and Xena had reached the safety above the canyon once again.  Gabrielle wondered how long the lava would hold their enemies.  Xena’s hope would be that eternity would be enough time.  She explained that they would have to take the long way out of the canyon now that the bridge had been destroyed.  Then the warrior princess joked about the inconvience expressing that now they had plenty of time to waste.  Time was no longer their issue or their concern.  Yet Gabrielle looked back to the lava pit once more as she expressed to Xena her feeling and concern.  She wondered if Callisto felt sorry for all of the things she had done.  Xena harshly answered that she did not feel that at all.  Gabrielle explained then that despite what Xena thought she felt that Callisto truly did feel sorry for if she didn’t Gabrielle would not be able to forgive Callisto.  Then the bard continued explaining to Xena that if she could not forgive Callisto then she would not be able to move on with her own life.  It seemed that Xena did understand despite her opinion and so Gabrielle took one last look at the lava running beneath and said good-bye to the blond woman who had taken her love.  Forgiveness was the key if not for Callisto for the bard of Potedia.

The Xena Scrolls: Volume #2: Scroll #23: Death Mask

The Xena Scrolls

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Potedia

Scroll#23:  Death Mask

August, 48 B.C.

 

     I sing of the wrath of vengeance.  Of how it began and of how it could end.  Gabrielle walked alongside Xena and Argo twirling her staff about.  She pondered the skills of the warrior princess with great intrigue for Xena’s warrior talents were extraordinary indeed.  The bard could only find herself dreaming of the possibility to master these skills herself.  As she imagined and tried to work through her mind how it was that the warrior princess could capture an arrow with nothing, but her bare hands.  Xena had never missed.  It was like she always somehow knew when danger was upon her.  Gabrielle found herself desperately trying to understand how the warrior princess could do this.  She came to speak her thoughts aloud.  The warrior princess found herself involved trying to explain to Gabrielle that there was nothing to think about.

      Instead Xena said that the bard must allow her body to listen for the enemy.  To feel its approach was how it was done and not to think about the process.  There was no time for thought in the times of danger.  Only instinct could seemingly save the warrior princess.  Gabrielle still did not understand for she wasn’t so certain that she herself had that warrior instinct.  Yet as the bard tried to listen she heard something not within her ears, but within her body for the first time.  It was from just beyond the trees on the path.  It felt like a crossbow releasing an arrow.  suddenly the bard’s body reacted as she thrust her staff in the air capturing the danger upon its contact with her staff.  Gabrielle found herself shocked that she had heard the danger from within the trees.  Yet there was little time to think for a battle was about to ensue.

     The enemy who had delivered the arrow into the bard’s staff revealed himself to the warrior princess as she flipped into battle.  Xena chose not to fight with her weapon for it was only one man.  She delivered thunderous kicks and blocked the enemy advance.  Then she punched back knocking the enemy to the ground.  As the bard took note of the warrior princess’s weaponless moves she found her body tuning into another intrusion of danger from behind.  Suddenly the bard whipped around behind her to find another approaching enemy.  He had a sword and the enemy was masked in metal just as was the other man Xena had been battling.  The bard blocked his advances with her staff though her enemy carried a sword.  She took the enemy down and then began to run, but the enemy did not stay down.  Instead he rose again to chase the bard down the path.  Gabrielle could feel his presence upon her heels as she prepared another move.  The bard suddenly knelt down and drove her staff into the ground.  Then she jabbed the opposite end up into the stomach of the approaching enemy.  He flipped violently overhead and landed upon his back.

      The bard rose again and prepared to strike again as the enemy struggled to rise once more.  Xena had ended her battle with the other masked man with the sword for he had escalated the fight unable to take her down without a weapon.  Despite his choice the warrior princess still one out for she was a true master swordsman.  Xena had heard the sounds of the battle between the bard and another enemy on down the path and followed those sounds to assist.  Yet when she arrived she found that the bard was doing well on her own.  The warrior princess watched in surprise to see that the bard was beating the tar out of her challenger.  And though Gabrielle was seemingly in control of the situation she reminded Xena that she was still not so certain or full of that warrior confidence.  Once Gabrielle was certain that she had come out of the battle the victor Xena looked down upon the masked victim.

     Her tone quickly changed into a serious one.  It was as if the warrior princess knew this man.  She then declared that he was wearing the mask of Corteese as was the man she had battled against.  When the bard asked Xena who Corteese was the warrior princess replied that he had been the warlord that had sent her down her path of vengeance.  It was Corteese who has sacked the warrior princess’s village so long ago and had taken the life of her beloved brother Lycious.  Gabrielle could see how much the invasion of her village had affected the warrior princess and she could feel the sorrow within the warrior princess’s voice.  The bard began to realize just what it was that had made Xena commit so many wrongs.  Xena was seemingly within a momentary trance as she thought about the distant experience.  Then she boiled over with anger realizing that this was now her chance to avenge the death of her brother who had been killed in the battle against Corteese.

       Suddenly the warrior princess delivered the wrath of her pinch upon the helplessly defeated man.  She demanded information about Corteese and his whereabouts.  The man’s fear overcame him quickly as he declared that Corteese was just down the valley in the next village.  He and his army were attacking there.  After receiving the information Xena quickly removed certain death from her victim.  Then she took off his mask and punched him the nose knocking him unconscious.  It was obvious that the warrior princess did not want to be followed.  Then Xena dashed off upon Argo riding into the village as Gabrielle sprinted behind hoping to keep the pace.

     As they approached the village Xena paused upon Argo surveying the situation below.  It was a cruel reminder of the beginning of a life of darkness and blood.  Yet the warrior princess looked beyond and then rode into the battle.  She drew her sword and began to combat against the men of Corteese’s army.  Most of them were younger than the usual army members.  They were well-trained yet were not accustomed to a challenge.  As the warrior princess jousted with the enemy upon Argo Gabrielle arrived over the valley.  She found herself looking down into the chaos of Corteese’s army.  Women were screaming, and men were being beaten by their wrath.  The bard scanned the scene looking to enter into the battle, but instead she caught sight of a little girl.  She appeared stunned with fear in the middle of the battle.  Her mother screamed for her to return into the shelter of their home, but the girl did not move.  Instead her eyes gazed out across the way to a doll which lied upon the dirt. 

      The little girl then glanced up at the dark enemy approaching upon horseback.  He charged forward toward the doll and Gabrielle knew what would happen next.  Quickly the bard dashed down into the village knowing that she had to save the little girl.  The little girl began to run toward her doll as the bard rushed to rescue her from harm.  Just before the horseman brushed behind the bard she grasped the little girl and rolled away to safety.  The young mother was filled with relief as her daughter had been rescued.  Gabrielle quickly began to engage in combat with her staff as the warrior princess continued to combat upon her horse.  Corteese’s men suddenly began to retreat at the command of their leader.  The bard looked up to see that a patrolling army was riding into the battle.  As she watched the last man from Corteese’s army disappear into battle the captain rode into the village.  Gabrielle shouted a command to the captain of the patrolling army for Corteese’s army was on the verge of their escape into the woods. 

      But the captain did not heed the command for he spoke of being restricted.  He said that his jurisdiction would not allow him to take his men in the woods.  The woods were the boundary and he noted that his army was already being well spent by the province which it was responsible for.  It appeared to the bard that their morale was destroyed and beaten down.  The warrior princess approached the captain as she dismounted from her horse.  He removed his helmet respectfully complementing the warrior princess on her fighting ability.  It was clear that the captain was impressed and could use the kind of help in his battle against the darkness. 

      Xena then asked of the captain more information about his operations and responsibilities to the kingdom.  The captain was obviously very loyal to his king and disappointed that he and his men had been too late once again.  It always seemed that they arrived after a battle against Corteese instead of before.  Corteese always had the upper hand and it was only getting worse.  The warrior princess decided that she and the bard would investigate further.  They followed the trail left by the retreating enemy.  As they walked Gabrielle was still thinking about the moment of impact when she had caught the arrow with her staff.  She was going through the motions of the fresh memory within her mind.  Her body had felt the blood rushing through its veins as if a burst of unsuspecting energy had taken it over.  Gabrielle was still very delighted as she continued to twirl the staff and reenact her proud moment. 

     The warrior princess was not as impressed.  She was barely excited as she tried to remind the bard that to acquire the skills of a brilliant warrior it takes a lot of trial and error.  Gabrielle found herself slightly offended that the warrior princess did not believe in her ability.  Then she held up a hypothetical challenge.  She asked Xena what the odds were if she were to take ten arrows from the warrior princess.  Gabrielle was certain that she would perform well under such a test.  And of course the warrior princess agreed that the bard would perform well; however, there was the reminder that her skills were far from perfect.  In fact, the warrior princess was confident that the bard would at least be able to capture nine out of ten arrows.  Yet if there was one arrow that the bard could not catch then that was one too many for it would be marked for her death.  And so the argument was won by the cunning warrior princess and her point was once again made clear to the bard.

     Soon the warrior princess and the bard spotted a lone masked warrior standing upon the hill near the trees.  He stood motionless as if he were about to strike yet he did not move.  Gabrielle inquired of the warrior princess of his intentions yet Xena was just as uncertain.  Then Xena asked the bard to wait as she approached the man for a confrontation.  The warrior princess pulled her sword ready for a duel, but received a great surprise.  This masked warrior from Corteese’s ranks unmasked himself upon the threat of being slaughtered at the end of Xena’s sword.  He then asked if it was the intention of the warrior princess to kill her brother.  Suddenly the bard found herself confused and intrigued for the warrior princess had told her earlier that her brother had been killed by Corteese. 

      Then the warrior princess answered the bard’s sudden inquiry revealing that she had two brothers.  This was her brother Toris who did not die in the battle against Corteese.  There was something very awkward about the situation between the two siblings.  It appeared as if they were rivals.  Xena seemed irritated that her brother would ride with the enemy while Toris’s emotion was not so simple to understand.  Toris explained to his inquiring sister of his reasons for riding with Corteese’s army.  He explained that he had been with them for a short time after having searched for several years to find Corteese.  His plan a simple one.  Toris wanted to get in close with Corteese’s army and to gain their trust.  His hope was to one day be face to face with Corteese so that he could have his final revenge with the warlord.  It seemed a noble idea to the bard at first until she realized that Toris was overcome with vengeance.  Gabrielle was pleased that Xena was convinced that justice was a better punishment than blood.

     Yet as the three traveled together they set up camp.  Things were very quiet between the two siblings as Gabrielle started a fire and tried to cook the dinner that Xena had hunted.  It was obvious to the bard that neither party was eager to speak to the other for they held within them grudging actions.  Gabrielle could understand Xena’s disappointment within her brother because he was riding with Corteese, but she did not understand what Toris’s grude was about.  The bard tried desperately to get them to speak to one another.  She even tried to relate to their situation by comparing it to some of the monstrous rivalry she had had with her own sister Lilla.  Gabrielle’s point was that no grude was worth turning away a brother or a sister no matter what it entailed.  The warrior princess reluctantly caught onto the bard’s insinuations as she opened the conversation harshly.  She inquired of the assassin that her brother Toris had become.  He was equally enraged however.  He shot back blaming Xena for the loss of their brother Lycious.

     Toris blamed his sister for deciding to go up against Corteese’s army.  He had preferred and chosen to run away into the hills.  Toris could barely tolerate his sister’s decision to create an army out of their village in its time of need.  He blamed her for many of those who had been taken on that fateful day which obviously changed the course of both of their lives.  They had both loved their younger brother Lycious very much and each of them had mourned their loss in different ways.  Xena had chosen to move on and forward despite her constant venture to seek out and find Corteese and bring him to justice.  The bard very much agreed with Xena’s way for it was based upon the good.  Toris’s justice was built upon the darkness of vengeance.  As the two argued Gabrielle offered dinner asking Toris how he liked his meat.  The warrior princess interrupted the break in the tension adding that drumsticks were Toris’s preference.  It was obvious to Gabrielle that she was not able to break through the tension.  Yet she was very upset that she was unable to help her best friend and Toris mend their differences and their pasts.

     Then the warrior princess asked the bard if she would go check on Argo.  For a moment Gabrielle was disappointed that the warrior princess had asked her to leave yet she realized that it was best for the current situation.  Xena and Toris needed some time together to sort through their differences.  The bard headed toward Argo yet could not resist eavesdropping from beyond the trees and the brush.  She heard Xena ask Toris how close he had come to Corteese.  It was in that moment that her prideful brother revealed that he had not really been traveling with Corteese’s army for very long.  Although he was quite confident that he would soon be face to face with Corteese.  It was obvious to Xena that her brother knew little about the dealings of the warlord.  His vengeance would not be enough to defeat their common enemy. 

     The warrior princess was then told by Toris that he wanted her to stay out of it, but Xena would not allow it.  She was not at all afraid to face the warlord yet Toris was seemingly uncertain.  The warrior princess suggested that they go to Corteese’s camp together.  She wanted to investigate the situation further.  Although her brother was against it there was nothing he could do to keep Xena from her warrior way.  So the two went off to visit Corteese together with Xena posing as his prisoner.  When they arrived at Corteese’s camp Xena discovered just how little Toris had accomplished.  He had yet to win the respect of his surrounding peers let alone that of his commander Malik.  Malik was most certainly in control.  He would not allow Toris to deliver the warrior princess to Corteese directly.  Toris desperately tried to argue with Malik, but received little recognition.  He was treading upon dangerous waters and the warrior princess knew it.  She was taken by Malik as he prepared to have her for his own pleasures before he was to take her to Corteese. 

      Then Malik went back outside of his tent to deal with the unruly Toris.  He wanted to make certain that Toris knew who was truly in command.  Malik made it very clear to Toris that he was worth little to Corteese’s army and would not have the respect of anyone within it.  As Toris continued to argue with Malik Xena escaped her weak binds using her breast dagger.  Once she had freed herself she began to investigate the tent.  It was obviously a commanders tent yet there was no sign of Corteese.  Yet the warrior princess found something much more interesting.  She found three stool pigeons and royal notes which had been carried directly from the king’s castle.  Before she could seek more information she heard the argument between Toris and Malik coming to an end.  Toris was being expelled from camp and given an unltimatum not to return.

     When Malik returned inside the tent his passions were ready to for action to the dismay of the warrior princess.  She had concealed her free hands appearing as if she were still bound by the ropes.  As Malik prepared to unleash his lusts upon the warrior princess he asked that they not waste time.  The warrior princess then took advantage of his lustful passions knocking him with a bloody nose unconscious.  Then she returned to Toris who was still defeated and almost embarrassed by his failure.  But Xena would not allow him to pity himself.  Soon the two of them returned to camp where Gabrielle awaited their arrival.  They were arguing again, but it seemed to the bard that Toris was the one who was constantly raging.  He was once again scolding the warrior princess for leading their brother Lycious and many of their friends to their deaths against Corteese.   Yet the warrior princess seemed past that.  Instead she was focused on the formulation of a new plan.  Always focused the warrior princess was putting her emotions aside.  Gabrielle found the need to defend her friend if Xena would not defend herself. 

      She spoke up declaring that she would be practicing her staff moves despite Xena’s choice to have Gabrielle stay behind at the village.  Gabrielle wanted to go along with Xena and Toris to storm the castle, but she knew when to push Xena and when not to.  The bard demonstrated openly to Toris her dissatisfaction with being asked to stay behind for safety reasons for there was never a time while traveling with Xena that was safe.  She reminded the warrior princess of this.  Xena found herself slightly amused at the bard’s show of confidence and bravery.  but Toris was even more upset with his sister.  He feared that Xena had tainted the bard with her passions of the sword.  Toris argued with the bard that it wasn’t the truth of her own passions, but the bard felt differently.  Her confidence had come through all of the wonderful lessons that she had learned from the warrior princess, and there was never a moment in which the bard had felt that the warrior princess had faltered.  In fact, when she had asked Toris how many men Xena had to be up against to return safely to them he declared that there were at least fifteen.  Gabrielle had seen Xena go up against many more than a mere fifteen men.  She had been confident in Xena’s ability.  Gabrielle knew Xena well despite the dangers she always returned to her side, but Toris’s confidence was barely present.  The bard almost could not see the family relation except for the dark hair and the piercing blue eyes.  Soon Xena and Toris were off leaving the bard to return to the village alone.

      While at the village the bard made a new young friend and decided that she would practice capturing arrows with her staff.  Her new-found recruit was happy to shoot some arrows for training without their sharp tips.  And though the bard went through many hours of trial she still found herself unable to prove that the warrior princess had been wrong about the odds.  In fact, the warrior princess had actually given Gabrielle the benefit of the doubt to Gabrielle’s dismay.  Yet the bard was still determined to master the skill of capturing the flying arrows.  As she prepared to face another her body suddenly felt something.  She turned to face the arrows only to find that Xena had returned to with her brother.  Xena informed the bard of what they had found at the castle.  The revelation was shocking for they had discovered that the king was none other than Corteese himself.  She also asked that a gathering of villagers be put together so that she could announce to them all that she had found to be true of their king.

     Corteese was using the cover of his masked army to attack all of the villages within his own kingdom.  No one even suspected that they would be one in the same.  Not only that, but the king was taxing his people to death proclaiming that their taxes were going toward the war effort.  The kingdom’s armed guard was being exploited by the king himself for the sake of a profit.  Corteese was quite delighted with his accomplishments within his new-found power and with the warrior princess which he had so successfully created.  In fact, Corteese had plans for the warrior princess.  He wanted to exploit her as well so that he could build a bit of moral for his defeated army that could seemingly never capture the enemy.  Corteese’s business was excellent, but it was clear that Xena could not allow it to go on. 

     Despite Toris’s determination to prove his courage and worth again he put the two in danger at the castle against Corteese.  Their weapons had been taken and Xena’s chackram stolen by Corteese, but they managed to escape through a window within Corteese’s well managed chambers.  The warlord was so ingenious that he had many secret traps and weapons hidden within the walls of his castle at his disposal.  It was amazing that the warrior princess and her brother had escaped alive.  Of course Toris was still arguing with the warrior princess over the issue of justice or vengeance.  Gabrielle once again stood up for the warrior princess and again demonstrated her willingness to be a part of what Xena wanted to accomplish in the face of danger.  Justice was the answer to this tragedy and not vengeance.  Suddenly Toris found himself overshadowed by a young peasant girl from Potedia and he felt defeated.  Then Toris stormed off leaving Gabrielle to wonder what the real issue was within Xena’s brother’s heart.  The warrior princess followed him closely for she needed his help now more than ever.  He could not give up now.  She aimed to encourage Toris that he had made the choices that were right for him and the choices that he thought were for the best.

      Before Xena could get through Toris’s deep emotional scars she was interrupted by an urgent message from the villagers.  When Xena returned to the village she found Gabrielle desperately trying to defend the warrior princess.  Gabrielle declared that despite their fears of being attacked again it was the warrior princess who had saved them all from devastation before.  Yet these villagers were not comforted by the fact that the bard and her warrior friend were there to defend them.  With the king declaring that the warrior princess be turned over to him it made the villagers uneasy.  Xena stepped into the conversation trying to explain to them that their king and Corteese were one in the same man.  Gabrielle declared that they would just have to stand up and fight, but Xena chose otherwise.  She explained to the bard that one must only stand up and fight when the time was right.  If Corteese wanted to duel against Xena then it would be at the castle and not within the village.

     Suddenly Xena was warned by the village messenger once again only this time it was a warning concerning her brother.  Despite the warrior princess’s efforts to convince him that his choices had been the only choices that he could have made within his past and within his present he was determined to prove himself.  Toris had  decided that he would go off alone and storm the camp and take control of Corteese’s army.  The warrior princess followed her brother’s path and allowed him to fall into his own mistake.  She realized that he would not learn unless he failed attempting his vengeance.  Xena desperately wanted to spare her brother from the mistakes that she had made within her own life.  Toris was tortured and beaten by Malik and the others and then tied to a tree covered with oil.  Xena knew that this was a trap laid out for her.  It was what she had expected of the army of Corteese. 

     When she arrived at Toris’s side he warned her of the trap, but she had already known.  Instead she tried to free him from his binds and comfort him and his heart.  She was no longer upset with him realizing that he was only as lost as she felt almost every day of her life since the loss of their brother Lycious.  As she prepared to free Toris she was confronted by Malik and his archers ready to shoot with their fiery weapons.  Malik returned to the warrior princess a blow that had given him a bruised ego.  Yet the warrior princess did not allow him to end with the satisfaction for she returned another blow just as nasty.  As Malik’s archers rose their weapons to fire he called them down for he was certain that Corteese would deal with them.  And so Xena allowed herself and Toris to be captured.

     Upon their arrival to the castle they were taken into Corteese’s dungeon.  Again Xena tried to comfort her brother.  He was so confused inside and regretting that he ever gotten Xena involved within his quest for vengeance.  It was in this moment that the warrior princess tried to explain to her brother the evils of vengeance and of how they had taken away so much of her own life.  She expressed great regret as she explained how it had all began.  Xena spoke of her dream to create the army that would defend their village forever from the spoils of hungry warlords like Corteese.  Yet somehow through all of that she had lost herself within vengeance and blood lust. 

     Then there was the problem of escaping the dungeon.  It had been very simple to gain passage into the castle.  Xena tried to enter her brother’s mind into a constructive plan of escape, but just when all seemed hopeless their opportunity arrived.  The captain of the king’s army was a very loyal and just man.  He had caught word that the two prisoners were to be executed upon the next day by fire.  The captain did not believe in such a punishment despite the crime.  He had come to let them know that he would be sure to make their deaths quick with information on where he could find Corteese.  The warrior princess knew that he would not believe the truth of his king so as she revealed the powers upon the throne Toris made his move taking down the captain with his free feet. 

     Xena disarmed him with her own kick and used her feet to free her from the chains which bound her wrists above.  With the sword of the captain between her feet she was able to escape and release Toris as well.  Once they had regained control Xena was warned by the captain that they would never leave the castle alive.  Yet the warrior princess was not planning on leaving the castle without what they had come for.  She declared that the captain tell them were they could find the king.  The captain was then reluctant as he told of the archery fields outside the castle walls.  Xena then sent Toris to take care of that matter knowing that the captain was not telling the truth.  Yet it diverted Toris from his chance at vengeance for the warrior princess was certain that Toris still seeked it.

     And so the captain took the warrior princess to the king’s throne where she found him basking in the glory of the chackram.  But there was only one true warrior that could tame its wrath and that was Xena.  With the reluctant help of the captain Xena was able to capture Corteese.  As she went outside she found that the battle she had intended was in full action.  Gabrielle had arrived just in time to battle within the action.  Once the bard had received word that the warrior princess and Toris had been captured she was on her way to the castle.  She battled alongside Toris who had discovered that Xena had distracted him from his vengeance once again.  She had also stirred things up bringing together the two biggest rivals within the kingdom.  Corteese’s army and the king’s army battled it out for the first time.  It was a fair fight and the king’s men were winning.

     Xena took advantage of the situation as she hoisted Corteese upon a post within the castle entrance as she instructed the captain to join the battle the battle with his men.  The warrior princess of course could not resist as she entered alongside her brother.  They began with swordplay mirror each other’s moves.  Clashing with the enemy they moved onto hand to hand combat against the true enemy.  They flipped in unison as Xena gave out her battle cry kicking their enemies and then reversing the move gracefully.  It was as if they had been alongside one another for years despite the absence in each other’s lives.  Soon the captain and his army were outside in the castle courtyard to fight, but did not know who they should be fighting.  All of the action suddenly stopped for neither army expected to see the other.  They had come to fight Xena from the messages by pigeons, but as their leader king Corteese hung helplessly in the castle foyer Xena declared that he ask his dark army to surrender their weapons. 

     Corteese refused Xena’s command.  He called out to his armies to kill Xena.  Xena then took two swords from the ground and hurled them in the direction of king Corteese.  They landed squarely into the castle walls one on each side of Corteese’s head.  The fear within his eyes was evidence that the warrior princess was truly in control.  Then she drew her chackram and made one last threat.  She told Corteese he had only one more chance before his life would be taken by her chackram.  As she pulled it up preparing to strike Corteese finally gave up his charade and revealed that he was the real Corteese.  When he gave the command for the dark army to drop their weapons all obeyed except for his commander Malik.  Malik was outraged and felt betrayed as he rushed forward toward the king.  He was prepared to have his blood and his vengeance, but was stopped short with a thrust by the captain’s sword through his stomach.  Although the captain had been betrayed by his king he still stood loyal protecting the king until his end. 

     Then Toris expressed his anger for the warrior princess had taken his vengeance from him with her justice.  Xena found herself frustrated with Toris’s uncontrollable emotional rage.  She decided to give him what he had been asking for.  The warrior princess then approached the helpless victim and took him down from his capture for execution.  There was fear within the warlord’s eyes.  He was about to receive vengeful justice for the murder of Lycious.  Toris then took a weapon and approached his victim from behind.  He raised the sword above his victim preparing to thrust it through the skull of the evil warlord.  Yet just before he was about to kill the helpless warlord Toris stopped.  He let go of his vengeance dropping his sword to the ground.  Xena then approached her brother and whispered in his ear assuring him that Lycious would have been proud.  And so Xena and Toris left Corteese with the captain for his final justice to be carried out.  It was now out of their hands.

     Toris found himself thanking the warrior princess for being there for him, and for showing him the truth in what was right.  He also expressed to his sister how much he had missed her in all the time that they had been apart.  Toris’s next adventure was to take him back home.  He encouraged the warrior princess to come along with him.  Xena had already decided that it wasn’t time for her to return to the peace of home for she and Gabrielle had so much more to do.  The warrior princess assured her brother that their mother would be happy.  Then she asked that he tell their mother that he had seen Xena.  Though Gabrielle knew how much the warrior princess wished to express how much she loved her mother.  There was still much shame within the warrior princess.  She had much shame for her own vengeance.  Yet she had been able to save her brother Toris from the terrible fate of a vengeance beyond control.  And though one sibling had made the right choice for himself to heal the other was still far from healing despite all the good that she has done.

The Xena Scrolls: Volume #1: Scroll #19: Altered States

The Xena Scrolls
By: Gabrielle Bard of Podedia
Scroll #19: Altered States

May, 48 B.C.

There was once a young boy whose name was Icus. He was in grave danger for the almighty laid claim to his life. Icus’s father was Ateous a faithful follower to the almighty. And though Ateous loved Icus more than anything in the world his faith in the almighty was so strong that he prepared to give his beloved son. When the day finally came for Ateous to sacrifice his son Icus Icus’s mother had decided to place her own faith against the almighty. She chose to abandon the almighty against her husband’s wishes and packed her son a bag sending him away. Icus’s mother clung to the desperate hope that her son would be spared and that he would be able to escape the unkind wrath of the almighty.
Yet not long after Icus began his journey to escape his certain destiny he was seen by his older brother Mael. Mael was the leader of the zealot group which followed the almighty and he was determined to make sure that his father’s faith did not come without a price. Although Icus’s destiny seemed grim he was fortunate for the almighty had a plan of his own. As Icus fled to escape capture by Mael and the zealot group he found himself meeting up with two strangers that could help him.
Xena and Gabrielle were enjoying a morning bath within a nearby spring. The two friends were cleansing themselves as they prepared for their next surprise. Gabrielle had been begging Xena for many weeks to teach her how to fish. But it wasn’t until this morning that Xena agreed to give the lesson which the bard had long craved. Xena prepared to bard with encouraging words giving her the confidence to capture the prey. The warrior princess instructed the bard to reach beneath the rocks in the riverbed below. As Gabrielle prepared to make her move she took a deep breath. And then the bard plunged beneath the surface as the warrior princess was certain that the bard would succeed. Xena had been correct in her vision of a newfound success. Gabrielle returned to the surface elated for she had captured her very first victim with nothing more than her bare hands.
Yet the celebration was soon interrupted by the sounds of men shouting from beyond the trees. The warrior and the bard glanced out to see a young boy emerging from the trees. He appeared to be running for his life with great fear within his eyes. The young boy thought quickly as he jumped into the spring to safety. Xena and Gabrielle wasted little time going into action for they knew what their next mission was to be. As the two friends prepared to do battle against those who seeked out the boy the enemy emerged from the woods. The men who followed Mael quickly scoured the area in search of their victim and soon the boy Icus was found for he had left behind his bag upon the riverbank.
Yet just as Icus was captured from beneath his hiding place under the spring waters Xena the warrior princess emerged from beneath the water. She rose from within as if she were a goddess being born. Those who witnessed the nude goddess were taken aback as they did not know who or what she was. Xena then gave a little hiss as if she were about to breathe fire from within, but instead she slowly came upon the bank of the river facing her enemy without fear and without cover. She advanced forth finding herself face to face with the man who held the young boy captive. And then she spoke slyly commenting on how impolite the man was for picking on the youngster. Suddenly the warrior princess unleashed her fury as she delivered a blow straight into the face of the enemy. The young boy was freed from the grasp of the enemy as he fled back toward the water where Gabrielle waited. She then escorted the young boy to a safe hiding place beyond the brush as she finished dressing herself to enter into battle.
The warrior princess had quickly retrieved her own cover as she picked up the rack of fish that she had caught moments before. She waived the fish around in the air preparing to use them as her weapon against the advancing zealots. Xena was creative for she made arms out of nothing, but the fish swinging them about slapping each challenger in the face. Her moves were harsh blows to the approaching enemies as she made her famous battle cry. The sound of her battle cry was ay-yi-yi-ya! She kept calling it out upon each one on one victory of the advancing enemies. Soon the bard found herself ready for action as she took up arms with her staff and joined the warrior princess. She delivered powerful force of her own as she battled against the zealots alongside the fish fighting warrior.
As the battling bard entered into the fight the zealots began to flee into the woods from which they had come. They could not bear the wrath of the fish and the staff. Soon the young boy joined the two friends as his older brother Mael the leader of the zealots emerged before them. Mael was angry that the warrior princess had interfered. As he declared his anger and his desire to recapture the boy Xena the warrior princess insisted that the boy would stay with her. When Mael insisted that the matter did not concern her she replied that any youngster being chased by a band of zealots was a matter which involved her. Then she replied that it was her maternal instinct which had led her into this battle against the ragging forces. The fearful young Icus begged and pleaded with the warrior princess not to allow anyone to take him away to be killed. Xena assured the young boy as he clung to her side that he would not be going anywhere. Mael realized that he had lost this battle, but assured the warrior princess that he would be back for it was not over. And with that Mael disappeared with the zealots into the woods.
This new mission left the warrior princess and the bard very confused for they could not understand why anyone would want to kill a young innocent boy. In fact, his own brother seemed passionate about his young brother reaching a destiny of certain death. The young Icus explained that it was the will of his father to sacrifice him to the almighty. Gabrielle found herself confused for a moment as she thought of what the sacrifice meant. She realized that Icus was destined for a violent death by dagger at the hand of his father. Gabrielle was shocked as was Xena for they could not understand why a father would want to sacrifice his son so willingly. Even Icus was confused for he told the two friends that his father was truly a loving man. Icus spoke of how his father had stayed by his bedside in his times of great illness. As the three walked on accompanied by Xena’s horse Argo Gabrielle tried desperately to comfort the young boy amidst his confusion and his fears.
Suddenly from beyond the hill above Gabrielle heard Xena shout out to her. Gabrielle hadn’t even noticed that the warrior princess had left her side. She was shocked for a moment until the warrior princess appeared in view again upon the hill beneath the trees above. Xena had shouted out that she had found a secure hiding place for Icus and Gabrielle to take up camp. It was a cave which she had used when she had brought her army through the valley a few years before. Xena insisted that she would go and seek out Icus’s father hoping to find out why a loving man would want to sacrifice a son that he seemed to love so dearly.
And so the warrior princess left the bard alone with Icus. Gabrielle found herself desperately wanting to comfort his pain. She tried many things. The bard even told the story of her adventures in Troy alongside the warrior princess hoping that the excitement of the Trojan horse would get his mind off of his grief. Unfortunately the young Icus seemed quite uninterested although the bard even altered the truth hoping to capture his attention. She was certain that fire-breathing Trojans, and a massive Greek army would be just what a young boy’s imagination would be hungry for, but none of that seemed to matter to Icus. Suddenly Gabrielle found herself wondering if maybe her story just wasn’t very good, but Icus assured the bard that it wasn’t her story that was wrong. He complemented her on her story, but he reminded her that his pain and confusion was what kept him from paying attention.
Again Gabrielle tried to reassure the young Icus that Xena would be certain to make right what was wrong with his father. Of course all of the difficult work in consoling the fearfully confused began to take its toll on the deprived stomach of the bard. She hoped that Xena would also be bringing good food with good tidings. Yet that was just the thing that put Icus at ease for he found himself delighted that he had something he could share with the bard. Within his brown bag he carried apples, and bread. As he emptied the contents he handed Gabrielle the bread which was carefully wrapped. The bard unraveled it quickly finding that it smelled sweet. She recognized this sweet sensation for it was her favorite kind of bread. The bard rejoiced for she had not had a single bit of nut bread since she had been back in Podedia. There was plenty to eat as she began to delve into the soft fluffy loaf.
As Gabrielle ate the nut bread she asked if Icus would like some, but Icus insisted that he was not hungry. So the bard found herself within the Elysian Fields as she ate every last crumb of the loaf of nut bread from Icus’s bag.
As Gabrielle and Icus camped within the hidden cave Xena and Argo headed toward the home of Ateous Icus’s father. Upon Xena’s arrival she caught a critical conversation between Ateous and Mael. The warrior princess listened through the open doorway hoping to determine the truth of the matter. She heard Mael insist that Ateous continue to pursue the faith that he had for the almighty. Mael regretted with vengeance that he had lost Icus to the barbarian woman. He vowed to the concerned Ateous that he would get Icus back from the warrior princess even if it meant resorting to violence.
Yet Ateous was upset by this suggestion. He declared that there would be no violence necessary in this new conflict. Mael disagreed with his father declaring that desperate times called for desperate measures. He seemed driven by vengeance and that was very clear to the warrior princess. There was more to the story than the uncertain words of the almighty. The warrior princess could hear the sadness and the desperation within Ateous and she suddenly entered through the doorway interrupting the conversation. She felt that she could get through to Ateous for she sensed his confusion that the almighty would ask these terrible things of him. Xena questioned Ateous demanding to know which god had declared Ateous to sacrifice his beloved son. As she had entered Mael pulled his weapon, but Ateous instructed to his son that no more violence would be necessary. Xena was certain that only Ares or Zeus would declare such a sacrifice, but Ateous answered that there was only one almighty god. There was only one god worthy of followers and of worship. It was this god that had demanded of him his young son. And although Ateous was pained deeply knowing that it was the only way to prove to the almighty his undying faith he was certain to follow through despite it all.
It was in that moment that Xena realized that there had to be another way to win against this faith in one god. The warrior princess was spiteful of what the gods of the world often asked of their people. She was against this call to sacrifice no matter which god it was that had asked of it. The warrior princess was certain that no god worth following would demand such a test of faith. And so the warrior princess seeked out the only ally within Icus’s family that felt the same way. Xena rode with Argo onto the nearest temple to the goddess Hestia. Hestia was known as the goddess of family and Xena soon found there before the ruined old temple a grieving desperate mother.
Xena approached Icus’s mother with relief for she was certain to win in a battle against the almighty with the help of a mother’s love. When Xena approached the young mother the woman was startled at first. She had not expected another woman tall, dark, and in leather to interrupt. Yet it was obvious that Hestia had heeded the prayers of the desperate mother for Xena had been sent as her sign. The warrior princess assured the young mother that she had come to help mend the family back together and to prevent the sacrifice of her son Icus. Icus’s mother was relieved that Xena had come. She was glad that her faith in the old gods of her own belief were still there for her despite the faith of her husband in the almighty. Icus’s mother told Xena how she could not understand this almighty god that would want the life of her son. She went onto express her confusion as to why her husband was acting so strangely and why he would no longer confide in her. Icus’s mother was not so trusting of the almighty for it seemed he was ripping her family apart. Not only that, but the almighty had declared to Ateous that Mael was not to be his next heir and leader, but for Icus to be prepared and honored.
None of this made sense to the warrior princess. For a moment she had thought that maybe Mael had been behind all of the confusion, but with this new revelation the warrior princess was still lost within the confusion of Icus’s family. Of course Icus’s mother was confused that the warrior princess had found her, but Xena reminded her of the power of the goddess Hestia and her undying service to the families of the world. Icus’s mother said that she had come to offer some food to Hestia hoping that her offerings would bring her family back together again. The young mother began to describe some of the things that she had brought as gifts and spoke of the nut bread that had been specially made by Mael. She told Xena that she had sent some of it with Icus feeling that Hestia wouldn’t mind sharing some of the food being offered. Suddenly the warrior princess became alarmed for she took the nut bread and began to examine it. Then she smelled it with suspicion. The warrior princess then discovered that within the nut bread was the answer to the mystery. It had been laced with henbane.
Soon the warrior princess found herself returning to the cave hoping that it had not been too late. She wanted to prevent Icus from consuming the bread. But when the warrior princess returned she found only the bard within the cave lying on the floor unconscious. Xena quickly went to the aid of her friend hoping that she was still alive. The warrior princess called Gabrielle’s name and tried to awaken her friend from the grasp of the henbane. Slowly as the warrior princess held the bard in her arms one eye began to open. Xena noticed that the bard was very limp and barely able to control her muscles. The bard declared with alarm that she could not see the warrior princess. Then Xena asked that she open both eyes. Gabrielle heard the instructions despite her difficulty in understanding the warrior princess.
When she opened both eyes she could only make out the fuzzy face of her friend although as the bard began to struggle to focus she saw something extraordinary. She could not believe how beautiful the warrior princess was standing there before her. The bard leaned back hoping to get a better look at the tall dark warrior woman dressed in the most shiny leather, and golden breast-plate. Her shoulders were massive and strong with gold pads and a set of blue eyes that could pierce the strongest heart. The bard was in awe of this warrior woman as Xena tried to help her friend to her feet. Gabrielle could not feel her body as her head felt like it was floating in the air detached. Xena asked the bard to stand up, but Gabrielle was certain that she already was standing. Then Xena pulled the bard to her feet as she swayed with instability.
The warrior princess then asked the bard if she could walk. Gabrielle found this question to be a strange one for she had been walking since she was two years old. The bard began to prove to the warrior princess that walking was easier than standing as she wobbled to balance herself with each triumphant step. Xena then interrupted Gabrielle asking her where Icus was. Gabrielle had completely forgotten about the young boy, but was certain that he was about the cave someplace. The bard began to call out for Icus and whistle for him. She looked beyond the rocks and the boulders, but soon realized that Icus was nowhere to be found. Suddenly the sense of duty returned to the confusion within her mind. A sense of deep emotion and loss crept up within as the bard burst into tears of disappointment. She had failed for she had lost Icus. The warrior princess then returned to the bard’s side to console her intoxicated friend. But Gabrielle was clearly hysterical now.
Xena then asked Gabrielle if Icus had eaten any of the nut bread. Gabrielle’s mind tried desperately to focus on the task at hand, but the thought of the nut bread took her back to paradise. She could still taste the richly sweet soft loaf as it had melted upon her taste buds. The bard smiled for a moment describing her bliss and of how she had tried to share, but the urging of the bread was too much for her to rage against for she had eaten the entire loaf. Xena realized that it would be a while before a loaf of nut bread laced with henbane could wear off. Then the bard was suddenly reminded once again of her failure as she continued to sob uncontrollably.
Xena consoled her friend and then told the bard that it was important that she stay in the cave until she could return. Gabrielle stood from her spot as her focus was shifting into the urge to command the army of musicians which had appeared before her. She began to direct them out toward the exit of the cave as if she were commanding an army. Xena then called out to Gabrielle and the bard commanded her musical troops to halt in their exiting the cave. The warrior princess then tried once more to get through to her helplessly drunken friend. She commanded Gabrielle to stand guard within the cave alongside the others. The warrior princess struggled to make certain that Gabrielle could understand her command. Gabrielle tried once more to focus on her commander, but was still uncertain of what Xena had wanted her to do.
Instead Gabrielle told Xena that it was imperative that she stay behind with the others so that they could all work on their song together. It was then that Xena realized that she could not get through the effects of the henbane which had taken the normally sharp mind of the bard captive. Xena then agreed with Gabrielle that they needed to stay behind and work together. Suddenly Gabrielle went forth to command her musicians. She was angered at their unruly way for they did not seem to listen to her commands. They were all in the wrong places and they kept trying to test her resolve. But Gabrielle would not be defeated by her troops. And so Xena left the bard to deal with the grueling task at hand within the cave.
Xena and Argo soon returned to the village where Icus’s family resided. Upon arriving she found that Mael was commanding his zealot followers. He declared that the warrior princess needed to be found and taken down. Mael was ready to kill the warrior princess and her friend for their interference with the almighty’s plan. It was obvious to the warrior princess that Mael was responsible for all that had been happening. It was clear that he was jealous of his young brother and that was why Ateous was being asked to kill his young son. Mael was drugging his father, and attempting to drug his young brother and his mother as well. The influence of the henbane was what had allowed Mael to drive his father to believe the voices which did not exist. Yet it was clear to the warrior princess that not only did the henbane allow Mael to control the destiny of his young brother Icus, but his cunning charisma allowed him to control the zealots which believed in the same almighty as did Ateous.
Xena followed the group to the home of Icus where they captured Icus in the garden just outside the back door. Soon Icus’s mother came running out of their home to aid her son as she tried to rescue him from the zealots. Mael was nowhere to be found. Xena then waited until the zealots escaped with Icus for she would catch up to them later. Yet one of them stayed behind to be sure that Icus’s mother would not follow them. Xena rose from her hiding place behind the well and took the zealot down from behind. He never knew what had taken him and then Xena assisted the young mother promising her that she would rescue Icus once more. Before Xena left Icus’s mother had explained that Icus had returned home risking his safety because he had been concerned for Gabrielle upon ingesting the henbane.
Xena realized that she had to hurry if she was going to succeed at saving the life of a boy who did not deserve to die. The boy had been brave for risking his own life to help Gabrielle. Xena quickly found herself being discovered by another group of the zealots. This group was led by Mael as they chased her hoping to hunt her down and take her life. Mael was certain of the threat that Xena posed to him as they led the warrior princess into a trap. Xena rode upon Argo seeing the sharp wooden gate which stood between her and escape. The warrior princess was determined as Argo pressed forward at full gallop toward the gated trap. Just as Argo approached the gate Xena commanded her horse to halt her gallop. Argo stopped suddenly before the gate as the warrior princess flipped over it to safety continuing on her journey to save Icus.
Soon after her escape from the first group of zealots Xena caught up to the second group which held Icus in captivity. They were preparing to take him to the altar where his father Ateous awaited his arrival. Xena looked over the valley to see the old man knelt before the stone altar. He appeared desperate to plead with the almighty for another way to his faith, but the sound of crashing thunder on a clear day was his answer. Then the warrior princess looked below deciding that she must take action. She grabbed a few stones throwing them up ahead of the zealots to distract their attention. The zealots responded as they sent two scouts to check out the path ahead.
Then Xena took her whip and used it to swipe Icus from their grasp without their noticing his disappearance. The warrior princess instructed the young boy to keep calm and quiet as the zealots soon discovered their loss. They continued on and Xena then took Icus to his father at the altar. The warrior princess could sense the great emotional tension within Ateous’s spirit and within his mind. She then took the pain from his mind away for she could see that the henbane that he had been given was beginning to wear off. As the three of them journeyed to return to their home Xena was still unable to convince Ateous of the plot against Icus by Mael.
Ateous argued with Xena that despite the horror of having to sacrifice his son it had to be done. For if Ateous did not carry out what was asked of him by the almighty then his faith would be lost. Ateous was determined to overcome his pain for what was his faith worth if he were to only follow it when times were easy. In this moment of his faith it was difficult. He told the warrior princess that saving his son’s life only to teach him faith in times of triumph instead of hardship. Ateous was firm in his position. Yet the warrior princess would not give up in this battle of faith against Ateous’s almighty. She then took them back to Icus’s mother who was glad to see that her son was okay. As Xena began to try to explain to Ateous, Icus, and his mother what she had discovered there was a mysterious knock at the door. Xena urged Icus’s mother to answer it as she prepared to do battle with the enemy. But instead there was the voice of Gabrielle demanding to find the woman known as Xena warrior princess. The warrior princess then went to the door and quickly took her intoxicated friend inside. Xena was frustrated with the bard for she had not stayed within the cave as she had been instructed to. Yet Gabrielle insisted that the rocks within the cave had instructed her to seek out and find Xena. Gabrielle was still not well as she roamed about the home. The bard’s unusual behavior was proof that Mael was behind poisoning his own father. Gabrielle continued to stare at Icus and then fight a battle with her staff against the ragging pillows upon the furniture.
Suddenly Icus ran out the back door as Xena quickly pursued him. She was uncertain of his action for he seemingly wanted to be captured. As Xena tried to understand what was going on within his mind she realized that he too had been altered. Icus began to speak as if he truly believed that his father had been right. It was his duty to the almighty to be sacrificed. Then Xena realized what was happening. She returned inside the house to find that Mael and the zealots had captured Icus’s family and Gabrielle. He insisted that he would kill Gabrielle if Xena did not return Icus to him. Gabrielle was not alarmed by the dagger at her throat. Instead she told Xena that she had known about the presence of the enemy, but for some reason she had failed to remind Xena. The altered state of the bard’s mind had cost them Icus for the young boy returned. He did not want to see his new friends harmed for his well-being.
Mael promised Icus that he would not hurt his friends if they did what he had asked of them. Icus agreed to go with them, but Xena knew that Mael had other plans despite the deal that Icus had agreed to. Then Gabrielle complained for she wanted to be taken with Xena no matter where that destination was to be. The altered bard was not afraid in the face of danger for it did not exist in the paradise which she had been experiencing. Yet the paradise of a single loaf of nut bread landed Gabrielle alongside Xena hanging onto a thin rope within the depths of a dark bottomless well. Mael had thrown the two friends into the well certain of their demise. Yet he underestimated the strength of the warrior princess. Xena held tightly onto the rope and caught Gabrielle by the arm on her way down.
Suddenly the bard became very aware of her surroundings. Things were becoming much more clear to her and danger was real for the first time in several hours. The glorious troop of musicians had ceased to exist as the darkness of the well surrounded the bard and the warrior princess. Gabrielle’s head began to feel as if it had been kicked by the hooves of a mighty centaur. The warrior princess found herself glad that the henbane was finally wearing off of her sidekick for she needed Gabrielle’s help now more than ever. Yet the journey toward the top of the well was a difficult one as Xena climbed with the weight of two. Slowly she moved toward the top as the bard clung to her side. Then the rope weakened as the wooden support above began to give way. The two friends had only made it half way to the top of the well. It was beginning to look grim for them as they desperately tried to reach the top. Carefully the warrior princess continued on as the rope jerked again and the warrior princess knocked the bard in the face with her elbow.
Again the warrior princess began to rise toward the top as she instructed the bard to tie the second rope to her waist. Then there was the horrid sound of the wooden beam snapping apart sending the two friends down again, but the warrior princess caught the side of the well. She carefully scaled the loose stones as the bard began to climb up to the shoulders. Then the hands of the warrior princess emerged from inside the well to the top. The bard climbed out over the warrior princess still unable to control her balance completely as she crashed to the ground below. Xena then lifted herself from the well and joined the bard in safety. Yet there was little time to stand around as the two quickly rushed toward where the altar of sacrifice was.
Icus went with his father willingly knowing in his heart that Ateous truly loved him. He also realized that his father loved the almighty god. Icus knew that his father’s lesson of faith was important and that if it meant that he must die for the almighty then his own faith would have to be strong for his father. Yet Ateous was still questioning his god. The journey toward the altar led Ateous to decide that he was just not strong enough despite his young son’s bravery. But then there was another violent crash of thunder upon the clear day. It struck fear within the heart of the old man who decided that he must obey his god. And so he and Icus prepared for their test of faith. Icus prepared the dagger as Ateous prayed to his god hoping that he could spare his son’s life despite his doubts of sacrificing Icus.
For Xena and Gabrielle only an old rope bridge stood between them and saving Icus. As they approached they caught sight of Mael on the other side giving out command using a yelling device to sound like an almighty voice. Xena suddenly realized where the voices had truly come from and she declared that Mael command his father to stop the sacrifice. But Mael would not. He turned away and shouted for the kill. Then he disposed of the yelling device into the trees above. Xena commanded Gabrielle to retrieve the device while she crossed the bridge to deal with the enemy.
Mael laughed for he was certain that he had won this battle of faith. He cut one of the three ropes to the bridge hoping to throw Xena off. But the warrior princess was determined to reach the other side. She kept moving forward on the two remaining ropes. Mael then cut a second rope as the warrior princess reached the halfway point. He was impressed at the warrior princess’s great skill and sharp mind for discovering his plot. Although Mael was certain that the warrior princess was too late and that he had won. Then as she reached near to the other side of the bridge Mael raised his sword ready to cut the remaining rope. As he prepared to send the warrior princess to her death below in the deep canyon she twisted the rope with her feet flipping to safety upon the other side. Mael lost his own footing and fell only to catch himself with the ropes which hung from the posts upon the edge.
The warrior princess then reached out to her enemy asking that she take his hand, but he refused. Instead he declared that if his father’s faith was to be tested then it should be god’s will. And so Mael released his grasp of the rope and fell to his death at the bottom of the valley laughing all the way. Quickly the warrior princess ran into action across the long green valley toward the altar hoping to reach it before Ateous sacrificed his only surviving son. Gabrielle desperately climbed the high limbs of the tree where the yelling device rested. Her balance was still not at its best as she stumbled to the top of the tree. She leaned out over the canyon and reached for the device. Xena realized that she would not make it to the altar in time despite her great speed. The warrior princess reached for her chackram and threw it across the remaining distance of the valley hoping to disarm Ateous.
Just as Ateous was about to thrust down upon his son the dagger marked with death the sound of the almighty voice echoed through the valley. The voice was deep as it declared that Ateous had proven his faith. He had proven that his love for the almighty was so strong that he would even take the life of the son he loved more than anything in the world. Fortunately the almighty had spoken when he did for Xena’s chackram had mysteriously missed its mark. For the first time in a day Xena found herself relieved that she had the help of her mind altered sidekick.
And so faith had been tested and it had been won. Ateous’s faith in his god had proven that he truly was a worthy follower to his god. Icus’s faith in his father’s love had been restored, and Xena’s faith in the ability of her sidekick despite the influence of henbane. As Xena shouted out a good-bye to Icus and his family Gabrielle’s head began to throb even more for she could barely stand the side effects of the nut bread. As the two friends continued on down the path in search of their next journey they discussed the idea of there being only one true god. Soon they brushed it off as just another strange belief. Then Xena complemented Gabrielle for her excellent impersonation of the almighty god. Suddenly the bard found herself astonished for she was certain that it had been the henbane talking when she had heard those deep words of the almighty. Xena was confused for a moment for she was certain that it had been Gabrielle that had spoken those words through the yelling device. Yet Gabrielle confessed that she had never reached the device. She had tried desperately to succeed, but had failed. And so the mystery was revealed. Yet who the almighty was remained just as mysterious.

The Xena Scrolls: Volume #1: Scroll #20: Mortal Beloved

The Xena Scrolls
By:  Gabrielle Bard of Potedia
Scroll#20:  Mortal Beloved

May, 48 B.C.

There was once a young girl who wandered through the woods late at night.  She was carrying a basket full of flowers for a special occasion that was to take place in the village of Pylos in just three days.  As she walked down the dark wooded path through the night she found herself hearing low whispering voices.  They sounded soft and soothing.  The girl followed them into the moonlight only to discover something she feared.  There appearing before her was a dark figure.  It was a man whose face was not recognizable.  Suddenly he disappeared as the girl screamed in terror.  When she turned around to flee there he was standing before her once again.  He had a message, but the girl did not stay to listen.  Her fear of this mysterious ghost led her scrambling to the nearest tavern.
There at the tavern was someone who could help.  The warrior princess sat to a late dinner with her loyal friend the bard of Podedia.  As the girl ran into the tavern she was out of breath.  Her face was white like sheets and she told of the ghost she had seen in the woods just beyond the village.  Xena immediately decided to investigate.  She left the young terrified girl with her friend Gabrielle to watch over the frightened.  Quickly Xena ran out into the darkness of the woods where all was silent, but the sounds of the night.  She walked slowly to listen more carefully hoping to hear the voices described to her by the young girl.  Soon there was a whisper which called her name.  It called for Xena with the same soothing harmless tone it had given to the girl it had frightened.
Xena turned quickly toward the voice to discover a strange glow.  The glow came from within a mysterious white mist that formed slowly into a dark figure.  Xena could see that it was indeed a man.  It was more than a man.  It was a ghost standing before her.  And just as she looked into the mist further she could see the face of someone she recognized.  It was the ghost of her beloved Marcus.  He smiled with joy to see her as his eyes gleamed with excitement.  The warrior princess found herself in disbelief for she had not expected to see him again.  She walked closer to his presence hoping to feel his embrace once again as she told him how much she had missed him.  He responded to her with the same appreciation yet he had not come to only visit his beloved.
Marcus had come to seek out her help.  Just as he was about to explain himself to the warrior princess two more figures materialized into the mist grabbing Marcus.  Marcus cried out for Xena’s  help in a desperate struggle against the other entities.  Xena instinctively drew her sword preparing to do battle against them to save her beloved Marcus.  But there was nothing she could do for him because he was in another realm.  She could only watch as he struggled to tell her what he had come for.  Marcus’s instructions were to go to lake Geniya and swim to the bottom so that she could enter into the underworld.  But before Marcus could finish his story the two entities that had come for him whisked him away into the darkness and his presence was no more.
Early the next morning Xena walked down to lake Geniya with Gabrielle to seek out Marcus.  She wanted to know why he had invited her to come to the underworld.  The warrior princess knew in her heart that whatever it was that it must be serious for Marcus had come for her in desperation.  His trust of her was apparent for if he had not trusted her he would not have come for her.  As Xena prepared to seek out the door to the underworld Gabrielle pleaded with her friend to stay.  The bard was not so certain that it was a good idea for the warrior princess to swim to the bottom of the middle of lake Geniya when it was uncertain that she would even make it.  Not only that, but the bard did not trust in the words of a ghost.  Yet Xena refused to listen to the bard’s reason.  Instead the warrior princess decided that she was going to follow her heart no matter the consequences.
Gabrielle was still unhappy with Xena’s decision as Xena tried to lighten the moment by telling the bard that she would make it to the other side one way or another.  Somehow Gabrielle did not find herself comforted by this, but then Xena spoke to the bard’s pure heart.  She told her that this was something that she must do for her own heart no matter the consequences.  Marus needed her help and she would not ignore his pleas.  Gabrielle suddenly realized that there was nothing that she could say that would persuade the warrior princess to stay behind.  The bard took Xena’s armor as the warrior princess prepared for her dangerous journey.  All that Xena took was her sword and her chackram that the bard had been holding hoping that the warrior princess would not go.  But Xena’s mind was made up as she asked for her weapons.  Gabrielle handed them over reluctantly, but promised the warrior princess that she would be there by the lake’s edge awaiting Xena’s return.
Xena smiled knowing that Gabrielle would wait for a lifetime if she had to for the warrior princess to return.  Xena was confident in her heart that she would return.  And so Xena left the bard behind and traveled to the hilltop above the lake as she prepared to dive into the unknown.  Gabrielle watched her friend hoping that she would return from her heart’s journey soon.
Diving into the lake Xena swam to the underworld because her love Marcus called for her.  Evil had taken control and innocent souls were suffering, but Xena fought for good.  When she arrived at the door to the underworld she found herself meeting the well-known keeper of the gate.  Charon did not greet the warrior princess with a warm welcome.  He was rather nasty and quite ugly with his rotted teeth and blackened eyes.  Charon wore tattered clothing as he pulled up on his boat which led across from the mortal realm to the realm of the dead.
Xena found the gatekeeper to be quite argumentative at first upon her request to be taken across to meet with Hades the god of the underworld.  Charon refused to take another of the dead across without his payment of two gold coins.  Xena then gave the ancient gatekeeper an awkward glance and replied that she was not one of the dead, but very much alive and mortal.  Charon looked at the warrior princess and wondered with amazement for he had never known a mortal to enter into the underworld voluntarily.  This led Charon into his sermon of how things had changed so much in the underworld.  He declared that the helmet of invisibility had been stolen from Hades which made the god of the underworld powerless in keeping the order down below.
This was important information for the warrior princess as she was trying to piece together the situation that Marcus had called upon her help for.  Xena then pleaded with Charon declaring that she had come to help Hades find his helmet and to restore the underworld to proper order.  Charon laughed delightfully at the warrior princess’s promise, but decided that any mortal coming to sacrifice themselves in the name of Hades and the underworld deserved at least one complementary ride across the fiery lava rivers beneath.  So Charon asked Xena to climb aboard his old rickety wooden boat as he began to take her on the journey toward Hades’s.  Yet Charon did not promise a ride to return Xena to the gate back to the mortal world.
Once Charon had taken Xena to the other side of the underworld he dropped her off in the worst place known to mortals, and the dead.  Xena stepped off of Charon’s boat onto the shores of Tartarus.  There she found herself witnessing the greatest suffering ever to be known.  People were sick with deadly diseases for eternity.  Some suffered gaping wounds that would never heal, and others suffered in their emotional turmoil.  Yet there was something strange about all of the suffering that Xena witnessed.  The warrior princess soon noticed as she walked through those in Tartarus that none of them were evil souls.  They were all good souls and Xena realized that they weren’t meant to suffer within these horrible eternities.
Her heart broke as she walked among them until she found herself running into someone whom she knew quite well.  It was Marcus and he had a smile brighter than life itself spreading across his handsome face.  Xena was relieved that she had finally found him as they embraced for the first time since his death.  The two exchanged grateful happiness within the depths of the Tartarus which surrounded them.  Yet Xena did not forget why she had come.  She had come to help and it seemed obvious to the warrior princess what it was that she had been asked to restore.  When she asked Marcus why all of these wonderful souls were wandering through Tartarus he explained that a terrible evil had taken over.
When Xena asked him who had stolen Hades’s helmet of invisibility Marcus asked her if she had heard of the one they called Atyminious.
Xena shrugged for a moment with a passing giggle within for that name took her back to her childhood.  She told Marcus of the legend of Atyminious a man who was said to have a fancy for young girls and young brides.  He liked to kill them just before they were to wed and enjoy their life of love.  Xena laughed for a moment when she recalled how she and her girl friends were threatened by their fathers.  Their fathers would tell them that if the girls didn’t behave themselves that they would find Atyminious and be sure that they were punished for their disobedience.  As Xena began to think about what had been said and what she had remembered she realized that the deeds of Atyminious had been real and not just a myth.
Marcus then explained that it had been Atyminious whom had stolen Hades helmet and it was Atyminious who reigned in Tartarus now.  Xena was told that the good had been exiled to Tartarus while the evil souls were allowed to run about in the Elysian Fields forever.  The warrior princess then asked Marcus to take her to the Elysian Fields.  He quickly led her into the white veil of mist which separated the good from the evil.  As they walked through it Xena described it as breathtakingly beautiful.  There were great waterfalls of endless power, perfect fluffy white clouds in a clear blue sky, and yellow poppies that lit up the brilliantly green fields.  As they walked through the veil into the Elysian Fields chaos was revealed.  The deception was beautiful yet the evil which reigned was awful.  As Marcus took Xena through the destruction and the ruin of a once renowned paradise she realized that despite evil being freed into bliss it would never be happy.
She watched as souls fought each other as if there wasn’t enough food, enough water, enough glory, and enough bliss to go around.  Xena realized that evil would never be worthy of residing in pure bliss for it did not appreciate what was truly beautiful.  She realized that what made the Elysian Fields a paradise was the love of the good souls that had once resided within it.  It was the love that resided within goodness that made Xena realized and understand why she had to help Marcus to restore all of the underworld to Hades.  Only Hades was wise enough to be the judge of who was a good soul and who was an evil soul.
As she thought of all of these things she then asked Marcus one question.  It came out of a deep concern which had gripped her soul.  Marcus had told her before they had entered into the Elysian Fields that only evil souls were allowed safe passage into the Elysian Fields.  She realized that if that were the truth then Marcus had been judged with the evil for he could not have been able to enter into the Elysian Fields any other way.  When she brought this to his attention Marcus tried to deny that truth.  He tried to explain it away by telling Xena that everything was in chaos and that there was indeed no order despite what he had said before.  But Xena knew Marcus well.  She knew that he was only trying to put her heart at ease.
Suddenly the warrior princess found herself within her own blame.  If only she had tried harder in convincing him to do the right thing before it had been too late.  His one good deed of self-sacrifice at the end of a live of evil deeds had not been enough to release him from Hades’s judgement of the damned.  Marcus could feel the warrior princess’s guilt and he could feel her heart breaking for him.  He tried to comfort her, but explaining to her that despite his judgement he had learned from Xena the value of doing good.  He knew it was right to go against all of the thugs that were laying ruin to paradise.  When Xena asked him why he was willing to betray those whom he’d be sharing eternity with in Tartarus Marcus explained further.  He explained that he was willing to sacrifice an eternity of suffering by the hands of those evil souls he was about to betray to hold onto the love that his heart possessed inside at the goodness that the warrior princess had shown and taught him.  Marcus explained that it was more important for him to know that he was doing the right thing despite the eternal consequences.  He explained to the warrior princess that her words had saved his heart from turning into darkness for eternity.
Suddenly there was an interruption.  Xena found herself being approached by someone who she knew well, but this was not a friend.  It was the familiar voice of the warlord Toxious whom she had killed to restore Celesta to her flame.  He laughed in the face of his enemy as he was certain that she had been judged into the ranks of evil.  Toxious was amused with revenge for despite all of the good deeds that Xena had done at the end of her own life she had seemingly been cast into eternal evil.  Marcus was shocked to see the gaping wound that Xena had given Toxious.  It only confirmed that he was making the right choice to fight against Atyminious in restoring the underworld.
Toxious then asked Xena who had stolen her life and claimed it as prize.  Xena smirked at the unsuspecting Toxious and replied that no one had been given the satisfaction of killing her.  Instead she had been thrown from her horse and been taken by nothing more than a broken neck.  For a moment the evil Toxious was disappointed, but then realized that he still held victory for this champion of good had not died committing a heroic act.  Just as Toxious was contemplating a battle with his thugs against the warrior princess and her beloved there was a disturbance within paradise.  Suddenly men were being beaten by a mysterious invisible force.  It plunged through the souls of the evil and then there was the echoing laughter of evil joy.
Then he appeared before his disloyal subjects.  It was the infamous Atyminious who stood before Toxios, Marcus, and Xena the warrior princess.  He smiled with a nasty glare.  His face was as white as death itself and his eyes looked as dark as those of Charon.  Then his nostrils flared as he looked about paradise.  He angrily declared that there was a mortal among the dead.  Atyminious knew immediately who the intruder was and he took no time in exposing that Xena was the mortal enemy before them.  Yet the warrior princess was prepared to take the accusation and turn it into an advantage.  She declared to all of the evil souls that served beneath Atyminious that he could not be trusted.  Xena reminded them that Atyminious was just as evil as they themselves, and then she demanded to know why he deserved the power of Hades.  The warrior princess had known that Toxious and the others would see things through their evil eyes.  She knew that they would realize that Atyminious was only playing them for fools.
It did not take an eternity for evil to rise up against its leader.  In fact, evil was quick to note that each and every one of its souls wanted what Atyminious had.  Atyminious tried to defend his accusation knowing that it was indeed the truth, but evil never lives or dies by truth.  Quickly Toxious took the lead and drew his weapon preparing to battle Atyminious for the helmet of invisibility.  If evil wanted real power it would need the helmet to rule over life and death.  Xena and Marcus found themselves joining the battle only to cover up the truth within their hearts.  Xena had hoped that Toxious would at least be able to rob Atyminious of the helmet so that she could retrieve it from him for she was certain that he could be defeated easily.  But Atyminious was just as dangerous as the legends and myths had told him to be.  Not only did he like to kill brides and young girls, but he liked to disembody them for his evil pleasure.  He was also very intelligent and realized quickly what Xena was trying to do so he put the helmet back over his head and disappeared from paradise.
As a reminder of his work he fought Toxious invisible and took his head with one thrust of his blade.  In one moment Toxious had his head and in the next moment the rascious laughter of Atyminious could be heard asking Toxious how he would like to spend eternity without his head.  Then all was quiet and the battle suddenly ceased for evil now feared itself seeing the damage it could deliver even in paradise.  Xena and Marcus realized that time was short and that they must find Hades in the underworld before it was too late for the mortal world.
Gabrielle still waited by the lakeside for her friend to return to her.  Over half of the day had passed and no sign of the warrior princess.  The bard found herself beginning to worry about her friend, but as she milled her staff around within the lake she heard the sounds of voices coming out of the woods.  When she turned to see who was approaching she found that there were three young fisherman.  They saw her sitting on the lake shore and asked her if she was going to the festival in Pylos.  Gabrielle replied with disappointment and a tinge of worry that she was not going.  Then the men asked her why she sat by the lake alone.  She spoke of the friend that she waited for.  The men inquired if her friend had been coming from the other side of the lake.  In a sense Xena was coming back from the other side, but not the other side that the fisherman had thought of.  And then the three were on their way leaving Gabrielle alone once again.
Several more moments passed and then Gabrielle found herself pacing the lake shore awaiting for Xena’s return.  As she paced she suddenly heard a bubbling sound coming from the lake.  Her heart lept with hope that it would be Xena returning to her alive.  But instead there was no one there.  Gabrielle’s heart sank at the thought of it being only a fish, but then there was a voice.  It began as a whisper, but then it became rascious.  This voice was that of a man who Gabrielle did not see.  She could not see a man anywhere as she picked up her staff.  Fear gripped her from within for there was an enemy which she could not see anywhere.  Then there were footsteps forming mysteriously within the sand all around the bard.  They came closer and there was laughter.  Suddenly there before the bard as she turned around appeared a man of darkness and evil.  He was ugly and scary.
It was Atyminious though the bard did not know this evil man.  She was taken by complete surprise.  Her fear became enchantment for what she had just witnessed.  The bard was frozen and entranced as Atyminious’s smile spoke of his delight in finding his first victim.  He could not wait to take a life.  Atyminious basked in the power of fear and surprise.  He proclaimed that he had only appeared before his victim because of the anticipation that death was upon them.  Atyminious quite enjoyed watching each and every victim go through the emotions of the moments before their violent deaths.  Then he paused for a moment and asked Gabrielle if she were about to be married.  Gabrielle was frozen and could not answer, but then Atyminious realized that this truly was not a bride to be before him.
Suddenly Gabrielle found herself snapping out of her reaction to this evil presence as she braced herself for a battle.  She raised her staff for a fight to survive for there was no other choice.  Atyminious found himself amused yet challenged that this young victim was going to put up a fight.  He was certain that she would still an easy victim.  Atyminious quickly rose his dagger above his head to go in for the kill, but Gabrielle instinctively blocked the advances of her enemy.  She disarmed him for a moment and began to beat him with her staff.  The bard put all of the strength she could muster into her battle as she popped her enemy in his nose drawing blood.  This caught Atyminious by surprise as he hunched over for a moment in pain.  He had almost forgotten of the pain that mortality could bring to him.  Gabrielle realized her chance for escape as she ran for her life toward the cover of the trees.
And as the battle had begun between the mortals and the dead so too did the battle for a visit to Hades.  Marcus had shown Xena to Hades’s castle in the underworld.  It was surrounded by lava pits, and fire springs.  Not only that, but there were also harpies which guarded its gates.  Harpies were known to be vicious human like animals.  They were birds with the tales of dragons and the agile wings of a bird.  Harpes had sharp teeth with breath like that of fire.  Xena was certain that they could defeat the harpies despite Marcus’s warning of their power and of their strength.  As the two crossed the stone passage toward the dark castle they were quickly attacked by the vicious beasts.  The screams of the harpies were deafening like those of the nasty crows.  Two of the massive beasts appeared to do battle with the intruders.  Xena fought with her sword as Marcus tried to keep up, but was quickly taken by his enemy.
Xena heard Marcus’s screams of terror as she turned to watch the harpies kidnap him into the air with its tale.  She saw that he had been grabbed up by his sleeveless vest.  Xena quickly acted as she grabbed the alcohol she had taken from the Elysian fields and took a drink from the flask.  Suddenly she grabbed a torch from the walls of the castle gate and spit fire at the enemy.  Marcus was dropped by the harpies  as Xena fought off the second attacker.  Yet he was not out of danger for he found himself clinging to the edge of the castle bridge unable to climb out of danger.  Xena turned to see that he was about to fall and flipped into action to save him.  She reached out to take his hand, but was knocked off-balance by the remaining harpies.  Marcus fell even further with the sudden jolt clinging to the wall with only his fingers.
Xena continued to kick and fight against the raging harpies until she decided to end the senseless battle.  Once again she reached down for her flask of alcohol and this time threw it onto her enemy directly.  Then she grabbed another torch and lit her enemy with the flames as the harpies went crashing down into the lava pits below.  Just as Marcus was about to fall below Xena’s hand rescued him before he could be taken away from her.  Now that all was quiet again and the danger had passed the two found themselves admiring each other’s beauty as if nothing else in the world existed.  But their moment of bliss soon ended as they were reminded of their duty to the underworld.
Once inside of Hades’s castle the god of the underworld found himself surprised that anyone had been able to get by the harpies that guarded his domain.  He was within a terrible depression realizing that the entire underworld was in turmoil.  Hades felt powerless and Xena explained to him that she and Marcus had discovered who was to blame.  Hades was interested in listening, but he wasn’t completely convinced that Xena could do the job despite her having saved the life of his sister Celesta.  Xena convinced Hades that if he would just send Marcus to the world of the living with her that they could defeat Atyminious and retrieve the helmet of invisibility.  Hades refused, but Xena reminded him that he was a god and if anyone had the power to give Marcus life it would be Hades.  Suddenly Hades realized that Atyminious had made a mistake.  His mistake had been that he had gone into the mortal realm with the helmet which meant that he would be mortal again whenever he wore the helmet.
Hades was reluctantly convinced by the warrior princess to give Marcus mortality once again, but he only agreed to giving him two days to live.  The god of the underworld proclaimed that it was all that he could offer to the warrior princess.  And so Xena and Marcus took Hades’s offer and Hades quickly sent them back through the river of Charon and through the gate into mortality.
As Xena and Marcus were about to return to Gabrielle at the lake shore Gabrielle was running from her enemy.  Just before Gabrielle could reach the woods Atyminious regained his composure and ran after his victim.  He kicked Gabrielle in the back of the head knocking the bard out cold.  Then he returned to the lakeshore to retrieve the knife she had taken from him during their battle.  As he returned to her side to finish her off Xena and Marcus approached seeing the murder about to take place.
Quickly Xena and Marcus drew their swords and ran to do battle against Atyminious who had blood on his face.  Xena realized that it was not the blood of the bard, but his own blood.  Just as she was about to thrust her sword into the murdering enemy he put on the helmet and disappeared.  He fought against her beating her and laughing for she could not see him.  The warrior princess soon realized that she would have to fight him with her other warrior senses.  First she listened hearing the footsteps of the enemy.  And then she instructed Marcus as they could see the footprints forming all around them.  The two took their swords together and clashed into their invisible enemy sending Atyminious fleeing into the woods.  Xena quickly ran to the aid of her friend hoping that she had been able to defend herself against Atyminious.  Indeed she had for Gabrielle awakened to see the one person she had waited all day to see.
Gabrielle was relieved to see Xena alive again and relieved that Atyminious was gone.  The bard was proud of herself for having given him a bloody nose despite his power against her.  Xena found herself relieved that the bard had survived becoming his first victim.  Yet Gabrielle had been attacked and Xena knew that he would soon be finding a new victim.  Marcus noticed that he and Xena had injured Atyminious for there was a trail of blood left behind by the enemy.  The three followed it into the woods until it led up into the trees.  Realizing that Atyminious had outsmarted them with a new way of concealing himself Xena decided that they would set up camp for the night.  Gabrielle was not so certain that setting up camp was a good idea after the near death experience against Atyminious earlier.  But Xena was certain that he would not attack them in the night for he would not be able to see them.  That would make their battle equal.  Atyminious enjoyed his advantage of invisibility in the daylight to give it up that hastily.
And so that night as Gabrielle tried to sleep beyond her own fears of Atyminious’s return Xena and Marcus enjoyed their time together.  Marcus reminded Xena of all of the things that mortals take for granted when they are living.  He spoke of the crisp night air and of the sounds of the night.  Then Marcus spoke of how he had missed Xena’s touch and her caress most of all.  Xena was flattered by his complements, but then he became serious.  He spoke of how he had been able to hear her loving thoughts of him when he had been dead.  Xena was surprised yet comforted that Marcus had heard how much she thought of him and of how much she truly loved him.  Though Xena was still feeling the pain of not being able to save him from death and of not being able to save him from an eternity in Tartarus.  He knew how guilty that she felt, but urged her against her guilt.  He reminded her that he had never thought it possible to do a good deed until she had shown him the way.
Marcus also spoke of how he had heard Xena’s thoughts of giving up on love.  He told her that she should never give up on love despite his death.  He explained to her that it was his love for her that had kept him sane and able to bear the despair of eternal life in Tartarus.  Marcus had said that the love in his heart made him feel warm and happy inside.  He said that it was the most powerful force of all and that it should never be taken for granted or thrown away.  Marcus told Xena that love was stronger than anything else in the world.  The value of love for Marcus was worth even more than his life as a mortal.
And so the next morning Xena, Gabrielle, and Marcus followed the trail through the trees.  Soon they found themselves running into the three farmers that Gabrielle had seen the day before.  They had been beaten and when Xena asked them what had happened they seemed disoriented and confused.  It was obvious that Atyminious had struck them without being seen.  Xena then asked where the farmers had been heading.  They replied that they had been traveling toward Pylos for the festival.  Xena then asked what kind of festival they had been traveling to.  The farmers said that it was a wedding festival.   And then Xena was certain that they would find Atyminious in Pylos.
Xena, Gabrielle, and Marcus had traveled quickly hoping to catch Atyminious before he could destroy more lives.  When they reached Pylos they saw that Atyminious was indeed present for all of the villagers that appeared disoriented or filled with fear of the sight of a ghost.  Xena asked where the bride’s father could be found and was directed by one of the disgusted peddlers to his home across the way.  The three friends went inside and spoke with the bride’s father informing him of the danger that his daughter was about to face.  Xena had a plan to stop Atyminious.  She spoke aloud to the bride’s father with all present including Atyminious though he could not be seen.  Xena instructed the father to allow her to go to the bride’s purifying bath to take her place.  The warrior princess was certain that Atyminious would strike there and she would be waiting for him.  He would never know it was Xena in the bath until it would be too late for him to react.
When the father asked of his beloved daughter’s safety during this time Xena instructed him to keep her locked away in her bedchambers until the danger was over.  Everyone was seemingly ready to do their part and to stop Atyminious before he could harm another innocent victim.  And later that night Marcus went with the bride to the bathing pools where he awaited the arrival of Atyminious.  As he prepared to take the life of the invisible man Gabrielle tucked in the young bride still anticipating the wrath of Atyminious.  Suddenly Atyminious entered into the bride’s bedchambers appearing before her just after Gabrielle had left the room.  He lifted his knife above his head preparing to thrust it into his victim.  Then he gently pulled back the sheets to reveal her innocent face only to find that it was Xena the warrior princess.
Xena jumped out of bed preparing to kill the enemy, but he disappeared before she could get a move in.  Then she rolled out of bed to the opposite side as she took the bed sheets with her.  Atyminious’s laughed roared for he was full of evil excitement.  He then prepared to take Xena’s life invisible, but Xena listened for his footsteps dashing forward against the wooden planks in the hollow floor.  Suddenly she threw the sheets upon her enemy revealing his presence.  He struggled for he could see nothing blinded by the sheets over his head.  Xena then drew her sword and thrust it into the chest of the enemy as he was revealed by his mortality.  Evil struggled to take its last breath and then it was delivered into the hands of death.  Xena then instructed Gabrielle to stay with the body of the evil Atyminious so that she could inform all that he had been eliminated.  As Xena left she took the helmet of invisibility to seek out Marcus and finish their business with Hades.  Gabrielle could not stand the sight of the face of evil any longer.  She realized he looked better when she couldn’t see him at all and pulled the sheet back over his face.
As Xena and Marcus traveled back toward the lake where they would find the door to the underworld they tried to enjoy their last moments together.  The day went quickly and as the second day of Marcus’s borrowed life neared its end Marcus realized that he had a choice.  He had the power to give himself permanent mortality with the helmet for if he were to put it on before his death he would be mortal living out the rest of his life with Xena.  Xena heard Marcus’s words and she too wished for that and as she asked Marcus if that was what he wanted he realized that real love wasn’t about what he wanted.  It was about making the right choice even if it meant his life would end and he would be condemned to a life in Tartarus.  Xena’s heart was saddened yet she was glad that he had made the right choice knowing her heart would have gone along with what his wanted.  Her heart had wanted that too.  As they held immortality in their hands, but Xena didn’t give into temptation even though it meant saying good-bye to a man she loved.
And so Xena and Marcus returned to Hades by the rivers of Charon, but Xena wanted to be sure that Marcus would be given a new judgement for she could not allow him to spend eternity in Tartarus with those evil souls he had betrayed.  Xena entered into Hades’s chambers alone demanding that he give Marcus another judgement.  Hades refused her reminding her that all people only get one judgement when they died.  It was something that he could not change.  But then Xena reminded him that Marcus had not yet died.  Hades again argued that he had already had his one judgement.  Xena realized that she had only one last chance to save Marcus from eternal suffering.  She asked Hades if he would just listen to her heart and judge Marcus one more time for not only his past deeds in life before, but in what her heart knew to be true of him.  Hades agreed, but then asked for his helmet before he would listen.
Xena then asked for Marcus to appear.  He took off the helmet of invisibility and appeared before his judge.  Xena handed the helmet over to Hades and then suddenly she pulled out a dagger.  The warrior princess thrust it through the heart of her beloved ending his two days of mortality given by Hades.  As Marcus bled into death a second time Xena told Hades of how Marcus had held his love inside him.  He had held a love so great for the warrior princess that it enabled him to survive the evil which had surrounded him in Tartarus.  It had been this pure love that had allowed Marcus to make the right choice and to bring back the helmet to Hades.  Marcus’s love had saved the underworld and the lives of many innocent in the mortal world.
And so Hades granted Marcus passage into the Elysian Fields with his second judgement realizing what Marcus had sacrificed.  He realized that Marcus’s loving soul would be tortured unjustly if he were to be judged to return to the evil souls in Tartarus.  Hades allowed Xena and Marcus one last stroll together into the peaceful paradise of the Elysian Fields.  When that time had ended he finally told Xena that it was time for her to say good-bye to the man she loved.  Hades then took Xena back to the door into the moral world.  When Xena returned to Gabrielle the sun was behind the horizon.  Night was about to grasp them as the warrior princess sat on the lake shore mourning her loss with the bard alongside her.  As she let out her tears the bard tried to console her friend, but Xena found comfort within her heart for it was within her heart that her mortal beloved would always be.

Xena Scrolls Volume 1: Scroll #18: Warrior, Princess

The Xena Scrolls
By:  Gabrielle Bard of Potedia
Scroll#18:  Warrior, Princess

April, 48 B.C.

      In the kingdom near Liberia there once lived a young princess who looked very much like a warrior.  Though her manners were that of royalty.  King Lius was her father and he had sent for the warrior princess after hearing of their resemblance from his cousin King Sisyphus.  When the warrior princess arrived at the castle gates she found herself stunned at her reception for the guards bowed down to her.  She had not expected royal treatment.  Then she entered into the halls of the kingdom where she met with more guards.  They too bowed down to her as if nervous of her presence.  It was unlike her usual experience of having to fight her way through men.  Her entrance into the castle was so easy that she was told to go right into the bedchambers of the king to visit.
The warrior princess did not agree that a visit to the king’s bedroom would be appropriate, but soon she found the king.  He arrived to meet her in the halls as she found herself unwelcome by a strange intruder.  The intruder came up behind her though the warrior princess had known he was there.  She quickly spun around to do battle sending a flames through the air.  The assassin was soon defeated for the torch was more than he could bear.  He ran from the castle guard who were in pursuit of their latest intruder.  Then the king suddenly smiled welcoming the warrior princess.  He was impressed not by her combat skills, but by her piercing blue eyes and dark hair.  Xena was the exact image of his daughter the princess Diana.  The king was pleased by this for it meant that he had finally found the warrior who could do battle with his daughter’s attackers.
When Xena inquired of why she was attacked the king reported that his daughter was to wed into the kingdom of Liberia at the end of two days.  He had been looking for someone who could pose as his daughter and protect her through until she wed.  Xena was very uninterested in taking this job for she only worked for those who were less fortunate than the royals.  In fact she was insulted that this king thought that he could bribe her with his royal riches.  As the warrior princess had decided that she would not trade for the princess king Lius was filled with disappointment.  He tried desperately to find a way to convince Xena that this job was for more than just a royal princess.  King Lius argued that if she did not live to marry Prince Minious of Liberia then many slaves would not be freed for Liberian law forbade it.  But if Liberia were to marry into his kingdom then the laws would be void for in his kingdom slavery was not allowed.
Xena contemplated this for a moment and then decided that she could take the job.  The warrior princess could bring freedom and new life to so many by switching places with the princess.  And so King Lius decided to take the warrior princess to her test.  He wanted to see if she could pass as Diana amongst his castle subjects.  And so the first test was with the lovely Tynia who was Diana’s caregiver.  Tynia was responsible for entertaining the princess and befriending her.  King Lius was certain that if Xena could fool Tynia then his plan to protect Diana would succeed.  When the two met for the first time Tynia asked if the princess was ready for dinner for they were having a few of her favorite delicacies.  Xena played the part well and very convincingly as she agreed that she was indeed feeling hunger.  Then Xena made her first mistake, but covered for it well.  She had stated that she would love to fill her stomach with many bites of Kishka.  Kishka of course was princess Diana’s black terrier not suitable for dinner.  Tynia was confused for just a moment, but then Xena declared that she had only been joking.  Just as she had joked with Tynia when she had inquired of her costume.  Xena said that her costume was for a ball that would be taking place just after the wedding.  Tynia agreed that the warrior costume was suitable for the beautiful princess.
King Lius was pleased to know that Xena would pass as Diana despite her rough warrior manners.  Yet Xena warned that in order for his plan to work he must send Diana outside the castle walls where the assassins would not be looking for her.  The king was completely against for he had not allowed his daughter outside the castle since her mother’s death when she was a child.  Then the Xena convinced him that she would be safe in hiding alongside her friend Gabrielle for no one would even recognize her on the outside.  And so the next part of the plan was put into motion as Xena met with Diana again who had been intrigued by how much Xena looked like her.  She too had noticed the rough manners of the warrior princess as did her father before.  Diana and Xena switched costumes as they spoke of Diana’s wedding day to come.  Xena asked if she loved Minius, but Diana had never even met him.  The only thing she knew of Minius was of his brother Philemon.  Philemon had been the one who had been courting Diana for his brother, but by the way that Diana had described Philemon to her Xena realized that she had fallen in love.  Arranged marriages were seemingly wrong, but they were the way of the royals.  Xena felt pity for the lovely Diana knowing that the fawn haired sky blue-eyed Philemon had a heart already waiting for him.
When Diana emerged from her changing Xena immediately noticed the red bows that she had incorporated into the leather straps.  Xena quickly removed them to Diana’s dislike, but Xena reminded her that she had to look dark if she wanted to truly mirror the warrior princess.  Diana was expressing her excitement of getting venture outside the castle walls for the first time in years.  She yearned to know more about the little people who were her subjects in the kingdom.  Xena could see that Diana was right for the young princess had much to learn of those who resided within her kingdom.  She had been sheltered from the harsh realities that existed within her life without ever knowing about them.  And as she prepared to leave she helped the warrior princess into her costume making sure that she looked as well-mannered as a warrior princess could manage.
Not long after Diana left the castle walls upon Argo Xena found herself confronted by yet another intruder.  He entered into Diana’s bedchambers with a bouquet of red roses.  Xena beat him into unconsciousness ripping the roses apart looking for danger.  Yet there was not danger just a symbol of love.  The roses had been the kind gesture of a young man matching Diana’s description of the courageous, and brave Philemon.  Xena awoke him from his slumber with a glass of water.  Philemon rose from the floor still feeling that there was danger lurking.  He had come to take the princess on her daily walk into the courtyard, but suggested that they not go since there had been another recent attempt on her life.  But the warrior princess did not fear danger.  She had come to seek it out.  Xena also regretfully thanked the handsome Philemon for his lovely gesture of roses.  Then she asked him if he could take her on a tour of the entire castle.  Philemon was delighted and was certain that he could protect the safety of the beautiful princess.
The tour of the castle was lovely for Philemon filled it with his admiration of the princess, but as they walked the princess seemed more interested in knowing more of his brother Minius.  And so Philemon answered her questions about Minious.  He told her that Minious was a good man, but that he was a scholar while Philemon was only a diplomat.  Philemon seemed disappointed that he could not impress the princess not knowing he who he was trying to impress.  Then he continued to answer the princess’s questions about the Liberian slave laws and about the slave traders who were against the union of their kingdoms.  She expressed her fears that there were people within Liberia who were against freedom for slaves and that was who was trying to take her life.  But Philemon assured her that the kingdom of Liberia wanted freedom for its slaves indefinitely despite its archaic laws.
Suddenly, seven masked assassins arrived into the courtyard interrupting their castle walk.  They were sent to kill Diana, but Philemon stood bravely by her.  He drew his sword and like a gentleman instructed the princess to move away to safety.  Xena could see that he was brave, but knew that he could not take on seven men alone.  She prepared to do battle though Philemon would not know of her involvement.  He charged forward to ward off the killers.  Philemon handled the first three valiantly and with impressive skill, but as the fourth and fifth man charged for him he became overwhelmed.  That was when the warrior princess stepped cautiously into the battle.  From behind the brave Philemon she sent the killers into pain they would never forget.  She fought without her weapons and her power was too much for the enemy.  Her kicks were like the thrust of an assasin’s knife as her punches sent them into the fountain.
Soon the battle had ended as the cowardly assassins retreated realizing that they could get close enough to the warrior princess to take her life.  Philemon rose from defeat with a bloody nose, but certain that he had successfully protected the lovely princess.  Yet the warrior princess was not finished for there was so much she needed to know as she chased the retreating assassins.  Philemon stopped her reminding her that a princess does not fight.  Xena then noticed his injury and tended to the bloody nose.  Philemon found himself shocked at the princess’s reaction to his blood for she usually fainted at the sight of one drop.
While the warrior princess battle the evils that lurked within the castle the bard worked on her scrolls.  Yet her writings were coming with some difficulty.  The bard found herself interrupted by an old man who planned to kidnap her for a profit.  Gabrielle did not fear him for she had just caught sight of Xena’s arrival.  She warned the man of his impending defeat for he would not enjoy the wrath of the warrior princess.  The old man laughed at the bard’s threat certain that she was bluffing.  Yet the bard was certain of Xena’s fury for she had seen it many times before.  Suddenly the man grabbed the bard as he tried to choke her.  Gabrielle called out desperately to Xena who seemingly did not want to get involved.  After many moments of desperate struggle Xena the princess ran into battle.  She delivered a weak punch that couldn’t possibly scare a child.  The old man turned away from his victim to see what the disturbance was only to find a princess playing the part of a powerful warrior.  She did not look powerful in her stance as if uncertain of what to do next.  Trying to look as mean as possible the princess failed to look larger than her foe.  Suddenly she turned away in fear as she ran down the path toward Argo.  Gabrielle then realized that she could handle this one man on her own.  The bard picked up her staff from the ground and delivered the enemy to the ground.  She took his feet with one move and then cracked him twice with the staff.
That was all it took to defeat him.  He was a simple inexperienced foe who prayed only on the weak unaware of the power of the battling bard.  Gabrielle was pleased of her defeat and realized that the warrior princess had been testing her.  When she finally caught up to the princess she found herself curious of the details at the castle.  Then the princess took a note from her breastplate and handed it to the bard.  Gabrielle was curious about the castle, but more curious about Xena’s strange behavior.  After reading the note she began to laugh for she thought that this was just another test of her warrior skills.  But the princess insisted that she indeed was princess Diana.  Gabrielle could not believe it and she continued to argue with the princess about being tested, but then the princess fell apart.  She became hysterical showing her fears.  The princess described a day of getting lost at least three times, and of missing her father after being away from him for only hours.
It was the fear and hysteria that alerted the bard to the true identity of the one who stood before her.  Yet it was amazing for Diana had the same piercing blue eyes and long dark locks of the warrior princess.  Finding herself in awe Gabrielle bowed down to the princess expressing her excitement in meeting the princess.  Then Diana warned Gabrielle of her own behavior for no one was to know Diana’s true identity.  The princess was correct and Gabrielle realized that she had her work cut out for her.  Not only did she have to look after the princess, but she had to teach her the life of the warrior princess so that she could behave more like a warrior.  And it wasn’t an easy task.  As the day wore on Gabrielle realized just how little Diana knew about the world outside the castle walls.  She was more nieve than the bard as she expressed her continuing excitement in meeting the ordinary people of her kingdom.  Diana told of all of the wonderful things that she would do once she was Queen of the land.  Gabrielle did admire her for her desire to relate with her people, but it would be many years before the young princess would truly understand what relating to them meant.
Back at the castle the warrior princess was learning about life as a royal princess receiving all of the treatment and the pampering.  It was more than she could take as Tynia brushed her hair for one thousand long strokes.  Tynia was preparing the princess for her first meeting with Minious at a special banquet held for the two engaged.  The warrior princess only made it to about eight hundred or so strokes before she could take no more.  She stopped the brushing session immediately for she was more than ready to attend the banquet.  King Lius arrived to escort her to dinner concerned that she would not be able to fool those who had known Diana since childhood.  But Xena was certain that she would be able to convince them.  She was also certain that she should attend so that she could find out who was working against Lius and his daughter.
As the beautiful princess was escorted to the dinner she walked alongside King Lius and Philemon.  Philemon spoke with excitement for he could no wait to hear the princess play her enthralling melodies upon the harp.  While the many royal guests gathered for this most special occasion the warrior princess asked the king to inform her on some of those who were in attendance.  One man she caught sight of across the room had been talking to Minius the one who was to wed her.  He had a look she knew all too well and so she asked of his business with Liberia and Minius.  Xena was told by the king that he was Romeous.  A simple and loyal business man who was quite prominent and well-liked.  Lius did not expect that Romeous would be involved with such a dastardly plot against his daughter.
Finally all sat down to dinner and went on with the first toast of the evening.  The princess was given the honor by her father and she used this opportunity to inspect the reaction of the guests.  First she toasted to her husband to be and their marriage to be.  Then she stood again and toasted to the end of slavery.  Most about the table had agreed with great excitement that slavery would soon be a thing of the past in Liberia.  As the princess sat down she rose once more and declared death to the traitors of the land.  She was firm and over dramatic as she delivered her last toast.  Her words rose some eye brows and great suspicion from those in attendance.  Yet the words themselves did not encourage those against her to strike her down.  Instead the King apologized for the words that his lovely Diana had been coached by her father to say.  When Diana seeked her approval from him to cover from her drama of the latter he took light of the matter and brought laughter to all who dined.
As dinner came to a close Philemon suggested that she play them a tune for he was not certain that this was his Diana.  There was something clearly different about her attitude and her personality of which he could not understand.  Many of the other guests agreed that she should indeed play for them.  Including the good man Romeous who seemed irritated at this charade.  When King Lius tried to cover up Xena’s diguise he suggested that his daughter had been tired.  He even went as far as to say that she could not play that way.  But instead Xena chose to meet the challenge and rose from the table to play the harp.  Of course her manners had demonstrated that there was something not quite right with the usually lovely princess.  Yet Xena sat down upon the chair to prepare a tune for all.  Placing her fingers softly upon the strings she closed her eyes.  Then she felt the music which lie within her mind.  The tune she played was of destruction for every last string had been broken.  It was clear to all who were against her that she knew who they were.  There was no more hiding behind false images, yet it would take more to convince Lius of that.  Smiling quaintly the princess apologized as if confused by the broken strings, but King Lius suggested that just maybe they had been strung a bit tightly.
While Xena the warrior princess dined with royals princess Diana dined with the bard.  Gabrielle prepared for nightfall placing bed rolls upon the ground.  It was the life of the warrior princess, yet Diana did not understand.  She could not believe that anyone in her kingdom ever slept upon the ground.  And then Gabrielle decided that maybe a bit of bread and cheese would ease her displacement.  But when the princess tried it she most certainly did not like it.  The princess spate the stale bread upon the ground trying not to allow the bard to catch sight of it.  Then the princess suggested that they go down to the local tavern.  She had riches to spend and plenty of money.  Diana was certain they could feast and dine well.  Gabrielle refused the idea for she realized that there was a lesson for the princess to learn.  If she was going to get to know the lives of those ordinary people she so admired then she was going to have to learn how they lived.
As the two sat down to bed near a temple to Aphrodite Gabrielle and Diana were becoming comfortable with their unlikely situation.  Until an old beggar approached and stood over the princess startling her with freight.  She jumped up and hid behind the bard as if expecting Gabrielle to protect her.  It was strange for the bard to find herself standing in front of a warrior princess rather than behind.  The old beggar was not a threat.  He had only come to ask for a spare crumb.  Diana seemed offended when his actions implied starvation.  She was certain that no man, woman, or child was starving within her kingdom.  Suddenly the princess caught herself and became the warrior princess once again.  Though Diana did not believe the truth Gabrielle had known it well.  She reached for their last lump of cheese and graciously gave it to the man.
His eyes glowed with appreciation for the compassion of the giving bard and then he called out to his family beyond the brush.  A wife and three young children came from hiding to rejoice and give thanks.  The sight of a little blue-eyed innocent girl brought sorrow to the heart of the princess.  She realized now what she had never known.  That there was indeed corruption still existing within her castle walls.  But after this humbling experience she had decided that she would change things for the better of all.  Her first good tiding for the poor was to offer a feast to this family.  She dashed off to the local tavern and brought back more food than these poor could ever have imagined.  It satisfied her heart to know that she could offer them comfort and all sat down together and enjoyed a banquet of their own.
Late into the night a gruesome discovery was made back at the castle.  Romeous reported to Philemon that a high-ranking general within the castle had hanged himself to avoid the shame of his betrayal.  Once Lius and Xena were told Lius was certain that the danger was over.  He instructed that the princess be brought back home to be wed upon the next day.  With satisfaction and relief King Lius slept well for the first time in weeks.  Yet Xena was not convinced that the general had been the real traitor.  Her suspicions were confirmed later that night after Philemon had spoken with Minious about his feelings toward Diana.  As Philemon left his brother disappointed to find his lack of interest in his wife to be he ran across the castle guard carrying a chair to cut down the hanged.  When Philemon realized that there had been no chair in the room where the hanged had been found he was certain of what Xena had already suspected.
Unfortunately Lius’s guard had already gone to bring back the princess before the news had reached him.  He found Diana with her people telling the story of how she had killed Cyclops instead of Centaurs with her round killing weapon.  The little girl was memorized by the beautiful princess with piercing blue eyes and then asked her to demonstrate the mighty power of her shiny round weapon.  Without a thought Diana released its wrath though Gabrielle tried desperately to stop her.  The bard had seen the power of the chackram and had known that only one woman could tame its wildness.  It flew about out of control narrowly missing the bard and those near her.  The chackram had bounced off a keg of water and then finally come to rest after robbing the king of his crown into a nearby tree.
Diana was pleased to see that her father had returned for her and prepared to return to the castle for her wedding.
Early on the morning of the wedding Gabrielle arrived at the castle with Diana, Lius, and their guard.  Upon entering through the gates into the courtyard there stood the once leather clad warrior princess.  She was sporting more of a fluttering pink gown which was very out of her style.  It was obvious that she had tired of the charade despite all  of the wonderful experiences that it offered.  Gabrielle was delighted to be reunited with her friend.  Diana appeared just as satisfied that the danger was seemingly over.  Then Xena declared that she was quite tired of being a princess and could not wait to restore her dark beauty.  Gabrielle waited as Xena and Diana disappeared to switch roles into their proper place.  And then Xena returned ready to ride out into danger again unlike her counter part Diana had been.  Gabrielle then left with Xena and argue traveling on down the road seemingly finished with a job well performed.
Yet this tale is not over for there were more surprises in store.  As Diana prepared to dress into her wedding gown Philemon found himself charging into her bed chambers to warn her of the danger that still existed with in the castle walls.  He told Diana what he had discovered about the truth of the general’s suicide.  For it had not been a suicide at all.  When Diana heard the news she instructed Philemon to go out and get Xena to come back so that she could stand in at the wedding.  Philemon dashed off quickly in hopes that he could reach Xena in time.  Fortunately he had caught up to Xena and Gabrielle entering into a nearby village.  Philemon summoned Xena making her aware of the danger that still lurked.  Xena quickly reacted charging upon Argo on down the road leaving Gabrielle behind.
Soon Xena arrived at the castle just in time for the wedding.  But what she witnessed was so intense that no one ever suspected.  As Diana walked down the aisle preparing to wed Minius.  He stood waiting for her below a danger that awaited.  Just before Diana reached the altar in her beautiful white dress she suddenly turned violent breaking into a warrior spirit.  For it was not Diana at all.  It had been Xena.  Xena had fooled everyone knowing that the real traitor was still about.  She let out a valiant battle cry as she ran up the wall flipping into action.  Xena kicked and punched like thunder crashing down every enemy about her.  Then she did something even more strange.  She reached for five loose arrows upon the ground.  Then she smiled with a crazy grin and dashed up to where the harp stood.  Xena was creative as she found the harp to be more useful as a weapon rather than an instrument.  She took the five arrows and shot them across the banquet hall toward the truest criminal of all.
The arrows flew flawlessly toward their target.  They were certain to hit their mark.  As they had come to rest.  There plastered to the wall was the loyal businessman Romeous for Xena had known his kind all the while.  She had known it was him on their first meeting in the banquet hall the night before at dinner.  He had acted in the manner that all criminals do for he had been too confident in his success.  Of course Minious had not yet realized that it was the warrior princess whom he had almost wed.  And he declared with great disgust that he would not marry such a mannerless woman.  Yet Xena had known what she was doing for she had planned it all along.  She saved a life and freedom, but she had also saved true love.  For on their way back to the castle a leather clad Diana had stopped the path.  She had pretended to be Xena only to discover the true feelings of her betrothed.  Philemon declared without awareness of how much he loved Diana, but he had been afraid to tell.  He had been afraid that Diana loved only Minious.  Then Diana revealed herself.
It had been Philemon who had shared with Xena his knowledge of her charade.  He had told her he had known she wasn’t Diana before the second switch was made.  For Diana did not catch and she did not like blood.  So Xena did all of the work for she caught true love bringing it together, and prevented blood by storming the castle wedding.  As Xena and Gabrielle finally found themselves leaving the castle Gabrielle asked her what it had been like.  Gabrielle wanted to know if Xena had truly enjoyed being a princess or if it was just an overrated job.  Xena had said she would never want to be a princess who ruled within the castle walls.  It was too much work and not enough fun for a warrior princess to stand.  For a royal princess was not allowed to play with a sword and a warrior princess lived by one.  Then a servant walked by and she took two ouerderves.  Handing one to Gabrielle Xena consumed the other declaring despite it all there had been perks.  And so all ended in triumph.  Social injustice would one day end and love would be how it began.

The Xena Scrolls: The Reckoning Scroll#6

The Xena Scrolls

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Potedia

Scroll  # 6:  The Reckoning

October, 49 B.C.

      Life is like a stream for the water it carries is the like the blood that runs through our veins.  Only the water is the earth’s blood which supports all life.  And a stream is full of peace and tranquility like life itself.  As I thought of these things I was enjoying a bath when my own peace and tranquility was interrupted by the sound of Argo’s hooves pounding upon the hillside.  And then I heard Xena calling out frantically for me.  I couldn’t imagine what all of the rush was about so I invited her to join me in my serenity, but there was seemingly no time for enjoyment.  Xena quickly grabbed my arm as I rose from the stream with only my undergarments and a handful of rags.  She threw me up onto her horse and then we rode through the canyon and to the top of the mountain like a bolt of Zeus’s anger.

     When we finally reached the top of the mountain and slowed down I was immediately intrigued by the warrior princess’s haste.  What could have upset her so much that we had to ride away from it so fast?  She spoke of a battle which had ensued between herself and a dark hooded man.  Immediately my curiosity was raised for this sounded like a most exciting adventure.  Xena continued by explaining that after I had separated from her an hour earlier she had heard the sounds of suffering coming from just over the hill.  When Xena went to investigate she found four innocent farmer’s being slaughtered by this hooded man.  Not only had he murdered them in cold blood, but he was also robbing them of their money.  When Xena finally arrived at the scene she confronted the hooded man hoping that she could save the last man who was clinging to life.

     The dark shadow snickered at her arrival and seemed delighted at her challenge.  And so the battle began as Xena flipped into action, but so did her rival.  He was seemingly just as quick if not quicker than she had been for with every move she made he had the counter that could beat it.  Their swords clashed like the powers upon Olympus as Xena struggled to defeat this most terrible murderer.  He seemingly mocked her as she began to lose her breath, but she was determined not to lose against him.  The hooded man swung his sword showing off his skills as the warrior princess grinned back laughing inside for she had a secret for she knew who he actually was.  As the hooded man sensed that she had discovered his identity he charged forward toward the warrior princess as she charged toward him.  And then suddenly he flipped over her and vanished into thin air.

     After the enemy had disappeared Xena immediately tended to the wounded man still living.  She took the string off of his money pouch and tied it around his thigh hoping to stop the loss of blood from his gaping leg wound.  Next she tended to his shoulder and neck wound by using her sword and his weak hand to apply pressure.  As she was going over the rest of the scene to see if there were any more possible survivors the people of their nearby village came dashing over the hill to aid their loved ones.  When Xena began to explain to them what had happened the townspeople accused her of being the villain for she had been the one they had spotted at the scene and she had blood all over her hands and sword. 

     Quickly Xena realized that she looked very guilty although she had not been the one at fault.  Understanding the mentality of simple villagers Xena quickly fled the scene upon her horse Argo and escaped to the top of the mountain to plan our escape.  When I asked her who she thought the hooded man was she just described him as one who could match her own skill which seemingly intrigued her yet it was obvious to me that she had only an idea, but was not certain of his identity. 

     Later that evening as the sun began to go down Xena, Argo, and I began descending down the mountain to avoid capture.  Unfortunately there was only one way back out of the pass and that was Xena’s worst fear.  She hoped that the village people would not be bold enough to try to capture her in the cover of darkness, but suddenly Argo became very upset throwing me from her back onto the ground.  There were traps set everywhere waiting for us.  Suddenly, Xena and I found ourselves surrounded by a mob of angry villagers.  They picked me up and held me captive as Xena flipped from her horse and faced them drawing her sword for her back.  She swung it around her head in a threatening motion demanding that these people let me go for she was the one that they truly had been after.

      The leader of the village people then stepped forward and commanded his people to do what the warrior princess had asked.  I was certain that she would spring into action, but instead she did something unexpected.  She dropped her sword surrendering to the people without a single defense.  Then one of the farmers from behind her knocked her unconscious with his pitchfork.  My eyes could not believe what they were seeing.  For the first time the warrior princess had given up without a fight.  The worst part of it all was that she was not guilty yet the villagers placed her into their jail for she was to go to trial for her wrongs.

      On the next morning I decided to go and visit her.  When I went inside I saw the mighty warrior princess with her arms tied uncomfortably above her head.  She looked like she was in pain yet Xena did not complain.  Instead she was more concerned for my safety scolding me for not running away and getting out of here.  I was slightly offended that the warrior princess had little faith in my ability to help her the way that she had helped me out of my execution by the Biochian king.  As a friend I could understand that we all make mistakes and that just happened to be my mistake.  Now Xena’s mistake had put her in a tight spot and as her friend I wanted to help.  I promised her that I would find a way to get her out of this horrible prison and then I set out to find the leader of the villagers.

     My first stop was to see the judge and to plead Xena’s case with him.  He told me that Xena was indeed entitled to a defender, but that defender would be an appointed one.  Now this did not seem fair to me since the defender would indeed be swayed by local opinion.  I pleaded with the judge to allow me to be her defender for I believed in her and could most certainly prove her innocence.  After many long moments of haggling I finally got my way.  The judge appointed me as Xena’s defender.  Okay so now that I could use my words to help a friend I had to find more than words.  I had to find hard evidence to prove Xena’s innocence. 

      I set off toward the murder scene for I would most certainly find evidence there.  As I walked about and studied it carefully I discovered something most interesting.  I leaned down to the ground for a closer look and better observation.  Then I put my elbow into the muddy foot print which had been left behind by the true murderer.  Suddenly, I was full of excitement and I had to share it with the judge for if this did not prove Xena to be innocent then nothing else could.  I dashed back to the village as fast as I could and finally caught up to the judge out of breath.  Then I asked the judge to come back to the murder scene with me so that I could show him my discovery.  On the way there I explained to him that I had found two sets of foot prints which had been toe to toe.  One of them was a larger print than the other, but both sets of foot prints had indeed been made by warrior boots.  It was very unlikely that any of the victims would wear warrior boots.

      The judge’s interest was piqued and as we entered the murder scene I ran directly to the place in which I had found the foot prints.  Yet when I went back to the spot on the hill there was nothing.  Not a trace of a print was left and to me it was quite mysterious for I knew what I had seen.  The judge was irritated for I had seemingly wasted his time, but I had indeed made a discovery that someone didn’t want me to make.  Of course this made my job a little more difficult since the evidence had suddenly been tampered with.

     Upon my return to the village the angry lynch mob had taken control while the judge had been with me studying the murder scene.  They had brought Xena out into the streets of the village and prepared to drag her through the village tied to a cart pulled by a horse.  It was a most awful scene to see for these were just simple peaceful villagers and somehow overnight they had turned into bloodthirsty animals.  I could not understand this and I was angered inside that they did not want to hear what the truth really was.  I approached my friend and took hold of the rope tying it around my neck.  I declared to the farmer whom had hit my friend the night before that if he and his bloodthirsty friends were going to murder one of us why not murder two of us. 

     He did not understand my point for he was certain that I was not guilty and there was no reason to take my life.  And then the judge intervened stating to his people that there indeed would be a fair trial for the warrior princess.  There would be no sentences carried out until a true verdict was reached.  Justice had to be carried out before another murder would be allowed.  Then the judge unwrapped my ropes and stood his ground standing before his people.  He told them that if they were so impatient then they would have to kill his guards, and him before they could kill another.

      Then Xena was taken back to the prison.  I went in again to visit her and to give her moral support.  I was determined to allow justice to prevail for I was certain of its power.  Xena however, was not for she insisted that I go without her.  But I could not do that because friends do not leave friends behind, and although I was no warrior I could still win this battle yet.  Xena had little faith in her friend, but we were going to win this one together. 

       Early the next morning the trial began.  It was a long trial that last almost an entire day.  There was testimony after testimony of villagers who had claimed that they had witnessed my friend as being the murderer.  When I questioned the wife of one of the victims she insisted despite hearing swords clashing that there had not been another warrior who could have been the killer.  Then the farmer who had led the powerful mob came to the stand.  He insisted that the blood everywhere and upon the hands of the warrior princess proved her guilt.  When I asked him if he had ever helped anyone injured on his farm he answered that he had.  And then I asked him if he had ever gotten their blood onto his hands he said that indeed he had.  This clever mob leader could see where I was taking him, and immediately tried to dissolved my defense.  His excuse was that he had been helping those people as was Xena.  She had been using her fine medical knowledge to assist the injured men.

      And then another farmer was called to the stand.  He had been a friend of one of the victims.  As I questioned him he would not budge.  He tried to turn things around by asking me where Xena had put the money that had been taken from the victims.  For that I did not have an answer because Xena had not committed robbery and murder.  Suddenly, I found myself in despair.  I was so frustrated for no one seemed to care to hear or to see the truth.  All they seemed to care about was making an example of someone.  I could see that I was losing fast until  the star witness was released into the court.  Pericles had been the man who Xena had saved.  He was still quite weak and barely able to speak.  The judge questioned him as he told his story to the court. 

      Pericles’s story was weak.  He only stated that he had heard swords clashing above him and that he had remembered being struck down.  And then he said that the last thing he remembered before falling out was Xena standing over him covered in his own blood.  He said it with such defiance as if he had been prepared before entering the court.  It was all a lie, and I had to prove to the jury that he had been lying to them.  As I began to question him on Xena’s behalf the judge declared that the hearing was over.  How that could have been I’ll never understand for the defense never had the opportunity to question the star witness and to truly present its case.

     After the trial had ended and deliberations among the jury began I knew that Xena would be convicted no matter the truth.  I was saddened that I had failed my friend unable to save her from a death sentence.  There was only one thing left to do.  I decided to go down to visit her in the dungeon once more.  As I walked down the stairs with sadness and defeat I approached Xena.  She had escaped from her cell and was beating the guards in rage.  It was a side of Xena that I had never seen before.  It was like she had become a monster and an animal.  Then when I finally reached my friend she unleashed her anger upon me knocking me across my face violently to the ground.  I had never before felt so much power and hatred through a simple slap across the face, but it hurt terribly.  It hurt inside and out.  Immediately I rushed to my feet and walked away back up the stairs as Xena’s rage suddenly halted.  She looked to me with regretful eyes, and then turned away to help those that she had unleashed her rage upon. 

     Xena apologized to these men and then I began to understand why she had surrendered herself in the beginning.  It was because of all of the guilt that she was feeling inside for all of the wrongs that she had already committed within her past.

Xena would have allowed them to kill her despite her innocence within their own tragedy.  And then the judge broke the news that she could not be sentenced for her crimes against the men who were murdered, but she would be sentenced for her crimes against the prison guards.

     Later that night I decided to return after realizing what Xena had been trying to do.  I had a plan to help her escape for I did not want Xena to die when she could redeem her past sins by just doing the will of the innocent.  To me that was payment enough.  And so I took Argo to the window of the jail.  I was in disguise in the darkness as I tied the rope to the bars and then to Argo.  We were going to pull the bars out so that Xena could climb out. 

     At first Xena had felt shame for what she had done to the people in her past and to me, but I would not let her punish herself.  I also confessed to her that she had been right about justice not being what it was meant to be for people would always be its flaw.  And then Xena asked me to leave her alone again.  She said that she had another plan of escape.  I did not understand and was disappointed that she would not allow me to be the one who would save her.  Yet I had to understand my friend and let her choose what she must do in order to be okay with her own past.  As I left the prison Xena thanked me for coming back and for being there for her.  And then Argo and I left as we waited for the next morning to arrive.

      When the sun rose the village people began gathering in the square ready to watch the execution of the warrior princess.   I knew in my heart that Xena was going to escape it somehow, but I was unaware of the calculated plan that she had developed.  The guards brought her out before the crowd chained at the wrists and at the ankles.  She limped with sadness still feeling in her heart that she deserved her execution, yet she had so much responsibility for she had the power, and the courage to stop the pain.  Then the judge passed down the sentence to Xena.  As they prepared to tie her to the wagon the hooded man stepped forth.  Xena declared that he bring back the three good villagers who  had been killed.  Suddenly the crowd looked up and saw the three good men of their village alive and well.  Everyone was joyful for no one had died.  Then I asked the judge what the verdict was and he stated that Xena indeed was not guilty. 

      On our way down the path out of the village I asked Xena how she had been able to bring those men back to life.  She explained to me that it had been the power of the hooded man.  The hooded man’s true identity had been Ares the god of war.  Xena explained that Ares had come to her while she was in prison.  He had set framed her for the murders of those innocent farmers knowing that she would be convicted without question.  Ares had wanted to restore Xena to her darkness for he dreamed that she would command his army and take the world.  There were only two things that had prevented him from accomplishing that goal.  One had been the deal that he had offered Xena.  He had offered her any of the warriors of history to be a part of her army living or dead.  So that was how she brought the villagers back to life, but the other thing that he had not expected was the persistence of a loyal friend.

The Xena Scrolls “Path Not Taken” Scroll#5

The Xena Scrolls

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Potedia

Scroll#5:  The Path Not Taken

October, 49 B.C.

 

     There was once this feud between two families that had gone on for many centuries.  The families had been at war with one another for so long that one day they finally decided to stop fighting because no one really knew what it was that they had been fighting for.  And then one day there was this young handsome prince whose name was Agranon.  He was walking through the field toward the lake when he saw something so beautiful and vibrant that he found himself falling madly in love.  It was the reflection of the lovely princess Jana that he had seen.  She was just upon the other side of the lake and she looked up to see the most wonderful young man.  He had been the man that she had dreamed of since her childhood, but there was just one sadness within this story.

      Agranon was from her rival house the family of Colonous while the princess was from the family if Biochia.  The two could see how senseless it really was to be at odds despite the fact that both families had stopped the fighting so many years before yet to unite was still greatly forbidden.  Despite the ancient feud between to two families Agranon and Jana decided that they would be the first to prove that indeed the two families could once again become friends and to unite in the blessing of love.  As Agranon sat beneath the tree by the lake where the two had first met he declared that he and Jana would indeed have a wonderful story to share with their future grandchildren.  Jana spoke of how they could tell their grandchildren of how peace had finally been created under their special tree by the lake.  Agranon then continued by expressing that they could also tell the grandchildren of how one of their parents had been made in the very same place.

     Despite the joy shared between two lovers there was still darkness and war lurking around the corner.  If not by the two families themselves by a well-known arms dealer named Mezentious.  Mezentious had sent his men out to kidnap the princess of the family of Biochia for he knew that if he could restart the family feud there was certain to be a war.  And if there was to be a war then Mezentious would be back in business selling his arms at whatever price he chose to make money off of the hatred between two rival families.  Agranon was devastated by the loss of his beloved Jana and so he decided to seek out help in his quest to find his Jana. 

     After the success of saving a baby’s life and helping to restore  the kingdom of Gregor Xena and I found ourselves needing a bit of rest and relaxation.  We entered into a very dangerous city which Xena had said was the city of Trachis.  It had been well-known for the many inhabiting warlords and mercenaries there.  As we walked through the streets to find a good tavern to dine in men were fighting amongst themselves.  There was definitely not a sense of peace within the city walls.  It was like no other city I’d ever visited before.  There was evil and darkness lurking around every corner, but I still felt safe for I was alongside the warrior princess, and there was not one thug in Trachis that could take her down.

     When we entered the tavern there was an atmosphere like no other.  The food smelled great, but there were so many filthy old men.  Mostly they were drunk and many of them had been beaten up pretty badly.  It was probably because of their lifestyle, but it was their choice alone to walk the paths in which they had chosen in life.  I was just glad that Xena had finally chosen to walk the path of the innocent rather than to stay on the path of the evil.  Upon finding the only seats left in the tavern Xena and I were suddenly confronted by a young man with a large bag of gold.  He threw it down onto the table trying to make himself larger than he actually was.  I could tell that Xena was slightly amused by his greeting, but was not at all impressed.

     This young man with the bag of gold said his name was Agranon.  He spoke of how there was a war about to begin between the houses of Colonous, and Biochia.  Agranon wanted to pay Xena to help him obtain the ultimate prize within this war.  Of course Xena made it clear that she was not interested.  She told this young man how obvious and unseasoned he was at portraying the lifestyle of a mercenary.  Xena also told him that he was most likely in for a short life with a messy death.  Agranon did not care for his real reason for coming to Xena was that he needed someone to help him find and rescue his beloved Jana.

     Now Xena’s attention was held for this was not an army that she would be working for, but for the restoration of peace.  Xena had spent so many days in the past fighting for armies and creating armies that she wanted to fight for peace now.  This was a worthy cause that deserved her utmost attention.  However, Xena would not accept the bag of 500 gold dinars that Agranon had dropped down onto the table before us.  Instead she told him to give all of the gold to the many poor around the tavern and within the city.  For Xena that was payment enough.  She did not need money to prove her concern.  All she needed was a good reason.

     As Agranon went to complete his instruction by Xena she spoke to me and told me that I must stay within the tavern and wait for her to return.  She asked me to keep Agranon company which I could do quiet easily.  There were so many stories that I could tell him, and so much he could share with me about he and his love Jana.  Yet I was reluctant to let Xena go alone for she was going to have to pretend to be bad again.  I wasn’t so certain that she would be able to pull off this mission, but Xena assured me that many of the local mercenaries of Greece still knew her well.  They also still remembered how much of a tyrant she had once been and she would use that to her advantage.

     So Xena was off on her journey without me as I tried to stay patient and wait for her to return, but after many hours of entertaining the handsome prince I found myself feeling like I had to get involved.  There had to be some way that I could help Xena win this fight and to save the princess.  Then it occurred to me that Agranon and I could surrender ourselves to Jana’s father the King of Biochia.  If we surrendered ourselves willingly and without a fight then just maybe we could convince him of the truth of the entire situation and of Agranon’s undying love for his daughter. 

      It was very simple and easy to get captured by the Biochian guard, but once we got into the castle we were instructed that we would be meeting the executioner upon the sunrise the next day.  Now that was definitely not how I had envisioned my plan, but despite the failure of my plan Xena’s plan worked like a well-oiled wagon wheel.

     Upon arriving at the fortress of Mezentious she sent her trusty steed Argo off to wait for her beyond the walls of the fortress walls.  Upon entering Mezentious’s city she entered the nearest tavern certain to find the old crowd there.  As soon as she entered she found herself greeted with challengers who either hated her, loved her, or wanted to learn from her genius mind.  A small brawl ensued, but was quickly broken up by the warrior princess with many skills.  Once she had won back the trust of the crowd by telling them of her true intentions back in Lerna she was welcomed back into the loop with open arms.  As she told of how she ransomed the baby back to King Gregor a dark shadow from her past entered the tavern interrupting the show.

      This man was the warrior known as Marcus.  He had traveled with Xena in her early warrior days before she had been betrayed.  They had once had a strong passionate love affair, but it had been many years since their last encounter.  The last time Xena had seen him must have been at least 10 winters maybe more.  Marcus burst into the room with distrust of the warrior princess’s motive, but soon he was eased for the warrior princess charmed him into believing in her darkness.  The two sat down to a few drinks together and reminisced of old times.  Yet their joyful reunion was cut short for the great arms dealer Mezentious entered the tavern in a terrible mood.  Some of his men he had discovered were stealing weapons from him.  Mezentious was relentless in his pursuit of the traitors for he knew that there were two of them.  The first traitor was revealed and punished publicly in front of all of the men.  Mezentious then heeded a warning to the remaining traitor. 

     Once Mezentious left the tavern began to return to its normal activity as Xena and Marcus began to discuss profit.  Xena suspected that it had been Mezentious who had kidnapped the missing princess in order to start the war for his own profit gains.  Marcus at first tried to cover up for his boss, but he realized that Xena was just too good to leave in the dark.  He could see the potential of having Xena as an ally with Mezentious so he decided to introduce the two.

      Mezentious of course was quite uninterested in Xena’s presence at first.  In fact, he had been on his way to take the innocence of the young princess before  being interrupted by Marcus’s introduction of Xena.  Mezentious found himself irritated and gave the command to his surrounding guard to prepare to kill this most uninvited guest.  He did not want the competition to take away from his war.  But then Xena spoke up and told Mezentious that she was here for a profit, and that she could make sure that his profits alongside her were at least doubled.  Mezentious stopped and was interested for a short moment listening to the warrior princess.

     Xena continued on by telling Mezentious that the princess would be worth even less if she were damaged upon her return.  Mezentious laughed and then explained that he was just going to kill her anyway.  Xena then asked Mezentious to wait and to not let his passions get the best of him.  Mezentious agreed that it was good advice as Marcus explained that he felt that Xena’s words were worth every dinar.  His boss was confused for a moment, but realized that Marcus’s own judgement was clouded by his passion for Xena.  Yet Mezentious agreed to a meeting with Xena before going on with any more of his current plans to see if indeed the warrior princess was as great as Marcus had said.

      Marcus then took his old flame to the hot spring within the fortress walls.  He had taken her there in the hopes of reminding Xena of the passion they once had together.  It was obvious to Xena that Marcus had not gotten over her yet and never forgotten Xena.  She too still had a special place within her heart for this man though he was still on the wrong path.  For a moment she almost found herself lost in the memory of their passion as she was caught between the past and the present.  But then Xena’s senses were awakened once again by the screams of the girl.

     Next came the great meeting between Xena and Mezentious in which Xena would prove to him how valuable she could be.  She told Mezentious her reasons for keeping the girl alive.  Xena explained that by keeping the girl alive Xena herself could keep the war going on indefinitely meaning the profits would be much higher.  She explained that the Biochian army would hammer the army of Colonus within less than a month, but if her army fought for one side and then the other she could keep the war going making the stakes higher.

       Both Mezentious and Marcus were greatly impressed with this cool calculated idea,  Xena demanded in return for the efforts of her army half of the profits and weapons for the war effort.  Mezentious was intrigued for this well-known warrior woman was only asking for half of the profits.  His sources had always spoken of her as a greedy adversary.  This made Mezentious question her true intentions yet again.  Xena then called his suspicion with her own bluff by telling him that she would ask for more if he felt that she should be asking for more.  Then Mezentious dropped the subject for he felt that it was he who was getting the better end of this bargain.  But if that were the case then it was her loss and all the more for him to gain.

     Upon returning to the courtyard Jana was about to slit her own throat and jump off of the ledge of her cell up above.  She was quite passionate and fiery going against everything that Mezentious wanted from her.  Mezentious found himself becoming frustrated and impatient with this young girl.  He decided that he was going to handle this situation with a cross-bow, but before he could pull the trigger Xena reminded him of her worth alive.  She volunteered to handle this most annoying situation.  Mezentious again was intrigued yet thought this warrior woman’s actions to be a bit strange and unusual.  He then warned Marcus that he would kill the warrior princess if he had to, but only if she got in the way of his war.

     Soon Xena had reached the distraught princess.  Jana threatened to jump again, but Xena knew that this young girl did not really intend to kill herself.  The princess had made her first mistake by being overly dramatic with a knife and the threat of jumping combined.  Jana was disappointed that Xena nor anyone below had taken her seriously, but Xena calmed her by telling her that she had been sent by Agranon.  The young girl did not believe Xena and threatened to jump yet again until Xena pulled out the necklace that she had taken from Agranon back at the tavern before she had left.  Upon seeing the relic of her betrothed Jana’s trust had been obtained and Xena then instructed Jana to meet her in the hot springs when the moon was in the western sky.

     Later that night Xena broke into the weapons storage to look for a way to smuggle Jana out of the fortress.  She found a large wooden crate that would be the perfect size to carry the body of a beautiful princess.  The box was filled with arrows and as Xena began to remove them she was surprised by Marcus who had been watching her.  He was angry at first for she was betraying him by stealing weapons without his consent.  Xena’s only response was that she was checking the inventory to see what her army would be up against.  As Marcus was about to respond the nearby guards came busting in with Mezentious.  He had finally caught Marcus in the act and warned him one last time of where his loyalties lied.  Marcus’s excuse was to show Xena the inventory that her army would face, but Mezentious said that it was no concern to him.  Xena then spoke up reminding him that her only true concern was that she receive equal pay though her investment was not equal for it would be her men that would die.

     As Mezentious left Xena realized that it had been Marcus who had been stealing the weapons.  She then asked him to show her how he was able to get them out of the city.  Marcus took her to a deep well within the middle of the city’s fortress.  He then dropped a rock down into it proving that it was more than just a well, but a door to the outside world.  Xena was impressed with Marcus and he was delighted to show her his secret for he trusted Xena like he trusted no one else.  He began to share with her a beautiful story of how he had once tried to leave the darkness.  Marcus told of how he had always admired Xena for never killing the innocent women and children despite all of her other deeds.  Then he spoke of how after she had gone away from him that he saw another warlord kill a crippled child upon the request by the child’s grandfather to spare him.

      It was that experience that had gotten Marcus to think of the path not taken.  For a short time Marcus had tried to follow that path, but found himself unable to stay onto it.  This deep personal confession made Xena’s heart reach out to Marcus and love him even more for she understood his pain and uncertainty.  He then sat down beside her and told her that there was indeed something different about her for the old Xena would have killed him for sharing a story like that.  Marcus couldn’t figure out what it was that had made Xena seem as though she were so very different from before.

      A large part of the warrior princess wanted to share the truth with Marcus, but she was uncertain of his reaction.  She did not trust that he would understand and she did not feel that she could turn him back toward the path of the light.  He fell asleep leaning against her shoulder upon the well and he seemed so peaceful to her.  Xena realized that the time was getting late so she went to the hot spring to meet with Jana in order to rescue the princess and to walk down the path of the righteous.  When she arrived at the hot spring Jana was there waiting, but suddenly there was a vicious knock on the door outside.  It was the rascious voice of an angry Mezentious wanting to know who was inside.

      Xena acted quickly hiding Jana under the spring and dressing herself with a robe to cover her leather uniform.  When she opened the door Mezentious was caught off guard for a moment for her beauty was difficult to ignore.  She then told him that it had been Marcus who had invited her to the spring.  Mezentious complained that the timing had been inconvenient, but then realized that maybe his own timing had been better.  He decided that he was going to have the warrior princess, but Xena would not submit easily.  Mezentious encouraged Xena to continue on with her bath as he would watch with pleasure, but Xena made him feel pain for he could not have what his passionate desires demanded of him most.  She explained to him that the last time she had allowed herself to be caught up before in passion before a great battle it had almost cost her an entire war.  These words were powerful enough for Mezentious and he left the warrior princess to her bath alone.

       It had seemed unfortunate to run into Mezentious yet before leaving he had spoken of news about Agranon and his traveling companion.   Xena was told of how the war between the two families was about to start sooner than anticipated for Agranon was to be executed by the Biochian king by morning.  Of course, it was no secret who Agranon’s companion had been so Xena had to act quickly.  She took the princess to the wooden cart which had once held a cargo to kill.  Xena placed the squeamish princess into the empty cart to send her off with news to stop the war.  

     Yet as Xena prepared to send the princess off she was again caught by Marcus unsuspectingly.  This time he had realized what it was that Xena had been doing.  She had been lying to him for she had indeed turned to the opposite path.  When Xena tried to convince Marcus of how much she truly loved him and how sorry she was for not believing in him he threatened to shoot an arrow through the wooden cart.  Xena tried desperately to open his heart to doing just one good thing that would allow him to free himself from the darkness, but Marcus could no longer hear.  Xena could not allow him to kill the princess so she kicked Marcus to the ground taking the princess to the weapons stock room to hide.  There she prepared for battle as Mezentious’s men broke the doors down to battle the traitor.

     As Xena fought against them Marcus entered with his bow prepared to kill the young girl, but then Xena reminded him that Jana was no different from that little crippled boy whose death had once touched his heart.  And then Marcus realized what Xena had been saying and what she had been doing.  He approached the young girl and just as he reached her Mezentious entered into the battle shooting an arrow to ensure that his war would go on.  But Marcus acted with bravery and courage for he  jumped in front of the princess without a second thought.  Xena’s brave love took the arrow to the chest and fell down to the floor.  This broke the heart of the warrior princess and she angrily drew her chackram striking Mezentious in the throat killing him instantly.

     And so it had ended and the enemy had been killed, but something was still not right for why did  a good man have to die?  Xena ran to her lover’s side hoping to comfort him and share one last moment together.  She took his hand as he struggled to hold onto life.  He then asked her if that was the one action that she had been talking about which would send him down the path that he had always wanted to travel.  One of Xena’s oldest friends and the last of their kind was about to die in her arms.  It had taken him his entire life to be opened up to the light, but now the world was at a loss for he would never do all of the good that he had the potential to do.  Xena assured her old friend that indeed he had made the right choice though she could have saved the princess without his sacrifice.  Marcus didn’t care to lose his life for he was satisfied in knowing that he would leave this world doing good rather than doing the deeds of the darkness.  And then he died right there with a gentle soft smile across his face.  He was finally at peace and Xena longed to be there with him in the peace that death seemed to always bring.

      On the next evening at twilight the two kingdom’s of Biochia and Collonus mourned Xena’s loss and gave proper service to the brave soul that had saved their families from a needless war.  Xena was still stunned by her loss for it was the first time in a long time that she had felt her heart tremble with pain.  I was sorry that I had not met Marcus for he sounded like a noble man.  Life is an adventure meant to be lived for what other point is there?

    

Xena Scrolls #3 Dreamworker

The Xena Scrolls

By:  Gabrielle Bard of Potedia

Scroll#3:  Dreamworker

September, 49 B.C.

     There are many lessons to be learned from the warrior princess.  I know that she can teach me, but convincing her of my value and skill is another story.  Earlier this morning I was exploring what it felt like to hold her mighty sword for I have never held a sword before until now.  I picked up the large piece and felt it’s massive weight and then wondered how she made it look so easy.  When Xena handles her sword it looks like it weighs nothing, but that is purely illusion.

     Then I looked at it and studied the materials that it was made of.  It certainly wasn’t bronze which is the typical metal of choice for sword makers.  This was a special piece like no other.  It glistened in the sunlight and it was hot to touch the metal part beyond the leather handle.  It was wrapped and intertwined tightly in design.  The design looked similar to her chakram design with small precious stones on the bottom of the handle which was gold-plated.  If I were a thief I know I could sell it for a pretty dinar, but I couldn’t do that to a friend.

     After studying the craftsmanship of the sword I slowly lifted it into the air as if I were about to do battle with the tree stump in front of me.  It had once made a nice resting place, but now it was an evil warrior that I had to kill.  I battled him bravely yet with difficulty in handling my piece.  Luckily he was not very agile and much slower than I.  Then I said a few choice words to him just before I went in for the kill.  Quickly I struck the sword down onto his head and split him into two pieces.  The battle was over and I had won.  That was until I couldn’t get Xena’s sword out of his head.

     About that moment was when Xena caught me playing with her weapons.  She scolded me for handling them so carelessly as she yanked the sword out of the broken tree stump.  I tried playing it off  by suggesting that I had been using it to chop wood like she had asked of me, but she could always see through me.  Xena acted like I didn’t know anything about using a weapon let alone a sword.  Of course I couldn’t because  I didn’t really know so I challenged her accusation of my nieve view of what a sword was.  She explained to me that I should never want to use a sword and that it should be only a last resort. 

       I pleaded with her to teach me how to use a weapon even if it wasn’t a sword so that I could learn to at least survive and defend myself when we did run into trouble.  It wasn’t like I really wanted to kill anyone.  But of course Xena couldn’t allow me to have my fun or my way.  I’d been traveling with her for about two months now and it had hardly been safe for more than a few hours at a time.  Instead she told me the four rules of battle and said that they were all that I needed to know about using weapons.

     Rule number one was to run if you could run which didn’t sound like anything I’d ever seen the warrior princess do.  In fact, it seemed very cowardly to me.  Rule number two was if you couldn’t run to surrender and then run.  That didn’t sound any better than the first one.  Rule number three was if you were outnumbered by your enemy you were to let them fight each other which sounded a little bit better, but rule number four was the most valuable.  Xena told me that she was confident that I could at least accomplish rule number four in battle which was to talk my way out of becoming a victim.  I thought about it for a moment and realized that she was right.  My words had gotten me this far so they must be good for something.  I had never thought of words being used as a weapon before, but it was an interesting revelation.

     The moral of this was that it was wisdom before weapons no matter what.  That I could agree upon because I could see how wise Xena really was and I admired her for that.  Then Xena continued on by explaining that the moment you kill someone everything in life changes.  She seemed very disturbed by that thought and almost in shame that she had to kill so many to do what she did.  Xena didn’t realize that she had been fighting for good for at least the past couple of months since I’d known her.  That was commendable in my eyes.  That was when I realized that I never wanted to know what she knew about life after the killing. 

     Then we heard the sound of Argo warning Xena of some enemies approaching.  I turned around to look and saw a band of five thieves approaching us.  They looked like trouble and they were indeed.  I asked Xena if this was the time to run and she told me that it was not time to run just yet.  So I stood behind her as she grabbed for Argo’s saddle and took out a knife throwing it into the ground behind a nearby rock.  It was concealed and out of view.  Obviously Xena had a plan, but I had not idea what she was thinking.  I had to figure her out.

     The ring leader of the group approached Xena candidly and smiled commenting on the beautiful day.  Xena’s response to his nasty smile was to draw her sword naturally.  That was definitely a normal Xena response.  Then she asked him in that dark and serious tone what he wanted.  He was very calm and light as he explained that he and his pals were just trying to scrape by in this evil world and occasionally it required that they take things from fellow travelers.  Then he demanded Xena’s horse, any gold, and jewelry that we may have had.  He was also partial to Xena’s attractive sword.  Then he demanded that Xena surrender or suffer the consequences. 

      Here’s the part that she used rule number two because she accepted his conditions of surrender.  I was actually shocked for a moment that she was even thinking of surrendering to these obviously amateur warriors.  They weren’t at all like the Draco’s I’d seen or like Spherus.  These guys were about as unintelligent as you get when it comes to evil, and definitely the bottom of the barrel.  But here’s the part that shocked me even more.  Upon accepting to surrender she called out to me and asked me to go ahead and take their swords from them.  Now this I didn’t think I could do, but hey it was a rare event that Xena had asked me to do anything exciting.  Then the five barbaric creatures busted out in deep laughter.  They did not at all believe in my ability to take them out.  Of course they were right in thinking that because I knew that I couldn’t take five men on my own.  Maybe one, but definitely not five.  Now that was something that I had only seen Xena do single-handedly and plenty more than five.

     The light moment only lasted for about five seconds and then suddenly the ring leader shouted a command to attack us.  The warrior princess took the cue and went into action.  She slashed her sword through one man then two.  They both fell immediately to the ground.  Then she moved behind her back to fight off a third man.  The sounds of the battle were fierce as the warrior princess was in control like a dancer upon the theater.  At this point I was feeling like there was something I should be doing, but I didn’t know what it was.  I didn’t have a weapon and everyone else had swords.

     Xena gracefully removed a staff from one of her attackers, and then another removed her sword from her unsuspecting hand.  The heavy piece crashed to the ground before me and I realized that this was my chance to help Xena.  Yes it was five men and she could probably handle them, but I couldn’t resist.  I bent down to pick up Xena’s sword and I held it up ready for battle.  Letting out an attempt at Xena’s battle cry I entered myself into the fight.  Suddenly it was real and two of the five henchmen approached me with their weapons.  They were closing in fast and I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know how to use it, and I realized that battling a tree is a much simpler process.

     I could see it in their eyes that they were ready to strike and take the breath out of me.  I was gripped with fear because now I had to choose.  Do I let them kill me or do I draw blood?  Just before I had to make that fateful choice I heard Xena’s battle cry as she flipped backward with the staff she had acquired and put herself between me and the enemies.  Then she knocked the two men down with one push forward with the weapon and slid to the ground going for her concealed weapon.  Then I threw down Xena’s sword.  It happened very fast and then I saw Xena’s knife hurling through the air.  The knife’s path met the chest of the ring leader killing him instantly.  It could have been much more painful, but Xena hit him straight through the heart.

     That was the moment that ended the battle and all of the four remaining thieves followed rule number one as they ran leaving behind the dead.  My heart was pounding through my chest harder than it ever had before.  I had felt a strange rush like no other and I found myself not ever wanting to visit that place again.  Yet the excitement was hardly over for the day.  As Xena and I left the scene and headed into town she revealed to me that someone had been watching us from a distance.  She truly was amazing for how could she know something like that.  I had to find out.

     As we entered town not much else was said between us.  I could feel Xena’s disappointment in me and I didn’t like it.  The tension was so great that I had to break the silence.  I told Xena that I knew that she wanted to tell me that the choice I had made was wrong, but I couldn’t allow her to be right.  Yet she knew that eventually I would realize that she was always right.  I hated that about her, but what could I do.  Then I tried to explain to her why I had made that choice.  I expressed to her of how eager I was to help her and she responded by making it very clear that my help was never needed.  She was able to handle everything on her own.  Her independence from me was difficult to take sometimes.  But I couldn’t let this go so I had an idea.  I told Xena that I would return back at the tying post after I went to pick up some salt port.  She was off to buy a sharpening stone anyway so she’d be plenty busy while I went weapons shopping.

     I had a little difficulty finding the weapons shop, but as soon as I did I was in awe of all the beautiful swords.  There was this one in particular lying on the table near the door.  It looked as if it had been crafted and traveled many days to get to its final resting place.  I began to pick it up and get a feel for its texture and design, but was startled by the shop smith.  At first he thought that I was a thief, but then he realized that I was probably pretty harmless.  In fact, he asked me a very unusual question.  He was shocked to see me in town and implied that I should fear the god Morpheus.  It was as if I didn’t know who Morpheus was, but I displayed my fine knowledge of legends and myths by explaining that it was the god of dreams that we were discussing.

     The peculiar gentleman seemed very interested to know that I was experienced.  Experienced at what I didn’t really know, but I was guessing it was of the sort of experience one might have with one’s lover.  But then he said that I wouldn’t be in his shop if I wasn’t experienced which meant that he was talking of battle.  Of course I did have to play it up and let him know just how experienced I was.  Though he didn’t have to know that I knew nothing of sword play.  He was very pleased to see that a young thing like me was skilled and believe me I was impressed myself.

     He asked me if I had lost my weapon of choice in battle.  Naturally I had to say yes although I had never had a weapon other than words which was working pretty well at the moment.  First he showed me a beautiful Albanian piece which had a very wide blade.  It was much wider than the one Xena carried, but impressive.  I picked it up with excitement for I couldn’t wait to handle it, but as soon as the smith handed it over to me I almost fell to the ground with it.  I needed something a little more petite for someone with my frame.  It wasn’t me.

     So then he took me across the shop and pulled out the cutest little weapon.  It looked almost like a bird with a point at the bottom.  He told me that it was a breast dagger.  It must have been designed for death by being pierced in one’s breast, but the gentlemen corrected me and showed me its function.  He gently pulled down the top of my dress and slowly slid it into the breast area.  I could see now what he meant.  It was a dagger held by one’s breast.  This was definitely my weapon of choice.  I could carry it without anyone knowing and when the right moment came I could use it to help Xena the next time we encountered into a big battle.

     When I returned to meet Xena she was preparing to leave town.  And when I asked her if she had gotten everything she needed she replied flatly that she had not.  She seemed almost annoyed and it was obvious that she wanted to leave this particular village in a hurry.  Then she looked to me in all my pride for I could barely conceal it.  She asked me what was wrong and naturally I hid my little secret.  Then she persisted and asked me why I looked different.  She had been talking about my suddenly enlarged breasts of course.  I tried to play them down, but to no avail because my little secret poked me in the breast and fell out of my clothes. 

     It was obvious the game was over yet I still tried desperately to play it off.  I suggested that it was amazing how one could find hidden treasures in old clothes.  It was obvious the warrior princess was not buying that one.  She took the breast dagger and put it into her own breast-plate for safe keeping.  Then there was a sudden interruption in our little game of wits.  Several mysterious warriors swept through the village.  Xena commanded me to get up onto her horse as always, but as I went to follow through I was kidnapped and taken to a strange place. 

     Upon awakening I was greeted by the head mystic in the valley whose name was Manus.  He told of Morpheus and of how I had been selected to be Morpheus’s bride.  Suddenly, I found myself wondering how it was that I had gone from Xena’s horse to becoming someone’s wife.  I was quite confused and anxious to leave, but Manus explained that I would not be leaving until I had completed three challenges.  I tried desperately to talk my way out of these challenges, but to no avail.  Instead I was to discover that the three challenges required me to fight to the death.  When I heard that word death I realized that I was in serious trouble, but where was Xena?

     Xena immediately went into action once she had realized that her encounter with a blind man at the halter shop had been a mystic.  She had bought the poor old man a halter for his horse instead of a sharpening stone for her sword when he had been rejected by the shopkeeper.  Xena was angry for the shop keeper had not told all there was to tell about the missing young girls around summer solstice.  He had been particularly interested in my experience as was the keeper of the sword shop when Xena had first reported the dead highway man.

      After getting little more information from the shopkeeper she seeked out and found the old blind mystic whose name was Elkton.  Elkton spoke of how each young girl kidnapped had been taken by the mystic order to be sacrificed for Morpheus upon losing their blood innocence.  Xena demanded to know how to find the mountain where the mystic order resided, but Elkton was certain that it would take Xena days to fight through the heavy guard that protected it.  He made it clear to Xena that she did not have days to find me, but hours before I would be sacrificed upon losing my innocence.

     And then he spoke of a brave warrior with a dark past.  He said that this warrior had been shown to him within a vision.  This brave warrior with a dark past was the only one who would be able to stop Manus and defeat Morpheus.  Xena insisted that she was indeed the one for the job so Elkton quickly prepared to send Xena into the fire of her dreams and with the key to unlock the gate.  Her spirit would travel through a dreamscape and be reunited with her body once it reached the other side.  However, it was a dangerous mission for she only had a few hours in which to accomplish this task and Elkton spoke of how Morpheus would use Xena’s mind against her to keep her from succeeding.  There was only one special oil that would allow Xena more time to travel through her dreams.  Elkton then sprinkled the carmaoil upon her body and sent her on her way.

     Once inside the dreamscape Xena found herself immediately challenged by its mystery and its darkness.  She found herself confronted by the evils of her past, but was only slowed by their interruption.  Xena took control of her dreams and continued onto the next challenge within her dreamscape.  She found herself revisited by the first kill and the most recent.  They were meant to haunt her spirit, but again she did not allow Morpheus to win and continued on her journey.

      And while Xena met her three challenges within the world of dreams.  I was presented with my first.  Manus sent me into battle against two skilled warriors.  He had given me a sword in which to kill them so that I could survive.  The room was quiet and eerie as I walked slowly down the corridor.  And then I heard the sounds of boots from both sides.  There were shadows lurking beyond the thin curtains which were the only thing that shielded me from death and blood.  The first man caught me by surprise thrusting his sword narrowly missing my ear.  I ducked and was forced to clash swords with the second dark warrior.  Yet his sword was much more powerful than mine for he took the point right off.  I found myself left with only half of a sword and then Xena’s words ran through my mind again. 

     My only chance for survival would be to let them kill each other.  Now that I could do, and so I began my plan to set them up.  Quietly I walked between the two veils and watched as the shadows came closer and closer.  Then just as the two shadows met I let out a rather large sneeze and dropped to roll out-of-the-way of battle.  The two dark warriors clashed instantly thrusting their swords simultaneously within each other.  And then they were gone and my pounding heart-felt relief for a short moment.  Yet my challenge was still not over for Manus returned reminding me that Morpheus would soon demand me to meet his second challenge.  Manus was surprised that I had not chosen to kill my attackers, but I had no choice without a weapon of my own.

      I was then taken back to my bedchamber where I was allowed to rest for a short while.  Upon closing my eyes I began to have a very strange dream.  In my dream I was pulling the petals off of a daisy trying to determine when and if I would be sacrificed by my captures.  Suddenly, I was interrupted by the sound of a pleasant voice.  It was Xena and she was dressed in the most beautiful purple gown.  She then asked me if I was real and I explained to her that she was the one that had entered into my dream and that I was the only one who could be real.  Xena was still not certain that I was real so she then asked me a strange question.  She wanted me to tell her something about myself that no one else could know.  So I told her about how I had been born with six toes on my right foot.

       Peculiar as it seemed Xena was convinced that it was indeed me sitting upon the bed with the daisies.  She then came and sat down next to me telling me that I could not kill as I passed through each of my challenges for if I did I would most certainly be sacrificed.  Our dreams had strangely overlapped and it was a fortunate thing for I could ask Xena what my other choices were.  She then told me to use what I knew, but I wasn’t certain that I knew anything really.  And then my dream began to fade away and Xena’s comforting words with it.  I called out for Xena, but I could no longer see her.  Suddenly, I was awakened by someone I did not care to see.  It was Manus and he was preparing to take me to my next challenge.  Once again I tried desperately to talk my way out of the challenge, but Manus would not allow it.

      So once again I found myself being released into a mysterious place where skilled bloodthirsty warriors lurked within.  This time it was a cave and in the middle was a large pit of fire.  Again I was given a sword, but now that I knew what it was for I threw it into the fire pit for I would not take a life.  And then three dark warriors appeared ready to kill me.  One carried a net with a dagger, another a spear, and the third a sword.  The man with the spear made the first move almost hitting me with his weapon.  But fortunately I was able to dodge it.  I then picked up the weapon and dismantled the shaft turning it into a staff.  I wasn’t really certain what I would do with a staff, but it made me feel like I had a chance.

      I began to hear Xena’s words once again within my mind.  She had said to use what I knew.  At first I was uncertain of what that meant until finally I remembered that I knew how to talk so I began to talk.  I talked the three warriors into fighting one another by using their egos against them.  The first warrior to step forward was the one with the sword, but the warrior of the spear took him down instantly.  It was a surprise at first, but now I was down to two against one.  The man with the net and the warrior of the spear.  As the spear warrior began to thrust forward toward me the net warrior took his knife and slit the spear warrior’s throat.  Now it was just me and my lone enemy.  He threw his knife at me, but I ducked barely missing injury.  The net warrior lunged forward and grabbed me preparing to throw me into the depths of the fire.  I kicked and screamed desperately, but then an amazing thing happened.

      His knife had come to a rest within a hot spring which exploded releasing the weapon back through the air and into his spine.  The net warrior then fell into the fire himself dropping me safely upon the ground.  My chest rose and fell frantically and my heart was pounding wildly for I had almost lost my life during this challenge.  And then Manus returned irritated that I had discovered that I could not kill if I wanted to stay alive.  He declared that Morpheus demanded of me the final challenge and that it would not have any options.  I would have to kill my attacker if I wanted to save my own life.

     As he took me to the next chamber I began to hope that Xena would be arriving soon.  And indeed the warrior princess was on her way, but she was confronted by her own ultimate challenge within the dreamscape.  She found that though she had found the exit she had not obtained the key.  Yet the key was just around the corner lurking within the shadows.  The brave warrior princess was then confronted with the nightmare which haunted her more than all of her past deeds combined.  It was the nightmare of her dark side that approached her and taunted her spirit.  Yet Xena could not be defeated by her darkness for she was too strong to return to it.  And so Xena confronted her evil side with acceptance as she left it behind for a life of good deeds.

     Soon I found myself facing my own final challenge before the mystical tribunal.  They had set up a trap of spikes which forced me into the clutches of my dark enemy.  And as I was forced to face him there before me was my weapon against him.  I saw the sword lying upon the floor and it looked so inviting.  It was the only thing that stood between me and death.  I had to pick it up and as I did I inched closer and closer to making that choice to cross over into the way of the blood.  My heart did not want to kill the warrior standing before me on the other side, but my mind did not want to die.  And just before I reached his clutches Xena burst into the ceremony through the walls like an olympic god.  My attacker was distracted and I made my move knocking him out with the handle of my weapon.

     Xena then fought off all of the dark warriors within the tribunal and defied the wishes of Manus and his council.  I was so relieved that she had made it in time to save me from death, yet so angry that Manus had forced me to make a choice that I did not want to make.  I then unleashed my fury upon him delivering a punch squarely upon the nose.  Xena was surprised for a moment to see that her innocent friend had so much fury within her soul, but smiled to see that I could be tough.  And so all had been restored by our adventure together through the dreamscape.  Elkton had been placed once again as the head mystic of the order, and all of the young girls of the village at the bottom of the mountain could live without fear during the summer solstice.

     Xena found herself filled with joy for she had done another good deed to go against all that she had done in her past.  As we sat by the water and contemplated our adventure together I confessed to her that I had come close to chosing to kill someone.  It was a feeling that I did not like and I did not want to peak into that realm of blood ever again for I could see that I too was capable of taking a life despite what my heart guided me to believe.  Xena then took a stone and threw it into the calmness of the center of the lake.  She spoke of how it rippled because it had been changed, but I reminded her that eventually the ripples would disappear and the lake would become calm again.  Yet Xena reminded me that though the lake would look the same in the end it would be forever changed because now it had a new rock at the bottom.  And then I realized what she meant.  No matter how many times she had done wrong.  It would never be redeemed for those wrongs would be a part of her for the rest of her life.  Her heart was forever in debt to those she had wronged.