The Xena Scrolls
By: Gabrielle Bard of Potedia
Scroll#39: Blind Faith
March, 47 B.C.
I sing of a day of darkness. A selfless choice which lead to the sacrifice of the eyes of the warrior princess. It is the story of a blind faith known by no other once sung to the bard by her beloved friend. In the morning hour of this day the bard Gabrielle walked alongside the warrior princess munching upon a delicious apple. It had been the last in Argo’s saddle bag. The warrior princess had given it up to her friend willingly despite her own hunger as they walked through the village market. Xena’s only focus was in finding the nearest tavern after walking for most of the morning. Gabrielle was fascinated with the sights and sounds of the market as people scurried by with their goods and haggled all around her. This brought excitement to her which suddenly sent her into a need to impulsively shop for something.
By this point the warrior princess had spotted the nearest tavern and was about to head off into that direction. Just before Xena could change course Gabrielle made her thoughts known to the warrior princess. Xena was caught off guard for she had not remembered that they needed anything except for a bite to eat. It seemed impractical yet she ran through her mind the possibilities of necessity. Gabrielle realized her friend did not understand the request. She elaborated on her thoughts explaining that she wanted to shop for the sake of shopping. Gabrielle expressed how much she truly enjoyed the entire process of haggling for the deal. The bard found herself desiring to be a part of all of the bustle surrounding her. Xena seemed uninterested suddenly realizing that the bard was only being frivolous and nothing more. The warrior princess did not appear to enjoy the idea of getting involved, waiting in line, or arguing over material things. It was true there were enough dinars to spend on a few things, but Xena was not interested. Instead the warrior princess turned to her young friend and explained her thoughts on the idea and the subject of shopping. She preferred breakfast at the tavern over shopping. Xena was not against allowing the bard to participate despite her opinions of shopping, but she did not forbid it. The warrior princess decided that she would go on to the tavern and meet Gabrielle there as soon as the bard tired of her frivilous adventure.
As the warrior princess left the bard alone Gabrielle was slightly disappointed that Xena did not want to share in a simple adventure. Yet her thought passed into the distraction of all of the wonderful goods being displayed up and down the streets of the village. The bard noticed that this village was larger and more exciting than most. Its population was bordering on crowded. This explained the reason for such a large market. Then Gabrielle noticed that many of the vendors were from all over the world. There were ethnic people she had never seen before. This was fascinating to the bard. As she scanned the scene with her eyes she caught sight of a fabric vendor. His fabrics appeared bright and exotic. This caught the bard’s attention immediately. She thought that maybe she could go for a change in wardrobe so she ventured over to haggle with him.
Just before reaching the vendor she had decided that she would spend no more than three dinars for she intended to shop at as many places as she could with only ten dinars to squander. It wasn’t much, but she was certain she could stretch them far. In approaching the far eastern vendor she began to pick through his fabrics noticing the bright green silks, and the many other assortments of fabrics. She picked up one that looked most intriguing. It was dark blue with red and white designs. Although Gabrielle had fallen in love with this piece of cloth she decided to play it off as if it were dirty and damaged. Her first question to the vendor was his price. He smiled speaking smoothly explaining that it was a Roman Egyptian prayer scarf. Then he gave his price. It was five dinars. He flashed as smiled back at his customer who was not at all charmed by his handsome demeanor. Instead she went with the angle that he was most certainly joking about his request. He was willing to haggle explaining that he would drop a dinar from the price. It was more than the bard was willing to give up and so she played the best move of all. She shunned his offer and turned to walk away sending the young handsome vendor into a panic.
He gently grabbed her arm as she turned away pleading for a sale at three dinars. Gabrielle was certain she could do better judging by his reaction to her leaving. It was clear that he was not having a great day in sales. Although she had nailed down her own offer he did not have to know. She decided to take the haggling one step further. Gabrielle played up the effect as she took a deep breath casually picked up the scarf and stated that she could use it to wipe the sweat off of her horse. She offered one dinar. The vendor thought for a slight moment and then decided that his final price would stand firmly at two dinars. The bard realized that her own mistake had been in picking up the scarf before hearing the final offer. Yet it did not matter for she had already saved at least one dinar. He played the sympathy card well as she retrieved two dinars from her leather scroll bag and placed them into his rough hands. Then she sighed smiling gleefully as she wrapped the scarf around her head and shoulders. With that the bard left with a final dramatic glance at the vendor who flipped one dinar and then kissed his prize sending another happy customer her on her way.
The bard was feeling high with energy and relaxed realizing that her shopping adventure would last a little longer than she had anticipated. As she walked through the market she caught sight of something that looked like a large leather water bottle, but when she picked it up she realized that it was something else. Gabrielle threw it back down onto the table and gave it no more thought as she decided that she would walk to the other end of the market. With her guard down the unsuspecting victim found herself suddenly startled by someone from behind her who had a rather strong grasp on her arms. Gabrielle’s reaction to being restrained and pushed back toward the alley was to use her staff in self-defense. She swung it over her head backwards making contact with her attacker’s head. As she defended she noticed a second attacker moving in from the front. She deflected him with the bottom edge of her weapon knocking him to the ground. The attacker from behind had released his grasp falling to the ground behind her.
Then Gabrielle turned to get a look at him and then dashed back into the alley in an attempt to disappear. She sensed that there were more attackers just waiting in the market. Her suspicion was that someone was trying to grab her for slave trading. She ran down the alley, but just before she could reach the end of it to safety away from the crowds a second attacker came in from the right out of the shadows restraining her. He was a young blond warlord cleaner than most. Gabrielle could feel from his firm grasp that she would not be able to free herself from his clutches. Then he whispered a firm threat into her ear. The idea of having her neck broken was enough for Gabrielle to submit to his demands as he ushered the bard out of the alley.
Xena had waited for her friend in the tavern for a few hours. Her patience for Gabrielle’s shopping adventure had grown thin for she was now board with the scenery and the people around her. As Xena left the tavern she scanned the market for her friend, but could not catch a glimpse of her. The warrior princess called out to her friend a few times, but the bard did not respond. Xena found a slight bit of irritation beginning to build for her friend’s lack of consideration. Yet the warrior princess knew in her heart that Gabrielle would not just leave the village without having returned to the tavern to tell her. Most likely she would have attempted to drag the warrior princess back out into the market instead of leaving. As Xena rounded the corner and quickened her pace she caught sight of Gabrielle’s scroll bag, an unfamiliar scarf, and the bard’s trusty staff. This was not normal. Xena was certain that by now Gabrielle was too aware of the dangers to leave her staff unattended. Yet her scrolls were even more dear to the bard and so Xena surmised that there was something terribly wrong. She had one theory. The warrior princess suspected that her friend had been abducted, but by who she did not know.
Then the warrior princess reached out to grab Gabrielle’s belongings hoping that the bard had just been absent minded as in the past for there was seemingly no sign of a struggle. Just then a blond warlord stepped from just beyond the alley and pointed to the staff stating firmly that it belonged to him. Xena looked to him casually picking up Gabrielle’s scroll bag, and her staff certain that a warlord would not carry an amazon staff. They were rare and usually carried by amazon women. She confirmed confidently and with a cool head that they belonged to her friend. Then the young blond warlord with a scarred face made reference to a young irritating blond. As Xena looked back up at him with interest and inquiry he stated coldly that the blond girl would not be needing the weapon any longer. Xena feared the worst, but hoped for the best. She asked him why her friend would no longer be needing a staff. The young blond warrior proclaimed confidently that he had killed her. Then his playful demeanor transformed into seriousness as he reached for his sword and firmly declared that he would kill the warrior princess.
The warrior princess did not break. She stood firm knowing that there was a possibility that he was telling the truth. His threats were certainly real, but his motives were not clear. The warrior princess used the idea of her friend’s death to fight with strong vengeance yet it was controlled for there was still the possibility that Gabrielle was alive. Xena had not seen a body and had only the word of a warlord she did not know. She began on the defensive to get an idea of his fighting style. This gave him false confidence which gave the warrior princess an advantage. She said that he was strong, skilled, but extremely arrogant and reckless in his fighting style. The warrior princess flipped over him landing behind him. He had reflected her move only flipping backwards over her to get into position behind the warrior princess. Xena was indeed surprised, but she did not want to give this away to her opponent. She blocked his moved from behind down upon her spinning around to face him. As she went out of one defensive move with her sword she went on the offensive kicking him back to gather some distance between the two. She realized that she could not kill him even if she desired it for if Gabrielle was still alive he was the only person who could tell her where the bard was.
Xena decided to go back on the defensive hoping to hold him off long enough to tire him. She fell back defending his advances then flipping onto a market table. There she stood above him as the crowd watched to see what would ensue next. The warrior princess was extremely irritated for she knew that she could not kill him, but he had no reservations about killing her. As she tried to realize his motives for killing her he paused the battle seeing her mind working to figure out his motive. He looked up at her with his blue eyes and confidently stated that he was certain that the warrior princess feared him. It wasn’t that she feared him. He was seeing her emotions for her friend and how that effected her battle. Xena realized that she had to bury her heart in order to survive and to save her friend. Her fears of losing Gabrielle had to disappear from sight.
The blond warrior was not sure that Xena had given him all that she had in the battle. He was feeling cheated and he expressed it. Xena listened as the blond warrior gave away more about himself. He stated that he did not have a soft spot for the warrior princess as did the warlord Draco and that he was not out of control like Callisto. This gave the warrior princess more insight. She was curious as to why he knew so much about her. It was about pride for him and about proving himself as a worthy adversary. Xena was now confident that he did not really want to kill her. This made it more possible that he had not killed Gabrielle. Then the blond warrior drove forward to attack as the warrior princess flipped back ward off of the table putting an obstacle between her and her opponent. She decided that the only way to win this battle was to bruise his ego. The warrior princess could not give him the satisfaction of winning.
He was seemingly frustrated for Xena would not verbally give anything away to him. The blond warrior missed striking her only to crush a large vase to pieces. It was a clumsy move which lead him to grasp the table and toss it aside in frustration. Then the warrior princess attacked attempting to wear out her opponent into submission. She came on strong gaining a lot of ground. The warrior princess had fought him from one end of the market to the other end. He had not expected the burst of strength and energy that she had given him to grapple with. His ego was being split apart with every strike of the sword and every offensive move Xena used without it. The warrior princess made him appear worthless and amateur although she had found herself to be quite impressed. He was no Callisto, but Xena found the challenge to be exhilarating.
As his ego began to rage out of control his technique became more sloppy and desperate. He began to throw goods at the warrior princess who realized that the battle would have to end soon for innocent people were going to be injured. She could see that he was trying to reflect her style as if learning as he fought. This was a threat for the warrior princess for if he could reflect her techniques then his strength would give him the advantage. She could not allow him to have this. There was a bit of panic as the emotion of losing Gabrielle still whispered in the background with all of the other thoughts the warrior princess was experiencing. This led to a reckless mistake for Xena did not anticipate that her emotions would force her to strike the opponent with her sword. As the warrior princess went in for mortal damage the blond warrior was quick enough to dodge a direct strike. He was more agile that Xena had realized causing her to strike one of the large brown leather bottles from the market. Her sword struck deep into it piercing the bottle. Suddenly a liquid came spewing out directly into the warrior princess’s eyes. The sensation burned as if someone had set Xena’s eyes on fire. Yet the warrior princess could not allow the pain to cause her to lose her focus. She knew that the loss of focus could mean her death.
After pausing for a moment to regain her focus after experiencing the burning eyes she felt the presence of her enemy from behind. She was certain that he could have struck her down right there, but he had chosen not to. Instead he paused as if having second thoughts about killing her. She took advantage of this throwing her elbow into his chin turning to drive her fist into his chest. This sent him onto his back. He dropped his sword surprised by the move out of Xena’s weak moment. The warrior princess held her sword steady down upon him threatening to kill him. She saw his eyes flicker for a moment to grab for the weapon he had lost. Xena quickly dissolved any chance he would have to recover as she stomped her boot onto his wrist restraining it from movement.
Before he could say another word Xena demanded to know what he had done with Gabrielle. The blond warrior opened his mouth to answer only to be interrupted by the warrior princess who was certain that he didn’t kill her friend despite what he had said. Then he asked how she was so certain of this. She informed him that his moment to take her down had passed when she had gotten the oil in her eyes. He defied the warrior princess still trying to hold onto his advantage of the unknown. Gabrielle’s well-being was still in question despite his lack of killing Xena in the moment of truth. He weakly tried to recover from that obvious mistake explaining that it would have defeated his entire purpose for battling Xena in the first place. The blond warrior tried to proclaim that he was honorable in not stabbing Xena in the back for it would not be considered a fair fight. He explained that he wanted to be known as the man who killed the warrior princess in a fair fight. Xena’s heart was relieved by this statement knowing that despite his attempt to betray the truth he had not killed Gabrielle. He had only stated it to make her emotional enough to fight him. She was disgusted that he had played her emotions. The warrior princess replaced her sword into its sheath tiring of the blond warrior’s game. Now that he had told her what it was that he had been after she was uninterested. She would never give him what he wanted. She just wanted to find Gabrielle.
When she asked him directly to answer her question about her friend he ignored it. He remembered instantly that he was still in control despite having lost the fight. The blond warrior defied the warrior princess deciding not to tell her where Gabrielle was. This only frustrated Xena who had no second thoughts about putting on her pinch move. He was surprised, but still defiant as the crowd watched his life draining from his nose before them. Xena announced for the spectacle that he was about to live his last thirty seconds unless he chose to give her the information she seeked. She waited until the very last moment suddenly realizing that he was willing to die to prove that he was worthy of the warrior princess. He was willing to become a legend told by commoners for glory he would never live to experience. Xena was shocked by this yet she had no choice, but to release him from death’s grip for he was her only hope in finding Gabrielle.
Reluctantly Xena gave him his win, but the sacrifice of her old reputation was worth it for the safety of her friend. She watched as the young blond warrior rolled about in the dirt with triumphant laughter. He declared to all in the market who had witnessed the event that they tell his story. Palaemon wanted everyone to know that he had defied the legendary warrior princess. Then he demanded congratulations from the warrior princess herself as if he deserved her respect. Xena would not give him this satisfaction. She scolded him for being stupid enough to egg her into an emotional fight. She had wanted to kill him. Only the thought of Gabrielle had saved him from death at the hand of the warrior princess. He had played her emotions in ways that were dangerous. It was a brilliant battle strategy, but not if he wanted to stay alive. Xena did compare him to Callisto. He was reckless in a different way. She was certain that he was not ready to be that warlord he pretended to be. He was certain to get himself killed before realizing it.
Xena did not feel sorry for him. She grabbed a loose piece of wood from the ground and some rope. Then the warrior princess turned him over onto his stomach and tied his arms to the long board. Palaemon was suddenly worried for he had finally lost control over the warrior princess emotionally. He demanded to know what she had intended for him and she responded that he would be her prisoner until they found Gabrielle. Then Xena regained her reputation by reminding everyone mostly Palaemon that he would face death if Gabrielle was harmed in any way. As the warrior princess restrained her new irritating blond prisoner she began to notice that her vision was starting to blur. She looked up to the man who sold the oil and asked him if the oil had contained sumac. He confirmed that it had been used as part of a mixture for his dyes. This only added more difficulty to Xena’s situation. The warrior princess was in no mood to deal with blindness. She had only twenty-four hours to find a solution to save her eyes from permanent damage.
With time limited Xena’s patience with Palaemon was thin. He was still trying to play his game, but he was trying a new angle. Palaemon had gone from vicious warlord to confident warrior. His curiosity about Gabrielle did not escape the warrior princess. She did not care to share the details he seeked. If he knew the reason Gabrielle was so important to her he would use it against her. The warrior princess shrugged off his inquires about Gabrielle and he retaliated with frustration threatening the warrior princess with his own friends. He was bluffing. Xena knew that they weren’t being followed. They were completely alone in the woods traveling the road. Palaemon would not tell Xena what she wanted to know so she decided to try to fool him into giving away information. To save time she attempted to track Gabrielle following the main road. The bard had left a few clues behind knowing that Xena would be looking for her.
Xena’s biggest problem was that her sight was going fast and any clues that Gabrielle left later on the trail would be difficult for the warrior princess to see. When the warrior princess tripped over an exposed root on the path Palaemon continued to press her buttons certain that it was battle fatigue. The warrior princess was not physically exhausted and mentally she was completely sharp now that she had a better idea of who she was dealing with. Xena found a moment of relatability to that assumption remembering the comradary of being in an army, but it passed when Palaemon asked her to rate his fighting style. For a moment she was not listening only thinking of the situation at hand. When she finally realized what he was asking the irritation had risen to another level. His ego was larger than the man. It was his weakness and easy to exploit. He was blind to this fact. Unlike the warrior princess who was completely aware of her weakness. This gave her an advantage.
He continued bragging about himself which was difficult for the warrior princess to stomach. She decided that she would endure the torturous conversation in the hopes that something would slip out. If he talked this much about himself it was only a matter of time. She just had to be patient. She decided to insult him insisting that young criminals like him were worth less than a dinar. There were hundreds of them and to her they were all pretty much the same thing. He retorted with confidence explaining that he could name five warlords he had killed. If only they had been alive to tell their own stories about Palaemon. Then he picked a random warlord that was dead. He named off Krykus the Pilot. Xena had killed Krykus. It was not something that she shared with everyone. She knew he was lying. He had killed no one. She was certain that he did not have the killer instinct. Palaemon was just full of hot air to release. He was nothing more.
This only frustrated the warrior princess more, but he was playing into her hand as she scolded him for kidnapping young girls. In fighting for the respect and acknowledgement of the warrior princess Palaemon slipped. He casually responded that he had to make his living. It was the first real clue she had gotten out of him. Then she inquired as if asking him to repeat his statement. He was glad to explain the details of his financial venture. Palaemon had gotten Xena’s undivided attention. He stated that when he had heard of what type of girl his buyers had been looking for the deal was sealed. It was obvious to the warrior princess that he had been studying her for quite some time. He had been modeling himself after her long enough to know that she had a young blond friend. This was unsettling to her as he continued explaining how worthless the bard had been to him before now. Xena could only think of the many possibilities of who might want to buy someone. Slavery was certain and the thought of it reminded her of her experience with the fates. She was passionate about keeping Gabrielle from suffering at the hands of slave traders.
Xena made another move hoping to threaten Palaemon into given her the information she needed. The warrior princess took the rope she was using to keep tabs on her prisoner to threaten to strangle him. He had learned enough about her to know that she would never kill him until she knew where Gabrielle was no matter what he did. Xena hated him more for this. Gabrielle’s life and well-being her not a game to her. She had to come up with something to convince him that giving that information to her was worth his while. He did not want to make his riddle easy and Xena reminded him of what he already knew. Without Gabrielle she would kill him in a heart beat.
As Xena followed the clues to Gabrielle’s disappearance they led her into an abandoned village. It appeared to have been ransacked by warlords. Xena was certain that it not been at Palaemon’s command although he would have liked to claim responsibility to it. Instead Palaemon casually stated that they were about to walk into some of his friends. He was certain that they would fight to reclaim him from the warrior princess. Xena did not believe this. She had figured out that he had been working for someone else. His goal was to gain the respect of the other men in his band of warlords to become the supreme commander. There was no better prize than to lay claim to the assassination of one of the best. Soon Xena sensed that there were enemies near. Just when she looked up across the village her vision blurred more. She could barely make out the shapes standing before her. The warrior princess calculated that there were six to seven armed men she would be dealing with. Palaemon had seen them approaching reminding the warrior princess of her raw odds. He was delighted that he would now have an audience to watch in his demise of the warrior princess.
Xena heard the voice of one of those approaching call out to Palaemon displeased that he was at the end of Xena’s rope. Palaemon was seemingly the butt of a joke. The warrior princess pieced together the lack of respect he found with his friends translated into his obsession with the warrior princess. Xena was amused by this, but it was another piece to the puzzle that was Palaemon. As the attackers advanced the warrior princess chose not to draw her sword. Since she could not see she would have to fight them close so she could feel their moves. Xena knew that her chances would be better if there was no threat of a blade. Her enemies would fight fair. She let go of Paleamon’s rope so that he could help her fight, but it was a risk. The warrior princess defeated her enemies easily with no weapons, but as soon as they had been blasted on the first pass the battle would escalate into weapons.
Xena prepared for this still uncertain of where Palaemon would stand. She knew she needed his eyes to help her see. The warrior princess had to admit that his help in the battle would protect her from the enemy. As he begged her to let him go free several times she finally had to make the choice to release him. She was dead either way if he did not jump on her side. As she drew her sword and released him the battle escalated and Xena could hear the blades of the enemy passing her closely. The warrior princess was mostly on the defensive using a wild fighting style hoping to keep them from coming in too close. Xena took down most of the men she was fighting against, but was disarmed in the process. Palaemon was successful in finishing the battle as the enemy limped off the battlefield. Xena was alarmed when she could not find her sword for she was certain that Palaemon would strike her down next. His warlord buddies would be witness to his great triumph.
Then she heard him approach her from behind and declare that it was time for their next battle. The warrior princess searched for her sword with her foot and found a set of chains. When she felt his presence she turned to face him with unshaken confidence. She inquired of his issue with her as if they had an honored agreement of some sort. He responded to her inquiry realizing that she had not looked in the eye as she had earlier. Xena felt a slight breeze across her face. Then Palaemon declared that he had discovered her blindness. The warrior princess could not deny it, but decided to use this disadvantage and an advantage. She listened as he walked about her picking up her sword off of the ground just next to her. He handed it to her expressing his frustration that he would not be able to have a fair fight with her now that she was blind. Suddenly she was worthless to him, but he was still worth a great deal to her. Quickly she used her foot to search for the chains she had sensed before and kicked them up off of the ground to restrain him.
As he was about to leave her alone, lost, and blind, but she had regained control over him. When Palaemon demanded to know what she intended she explained that she was very much in a hurry. She needed him to guide her, but he was not keen on the idea. Palaemon tried to break free in defiance, but Xena forcefully dragged him back into her power. He could not break free of his binds. Xena reminded him of their task. They had to find Gabrielle together whether he wanted to or not. He would be her eyes and he would take the first step into any thing they encountered on that journey.
Palaemon had finally been forced into telling the warrior princess what she wanted to know. He had nothing to lose for it had already been lost. His grand battle to the death against Xena was now only an unrealized dream of his. Palaemon began to guide the warrior princess with no other choice. He explained to her who had purchased the bard from him and why. Gabrielle was slated to become the wife of King Solace. When Palaemon had heard that the type of woman the buyer had been looking for was similar to Gabrielle he decided to make a buck. Xena’s mind was suspicious of the idea of Gabrielle being purchased to become a queen. It was unlike a kingdom to declare a peasant girl its new queen. Although Paleamon was being cooperative he was still trying to get away. The warrior princess could hear him picking away at the lock on the shackles. She scolded him for trying to escape more out of necessity than his value as a prisoner. Her mind continued to work on the problem as she tried to decipher the real plot behind the sale of Gabrielle.
Then the warrior princess reminded Paleamon that he would not be escaping without the key which was hidden tightly within her golden breast-plate. Paleamon tried to be hard again declaring that Xena was afraid. The warrior princess responded with her own hardened response reminding Palaemon that he was not a man that she could bring herself to fear. Palaemon changed his tone to one of more concern. He spoke of the unknown as something the warrior princess should fear. It was the first time that he had stepped away from his act and into his real skin. There was a sense of concern for the blindness that Xena was suddenly experiencing. The warrior princess allowed herself to speak frankly and truthfully realizing that there was something more to Palaemon. She took a deep breath explaining to him that despite her eyes being damaged she was aware of their certain fate. The warrior princess explained that it been sumac that had spilled into her eyes which caused temporary blindness unless it was untreated after a day of exposure. Paleamon’s curious concern for the warrior princess interjected asking what would happen if Xena did not receive treatment. Xena responded seriously explaining the blindness would be permanent. She would have to endure it for a lifetime.
For a moment Palaemon said nothing as if pondering this idea. Then he wanted to know of the treatment. Xena answered explaining that her eyes would need to be cleansed with palm oil and Egyptian Senna. Suddenly the warrior princess was concerned that she had trusted in him too much. Yet she realized that the closest place to get this kind of treatment was Athens. It was a great distance from where they were. When Palaemon heard these thoughts he argued with the warrior princess. He could not believe that she was not headed in that direction. She was not phased by this. Her goal had already been determined. Xena’s anger and frustration raged against Palaemon’s selfish needs. The warrior princess was struggling to make clear to him how valuable her friendship was. She was willing to sacrifice her ability to see the world forever in order to save Gabrielle from whatever fate might be awaiting her. It was the unknown that Xena feared more than the unknown that was now a blackness with every step she took. Palaemon gave up for the moment realizing that the warrior princess was more determined than he was. He was confused by this.
The warrior princess’s senses suddenly kicked into high gear as her nose caught a whiff of manure coming from up ahead carried by the soft breeze blowing through the trees. She was certain that there were stables nearby. Palaemon’s interest was piqued by this for he had not sensed this slight ambiance in the air. He could not believe Xena could smell horses from the distance, but Xena corrected him. It was not the horses. He paused for a moment and then realized that he had just learned something new from the warrior princess. Xena was not amused by his inference of this. When she rejected the idea that she would teach him new tricks he argued that he had already learned a great deal by studying her battles. It was as if he were trying command respect from her as he confidently spoke closely to her face. He demanded respect from his idol. Xena turned to him trying to convey her confused choices of youth. She had been wrong in the things she had done and did not like that Palaemon was modeling himself after her dark side.
Palaemon would not accept this wisdom from the warrior princess. All he could rave about was the power, and the respect that Xena commanded in those days. Xena interrupted him firmly feeling the painful memories trying to flood themselves to the surface. She explained that fear was her only prize for the deeds of her young warrior days. He would not accept this advice. Palaemon was drunk with anger and the need for the respect he thought that Xena had once had. He wanted to be known as the new warrior giant that was unstoppable. Palaemon wanted to kill Xena to prove to everyone that he was worthy of her titles. Then he lurched forward leaving the warrior princess to wonder how to diffuse his high emotions.
She soon realized that there was only one way to do this. It was to offer him the respect he desperately seeked. Even if it was only respect coming from her it would be valuable to him. The sounds of men were near as both warriors knelt down into the tall grass. Xena listened to what the men were saying it sounded as if they were planning a counter attack against Xena and Palaemon. It was obvious that they had caught onto Xena’s new weakness, but Xena and Palaemon still had the advantage. They were still hidden. Palameon spotted them with his eyes revealing what Xena already knew. He explained that there were some woods just behind the patrol of men. Xena thought of this for a moment and suggested that they make a dash for the trees. She was certain they would lose the guards in the woods. Palaemon agreed with her as if he had already determined this for himself. Then Xena gave the command and they dashed for the woods. Xena led the dash for the woods now more confident in her blindness as she became more aware of her other senses. The warrior princess admitted she was enjoying the challenge of being blind.
She could hear the sounds of the patrol passing by her right as she and Palaemon ran. The warrior princess began to feel the branches on the trees brushing across her face as Palaemon jumped in front of her to warn of an obstacle. Xena decided to challenge Palaemon, but it was a reckless calculation for just as she was passing ahead of him he shouted out to her, but it was too late. The warrior princess had dashed blindly off of a steep cliff that had been hidden until the last moment even from Palaemon. Xena was saved by the shackles which bound her to Palaemon. Her arm jerked hard causing a sharp pain in the shoulder as she hung above rushing water below. She could hear the sounds of the water, and the chains rubbing across the rocks as Palaemon struggled to hold on.
The warrior princess could feel he was losing the struggle as the chain sudden slid down further. Palameon had somehow caught himself after falling. She could hear a loud cracking sound as if he were desperately holding onto a branch. Then he shouted down to her that his grip was slipping away. She asked him how far it was to the bottom and his answer was only certain death for both of them. The warrior princess decided that their chances would be better if they were separated. She would slide down the rocks and hope there were more ledges or branches to grasp onto. Palaemon would be safe as long as she let herself go. The warrior princess pulled out the key from her breast-plate knowing that she could lose her only chance to save Gabrielle. She had to trust in Palaemon and so she unlocked the binds and tumbled down the cliff rock further as Palaemon shouted out to her in a panicked shock.
The warrior princess could feel the mist of the rushing water below. Just before she could feel it upon her boots she was able to grasp a loose vine to save herself from the fall. Xena was lucky, but still very aware of her task. After gathering her composure from the unexpected fall she began to climb back toward the top of the cliff. She did not know how far she would have to climb. The warrior princess did not know if letting go would be better. She assumed from Palaemon’s assessment that climbing was her only option. Then she heard his voice as she began her slow climb. He assured her that he would help her find Gabrielle on one condition. She would have to promise him another fair battle to the death once she was able to see again. Reluctantly Xena agreed despite her distaste for the idea of giving him what he wanted. He threatened to cut the vine if she did not agree. Xena realized that she could trust in only one thing when it came to Palaemon. He would give her what she wanted to get his respect. To him it meant that Xena would have to die or he would gladly accept his own death.
This was becoming an irritation for the warrior princess. It was difficult to deal with his blind arrogance of holding power by fear. He called it respect, but to the warrior princess the two were not one in the same. As they continued on their journey to find Gabrielle Palaemon found himself obsessed with how they would defeat the castle guard once they arrived. He kept spewing out battles from Xena’s past. Palaemon recalled every strategic detail of almost every battle Xena had ever been famous for as an evil warlord. This made the final leg of their journey emotionally difficult. Xena’s breaking point came when he mentioned the worst slaughter of all. Her battle at Corinth. His desire for these evils were more than Xena could bare. What was missing from all of his studies was the toll it would all take on his soul once he had committed it to the deeds of darkness. She burst out in anger grabbing Palaemon and shoving him up against a tree in the forest. The warrior princess threatened him out of emotional anguish rather than real fear yet she wanted him to understand how fear should not be respected despite human nature. It was the reason evil lurked about unchecked. Xena did not want to be the cause of another human disaster modeled after her own mistakes. The warrior princess desperately hoped that she was striking a chord with Palaemon. She could not see his face. Her faith in him and his concerned heart was all that she had to hold onto. Palaemon’s only response was in the hope that he would someday be half as good as the legendary warrior princess.
While the warrior princess had spent her day fighting Palaemon’s philosphies with her own Gabrielle found herself thrust into the unexpected. She had been sold to some strange men who had taken her to a castle. Gabrielle suspected that she had been bought by a royal to become a servant. Yet she was surprised to find out the contrary. She had been chosen to be the bride of King Solace. As this was explained to her by one of the castle guards she could only find herself reviewing her memories trying to think if she had known him or even heard of him in passing. Gabrielle’s mind was racing, but without answers. Instead it was filled with images on the castle walls of women who all seemingly looked like her. There were also many statues as well. Gabrielle thought that there might be a mistake. She thought that maybe she looked like someone else that had been lost. Yet the castle guard raved about how lucky Gabrielle was to be the chosen bride of the King. Gabrielle was not excited about being thrust into a marriage. She did not even know the man she was to marry. It was all happening too fast.
As the guard continued to explain the connection Gabrielle looked about explaining that she was really not blond, but red. Her only defense was to attempt to talk her way out of whatever was to come next. The bard began casual as she spoke demonstrating a calm demeanor, but when the response from the guard was of ignorance she switched to a more firm and threatening tone. Gabrielle defied the guard’s wishes desperate to explain why she could not marry the king. Yet he was seemingly persuasive when he pointed out an Adonis that represented the handsome man she was slated to marry. Gabrielle could not ignore that he was indeed handsome as she examined his statue, but that was far from the point. She knew she could not marry a king she did not know. No matter how powerful and beautiful he was. Yet as Gabrielle tried to argue the guard just urged her to go along with things explaining that the king would get his way despite Gabrielle’s own wishes. Before Gabrielle could say another word about the dilemma she was ushered away quickly by two more guards.
The treatment she was receiving was seemingly less than royal. Future queens did not usually find themselves locked up within their own chambers against their will. Gabrielle sensed there was something more to all of this sudden unwelcome fame, but she did not desire to stay and find out the outcome of it all. She began to gather blankets, and clothing, and anything else she could find hoping to create an escape. As she finished tying together the last pieces of fabric she checked the stability of her self-made rope. The bard had been working for a few hours on her escape and just as she had thrown her rope out the window preparing to climb out and into obscurity again the door to her chambers opened unexpectedly.
Two servants and a rather peculiar looking man dressed in elegant robes entered foiling Gabrielle’s escape attempt. The bard was frustrated and angry for being a prisoner in a castle was not her idea of an exciting adventurous day. Again she tried to plead for freedom and a dissolution of marriage, but was politely rejected by the short peculiar looking man. He gently put his reassuring arm around the bard as she threw her rope onto the floor explaining that all brides get wedding jitters. Then he went over a list of valid jitters that the bard was most certainly feeling. He ended his persuasive gentle statement explaining that Vidalas would take care of it all. His attitude was of no worries. Gabrielle was confused for she had never heard of Vidalas. When she asked what it was the short peculiar man stated that he was Vidalas. Then he smiled softly as Gabrielle hoped to explain to him why she was the wrong choice. She tried a threat throwing out Xena’s name and how her friend would be displeased with a forced marriage.
Yet Vidalis seemed unaffected by this. He just went on to criticize the bard. First he disapproved of her threatening nature. Then he went onto say that she looked like a scrub woman. Gabrielle was confused for she had never been picked apart in this way. Vidalis stated that he would turn Gabrielle into a lady as he turned his student about observing her every detail. The bard was angered by this as she turned around to slap his hands away. With anger Gabrielle defended herself stating that she already knew how to behave like a lady. Vidalis continued strong insulting Gabrielle further comparing her hand gestures to that of a wagon driver. The bard was shocked by the degradation. She was certain a queen would not be treated with this kind of disrespect even if she was out-of-place.
Vidalis continued to pick her apart. He pointed out Gabrielle’s dialect. Vidalis suggested that it might be Thracian or Macedonian. Either way he was not impressed. Gabrielle was amazed at how he had been able to pick out her native background by just listening to her speech. She was indeed from Thrace, but understood that being around Xena gave her a Macedonian edge. Xena was from Macedonia. As Gabrielle thought of these things she began to wonder why they would even bother trying to transform her into a queen when it was obvious to Vidalis she was not the right type. It was as if Vidalis were insulted that he had to even bother with Gabrielle. He continued explaining that he would cover up her midriff muscle and give her white gloves to conceal her rough hands. Vidalis was right about one thing. Gabrielle was from the back woods and she was not in shame of it. She explained with some relief that she agreed with him when he answered yes to her question of his opinion about her queen potential.
Gabrielle decided to use this mutual ground as a weapon. She then asked him why he thought a king would want to marry a peasant girl he did not know. Vidalis did not have an answer. Gabrielle pressed this advantage firmly threatening Vidalis with defiance explaining that she would not follow through with th marriage. Yet there was persuasion in the offerings of fruit brought to the future queen by her servants. As Gabrielle began to melt into the idea for only a moment she snapped back into the suspicious reality pushing Vidalis out of her way as she bolted for the door. Yet there were two massive armed guards preventing her from leaving. Gabrielle turned back to Vidalis suddenly realizing that she was not alone in being forced into marriage. She realized that Vidalis was teaching her royal manners against his better judgement. If there weren’t something threatening him she was certain he would not be speaking to her. As she looked to him for an answer he only asked her how her curtsie was. Gabrielle could only respond by trying one uncertain if it was enough for Vidalis.
Then Vidalis explained that they had less than an hour before Gabrielle’s big introduction ceremony. He quickly had Gabrielle dressed in the finest gown and jewelry ready for a presentation. The queen’s wardrobe was not particularly comfortable for the bard and she found that it was difficult to move. She could barely walk in the queen’s shoes, but the show had to go on. Gabrielle was not feeling particularly gracious or giving considering Vidalis had just torn her apart with insults. She learned the name of the guard who had been in charge of the entire fiasco. His name was Apex. It seemed that this was the man who Vidalis feared. He kept reciting the name as if it were a reference to Zeus. Soon Apex entered demanding that Gabrielle be ready for the crowd was waiting eagerly to view their future queen. The bard felt extremely defiant realizing that it was Apex not Vidalis that was her problem.
As Gabrielle listened to Apex addressing the crowd just outside the curtains of the doorway she heard him say that the king had selected his bride. This was not true for she had yet to meet the king. It seemed that Apex had selected the king’s bride. Then Apex asked for the approval of the people introducing lady Gabrielle to her subjects. Gabrielle’s instructions were to follow Vidalis out into the hall where her people awaited her. Yet she was determined to defy her captures. The bard hoped that defiance would cause the people to reject her as their queen, but Vidalis begged for her mercy in the wrath of Apex. Gabrielle reluctantly entered through the curtains realizing that Vidalis might be her only chance to escape. As she entered she smiled feeling awkward and uncomfortable. She tripped over her shoes and was caught by Vidalis. Vidalis was supportive yet afraid for his own safety as Gabrielle approached Apex. She was instructed to bow only to Apex as she continued on toward the crowd. Gabrielle curtsied again tripping as she fell into Apex. He held her up as she addressed him politely struggling to keep her dialect under control. Then Apex introduced her to the people as they accepted their future queen with celebration and wine. As they toasted Apex sent Gabrielle back with Vidalis to return to her prison until she was summoned again.
For the next several hours Gabrielle decided that her only hope of escape was to speak to the king directly. In order to do this she had to build a trusting relationship with Vidalis. While he tried to teach her how to be a stunning queen she was the patient with his criticism. Gabrielle began to realize that Vidalis was putting up with a lot in having to teach her how to be a queen by the end of the day. It was seemingly an impossible task as was her escape. While practicing how to extend her hand for a kiss Gabrielle was insulted yet again as Vidalis scolded her for reaching for a beer in the tavern. The bard could not help her inadequate gestures. Her life was spent in a lot of taverns along the way. Vidalis showed her again and as she tried to gracefully imitate his movements she accidentally slapped him in the face. The two shared in a bit of nervous laughter as Vidalis tried to teach her how to walk with perfect posture. He gave her a large scroll and instructed her to put it onto her head as she walked. This was even more difficult than extending one’s hand for a kiss. Although for a moment the bard felt that she just might be able to pull off the walk. Yet Gabrielle could sense Vidalis’s impatience with her performance in this excercise. He told her to stop trying to pull the plow. Movements were meant to be slow and gentle. The bard could no longer take the criticisms as she yanked the parchment off of her head and threw it violently across the room onto the ground. Vidalis’s reaction to her outburst was a glance of shock and surprise.
Then she looked to Vidalis and spoke softly and gently asking him if he would take her to the king. Vidalis rejected the request explaining that he would not risk a royal hanging for such a frivilous request. Gabrielle could see that cooperation was not the way to Vidalis. She had to come up with another weapon. She decided that she would try to open his heart by asking him seriously if he had ever been in love. Vidalis thought of this for a moment and revealed through his eyes and then his soft words that he had once loved someone deeply. Gabrielle urged him to imagine being with that person again. Then she asked him to imagine having to be with someone other than the one he loved. When Vidalis thought of this Gabrielle could see that she had finally gotten through. Vidalis realized that it wasn’t about escape anymore for the bard. It was about someone she loved. Although it had been five seasons since Gabrielle had lost Perdicas to Callisto’s sword she still loved him. She could not imagine being with another man even now. Gabrielle pleaded with Vidalis once more for his permission to see the king. Vidalis was no longer reluctant to help understanding Gabrielle’s pleas from the heart. With no hesitation he softly spoke under his breath as if trying to conceal a secret the directions to the location of the King’s chambers.
The guards were no longer a problem as Gabrielle quietly found herself sneaking through the dark cold halls of the castle in search of her husband to be. By now night had fallen over the castle and it was late. Few people were circulating the castle as Gabrielle took one last glance behind her entering through the large heavy door to the king’s chambers. He was most certainly sleeping by now like every one else. She was concerned about awakening him, but she had to let him down gently. Gabrielle was certain that she would be able to use love as the ultimate weapon to convince him that marriage to a Thracian girl from the back woods was not what he was looking for. Quietly she sat down next to his bed and addressed him respectfully. She spoke softly, but with a bit of a nervous edge. To her it seemed as if he might be a tyrant considering how much Vidalis and many others about the castle seemingly feared him.
As she spoke to him she could barely see him for he was concealed behind the canopy and fabrics which enclosed his bed. It was a rather large yet elegant place to sleep. The privacy was noted within the bard’s mind as she continued explaining her concern about meeting before the ceremony. She hoped that his response to this idea of meeting would be agreeable and it seemed that the king was willing to offer his hand to the bard. She was delighted that he offered her a gesture of kindness in this way despite her hopes for a more formal and face to face chat. Yet the bard could accept his unusually cold hand in hers as a gesture of faith. Gabrielle quickly decided that it was nerves that kept the king quiet with unusually clammy and cold hands. She tried to further break the ice of the moment by laughing nervously hoping that maybe this would loosen his lips a little. Gabrielle was hopeful for a two-way conversation on the matter of marriage. Yet there was no verbal response of any kind just complete and total silence from within the bed chambers.
Gabrielle took a deep breath as she held the king’s hand caressing it gently hoping to ease the angry reaction she expected from him over her next statement of inevitable rejection. She was certain that a king was not used to being told no by anyone especially someone as low on the social ladder as herself. As she spoke of her true feelings she could feel the cold response as she caught a glimpse of his head turning away from her. She desperately wanted to make this split as simple and painless as possible for everyone involved. Gabrielle desperately explained to him that it was not that she was rejecting the king as a person or as a man, but more for her fear of falling in love and losing someone all over again the way that she had lost Perdicas. She was also reminded of falling in love with Tallus before that. He had been terminally ill. As Gabrielle continued on with her concerns she found herself becoming more frustrated with his lack of response. For a moment she was certain that he had fallen into sleep over boredom of her please and depth of her past stories. Yet just as she tugged upon his hand attempting to wake him up the king rolled off of the bed and fell upon the bard’s lap. As she looked down she noticed not only were the king’s hands cold, but his head and face was also clammy and cold. In fact, it was pale and white as if he were dead.
When the bard could not feel his breath upon her fingers which now supported his head upon her lap she was certain that he was dead. Gabrielle was shocked and cried out to the mother of Zeus. It was as if every man she touched with compassion and love was destined to die in her arms. Then Gabrielle heard the voice of Apex as she looked up to find herself even more surprised and confused. The entire castle guard stood behind him before her. It was as if they had been expecting her arrival. Apex explained that the king had been dead for a few days now. He had died in the royal baths in a mysterious accident. As Apex spoke Gabrielle struggled to replace the dead body back into its resting place. She felt extremely dirty knowing that she had been caressing the hands of a dead man and held him in her arms. Suddenly Gabrielle rose from the chair she had been seated in next to the bed and completed the puzzle not certain it made sense. She declared that she had been expected to marry a dead man. Apex confirmed her declaration with confidence and as if there were nothing wrong with the idea of the living marrying the dead.
Gabrielle noticed Vidalis standing just behind Apex cowering with fear as Apex approached Gabrielle with more details. He explained that the kingdom was governed by a constitution which stated that if the king died unwed then his throne would be passed on to a cousin which was the ruler of another kingdom. This would create a collapse which would lead to one ruler over a larger land rather than two separate rulers of two smaller kingdoms. Gabrielle looked back to the dead man realizing that he had died alone. For a moment she felt sorry for the dead king only to realize the true intentions of Apex. Apex explained that if the king had been married at his death his monarchy would be dissolved leaving all power and control to the ministry of defense which was Apex himself. Vidalis chimed in confirming the idea with a somber yet serious tone while Apex stood before the bride in triumph explaining how fortunate it was for him to have found a bride for the king just in time for the moment of his death. Only for Gabrielle it had seemingly been a few days late. This led her to an unusually cryptic question. She wanted to know what her role would be in the end of this finely woven plot to power.
Apex was ready to answer the question. He spoke with no compassion and little concern. It was pure darkness that was in control for he explained that by ancient proclamation of the kingdom all queens were required to follow their husbands into death. Even if the queen was healthy and young despite the old man she had been expected to marry she would be put to death by the ceremonial laws of the kingdom. Apex continued as if gleeful of the fate of the vibrant young blond. He explained that her honeymoon would be an exciting trip to the royal crematorium. For Gabrielle this was hardly a bonus. Just as the realization of death began to dawn on her after wading through the disbelief of the dead husband to be Apex ordered the guards to seize her for the ceremony.
As night settled into dawn Xena and Palaemon had arrived at the castle gates. Xena was determined to teach Palaemon how to storm the enemy without the aid of fear and destruction. There was a certain finesse and style in accomplishing the goals of a true warrior. Xena had multiple reasons for wanting to sway Palaemon’s views. She needed to save Gabrielle and to ensure that she needed to have control over Palaemon’s choices in the next several moments. Once they would enter into the castle there would be no guaruntee that Palemon would not use wit to his advantage. The warrior princess felt that it was unlikely that he would decide to switch sides suddenly, but in a warrior’s world anything is possible. One must anticipate the seemingly impossible and the unexpected.
As the two scaled the wall Xena instructed her newest student to keep as quiet as possible. Palaemon was apparently captivated by the experience of spending a day with the warrior princess despite her blindness. She was even more attractive to him and her truest most valuable skills were being revealed by her now heightened senses. As the warrior princess inquired of Palaemon about their situation upon scaling to the top of the castle walls he explained that their situation appeared grim and impossible. He was not so confident that they would be able to enter the castle undetected. Xena was more confident as she listened to the sounds of the guards below as their commander barked out an order. The warrior princess heard a small group of guards marching by down below. It sounded as if there were only a handful. She also noted the one manning the wall alone. Then the warrior princess asked Palaemon how long the other castle walls were. He judged them to be around twenty lengths. Xena evaluated this in her mind and then reached down pulling out her chakram. Before Palaemon could figure out what Xena’s actions meant she was already hurling her chakram over the walls across the courtyard to the other side.
The chakram clanked loudly as it bounced off of the far end of the castle walls which created a diversion. Xena listened intently as she heard about ten sets of boots run from the near side across to the far side of the court-yard. There were others too, but they were already in position. Every guard had run off to see what the breach was. Yet the breach was on the near side as Palaemon gleefully congratulated Xena on her brilliant plan. It was smooth, painless, and practically effortless as well. Just as Palaemon was pleading with the warrior princess to teach him more about her effortless ideas and skills the warrior princess lost her connection with the chakram. She shushed her student hoping to quiet him long enough to save him from the weapon which was just about to bury itself into his face if he did not follow her command. Just then Palaemon was quiet and Xena’s ears caught the swoosh of the chakram once more. Gracefully she retrieved it before the eyes of Palaemon who was thankful for her talent and even more in awe of the warrior princess.
This made him more cooperative and willing to assist Xena in her search for Gabrielle. Quickly Palaemon led Xena through the courtyard and into the castle. Xena could hear the sounds of guards marching about in every direction. Palaemon slowed down to a stop for a moment explaining to the warrior princess that he could see guards everywhere. His assessment was that there was at least an entire regiment of men guarding the place if not more. Xena did not doubt this observation. As she thought of this factor in their search for Gabrielle Palaemon inquired her about her eyes. It was as if he were hoping that she had some minute bit of sight even if things were only a blur. This would allow them to split up and cover more ground quicker. Xena’s response was only in that her eyes were stinging less than before which meant that the sumac oil was settling in permanently. This seemingly annoyed Palaemon. He sighed in frustration realizing that his chance to have a fair fight to the death against the warrior princess would be impossible. Xena sighed realizing that their time was short and that the only payment she would accept from the fates was in finding Gabrielle. Palaemon then asked Xena if Gabrielle was truly worth her sight. Without hesitation Xena explained that the cost was worth her eye sight and more. The warrior princess explained that she would give her life without hesitation for the bard.
This was the part of the warrior princess that Palaemon could not begin to understand or appreciate. Her loyalty to Gabrielle and her love of her best friend. Palaemon spoke with disgust explaining that the weakness of friendship was the reason he chose not to have any friends. Although Palaemon was attempting to be harsh the warrior princess could sense that it was an act and nothing more. She had decided that a man without compassion would not have come this far with her. The warrior princess only scoffed at his comment knowing the truth. Palaemon did not like her reaction as he continued to act as if he were hard-hearted. He was certain Xena’s comment was as a result of her dislike of him. Xena quickly corrected him in explaining forcefully that it was who he pretended to be that she did not like. She verbalized her thoughts about him to him only to be challenged once more.
Xena continued explaining that he was not a hard-hearted warlord. Palaemon declared that he would show no mercy to the warrior princess who again scoffed at his act. She layed out her deductions of character openly to Palaemon despite the risk of losing control of him. Xena reminded him of his sense of compassion toward her when he saved her from death in the ravine on the day before. Palaemon desperately tried to hide the truth of his compassionate side declaring that the warrior princess knew exactly what his intentions were. They were not honorable, but selfish in his quest for the fair fight to the death against his warrior hero. She continued on reminding him of their initial meeting when he could have easily killed her in combat for he had so eloquently played on her emotions. Her weakness known to many now was Gabrielle and it could have killed the warrior princess. Xena knew this and was aware that Palaemon knew it too. Yet Palaemon continued to argue with the warrior princess when she flatly stated that she felt he did not have the killer instinct in him. She pushed him further stating that she was certain that he had not yet killed a single soul. Palaemon struggled to defend his carefully crafted self-image. Xena knew that she had him for she had torn it all down in a matter of seconds within just a few short statements. Palaemon grasped for his last straw as he firmly declared that he had killed Krykus the Pilot.
Xena had finally won this battle of wits after a day of haggling with Palaemon. He had played right into her hands. She scoffed at him in triumph explaining to him cool and calmly that she was certain he had not killed Krykus the Pilot for she had been the one whom had delivered Krykus to his death. Palaemon was silent for a long moment. Xena could feel the fear for he had been certain that he had won the battle of wits up until now. The warrior princess had been working him for an entire day wearing him away until he had no verbal defenses left. Although he was fearful the two were sharing in the same fate. They were right in the middle of a castle full of armed guards unable to find Xena’s friend. Whatever happened to Xena was now about to happen to Palaemon. He had no other choice, but to submit to Xena’s demands and follow her into the battle that most certainly lied before them. As the guards moved closer Xena instructed Palaemon to move. They continued on through the castle in search of Gabrielle. The warrior princess decided to capitalize on her advantage over Palaemon as they rounded a corner she heard Palaemon move into a struggle with one of the guards. Then she took him out with a solid punch impressing her student once again. She joked that he had been right to say that the place was crawling with guards. Xena hoped to lighten the mood that had become so tense within the last several minutes. Palaemon appeared concerned for her safety despite her move on the guard. It was as if he had been testing her, but she had easily put all doubt aside. In fact the warrior princess reminded him that his compassion was creeping out into her view once more despite her physical blindness.
Just outside in the court-yard the subjects of the kingdom awaited news of the wedding of their king to his new queen. No one was permitted inside to witness the ceremony except for the guards and of course Apex himself who conducted the scandalous ceremony. Gabrielle was helpless to defend herself or even try to escape for she her wrists and ankles were tied. She was unarmed and up against the entire castle full of guards. Even Xena would have difficulty in this situation. Gabrielle hoped that there would be a window of opportunity between the time of the ceremony and the scheduled honeymoon. She found herself disgusted by the spectacle of fixed ceremony and of the fact that she was forced to stand next to a dead man propped up by a large chair. Apex consummated the holy bond between man and wife with the wine from and ancient golden goblet. He poured the wine upon the lips of the dead man and then upon the bride’s chest. Apex took joy in the idea of sending Gabrielle to her death for it meant his ascension to ultimate power. Gabrielle growled with disapproval for her mouth was also gagged leaving her unable to cry out for help from her subjects down below.
Apex then shouted out to the gods asking for a sign of disapproval if one existed. Gabrielle hoped that the gods might object, but to no avail. All was silent in the banquet hall as Apex gave the last words sending Gabrielle into her latest marriage to a dead man. Then Apex walked out onto the balcony above his subjects who were unaware of the wrath which soon faced them. He declared that the gods bless the union of their king and new queen. Gabrielle desperately tried to free herself from the ropes realizing that this might be her only chance to escape. She would have to try to take on the guards alone for death awaited her either way. The bard had decided that she would not die without a struggle. Just as she was beginning to loosen the ropes binding her wrists she could hear the sounds of the crowd cheering down below. Her time was running out as she feverishly tried to free herself. The bard thought if only her husband could truly be with her in her time of desperate need. It was a sarcastic thought, but it was the only thing she could hold onto to keep her sanity.
Apex soon returned to talk to the dead king congratulating him and his new bride on their union. Gabrielle was irritated and desperately wanted to attack Apex with words, but he had taken that weapon away from her as well. Apex had left the bard completely helpless and defenseless. As Apex continued to bask in his glory he ordered the guards into action as the brought in two large caskets. One was designed with a golden freeze of the king and the other was decorated with the peaceful looking face of the dead queen. It was too eerie for the bard to see herself depicted in this way as the guards grasped her firmly following their orders to imprison her into her chamber of death. Gabrielle had just freed her hands, but it was too late as she struggled with the guards who easily over powered her. She quickly found herself enclosed within the darkness of a hopeless situation. It seemed as if there was no turning back. She cried out in fear and desperation hoping that someone with compassion would hear her please for life despite still being gagged.
As time began to run out for Gabrielle Xena and Palaemon were still moving through the castle searching every dark corner in the hopes of finding Gabrielle. Xena paused for a moment for her senses took notices of the sudden smell of something burning within the castle. It was as if a large furnace had been fired up. This was unusual for it was not the season for cold weather in this part of the country. Xena was mystified for a moment as she tried to figure out the sudden change in smell and the silence within the castle. Palaemon paused inquiring of the warrior princess her next move. Slowly Xena moved against the wall as if about to turn the corner when a voice came from behind whispering a shaky and quiet greeting. Both Xena and Palaemon turned to face the one who confronted them drawing their weapons. The soft-spoken man’s voice stated that if the woman who stood before him was Xena then his prayers to the gods had been answered. Xena noticed that the man struggled to breathe as if he were hanging off of the ground. The man continued stating that he was Vidalis a good friend to the lovely bride. Vidalis continued speaking with a tinge of relief that someone had come along to notice is predicament. He then gave a critique of Xena’s leather determining that she was not what he had expected Xena to be. The warrior princess quickly assessed that the bard had described her friend as loving which would not accentuate the boldness of the warrior woman. Yet that was beyond the point of the moment. Xena quickly cut Vidalis off asking him where she could find Gabrielle. The warrior princess was growing more worried now that she could smell the burning of dead flesh flowing through the air within the castle walls.
Vidalis answered Xena without hesitation. He explained Xena’s worst fears. The friend of the bride stated that Apex had taken her along with the king down to the crematorium. Vidalis continued on with the grim news determining for himself that if he could be cut down from his binds upon the wall that he would be able to guide Xena and Palaemon to the location of the bride. Xena heard Palaemon’s sword swing through the air and then cut the ropes dropping Vidalis what seemed to be about half a man’s distance to the ground. She could hear Vidalis struggle to regain his breath and control of his arms from the strain of hanging. He was a short stout little man with extra weight which led the warrior princess to a vague idea of Vidalis’s appearance. Xena realized quickly that there was little time to waste as she instructed everyone to lead the way to her friend.
Gabrielle found herself terrified. She could hear the sounds of the crackling fire and of the burning wood of the king’s coffin. She shouted out for rescue angry that her fate was seemingly sealed and hopeless. The bard did not want to die and certainly dreaded the idea of being burned alive. She clawed and scratched at the top of her own tomb desperately hoping she could bust through the top with her fists somehow. It was her only chance, but then she heard the order from Apex to execute the queen. She could feel that her tomb was moving and as it moved the bard could feel her body sweating as the heat began to fill in the air pockets around her.
It did not take long for Vidalis to lead Xena and Palaemon to the doors of the crematorium. Xena could sense that they were moving in the right direction as the smell thickened. There was smoke coating the air as Vidalis stopped revealing the location. Just as Xena and Palaemon prepared to enter through the doors three guards ambushed them from around the corner. Xena was about to go into battle mode when she noticed the smell of burning wood which meant that the cremation had already begun. She only hoped that Gabrielle was still alive. The warrior princess decided that she could leave Palaemon and Vidalis on their own to deal with the three guards flipping over the battle allowing access through large heavy wooden doors. Apex stood before the warrior princess for she heard him greet her with a sarcastic apology. Suddenly Xena heard the sounds of at least five swords maybe six being drawn into battle stance.
Gabrielle continued to struggle to think of a way out of her demise. As she tried to think of how Xena would escape she thought she heard the sounds of the warrior princess. It was as if Xena’s battle cry echoed in her mind yet Gabrielle was not certain if she was beginning to hallucinate due to the heavy smoke beginning to engulf her tomb. She decided to listen closely hoping that just maybe the warrior princess was just outside there ready to rescue her friend from the flames which now crackled even more loudly than before. It seemed that all Gabrielle could hear was the sound of the chains and the belts pulling her into Celesta’s arms.
Xena decided that she had to act quickly for she was certain that Gabrielle was about to be burned alive, but she could not see her friend only hear the sounds of the flames, and smell of burnt materials. The warrior princess hoped that she could avoid a long battle. She was counting on the threat of her presence to intimidate her enemies. Xena was certain a battle would take too long. Xena decided to risk a question hoping that Apex and his men would not realize her blindness. Apex was quick to access that the warrior princess was blind for her question of the bard’s whereabouts gave her away. It was obvious to everyone in the room that Gabrielle was being swallowed up by the flames within the moment.
Xena could hear the sounds of boots approaching her setting up for a fight. Apex was not certain that Xena was blind so he responded with his own question. The warrior princess listened intently to the sounds surrounding her. She could still hear the battle going on just outside the doors between Palaemon and the three guards outside. Xena noticed that some bodies had fallen to the ground behind her. Suddenly Apex shouted out his own answer to the question. He ordered his men to battle Xena and to her own fiery death upon defeat. Suddenly she heard the slow-moving boots quicken into a stance surrounding her. The warrior princess decided that her best chance to win the battle was to fight in hand to hand combat. Her sword drawn and ready she held it out waiting for the first move. There was a guard to her right that kicked her hand disarming her of her weapon. Xena then elbowed him to the ground awaiting a frontal assault using her boots to kick down the advance. Although she was being approached from all sides defeat was not an option for death would take her friend away if she did not take out the five guards within her final assessment.
As two battles raged on Gabrielle thought she could hear the sounds of men falling to the floor. Yet again she was not certain if they were true sounds for she was beginning to feel the grip of suffocation by smoke. She beat the top of her box once again hoping desperately that someone could hear her pleas. If Xena really was with her Gabrielle needed to be able to make enough noise from within to stand out above all of the other commotion about outside of her death prison. She shouted out with one last attempt of desperation for she was no longer able to take a breath of air to fill her lungs. The smoke coated her airways with a thick weight reminding the bard that her death was eminent. Gabrielle decided that she had two choices in death. She could fight it and struggling hoping for rescue or she could just give up and die without a fight. The bard was determined to pound on the top of her box and claw at the wood until death or rescue took her. She cried out for Xena hoping that the warrior princess was there and could hear her pleas.
It was as if the sounds of the battle were subsiding as Gabrielle listened in between pounding which became weak. She found herself going in and out of consciousness struggling to hold onto her life. The bard was soaked with sweat, and her lungs were saturated with smoke. Her hands were now badly bruised as she felt her own blood seeping through her finger nails. Soon she could feel the beginnings of the flames invading the wooden box which had held her captive for what had seemed like an eternity. Gabrielle’s toes were beginning to feel the pain of the searing heat as she weakly cried out for Xena once more.
Xena had defeated her enemies swiftly as she listened and tried to hone in on every sense within her body. Although she had defeated her enemy there was no one there to guide her to where the fire burned her friend. The warrior princess then heard the weak voice crying out her name. It was most certainly Gabrielle. Xena’s heart pounded with hope and urgency for there were no moments left to spare. Xena dashed forward tripping over the belts which carried the body of her friend. The warrior princess called out desperately to Gabrielle with worry deep in her heart. Gabrielle found herself certain that she had been hallucinating the entire time. She found comfort in knowing that Xena was there with her in spirit and within her heart. The bard imagined that she could hear Xena’s voice. It was the only thing she could focus on as the flames began to surround her becoming unbearable. Gabrielle began to slip out of consciousness again calling out to Xena one last time hoping the warrior princess was there despite certain hallucination.
Then Gabrielle could remember nothing more.
The warrior princess had found her friend, but she could also sense that there was not a moment to lose. Xena struggled to pull her friend out of the fire for the entire box was practically inside the fire. The warrior princess’s arms were scorched by the hot flames, but Xena did not give up. She pulled against the belts and chains with all of her strength to pull Gabrielle to safety. Xena then heard the sounds of the gears clicking and jamming which meant that the box was no longer being pulled into the flames. It had finally come to a rest. She only hoped that she had not been too late. Xena called out to her friend once more desperately hoping Gabrielle would call back to her again. The warrior princess pried open the hot steaming box and called out to Gabrielle once more. Her friend did not respond. The warrior princess felt the sudden whiff of smoke into her face realizing that Gabrielle might have already suffocated to death within the box. Xena reached down into the box with a panic. Without her eyes she could not see if the body within the box was even that of the bard. Xena grabbed hold of a shoulder and then an arm. She knew that it was Gabrielle. As she tried to pull her friend out of the box she could hear the sounds of coughing. Xena realized that Gabrielle was indeed still alive, but seemingly unable to breath. Gabrielle struggled to rise on her own as Xena helped her sit up.
Xena softly spoke to her friend concerned for her health. All Gabrielle could do was laugh nervously for she had not been hallucinating. She had made the right choice in having faith and not giving up hope. The warrior princess had not given up hope of finding Gabrielle. Gabrielle stated that she was okay despite the struggle as she buried her head into Xena’s chest. Xena put her arms around Gabrielle’s head and then Gabrielle looked up into Xena’s eyes. The bard desired to connect with her friend as did Xena with the bard. As Gabrielle looked into Xena’s eyes she noticed that Xena was struggling. It was as if she was trying to see into the bard’s eyes and could not. Gabrielle sensed worry and then inquired Xena of her eyes. Xena paused for a moment and said nothing. Then she softly admitted to the bard without regret that she was blind. Gabrielle found herself to be unsettled and upset by this idea. She immediately realized that Xena had given up her sight to save her from death. Gabrielle felt guilty for not being able to save herself from the wrath of Apex. She felt responsible for the loss of Xena’s sight. This made the bard realize just how much Xena loved her. The warrior princess would sacrifice anything for the bard. Gabrielle hoped that there would be a way to save Xena’s eyes. Xena explained with a deep acceptance of her loss that the cure was available in Athens, but it would be too late by the time they could arrive there.
Gabrielle’s heart sank for her friend. Yet just when it seemed that all hope for Xena was lost Vidalis chimed in with great news. He explained that he happened to grow Egyptian senna in his garden within the courtyard. Vidalis chucked explaining that he used it to make face cream. Gabrielle looked behind her relieved that her new-found friend was able to help Xena. Soon everyone was cleaned up and the plants were made ready to cure Xena’s eyes courtesy of Vidalis himself. It had been close to a day since their ordeal had begun. No one was certain that Xena’s eyes would be able to heal despite Vidalis’s help. Gabrielle tended to Xena hoping that squeezing the senna into Xena’s eyes using Vidalis’s sponges would give her friend her sight back. It was the least Gabrielle could do to express her appreciation for Xena’s faith in their friendship. Gabrielle spoke softly to her friend preparing Xena for the burn that might accompany the medicine.
The warrior princess braced herself and then Gabrielle gingerly applied to senna to Xena’s eyes. She watched it drip down Xena’s face as the warrior princess jerked for a moment at the stinging sensation within her eyes. Vidalis stood by watching with hope that he had been able to help Xena. He realized now why Gabrielle had described Xena as someone with deep love in her heart despite the leather exterior. As Gabrielle finished the application she stepped back and hoped. She asked Xena if she could see anything yet for she was uncertain how long it would take for the senna to settle into the eyes. Xena struggled to look in Gabrielle’s direction searching blindly for her friend’s face. After several moments Xena could see that there were a few fuzzy colors coming into her sight beyond the darkness that she had been seeing for almost a day now. Then she struggled to focus and could see the shape of a face. Gabrielle’s strawberry blond hair was obviously in place as Xena began to smile. She made a joke at the sight of her friend for the first time in a day. Gabrielle rejoiced with Xena excited that the warrior princess would be able to heal her wounded eyes. The bard laughed with nervous relief as she approached her friend to offer a loving embrace.
Suddenly a firm voice and a the sound of a drawn sword cut through the joy. Xena quickly prepared to do battle with Palaemon for she had promised him a battle to the death for his part in Gabrielle’s rescue. Yet Palaemon was not there to fight. He explained that he had come to thank Xena for pointing him in the right direction. The young mercenary had learned that he needed to be someone he could live with being. As Palaemon’s demeanor went from firm and harsh to calm and soft he put away his weapon and explained that he was going to pretend to be good for a while. Then he thanked Xena and left to have his own adventures for the greater good. Gabrielle had decided that this side of Palaemon was much more attractive than the man who had tried to kidnap her on the day before. Vidalis chimed in agreeing with the bard as he explained that he had decided that his next adventure would be alongside Palaemon. He had decided that he had done well as a sidekick against the guards in the battle with Palaemon. Gabrielle found joy in Vidalis’s idea. She encouraged his choice to be the support behind a hero. All heroes needed a good strong friend and support system. The bard felt it was the best most noble work one could find.
Then Vidalis complemented the bard explaining that she was an excellent lady extending his hand out to her. Gabrielle demonstrated what she had learned from Vidalis before Xena politely accepted his complement with class. Then Vidalis kissed the bard’s hand preparing to part ways. Before he left he joked once more about Gabrielle’s rough hands and then went off to join Palaemon before he got too far off down the road alone. As Vidalis left Gabrielle led the way down the road to the next adventure alongside the warrior princess explaining how difficult learning to be a lady had been for her self-esteem. The bard could not get over the requirements of the lives of royal women. The experience had really made her appreciate life in the back woods with Xena. Xena teased her friend about the lack of royal skills demonstrating that her curtsie was much better than the bard’s royal hand shake. A playful competition ensued as the two friends continued on down the road together. Xena appeared pleased and relieved that in her own experience of the past day she had been able to shape another young warrior using the examples she set in the present rather than those in her dark past. The warrior princess desired to create no more Callistos for that had been a painful price.