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No copyright infringement is intended in the writing of this fan fiction. MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures remain the sole copyright owners of the main characters used within it.

The work itself remains the copyright of the author. Permission is granted for it to be archived on any Xena fan fiction website, providing it remains unedited from the original.


Glad to see me?
A tale of the Warrior Princess.

By Mark Annetts

Xena contemplated the still waters of the lake before her. The first light of dawn was barely past, yet she was wide awake and, if truth be told, unaccountably a little apprehensive. She looked once more at the sleeping Gabrielle, her companion and co-adventurer. Her friend was breathing deeply and peacefully, oblivious to the conscious world.

Looking down on Gabrielle's face, her mouth slightly open and eyes darting behind closed lids, gave Xena a brief moment of pleasure. Travelling the world with this woman had restored Xena to an inner harmony she thought she'd lost long ago. She owed her so much. Her friendship meant more than anything Xena could have ever imagined only a few short years before.

The leather of her scabbard was creaking and Xena realised she was absentmindedly squeezing it hard with her ferocious strength. She frowned and scanned the surrounding area for any signs of trouble, but could see nothing amiss; yet the feeling persisted. She carefully placed her sword and her deadly throwing weapon, the chakram, down by the side of her sleeping friend. They would get in the way where she was going. Breakfast called for some fresh fish, and an early morning swim in the nearby lake would double as a refreshing bath. The perfectly still surface of the water looked so peaceful and inviting. She gently pulled the blanket up over Gabrielle's shoulders and smiled.

Slipping off her breast armour, Xena made her way to the edge and dived in, the sense of unease and impending trouble washed away in the exhilarating chill of the water. She swam at top speed for about thirty yards and then surfaced in a fountain of water and bubbles. Gasping in a huge lungful of air she instantly dived back under the surface and surprised a stationary carp, grasping it with an outstretched hand. Few people had the athletic ability and physical prowess for such casual feats, but Xena did it without even thinking.

Resurfacing with her prey she dispatched it with a swift chop with the side of her free hand. From dive to death had taken less than ten seconds. Xena rolled over onto her back and lazily backstroked for five minutes with one arm, luxuriating in the feel of the water on her body. Once in the shallows she flipped over again and stood up, shaking the water from her long black hair. She dropped the large fish by the remnants of last night's fire. She decided that Gabrielle had slept long enough and it was time for the cook of the outfit to do her stuff.

"Hey, sleepy-head, time to get up and at 'em," Xena said, tapping the bottom of Gabrielle's foot. The blanket had fallen over her friend's head so Xena couldn't see if she was awake yet. There was no response so she kicked her foot again, a little less gently this time. There was a muffled groan from under the blanket.

"Come on Gabrielle, I'm hungry, itís time to do your domestic thing," she said, grinning. Still nothing more than a low groan came from the blanket. Xena frowned, her earlier feelings of apprehension came flooding back. She bent down and pulled back the blanket. It wasn't Gabrielle. It was another woman, bound and gagged and bleeding from a badly beaten face.

- o 0 o -

Xena untied the woman and pulled the gag from her mouth. She didn't recognise her, but her face was so bruised and swollen it would have been hard to tell who she was anyway. The woman began to sob and moan. It was clear she was in a great deal of pain. Xena started tending the woman's injuries, applying salves to her wounds and washing the blood away from her face. The biggest injury was to her leg. It appeared to have been deliberately broken.

When the woman was as comfortable as Xena could make her she began to drift in and out of consciousness, until finally she settled into a troubled sleep.

Xena pondered the woman. If whoever took Gabrielle had simply wanted to kill her they wouldn't have gone to all this trouble. Xena could only wait for the woman to recover sufficiently so that she could answer some questions, hopefully explaining what was going on. Xena's weapons hadn't been touched, which in itself told her something. Whoever they were, they were not interested in disarming her. She sat and polished her sword, waiting for the woman to awaken.

- o 0 o -

The woman finally stirred sometime in the early hours of the following day. Xena was impatient to begin the hunt for Gabrielle, but she had to know what she was getting into.

"Where am I?"

"You're safe. I tended your wounds," Xena said, offering the woman some water.

"I must get back to my village, my family will be worried."

"Tell me what happened. Why were you left here?"

"Some men, Romans I think, came to our village. They killed two of the men who tried to resist. They took me prisoner. They wouldn't answer any of my questions. I begged them to let me go but they just ignored me."

"They never said what they wanted?"

"No, all they said was that they were after someone special, a female warlord." Xena grimaced. So, it was all about her, not just random thuggery.

"Did they tell you to tell me anything?"

"They gave me a message," the woman said, and tried to reach for her bag, momentarily forgetting her condition and grunting in pain when she moved her bruised ribs.

"They hurt you deliberately to slow me down. They're well organised, well informed and ruthless. But at least I don't think they have hurt Gabrielle."

"I'm sorry for your friend."

"Don't worry. I promise you this... " Xena paused. "I'm sorry, I don't know your name."

"It's Katrina."

"Well I promise you this, Katrina, the men that have done this to you will pay very dearly."

"I believe you... I don't know your name either."

"Xena, my name's Xena."

"Xena, the warlord?" the woman gasped. She tried to wriggle back away from Xena but her injuries hurt too much. "I prayed to the Gods that I would never meet you or your army."

"Don't panic, Katrina, these days I reserve my killing for those that deserve it. I promise you you're safe with me." Katrina didn't look convinced.

"Wh... where's your army, why didn't they protect your friend?"

"I travel light these days," Xena said, smiling.

"Those men in my village died because of you." Xena stayed silent for a moment and then sighed.

"In a way, yes, I suppose you are right. I carry a heavy burden that will never really leave me." Xena sat down next to Katrina and took her hand gently.

"All I can do is try to put right what I have done wrong in the past. I must get you back to your village and try to find my friend. Then I will make sure the men that did this to you understand fully they cannot do terrible things to innocent people. They were probably acting under orders so I must also find the person who sent them."

Xena helped Katrina sit upright and retrieved her bag. Katrina handed over a small scroll which Xena read quickly.

"So that's what all this is about!" she said, almost in a whisper.

"What does it say?"

"I've been invited to a gladiator tournament in Macedonia. Non-attendance is not an option. The men that did this to you needed time to get back to Macedonia before I could intercept them. That's why they hurt you. They knew I'd stay to see you safe. A few years ago I would have left you to die without a second thought."

"I'm glad you've changed."

"So am I," said Xena, smiling.

- o 0 o -

Three days later Xena had returned Katrina to her village. She stayed long enough to share a meal, and to instruct Katrina's family on changing her bandages and when the splint should come off her broken leg. They had all heard of Xena and were wary of her, no matter how friendly she tried to be.

The ride to Macedonia was a long one, it would take her a week, even riding Argo hard. She hoped Gabrielle hadn't done anything stupid in the meantime and got herself hurt.

- o 0 o -

Xena crouched down behind some bushes and carefully spread a viewing hole through them. Down below was a natural amphitheatre that had had crude steps cut into the hillside to act as terraces. In the main ring dozens of gladiators of all shapes, sizes and colours trained using wooden weapons. Around the perimeter several Roman soldiers stood impassively. Overlooking the ring was a raised platform with a row of padded chairs on it. The platform was protected from the sun by a large white canopy that flapped languorously in the gentle breeze blowing through the stadium.

She grimaced. A frontal assault even with an army behind her would be no walk in the park. The Romans had the best trained, best equipped, most advanced army in existence. Taking them head on had to be a last option. The question was, what in Hades' name were they doing in Macedonia mounting gladiator tournaments? There was much to find out.

Xena had watched the arena all day observing the movements of everyone who came and went. Three times she had had to hide to evade passing Roman patrols. During the afternoon some expensively dressed people, senators and aristocracy by the look of them, had arrived on the platform, accompanied by a General in golden armour. There were some shouted orders and a couple of the training gladiators were called over. They were given proper weapons and ordered to put on a display for the dignitaries.

Xena watched intently as the two men fought each other with increasing savagery. Eventually one of them made a mistake and was seriously injured. The winning fighter stood over him, sword raised, waiting for a word from the platform. The General stood up and pointed his thumb down. The fighter nodded and rammed his sword into the fallen gladiator's chest. The people on the platform clapped politely and then slowly filed away.

She curled her top lip in distaste ĎThere was no need for that,í she thought to herself. She shook her head. The Romans, for all their supposed civilisation, were still barbarians as far as she was concerned. She'd seen enough. It was time to find Gabrielle and get as far away from here as possible.

- o 0 o -

Under the cover of darkness Xena slipped around to the other side of the arena. A large fort stood there. To one side there were rows of tents. It was an impressive military operation. She scouted around to the rear of the fort, avoiding the tents. There was a single soldier on guard duty. As there was no door on this side they probably felt safe with only one man.

Xena clenched her right fist and drew it back tightly to her body. She stretched out her left hand and silently advanced on the guard from behind. When she was close enough to touch the man she flicked the leather side plate of his helmet up and punched him on his exposed neck. He crumpled instantly and Xena caught him before he hit the floor. She lowered him to the ground and looked around for any signs that she'd been noticed. There were none. So far, so good.

Uncoiling her whip she flicked it out to its full length. Taking one last look around she squatted down then jumped straight up as high as she could. At the top of her leap she cracked the whip upward. It wrapped itself around an exposed beam near the top of the wall. The whip went tight and Xena landed cat-like against the wall. Hand over hand she pulled herself to the top.

She climbed over the parapet and sank into the shadow cast by the wall. Along the edge, to her left, was a door with a guard. Luckily for Xena he was asleep. She cursed the Romans for being too thorough, but thanked the Gods that she had found one of the few slackers in the Roman army. Not trusting to luck a second time she put him to sleep more deeply with a punch to the side of his neck. He grunted and slid to the floor.

The door wasn't locked so she opened it as quietly as possible and slipped inside. A corridor went off to her right and a stairway led down into the gloom. She chose the stairs. At the foot of the stairs there were another two corridors to choose from. Xena shrugged and went left.

The corridor was lined with doors. They reminded her of prison cells. She took a quick peek in a few of them and could just make out the sleeping forms of some of the gladiators she'd seen training earlier in the day.

After creeping down a few more corridors she could make out the sounds of talking and laughter. She looked around a corner and saw two soldiers guarding a large set of double doors.

The distance between her and them was too great to make without raising an alarm. She knew they would probably be too well trained to try and fight on their own, they would call for help. As she was pondering what to do next the main doors opened and light and noise flooded the corridor. A man dressed as a senator came through with a woman beside him. She was dressed as a high Roman lady. It was Gabrielle.

- o 0 o -

Xena waited in the shadows till they'd passed, then stepped out behind the man and grabbed him around the neck, holding a dagger to his throat.

"Xena!" Gabrielle exclaimed. The guards heard the noise and came to investigate. Xena spun the man to face them.

"Back off or I'll kill him." The guards raised their spears but didn't come any closer.

The noise had stopped in the main room. A large imposing man pushed the men aside and stood in front of them. He folded his arms across his golden breastplate and began to smile.

"Hello, I'm General Aetius, you must be Xena. We've heard so much about you from your charming friend, Gabrielle."

"Nothing good I hope."

"On the contrary, she sings your praises most highly."

Xena turned to Gabrielle. "Come on Gabrielle, we're leaving. Stay behind me." They started to shuffle down the corridor, Xena moving backward, keeping the senator between herself and the advancing spears.

Aetius raised his hand and a horn sounded. There was a loud click as the door at the far end of the corridor locked from the other side. They were trapped. Aetius waved forward six spear-carrying legionnaires.

"If they reach that door I want you to kill all three of them," he ordered. They raised their spears.

"You wouldn't dare," Xena hissed.

"My dear lady, I have little enough regard for senators as it is. I thank you for giving me the excuse, and the opportunity, to rid Rome of one more of their useless kind."

Xena stopped moving back. She leant closer to Gabrielle.

"Does he mean it?" she whispered. Gabrielle frowned for a moment. Then nodded, then shrugged and then frowned again.

"Gabrielle, I'm kind of pressed for time here," Xena whispered, through clenched teeth, exasperated at her friend's dithering.

"I think so."

"Damn!" Xena looked behind her to see how far away from the end of the corridor they were. She knew she'd probably reach it, but Gabrielle in her long dress might not make it. She spun back to face Aetius. He calmly walked down the corridor till he stood only a couple of yards in front of them. He held out his hand.

Xena reluctantly handed over her dagger and let the senator go. She stood with her hands on her hips and returned Aetius' stare.

"Now what?" she said.

"Now we return to the main hall and continue the meal you interrupted. I believe Marius here, the man you were threatening to kill, was going to show Gabrielle some of the maps he's making for us that he's so proud of." Xena looked at Gabrielle and raised an eyebrow.

"Maps?"

"I like maps," Gabrielle said defensively. Xena closed her eyes and shook her head.

"Shall we?" Aetius said, holding out his hand and bowing slightly.

Xena strode past him and into the hall, the soldiers parting to let her through. She sat down in the chair at the head of the table. A soldier went to evict her but Aetius raised a hand and waved him away. He laughed at Xena's audacity and sat down next to her.

"Welcome to my table, Warrior Princess."

- o 0 o -

"It seems my sources were correct, you would risk everything for Gabrielle. I can see why, she is most captivating." Xena remained stony faced and unblinking.

"I won't fight in your circus, you know that."

"Oh but you will, my dear. For you see the winner of the tournament gets Gabrielle." Xena fixed Aetius with her most withering look.

"What's to stop me from killing you right now?" she asked quietly.

"Such talk at the dining table, really there's no need. We both know that if anything happened to me Gabrielle would be dead within minutes. You won't put her in jeopardy just to satisfy your bloodlust. Just eat with me and then my soldiers will escort you to Gabrielle's room. You can spend perhaps your last night together."

Xena stood up. "I'm not hungry, I'll go now."

"As you wish." Aetius beckoned over two of the surrounding guards. "Take her to Gabrielle's room. See that they are comfortable and secure for the night."

"Before I leave, would you tell me which of your men kidnapped Gabrielle? It was most impressive."

"Ah, that would Licinius here, one of my personal body guards," Aetius said, waving Licinius over to meet them. Xena turned to face him.

"Do you like hitting women?" she asked.

The man laughed. "When they deserve it, which is often I have found." Xena stared coldly at him a moment.

"Do you want to hit me?"

The man grinned again. "Could be."

"Take your best shot," Xena sneered. The General sat and watched this little drama unfolding before him, with obvious glee. The man didnít move, but instead looked at the General for guidance.

"Do as the lady says, Licinius, you wouldnít want to disappoint her, now would you?"

The man shrugged and went into a slight crouch, bringing his fists up. Xena stood impassively waiting for him to strike. Seeing Xena wasnít even trying to defend herself he got closer and tried a soft punch. Xena easily brushed it aside and slapped him across the face.

"Why, you bitch!" he said, as the other soldiers in the room started to laugh. He tried another punch, this time with intent. Again Xena casually avoided the punch and slapped him across the other cheek this time. The soldiers laughed even more.

Licinius bellowed in rage and charged Xena. He grabbed her around the waist and lifted her into the air, trying to squeeze the life out of her. Xena arched her back and smashed her forehead into the manís face. He let her go and staggered back holding his face, blood streaming from his shattered nose. The men stopped laughing.

Spitting blood on to the floor, he looked up at Xena and for the first time saw her as a dangerous enemy, not just another woman to treat how he wished.

"Youíll suffer for this," he gasped. He approached Xena again, this time more warily. As he got closer he pulled out a knife and started swishing it through the air as he advanced.

"Whatís the matter, Licinius, arenít I playing by the rules?" Xena taunted.

He lunged forward with the knife, trying to stab Xena in the stomach. She side-stepped and caught his wrist, bending the manís arm back under itself. The sudden pain forced him to drop the knife.

Xena pushed him backward, using his arm as a lever. He cried out in pain as she increased the pressure.

"This is from Katrina," Xena said, as she twisted his arm further and jerked it up sharply. There was a loud crack and the man screamed. Xena let go his wrist and he dropped to the floor holding his broken forearm and groaning in agony.

Xena grabbed him by the throat and pulled him to his feet, bringing her face to within an inch of the terrified man.

"Be more respectful of women in future," she snarled. He nodded frantically.

"Yes, yes, I will, I will," he sobbed. She dropped him back to the floor with contempt.

"I should get yourself another bodyguard, Aetius, this oneís broken."

- o 0 o -

The door closed and locked behind Xena. They had confiscated her weapons. Gabrielle rushed over to her and hugged her.

"Xena, I've been so worried."

"How have they treated you?" Xena asked, looking Gabrielle up and down for any injuries.

"Very well. They even gave me a new dress. Do you like it?"

"Very nice... Gabrielle, these Romans are not nice people. Did you see what they did to that poor woman they left in your place?"

"I didn't see anything, it was all so quick."

"They beat her very badly and broke her leg just to slow me down."

"But... they've treated me so nicely... " Gabrielle trailed away into silence.

"Come on, we've been in worse situations. Right now we have to figure a way out of here." Xena examined the door and the walls. She pulled back the rug and studied the floor. Eventually she slipped off her armour and sat on the bed.

"Looks like we stay put for the night. We'll have to see what tomorrow brings."

- o 0 o -

The sun glinted off the gladiator's breastplate. He held a large wooden staff and his head was covered by a helmet.

Gabrielle had been tied to the wall beneath the raised platform. The arena was filled with spectators, mostly soldiers from Aetius' army. Xena stood isolated in the middle of the arena.

"Don't I get any weapons?" Xena called up to Aetius, who was seated in the middle of the platform.

"That would hardly be fair, now would it, my dear." He raised his hand and dropped it, signalling the trumpeters to sound the start of the contest. The crowd began to cheer as the gladiator advanced on Xena.

"You don't need to do this," Xena said quietly to the gladiator, as he got close enough to talk.

"Are you kidding, they will kill me if I don't," he said.

Xena nodded, "So be it."

The man started to twirl the staff and perform small thrusts and imaginary parries. When he was within striking distance he changed his pattern to a swift overhead strike. Xena side-stepped and easily kicked the staff from his hand then punched him hard in the stomach. He collapsed to his knees gasping for breath. Xena walked around him and kicked him to the floor. She picked up the staff and pressed one end down on the back of the fallen man's neck.

"Stay down," she growled. He obeyed. When she lifted the staff he got up and ran scurrying for the exit.

"I hope the rest are better than this one," Xena called up to the platform.

"Bravo, Xena," Aetius said, giving a slow hand clap. The crowd had gone quiet, having seen the first gladiator so easily beaten. Aetius raised his hand and the trumpets sounded again.

Two more gladiators appeared from the arena's entrance. One was carrying a spear and a net, the other a shield and short sword. They slowly advanced on Xena, keeping a safe distance of ten feet between themselves. These two looked much better trained fighters than the last one, Xena thought. She once again offered them the chance to lay down their weapons and leave. They looked at each other for a moment, considering the offer, but they knew that they wouldn't live to see the next day if they did. Surrender was not supposed to be a gladiator's option.

On a signal from one of them they both charged. Xena swung the staff and parried the spear thrust. She followed the blow through and caught the man a glancing blow on the side of the head. He staggered to his right and down onto one knee. Xena leapt onto his shoulder and launched into a high kick that connected with the sword-carrying gladiator's chin. He went down without a sound. Xena landed like a cat and picked up his dropped sword. She tossed it from hand to hand and spun it in a couple of circles.

"Not bad."

She raised the sword above her head and pointed it at the recovered first gladiator. He'd dropped his net and was grasping his spear with both hands. He was breathing heavily and trembling. All his training and this woman just disarmed them both without even apparently trying. He knew he was so far out of his depth it hurt, but he had no choice but to continue. He charged, letting rip a howl of rage and fear.

Xena waited for him to get close enough then screamed her famous war cry and jumped up in the air, turning a forward somersault. At the peak of her arc she flashed her sword in a blur. She landed lightly on her feet behind the bemused attacker. He swore and turned to face her. Xena lowered her sword and pointed to the man's spear. The tip had been cut off and he hadn't even noticed. He dropped the useless weapon and pulled his helmet off. He sank to his knees in front of Xena.

"Please... please don't kill me, I have a wife and children," he sobbed. Xena held the point of her sword to his neck. The man looked up at Xena and then over to Gabrielle. "I'm sorry, we've been forced into this by that monster up there. None of us wanted any of this." Xena looked up at the platform. Aetius had stood up. He slowly held his hand out and formed a fist, his thumb pointing to the ground.

"Looks like you're surplus to requirements," said Xena, with contempt. She pulled the sword back to deliver the death blow.

"Xena, NO!" shouted Gabrielle. "Don't do it, don't feed this animal's appetite." Xena lowered the sword and looked over to her. Xena's blue eyes cleared of the fire that had been burning in them a moment ago. She pulled the gladiator to his feet and pushed him towards the entrance.

"Go, and don't come back."

Xena walked over to Gabrielle and raised her sword.

"If you cut her free I'll have her killed!" Aetius yelled.

"If you kill Gabrielle they'll be nothing holding me back from killing you, is that what you want?" Xena shouted back. Aetius stopped a moment and frowned.

"So be it. If Gabrielle wants to join in the fight, then it's twice the fun for the spectators," he said, but he knew Xena was winning this battle. He had to do something to regain face. He whispered something to a nearby guard who hurried off.

Xena lifted Gabrielle's long white dress and cut it away above the knee, much to the delight of the cheering crowd. She then cut the rope holding Gabrielle's wrists and waist. Xena walked over to where she'd dropped the staff and flicked it up to Gabrielle with her foot.

"You think you can handle one of these?" Xena said, grinning. Gabrielle smiled back "You bet!".

"Get ready, Gabrielle, here they come."

A dozen gladiators came running into the ring. As one they charged at the two women.

The battle lasted slightly less than ten minutes. Gabrielle felled the last man standing with a low sweep that knocked him to the ground, followed by a swift blow to the top of his head, putting him out cold. Xena had subdued six and killed two, Gabrielle having knocked senseless the other four. The ground was littered with groaning, beaten gladiators. Gabrielle leaned on her staff, catching her breath. Xena wasn't even breathing hard.

"So, you've lived up to your name, Warrior Princess" shouted Aetius. "But let's see if you can beat these." A large wooden trailer was wheeled into the arena. The gladiators that could walk got up and hurriedly made for the exit.

"I don't like the look of this," said Gabrielle.

"Stay close, and follow my lead," cautioned Xena.

A soldier climbed up onto the roof of the trailer and released the end door before running off. For a moment nothing happened, then two angry-looking lions padded out into the sunshine of the arena.

"By the Gods!" exclaimed Gabrielle.

"Quick, give me your staff!"

"What?"

"Your staff, quickly!" Gabrielle threw Xena her weapon. "Follow me."

Xena ran to the wall beneath the platform. She held the staff at waist height and parallel to the ground.

"Jump on here and don't argue, we don't have time." Gabrielle took one look at the lions who were warily stalking towards them and took a running jump onto the staff. Xena heaved upwards with all her strength and propelled Gabrielle in a perfect arc up onto the platform. Some of the senators fell off their chairs trying to avoid this unexpected turn of events.

"Here, catch," said Xena, as she threw the staff up to Gabrielle, who caught it and turned just in time to evade an attack by Aetius. She ducked under his sword thrust and knocked the sword from his hand. Her next blow knocked him to his knees. She picked up Aetius' sword and held it to his throat.

"Call them off or I'll use this," she demanded.

"I can't, it's too late... " Gabrielle looked down at Xena. The lions were nearly upon her.

Xena ran to one side so that one of the lions was much closer to her. She readied her sword waiting for the beast's attack.

Gabrielle flew into a rage and hit the General hard across the face with the butt of his sword. He grunted and collapsed to floor of the platform. Anger still consumed her. She threw the sword away and brandishing her staff, shouted at the General to stand up. He got unsteadily to his feet and Gabrielle drew back her staff to hit him again. He stepped backward away from her. One of the senators casually put out a foot and tripped him, sending him falling towards the edge.

"Oh dear, look what Iíve done, how clumsy of me," said Marius.

As he toppled over the edge Aetius became aware of his predicament and screamed. Some guards ran forward to try and save him but Marius held up his hand and ordered them back. They all walked to the edge and looked down at the General. He was winded but had managed to struggle to his feet.

Xena saw what had happened and circled round the lion, starting into a dead run towards the General. The other lion was now between her and Aetius, growling menacingly at him.

Gabrielle saw her coming and got down on her stomach, leaning over the edge as far as she dared, holding the staff down the wall.

The first lion, sensing an easy kill, chased after Xena.

Aetius saw Xena running towards him fast, with the other lion in hot pursuit. He staggered back against the wall and cried out in horror as Xena and the two lions bore down on him.

Xena jumped up onto the back of the lion close to the General.

"Sorry Kitty, must fly," she said as she continued her leap up off the lion and on to the General's shoulder, launching herself upward towards the dangling staff held by Gabrielle.

One of the lions pounced on the General.

Gabrielle watched helplessly as Xena reached out for the staff.

At the limit of her leap she grabbed the staff with one hand and clung on for grim death. Gabrielle groaned at the pull on her shoulders. She could feel herself beginning to slide over the edge.

"Xena... I can't hold on... I'm falling... Xena." They looked at each and for a brief moment, all else stopped as they connected, Xena holding on by one hand looking up into the eyes of her friend, Gabrielle looking down and feeling them both begin to fall.

"Not so fast, young lady," said Marius, as he grasped Gabrielle's ankles and sat down, taking the weight and stopping Gabrielle's slide over the edge. Being anchored allowed Gabrielle to hold the staff steady enough for Xena to pull herself up. And not before time, the lions, having dispatched Aetius, were already looking around for their next prey.

Xena crawled up over the edge and lay on her back gasping for breath. It was the first time Gabrielle had seen her so winded. They both started laughing and hugging each other, the joy of relief overtaking them.

"Damn, that was close," laughed Xena.

Eventually they stood up, arm in arm. The senators had gathered around them.

"Xena, Gabrielle, the Roman Empire owes you a great deal. You have put an end to a maniac who was threatening the very existence of the Empire. While he was out here, supposedly guarding us as we toiled to provide the Empire with the most up to date maps, he was in fact plotting to storm Rome. When I return to Rome I will tell Caesar and the others of the debt we owe you both." said Marius.

At the mention of Caesar both Xena and Gabrielle stopped giggling and sobered up.

"I wouldn't bother," said Xena with a curl of her lip. "Caesar and I love to hate each other.

"I had heard something to that effect. Ah well, be that as it may, you are both free to go."

"I want my weapons."

"Of course. Take what you need for your journey, and may the Gods protect you."

Xena snorted in derision.

- o 0 o -

Later, as they were crossing an open meadow on their way back to Greece, Gabrielle turned to Xena "Hey, I did pretty good didn't I?"

Xena smiled and looked at her friend. "Yeah, you did pretty good."

"That makes us even then?"

"I've saved your life maybe a hundred times, so your once does even it up, I guess"

"Once! What about that time in Athens?"

"Hey, I almost forgot, how were Marius' maps?" Gabrielle blushed slightly.

"They were very good."

"I'm sure they were," Xena said, laughing.

Trading mild insults and banter, they drifted south towards Greece and further adventures.

The End


Iíd like to thank my girlfriend for proof-reading and many helpful suggestions.

Mark Annetts
July 1999

Send any comments to m.annetts@rbgkew.org.uk

No slightly cross man-eaters were hurt during the production of this story.


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