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DISCLAIMERS- This story was written as part of a three story arc and theorizes that Callisto’s sister did not die in the fire at Cirra. It takes place shortly after "Return of Callisto". Parts 2 & 3 are still simmering but I need some feedback to continue. There is no sex but a bit of violence. This is the Xenaverse after all. This story was written about 2 years ago and I hope it aged well.
Please send comments and feedback to email@example.com and OTEREWQB@hotmail.
My thanks to the Creators and actors in the Xenaverse for such wonderful Characters and for letting me borrow them for a bit. I returned them none the worse for wear.
Thanks also to the positive feedback I received on "Progeny". Keep it coming!
GHOST OF THE PAST
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The excitement began to build as they saw the speck on the distant hill that was Havenous. As they drew closer, the city grew larger and more spectacular.
Gabrielle and the villagers were awed by the size of it and the wall that surrounded it. Only the tops of the tallest buildings rose above the walls and the walls seemed to reach up trying to touch the sky. The barrier was made of stones so thick and sturdy that it would take weeks just to crack it. Various colored banners flew at fifteen foot intervals across the very top of the wall. As they neared the wall Bethany explained that each banner represented a village destroyed and its survivors that had come to Havenous.
Guards were posted along the top of the wall, barely seen because of its construction. In the distance Gabrielle saw a huge gate lower down to the ground and a large group of soldiers ride out. Their uniforms were different, more suited to a city guard than the warrior style that Bethany and her troop wore.
"That's our welcoming committee." Bethany smiled and climbed onto her horse, "Stay close to the wagons. I've got to ride ahead and meet them. I'll see you when we reach the square."
Gabrielle nodded and watched as she met with Leonis and the two of them galloped off to meet the guard. They stayed with them for a few minutes and then rode back to the caravan assuming the lead as they passed through the gate.
Gabrielle stared at the interior of the city as they rode through the streets. It was more like a royal kingdom than a simple city. The buildings were neat and clean as were the stores and houses she saw as they wove through the streets into the center of town. Because of their own history, the residents of Havenous knew how to welcome new arrivals. They lined the streets smiling and offering words of welcome, encouragement and fruits to the hungry.
The city and its people were a blend of cultures. None seemed more predominant than any other and all meshed together in peace. Even those who had been enemies outside the walls were cordial to their neighbors.
The caravan moved slowly Bethany and her troopers in the lead and the city guard along the sides as escorts. After what seemed like an eternity they reached the center of town, at which stood the tallest, largest building surrounded by a well-kept courtyard. On a riser next to the building stood several men and women dressed in more ceremonial clothes and were obviously a ruling body of some sort.
With a small amount of fuss, the group came to a stop and Bethany dismounted. She started toward the riser and was met halfway by an older white-haired man wearing an elegant robe of deep blue. They talked briefly and then the man went back to his place as Bethany stayed at the foot of the riser.
"My friends." His voice boomed, surprisingly strong for his age, "The gods have spared your lives and with the help of our captain of the guard and her troopers, have brought you to safely to Havenous. It has no doubt been a long, hard, painful journey and not all have returned to us. All of us are survivors of such raids and we welcome you. We would be honored if you would consider this your home and us as an extended family. I know you have a lot of questions and they will all be answered but for now let us attend to the injured and get everyone else settled."
The villagers of the caravan cheered as the old man finished and stepped down from the riser. Some of them shed tears of joy and relief others were anxious to get settled into their new home. The city guard began carrying the injured into a building off to the side of the courtyard. Various representatives began moving around the new arrivals to help them find temporary accommodations until their permanent new homes were ready.
The older man gave Bethany a fatherly hug and they spoke for several minutes. When she left him, she slowly made her way to Gabrielle, who stood by the wagons waiting patiently. She was
intercepted half way by Neysa calling her name and wriggling away from the guard who was trying to pick her up and carry her into the healers quarters.
When she approached the wagon the child practically leapt into Bethany's arms and firmly clasped her hands around the womans neck. "What's the matter little one?" She asked brushing a loose strand of blond hair from her face, "You're safe here. These men only want to help you."
"I want to come with you. I'm afraid." She begged almost in tears.
Bethany hugged her tightly, "Neysa, I'm just going to take a walk around town and your leg needs to be taken care of. I promise to come by and check on you when I get back."
"Please take me with you." The child continued refusing to release her grip on Bethany.
Bethany looked at the waiting guard and motioned him away with a nod. He quickly moved away to carry one of the other injured inside.
She cast a look at Gabrielle and shrugged with a smile. Leonis appeared at her side, "How about a piggy back ride around town. We don't expect trouble but Bethany needs to keep her hands free just in case."
Bethany smiled at him warmly and then looked at Neysa, "You know Leonis is a legend around here. He is the greatest piggy backer in the whole city."
Neysa looked at him unsurely and then relented. Bethany helped her climb onto his back and once settled, she motioned Gabrielle to them and the four of them began their tour of Havenous.
The streets were not terribly crowded. Most of the citizenry were trying to help with the newcomers or see if anyone they knew had come in. Walking down the streets Gabrielle looked at the surrounding walls and could tell that they had been designed by raid survivors. It had been built to keep intruders out, highlighted by the outward arcing of the top stones that would be impossible to scale without falling.
City guards were stationed at regular intervals around the city, their job to keep the peace and from what she saw it was a very boring job. The people were friendly and welcoming, possibly more so because of her escorts.
She marveled at Bethanys ability to remember all the names of the people that greeted them. She spent a few moments with each of them exchanging pleasantries and warm words. Bethany even made it a point to spend a little extra time at the market area and although she had planned to shop tomorrow she did pick up a few things. She had learned while traveling with Xena that things didn't always go as planned and to jump at opportunity when it came.
Neysas’ spirits had lifted considerably. The child even managed a giggle as a merchant made a funny face and offered her a sweet bread sample. Leonis although tired, carried her as if she were a feather.
After an hour or so Neysa began to get droopy eyed. The excitement of the trip and seeing her new home had caught up with her and the exhaustion set in. As they headed back to the square she began drifting off to sleep and Leonis switched her from his back to his arms. Walking steadily his arm swung like a cradle, lulling her into a deep restful sleep.
When they reached the building where the wounded were treated Bethany took the sleeping child from his arms and carried her inside.
It was the first time that Gabrielle and Leonis had been given a chance to talk. "You were wonderful with her. Do you have any children?"
Leonis's smile was tinged with regret, "No. Many years ago I had a wife and son but they were killed in an attack on our home."
Gabrielle frowned, "I'm sorry. Xena says sometimes I talk to much."
His smile warmed, "It's all right, it was a long time ago."
Gabrielle quickly changed subjects, "Your city is beautiful. It's so friendly and peaceful here."
Leonis glanced around the courtyard, "It is an amazing place. Everyone here knows first hand how hatred and violence can destroy. They make extra efforts to work out any disputes or problems. It's not perfect and like any other city we do have problems but they are usually resolved peacefully. We always miss the excitement because we only stay in town for a day or so before we head out again."
"Why only a day or so?"
"Because," He replied as Bethany came out of the building walking toward them, "We can do more good out there."
"How's Neysa?" Gabrielle questioned when Bethany joined them.
"Sleeping. She asked me to come back tonight and bring the storyteller."
Gabrielle was flattered and agreed happily. Bethany took her arm and lead her out of the courtyard. "We need to get you settled. We use one of the merchants' buildings. If you don't mind being surrounded by a bunch of soldiers, you can bunk with us."
"That's fine. At least I know it's one of the safest places in town."
Before they could get completely out of the courtyard, a young man came running after them calling, "Captain? Captain?"
They stopped and turned, causing the boy to skid to a stop before he ran into them. "Apologies Captain but the Elder needs to see you." He informed out of breath.
Bethany sighed, "All right Arnon. Leonis, would you see that Gabrielle gets settled in. I'll meet you later and we'll get some dinner."
They said their goodbys and Bethany followed the boy back to the large building in the center of the courtyard.
This was the power building. The ruling body consisted of an Elder and six council members, each councilor responsible for a different aspect of the daily workings of the city. The Elder was an advisor and occasionally a crusader. Disputes were settled here within the strong stone walls. On occasion when there had been serious trouble, trials had taken place. In the basement there were jail cells that although strong were rarely used and the entire first floor was reserved for town meetings.
The Elders’ offices were at the very top of the building. Arnon had left her in the outside hall of his chambers and quickly vanished down the steps. She knocked on the door and heard him call to her. She eased into the office, "You wanted to see me?"
He was standing by the door that led from his office to a balcony overlooking the courtyard. He turned and smiled at her but his body language seemed tense and stiff, "Come in Captain."
She closed the door behind her and took a few steps into the room. It was a large and airy room but was decorated simply yet dignified as was befitting the village Elder. Scrolls containing the laws and records of the city lined one wall. The histories of all the city residents from the very first lined the other. There was a round table in the far corner where council meetings took place and by the window was the Elders’ desk, covered with paperwork as usual.
"I appreciate you coming, I know how tired you must be." He stated and gestured toward the balcony, "Let's talk outside."
Bethany followed him out and found that he had set up a small snack tray and cool drinks for their meeting. As she took a seat, the Elder poured each of them a cup of water, "I know we usually discuss the mission after you've rested. However this wasn't a typical mission, was it?"
She accepted the cup of water he offered and waited for him to take his seat. She had expected this to happen and was relieved to see that the entire council wasn't present, "I take it Benedictus has been to see you."
He sat back, his bones creaking as he settled in the chair. His body showed his older age but his mind was still sharp and clear. His hair and beard were snow white but his brown eyes twinkled like a young man. "Oh yes." He sighed, "He came riding in with Otes and immediately requested a meeting with the council. He's a little high-strung but he managed to get the councils attention."
Bethany took a quick sip of water before she set the cup on the table, "I figured that's were Otes disappeared to. Is there a problem?"
He reached across the table and clasped her hands in his own. His hands were warm and strong but had the beginning tremor that comes with age, "There could be. Bethany, I've known you for three years, you're responsible for saving countless lives and bringing them here to start a new life. You are well thought of and respected among our citizens and council and you know I hold you in the highest regard. Benedictus has made some damning claims and I wanted to speak with you. To get your side of the story before we met with the council."
Bethany leaned forward and began recounting the events that began at Emola. When she finished, she drained the cup of water and sat back in the chair. She had told him every detail except for mentioning Gabrielles name. Purposely leaving her out of the story as much as possible, describing her only as a young village woman when necessary. She had become concerned for her Amazon sisters' safety and was anxious to have Leonis get her out of the city.
The Elder had listened closely making notes and remaining silent. Now that she was finished, he sat back considering everything she had told him.
Bethany looked up at the sky and realized that it would be dark in a few hours. She had not been aware that the tale had taken so long.
He cleared his throat drawing her attention back to their conversation, "It sounds like this was a particularly eventful mission."
"Yes," She agreed, "These men were more than slavers. I've faced slavers before and they run at the first signs of a fight but these men just kept coming. I think they may be responsible for the raids in the area."
He nodded, "An interesting and disturbing idea. They must have been determined to take the lives of four of your troopers. They're the best we have."
"Even the best can be outnumbered. Had Xena not aided us it would have been disastrous for the villagers and us."
"Benedictus seems to think that they were part of Xena's army. When they faced defeat, she changed her plan and rode in to help."
Bethany took a deep breath and ran a hand through her hair, "They didn't face defeat, we did. I know her reputation. I also know that we have heard stories of her turn to fight for good. Elder," She stopped and leaned closer to him, "Syrus, I talked with her, fought along side her. I looked into her eyes and I believe those stories now. I never thought I would defend Xena to anyone but I know that group of soldiers is no more an army under her command than you could be. If I thought for a moment she was a danger to those people I would have gladly sacrificed myself to stop her."
"Yes, I know that, " He smiled, gently patting her hand, "I also know of your past and that if you are willing to come to her defense then the stories of her change must be true." She felt vindicated until his smile faded, "But the reputation of the Warrior Princess being a force of good is little known in these parts and would probably not be believed. Her army was very active in these valleys and a lot of our citizens are survivors of her army. Those memories and fears will override any stories of good. Benedictus has already gotten some support among the council and towns people."
Realization dawned on her, "That's why there are more guards in the streets than usual. I thought there might have been trouble in the city. What did they think, that I would be riding in with an army?"
"Disguised as villagers." He supplied seriously.
Bethany stood up and paced, anger and hurt waging a war for her emotions. She stopped by the edge of the balcony and soaked in the sight of Havenous. "Why Syrus? What have I ever done to hurt or betray anyone in this city? Why are they so quick to believe Benedictus?"
Gripping the table for support, he rose out of his chair. He moved across the floor and joined her at the railing. "Peace is a funny thing." He said softly, "We spend our entire lives seeking it and when we finally find some, we see trouble in every shadow. Benedictus knows that. Combined with the tension of these raids and Xenas sudden reappearance, he's using it to his advantage."
She turned to face him as he continued, "You were sent to us by the Gods and I have no doubt that you are innocent of the charges. If you believe and trust Xena then that is all the testimony I need. I will stand by your side in front of the council and defend your course of action."
He held out his arms and although Bethany was not an overly emotional woman, she stepped into them and hugged him briefly. She quickly pulled away, uncomfortable at showing so much weakness. The Elder respected her strength and stepped back not wanting to crowd her. "You know this could all be over quickly. You simply tell the council that you were aware of her and her plans and only played along to have an advantage."
He knew her well enough to know that this was a useless suggestion and was not surprised by her answer, "There was no plan of attack on her part. She is my friend and I will not betray that friendship or turn my back on it."
"Exactly what I'd expect you to say." He nodded and leaned against the railing, "The council meets in three hours. You need to get some rest, have some dinner and maybe even a soak in the hot springs. I'll meet you down stairs in the council chambers."
"Thank you Elder." She bowed in respect and walked toward the office door. She had just cleared the balcony door when he called to her again, "Bethany?"
He had decided to go ahead and inform her of the newest developments. "About an hour after your caravan arrived in town, several patrols of unknown soldiers were seen skulking about in the forest on the east and west sides of town."
Stopping suddenly she turned back to him, her body tense and face grim, "Why didn't you tell before? I'll get a patrol together and we'll find out who's really behind these raids."
"Patrols have already been dispatched," He reassured and tried to sound calm, "and the reason I didn't tell you is because Benedictus doesn't need any more ammunition. If you and your patrol went out, I'm sure he'd find some way to use that as part of the master plot."
Bethany felt like she had already been tried and convicted. Her mission included protecting the city from outside forces and now she was being prevented from doing that. "Three hours." Was all she said as she again headed for the door of his office.
Walking out of the council building she wasn't surprised to find Leonis waiting. The meeting had taken place sooner and lasted longer than usual. He had immediately known that there might be a problem.
He was leaning against a garden fence but snapped up straight and strode to meet her halfway. The grimace on her face told him that he was correct in his assumption. When he met her, he turned on his heel and in a flash was walking beside her, never missing a step.
"At our quarters helping Katis fix dinner. What happened with the Elder?"
Her eyes darted back and fourth and then she led him into a less traveled alleyway. When she was certain they weren't being followed or watched she slowed her step and explained the details of the meeting. As she recounted the conversation, Leonis's posture became defensive. When he was angry he tended to chew the inside of his lip and after she finished she feared he would bite his lip off.
"I'm going to find that pile of Hydra droppings and cut him into little pieces." He growled. His voice held a tone of anger that she had never heard and it made her uncomfortable.
"No." She countered firmly, "As much as I would like to see that, I'm going to abide by the Elders wishes. I've done nothing wrong and have nothing to fear from the council. When this is over Benedictus will be dealt with."
"Bethany," He argued, "It should have never gone this far. I'm going to the meeting with you. I'll back your story and let them know what kind of soldier Benedictus really is."
He was startled when he saw a flash of pure fear cross her face, "Leonis, as much as I would like to have you there, you are not to step foot near those council chambers. None of you are. Is that understood?"
She grabbed his arm and pulled him closer, "Right now I am the main focus of Benedictus and his supporters. I'm not sure what's happening here but I do know that there may be a time when he comes after you and the others. I want you safe." She hesitated for a second, realizing she had just admitted more than she meant too about her feelings for him. "You and the others." She added quickly. "I need you to take care of a few things before he gets any farther."
"Get Gabrielle to safety." He agreed.
"Yes. Then find out who among out troops are still loyal, get geared up and make yourselves scarce until this is over. The Elder said that patrols are looking for these soldiers outside the city. I'd feel better if I knew that there was someone out there I could trust trying to help me."
"I won't leave you here alone." He replied flatly acknowledging now how seriously she was taking the situation.
"Nothing has been decided yet. After the council meeting I'm sure everything will be cleared up. I just want to take a few precautions before hand." She said tried to sound positive but her eyes showed differently.
They entered the main street through town and had to end the conversation as the streets became more heavily populated. Both returned the friendly greetings of the people they passed on the streets and both were more acutely aware of the stares and whispers of others.
The building where her troopers stayed was at the edge of town and more accommodating than would be expected of soldiers quarters. The sounds of talking and laughter were carried along the air as well as the smell of a good stew as they approached the building.
Leonis reached out and urged her to a stop before they entered the building. She was caught in the firelight from inside the building as it cascaded out of the door and windows. He was struck almost breathless at her youth and beauty. He wanted to pick her up and carry her away from these awful charges protecting her like she protected the children, but knowing that she was stronger than her looks relayed. Licking his lips, he swallowed all the words he ached to say instead saying, "If things do go badly with the council, there will be a plan in place."
She said nothing only squeezed his arm in thanks and continued to the front door.
Bethany, her soldiers and Gabrielle sat together at a large wooden table. Her excuse for the lengthy meeting was accepted and now in a more relaxed atmosphere they all talked, joked and laughed. Gabrielle easily fit in with the group and participated in the exchange of war stories.
As she watched the others eat and talk, Bethany managed to keep up her usual outgoing facade. Only Leonis sat quietly participating very little in the jovial meal. After picking at her meal for a while Bethany excused herself and disappeared into the building's basement to follow the Elders’ advice.
The hot springs ran along the outside line of the city and those that had built in the area had taken advantage and built private spas in their homes. The enterprisers had built public tubs and for a small fee those not lucky enough to have a private spa could indulge.
She sat in the tub, the steam rising like a cloud and closed her eyes in deep thought and prayer. Often she or her soldiers had used the tub to loosen muscles or help them relax after a mission. She had always enjoyed the way the hot steamy water drew the tension out of her body. Tonight however she received no such relief and no answer to her prayers. She continually replayed the events of the last few days in her mind then let her thoughts go back to all the missions with Benedictus.
When she had formed the troop, she had chosen very carefully and set down specific guidelines for them to follow. Only Leonis, Xanthus and Hernam had been with her from the beginning. She had become acquainted with them in her raiding days when they all rode together under the flag of the Warlord Mabrut. When she had turned against her former army, they had joined her, fighting at her side. She learned later that they had felt the same way as she had but had been hesitant to fight. It had taken the bravery of a young girl standing up to all those large blood thirsty soldiers to force them to decide for themselves. It was this that had given them the courage to fight for what they knew was right.
They had been together ever since with her as the unofficial but mutually agreed upon leader. As time passed others who shared her feelings joined them. By the time she reached Havenous with the reputation of a protector of the innocent, the troop had numbered thirty. Over the next few years most of that number had died fighting to save villagers or had retired to a family or at least more settled life. Their replacements had come from the city guard pool most of the time but on occasion they were joined by surviving guards of villages or the villagers themselves.
Giles and Delia had been such survivors with some fighting skills. Bethany had been impressed with their reasons and passion for wanting to join her and had taken them in, trained them and never regretted it for an instant.
Benedictus had been the one time her judgement had been wrong. When two of her men had been killed on a mission, a council member had heartily suggested Benedictus as the replacement. He had an impressive record as a city guard and was vouched for by the Councilor. She had brought the proposal before her troop as was the custom and they had voted him in. Otes being the most vocal support.
She submerged herself in the water, staying under until her lungs ached for air. When she resurfaced, she gasped in the hot humid air around her. Water and sweat stung her eyes as she opened them and stared at the far wall, angry with herself for not seeing the danger Benedictus posed sooner.
For the first month or so he had been the model trooper. Then he had begun to question orders and plans, to be outspoken in his criticism. They had tired of it quickly, leaving him in the city on certain missions but pressure from his benefactor had gotten him active again. Leonis had tried talking to him and even ordering him when he wasn't cooperative. Being outnumbered, he had grudgingly complied but his little fits like the one Xena had witnessed had become increasingly frequent.
Had she paid more attention to politics and ambition she might have seen this coming. She, however tried to focus all her attention on the rescue missions and preventive measures. Dwelling in the past was useless now. Her top priority now was the council and the accusations leveled against her. She had her innocence and the Elder on her side and probably some of the council itself. She could only pray it was enough.
She rose from the tub and stepped out onto the hard stone floor. Her robe was on the nearby chair and as she was reaching for it with her back to the door, the door suddenly flew open.
"Bethany, what is . . . " Gabrielle stopped abruptly when she saw the scarred flesh that covered Bethany's entire back and arm. She had seen the puckered scars of burns before but never anything so severe and wide spread. Now she understood why sleeve and glove covered her left arm at all times. "I'm sorry." She mumbled and looked away, allowing Bethany to quickly pull on the robe, "I should have knocked first."
"I guess Leonis told you you'd be leaving tonight." Bethany turned and pulled on her glove.
Gabrielle was silent still reeling from the shock and embarrassment of the scars.
"Reminders of my childhood." Bethany explained calmly, "When my home was attacked my mother was trapped in our burning hut. I tried to help her . . . and that's the result. I'm sorry you had to see it."
That shook Gabrielle out of her daze, "You don't need to apologize. I do. I didn't mean to barge in and then to act like that. I was just . . . surprised."
"That's why I keep covered." She sensed Gabrielle's awkwardness and walked over to her, gently patting her arm, "I'm not offended and you didn't hurt my feelings. It can be a little unsettling to see, but it's over." She nudged Gabrielle toward the door, "Let's continue this upstairs in my room."
She led the way up two flights of stairs and to the very back of the building. Bethany's room was small and isolated from the others just the way she had wanted it. It was very convenient when she had tactical sessions or discussions with troopers and she valued her privacy.
Once inside Gabrielle sat on the cot while Bethany stepped behind a curtain and dressed. "Leonis told me to be ready to leave in a couple of hours. What's going on?"
"Unfortunately it's not safe for you here right now. Leonis will escort you out of the city and if all goes well I'll meet you by morning at the latest."
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed, "What do you mean if all goes well? Why is it not safe here? Does this have anything to do with Xena?"
Bethany peered around from behind the dressing curtain, "Make sure to breathe among all those questions."
"Bethany." Gabrielle insisted.
"There are some internal problems in the city. I have to meet with our ruling council shortly so we can get everything settled. Xenas name has come up and for now I'd rather you not be pulled into it. I can take care of everything." She lied convincingly but Gabrielle was not convinced.
She stood up and walked to the nearby window. Thinking she had won, Bethany fell silent and continued dressing. After thinking for a moment, Gabrielle decided to try another tactic, "Amazons are a truly noble race. One of their most honorable traits is they don't lie. They value honesty so much that it's considered a crime to lie to another Amazon, especially the Queen."
Bethany froze, holding her breath. She eased back around the partition. Gabrielle had assumed her regal bearing and Bethany’s eyes widened in surprise, "That's not fair Gabrielle."
Gabrielle turned, her eyes lit with frustration, "Neither is trying to keep this from me. This council is giving you a hard time because of Xena and her old reputation aren't they? The guy Xena told me about, Benedictus has stirred up trouble hasn't he?"
Bethany toyed with her earring and sighed, "Okay. He made a claim of treason against me to the council. Right now Benedictus doesn't know you are in town. If he finds out, you could be brought up on charges as a spy for Xena. I gave her my word that you'd be safe and an Amazon does not break her word, does she?"
"But they're using Xena's reputation to charge you, maybe I can help." Gabrielle reasoned.
"Right now the only person who can help me is me. I appreciate your offer but I still have the resources to ensure your safety and I intend to do just that. Would you ask me to break my word, the word of an Amazon and a Guardian?"
She had used the same tactic as Gabrielle but was better skilled at it. Gabrielle lowered her head knowing she had lost the argument, "Bethany," She tried again, "I don't want you to break your word, but I don't want you to be punished just because you met us. You're my friend and I don't leave friends in trouble."
Bethany joined Gabrielle at the window, took her hand and looked into her eyes. Gabrielle fell into her eyes, the peace and calm wrapping around her like a warm blanket. "I'm expecting the worst but there is a good chance that all this will be over after the meeting and I can join you later tonight. Please, as my friend, go with Leonis out of the city tonight."
Gabrielle would have gladly fought a giant if Bethany asked her at this moment. The feeling of complete peace was intoxicating and hypnotic, "Okay." She replied, her speech a bit slurred.
"You're word as Amazon Queen?" Bethany prodded.
"My word." Gabrielle agreed.
Bethany broke the connection with a blink and stepped back. Gabrielle stood still, calm settling over her. She wasn't sure what Bethany had said to convince her that leaving was for the best but she had given her word and would stick to it.
"I've got to get going." Bethany stated, completing her official city guard uniform with her sword, "Leonis told you where to meet him?"
Gabrielle hugged her friend. Still worried about the council but trying to smile, "Yes he did and I'll see you later right?"
Bethany pulled away returning her smile, "Yes."
She was a sworn protector of the city and it's inhabitants and carried herself proudly, confidently and bravely as she entered the council hall. The council was in place at its half arc table, the Elder was to the left of the table, Benedictus and Otes to the right. The council and Elder looked grim, the other two smug. She took her seat before them and could tell by the look in their eyes the battle was already lost.
True to his word, Leonis had gotten Gabrielle and the other troopers out of the city shortly after Bethany had left for the council meeting. Only Delia had stayed behind as an observer and Fabius who was on duty. Camp had been set up a few miles from town in an old cave that they used occasionally as a resting place. It was secluded and well hidden, defendable and safe.
They had all gathered around the fire, Leonis leading the discussion on their plans when they heard sounds outside the cave. Everyone fell silent when they heard the distinct sound of hoof-beats stop at the entrance of the cave. There was a moment of silence and then a whistle pierced the air. Recognizing the signal Leonis whistled in return and relaxed a bit as Delia rushed in, out of breath.
Leonis was immediately on his feet, followed by Gabrielle and the others, "What happened? Where is Bethany?" He barked with worry.
"Some city guards caught a couple of the men skulking about outside the city." She answered slowing her breathing, "When they were questioned they admitted they were a scouting patrol for Xenas army and that they were waiting for a signal from the inside to let Xena know that everything was going as planned."
"That's not possible." Gabrielle defended firmly, "Xena has no army."
"We know." Hernam replied and Leonis motioned Delia to continue.
"Their confession along with Benedictus, Otes and Fabius collaborating has led the council to charge the Captain with treason."
"Fabius!?" Giles repeated in disbelief and dropped to a sitting position.
Leonis wasn't as surprised, "He was their mole, to let them know what went on after they left so they could construct more lies."
"What about Bethany? Is she all right?" Gabrielle interrupted.
"She's been placed under arrest and put in a cell." Delia answered, "Her trial is tomorrow morning and the council has declared it will be a public affair to take place in the courtyard."
Leonis gave them a moment to soak in the information and deal with their shock, then he began giving out orders, "Okay soldiers, we planned for the worse so let's get moving. Hernam, Xanthus ride to Bradus and let Xena know what has happened."
The two men nodded, grabbed their gear and headed out of the cave.
"Basty, Giles, Belden and Delia, you try to capture one of those soldiers outside the city and bring him here for questioning." They too grabbed their equipment and left the cave.
"I'm going with you." Gabrielle informed Leonis as the others departed.
He turned, prepared to give her an argument until he saw her. She stood there feet apart, hands on her hips and eyes flashing a warning. It was a stance he'd seen Bethany assume when it meant that she was going to do something no matter what the opposition, "I guess an argument would be useless."
Gabrielle said nothing, just reached out and retrieved her staff from the cave wall she had leaned it against.
He sighed slowly, "Thought so. At the very least I think we should disguise ourselves, we'll be of no use to her if we get caught."
"Agreed." She finally spoke.
"We leave in a few hours."
"Why wait?" She questioned with eagerness, anxious to get back to Havenous.
"First," He began, "We need to make a plan and choose a disguise. Second, I swore I'd have you out of the city tonight and in a few hours it'll be tomorrow and I won't have broken my word. I assume she asked you for your word as well?"
"Yes." She admitted, "I promised I'd leave town tonight but not that I wouldn't come back."
Leonis half smiled, "I like your way of thinking. Have any other ideas to get us into the city?"
Gabrielle smiled broadly.
Word of Bethany's arrest and trial spread like a wildfire through Havenous, quickly dividing the citizens. The trial was slated to start an hour after dawn and the people began filling the courtyard three hours before dawn. The Elder and council had decided to post a full complement of guards around the courtyard to keep the crowd in line.
Two of the council members had agreed with the Elder that the trial should be kept quiet, indoors and without an audience. They were outvoted by the other four who said that because of the seriousness of the charges and there affect on the population, the people had a right to hear all the evidence and reach their own verdict as well.
The risers in front of the council building had been replaced with a large platform lifting the trials' participants three feet off the ground. A make shift council table was at the center of the platform, with a small table and two stools to the right for Bethany and the Elder. A lone stool was to the left for witnesses. Four guards surrounded the stage, one on each side of the council table, one positioned by Bethany's table and the final soldier at the witness chair.
The gathering crowd was silent as the council and Elder took their places. An audible gasp arose when Bethany was brought out of the building, in chains and stripped of her uniform except the long sleeved toga that she wore under her armor. The Elder had made certain that she had the dignity of the long sleeves, her glove, and her earring but the headband had been confiscated. He had fought against the shackles but again he had been overruled.
Two city guards escorted her out of the building and up the stairs to her seat at the table. When she was seated and the shackles checked to ensure they were secure, the two guards left the platform and took position by the building.
The sky was covered with clouds as the day began and these clouds were much darker and more threatening than the previous days. The promise of storms and rain seemed to echo the mood of the city.
Trials began with the reading of the city laws and introduction of the council and the laws that governed them. Then the charge against Bethany and an explanation of the charge was announced, including its punishment, exile or death.
Gadus, the head of the council and responsible for the settlement of new citizens handed the floor over to the Elder to begin his defense.
He stood up from the table, dressed in a simple brown robe and began explaining the details of the mission, word for word as Bethany had recounted them for him. When he finished, he took a seat beside her and the council called Benedictus to the stand.
Both studied the council watching for any reactions as Benedictus took the stand. The Elder had told her that two of the council, Gadus and Zoe the keeper of the marketplace were on their side. Two were siding with Benedictus, Arcles the keeper of the city guard and Droden, keeper of the cities buildings and the final two Casious keeper of the healers and Hannah keeper of the laws were undecided.
After Benedictus sat, he began telling his recollection of events on the mission. For the most part, it was the same story until the battle at Emola. He explained that although they were greatly outnumbered they were managing against the attackers. Some were doing more than their share, insinuating that Bethany had been losing ground in her fights.
Many in the audience had been rescued by Bethany and her troopers and could only stare dumbfounded at his statement.
He portrayed Xenas entrance into the battle as a grand show that could have only been staged. As great a Warrior as the stories relayed about her no mortal woman could dispatch that many slavers, especially as fierce as some of these were.
He went on to tell that after the initial conversation between Bethany and Xena, Xena seemed to take control of the camp. Then he began telling the details of their confrontation. His take on it was that he had Bethany convinced of the danger Xena posed to them until the Warrior Princess appeared. Suddenly Bethany was like a dog with its master, trying to please.
Bethany listened to this version with a mixture of shock and amusement. She leaned over to the Elder and whispered into his ear. He nodded and made notes on the parchment before him.
Accordingly he told the council that although it was Bethany that told him to leave camp. However it had been Xena flashing her Chakram threateningly that had forced him to leave. He left camp then and met Otes, who also feared for his life with the Warrior Princess around. Together they had ridden to Havenous as fast as possible.
The Elder waited a few minutes after Benedictus had finished before he rose from his seat. He slowly walked around the table and came to a stop just behind his left shoulder. Benedictus shifted uncomfortably as the Elder remained silent for a few seconds longer.
"You said that when you were in Emola and fighting off the slavers, you were managing against them."
"Yes." He confirmed.
"That Xena saw her army being defeated and changed her plan of attack by riding in and joining you against them in battle. Assuming the role of savior to your troop."
Benedictus shifted again, "Yes."
"However, we have already heard from both you and Bethany that four of the troopers were already dead and two injured before Xena rode in."
The Elder glanced at the council and walked back to his table, turned and faced Benedictus, "That left eleven able bodies troopers to fend off, by your own estimates thirty enemy soldiers." He didn't wait for confirmation this time, "I know that Bethany insists on the best from her troopers, but even Hercules himself couldn't fight off those odds."
Benedictus remained silent trying to keep his feelings concealed but the twitching scar down his face wouldn't cooperate.
"Why would a warrior as fierce as Xena, who controls a strong army suddenly change attack plans when she is so obviously close to victory? Why would she show herself and kill her own men when with a little more effort they would have taken all of you shortly?"
Benedictus clenched his teeth and cast a quick glance at Councilor Arcles, the man that had pushed for his acceptance as a trooper. Arcles rubbed his chin and looked away toward the crowd.
"Maybe," He began, "because Xena knew who we were or recognized us and decided to move onto larger stakes." He looked out at the audience of townspeople, "Like conquering Havenous."
A couple of the watchers yelled, "Yes." Causing the guards to narrow their eyes and keep a closer look out for trouble.
The Elder didn't seem worried by this accusation, "Let's address that shall we? In the history of this city only twice has it been set upon by attackers. Both of those times they were defeated because not only are these walls strong but so are the people behind them. That is the reputation of Havenous. I'm proud of that. It shows others like our friends who came in yesterday that this is a safe place. That we will not be sieged or conquered so easily." He looked out over the crowd seeing nods of agreement. "Why then Benedictus, knowing that reputation, did Xena decide to come after Havenous?"
"Because," He answered smugly, "she had help from the inside."
Tension seemed to begin to surface and ripple through the crowd.
"Mm," The Elder replied, his face looking puzzled, "That's an interesting statement and the reason we're here today." He walked over to the council table and leaned down meeting each of their eyes, "We know Bethany. Some of you have accompanied her on patrols. You know that she has risked her life on countless occasions and been injured a few times for the people of this city. People who were strangers to her but because they needed help she was there."
He straightened up, turned and looked at Bethany, "How many times has she gone without sleep or food when she's returned from a mission because the children or injured have asked her to stay with them? She has always been there for the citizens and asked nothing in return."
He glared at Benedictus, "And you say that after a brief conversation with a woman she had never met before, she threw all that away. For what? Fame, glory, dinars? What could Xena have said in five minutes that would have made Bethany turn so completely against us?"
"I didn't hear the conversation," He barked back defensively, "I only know what I saw afterwards. Maybe she threatened the children or injured. She did take over treating them."
"All right." The elder conceded temporarily, "Let's say that she did threaten the children. Once she left the caravan outside the city, why would Bethany cooperate any further? She was safe once inside these walls. Did any of Xena's men pose as villagers and accompany the caravan in?"
"Not that I saw." He shot back, "Except the girl."
Puzzled the Elder asked, "What girl?"
"The blond that rode into Emola with Xena. She is the one that got hurt in the fight and the reason Bethany gave for asking Xena to come with us."
The Elder managed to conceal his surprise at this development and forged ahead with his questions, "A blond girl. Yes, I could see how one lone girl could keep a warrior like Bethany in line. Especially after they were inside the walls of the city surrounded by guards and people." He cast a final look of disgust at Benedictus and then sat beside Bethany. He waited until the council had posed a few more of their own questions and dismissed Benedictus before asking for a short recess.
The council granted his request and when everyone was out of earshot he pulled Bethany close, "It's going very well despite the fact you omitted telling me about the blond girl."
Bethany sighed, "I'm sorry, Elder. I was trying to protect her."
"Why? You should have told me everything, especially if she's Xena's traveling companion and came with you into our city. That's the spy in our midst that Arcles has been hinting about. Where is she now?"
"Safely outside the city. She left last night."
Understanding dawned on him, "That's why none of your troopers are here. I expected them to raid the council chambers last night. When I didn't see any of them today I wondered what you could have said to keep them away. Who is this girl that draws not only your loyalty but that of your soldiers?"
"The Amazon Queen and a friend."
"The Amazon Queen!" He repeated uncertain of his hearing, "The Amazon Queen travels with Xena. That is a frightening alliance. If the others found this out there would be no stopping the rumors of an attack."
"Why?" She asked loudly, then realized that others might be watching and took a deep breath. Her voice was softer as she continued, "The Amazons are a noble people. They would have no reason to attack Havenous."
"That's not what the stories I've heard about them say. They will attack without provocation if you have something they want, just as Xena would."
Bethany's clenched her teeth trying to bite back her anger, "I'm an Amazon and proud of my people. The stories about them are as much lies as what is happening here and what I'm being accused of."
"Your loyalty to them could well be your downfall."
"If you believe I'm guilty of treason because of my allegiance to my people then perhaps you shouldn't represent me any longer." She said flatly.
The Elder looked into her eyes and after a moment smiled, "I don't want to see that temper of yours at any point in this trial. Your loyalty is one of your most admirable qualities."
Bethany's face fell, "You were testing me?"
"I had to know how far you were willing to go to protect your friend. Unfortunately now I know."
"Why is it unfortunate?"
Both looked up as the council returned to their table and took their seats.
"Because, it may cost us this trial." The Elder finished and got ready to start his defense anew.
Otes was called up next. His questioning and interpretations of the events were almost word for word Benedictus. His questioning was over quickly with no new information save the fact that his weasley looks matched his personality.
To Bethany's surprise Fabius was called next. As he climbed the steps and took his seat he pointedly kept his view away from her.
This time the Elder remained seated as he began, "How long have you been a soldier under the Captains command?"
"Not quite a year."
"Then you've been on a lot of missions. Risked your life often for our people. I seem to remember you were injured a few months ago on a rescue." The Elder stated with concern.
"Yes sir." Fabius answered simply, his voice firm and steady.
"Any regrets? Any thoughts of quitting?"
Fabius wrinkled his eyebrows, confused, "No sir. I love this city and gladly offer my meager services to protect it and its people."
"That's good to hear." He commended, "And you've never had any problem with the Captain or any of the other troopers?"
"Yet now you've come forward supporting Benedictus's claims that Bethany is a traitor. If there was never any doubt before and you happily served under her, why do you think she so suddenly turned against all of us?"
"Partially because of Xena's appearance, but mainly because of the Amazon she rides with." He answered drawing startled gasps and flutters through the trial watchers.
The Elder was unable to hide his surprise, "Amazon?"
"Yes sir," he began, "The blond woman was an Amazon. I recognized her clothing and staff. The captain grew up as among the Amazons, they're her family. I believe that was Xena's hold on her."
The crowds grumbling grew louder and the guards reacted by moving forward to keep them from surging toward the platform.
The Elders fear had been realized. Now there was now a motive. The Amazons reputation was as fierce as Xenas and the crowd in general didn't know of Bethany's connection to them. In a few seconds the doubt had successfully been planted. Before he could try to play down the connection the council jumped in beginning with Hannah, "So the young woman injured was Xena's traveling companion and an Amazon?"
"Yes." He answered.
"So," Arcles surmised, "Her injury could have been a ploy to gain Bethany's trust. Bethany being an Amazon would have surely recognized one of her own."
Fabius nodded, "The instant the girl was hurt, Bethany ran to her aid and didn't leave her side until the slavers ran."
Arcles smiled and sat forward, "So she deserted her troops and charges to defend one lone young woman."
"No." Bethany yelled and rose to her feet. The guard beside her pushed her back down before she could say more and another ripple rang out.
"Explain, Captain." Gadus requested her to continue.
She cast a look at the guard and remained seated, "She was injured and couldn't defend herself. There were more slavers advancing and I couldn't leave her alone, unable to fight. I've done the same thing when one of my troopers has been injured." With the final statement her look was directed straight at Fabius.
The Elder seized the meaning of her look, "When you were hurt a few months ago, Fabius, did anyone come to your aid? Defend you while you were down?"
He hesitated for a moment and the lowly answered, "The Captain."
"Repeat that please." Zoe asked for the council and audience.
This time his answer was just as hesitant but louder and clearer, "The Captain."
"So, her action toward the girl would have been the same if it had been one of the troopers or villagers?" Casuis prodded.
Fabius shrugged, "I assume so, sir."
The Elder was pleased that some damage had been repaired but the doubt and the threat of Amazons lingered. Arcles however was not satisfied, "Alright, so she reacted no differently in that situation but what about afterwards? Did she spend more time with Xena and this girl? Were they allowed free roam of the camp?"
"The first night, no." Fabius began with renewed confidence, "The next morning after we got underway she spent awhile talking to the young woman. She rode back on duty when called but a few hours later she was back with Xena and the girl. Then she rode off to scout ahead and not two minutes later Xena rode off in the opposite direction."
Droden joined in the questioning, "Where did they go? What was the reason for leaving the caravan unprotected?"
Fabius tensed, slightly offended, "The caravan wasn't unprotected. We, the troopers were still there."
"Of course." Droden apologized and motioned for him to continue.
"I wasn't privy to their destinations. We didn't see them again until we were attacked at the grove."
"Ah yes." Droden interrupted, "We've heard the Captains account of that. Would you care to share your experience?"
"There was no warning before they hit us." Fabius recalled shifting on the stool, "We were expecting trouble because Leonis had told us to keep alert. While the villagers rested, we stood watch around the perimeter. The slavers just appeared and we began fighting. I heard the Warrior princess's war cry and kept fighting." He stopped to take a deep breath. The crowd was utterly silent. The only sounds now were the birds' songs and a brisk breeze whistling through the buildings.
Slowly the audience edged forward, straining to hear every word as he continued, "I don't know how long we were under siege. There weren't as many as before and we managed to chase them away. The one I was fighting turned tail and ran and that's when I heard yells near the lake. By the time I got to a clear vantage point I saw the Captain on her knees and a slaver charging her. Xena used her Chakram to cut his throat and stop him. Then she took the Captain to one of the wagons to recover."
"The Captain was wounded?" Hannah asked.
"I saw no wounds but she was clearly incapacitated."
Droden rubbed his beard in thought before speaking, "One of Xena's many fighting skills includes a nerve pinch that renders its victim unable to move. Could this have been the result of that tactic?"
Fabius considered the suggestion, "Yes. Yes it is possible."
The Elder knew that this new detail was another attempt at convicting Bethany of treason and was powerless to reveal the truth. The council knew that she had been chosen as a protector by the Gods but only he knew of the gifts bestowed on her. She had told him of the incident at the grove and the reasons behind it but had forbid him to reveal any of the details.
A few months after she had come to Havenous there had been an attempt on his life. Her gift had helped catch the guilty party, his own aide, and she had confided in him her secret. A secret he swore to keep to his grave and by the latest development, his keeping it could lead to her grave as well.
He decided to jump into the questioning and rose to his feet, causing the crowd to flutter quietly, "Fabius. You and the others had been going on very little sleep or rest for about three days. You had fought in Emola almost to the point of exhaustion and had been on the edge ever since. Is it not possible that after all that, the final fight in the grove had worn the Captain down to the point of unconsciousness?"
"It is true that we were tired," He agreed, "The Captain always pushes herself hard on a mission but I don't think that was the case here."
The Elder glanced at Bethany seeking a release from his oath but she slightly shook her head no. He decided to go on and hoped to get the minds of the council on other things, "What happened after that?"
"We got moving again. The Captain slept in the wagon for a while. When she woke up, she seemed alright but very quiet. We reached Dante's Point before sundown and set up camp."
Again the council jumped in with questions. "There was no more trouble up to this point, correct?" Gadus asked as he rested his chin on his hand and studied Fabius, who answered with a nod.
"What was the Captain doing all this time?" Arcles resumed control of the questioning.
"She helped set up camp. After everyone was settled, she went and met with Xena and the Amazon away from the camp. The three of them were secluded up by the creek until well after dark. The children in camp began asking for the Captain because she had promised to tell them a story so Leonis went to find her. The Amazon came back in her place and had the children enthralled with the history of Havenous. Bethany came back to camp a little later accompanied by Xena and after they had a few more words, she went on guard duty."
Arcles was on his feet, fear edged his voice as he spoke to the crowd, "This Amazon knew our history. How long have they been watching us?"
"Arcles." Gadus cut his eyes toward his fellow councilor, "You know as well as I that Havenous like any other city is the subject of myths and stories. Havenous more so than others because of our origins." He looked at the Elder, "I would like to speak with Leonis though. He is second in command and would be privy to the mind set of his Captain."
The Elder smiled weakly, "Unfortunately, he and the other troopers left last night on another mission."
"Without their Captain?" Hanna asked with surprise as Arcles sat back down.
Bethany's chains jangled as she leaned forward, "We were concerned with the persistence of the slavers and feared they might attack one of the outlying towns. So I asked them to begin patrolling. I told them when I was done with the council meeting I would meet them. Of course that was before this false charge was raised."
Arcles started to address that but Hannah cut him off, "What about the Amazon?"
"She left as well. She only wanted to see the wondrous city of Havenous and get some supplies. She didn’t plan on staying in town for an extended period of time."
The crowd suddenly became more vocal. An older man raised his fist in the air, "You brought in a spy, let her see the city and leave?"
"She knows the layout of the city. We're no longer safe here." A young woman shouted.
Other such sentiments floated from the crowd as the Elder walked to the edge of the platform and raised his arms in the air. The people nudged their neighbors at his gesture and the shouters got quiet.
"Citizens." He called in a soothing voice, "There is no need for alarm. Many of you have survived attacks and now because one girl who has not been proven guilty of being an Amazon raider or any type of attacker has you ready to riot and tear up your home. We're better than this. Fear will not and cannot be our ruler."
A mumbled agreement arose from the crowd and a new confidence seemed to permeate the air. The ones who had jumped to conclusions before now hung their heads in shame.
Gadus returned the Elders nod as he sat beside Bethany and took control again, "I appreciate your concern regarding the slavers but I do wish that we had the opportunity to speak with your troopers."
Bethany bowed her head in apology as the Elder spoke again, "As she said she had no idea that any of this was going to happen and as usual she was looking out for the safety of this city. Although the troopers are not here, we do have people in the caravan who will be happy to speak on her behalf."
Gadus waved his hand in agreement and motioned for Fabius to continue.
"Xena took her turn at guard duty the last night, she even relieved the Captain. We got up the next morning, packed the camp and started moving again. The three of them brought up the rear of the caravan and stayed together until Xena left."
"No doubt receiving last minute instructions." Arcles replied under his breath.
"That proves nothing." The Elder argued and gave Arcles a warning glance, "If anything I see that Xena did exactly what Bethany said she did, helped them reach us safely. She is no threat to this city."
"I'm not convinced of that." Casius replied, "Xena had two clear opportunities to meet with her army. When she rode off before the grove attack and when she was on guard duty."
Zoe disagreed, "There is no proof to convince me that there was a Xenas army. I concur with the Elders statement, for now."
Neither council nor Elder had any more questions and Fabius was dismissed. The trial watchers stirred impatiently as the participants of the trial took time to confer with their respective parties.
This time when the parade of witnesses began, they were members of the caravan. Mara, Chloe and others took their turns raving about Bethany and her behavior toward them. The way she had saved the children at the grove and her skill with the wounded. The way that she had learned each of their names and treated them like people, not things to be taken away.
As the day progressed and the increasing clouds kept the heat at bay which in turn allowed the watchers to keep their places in the courtyard. Bethany's reputation had received a huge boost by the time all the villagers had testified and the mood seemed lighter and more hopeful. Bethany smiled at each of her character witnesses and thanked them as they left the witness chair. Now when she looked into the crowd she could spot a few friendly faces.
The mood changed when Arcles again stood up, "We've talked to everyone involved and although I think the question of guilt has been answered, the one person who can settle this has yet to take the witness stand." He motioned for the guards and they came out of the building escorting a tall, armor clad, war scarred man in chains.
As he was taken to the platform he began resisting, causing the guards to tighten their grip and forcibly dragged him up the steps. The crowd reaction to this was to back away from the struggle without the provocation of the guards.
After the guards had dragged him onto the platform, they pushed him down on the stool, causing his chains to rattle. He tried to rise to his feet but four strong arms help him in place. Finally he sat still allowing the guards to release their hold but kept their place on each side of him.
Bethany stared at him trying to recognize him. He was dressed like the slavers but carried himself like a warrior.
Droden took a deep breath and looked out into the crowd, "As some of you know, a patrol of unknowns were spotted outside our city walls shortly after the caravans' arrival. A complement of city guards went out to investigate and were attacked for their efforts. They managed to defeat the patrol and bring back two prisoners for questioning. This is one of those prisoners. He has already been questioned successfully before the council and now you will hear the same shocking information we did."
He nodded at Arcles, turning the proceedings over to him and leaned forward on the table.
Arcles stood up and moved around the table. He stopped in front of Bethany long enough to give her a glaring, hateful look and moved on until he stood in front of the chained man. "You were with a patrol outside the city. What was your mission?"
The man looked at him with contempt but Arcles never flinched as he motioned to the guards. The guard on his left placed a firm hand on the prisoner's shoulder, "Answer." He growled.
The prisoner licked his lips and reluctantly spoke, "Observe the comings and goings of the city. Detect any patterns that would be useful, armies' strengths, city defenses."
"How long were you to observe these things?"
"Until the layout of the city was brought out to us. Then we were to escort the messengers to our base camp."
"Who were the messengers?"
The prisoner looked directly at Bethany, "The blond Amazon, escorted by her."
A roar rose from the crowd and they again surged forward. More guards ran forward to help their comrades keep the people from storming the platform. Sensing the danger, the guards on each side of the prisoner moved closer to him in case he decided to make a run for it during the ruckus. The guard beside Bethany also moved closer to her, his face no longer unreadable. It now held a distinct look of mistrust.
Bethany dropped her head, finally realizing the lengths to which her downfall had been engineered. It wasn't just Benedictus behind this, it was too big and well executed. Members of the council had also had a hand in this as well as some of the city guards. The Elder was getting older and some weren't willing to wait for him to step down or name his successor. Gadus was the leading contender and she was certain that he was now in danger as well from Arcles and Droden.
The Elder and other council members were up on their feet. Gadus began banging
the gavel on the table. "We will have order or this courtyard will be cleared and the trial will be finished inside the council chambers."
A group of priests moved among the crowd trying to help maintain order, and were helped by a loud clap of thunder that shook the ground and drew a few startled gasps.
As the trial watchers calmed, all the participants returned to their seats and Arcles eagerly returned to his questioning, "The day grows late." He said as he paced in front of the council. "This has been a terrible, heart breaking day for all of us. I only have two more questions to ask." He stopped in front of the prisoner and leaned down making eye contact, "This city has a reputation as unconquerable yet you were willing to try. What was your attack plan and under whose command were those orders issued?"
He sneered at the council, his voice gravely as he spoke, "We would disguise ourselves as villagers. Come in with the caravans and in small groups until the city was completely infiltrated. Once inside, we would kill the city officials and as many city guards as possible then seize control of the city. All for the glory of Xena, Warrior Princess.
Because of Gadus previous warnings and the shock, the crowd remained quiet. So quiet that there was eerie, unnerving feeling in the air.
Arcles motioned for the guards to remove the prisoner which, they promptly did, leading him back inside the building to his cell.
"This does not prove Bethany's compliance," The Elder shouted and pounded his fist on the table, "If anything it proves she was fooled into believing that the enemy was a friend. We have all made errors in judgement." He directed the last statement to Arcles, "Bethany has proven herself time and time again to this city. She is however mortal and like all of us she makes mistakes. There is no proof of treason here because the only proof offered was the word of a known slaver and raider who's trying to save his own neck. The only thing proven here today is that someone was misled and thankfully it was realized before any damage was done."
"Beautifully argued." Arcles commended, "But all irrelevant. Treason has been proven, it was proven the minute the Amazon woman showed up at Emola. I will not dispute that in the past Bethany has indeed been a gift from the Gods to our people but as the Elder said she is mortal. Like all mortals we have ties to our families. Loyalties that take precedence above all else." He stopped and made a sweeping gesture toward Bethany, "She was raised by Amazons after the death of her blood family. By her own admittance she is an Amazon and we all know how deep those ties run. Xena used those ties and for whatever the reason turned Bethany, our Captain of the Guard against us."
He moved toward the end of the platform addressing the crowd, "You heard for yourself the words of one of Xenas own men. They were going to sneak into our city with the caravans. That could only happen if the Captain was in on the plan. She was to escort the blond out to meet these men with the layout of our city in her hands. When Bethany realized that we were onto her treachery she sent the woman out of our reach, escorted by our own troops. How much more evidence do you need, good people that we have a traitor in our midst?"
Someone in the crowd yelled, "Traitor." And a rock sailed through the air, striking Bethany's shoulder. She never flinched only stared straight ahead as the Elder draped his arm protectively around her.
Gadus pounded the gavel drawing Arcles back to his seat. "This council has much to consider." Gadus stated rising to his feet and addressing the crowd, "We will adjourn to the chambers for discussions. When we have reached a decision the courtyard bell will be rung and we will announce the verdict. In the mean time I suggest everyone clear the courtyard and refrain from any displays of violence or stern punishment will be dealt out." He turned and headed off the platform followed by the other council members. Bethany was pulled to her feet and led back to the awaiting cell in the council building, the Elder close behind her.
Very few people in the courtyard heeded the Councilors words and stayed in their spots not wanting to lose their place or views of the proceedings. There were a few arguments started as the pro and anti sides for Bethany clashed. Guards quickly broke them up and the robe clad priest moves amid the gathering trying to help maintain peace. Two of the priests broke away from the others and made their way to the council building.
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