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Tale of the Nymph

by Natalie Sarah (Loyal2Herc&Xena)

Part I

Xena woke with a start early that morning from the nightmare she had that night. Her face was wet with sweat and tears. She could vaguely remember what she dreamt.

Xena had started having the nightmares after the attck on her village by Cortese. The screams of pain, fear, and surprise were shadows of memories long forgotten and were only awakened in her dreams. Xena had to live with these memories everyday. It was the memory that had driven her to what she had become; what she'd always be.

The sky was still grey and misty from the fog. The burning embers were a lovely contrast to the dark sky. Xena wiped her face dry and sighed heavily. Gabrielle was still asleep and was snoring lightly. Xena was very fond of the girl; Gabrielle was her best friend. Gabrielle was the only one who could understand what it was like to be different. Xena stepped quietly beside her friend and pulled her old hide to Gabrielle's chin. Gabrielle stirred in her sleep and Xena stepped back. She hated to disturb her. Let her sleep. Xena thought. The gods know, she needs it.

It had been a few weeks since the incident. Gabrielle put herself in danger to save the man's son. He had been left behind and risked injury by the Metoins. Gabrielle had almost lost her life for the boy. In fact, she had. But Xena's will was a hard one to break. She wouldn't let her go; she couldn't. Without Gabrielle, she'd be lost all over again. She knew deep down inside that her blood-lust would be awakened if Gabrielle left her.

"Come, Argo," Xena said, clicking her tongue. "We have to feed you before we get started. You don't want to go hungry, do you?" Xena took the reigns and led Argo to a grassy knoll. It's getting late. I'd better get Gabrielle up so we can get going. Said the Warrior Princess to herself.

By the time Xena got to their camp, Gabrielle had already awakened. "Goooood morning!" she said cheerfully. "Where have you been? Well, don't worry; I've already got the breakfast started." Gabrielle stated. There was a playful tone to her voice. "Uh-huh. And what will we be having today? Bread and cheese, bread and cheese, or bread and cheese?" said Xena, in a sarcastic tone. "Well, fine. Be that way," said Gabrielle with a snicker. "You can just starve."

Just then, Xena heard some leaves rustling. "Gabrielle, get your staff ready." The playfullness went out of her voice. Gabrielle looked startled, but did as she was told.

The rustling continued. Suddenly, a shadow of a figure shown down from the oak tree. With a crack of her whip, Xena pulled down the figure. "Now what did you do that for?!"

Gabrielle could recognize that voice anywhere. "Iolaus!!" she shrieked. She ran into Iolaus's open arms and gave him a hug. "The one and only" he replied, laughing. "Where's Hercules?" asked Gabrielle, embarrassed for her brief display of emotion. "Oh, he's out to bring back some fish for breakfast." "O.K. Where's Xena?" said Gabrielle, looking around the camp. "Oh, she's probably looking for Herc. C'mon. Let's go find 'em." said Iolaus.

Part II

Gabrielle and Iolaus had been searching for hours now. There was no sign of Hercules or Xena. The violet glow of dusk was all about, and Gabrielle was getting weaker by the minute.

"Iolaus, can we stop for a minute?" said Gabrielle, sitting on a stone.

"What for?" said Ioulaus.

"I'm not feeling so good," replied Gabrielle, clutching her side. Iolaus then noticed the bandage around Gabrielle's waist. It was soaked with blood.

"Gabrielle! What happened?" asked Iolaus, rushing to the rock where she sat.

Gabrielle told him the story about how she was injured by the Mitoens and about the little boy she had saved.

" I'm sure it will make a good story," snickered Iolaus, "But right now, I 'd better take a look at that wound." Quickly, but gently, Iolaus removed the bandage. He was not pleased at what he saw.

"Gabrielle, it's infected. Why didn't you tell me you were injured?"

"I didn't want to bother you with it," Gabrielle said weakly.

"You know I almost lost my life last time I tried to keep something from you," Iolaus stated.

"I guess great minds think alike, huh?" said Gabrielle.

"Yeah, I guess so. Well, we'd better find a safe place to camp for the night." Iolaus helped Gabrielle up as they looked for a new camp.

Early that morning, Iolaus awakened. He looked around in confusion and then remembered the night before. Iolaus went to check on Gabrielle. He slowly put his hand on hers to wake her up. She didn't even stir. "Gabrielle," he said, shaking her gently. "Gabrielle, GABRIELLE!!" he screamed, getting scared. He touched her forehead. She had a fever. "The infection is spreading," he said to himself.

He saw an old man on a wagon led by four horses. "Sir, how much for a horse?" asked Ioulaus franticly.

"Sorry, these mares aren't for sale." said the old man.

"Please, sir, I need a horse. My friend over there is sick. Look, she could be dying."

The old man looked down at the limp Gabrielle. He gestured towards Iolaus. "Bring her on the wagon. The nearest town is two hours away, and in my direction. I'm sorry, but all I can do is to drop you off there."

Iolaus took off his tunic, and set it down on a bale of hay in the back of the wagon. Then he picked up sleeping Gabrielle, and set her down on it. They would have to wait another two hours before anything could be done.

Part III

It had been a few hours since Iolaus and Gabrielle had been in the small village. Gabrielle was getting worse by the minute. Iolaus had checked them into the local inn. Gabrielle lay in a pitiful excuse for a room. All that was in it was a bed, and a nightstand. While Gabrielle slept, Iolaus took advantage of the time. He peeled back her bandages, an examined the wound. He noticed that there was part of a knife blade still stuck inside of Gabrielle's wound. It was very deep. Just then, Gabrielle awakened.

"Iolaus, what happened?" asked the weak Gabrielle.

"The infection is spreading. My guess is that you fainted from the pain."

"Oh. My side is so cold. It feels so numb, like ice," said Gabrielle.

"Gabrielle, there is still a knife blade stuck inside the wound. It will only get worse if I leave it in, said Iolaus in a worried tone.

"Go ahead, take it out," said Gabrielle in a hesitant voice.

Iolaus put his knife over the candle on the nightstand.

"Alright. Brace yourself, 'cause this is really gonna hurt."

"I can take it," said Gabrielle in a playful tone. Just then, Iolaus brought out the hot dagger. Gabrielle looked at the smoke coming from the blade. "Maybe not," said Gabrielle as Iolaus started taking out the metal shard. She let out a short shriek, and fainted. Iolaus felt terrible, but he knew that he had to do it to help Gabrielle.

Iolaus used his curved knife to retrieve the broken blade. He stuck the tip of it into Gabrielle's side and pushed the shard out of the wound. Iolaus then set the broken shard on the table along with his dagger. He dressed Gabrielle's wound, and went to examine the shard of metal that he had pulled from her side. As he looked closely, he saw a strange etching on the side of the blade, where the handle should have been. His jaw dropped at what he saw.

"The sign of Hera," he muttered in disgust.

At that moment, he saw the figure of a young woman about 16 or 17 summers old walk pass the opening of the room. Iolaus left Gabrielle just for a moment to talk to her.

"Miss, may I ask who you are?" inquired Iolaus urgently.

"Why, I'm the innkeeper's daughter," said the young lady, introducing herself.

"Miss, would you be willing to do me a large favor?" asked Iolaus.

"Yes, I would. And please, don't call me Miss. My name is Rheann"

"Well, Rheann, my friend in this room is very ill. Would you please watch over her. Don't take your eyes off of her, and make her as comfortable as possible. I need to get some help. Do you know where the town's healer might be?"

"She is a few days away. She lives in the woods, about a day and a half's walk to the south from here."

"Thank you. Just please, look over Gabrielle."

With those parting words, Iolaus gathered some equipment, a few weapons, and some food for his journey. Just as he walked out, he picked up the broken night blade in case he might need it.

It was dusk, and the violet glow of evening had arrived. Iolaus was in view of an old shack on the foot of a hill. As he approched the small house, the smell of spices overwhelmed him. Herbs and shrubs that he had never seen before lay on the ground before him. Around the side of the shack, Iolaus saw an elderly woman picking some leaves off of a strange plant.

"Who are you, and what do you wish?" said the scratchy voice.

Iolaus was startled. 'Iolaus, what did you get yourself into?' he thought.

"I am Iolaus" squeaked Iolaus. "Ah, um..." he cleared his throat and went on in a more manly voice. "I am Iolaus, friend of Hercules. I come seeking a healer."

"Then you have found one," said the old woman as she turned around. She had deep hazel eyes that seemed to stare right through Iolaus's very soul. Her hair was a frosted brown, turning grey through the ages. From her characteristics, Iolaus knew that once she must have been a very beautiful woman.

"My name is Aylasia," she said. "Sister of Echo."

"Echo? The- the Nymph??" said Iolaus, shocked yet again.

"Yes. I know what you are thinking. Nymphs are spirits of the wood, and they are all beautiful and never age. Well, this is my eternal punishment for my obsession with beauty. I was once a beautiful creature. All I could ever think about was beauty. Even the god Zeus wanted me for his own. When Hera found out, she was so furiously angry, and this is my eternal punishment."

"I'm so sorry, but doesn't every spell have it's weakness?" asked Iolaus.

"Yes, but it is nearly impossible, for the breaking of this curse is to witness the beauty of true, pure love."

"True love? That would be nearly impossible..."

"Now, young man. What did you come for?" asked the old woman.

"My friend was wounded in a battle a few weeks ago, and I found this left in her side only recently." Iolaus presented the knife blade. "Now she is desperately ill. I think she may be dying."

The elderly lady looked at the knife closely and was worried at what she saw.

"I'd have to come with you to see if there is anything to be done. This is the power of the gods at hand."

"She is at the town to the north," said Iolaus.

Worry lines spread across the woman's forehead. "I cannot leave my forest. It is my life force, and I would perish if I were to leave it. Your friend is too weak to travel here. This is indeed a problem."

"Well, do you know of any cure that I may be able to do?" said Iolaus, his voice cracking.

"You would need the root of a nightshade plant, an herb called iondle, all of which I can provide for you. The final is much, much more difficult to find. But it is getting dark, and to travel through these woods at night is suicide. Come inside to my modest home, and we will talk."

Inside the house was a small bed made of hay and a few poorly woven blankets, a fireplace with thick stew boiling in a pot, and a table with some chairs.

"What is the final ingrediant to break this curse on Gabrielle?" asked Iolaus after a meal of soup and ale.

"It is the true meaning of love; what it is, how it lives in all of us."

Iolaus was very worried. It was one of the ancient riddles of the gods, one that takes years of thinking to get the answer, which is rarely stumbled upon.

"I wish Hercules and Xena were here. They would know what to do," said Iolaus with much bitterness.

"I can take you to them," said the Nymph. "But only through enchantment."

"Really? When?" said Iolaus, his spirits rising.

"Right now, if you wish. You can only have one day for some reasons. Number one, your friend may be dead by then. Number two, we don't know how long the enchantment may last."

The old woman took Iolaus's bag in one hand, and his hand in her other. She led him to a pond behind some trees. It seemed to sparkle and glow with a light of its own, not to mention the golden beams of the moon.

"Now what?" asked Iolaus.

The old lady gave him his pack. "Jump in," she said, and pushed him in.

Within a fraction of a second, Iolaus fell through the pond and blacked out. When he opened his eyes, he was not wet. He looked up, and saw a swirl of light, as if he had been looking through water. It was an enchanted pond for sure that he had been pushed into.

Iolaus decided to look around for Xena and Hercules. As he turned around to begin his search, he saw Hercules strapped in a large chair, unable to move. Iolaus ran up to him, and was overwhelmed with a flash of bright light. He could see Hercules's thoughts. Hercules was being tortured. Iolaus shivered at the visions he saw in his head. The death of Hercules's children was playing over and over into his mind, but he couldn't control it. Iolaus knew in his heart that the only way that Hercules could escape was to deal with his pain.

"Hercules! Don't let this torture you anymore! It was not your fault. Do you think that Daenaira would have wanted you to feel this way?" Said Iolaus franticly.

Hercules began to twist and turn, his muscles flexing. Iolaus tried yet again to break the enchantment.

"Hercules. Listen to me. This isn't about you or Daenaira or your children. Xena is missing and Gabrielle's life is in the balance. There is nothing you can do for Daenaira or your children, but something can be done for Gabrielle and Xena. Don't be haunted by your past...learn to face it."

Hercules's muscles flexed again, this time breaking the leather straps and chains that bound him. He was very weak, and clearly needed rest.

"Iolaus...what happened?" said Hercules, his voice trembling.

"I don't know. You need your rest. Stay here untill I find Xena."

"No. I can make it." said Hercules.

"Not without rest. Look, we have a better chance if you are rested."

"But I know where Xena is," said Hercules.

"Tell me!" said Iolaus, getting impatient.

"You're not going without me," said Hercules.

"Fine," said Iolaus, very unpleased. "But you need your rest."

"Fine. Only for a little while," said Hercules, sitting on the cold stone floor.

After a few minutes, Hercules was sound asleep. Iolaus took advantage of the situation. He went to go look for Xena while Hercules had his rest.

Iolaus studied the dungeon for another entrance, but found none. 'Maybe they had taken Xena someplace else,' thought Iolaus.

After much searching, Iolaus finally gave up. In despiration, he banged his fist on the grey wall. A stony brick moved in, and a secret passage opened. Iolaus ran to get Hercules.

Iolaus and Hercules roamed the passage, Hercules leading Iolaus to Xena. As they walked down the passage, they could hear distant screams, and see little patches of blood on the cold floor. The farther they went down the passage, the louder the screams, the more blood they saw. After a while, bodies started showing up. Men hardly into their manhood were slaughtered like cattle and left to rot on the floors of the crypt. Suddenly, Iolaus and Hercules saw who was doing this. As they turned the final corner of the passage, they saw Xena, covered with blood. Her torture was to relive all of her battles, but knowing what she was doing. Hercules yelled something to Xena as she was ready to run through a young man. She flashed him a despirate look, and mouthed 'I'm sorry' and slayed the boy anyway.

After seeing what Iolaus had done to save him, Hercules knew what to do. He picked up a sword of one of the slayen, and started fighting Xena. Iolaus remained frozen, shocked at what he saw.

"Xena! Stop!! You have the power; nobody else. You never let anyone control you before. Why start now?"

Xena already had Hercules cornered. He looked into her eyes and could see that Xena was still in there, but she had no control over what she was doing. Because Hercules was weak, he could not fight to his maximum, and Xena was ready to kill him.

With a kick to the chest, Hercules was down. Xena had her toward Hercules, her eyes wild, knowing that she couldn't stop what she was doing. She flipped her sword about a few times, and brought it abover her head. She yelled an unspeakable war cry, and came down, ready to kill Hercules. He closed his eyes, and said "Remember Gabrielle."

Hercules clentched his teeth, getting ready to get run through, but instead, her heard the clatter of a sword.

"What have I done?" said Xena, hot tears rolling down her cheeks.

"You weren't yourself," said Iolaus, suddenly unfrozen from his position at the wall.

"What have I done...what have I done..." Xena kept repeating.

"She's in shock!" said Hercules, alarmed.

Just then, Xena's eyes rolled back into her head, and she fainted. Hercules quickly caught her and picked her up gently.

"C'mon! We have to leave!" yelled Iolaus. "We haven't much time!"

Iolaus, Hercules, and Xena eventually made it throught the crypt. When they came back to where they started, Iolaus looked up through the enchanted pond. Slowly, a rope came down for them to climb. Withing a few minutes, they were up.

The old woman was there to meet them. It was the black of night now, and the clouds covered the silver moon.

"Iolaus, you go on to town. I will tend to your friends."

Iolaus didn't argue. He headed strait to the village with the spices the Nymph had givin him. He hurried so quickly, that he was there before noon that next day.

Iolaus stepped into the inn, and walked just outside of Gabrielle's room. The innkeeper's daughter came out, wiping her eyes.

"What is wrong?" asked Iolaus.

The young girl said nothing. She just looked into his eyes and he knew. Gabrielle was dieing.

"Here. Make a tea out of these herbs," said Iolaus, handing his pack to the girl. He ran into the room to be with Gabrielle. Slowly he walked when he saw her. What he saw broke his heart. Gabrielle was lying in the small bed. She was deathly pale, and had a fever. Iolaus touched her throat. Her heartbeat was faint, and she was hardly breathing.

After a moment, the innkeeper's daughter came in with a mug of spicy smelling tea. She left, knowing that Iolaus wanted to be left alone.

The old woman put Xena in her small bed to rest, while Hercules was eating soup at the table.

"I will be right back," said the old woman, going outside. She looked into the pond, and saw the vision of Iolaus in the room with Gabrielle.

Iolaus had fed Gabrielle the tea, but it wasn't working. He was getting despirate. Just then, he heard the voice of the old woman saying: 'True love...' Iolaus stood up and screamed in rage.

"What do you mean?!" yelled Iolaus. "I don't know what true love is!"

Iolaus dropped himself carelessly into the stool across from Gabrielle's bed. Her breathing and was softer, and she was slipping away.

Iolaus took her hand, and rubbed it. He looked into her face, and said "I'm sorry Gabrielle."

He bowed his head in grief. "By the gods, why couldn't it have been me?" he whispered faintly. Iolaus let out a quick, quiet sob, and a single tear fell into Gabrielle's soft palm. After that tear came another, and another.

When Iolaus looked up at Gabrielle, the color had returned to her cheeks, her heart was beating strongly, and her breathing deep. Her eyes were open, and her eyes filled to the rim with tears. Slowly she sat up.

"Iolaus, you're crying!" she said, her voice cracking.

"So I am," laughed Iolaus. They held eachother, and cried together. They both looked into Gabrielle's palm, and there were two, perfectly white diamonds.

The woman looked away from the pond. It wasn't the same woman. Her hair was a sunny flaxen, her eyes a sharp hazel to die for. She was tall, and dressed in white. Green leaves were around her brow and served as a crown. She walked from the pond, into the trees, and disappeared into the leaves. She was again a Nymph.

It was time for Iolaus and Hercules to leave. Xena and Hercules walked away in the woods to say goodbye in private, leaving Iolaus and Gabrielle with Argo. Slowly, their eyes met. Iolaus gave Gabrielle a long hug, and stepped away. Gabrielle walked towards him, and grabbed his hand. He looked at her questioningly and she looked back at him. Gabrielle dropped one of the pure white diamonds into his hand. They looked at eachother and smiled. They knew.

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