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by Michelle L. Frazier

Scene opens: Xena and Gabrielle are walking along a path on a wooded hillside. They both walk, Xena is holding Argo's reins. Evening mist enshrouds the hollows.

A soldier suddenly appears, a sentry, pointing a spear threateningly at Xena and Gabrielle but he keeps his distance.

Sentry: Halt! State your business or I'll call the men to arms!

Xena: Who wants to know? (Gives him a chilling look as Gabrielle ducks behind her.)

Sentry: Corporal Antheius, sentry to Queen Shalon. I said state your business!

Enter a woman dressed in armor, finely wrought, much more conservative than Xena's. Breeches, with leather leggings, a solid breast plate, with armored plates protecting her right shoulder, she carries a sheild across her back and a servicable sword low on her left hip, with a matching dagger within easy reach on her right. Fiery redhead with eyes that speak of sorrows still fresh on her mind. A simple circlet of gold rests on her forehead, proclaiming her rank.

Shalon: What's going on here corporal? (Gives a thoughtful look to Xena and Gabrielle, hand not far from the pommel of her sword.)

Sentry: These travelers were just about to tell me what they are doing on the road to Chalcius.

Xena: Look, we don't want any trouble, we're just passing through on our way to Thebes.

Shalon: What news have you of Chalcius?

Xena: Why do you want to know? (Immediately suspicous)

Shalon: Look, I want no war with Chalcius but they've conspired to kidnap my son and I plan to get him back, no matter the cost.

Xena: Even if it means war with Chalcius?

Shalon: I'm hoping to avoid that. I just want my son back. He's only six. My husband took him to Chalcius and King Febius has demanded my life in exchange for my son's.

Gabrielle: Sound's like you're between a rock and a hard place (Relaxing a little, and stepping out from behind Xena.)

Shalon: Hmm, you could say that. You two look like you could use a hot meal, eat with us before you go on your way.

Xena: I see no harm in that. Come, Gabrielle, a hot meal sounds good.

Gabrielle: I'm right behind you.

Scene-Darkness has overcome the forest, Xena, Gabrielle, Shalon, and two other soldiers sit on logs around a campfire, stuffing their faces with roasted fowl.

Xena: I hope you aren't planning on crossing at the bridge.

Shalon: Why not? (Seeming to size Xena up, with a long searching look.)

Xena: It's too heavily guarded and they'll be expecting you to come through there.

Shalon: There is an alternate path, but, as your loyalties are questionable-we will keep those alternate plans to ourselves. (Favors the women with a wry grimace.)
Enter running soldier.

Soldier: M'lady, we're under attack, to arms!

Shalon: Who?(As she stands drawing, her sword in one fluid movement, noting that Xena does the same as Gabrielle grabs her war staff)

Soldier: A Chalcian patrol. (He helps the men quickly put out the fire with dirt and water)

Fighting breaks out around them, Xena and Gabrielle hold their own as Shalon does the same, moving as though her sword was an extension of her arm, the sheild small and very effectively used as she kept the area around her clear of soldiers. In a momentary lull, Gabrielle watches curiously as Shalon mutters to herself the whole time, taking no pleasure in the blood that is spilled by her blade. The attackers find themselves outclassed and soon head for the hills.

Xena looks around to find Gabrielle and sees her beside Shalon, who is standing as if a stone, blood pouring from a nasty gash on her arm.

Xena: Gabrielle!

Gabrielle: I'm fine, help me she's hurt.

Xena walks up and pulls back the sleeve of Shalon's tunic. The smells and the sight of her own blood hit her at once and she falls to her knees, retching.

Gabrielle looks at Xena in horror.

Xena: She'll be alright. I think this is her first battle.

Shalon: How many have we lost? (She gets shakily to her feet, taking the cloth that Gabrielle profers and wiping her face)

Xena: Captain, report!

Captain: Two dead, twelve wounded, one beyond saving.

Shalon: A merciful death for the mortally wounded, are the others able to ride?

Captain: They say they will m'lady.

Shalon: Double the Guard, they won't return tonight, get some rest while you can.

Xena: Why would the Chalcians risk a war with you?

Shalon: Ever since Febius usurped the throne he's been plotting with Ares to expand his kingdom. I'm walking into a trap with my eyes wide open.

Xena: Febius, of Athens?

Shalon: Yes, do you know him?

Xena: He was a lieutenant in my army. He always had delusions of grandeur. You don't mind if I tag along do you?

Gabrielle: I knew you wouldn't pass up an opportunity to rescue a child.

Shalon: You fight well, you would be a welcome addition to my troop. Now let's all get some sleep. We've an early start on the morrow.

Xena and Gabrielle lay by a dying fire, wrapped in blankets against the chill mountain air.

Gabrielle: How could she fight so well without ever having killed anyone? Is that what it's like to lose your blood innocence?

Xena: For some, she must've had a great teacher.

Gabrielle: I mean she didn't crack a smile the whole time, she just kept talking to herself the whole time. I could make out some of the words, "This I do for my son, Athena, guide me."

Xena: She wasn't fighting for revenge, she was simply defending herself, unfortunately her choice of weapons carries a price with it.

The next afternoon they arrive at the river which seperates them from Chalcis, out of sight of the ferry crossing. The terrain is rocky and they stand at the base of cliffs.

Xena: There is a cave in those cliffs that leads underneath the river and comes out on the cliffs just above Chalcis.

Gabrielle: Won't it be well guarded on the other side?

Shalon: I've heard stories about the caves above Chalcis. The natives won't even go near them, they say they're haunted with the ghosts of a betrayed army.

Xena: The entrnace on the other side is in Apollo's temple. Apollo sealed the tunnel years ago and promised the people of Chalcus that no invaders would ever come that way again. What makes you think you can get in that way? (The last to Shalon.)

Shalon: We are not invaders. I was told to come to Chalcis to exchange myself for my son.

Gabrielle: You think the gods are that picky about details?

Xena: I've known stranger things, besides I've a feeling that Shalon knows more about Apollo than she lets on.

Xena reaches forward and picks up the token which Shalon wears around her neck.

Xena: This is Apollo's talisman. It was forged by Haephestus.

Shalon: You're mistaken. (Pulls talisman away and stuffs it down the front of her tunic.)

Xena: Oh, really? (Gives her "the Look")

Xena pulls Shalon aside out of the hearing range of the others.

Xena: I'm trying to help you but I won't go any further unless you tell me the rest of the story. Your secret is safe with Gabrielle and me. I know Febius' weaknesses and I can help you but I want the truth.

Shalon: (sighs heavily remembering how well the two fight and knowing they would make great allies) My husband is not my son's father. Apollo found me weeping upon a hillside when my fiance was executed for a crime which he didn't commit. I was weak and Apollo was charming. My mother found out about the affair and had me married to Percicles. I could not rule Thebes with a bastard at my feet. We thought Percicles was controllable, he was highborn and therefore respectable but he had a weakness for the wine, the perfect cuckhold. I don't know why he suddenly sobered up or something.

Xena: Well then let's get busy. We've got a lot of ground to cover.

They get ready as soldiers clear the vines and bushes from the entrance of the cave. The cave itself was enormous, a great tunnel lead into the heart of the mountain, straight with a clean swept floor.

They soon arrived at the end where a great stone blocked the entrance to the cave.

Xena: From the light coming in around the edges I would say it's full day. We should wait until dark.

Shalon: I agree. But we need some sort of diversion at the front gate.

Xena: I've an idea . . . .

The front gates of the Chalcian Citadel, a walled city backed up against the cliffs. Apollo's temple stands against the cliffs shadowed by the rising sun. Three figures stand before the gates of Chalcus. We immediately recognize Xena and Gabrielle but the third figure is hooded, with the robes of a temple acolyte. The guards allow them to pass with only a cursory glance and all three make straight for the palace.

At the palace doors they are stopped.

Guard: (all brawn-no brains) State your business.

Gabrielle: That phrase is gettin' so old it has whiskers.

Xena: (shoots Gabrielle a warning look) Tell Febius that Xena wishes to speak with him.

2nd Guard: Who's Xena?

Guard: (to second Guard) Shutup fool and go tell King Febius that Xena, Warrior Princess is here to pay her respects.

Xena shoots him a look now but lets the comment pass as the second guard rushes to announce them.

Guard: Your companion must show his face before he will be alowed in to see the king.

Xena: Very well (she leans toward the Guard and suddenly he slumps forward and she pushes him back inside the doorway as her two companions follow)

Xena leans over the guard with a deadly smile.

Xena: I've just cut off the flow of blood to your brain, you'll be dead in seconds if you don't tell me where they've hidden the boy.

Guard: (In obvious agony)I don't know, I tell you.

Xena: You must know something.

Guard: They take food to the tower room every day. He must be there.

Xena releases the pressure point and knocks the guard on the head, pushing him behind a curtain.

Xena: Gabrielle, do you think you can find the boy?

Gabrielle: Let's see if I can't blend in (she smiles and quickly unassembles her staff)

Shalon throws off the acolytes robes revealing she's armed to the teeth. Gabrielle takes the robes and dons them, slipping off down a hallway.

Xena and Shalon set off at a run for the throne room, they burst in to see Febius sitting on his throne, eating grapes fed to him by a slave girl. Percicles is sitting to his right - lounging in the same manner, partially hidden by a slave girl. He stands immediately - his face white with terror before he gets his false sense of courage in order.

Shalon: Febius I've come for my son. Send him out with that dog who claims to be my husband.

Febius: (Calm, cool, and collected) Xena! How good of you to come, but did you have to bring such sour company? ( he waves away the slaves and motions Percicles to sit down)

Xena: Where's the boy, Febius? If you've harmed so much as a hair on his head you won't live to regret it.

Febius: Xena, Xena, why should I harm the boy? he and his father are guests in my home. And you Shalon, how good of you to accept my invitation. Now where is your little army, hmm? They should've been right on your heels.

-Suddenly you hear the sounds of fighting breaking out all over the town.

Shalon: That should be them now, so give me back my son and I'll call them off.

Febius: Oh-ho, you will call them off? I don't think I have anything to worry about from your motley little band ... My guard said there were three of you, where's the little one with the stick? (Febius looks around)

By this time the palace guards have surrounded Xena and Shalon - waiting for the signal from Febius to attack.

Xena: We'll give you one more chance to give us the boy, Febius.

Febius: Guards, get them but don't harm Queen Shalon - (Exits as Percicles stands to watch eagerly)

Xena and Shalon stand back to back, Xena lets out her war cry as she lands feet first into the first guard to attack and knocks over the two others behind him. Shalon is more serious, her fighting style like a dance, pary, thrust, slide, back flip out of the way throwing in a roundhouse kick here and there, her weapon is the sword, not her fists.

Meanwhile; Gabrielle moves through the kitchen, marching like she knows exactly where she's going. She grabs a basket-making herself inconspicous as a servant. She walks up to the guard in front of the tower room, the guard examines the basket closely but not Gabrielle as she keeps her head bowed in just the right attitude of servitude. She walks into the room to see a small boy of some six years locked in a cage, his face dirty and tear streaked, he's sniffling, trying to wipe his nose on his sleeve. Gabrielle's heart goes out to the small boy. She glances quickly over her shoulder to make sure the guard is not watching.

Gabrielle: (In a whisper) Nicholi are you okay?

Nicholi: Who are you? I've never seen you before (he looks suspicously at Gabrielle but wisely keeps his voice down)

Gabrielle: Shh.. I'm here to get you out.

Nicholi: Won't do any good. (He holds up his small wrists and Gabrielle sees the manacles on them)

She sets the basket down and pulls her staff from beneath the robes she's wearing and quickly assembles it before stepping back out of the direct line of sight of the doorway. Holding a finger to her lips she signals Nicholi to be quiet.

Gabrielle: Guard, could you come here a minute.

Guard: What is it now, Woman? (He looks over his shoulder into the room)

Gabrielle: I think the manacles are cutting his wrists. Febius gave strict orders he wasn't to be harmed.

The guard comes in and leans over the cage, Gabriell steps forward, fetching the guard a sharp rap on the back of his head, he falls immediately to the ground with a grunt. Gabrielle grabs his keys and frees Nicholi from the cage and then grabs a nearby curtain.

Gabrielle: I'm going to roll you up in this. Now be very still, like a sack of potatoes and I'll take you to your mother.

She tosses him over her shoulder carefully and checks the corrider before moving out towards the throne room.

Meanwhile Xena and Shalon are just finishing up with the twenty or so guards and turn their attention to Percicles who's suddenly looking for an escape route. He makes a run for the door but Xena gives a yell and flips into his path.

Xena: Unh-uh-uh (She's grinning as she holds her sword towards him)

He turns to find Shalon behind him now, Seriously pissed.

Shalon: Where is Nicholi? Hand him over and I may let you live to stand trial for high treason.

Percicles: (Visibly shaking) I don't know, Febius hid him somewhere.

Shalon: Wrong answer, whoreson. (She moves to run him through but Xena conks him on the head from behind and knocks Shalon's sword away)

Xena: I wouldn't be too hasty about running him through. (She steps from the doorway and Gabrielle comes through, she lays down her bundle and unwraps it.)

Suddenly Febius re-enters the throne room and sees how his plans have been foiled yelling in rage he grabs a spear - aiming for Shalon's unprotected back. Xena's Chakrum goes flying and buries itself in Febius's chest. Shalon whirls to see him fall.

They bind Percicles and drag him out to the front steps of the palace. Fighting is still fierce in the streets.

Shalon: People of Chalcus - We want no war with you.

To Xena and Gabrielle's astonishment the fighting ceases as all eyes turn towards Shalon, who seems to be glowing with an unearthly light.

Shalon: My son is safe, Febius is dead. I have what I came for. I don't want your city. This matter is finished.

A great cheer goes up from the Thebians and the Chalcians alike as swords are put away and Shalon's forces move out the gates.

Next scene-the ferry landing on the mainland side of the river.

Shalon: My kingdom shall be forever in your debt Xena. Should you ever have need of anything all you have to do is ask.

Xena: Be careful, I may just take you up on that offer.

Gabrielle: Hmm, a nice vacation with a roof over our heads and soft pillows to sleep on sounds heavenly.

Xena and Shalon hug as they go their seperate ways.

Gabrielle: She lost her blood innocence on the battlefield and yet she almost seemed unaffected by it.

Xena: I think she had a solid foundation to begin with, after all, she's a queen. This was probably the first time she had to take a life herself, but everytime she orders her men into battle she knows and understands the consequences. That's the sign of a great ruler.

The End

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