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Standard Disclaimer: Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.
Specific Story Disclaimer: This is a work of general fan fiction. The violence levels are quite low and profanity is there, but at a minimum. Feedback is welcomed and appreciated, email me at Dlc@capital.net
One More Thing: This story was originally called "Of Warriors, Prophets, and Gods" but when it was completed there were no prophets in the story, so I dropped that part of the title. Also I'd like to thank everyone who kept after me to finish this story, your encouragement was greatly appreciated.
Of Warriors and Gods
By Crystal Barrett
In a sun-drenched room high upon Mount Olympus, a new mother clutches a cooing baby. Her baby. The thought made the usually stoic goddess almost giddy. She welcomed the sunlight and the sounds of happily singing birds, that were filling the room. She could make the room appear any way she wanted it to be. Right now, she wanted it to be bright, cheerful, and warm. Just like the small bundle she held.
The goddess had painlessly delivered him only moments before. It had taken very little effort to bring the newborn god into the world. Now as she looked down at him she realized why mortal women bore the pain of labor to have as many of these small creatures as they could. It was worth it. Nothing the gods could create could ever compare to the tiny, chubby cheeked, and bald headed son she now held. His blue eyes shined up at her matching set and he smiled at her. His small fingers reached for anything he could touch and the smell of his newborn skin filled her nostrils.
Her fellow gods would think she was crazy if they knew, but she could feel it within her soul. A bond was forming between mother and child. Love between mother and child applied to gods as well, at least during these first few precious moments. She read his eyes as his mouth twitched with excitement and curiosity. She could see the intelligence behind those baby blues and read the questions forming inside his mind. It would take but a few days for the new god to learn to put those questions into words. After that, he would grow faster than any mortal child would, by his fifth birthday he would be a full-fledged god. He would possess knowledge of his place in their world, knowledge of who he was, and knowledge of abilities that the mortals called powers.
She sighed and kissed her boy quickly on the forehead. It all happened to fast. She would barely have time to learn about her baby before he would be all grown up. With the short time she had, Between now and when he would begin to learn on his own, she had to show him who he was and what he was capable of doing. Hopefully, along the way she could instill in him values that most gods never learn.
She refused to be like them. The ones who would bed anything regardless of how many legs, heads, or tails it had. Then, when the children would come, they would go to the midwife pop out their burden and leave it to grow on its own. No one cared of course, there where so many gods who did not even know whom there parents were. She was one of them, but she had been lucky. She had been raised by the greatest goddess she had ever met. The older woman was nothing special really. Just a common food fetcher to the higher gods. She had no significant powers or skills other than the fact she was immortal. However, she had been the light in a very dark place for a young goddess with thousands of questions and no one to answer them. If not for the love, warmth, and compassion the older goddess had showed her, she never would have known what those things were.
That was the case with many of the gods she saw everyday. They did not care for anyone or anything, except there own selfish desires. Nothing could get into their hearts. Not even the smiling, happy face of a newborn son could touch their souls. She doubted if they even had them. But her son would. He would know things about himself that would bring higher gods to their knees. He would know that he could love and others could love him. He would learn to use his strength and power to do good things that would benefit all. Most of all she would teach him compassion. Those powers and whatever gifts the fates had decided to bestow on her child would make him one of the greatest gods to grace Mount Olympus. No matter what his place in the hierarchy of this world.
For the first time since they placed her baby into her arms she took her eyes off him and looked towards the window where the sunlight was streaking in. She smiled as small fingers reached for the beams of light that crossed in front of them. Suddenly the room went black as a long shadow filled the room blocking the cascading light. She turned to the doorway directly across from the chair where she was rocking the baby. If she had mortal feelings, her heart would have been thumping out of her chest with fear. She knew whom the shadow belonged to before the god had even crossed into her field of vision. He stopped just inside the doors threshold and stood there. His powerful muscles rippling beneath his sleeveless leather tunic.
"Cute kid." He said, not meaning a word of it.
"Ares." She acknowledged him with a tilt of her head and unconsciously clutched the boy closer. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"Nope, just checking up on junior there. Sorry daddy couldn't make it down but we were busy. We needed someone to hold the maps, kept rolling up on us. Annoying." He said chuckling to himself at his blatant insult to the goddess before him and her mates' social status.
"Why, that's very kind of you Ares," she answered not bothering to hide the sarcasm in her voice. Ares was nothing but an arrogant pig as far as she was concerned. He was the worst of all of them. Arrogant, cruel, heartless, and so uncaring that he would keep a servant running errands for him while his wife was having their baby. Ares was one person she could have lived without ever having met. She despised him and the way he treated her husband, Atlan. However, they were who they were. Atlan was a servant of Ares, bound to do whatever Ares ordered of him. Contracts between lower and higher gods were unbreakable and inflexible. "We both know you don't give a centaur poop about anyone, so quit the act, it doesn't suit you."
"I'm hurt Wimia, I really am." With that he walked the rest of the way into the room and stopped directly in front of her. He bent to one knee and took his first look at the infant before him. "You know that I do care. I have a stake in this, a bigger one than you do in fact. I want to make sure daddy's new co-worker is going to be big, strong, and stupid. Like father like son, right?"
Wimia closed her eyes and shook her head slowly. She knew she had lost and she could do nothing about it. Except prolong the unavoidable. "He was just born a candlemark ago. Give him time and I'm sure he'll exceed all your expectations, Ares."
"I wouldn't count on it. Once a pion always a pion." He turned his attention back to the baby and pointed a long finger at him. "I'll be seeing you in a couple of days." He looked back up at Wimia. "I like to start them early, I find it keeps there mistakes to a minimum." With that, the God of War disappeared with a flash of light.
The weary goddess shook her head and spoke directly to her son for the first time since she had said hello to him. "I wish I could change things for you. But a contract is a contract and a debt is a debt." She silently swore at her absent husband for giving his consent to such an agreement. A contract made before they had even met, before the thought of being a mother had ever occurred to her. Yet, he had promised that along with his own servitude to the God of War, his first born son would be indentured as well.
"Now my son, I must try to teach you all that I know. You must remember it all, for the life you with live will not be easy, will not be peaceful. But you must retain this knowledge and the feelings I will share with you." She said these words to the granite ceiling above her and when she finished, she met her son's expectant gaze.
He was waiting for his mother to teach him who he was. To discover why he had suddenly found himself in a room filled with bright light and noisy women. She smiled at the boy and began to tell him everything she could in the short time they had.
"I believe everything will work out just fine for you, my son. You can break free and you can make a difference. I see it in your eyes the power is already there." With that, she talked until the sun no longer shined through the window and the birds no longer sang.
The boy in her arms listened intently and with every word his mind swelled with knowledge, ideas, pictures, and feelings. As Wimia spoke, she could actually see the boy growing before her eyes. It was too subtle for anyone else to detect, but she was his mother and had spent the last six candlemarks staring intently at every line on her baby's face. As she talked for hours more she watched those lines change and the intelligence behind his shining eyes filled her with hope and dreams. Expectations that she should not even have entered her mind as she realized her boy was special. His mouth moved in harmony with hers as she told him of their history, about his father, about the mortals, about friends she had known, and evil she had witnessed. She held nothing back. She told him about the undefeatable power gods held and told him how to use that. After she watched him as he slowly fell asleep and was surrounded by a golden hue that came from no outside source. She continued her lesson and her guarding of the sleeping child knowing all the while that there was no chance in Tartarus that this glowing little boy was ever going to become like Ares.
A voice came from a cross the room breaking into her thoughts "There is always a chance Wimia." When she looked to where the voice had come from she barely restrained herself from jumping out of her seat.
"Zeus." She said preparing to rise to greet the king of the gods. She stopped as he raised his hand telling her to remain where she was. "I am honored by your visit. I must ask, how long have you been listening to my thoughts?" she asked apprehensive. She was certain she was about to get a tongue lashing for filling the God of War's young servant with ideas of peace and harmony.
"Long enough my dear. Do not worry." He added seeing the look on the goddess's face. "I am glad you have taught him such things. It makes it much easier for me to make sure that Ares never gets his hands on your son's soul."
"I do not understand, he belongs to Ares. If he fights what Ares makes him he will suffer for it." She said
"Then why have you told him such things knowing it would only make it harder on him?" Zeus walked closer to the sitting Goddess and continued not waiting for her answer "You did it because it was done for you and you are all the better for it. As it will be with your son. I will see to that."
"Thank you sir. Your reassurance eases my soul's ache."
"I did not come here just to ease your doubts Wimia. We have much to do to prepare your son."
"Prepare him? Prepare him for what? To be Ares errand boy. He doesn't need much training for that." Wimia said sarcastically forgetting that she was talking to Are's father and her king.
"I have always admired that fire within you." The god said with a slight smile. "If my foresight is correct that fire burns in him as well." He said gesturing to the boy who was now awake and following every word of their conversation. "I do not fully understand what has happened, but the fates came to me this morning and told me about your boy. They have special plans for him, plans that do not involve Ares."
"The fates, what do the fates want with the son of servants?" she asked doubting Zeus words.
"He is no servant." Zeus said, his voice rising a bit. "He is a vital link in all of our futures. The powers he will learn to use will change the world, for the better. You have seen that spark in his eyes the golden glow of greatness. He is the one the fates have been waiting for. The God of Destiny."
"The God of Destiny, my son?"
"Yes. We have been waiting for his birth for a very long time. There is something special in both you an Atlan and when that combined to make him, the fates blessed you with a gift. A gift capable of seeing into the hearts of men and gods. Able to see what life will bring to all. Above all, able to find those who can help him change the world. He will separate good from evil. Gods like Ares and those who follow him will never be able to defeat that. Not as long as he is there to see their plans, their weaknesses and their fates. He will bring what I have always hoped for, peace."
Wimia listened to Zeus and smiled more with every word. Her son would change the world. He was stronger than Ares, stronger than evil, and stronger than hate. She sat for a moment and imagined a world without Ares walking around barking out orders and sending mortals to their deaths. It was a wonderful thought.
"I see you like the idea of your son becoming the greatest god of all." Zeus said smiling at his underling. It only lasted for a moment and his smile disappeared. "It will not be easy at first, he is still a child. Still bound to Ares. That I can not break, but the fates can. Their claim is stronger than Ares' but we must bring the boy to the hall of destiny before that claim is binding. There he will learn all he needs to know. When he leaves there he will be what he was meant to be."
"When do we begin?" she asked
"I must warn you, that this puts you and Atlan at great risk. Ares will still control both of you and he will punish this act. I can not protect you. Only the boy can do that when he is strong enough."
"It is irrelevant. I will suffer through anything to see this through."
Zeus simply nodded "When the fates tell me it is time I will call for him. Then he will walk down the hall. Until then, tell no one, not even Atlan. If Ares were to discover the boy's true nature, he will succeed in taking him. The boy is not strong enough to defeat Ares without the help of the fates. If Ares gets his hands on the boy, nothing we have spoken of will ever come to pass. He will assure that the boy never attains his full strength."
"I understand and will do as you command." Wimia bowed her head and when she raised it, the king of the gods was gone. She turned her attention to her baby. "Did you hear that, I knew you were something special the moment I laid eyes on you my baby." A thought suddenly crossed her mind and she mentally hit herself for not realizing it sooner. "I haven't given you a name yet, I'm sorry. Let's see what do you call the next king of the gods, Zeus jr. Nah," she sat there for several moments looking at the baby trying to find a name that suited her. Then it popped into her head and she thought for a moment that someone had whispered it. "Haceran. My little Haceran." She said lifting the giggling boy up into the air. "The God of Destiny" she whispered to the laughing boy.
"I can't believe how big he's gotten, it's only been four days and he's already up to my knees." Standing above his son the bearded, leather clad god marveled at the boy's progress. His brown eyes glowed with pride as he watched the boy toddle around the room carrying his favorite toy. A toy horse that he had latched onto the moment Atlan had presented him with the gift. The small god spoke to the wooden horse with varying tones of excitement. "Talking and walking two days after being born, and now it seems like he's growing before my eyes."
"It happens sometimes Atlan, everyone progresses differently. It is after all entirely up to the fates." Said Wimia, smiling as Haceran approached her and began telling a tall tale that he claimed the horse had told him.
"I wonder what the fates have in store for him?" Atlan said sitting in a nearby chair and stroking his golden beard. "Why do they want him to grow so quickly?"
"We will find out soon enough. He is bound to stop at some point." Wimia added
"When will that be. At this rate, he will resemble an old man less than a moon after being birthed. How many gods continue to grow to that state?"
"Zeus has the face of an old man."
"Yes, but our son is not Zeus." Atlan answered "It does not matter, he will stop growing when the fates wish it." He added getting up from his seat and preparing to leave.
"Must you go so soon?" Wimia asked. She dreaded it every time her mate left. Knowing that the rapid growth of her son meant that the fates were in a desperate hurry. It would be any day now when Zeus would call her. She feared that both she and Atlan would never see their son again.
"You know I must, Ares orders it. Be well my wife." With that he scooped up his son in one arm and swung him up to his shoulder. "As for you, be good for your mama." He ruffled Haceran's light blond hair and set him down. The boy flashed a brilliant white smile and waved at his father's retreating back until he was no longer visible. He then turned to his mother and the smile was gone.
"It's time to go Mama." He said as she knelt before him.
"How do you know sweetie." She asked looking deep into the boy's eyes. Haceran did not answer. He pointed over her shoulder and when she turned to see what he was pointing at her breath stopped as she recognized Zeus's form coming toward her. The boy was right, it was time.
Zeus did not speak, and neither did Wimia. She simply took her sons hand and walked towards Zeus. The room around them shimmered slightly and then it was gone. Replaced by the brilliant marble walls of the hall of destiny. They stood in the waiting chamber, staring down the dark hall. They could see nothing and no one else was there.
"Now what?" she asked not turning to look at Zeus and squeezing Haceran's hand a little tighter.
"We wait for the Fates to show up." He responded. "It shouldn't take long."
They did not have to wait long before the air in the chamber shifted and the fates made their presence known. Deep within the darkened hall, a brilliant white light began coming towards them. At first it was one solid light, but as it came closer it split into three separate lights that were slowly taking the shape of figures.
Wimia could feel herself shaking. She was excited and scared for her son. The silence and the tension in the room caused her to think twice about her decision to let her son go through this.
"It's not your decision Wimia. It is his and he's already decided." Zeus said, unashamed of his eavesdropping on her thoughts. She glanced at him and then looked at her son who had let go of her hand and was now standing in front of them staring at the approaching figures. He stood as tall as he could, his chest jutted out with unconscious effort. For a moment, she caught an image of the man he would become. Proud, courageous, and strong. Then she was sure that this was right. "I know." She said to no one in particular.
"Let me tell you what I know." Came a booming male voice from behind them. Zeus and Wimia spun around to face the approaching man and from the look on Zeus face, she knew that they had been discovered. Ares approached with his normal overconfident gate. Behind him, two well muscled gods dragged an unconscious Atlan. "What I know, is that you lied to me. I despise being lied to. Makes me very, very angry." He said accentuating each word with a violent swing back at Atlan who was within arms reach of his powerful blows. "You said he was not ready." He walked up to Wimia and stared the shorter goddess down. "Imagine my surprise when I hear daddy boasting about his son's progress." He then turned to his father "I don't know what stake you have in this, but it's not going to work. Whatever you thought you were doing, forget it. The kid is mine." He smiled at this and began heading for Haceran who was still staring down the hall where the three figures of light had stopped moving.
"Why have they stopped?" Asked Wimia, panic making its way into her voice.
"It's over." Zeus said his eyes closed "We failed"
"That's right old man. You lose. You knew all along that he was mine, yet you defied that. You will pay for deceiving me." Ares continued talking as he pushed past Wimia and Zeus and headed for Haceran. "Whatever you saw in him is mine now. I'll use it and him until you all wish he had never been born."
Ares reached Haceran, whose back was still to him. He roughly grabbed the boy's shoulder and spun him around. As the boy's eyes met the taller god's eyes, Ares jumped back slightly losing his composure as he tried to comprehend what he was seeing. The boys blue eyes sparkled with energy and his face held an expression of absolute anger. He scowled once at Ares as the God of War tried to grab him again. As Ares hand gripped his shoulder, Haceran smiled and placed a tiny finger on Ares' chest. The current passed between them sending Ares across the room, where he crashed into the far wall. The jolt was not strong enough to do anything more than put distance between Ares and the boy. Ares quickly jumped back up and walked back to the boy as fast as he had gone down.
"We may have lost the battle Ares, but you will lose the war." Zeus said smiling at his frazzled son's confused expression.
"That's it, I've had enough of this." Ares said his voice rising. "Your history kid." He said to Haceran. The God of War did not understand how this mere child could possess such strength. But he did realize that if he could touch the God of War now, there would be no telling what he could be capable of as he grew older. "You're not worth my time." He said as he began to snap his fingers to implement a solution that would make this new threat disappear.
"Ares, no. You can't do that." Zeus said grabbing the other god's hand in mid snap.
"Oh, yes I can. He's my charge and I can do whatever I want." With that, Ares snapped his fingers and Wimia turned to grab for her son just as his form began to shimmer and fade out of their sight. With a look in his eyes that displayed no fear, Haceran smiled at his mother and he was gone. Wimia missed her target and crashed to the floor on the spot where her son used to be.
"Where is he?" she asked staring at the ground. "What did you do?" she was almost in tears now. Tears of sadness and anger threatened to break through, but she did not let them. The goddess jumped to her feet and charged at Ares. Zeus caught her around the waste in mid leap. Ares laughed and walked away, signaling his men to dump their burden where they stood.
"There's nothing we can do Wimia. I'm sorry." Zeus said comforting the hysterical goddess
"What did he do?" she asked again
"He made him mortal."
"M..Mortal?" the goddess stammered. "That's not possible. Is it?" she asked as she desperately clung to Zeus's arm
"I'm afraid so." Zeus replied closing his eyes and sighing as the reality of the missed opportunity sunk in. Everything was balanced on this one child. Now all hope was as good as dead. "Haceran belongs to Ares, and whatever Ares commands the fates must see through. He is gone Wimia, Ares has made it so."
Wimia let go of the King of the God's arm and stared blankly at the spot where her son had just been. "Gone" she whispered.
"All is not lost Wimia." Whispered a small voice that came from the walls that lined the corridor. "Haceran's destiny has only been made harder, not impossible."
Zeus approached Wimia and stood at her side as the owner of the voice made herself visible. A fragile looking old woman appeared before them with a mischievous grin on her face.
"Ares has accomplished nothing by this. Except to slow things down a bit." The women added
"I don't understand." Wimia questioned looking to Zeus for clarification.
"Even as a mortal, Haceran will keep his powers won't he?" Zeus asked the women. A matching grin slowly lighting up his face as the full implications and consequences of his son's impulsive act became clear to him.
"Haceran may be a mortal boy now. However, in time he will learn what it means to be a god. He may not have the strength he would have, or the power. However, he will retain everything he ever needed. His heart, his soul, and the prophecy that will make him our champion."
"He's going to be alright then. That's what your saying right?" asked Wimia walking toward the loan fate a pleading look accompanying the tremble in her voice.
"Fear not, brave soul. Your boy will be well. I have seen to it that his journey crosses with a man capable of teaching and raising him. As he grows, he will meet those like him. Mortals with destinies far greater than they can ever imagine. He will be their leader and our teacher"
Wimia let out a soft sigh at the elder fate's reassurance of her son's safety. "I'm sure your choice of guardian for my son is a wise one but I would like to see for myself."
"No!" the fates voice echoed off the walls of the chamber. "You must not ever reveal his lineage to him. From now on, you are no longer Haceran's mother. He is no longer your son. That is what he must believe."
"What are you saying. He is my child, I have a right to make sure he is safe." Wimia stated.
"That is irrelevant. It became so the moment Ares took away his immortality. This sentence that Ares has pronounced on Haceran has taken away more than his godhood. He is now a five-year old child with all the thoughts, ideas, and problems of a five year old mortal child. He does not remember you or any of this. That will come back in time but only if it is left to do so on its own. With no interference or assistance from those of us who know of his fate in this life. I am sorry for your loss but this is how it must be now or we will all lose a great deal more."
Wimia bowed her head in silent acceptance. "I understand. Thank you for seeing to Haceran's safety." With that Wimia bent down to her unconscious husbands' side and began to try to revive him.
"Will he live to see this prophecy revealed?" Zeus asked the Fate as the old women gathered up the folds of her cloak and prepared to leave. "He is mortal now, and the life of a mortal is not an easy one."
"He will survive. He has the soul of a fighter and he will learn well. Until the day comes that he answers the call of destiny, he will be a silent hero. He will rid the mortal world of evil just as he will rid our world of it." With that the fate shimmered and disappeared leaving Zeus to assist Wimia in carrying her husband back to their home.
(Eleven Years Later)
Leagues away from Mount Olympus a prosperous kingdom nestled in a fertile river valley celebrates the arrival of spring with an annual festival. A cool breeze sweeps through the valley and the sun basks down upon the people of this city. They are all enjoying the break from the monotonous routine that had made up their lives throughout the harsh winter months. Music floats throughout the crowded streets as bands take turns entertaining the people. From a hastily built stage in the center of the town bards tell their eager listeners stories of heroic acts. The festival was a signal that the winter season had ended. A time when storing and rationing of food made life miserable for all. Soon the kingdom would return to the abundance of goods that they would enjoy for the rest of the year. Throughout the city people greeted old friends, helped themselves to the free ale provided by the inn and enjoyed the atmosphere of celebration.
The sound of laughing children was drowned out by the sound of steel meeting steel and wood crashing against wood. The annual competition amongst the king's best warriors was in full swing. Behind the open market that took full prominence in the center of the city, a wide area had been cleared to offer the best view of the competition, which always proved to be entertaining. As a city that prided itself on its prosperity, while other towns and villages were failing all across Greece, they also took great pride in their warriors. Out of necessity had grown an army thats sole purpose was to protect the kingdom from outside threats. All able bodied men and women were required to attend classes that would train them in how to aid in the city's defense. Out of these classes emerged young men and women who proved to be exceptionally good fighters, these people eventually went on to become the king's royal guard. They were the best of the best and didn't mind showing this off whenever possible. They all enjoyed displaying their well-trained skills and the annual spring competition was one that they all put more preparation into. It was an opportunity to prove who was the best and to have a little fun in the process.
This particular competition, when compared to prior contests, had proved to be less enjoyable for the competitors. Enrolled in this years competition was the kingdom's sixteen-year-old prince, who had emerged from the preliminary rounds as the number one competitor. He was the best fighter the city had ever seen. A natural is what the older warriors called him, others were not so sure.
The child was not a prince by birth, as the king had never taken a wife nor had any children. This boy had seemingly fell from the sky and into the king's lap. That is how some members of the city described the prince's sudden arrival one day twelve years earlier. King Agnon had been returning from treaty negotiations in the nearby amazon village. As he approached the gates to his kingdom a toddler had walked into his path. With the wagon rushing at him, the boy had simply stood, unmoving in the middle of the road. Twelve years later no one had arrived to claim the boy as theirs. It went unsaid that the boy, who was quickly becoming a man, was the child of King Agnon and the heir to the throne.
Whispered words were often said about the boy and his unusual arrival. But no one ever dared utter words against him anywhere near the king or his royal guards. As far as they were concerned he was their future ruler and no objections to the fact would go unpunished. Grievances against their future king went unsaid and those who refused to put their loyalty in an outsider kept quiet. The boy lived his life inside the safety of the kingdom's walls, surrounded by friends and unaware of any resentment or distrust that some villagers held for him. As far as he was concerned this was his home, King Agnon was his father, and his skills in the art of fighting were the result of dedication, and nothing more.
As predicted by the onlookers, the prince made easy work of all challengers. The focus of the contest had shifted to who would take second place. The circle of fans surrounding the fighters grew with each round and each new keg that the nearby inn tapped. With the coming night and the increasing spirits of the people, the dinars began flying as wagers were placed on the next bout. The young prince had left the arena only moments before and was casually relaxing on the front porch of the inn. His short legs stretched out before him and his missing shirt revealed the well-muscled tan body that had moments earlier emerged from the contest victorious. His tunic, which he had dunked in the well as he approached the inn, was settled over his head and shoulders trying to fight off the drenching sweat and radiating heat that had resulted from his efforts in the competition.
Even though the competition was still going on and would be for sometime the young prince had silently ended his own presence in the fighting by walking away. Although everyone noticed, no one said a word, some were grateful that the undefeatable prince had left the arena, giving the others a chance to put on a more exciting show. The prince was also grateful that they had let him leave. Although he trained hard and took great pride in being good at what he did, showing off was just not his style. He only fought in the contests because he had to. As commander of the royal guard and the king's son, he had to keep up appearances. Despite his desire not to compete, it had been a direct order from his father. King Agnon wanted it known to all his people that the heir to the throne was not someone to tangle with. Obeying his fathers wishes, the young prince had put in his scheduled appearance, gave it his best and won. Now that it was over, he planned to relax and enjoy the festival.
Footsteps sounded on the hollow wooden porch but the prince did not stir. The familiar ragged breathing of his closest friend indicated who the footsteps belonged to. Hansol was slightly heavy, unlike the other boys of the city and the sound of his hurried breathing meant that he had been running. Hansol running meant that someone had been chasing him. This common occurrence made the prince's blood run cold with anger. Nevertheless, he never called his friend on it or challenged his tormentors. He had tried it once and it had only hurt Hansol. Assuming that his friend could not handle his own problems had actually resulted in more. So he stayed out of it and did the only thing he could, he listened and he was a friend. Hansol sat down beside the prince and waited for his breathing to return to normal before he began speaking.
"You all done fighting now?" the boy asked wiping the sweat off his brow
The prince pulled the tunic off his face and looked at his friend. The boy was two years younger than him and had reddish gold hair. He was not that big, but he was short and lacked the muscles that the other boys his age flaunted. That made him different and the subject of jokes and ridicule. But the prince liked him anyway. What he lacked in physique he made up for in intelligence and creativity. Unlike everyone else the prince knew, Hansol could actually hold up his end of a conversation without stumbling for words or trying to impress the future king. Hansol didn't care that he was a prince and he didn't care that Hansol was not a fighter.
"Yeah, I'm done and boy am I glad." The prince answered running a hand through his now tangled light blonde hair. His blue eyes reflected the fading sunlight as he listened to Hansol congratulating him on his victory.
"Hace, you totally humiliated those guys. You won like sixteen fights, that's got to be some kind of record." Said Hansol, his eyes shining with pride at his friend's accomplishment.
He had no doubts that Hace would win every match, but the prince did it with style. He pulled no punches and held nothing back. After watching him practice everyday for hours without skipping once, Hansol knew what it took to create the warrior who sat next to him. He also knew what it took to make the man who sat beside him. The prince had what a great many people in the village lacked. Hace possessed heart, determination, and wisdom that went well beyond his sixteen years. Hansol had learned a lot from and about Hace, but it still amazed him how unique the prince was. It was as if the short, well-muscled warrior who would someday be his king knew something that no one else did. Like he knew what he was doing and why. Hansol had always believed that Hace was not only special, but he was someday going to prove it to the world.
Hansol handed the prince a full waterskin and talked while Hace guzzled its contents.
"It's almost dark now, you still going with us?" Hansol smiled when he saw the nod of the prince's head. He had doubted the prince was going to go through with their plans, but then again, he had never known Hace to go back on a promise. "This is going to be great. You won't be sorry you came Hace. Everyone is going to be there and Jel got a whole keg from his dad and the girls, oh you should see the girls. All dressed up and everything. It is going to be the best night of our lives."
Hace smiled at his friend's excitement and handed back the now empty skin. "I wouldn't get my hopes up their bud. After all, we do have a lot more guys than girls in this village. You know how they get. They all stand around in one big group and only talk to each other. We guys will be lucky to even get a hello."
"Tonight will be different. We've got Ale and Eley has his lyre. There's going to be dancing, and romancing in the hills tonight my friend. Word has it someone's up their waiting just for you." Hansol finished giving the prince a light poke with his elbow.
"Cut it out Han." Hace said leading the way off the porch and towards the palace where he intended to change for the teenagers own little gathering. As he walked, he thought of the possibilities of what the night may bring. He may have been given a gift in the art of fighting, but he was still a sixteen-year-old good-looking boy with a crush on a certain tailor's daughter. "She really going to be there?" he asked stopping beside his friend.
"Yup. I'm telling you everyone is going to be there. The ale will be flowing and Hace and Lyn will be...." He stopped in mid sentence as the look on Hace's face told him that this particular topic was off limits for jokes. "Just kidding Hace. Don't worry everything will be great. No one will even know were there cause' the adults are tilty already, imagine what they'll be like in a candlemark."
"That's not what I'm worried about." He said this under his breath. "Hey, how'd you get a keg?" he asked
Hansol smiled "Jel lifted it from the inn. They've got so much stored over there that his pop will never know one's missing."
"Oh. How'd you get it into the hills?" Hace asked. Puzzled by how skinny little Jel and Hansol, who couldn't lift anything heavier than a sandwich, could get a full keg outside the gates. Much less through the valley and up into the hills that divided their kingdom from amazon territory.
Hansol began to walk backwards away from Hace as he began to answer his question. Stuttering a bit as he spoke.
"We used your horse." He said
"What did you just say." Hace asked his eyes glaring at his friends retreating form
"We used shadow." Hansol said, knowing that he would be running again really soon.
Hace said nothing. He just pounced on his friend. Hansol saw the familiar look in Hace's eyes and he knew that Hace wasn't really upset. If he had thought that borrowing the prince's horse to carry a stolen keg into forbidden lands to have a party that was sure to get them all hung was going to be a problem; he wouldn't have done it. But he sure wasn't going to let the stronger boy catch him. He'd probably end up in the pond just inside the castle walls.
Hansol took off running for the palace with Hace on his heels. The royal guardsmen who had the unfortunate duty of standing in front of the gates during the festival saw his prince chasing the young boy and immediately opened the doors. This was a familiar scene between the two friends. As always Hace caught Hansol just inside the gate and promptly tossed him into the gardens huge fishpond.
The new moon shone down on the wooded hills that surrounded the valley. At the base of the highest hill surrounded by tall trees and a flowing river, about thirty teenagers were gathered. Some were swimming and a few were dancing, but most were trying to get over the fact that their fantasy's for this night just were not going to come true. A large fire burned unattended in a well-dug pit and the smell of roasting chestnuts drifted with the winds. All around the fire, logs had been placed to serve as seats. Prince Hace and Hansol were seated on one of them, surrounded by other boys their age. They had all been there for the past two candlemarks. Gathered together, the boys sat and stared across the fire at the small group of girls. The girls had picked a spot out the moment they arrived. Clustered together in one large group they had stayed there, giggling to each other and ignoring the boys.
The younger kids who had tagged along, didn't seem to notice that the girls weren't paying attention to them. They were all having a grand time swimming in the river's shallow depths. For Hace, Hansol, and the group of boys staked out on the logs, this party was not what they had been expecting. The keg that Hace's horse, Shadow, had dragged across the valley was now empty. But no one had drank any of it. A gaping hole in the wood had leaked its contents across the entire valley. The boys were not having a good time. Watching the boys glare at Hansol, Hace could tell already who was going to get the blame for this bumbled party.
The fire burned lower and the younger kids left for home followed by the entire group of girls. Hace didn't seem to notice as the night finally came to an end. The only reason he had agreed to come to this was to see Lyn. When her younger brother had arrived alone and said that she was sick, the party had ended for Hace. He remained only to keep the other guys from tormenting Hansol.
"This sucks." One of the older boys said throwing a large piece of wood onto the fire. "You idiots should have been more careful with the ale." He added sitting back down on the log
"Yeah. We needed that stuff to get the girls to open up and you two blew it." added another boy
"No amount of Ale would have made any of them go after you Kyle, so what are you so upset about?" Responded Jel who was sitting directly behind Hace.
Kyle, whose temper was legendary, immediately dived after Jel's skinny form. He was stopped mid-motion by a strong grip on his wrist and the rising form of Hace. The prince now stood directly between his two friends and the assembling group of boys who had gathered behind Kyle.
"Ale wouldn't have made the difference here tonight." Hace said releasing his grip on Kyle's hand; "If any of them had gotten drunk none of you would have touched them. That's not how we do things." He added
"Oh, sorry your highness, didn't mean to offend your delicate nature." Kyle responded. "I didn't see you having any success at getting them to party. In fact I didn't see you trying at all."
"That's because Hace's girl wasn't here. She's sick." Offered Hansol
"You mean Lyn. She your girl now Hace?" Kyle asked "Not surprising, everyone else has had her, must be your turn now." He added getting even more riled by the encouragement he was receiving from his friends.
Hace's normally present smile disappeared and his eyes narrowed at Kyle's crack. "Don't you dare disrespect her. Ever." He said his anger growing as the boy continued to laugh in his face.
"Why not. You going to do something about it. We all know you won't." Kyle said, moving in closer to the prince as he spoke.
Hansol and Jel both stood up beside their friend. This scene was one that had been repeated many times before. Kyle loved to get Hace going and he knew that Hace would never fight him. Hace never fought anyone out of anger. In the prince's mind, the only place for violence was on the battlefield. That, however, had never stopped Kyle from trying to provoke the Prince.
"I'm not going to give you what you want." Hace stated calmly.
"Just like I thought. All show. That's what you are. How much did you pay those guys to lose to you today? Twenty dinars or maybe thirty? Must be a lot for them to let you whip 'em so bad." Kyle added with a grin.
"Kyle if you want a fight, go crawl up a donkey's ass and fight for air." Said Hansol from beside Hace. This predictable wise crack from Hansol made Hace smile. His anger disappeared and the instinct to reach out and strangle Kyle was forgotten.
Hace could always count on his friends to keep him calm and from doing something he would regret. Hace turned away from Kyle, as he always did. It was a signal that he was done dealing with the other boy's aggressive streak. This time however, Kyle did not take the hint and instead went after Hace's now turned back.
The entourage of boys behind Kyle barely had time to gasp as they watched him lunge for Hace. They had never seen Kyle do something so stupid. Sure he talked a lot, but he had never acted on it. It took an instant for Hace's instincts to kick in and in that short period, he was able to change his reaction to Kyle's openly hostile act. Instead of simply ripping the kid's throat out, he tossed him over his shoulder and down the steep bank where he splashed into the river.
As Kyle landed Hace had pushed both Hansol and Jel out of the way and spun on Kyle's friends. He watched them as they slowly made their way around his menacing form and down the hill to retrieve their now soaked friend.
"You okay Hace?" Hansol asked slowly approaching his friend. Hace's breath was coming in gasps and his whole body was shaking from the surge of adrenaline that had shot through him when Kyle attacked. Hace closed his eyes and nodded. The prince turned back towards the river and joined his friends in watching the other boys drag a wet and humiliated Kyle up the hill.
"Stupid, very stupid." Was all Hace said. He then turned his back on them and went to put the fire out.
As Kyle and his friends came up the hill they met an animate Hansol and a shaking Jel. The young Jel had thought for a moment, that someone was going to end up seriously hurt that night. Hace listened as Hansol chastised the group. The prince chuckled to himself as Kyle promised never to do something so insane again. Hace would believe that when he saw it.
Hace worked silently tossing handfuls of the soft dirt onto the fire. He unconsciously blocked out the conversation that was going on behind him and concentrated on the sounds of the forest. He often went out at night and sat outside the cities walls. He would sit for hours, just listening to the sounds of the night. In the forest, the noises were different. The far off hooting an owl, the wind rustling the leaves of the trees, and in the distance he could barely make out something that just did not belong. He focused his hearing away from his friends and he heard it again. Singing, not too far away from where they were. Somewhere on the other side of the hill, a very large group of people were singing a song that he had never heard.
The group of boys behind him soon noticed that Hace was now standing, motionless, beside the fire and staring off into space. It did not even seem like he was breathing. Hansol opened his mouth to speak and was silenced by Hace's raised hand. The group moved cautiously closer to Hace and waited for him to tell them what was going on.
"Do you here that?" he whispered finally
"Here what, Hace?" asked Hansol in equally hushed tones.
"Singing, from the other side of the hill." Hace answered gesturing with his head in the direction he was staring
"Your batty." Said Kyle "I don't hear nothing." He concentrated on the direction Hace had showed and his eyes grew wide as the group of unknown singers hit a particularly high note and the entire group jumped when they heard it.
"Maybe it's from the festival." Offered Jel.
"Wrong direction." Hace answered "Village is behind us, this is down in the valley between these hills and the amazons woods."
"But, no one's allowed down there. The amazons would string em up if they get caught." said one of the other boys.
"I don't think these people care." Said Hace as the words to an old battle hymn could be heard clearly as the singers grew even louder. "It's an army." He added
The boys all looked at each other and then back to Hace.
"What in Tartarus would an army be doing in Amazon territory. They'd have to be insane to attack them." Said Kyle
"They're not after the Amazons. The amazons wouldn't have anything that an army of this size would be interested in." replied Hace
"Then what are they doing down there?" asked Hansol his normally happy demeanor replaced by worry.
"There's only one place in this valley that any army would risk going through Amazon country to take. And that's our city." Said Hace
The boys realized what this meant. Panic began to take over as they all began shouting at each other for someone to do something.
"Quite down, all of you." Hace said turning towards his charges. "They here us and were all goners."
"What are we going to do Hace?" asked a very nervous Jel.
"I say we go down there and kick some ass." Said Kyle
"Real good idea Kyle, I've got a better one, how bout we tie you to the nearest tree and wait for them to find you." Said Hansol
"Listen here you fat.."
"I said shut up." Said Hace stepping between Kyle and Hansol. "I'll tell you what were going to do. You guys are all going back to town as fast as you can and your going to warn the guards."
"Oh yeah, and what exactly will you be doing while were heading for home." Asked Kyle.
"I'm going to go get a better look, so we know what were up against. Then I'll be right behind you."
"No way Hace, if you go we all go." Said Hansol. Mentally wondering if it was truly he who had just uttered that suicidal statement.
"I don't think so." answered Hace, shaking his head for emphasis. "I'll go alone. The sooner you guys get back to the village, the sooner we will be ready when this attack comes. "
"Just why are you the one who gets to do this." Asked Kyle "I'm the scout in this little group. I should go."
"Youre a scout in training. I'm a royal guardsmen, face it Kyle I've had more training in this than you have."
"Screw you, who do you think you are telling me what to do. I'm going and the rest of you can go to Tartarus for all I care."
"He's the prince." Said Hansol stepping in front of Kyle. " And what he says, goes."
Kyle new he was beaten and his head dropped at the prospect of being left out of this first real test of his scouting abilities. Hace reconsidered his order, realizing that this would be a good chance for Kyle to learn about self-control and duty.
"Kyle, I'd like you to come with me. If one of us gets caught at least the other might make it back to the village with the information their going to need." Hace said beginning to walk in the direction of the singing. "The rest of you get going."
Kyle silently followed the future king, while the rest of the group followed Hansol. As they made their way back down the hill that they had lead Hace's horse up hours earlier, Hansol prayed that the speed of the gods would be with them.
Hace and Kyle did not have to walk far before they could see the light of several fires burning against the night sky. Gathered around the campfires they could make out the shadowed figures of men. They climbed down the hill as far as they dared and watched from behind a tree. Hace counted campfires in his head. The total sent shivers running up his spine. About fifty campfires with at least ten men surrounding each one. This army was far bigger than anything he had ever seen. He watched as a few soldiers brawled with each other while others dragged resisting women into tents. Hace glanced at Kyle, who had remained silent since they had their first good look at the camp. He watched as the boy swallowed and wiped the sweat off his forehead. He was scared. So was Hace. This did not look good at all. The Kingdom had faced armies of bandits in the past. Hace himself had fought in three different battles against the marauding scavengers who tried to steal what was not theirs. This was different. He could clearly see the flags on the tents that signified a working hierarchy in this army. They weren't just starving kids looking for food. This was a warlord's army.
"This is bad isn't it Hace." Kyle whispered
Hace simply nodded
"What are we going to do?" Kyle asked, his voice breaking as images of this Army attacking the city filled his mind "There's too many of them, we could never stop them." He added
"There's always a way Kyle, have faith." Hace said "Let's get back, I hope the others got home by now." Hace began to stand as he finished his sentence and Kyle followed suit. The pair started to walk back up the hill that they had come down only moments before. Hace glanced back at the rows of tents and watched as a tall raven-haired woman emerged from one of the structures. She promptly grabbed the nearest man and yelled something that Hace couldn't make out. The man quickly ran away from his own campfire. In a wild pattern, the man rushed from one fire to the next, yelling something to everyone gathered around them. The signing that had filled the night sky stopped abruptly and the women turned to head back into her tent. She stopped halfway there and looked up at the sky. As her gaze returned to earth, Hace could have sworn that she looked directly at him.
The young prince stood motionless, not even breathing. He was not worried about being caught; the drunken soldiers could never catch up to him. The women's gaze was what made him go still. He was frozen in place by something he couldn't identify. A feeling that started in the pit of his stomach and continued throughout his body made him continue to stand there and match the unseeing gaze of the women far below him, who was probably just admiring the scenery. The longer her eyes bore into his, the stronger the feeling became. For an instant, he was afraid. Afraid of this unidentifiable power that seemed to be taking him over.
Then the fear was gone. The world around him disappeared. His eyes saw nothing and Kyle's insistent tugging on his arm vanished into the background of his mind. All his thoughts were replaced by emotions he knew were not his. Anger, guilt, shame, and strongest of all confusion. Voices and pictures that went a long with these emotions slowly started to take shape in his mind. He knew that something was happening to him and for some reason, he knew that the women below him was feeling it as well. Everything was so jumbled. He didn't know what the voices were trying to say or what the pictures were trying to show. Somehow, he knew that if he just waited long enough everything would make sense. Then something struck him in the back of the head, silencing the voices and bringing the world back into focus.
Hace whirled on Kyle even as the boy was bringing his hand back to his side. Kyle began to speak but was silenced by Hace turning back to the rows of tents. The prince watched as the women walked away from him. The last he saw of her was the sheathed sword strapped to her back disappearing into the tent. Kyle again tried to explain his actions but Hace did not hear him. The strange emotions he had felt were gone, leaving him with his own confusion to deal with. Hace began to walk past Kyle, preparing to head for home. He gave one last glance back at the encamped army below. Then it hit him.
Flying high above the tent the women had just disappeared into was a flag bearing a crest that he remembered. A crest that his father had deliberately showed him. His father had told him that if he ever saw that flag waving in front of an approaching army, to prepare for the worse. A powerful warlord controlled this army and she stopped at nothing. Hace took a deep breath and put a name to the face he had just seen. A face to a name that had been drilled into his head for the last four years. Xena.
Seeing the look on Kyle's anxious face made him realize that he had uttered the dreaded name aloud.
"Let's go." The prince said. Hace broke into a mad dash for the village, not stopping to see if the stunned boy was following.
By the time Hace and Kyle made it back to the city Hansol and the others had already explained the situation. A large group of people had assembled outside the palace gates demanding to know what was going on. Inside the council chambers of the palace, King Agnon's first minister was screaming at the other council members who were screaming right back. Hace and Kyle entered the palace through a back entrance, avoiding the gathered mob. When the young prince entered the room, all the council members were silent. Hace took a quick glance around the room and noticed immediately that his father was not attending the meeting. Worry about his father's failing health took precedence immediately and he ran to his father's chamber. When he got there, he slowed and walked to his father's bedside, where the aging man was fighting with his healer. The feisty king was determined to get up and rule his kingdom in this time of danger, but his failing legs and labored breathing were keeping him bedridden.
"Father, don't try to get up." Hace said kneeling beside the bed next to the healer
"See, old man, even your boy has more sense than you have." Said the healer. The older women had been trying to keep the stubborn man in bed ever since the news of the army camped at the city's border reached him. "I'll leave you to speak with him your highness." She said to Hace. "Keep his bony hide in that bed young man or you'll be answering to me." She added smiling at the man before her. The healer had helped raise the young prince from the day they had found him.
"I'll do my best, Kay." Hace smiled back at the healer.
When the healer had left the room King Agnon turned to his only son and nodded in admission to the healer's orders.
"I hear you've been busy." The King said putting a frail and wrinkled hand on Hace's blonde head
"Its Xena, Pa. She must have at least five hundred soldiers down there." Hace supplied, taking his fathers hand in his own.
"I was talking about your party." The king said smiling at the blush that creeped up his boys tanned face. Then the smile disappeared and the usually lighthearted king became serious. "I figured as much. No one else has an army that size in this part of the country."
"You knew she was back in this area. I thought she was still operating in the east. Why did you not do something Pa?" Hace asked, puzzled by this new information.
"We were not certain exactly where she was. She moves that army so fast; the news never gets far enough ahead to warn anyone. If we had built up our defenses, it would have surely provoked an attack. By leaving things as they were, we managed to avoid aggression by her or any other ambitious warlord's in this region." King Agnon replied, the effort to speak weighing clearly on his aged and wrinkled face.
"Until now." Hace added. Anger beginning to creep out in his voice. "It makes no difference to people like her Pa. Defenses or no defenses, they don't care. The challenge for them is not in the conquering but in the controlling. We could have been prepared. Now were as good as dead." Hace stood quickly his anger at the circumstances getting the better of him.
"How do you expect an attitude like that to lead these people to victory?" the older man asked
Hace turned quickly back towards his father, confusion replacing his anger. "I am not their leader, you are father." He said
"Not anymore. I am an old man. An old man who requires a nursemaid to relieve himself. I am no leader, not any longer." Hace began to speak but was silenced by his fathers raised finger. "Don't you argue with me young man. This is what you have been training for all your life. To fight, to win, and to lead these people into their futures. That is what it truly comes down to Hace. If you fail, there will be nothing left. If you succeed the world will be all the better for it."
Watching the man who had taught him everything he knew struggle for breath, was a painful sight. Hearing that same man, the one who always knew what was right and was the strongest, most fearless man he had ever met; succumb to old age and admit defeat was like ripping his heart out of his chest and stomping it into the floor. He didn't want to do this. Taking over for him meant that it was the end of the line for his father. Hace took a deep breath and swallowed the lump in his throat as he kneeled beside his father's bed.
"I will not fail you father." he said. As much as he feared that his father was not going to live to see the glory of his kingdom restored. He feared losing that kingdom even more. The old men gathered around the table downstairs, whose shouts he could barely make out; they were from a different time. All of them guarding and advising his father since the day he took the throne. They had seen war and lived to tell stories of their honor and courage in battle. That was a lifetime ago. Things were not the same now and they would never be. Those old men did not understand how the armies of today operated. The words honor, courage, and loyalty were foreign words to today's soldiers. Gold, glory, and carnage were all they lived for. They served only themselves. Occasionally they would take up with a leader whom they deemed skilled enough to fulfill their quest for power and wealth. Today's soldiers took what they saw and always wanted more.
"Perhaps this is just wishful thinking son, but do you suppose she may bypass us altogether? With such a large army, we wouldn't be worth the time or the energy." King Agnon asked. He could see the worry his only son had for his failing health. The question, which even an occasionally senile old man could answer, was more of a diversion than anything. He had to get the boy's attention off him and onto the problem at hand.
"No." Hace answered immediately "It's too great of an opportunity. They're probably fresh out of their winter camp, they'll be looking for just about any target to get the juices flowing." Hace sat back on the floor as he spoke, rubbing his eyes with his hands as his mind turned the problem over. "The best place for them to have stayed over the winter with that many soldiers would have been on the other side of the amazon's forest, in the mountains. There's a lot of caves up there. If that is the case, they were traveling through the valley pass when someone spotted us. Otherwise, they would not have camped so soon. No, they're after us and it's going to come soon."
King Agnon could plainly see the lines of tension etched in his boy's young face. He knew Hace was capable. The boy would most likely give that damn bitch Xena a run for her money. But, winning against such impossible odds. He had his doubts. He himself had seen to his son's training. This, however, was something that could not be taught. You can put someone in a position to do great things, but once there instinct has to take over. Hace was a good kid with a big heart. He had lead such a sheltered life, as had the other children of the city. They had only seen but three attacks on the city in the past six years and none of them even reached the city walls. They were mere sparring matches compared to the fight he was up against now. He sent a silent prayer to whatever gods might be listening to help his boy discover the courage and strength he knew he possessed.
"So. What are you going to do about it?" the King asked
He watched as the wheels turned in Hace's head and ideas flashed in his eyes. He had accepted the challenge. "I don't know, yet. The way I figure, she apparently has never been in this region, otherwise she would have known that those wagons they are dragging are not going to make it through the valley the way they are going. Not to mention the fact they would have to spread themselves so thin to walk along those hills that they'd be perfect targets for archers. So, she'll learn pretty quickly that she's going to have to turn the whole army around and head down the pass. That will give us at least a day, maybe two before the main body reaches us. That leaves the scouts, a few walking infantry, and Xena herself."
"Xena? You don't think she'll turn back with the army?" Agnon asked
"No, by the time she gets those drunken idiots organized into anything resembling a movable force she will have learned that we know of her impending attack. Her scouts have probably been in and out of this compound more times than we even realize. She will stay right where she is, up in the hills where she can see everything and everybody. We won't be able to make a move without her knowing about it."
"That's sounds right." Added Agnon when Hace looked up for his approval. "What're you going to do in the meantime?"
"The guards probably assembled by now. By the time I get downstairs and talk to the council everyone who can hold a weapon will be armed. First thing we need to do is evacuate everyone else, hopefully they can make it to amazon lands before the first wave strikes. But, we can't move anyone until were sure the army is on the move, by then even Xena won't be able to do anything about it."
Agnon listened, fascinated by how well his son was adapting to the situation. He marveled at the strategies and plans he could almost see being formed inside Hace's mind. For a brief moment, an old memory entered his mind. A blonde five-year old stepping fearlessly out of a ditch and into the path of his oncoming wagon. He remembered the look in that child's eyes. A look he once again saw in the man that child had become. He knew what he was doing and that confidence was what made all the difference. A child whom everyone had refused to accept as the son of their king, had slowly won them over with his wit and charm and it was that confidence that made him a natural leader. A leader for whom today's battle was hopefully just the beginning of an even longer struggle to right the wrongs of this world.
"Pa, are you alright?" Hace asked, his voice finally breaking through to the old man, whom he had been calling to for some time.
"Yes, Yes I'm fine. Just thinking of how my little boy grew into such a great man without my permission. You weren't supposed to grow up so fast on me Hace." The old man reached out as his son came closer to the bed. "And you weren't supposed to have to deal with beasts like Xena." As the old man ran a wrinkled hand over Hace's cheek a soft voice echoed throughout the room.
"It is exactly what he is supposed to do." said the voice.
Hace sat mesmerized at his father's bedside as a flickering white light appeared at the foot of the bed and slowly formed into the shape of an old woman. A sense of recognition filled his mind but for only a moment and it was gone replaced by awe at the now solid shape of a glowing women who was for some reason smiling at him.
"Who are you?" Hace asked rising from his father's bedside
"That is inconsequential. It is why I am here that is of the most importance." Said the women "Please, sit and I will explain."
Hace did as he was told and gasped aloud as the woman before him sat directly across from him on his father's bed. Only it could not really be called sitting, since he could clearly see his father's blanket covered feet through the translucent material of her cloak.
"You felt something today, up in the hills when you fist saw Xena, did you not?" the women asked
Hace merely nodded
"I wish I could explain to you what happened, but even I do not understand it. All I know is that your lives have crossed at this point in time and from now on your actions and Xena's actions are connected. What you felt today, she also felt." The women paused briefly in her speech. She realized that the boy before her required some explanation of what she meant.
"You, Hace, are a very special child. Capable of great things. Xena is also special, and capable of so many things. Unlike you, she has lost her way. Too many things have impeded her destiny and now the path she is on threatens the entire world. I believe that this may be our last chance to save her and her last chance to save herself. It is here, today that a decision will be made. She will either walk away from what she has become or continue on her path. A path that will ultimately lead to her conquering the world. It is you who will help her decide. You have been blessed with a gift. The ability to see into men's hearts. You know what she refuses to admit. If you can reach her. Keep her from attacking this village, then there is hope. If not, then the loss of this village will be nothing compared to the carnage that will follow."
"I am not even supposed to tell you of these things. For you to develop a full understanding of your potential would take forever, and as a mortal, you do not have forever. Neither does Xena. So I have come to give you what little information I have. I know that you do not understand what happened. You may never understand it. I beg you, do not fear it, and do not run from it. Even after this day is long forgotten, others will cross your path who have been led astray by their fears and their pain. You will find that you can always distinguish those who are worth saving from those who are not. Peace be with you Haceran." With that, the women disappeared as quickly as she had arrived.
Hace simply stayed where he was trying to wrap his brain around what the old women had said. It all seemed so odd, yet he could feel that she spoke the truth. What he felt when he saw Xena was like nothing he had ever experienced. It was as if he could feel something pulling at him, desperately trying to reach him. Then, like now, he just could not understand why.
"It's all pretty confusing isn't it Hace?" Agnon said from his position on the bed where he was resting against a raised pillow. "Take her words to heart my boy, it's not everyday one is visited by a fate."
"A fate? She was a fate?" asked Hace
"My boy, you must truly be blessed." Agnon answered with a slight chuckle.
"What are you talking about? I don't understand any of this. Why would a fate come to me?" he asked
"For the same reason she visited me twelve years ago. You are special."
"You've seen her before? When?" Hace asked anxiously.
"She came to me one night while I was in the garden. All she said was to pack up my wagon head towards amazon country and find my gift from the gods. I did as I was told and well, here you are."
Before Hace could begin the line of questioning that Agnon was sure was about to follow he began speaking again,
"I don't know why she did it. I know even less than she does about what's in store for you my son. I only know this. That night when that old woman appeared from out of nowhere and told me that she could make my dreams come true, I believed. I trusted my heart. Now you must believe. Don't think about it, just do. Follow your heart and trust your instincts. All will work out if you are true to yourself." Agnon watched as Hace slowly nodded his agreement, "Despite anything that the fates have in store, this kingdom is still in great danger. It is up to you boy. Those people out there do not realize just how bad it is. Make them realize that you are the one who will save them. They have always believed in warriors like you. Justify that belief."
"What do I do, Pa? I don't know anything about her. How can I change her mind?" Hace asked
"Trust your feelings, she will show you what you need to know. Just look for the signs and trust in them."
Hace nodded and kissed his father's cheek. He left the bedside somewhat reluctantly and was relieved when his father called his name. He was hoping for some last words of encouragement a gem of wisdom. What he got was a needed laugh. "One more thing, make those damn idiots stop yelling, how's a man supposed to rest with all that racket." The King said smiling
Hace laughed as his father lay back on the bed. "I'll take care of it Pa. Don't you worry."
"I'm not worried Hace. You are after all the finest warrior I have ever seen and I love you my son." The old man sank back into the pillow and closed his eyes.
Hace let a tear run down his face as he realized that no matter what happened; he was going to lose at least one thing today. Hace gazed around the room and smiled at the his fathers familiar belongings. The sword his father had taught him to carry was displayed on the far wall. Hanging on a nearby coat rack was the set of armor that his father had worn to protect himself from his young son's vicious kicks. Good memories of many good times. Lessons in the art of fighting that were also lessons on life. How to be a good man and later a good king. What made a warrior and what made a hero. His father had been his best friend for so long that he could not imagine not hearing any more words of wisdom from the now sleeping man. If the fates decided to end his father's life, then they could not have chosen a greater man to bring to the Elysian Fields.
When Hace entered the council chamber, the men were still arguing. They had all heard how desperate the situation truly was from Kyle and they were now debating between surrender and attack. Hace took a quick breath before he walked to the table that the first minister was banging on with his fists.
"Shut up all of you!" he yelled over there rising voices "The King is resting, so keep it down." He added to their stunned faces. "I take it Kyle told you what we saw in the next valley." He said to the older men. "I know it seems bad, but surrender and attack are not options we will be considering."
"Just why aren't they. Seems to me there all that we have." Said a council member
"Both surrendering and fighting leave us in very bad positions regardless of their outcomes." Hace said
"Please go on Prince Hace, Enlighten us." Came the sarcastic comment from another member
"Everybody sit down and I'll explain." Hace said taking the seat at the head of the table, the seat where his father had sat at every council meeting before this one.
A hand reached out, grabbing his wrist as he prepared to sit. "We don't have time for listening to this nonsense from some wannabe." Said the owner of the hand.
"Wannabe what Warin?" Asked Hace rising to his full height which was several inches below the man who was attempting to stare him down. "You know what I want. I want to be alive in the morning. If you were smart, you would want the same thing. Now get your hand off me and sit down before I have you removed."
The man started to laugh and turned to his companions to see if they were joining in. They weren't. Realizing he was alone in his position he wisely sat down and grudgingly listened to the prince.
"Go on Hace." Said the first minister who was seated on Hace's right
Hace began his speech, thankful that he seemed to have the first minister's support. "Both surrender and attack have several possible outcomes and most of them leave us in no better position then we are in now." Hace stood up and began slowly circling the table as he spoke. He was momentarily stunned when he realized that all eyes in the room were glued to him and that all of the men at the table were hanging on his every word. All except Warin, who seemed only mildly interested. "Let's look at surrendering," he said "The best possible outcome would be that we give them whatever they want, they go away and no one ever bothers us again. Does anyone here think that's going to happen?" he let his eyes wander over every member and all shook their heads in response. "Me neither. Worst case if we surrender. They attack anyway killing and destroying everything inside these walls. Anyone think that's a possibility?"
Nods all around the table. The old men sat transfixed as Hace's hands moved as fast as he spoke, making his points for him. He took them through every possible scenario that could accompany their decision to surrender to the army that was probably making its way back towards the pass as he spoke. The sun was slowly beginning to seep in threw the windows that surrounded the old room inside the palace. By the time it had fully risen Hace had talked the old men through both options of attack and surrender.
"If we can't attack and can't surrender. Then what do we do?" asked the first minister. It was the first time anyone besides Hace had spoken since the young prince had entered the room and won over the entire council with his enthusiasm and knowledge.
"I will take care of it." answered Hace
"You. But how?" said another council member
"I don't know exactly how, but I think I can convince Xena to turn her army around."
"Are you crazy? Have you gone absolutely insane." Yelled Warin again standing up to stare down the heir to the throne. "You come in here telling us that anything we try would result in the same thing, and then tell us your answer is you talking Xena out of it. What are we doing listening to you any way? You're not the one making the decisions around here." Warin turned to the other council members "I say we take a vote. Surrender or attack."
Hace had the belligerent man on the ground before he could even finish his sentence. He grabbed him by the shirtfront and roughly yanked him to his feat completely aware that all eyes were on him and what he was about to say would determine who these men followed.
"As the commanding officer of the royal guard and the heir to the throne I have the authority to offer suggestions to the King." Hace said staring down the council members seated around the table. He then tossed the breathless Warin into the nearest chair and placed his hands on the table. "I have given my advice and the King has put this matter in my hands. I have made my decision and that decision is final. This kingdom is now in a state of war, and will be treated as such. Anyone disobeying my orders will be tried for treason. Is that understood?" Hace added
Several nods went around the table and those who did not respond looked away from the Prince's unamused gaze.
"I will not tolerate insubordination. We have a real problem here and none of you has ever dealt with anything of this magnitude. You didn't fight against the last few armies that came through here. You don't know what these bandits are like. There is no honor in these armies, no courage, no loyalty. Just blood lust. Whether you agree or not is irrelevant. We can not fight these people. Resistance would only get every innocent man, women, and child in this city killed. I will not have my kingdom torn apart by thieves or old men with old ideas about how things should be done."
The men around the table simply stared, dumbfounded by Hace's words. They could all tell that the Prince meant what he said. His claim of command was legitimate.
"I know some of you believe that I shouldn't even be here. That because the blood of our king is not in my veins I am not a true heir. I am telling you now that I am. The man up those stairs is my father and he has bestowed upon me this kingdom, for better or worse. You all are just going to have to accept that, and so are the people out there. If you have a problem with the King's decision go talk to him. Does everybody understand what I have said." He added
Nods went around the table again, this time there was no hesitation and no one resisted.
"Good. Now, we don't have much time. All of you go out there and talk to those people. Quite them down and make whatever assurance you feel are necessary to keep order. I want the royal guard and everyone who can fight briefed on the situation and readied for battle."
"I thought you said there would be no fighting." Asked the first minister
"It pays to be prepared. Now move."
When the council chamber had emptied Hace let out a sigh of relief. That had actually been easier than he had thought it would be. He sat down at the head of the long table and for the first time realized that he had just taken over his father's kingdom. The responsibility of the heavy burden he had just assumed suddenly fell on the young man's shoulders and he sent a prayer to the gods that the destroyer of nations could be reasoned with.
As Hace sat waiting until enough time had passed for the council members to do as he ordered. A few moments passed and three royal guardsmen rushed into the room. They were out of breath and soaked with sweat and obviously very agitated.
"The first minister told us to bring the scouting report to you sir." Said one of the men. A man whom Hace knew well. He had sparred against him many times in training and served beside him whenever the presence of the royal guard was needed.
"Come sit all of you." Hace said "Tell me what you found."
"There is a lot of them, like you said. At least five hundred maybe more." Said Dell, the best scout the royal guard had. "But that's not are biggest problem by far. Do you know whose army that is sir?" he asked Hace
"Yes, I do. Are they on the move yet?" Responded Hace
"Yes sir. She has stayed behind with a couple of men, her lieutenants I think. No footsoldiers, they all headed back to help with the wagons. We are as good as done for, with her leading that mangy lot. She has never lost Hace. How are we supposed to stop that harlot?" asked Dell, as the other guards nodded at his words
"I don't really know yet, Dell. What about scouts, seen any?"
"No sir. Their real good, probably watching us the whole time."
"Anything else." He asked the guardsmen
"Nothing that we didn't already know from your scout sir. It's an army, well trained and there sure is a lot of em."
"Alright, go join the ranks." Hace said not leaving his chair. "Good job guys." He added as the guardsmen left.
'Xena, the Warrior Princess.' He thought. Could someone who killed for sheer pleasure be reasoned with? Would she simply slit his throat for even offering? It was a risk he would have to take. He thought back to the image of the tall women he had seen in the camp. A warrior, that much he did know about her. He remembered the finely toned muscles that rippled beneath her skin as she effortlessly tossed her soldier about. The way she walked, confidence and strength emulated from her. A warrior leading over five hundred men. Most of whom were probably just farm boys looking for adventure. The rest, bloodthirsty ambitious cutthroats who wanted what she had, Power.
It took a lot of courage to lead men like that. Most of all it took discipline. Training yourself to see and hear everything. He himself knew all about the amount of discipline and self-knowledge it took to be the one with the power. The quest to be the best. A driving force had led him to train hard in order to capture the role of commander of the royal guard. A position that every young fighter wanted, and most tried for. It is hard to stay on top when there is always someone ready to knock you off. Hace shook his head at his errant thoughts. Obviously caused by lack of sleep. Then it dawned on him. He knew how to stop Xena without anyone getting hurt. If she was a warrior and as good as everyone said she was then she was more like him then he liked to admit. But those similarities could give this kingdom a way out. If she was truly a warrior then she lived by the same unwritten code that he himself lived by. If ever someone better came along and he or she could prove it, a true warrior would step aside. A challenge, that was the answer. He would challenge Xena for control of her army. If he succeeded, he could simply dismiss them; the ones who refused could be easily dealt with. Like many armies, most of Xena's soldiers were scared kids who had bitten of more than they could chew and just needed a way out. If he failed, he would be dead and so would the rest of the city.
Could he, a sixteen-year-old prince who had never fought anyone better than his own father, beat the warrior princess? The destroyer of nations. The young prince shook his head and left the council chambers, heading for the main square of the city where people, his people were gathered waiting for him. There were always possibilities. It was what his father had taught him. In every situation, there were always ways out and ways in. Options. He prayed that the wisdom of an old man who had seen it all held true on this day.
The sun had begun its journey across the horizon and time was becoming something they did not have. Hace spent very little of it explaining to the anxious villagers what his plan was. He spent even less time looking at the ranks of young people who were preparing to fight the oncoming army if what he was about to attempt, failed. He chose two guardsmen to accompany him out into the valley to meet the oncoming army. Kyle, who had volunteered and Del, who was the most experienced. The trio mounted their horses, Hace on his jet-black stallion and the others on the king's horses. They prepared to leave the gathering army and crying mothers behind when Warin pulled on Hace's booted foot.
"May the God's have mercy on you if you fail, because no one here will." Was all he said before stepping back into the crowd of onlookers.
Hace simply sneered at the man and urged shadow into a full gallop through the city gates with the others on his heels. They cut straight across the road that led around the hills and straight into Amazon country. The approaching army would be coming from the road, but its leaders would take the shorter route. Around the hills that had held their party the night before. Hace knew that a good leader would find the best vantagepoint to survey the battlefield and the sloping valley that held his kingdom. With the army itself using the road, only a few people on horseback would occupy the hills.
They came over the first set of hills with the speed of Hermes and were grateful when the flags of their query could be seen over the next rise. The shock on the warrior princess' lieutenant's faces was priceless, as they became aware of the approaching trio. Hace and his companions stopped a few cart lengths away from were Xena and the three officers with her were waiting. Hace stayed perfectly still upon his mount willing the testy stallion not to throw him. He eyed the warrior before him and after she had looked his guard over, her gaze locked with his and the same feeling he had the day before returned, but even stronger this time. He found it hard to catch his breath as his senses were overwhelmed by something he could not explain. It was like something was screaming at him but he could not understand what was being said or what he was supposed to do. He forced himself to calm down and when he returned his attention to the women before him, he realized she was having trouble taking her eyes of him as well.
Like the night before, the world around him just disappeared and he found himself lost in the depths of striking blue eyes. Emotions that the Warrior Princess kept so well hidden behind walls that had took years to build, were suddenly transparent to the blonde haired boy sitting atop the stallion before her. He could feel everything. The confusion Hace had felt the first time he had seen the Warrior Princess was not there now that he was so close to her. He knew everything that she knew, felt every burning desire and wish that she had. Then he could see it. A young women standing over the body of a fallen man. Sword raised high above her head and anger building up inside until it had become an unstoppable rage. He watched in his minds eye as the women before him tore into opponent after opponent and ravaged village after village all the while fighting back the tolling emotions he could now feel cascading off from her. Pain, hurt, and anger all jumbled together in a mass of confusing emotions that kept her on this path but all the while screaming for her to stop. Hace kept his gaze locked on the warrior before him, watching, as her memories became his memories. Her fears and doubts were made known to him and despite her efforts to stop what she knew was happening they remained transfixed on each other. Until one of Hace's guards grabbed his arm and pulled, almost taking the prince off his horse.
"The harlot's trying to put a hex on you boy." Del said taking Hace's face between his hands and staring into the boy's eyes.
Hace pushed the older man back and turned towards where Xena was ordering her men to stay back and not attack the man who had just insulted her. "Stay here." He said "And don't call her that." Hace nudged his horse forward and Xena did the same closing the distance between herself and the boy before her. Her guards remained where they were, confused but following their leaders orders.
Xena's horse, a beautiful strawberry roan mare, stopped along side Hace's own stallion. The two warriors sat motionless in their saddles, both refusing to meet the others questioning glances. They sat in silence for a few moments before Hace finally spoke, turning towards the Warrior Princess, who had been staring at her booted feet.
"You felt that didn't you?" he asked, waiting for Xena to look up at him. Her quick nod was her only answer. She looked quickly back towards her lieutenants and wondered briefly what they were making of their leader talking to the enemy in such a calm manner. "What did you feel, Xena?" he asked her maintaining his unwavering attention on her face. Finally she looked up and met his gaze and her answer was barely above a whisper.
"You." She replied "And you felt me?" she asked
Hace nodded and then jumped down off his horse scaring all four anxiously waiting guards. "Come with me, Xena" he said. She jumped off her horse and stood where she was for a moment not knowing why she felt such a desperate need to follow the child who had the audacity to try and order her around. Her hesitation lasted for only a moment and after a brief order to her men, she began trailing after Hace's retreating form. She watched as he disappeared over the side of the hill. When she came over the rise, she saw that the young man was now sitting on the side of the grassy knoll holding one knee and playing idly with a sliver of grass. She silently sat next to him. Not understanding why she felt so compelled to not only follow this kid, but to sit patiently beside him while he examined the sky. Patience was not something the Warrior Princess was known for, but still she sat until the prince finally spoke.
"I am Prince Hace, heir to this kingdom and you Xena are a threat to that kingdom." he said
Xena laughed at the Prince's statement. Now that she was no longer staring into those powerful sky blue eyes of his she felt some of her control over herself coming back. The walls went back up as quickly as he had broken through and the powerful warlord she had come to believe she was, wanted its control back. "That's right little boy, and there is nothing you or your little army can do about it." She replied laughing louder.
Her statement did not get the desired response and the boy simply sat there with a tiny smirk pulling at his lips.
"Is that your response to everything Xena?" Hace asked sitting up on his knees and turning to face the Warrior Princess. "Something angers you, kill it. You want something, take it. Someone gets in your way, crush them. Not this time Xena."
"Who's going to stop me? You?" she asked laughing again. "Your not...."She started
"I'm not what, Xena? Strong enough?" he asked, "You can't even look at me." He said grabbing her face in one swift motion that she did not even try to prevent. "Your afraid Xena. What are you afraid of, me? Or what you see when I look at you?"
As the emotions she fought so desperately to keep buried began to overwhelm her senses Xena tapped all of her reserve strength and pulled her head free of Hace's grip. "Why are you doing this?" she managed to sputter out as she sat trying to regain her composure.
"I am doing this because you have become blinded to your emotions. I am here to show you what you already know but refuse to admit." Hace calmly replied
Xena looked up at the boy, defying the power that seemed to be flowing from those eyes. "You don't know what your talking about." she said
"Dont I?" Hace responded "I know what's in your heart Xena. If you will let me I can show you the truth about who you are and who you are meant to be."
"Are you a prophet?" she asked in a tiny childlike voice
"I am someone who will help you help yourself. I can show you that there are so many possibilities. This, "he said waving his hand across the vast landscape "Is not where you belong, Xena."
The warrior princess sat in silence staring across the wide-open valleys down toward the river that cut a winding path along the hillside.
"What are you going to do?" Hace asked turning to look at the beautiful warrior seated in the grass next to him. He could tell that the confused women before him desperately wanted to take his advice. Something very powerful was stopping her from taking that first step. Something his words and the truth that she already knew couldn't break. Hate, his father had always said, was the strongest force man was capable of creating. Hace was now up against that force. Four years worth of violence had turned the young women before him into a deadly warrior who fed on others weaknesses and grew stronger with every violent act. She needed something to convince her that there was a better way and that despite all she had done, she still had a choice. That choice was hers alone, and today was the day she was going to make it. Hace knew in his heart that if she made the wrong one, only one of the two proud warriors sitting atop that hill would come back down it alive.
She laughed at first at his question. When she responded she suddenly felt ashamed of what she was doing. "I'm going to attack your kingdom and take whatever I want."
"That's not what I meant. What are you going to do with your life, Xena Warrior Princess."
"What kind of question is that to ask someone you just met." She responded
"A valid one if that person is about to destroy your way of life. Do you know what that feels like, Xena Warrior Princess? To know that at any moment an army greater than anything you can stop is going to destroy your home, kill your friends, and torture your family. Do you know what that is like? To know that you quite possibly are the only one who can stop it." Hace stopped there and watched Xena's face as her mind's eye drifted back to another time, another place, and another village that she once called home.
"You do. So my question is valid, what are you going to do with your life Xena? Are you going to continue being the kind of person who you once vowed to stop? Or could it possibly be time to become who you were meant to be."
"You are one crazy kid, anyone ever tell you that?" Xena asked avoiding Hace's gaze. "All this talk about knowing me, about knowing what's inside me. My fate was determined four years ago when I took up my sword and made my first kill in anger. This is who I am." Xena turned and locked stares with the younger warrior feeling the emotions he had brought forth return to their proper place. Buried deep within her heart and kept there by an iron will that refused to admit that she had been wrong. She deliberately brought her face within inches of his unwavering eyes. Forcing him to realize that the power that he had was not enough to defeat her will. "I am a killer." she said a snarl pulling at the corner of her mouth. "You are a child." the boy did not even blink as she grabbed his shirtfront and pulled him closer until they were nose to nose. "If you want to save your kingdom. I suggest you go home, open the gates, and let me have whatever I want." with that she tossed the boy to the ground.
"We don't surrender." Hace said sitting back up on his knees.
Xena looked at the boy sitting so calmly in front of her. She had an image of simply pulling her sword and running it through him. It would be so easy. One swipe and she could give the warlord inside her free reign. No more doubt, no questions and no more chances. That much she knew to be the truth. This was probably her last chance at redemption. Something had given this boy the power to see into her heart and it was for a reason. If she were to kill him now, she would never know what that reason was.
"If you don't surrender, you will die." Xena said to the stone-faced warrior who knelt before her.
With that she rose to her feet and turned to walk away from the prince but was stopped in her tracks as his strong grip came down on her shoulder. She felt her eyes slide shut against her will and when she opened them, again she was no longer standing atop the grassy hill but on a dusty road. The hand on her shoulder loosened its grip and Hace came from behind her to stand at her side. In front of them the road straightened and continued into darkness that her eyes could not penetrate. To their left, a small path that was overgrown with greenery snaked its way across a lush valley that was basked in sunlight.
"Where are we?" she asked in almost a whisper. The silence around them was broken by the sound of her voice and Hace's answer.
"We are on a road." Hace answered matter of factly.
"I know that." Xena answered "What road? Where does it lead?" she asked
"This is the road that you will travel throughout the journey that is your life, Xena." Hace answered looking at the warriors' stern face. "Where it ends is a question that only you know the answer to. It is after all, your life, and your decision."
"Decision, What decision?" she asked, slightly confused
"You are at a point in your life where a choice has to be made. Which way do you go?" he asked. "Do you continue on the journey you began so long ago" he said pointing towards the stretch of road ahead of them "Or," he said walking towards the path on the side of the road. "Do you get back on the path that as a child you had believed you would walk."
"That's not a path, it's a dent in the grass." Xena replied walking over to the spot where Hace was standing.
"When you stopped seeing this route as your destiny, it became overgrown from lack of use, most of the time in the past few years, it was so covered by your anger that you didn't even see it when you passed by." Hace turned away from the path to look at the warrior before him "Now you have once again reached a point where you are able to take this path, I am here to make you see it. Whether or not you take it, is up to you though."
"I can't see where it goes or where it ends." Xena said peering intently down the path
"You can't determine that on the other road either." Hace replied
"Sure I can. It stops where it gets dark." she said as she walked back towards the road.
"That's not the end. That is where the darkness takes over. Even I can not see past that. That road is full of nothing but anger, pain, and death and it leads to a point where there is no turning back and no more chances."
"What about the other one. What's lies along it?" she asked
"Light. Laughter. Friendship." Hace answered looking down the path in question. "It will also have its dark spots and where it leads may not be where you intended when you started your journey so long ago, but I can tell you this. If you make the effort, the good will far outweigh the bad. It just might be worth it someday."
"The road looks so much easier to travel." Xena said
"Of course it does. You have been traveling this way for quite a while. It is a path you know well and it hides very little. The road behind us stretches for quite a distance, but somewhere back there the other path looked like the easiest."
Xena began to turn to look behind her but was stopped by Hace's grip. "The past is behind, Xena. You know what lies back there and nothing can ever erase what you have done. That does not mean you have to keep doing it. The decision is yours Xena. What is it going to be? The darkness or the light?" with that Hace disappeared leaving Xena standing alone at a crossroads in her life.
"Hace" she shouted hearing her voice echoing from the hills. "I can't do this on my own." she said to the ground at her feet.
"I have given all the help I can, Xena." said Hace who had suddenly reappeared at her side. "But I promise you that if you choose the unfamiliar path you will not walk it alone. There will always be someone there for you."
"If I go, will you go with me." she asked. Staring into the blue eyes that were several inches below her own.
"For as long as the fates see fit, Xena." he answered and again disappeared.
Looking once down the road that lay before her feet Xena turned on her heels and walked off the road and down the overgrown path. Her tall figure lost in the sea of green grass that closed behind her.
Opening her eyes to the blinding sunlight, Xena could almost make out the shadows of distant mountains. For a moment she was disoriented. She could still feel the grass rubbing against her bare shoulders. Still feel the wind blowing through the trees and the ground crunching as her boots made fresh marks on the overgrown trail. Then she was back on top of hill sitting beside the prince of the kingdom she was about to attack. A prince who would do anything to prevent that from happening. Her confusion was quickly replaced by anger and she pulled her sword from the sheath on her back and pounced on the young prince before he could even raise a hand to prevent it.
"What inTartarus was that?" she growled as she held the point of her sword at the base of the prince's neck.
"That, was a start Xena. A very good start." Said Hace not even flinching as he felt the cold steel that pressed against his throat.
"I could kill you right now and all of this would be over." Xena snarled through clenched teeth.
"So could I." Hace replied
Xena looked down at her left side and realized that she had let her anger and fear leave her in a compromising position. Clenched expertly in Hace's right hand was a dagger that he held just inches away from her side. She had never seen him draw the weapon or raise it within striking distance of such a vital area. Neither warrior moved as they waited for the other to make the deciding move.
Xena held her arms locked ahead of her with her sword grasped tightly between strong hands. She did not blink and hardly breathed as she tried to come to grips with what was happening. She should have seen the boy pull the weapon, but she hadn't. The vision she had experienced had left the floodgates to her emotions wide open. All she could sense was her own anger. She had taken Hace up on his offer so easily. She had simply walked away from this life. A life she thought she loved. She could not just walk away from what she was. She had her own agenda and no little boy was going to screw that up by using useless emotions against her. As she watched the face of the young man below her, she realized that he was not afraid of her. He simply waited, motionless and calm. It wasn't him she was angry with. She was angry at herself. In fact, it wasn't anger she was feeling at all. It was pure, unrestrained fear. Fear of what following through with the decision she had made in the vision would mean. She wanted to rid herself of the person who had brought her fears to the surface, but that would just make it worse. She could do it. Kill him and continue as she was. There would be no more chances and no one to help her face the demons that had come to make up her entire world. The demons that were desperately trying to maintain control of her soul.
She was stronger than this. For the last four years, she had spent every waking moment questioning her motives. She never found the answer she was looking for. Until now. All that anger, pain, and confusion could end right here and now, with the help of one very brave young prince. Who, for reasons only the gods knew, had come to offer his help. She couldn't kill him, and she couldn't attack his kingdom. Not after he risked his life to save it. To save her. She had asked for nothing, but he had given her the one thing she had been searching for. Hope. It had been so long since she had allowed herself to imagine that she actually had a choice. Now that the young prince pinned beneath her sword had presented her with this fantasy, she was afraid. Afraid of how easily an answer had been found to a question that plagued her on a daily basis. There was a way, and it would begin or end here. She had killed many in her young life. Some in cold blood, others simply because they had pissed her off. Now, beneath her lay a boy who had found her greatest weakness and was using it against her with unrestrained force. An infraction that she could not allow. This boy was not only a threat, but also someone who could bring her to her knees with a single glance. Someone who had melted the cold exterior of a hardened warrior, whose emotions were buried so deep that they were practically non existent. Nevertheless, he had found them and shown them to her. He made her face what she had tried so hard to ignore. He made her realize that it was no longer revenge or battle lust that kept her on this path, but fear. Fear of the path that she had so easily taken in her vision. Her fear did not justify murdering the only person who believed that she was worth saving.
Xena rolled of the young prince and returned her sword to its sheath. She stood and Hace did the same. Standing several inches below the Warrior Princess, Hace remained quite as he watched Xena running through her options and fighting desperately with herself. He did not know who was going to win that battle, but he prayed that the warlord, who had effortlessly pinned him to the ground, would not be the victor.
Xena looked off into the distance and stared at the mountains that were barely visible on the horizon. Over those mountains and down a long hard road lay a small village that had once been her entire world. The place where this had all begun. Where she had stood against a warlord and his army to protect her home. That whole scene was about to be recreated, except this time, she was the attacker and Hace was the defender.
"Hace?" she said not turning to look at the silent prince standing beside her.
"Yeah?" he asked
"I'll see what I can do." she said and turned around to begin walking back to her waiting officers
"What's that supposed to mean?" Hace asked her retreating back
Xena turned and walked back to where the prince was standing. "Look" she said, "My army wants this city and they know they can take it. Even I may not be able to stop them."
"You can't stop your own army?" Hace asked
"If I order them not to attack and they do it any way. It will no longer be my army." Xena replied
"That's not good enough, Xena" Hace stated
"What do you want from me?" Xena asked, "What did you expect? I tell them all to go home and they just do it?" she added "That's not how it works. No matter what you or I do, people are going to die today." she said as she turned and continued back towards her horse
"Who's side will you be on?" Hace yelled
Xena hesitated in her step for just a moment before she continued. Leaving the young prince staring down at her from atop the hill as she mounted her horse and kneed it into a full gallop towards the road where her army was advancing.
Hace took a deep breath and let it out as he took a moment to gaze at the sky. He then followed Xena's path and walked back down the hill to his waiting guards who were anxiously staring after the retreating warrior and her officers.
When Hace reached them he took his horse's reigns from Del's hands and mounted his horse without saying a word to either man.
"What happened?" Kyle asked, "Are they going to attack?"
"We'll find out soon enough." Hace said as he turned his horse around and kneed it into a sprint back to the village.
Concluded in Part II
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