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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.

Drako's Revenge

by clarkbigsky

Chapter One

"Help! Help! Someone please help me! No-No, don't!"

Xena was just saddling Argo after a pleasant night's sleep under the stars when she heard shrieks for help followed by the sounds of blows and moans. The cries sounded like those of a desperate sounding female, and they were intermixed with the deeper vocalizations of a grunting man that soon turned into mocking laughter.

Xena's eyes narrowed. She patted Argo on his face and turned quickly in the direction of the alarming noises that had disturbed her tranquillity. She deftly picked her scabbard and sword off the ground and notched her chakrem into its familiar place on her right hip before darting off in the direction of the now repeated shouts for assistance.

In less than thirty seconds, the alert warrior spotted a burley man standing over a fallen figure and delivering blows with a long thin stick. Xena hesitated for a brief second or two, her eyes rapidly scanning the wooded area to insure that no other potential thugs were lurking nearby in ambush. She started to emit her chilling war cry, but then decided that surprise would serve her better than shock in this situation. She leapt off her feet, executed a flying feet over head flip flop and landed unbelievably quietly behind the attacker just as he prepared the stick for his next swat. Xena grabbed his arm from behind so powerfully that his body vibrated at the sudden stop of his downward motion.

"Wha...?" The man stammered.

"Wanna try that on someone nearer your own size?" Xena asked calmly, but her eyes betrayed her anger, and her demeanor suggested he had no choice. She spun him around and head butted him right on the nose. The man spiraled back and off his feet as if he had been struck by an ox rather than a slender female...

The thug's victim peered up at Xena from her fetal position on the ground , her arms still poised to protect her head from further blows. "Praise the Gods," she mumbled as Xena reached out to assist the bedraggled woman to her feet. She rose holding on to Xena the way a child might to its mother. Furtively, the apparent peasant woman's eyes sought out the location of her tormentor, and when she spied him laying on the ground unconscious, tears of apparent joy trickled out of her eyes.

"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you," she stammered. "He robbed and was going to rape me. His eyes were so cruel looking and..."

"There there, you're safe now. I take it he's not related to you, not a wife beater? I always hate it when I end up in the middle of one of those family fights."

"No, I'm a virgin. I never saw him before. I was just taking a shortcut through these woods back to my village when suddenly he jumped out from behind a tree and grabbed me. I clawed at him, broke free and ran but he caught me and..." Uncontrollable sobbing forced the troubled woman to stop and struggle for emotional control.

"It's all right," Xena reassured her. "You don't need to relive it. You're safe now. I'll give you a ride back to your village. And if there's a jail there we'll take him with us and put him where he belongs."

Seeing that the woman was not seriously injured, Xena let go of her and strode confidently over to where the assailant lay in the weeds. He was beginning to show signs of awaking from his unexpected snooze. His eyes were flickering, and he was making snorting noises. Xena knelt down beside him and examined the damage she'd done with her powerful neck muscles, strong forehead and practiced timing. She was pleased to note that his nose was clearly broken. She grabbed him by his shirt collar, and stood up, pulling him to his loosey-goosey feet where she shook him as if a rag doll.

"Wake up, Butt-head, you've assaulted your last victim."

The man's eyes popped open, and he instinctively grabbed her right arm with both of his in an effort to loosen her grip. Even through the haze that still enveloped his brain, he was amazed to feel Xena's strength and even more startled by her dramatic appearance. Besides staring at him eye ball to eye ball in spite of his almost six feet in height, Xena's deep blue eyes unnerved him. She seemed almost to be daring him to resist while assuring him that if he did so, she'd prevail.

His eyes scanned her body and the sight disquieted him even more. She was garbed all in dark leather, even wearing a breast plate and protective shoulder pads atop a one-piece, all leather garment that only barely covered her modesty. A sword hung behind her back, and she wore tall boots that seemed to run on forever before reaching her long feet. His efforts to break her grip made no impression on her control of the situation. and to put it bluntly, he began to emit the odor of fear.

The warrior woman started to spin him around so she could tie his hands behind his back, but just as she did so something went wrong. Darkness clouded Xena's eyes as she felt a terrific pain in the back of her head. Her contemptuous smile turned into a slight gasp, and she stumbled forward a step or two before dropping on top of the alleged rapist, unconscious, with blood oozing from a nasty cut and a rapidly swelling bump on the back of her head.

"I've got her! I've got her!" The supposed victim of the attack shouted with glee. She then used one hand to help her husband extricate himself out from under the fallen and lifeless Xena. Her other hand still fondled the heavy club she'd used to strike the back of her erstwhile rescuer's head.

"Good job, Myestra," the thugish man muttered. He shook his head to try and clear it, and the two of them began laughing, somewhat nervously. They knew they had just bested one of the world's most formidable fighters, the so called Warrior Princess, Xena.

Chapter Two
Unpleasant Reunion

Xena fought through the darkness that had imprisoned her mind for what seemed the umpteenth time and struggled to reach the light. It took time but she finally made it. Her eyes popped open, yet offered only unfocused views of shades of gray. "Ohhhh," she moaned and tried to reach back and touch the focal point of the pain on the right backside of her noggin. But her hands wouldn't respond. No, she analyzed, blinking her eyes and trying to see something, anything clearly, my arm's trying to respond but something's preventing it.

It was a very tightly tied rope which had been attached to her wrists and held them tautly behind her back. Her lanky body had been laid on a large and luxurious bed with her ankles and wrists both bound. She was on her back, staring up at a small hole in the top of the tent where its main pole reached up to the sky.

Xena began jerking on the restraints, both at her ankles and wrists, but she didn't do so for long because it quickly became clear that almost any movement made her already painful head hurt even more. "Dam!" Xena muttered. She closed her eyes and tried to will her sight into focus, the pain to diminish and her anger to subside.

Xena hated it when someone out-foxed her and someone surely had. It was all filtering back into her brain now: the whole scene back there in the woods. She now suspected it had been a trap from the get-go. They lured me there and then lulled me into thinking the female was a helpless victim, the bastards. It had to have been her who clobbered me, Xena concluded, regrettably. But why? And where have they taken me?

Xena's eyes began to clear, and she was able to examine her surroundings more thoroughly. It was a luxuriously appointed tent with fine rugs on the ground, exquisite covers on the bed, and tapestries hanging from the sides that depicted battle scenes. It was fancy yet masculine. Where the hell am I? She pondered.

Xena tried to sit up but her head swam and she quickly decided laying down was better. What about my breast knife? Out of habit, in spite of her still weakened condition, Xena began to think about escape. If I can sit up, I can snap that sharp little rascal out and get to work on these bindings, she ruminated, knowing full well she'd escaped that way before. But as she focused on the feel of her shapely breasts pushing against her one piece leather warrior's garb, Xena realized, unhappily, that the familiar and sometimes comforting cool feel of that blade between her breasts was missing. "Damn!" Xena cursed again.

"What about the dagger in my boot?" She tried to raise her head and glance down at her tall leather boots and the protective leather wraps that gave her added security against sword cuts to her knee caps. Rising up, however, proved no easier than the movements she'd tried moments ago. Still, she fought off the nausea and dizziness just long enough to sense that the feel of that dagger, too, was missing. Those two realities were foreboding because she now suspected that whoever had captured her was someone who knew her well.

Xena lay back, closed her eyes, took deep breaths and began to meditate, focusing her body energy on regaining clear vision and healing the bulging bump on her head.

Moments later, Xena sensed that someone had entered the tent and was looking down at her. She sniffed her nostrils ever so slightly and allowed them to confirm for her that it was a familiar odor. Could it be? No, surely not. But yes it was: her old nemesis, and former ally, Drako.

Without opening her eyes, Xena acknowledged his presence. "You've really slipped, Drako. Since when has one of us had to stoop to trickery to deal with the other?."

"That blow on the head must have erased your memories, Xena. You don't recall the trick you played on me to foil my abduction of those priestesses? Or to keep me from raiding Anphipolis? You've been tricking me for over a decade. But, I'm pleased you've finally made your way back into the real world. That Myestra must have really swatted you hard. I'm afraid I scared her with my descriptions of your toughness and fighting skills."

Xena opened her eyes and smiled inwardly since this time they pretty much focused. She hated to admit it, but Drako still looked awfully damn handsome to her. The rascal always had. They'd fought time after time, but underlying their battles had always been a sexual, primal, attraction. He was a handsome figure of a man and in the past had openly told her she was his ideal of a what a woman should be. "So, that was your little con job, was it? It was good one. They took me in hook, line and sinker."

"How's your head? I had to put the seven stitches in that cut. Oh yeah, it was fun having you laying there completely under my control. You're getting older and have lots more scars than when I first began coveting you, Xena but you're still one hell of a hunk of womanhood. Such a body and those legs just seem to get longer and more alluring with age."

"I feel rotten. All the worse for having being fooled. What's your game? Surely, you don't still want to get even with me over the virgins and the temple?"

"No. Don't try to con me, Xena. I know why you're here. You heard what I was cooking up, and you're here to stop me. The minute one of my men spotted you on the road to Athena, I knew why you were coming and figured it would be best to get you out of the way first. Then, I can pull off my most productive heist ever."

Xena tried to cover up her confused look, hoping Drako would think it was just a blank stare brought on by the numbness in her head. She needed to give this some thought before she set her course. Would it be advantageous for her to act as if she knew what he was talking about, or better to admit the truth, that she had no idea he was anywhere around Athena?

But, as was usual with him, Drako couldn't hold back his excitement, especially in front of Xena. He was forever trying to prove to her that he was better at criminal activity than she was, or at least had been before her miraculous, and to him, unfathomable conversion to doing good.

"Don't try that blank expression on me, Xena. You'll never convince me you showed up here purely by coincidence. You heard what I was planning, didn't you?"

Xena tried to look enigmatic.

"I know you almost never come to Athena," Drako pushed on. "You always said you preferred the hinterlands, where brigands like us have less to worry about from the so called authorities. Who, of course, are really just like us, but can get away with the stealing they do because they're the ones who make the rules."

Sensing that Drako was going to tell her just what he was up to no matter what, Xena decided to be honest. It was becoming a habit in her new life of trying to use her unusual skills to do good. "I have no idea what you're talking about, Drako. I was simply on my way to meet Gabrielle."

"I wondered where the brat was?"

"Brat, my ass. You chased her all over the place in mad heat not too long ago.Gabrielle came here to enter some of her poetry in a contest, and I was going to join her on Friday. What day is it now, by the way? How long have I been out of it?"

"It's only Thursday afternoon. You were just out for a few hours. I figured you'd left my weird heart's desire behing because you didn't want her at risk while you tried to screw up my plan. I'm getting better and better at planning things now. After all, I learned from a master, didn't I?"

"Compliments will get you nowhere with me. OK, I confess, Drako, I have heard what you're up to, so let me take this opportunity to urge you to change your mind."

"Why? You're obviously in no position to interfere."

"Well, like we've always said, it ain't over till the fat lady sings. I'm just taking a little time out." Xena sounded more confident than she really was. Her head ached terribly, and she had no idea what scam Drako was up to this time.

"We could turn it from a time out into a delightful encounter, my dear." Drako's eyes narrowed and his face took on an obvious lascivious appearance. No one could have failed to understand his meaning. He sat on the edge of the bed and placed his left hand on Xena's knee. He then ran it tenderly up her leg towards her feminine nesting spot, tucking it slightly up and under one of the pleats of her short leather skirt. Very close to her Eros point he squeezed. "C'mon, Xena, you've always wanted to get it on with me, and vice versa. We're gonna do it this time. You can count on it. Might as well be now as later."

"Sorry, for some reason I have a terrible headache. And as for your plans, well, just for old times sake, let me warn you, I've tipped off the authorities in Athena about your little escapade. So if you want to stay out of jail, you'd better call it off."

Drako's eyes narrowed and his goatee twittered a bit. His dark hair and tan body, two shades darker than Xena's, even though they both had spent most of their lives outdoors, glistened with anticipation. "Don't be a such a bitch, Xena. You know you didn't tell anyone. You couldn't have. I just finalized my plan after we caught you. See." He pointed to a chart sitting on a stand in the middle of the tent. It had the kind of drawings on it one would expect to see if leaders were planning a military action.

Xena tried to make it out, but her vision was still too fuzzy. "I don't mean I told them the details of how you were going to do it, Drako, just what you were planning to do. They'll be ready for you. Call if off, old friend."

Drako sneered, but as usual, Xena was getting to him, creating doubts.

"When are you going to see the light and give up this wasted life style." Xena pressed on, reopening a topic they had oft-discussed in recent years. "I can't tell you how much more satisfying it's been for me to do what I do now. I can't believe I was ever happy in the old days. Hell, the truth is I wasn't. I was miserable."

Drako scoffed. "Bull, you were the greatest, next to me, of course, and so happy it radiated out of you. You loved the fighting, pillaging..."

"You sound like a man trying to convince himself, Drako. You know what I mean, don't you? You feel it, too. You're never satisfied and always trying to come up with some new scheme. It won't work. Take my word for it. It didn't for me, but now, I'm incredibly serene."

"You didn't act so miserable when you gave me this scar." Drako pointed to a diagonal slash running down the left side of his face. "Nor when you embarrassed the hell out of me with that staff battle in your home village."

"You made me do all of those things by planning to hurt people whom you could just as easily have helped. You're an exceptional warrior, Drako. Wake up and use your skills to benefit humankind."

"You're wasting your time, Xena. I've thought about giving this life up just so I could take you up on your offer and join forces, but I se no future nor profit in it. I want to live like a king, not a peasant. You get under my skin though, Baby. You always have, and if you'd join me, I swear we could live like Gods and make mad passionate love every day of the week. We could also damn near rule the whole frigging world."

But just as Drako was preparing to roll over on top of the woman for whom he was now in heat, one of his men rushed into the tent. "Drako," the soldier said with urgency, "the lookouts have spotted them at Thalacious Gap; it's time to set the trap."

"Damn, they're early." Drako stared at Xena longingly. She was so enticing while laying there, vulnerable and helpless. Then a sudden doubt clouded his mind. "Damn you, Xena, did you really tip off the authorities? Well, hell, even if you did, this new plan's so expertly crafted it'll preempt any efforts they might take to prevent it.. I have the largest and most impressive army I've ever put together, Xena. I do wish you'd ride with me, but have to admit, even if you said yes right now, I wouldn't believe you."

Xena looked back at him with contempt. "That's not going to happen. Call it off, Drako. I'm warning you. I don't want you to go down, even to jail. Please, for old times sake?"

"Bite me, Xena. I'll be back and we'll finish this thing. Go get my horse ready, " he ordered his man. "And as for you, Sweet Cakes, before I go, I'll make you a bit more comfortable." He strutted over to a chest and withdrew several sets of chains. He returned to the bed and rather gently placed a large iron clasp at the end of one of them around Xena's shapely throat. He clicked it into place and then turned her over onto her tummy and snapped hand cuffs onto her wrists before cutting loose the ropes that had held them together. Next, he did the same to her feet, shackling them with chains like those on her wrists that limited them to about eighteen inches of movement.

His final act, as Xena heard the sounds of considerable activity outside the tent, was to take the longest chain, the one attached to her neck and lock it into a large iron ring about seven feet up on the main tent pole

"You can now move about in here as much as you wish, Xena. I've stocked the place with food and wine, and you can relax, recuperate and enjoy yourself until I return. When I do, we'll finish our business, and you'll most likely be getting down and dirty with the richest men you've ever met." He kissed Xena on her cheek, surprisingly tenderly brushed some of her long black, and for now somewhat unruly black hair away from her face, bowed and left. His parting words: "Enjoy yourself."

Just outside Xena heard Drako order some of his men to remain behind and guard the tent, front and back, allowing no one in or out until he returned.

Chapter Three

Xena was impressed by the sounds of Drako's departing force. The last time they'd crossed swords he'd commanded less than forty men. But now, the sounds of departing horses suggested to her practiced ear that he had more than a hundred marauders, perhaps close to two hundred in his army. "He's been prospering, damnit," she ruminated under her breath.

Xena was now sitting up on the bed. She'd tried to stand up but felt too woozy and had sat back down. Her neck chain, as promised, pretty much gave her free movement all around the tent. Food was piled amply on a table: fruit, wine, water, lamb, several loaves of bread, and even some sweet breads, but Xena did not feel very inclined to dine. She laughed, if that's not like Drako, entice me with food, but make it damn near inaccessible. Now, how did he expect me to eat with my hands shackled behind my back? Like a dog, I suppose, that's what he wants, a pet dog, not a human partner.

Slowly she examined the place, looking for means of escape. Was there a weapon around she could use to break the chains? Had Drako been careless? He was notorious for being anything but methodical in his planning. He usually relied on strength, charm, cockiness and improvisation to garner his successes, while Xena had always preferred careful planning to impromptu, although it was still the later that had often saved her life.

She finally felt secure enough to rise up off the bed and try her legs. She wobbled a bit but made it over to the chest from which her captor had removed the chains. It had a large lock on its lid and it would take a very noisy process for her to try and break it open. She tested the neck chain with her throat muscles. It held quite firmly. Could she perhaps pull the whole pole over? Not likely, she concluded, and what would she gain if she did? I'd still be hooked to the darn post?

Xena went over and nibbled some grapes. It was awkward pulling them off the bunch with just her teeth, but she knew she could make a full meal of it if she had to. She'd done it before while imprisoned, even drinking water that she first had to spill on the floor and lick up like an animal. Her head still throbbed, but she was now seeing more clearly and felt steadier on her feet. How long had Drako been gone? She asked herself. And more importantly perhaps, where had he gone and what crime did he have in mind? She'd misread him. She'd been sure he was going to tell her what his latest adventure was about, but he hadn't. Had she overplayed her hand in pretending that she already knew?

Xena plopped back on the bed and began concentrating on her escape, never doubting for a second that she would pull one off.

Some ten minutes later, the Warrior Princess stood up, ambled over to the planning board standing at the far end of the tent and began to examine it curiously. Of course, it indicated an ambush and revealed why Drako had recruited such a large force. He was going to surround and attack a sizable opposition force. And his goal was obvious: to extract from this smaller force a special prize.

But what prize? Was it money, gold, jewelry? No, Xena decided when she noticed one symbol that differed from all the others. Now she suspected a hostage. All the indications showed a party moving down a main road towards Athena with one portion of that party, a wagon protected in the center, as the main goal. It was on that wagon where the symbol differed from all the others. Drako or someone had sketched this one with a skirt on its stick figure. So Drako was out to capture a woman of considerable value, Xena deducted. But who was she and exactly how soon was the trap to close? And did Xena have time to thwart him?

The Greek warrior-woman was now rapidly regaining her strength as well as her mental faculties. Of course, I can stop him, she thought confidently. But not if I sit around here and wait much longer. I've got to shed these restraints and get out of here. Muscles, you're going to have to do your job whether I've rested you long enough or not. And I need to find out exactly whom he's after. Perhaps one of those guards outside could be persuaded to tell me? Drako thinks I know, so it must not be much of a secret to those around here.

Xena furrowed her dark brows, shook her long black hair and schemed like she used to in the old days when she was planning to seize a village, pillage a kingdom or destroy a rival army. Well, first things first, she thought, get ready muscles. She sat down on the ground, rolled up into a ball and then, using the full length of her long slender arms, slid her shackled wrists down below her butt and then along the underside of her legs while simultaneously pulling the legs down and through the loop formed by her arms. Her wrists were still chained but now far more useful in front of her body.

"That was simple," she whispered to herself, forgetting the hours of practice that had gone into perfecting the move, and the work involved in keeping her body supple and limber enough to pull it off. Xena next grabbed the chain securing her by the throat to the tent pole and applied her considerable strength to it. But it held snugly, revealing no signs of weakness in pole, links, or latch.

Xena began to scan the room looking for something she could use to pick the restraints on her ankles, neck and wrists. Finding nothing readily ,she turned to improvisation. Well, more accurately. planned improvisation. Autolycus, the so called King of Thieves but actually a man of great good heart, had spent hours in recent months teaching Xena how to pick locks. In the process, she'd learned from him to make use of all kinds of improvised tools, but his most useful suggestion had been to perfect the use of a piece of her own clothing, the curved and spring-like hook that was used to secure her metal breast and abdominal plates to the shoulder pads of her warrior garb. With her hands now in front of her, it only took seconds for Xena to unhook her protective gear from her outer-wear and detach the would-be key substitution.

The locks of the day were primitive and quickly gave way to her recently developed delicate and informed touch. Xena was able to remove all her restraints in less than ten minutes. It felt good to be free

"Guards--Oh, Guards I've got a problem in here. Help! HELP!"

It took longer than Xena expected, but finally two guards peered inside through the tent flap in response to her frantic-sounding pleas. The sentries had been carefully instructed by their leader not to enter his lodging, and therefore they had been reluctant to do so. Indeed, just seconds before Xena had called out for their assistance, they'd been quietly discussing how enjoyable it might be to slip in and rape her, yet been detered by their fear of his wrath.

"I'm choking," Xena gurgled, clutching at her throat as she noted their hesitancy. She was actually holding the neck chain about her, but appeared to be struggling against it. She'd looped it around the pole to the point that it appeared taut and strangling her.

The two guards, left behind because they were not among the best of Drako's fighters, looked stupidly at each other and then darted inside and towards the struggling female. One was thinking of grabbing hold of Xena and checking her throat. The other was intent on reaching the pole and somehow disentangling the length of chain. Either way, they both had to pass right by their prisoner and her long legs.

As they came within a couple of feet of her, Xena sprang high off the ground and at the apex of her thrust lashed out with both her booted feet , catching each of the guards flush on their heads with a brutal flashing kick from each foot. She barely managed to squelch the war cry that leapt to her lips. But she did so because she didn't want to alert the other guards she was pretty sure were still ouside.

Xena smiled, picked up the sword of one of the unconscious victims, and then turned her attention to the larger of the two, who had survived the kick in a sense of dazed consciousness. He was shaking his head, cradling it between his two ham like hands and groaning.

Xena crouched down beside him and applied her infamous pinch to his throat, cutting off the flow of blood from his heart to brain. The man felt a sudden numbness of the chest accompanied by a choking feeling at his throat and a deadening in his head. He looked at his attacker pleadingly, as if begging for his life.

Xena was calm but stern. "You know the drill, Butt-Head. Who's Drako out to grab, when and where?"

"I don't know anything," the man stupidly lied. Xena stood up and defiantly turned her back on him, as if ready to desert him to his fate/.

"All right, all right," he yelped at her frantically. "Save me, please. It's the Princess of Macedonia--at Legion Point, tomorrow morning." His face was chalky, and he was barely gasping out the last words.

"That's better," Xena smiled. She reapplied the pinch in the way that opened up the blood flow, smashed him in the nose with her right fist and strode out the front tent flap as if she hadn't a worry in the world...

Four men were waiting and watching nervously, having been first alerted by Xena's shouts for assistance and then the brief noises of the struggle within. But when they saw Xena and the haughty gleam in her eyes, the apparent ease with which she'd freed herself from chains and overcome their two comrades sunk in, and three of the remaining four sentries turned and ran. The fourth raised a bow, laid arrow to it and let it fly. Just as he released the bow string, however, he saw Xena bounce into a flying flip flop towards him. Her unlikely move so unnerved him, his arrow missed its mark wildly, and he was rudely felled as both of Xena's boots whacked into his chest and bowled him over.

An additional two guards had been stationed at the rear of the tent. They, too, had heard Xena's calls, the brief sounds of the tussle in the tent, and had vacillated about what to do. They now rounded the tent, saw their comrade knocked to the earth as well as the three fleeing allies, and decided that discretion was the better part of valor. All had heard time and time again of the prowess of this warrior princess. The did not wish to challenge her. They turned their tails and dashed for the nearby woods, planning never to be seen by Xena or their erstwhile master, Drako, again.

Chapter Four
Drako's Prize

The next morning, only slightly later than expected, Drako smiled with satisfied glee as the traveling party of some fifty guards , twenty five in the front and twenty-five more in the rear, led a protected and ornately decorated coach innocently into his ambush.

"I told you they'd be here," he whispered to his second in command, barely able to control his excitement. "Pass the word. I want a simultaneous attack from all sides when I fire my flaming arrow. And remember, nobody and I mean no-body touches that princess but me. Is my team ready?"

"Yes, Drako. By the gods, I was sure an Athenian escort squad would have joined them before they reached this perfect ambush spot."

"They would have, my friend, had I not bribed the man who picked the rendezvous point, five miles east of here at the river. I tell you, Man, we're about to become wealthy beyond our wildest dreams. Athena cannot allow this woman to be stolen. War with Macedonia would be a disaster for both sides. Those panty-waists that run the Greek world today have no appetite for fighting. But they've accumulated great wealth and are about to generously share it with us. Pass the word."

The damp mist was just beginning to lift off the rolling green countryside as the royal party reached the point Drako had set. The guards were barely awake in the saddle. It was just past dawn, their journey was almost over, and they knew that in less than an hour or so, they would be met by the Athenian escorts and be totally free of worry.

Only one of the guards even noticed the burning arrow which suddenly flashed across the sky, but before it landed, they all were stunned by the sounds of trumpets signaling the charge of Drako's band, and the roars of his cutthroat gang as they came at them from front, rear and both sides simultaneously.

Drako and his elite ten delayed momentarily behind the initial rush so that they could slash though the guards after his frontal men had already engaged them. Then they galloped off, ignoring the battle except for any who tried to block their path to the prize. They had one target in mind, the covered wagon and the female within it.

And it fell into their control even easier than they had anticipated. Two men leapt on board and seized the reins to the team of horses. The original drivers jumped in fear and ran without resistance. Even the four tall and brightly garbed swordsmen on horseback at the front and rear of the wagon, men who had pledged to die before relinquishing their princess, engaged Drako's special commandos only fitfully before they fled the scene at a mad gallop.

Drako's replacement drivers turned the wagon off its previous path and steered it into the nearby woods at full dash to the designated pick up point. Their leader smiled at them as he mentally patted himself on the back for the ease of the capture. Once under the cover of the thick woods, he vaulted off his steed onto the wagon and thrust open the door to the interior of it's coach. He stepped inside, sword drawn, expecting to be met by the last line of defense of the Macedonian maiden.

But he did not find the dedicated personal guards he'd been told would be there. Instead, there was merely a tall, willowy female form veiled and sitting upright on an elegant bed. The poor woman appeared to be trembling in fear as she faced her fate helplessly.

"Fear not, Princess Rosana," Drako spoke in gallant tones. "Other than providing me with some occasional pleasure while we await the delivery of your ransom, you'll not be harmed. Eventually, you'll reach that dilettante of a prince to whom you've been betrothed, but before that happens, you'll get to know a real man, up close and personal. Now, come with me. Let's not waste time with futile pleas and tears." Drako held his hand out for her with a cocky bow.

"You're so kind, dear stranger. Please don't ravage me." The princess' voice was unexpectedly steady but quite high pitched. She took his hand but then suddenly squeezed it tightly and powerfully jerked him towards her and down onto the bed.

Drako lost his grip on his sword as he flew through the air. They hit the bed in a pile of arms and legs where the woman proved quicker than he and surprisingly strong as she rolled over on top of him. To Drako's shock he felt a knife blade at his throat as his would-be captive princess withdrew her veil with her free hand.

"Hi, Cutie," she said lyrically, adding a mischievous laugh.

"Xena" Drako was stunned. "But... how? What? I...I..."

Simultaneously with Xena's enormous smile and mocking laughter, Drako heard new trumpets blaring away and the sounds of renewed fighting outside: horses' feet and neighs, the clash of metal and the grunts and groans of battling men.

"Hear that, Drako," Xena looked smug and cocky. "That's the Athenian guard hitting your men from all over. Joined of course, by the same Macedonians who initially fled under your attack. They only fled because they knew they were about to be joined by a far superior force to yours."

Xena removed the dagger from her old rival's throat. "What's the score now, old buddy? Xena four--Drako zero? Or is it five to nothing? Do we count..."

"Damn you! Damn, damn, damn you, Xena! How'd you get loose? Those stupid idiots. Can't they do anything right if I'm not there to instruct them."

"Guess not. Your kind of work just doesn't attract quality applicants, you know. You should really consider switching. But look, we've no time for idle chatter. You've got about thirty seconds before the Athenians reach us. For old times sake I'm letting you go. Assuming of course, you weren't really going to rape me back there. Your army will be eradicated in this battle so it might be a good time for you to consider a life style change, old Buddy. Now beat it, before it's too late."

As Xena stepped back, Drako recognized the urgency of his situation. He scrambled off the bed, jumped out the door, and made an athletic leap onto his horse. He darted away ignoring the worried stares of his own confused men who were still controlling the wagon's team of horses. A large group of Athenian soldiers came riding up as the last of Drako's men back at the initial battle scene surrendered en mass to the overwhelming force that had surrounded them.

The substitute drivers of the Macedonian vehicle started to run but seemed dull and hesitant, and thus soon found themselves, surrounded and surrendering to the approaching soldiers.

Xena leaned out of the door, threw a dagger at the rapidly departing Drako, and then pretended to be disgusted when it missed. "Damn! He got away," she mock-cursed in order to fool the joint Athenian-Macedonian soldiers surveying the scene.

"I told you we should have had some of our men in there with you," one of the Athenian officers asserted, a bit disgusted that his general had listened to the advice of this former female brigand rather than his own.

"He's just so lucky," Xena misled, but in a sincere sounding way. "I had him, just as I promised, but then I tripped over this damn skirt, and he made his getaway. Can't you run him down?"

"We can try," the officer responded, ordering his men to chase after the rapidly disappearing warlord. "Looks like he's on a good horse there though."

"Well, I see you have the rest of his so called army pretty much intact. That should at least put him out of business for awhile." Xena appeared to gloat.

Three days later, Xena and Gabrielle were guests of honor at the royal wedding of the prince and princess of the now united states. Gabrielle, as usual, gushed over the bride and groom, and the happiness that broke out seemingly everywhere. There was dancing, feasting, laughing, flirting, Xena was happy to be reunited with her friend and at the outcome of her brush with Drako, but to tell the truth she always felt out of place at such ritzy bashes. She was bored and eager to get back in action, although she knew she had to wait until a top notch Smitty finished forging her a new set of weapons: chakrem, sword and stash knives. She'd been disgusted when a return trip to Drako's camp site had failed to turn up her beloved weapons of choice.

Chapter Five
Happy Ending?

Xena picked up her new metallic arms and rode Argo outside the city's walls to test them in the nearby woods. Gabrielle had begged off, still enchanted with the many arty events occurring in the city. She'd chosen to go see her last play before the duo set off to renew Xena's hunt for redemption from her evil past.

Xena found a nice green glen surrounded by trees and began to test her new weapons with a slight breeze fluttering through her hair. She let fly three ricochet throws with the new chakram, and was immediately bummed by its slower speed and wobbly flight as compared to that of her old tried and true round disk. She was just setting herself for a more powerful launch when she heard movement in the woods behind her and stopped her wrist flick. "All right," she snarled. "Come out of there whoever you are or my next throw will be aimed at you."

"By the gods, Xena, you wouldn't want to do that now, would you? Not when I'm ready to return the original to its lovely mistress." It was Drako's voice, and he stepped into view, smiling from ear to ear.

"I didn't want to leave this area without returning these to you, my dear." He held all four of her old faithful weapons. "Want me to just drop them on the ground, or do you trust me to hand them to you. After all, I do owe you one. You may have sabotaged another of my ventures but at least you let me escape."

Xena's frown metamorphosed into to a slight smile. "You can hand them to me, Drako. I'm not interested in a fight unless you are. Indeed, I appreciate your thoughtfulness. This new stuff is crap, and their craftsmen was supposed to be the best in all Athena. The prince had him make them for me as a gift for having saved his bride from you--you fink."

Drako approached his nemesis with his usual confident gait and handed her two knives, a sword and a chakrem. They felt alive in her hands. She started to speak and then coughed, it was hard to thank Drako, but she knew she had to do it. "Th...thanks," she finally stammered, almost so low he could n't hear the word. But the look on her face revealed the truth of her thoughts. He could not have given her a more cherished gift.

"Well, sumbitch, I finally got a really kind word out of you, Xena. I like that. You know, we're really two of a kind. Thought any more about joining up with me? You've always wanted to, you know. It's just your pride that's kept you from admitting it."

"That's bull. But I have always liked your style. You do things with a flare, even if consistently they seem to be the wrong things."

"You were begging me to marry you not too long ago."

"That's even more bull. We both know that was all the result of some malicious mischief by Cupid's kid. He made me hot for your pants, I admit it, but I came to my senses. I might not have though, if you'd demonstrated the good grace and wisdom to stop trying to kidnap those young girls."

"What kept us apart was not my failure to agree to become a goody-two-shoe, Xena. It was my sudden and inexplicable attraction to your blonde buddy. By the way, where is she? You two breaking up?"

Xena chuckled at the memory of everyone she knew falling in love with the most unlikely significant others. "That was funny, the way I was throwing myself at you when all of a sudden you only had eyes for Gabrielle and her for Joster."

"Funny, hell, I was miserable. There I was fawning all over her for no obvious reason, when I finally had the chance to really bed you. All I had to do was pretend to turn mushy. That cupid kid had me acting far more out of character than you were. Let's face it, Xena, you've always wanted me, but were just to stubborn to admit it."

"Bull, we were both acting way out of character. The truth is though, that I have always been attracted to you. It's one of my most obvious flaws. I always find myself attracted to bad boys. Yeah, I do like you, Drako, but not what you do, and that's an insurmountable barrier. Thanks for my weapons, but now, I think we both better go our separate ways. If we meet again, I'm not going to let you off so easily. You've got to stop hurting people. Anyone you hurt now, indirectly, I'll feel guilty for having let it happen. I don't like that. So either change your ways or stay out of my path."

"Well, you don't have to worry all that much, Xena.. That's really why I've been hanging around and keeping my eyes on you the last few days. Returning your weapons was just the excuse."

"What do you mean?"

"I've decided to take your advice, after all. I know it won't be easy, but I'm gonna give up war-lording."

Xena was instantly suspicious. "C'mon, this is Xena you're talking to."

"I know it is. But if you did it, so can I. I wouldn't mind having your help, however."

"You've got it, if you mean it."

"Could we team up then. I know at some point I'm going to start to fall off this new wagon, but if you're around to help me, just maybe I can hang on. You've always agreed we'd be quite a team if we could just agree on which side we belonged."

"I have and I meant it."

"I'll let you be the boss, Xena. At least until I can figure out if it's the right thing for me."

"That would never work, and you know it. We'd be at each other's throat all the time. I can be pretty stubborn, but..."

"No, you?"

They both laughed. "I tell you what, Xena. You seem kind of reluctant. Maybe I'd be in the way of your special relationship with little Gaby. Why don't I go off and prove myself first. You know, sort of earn my spurs in the good deeds department. Then, if I succeed at it, maybe we could get together later. I don't want to either be dependent on you or to pinch your style."

"Maybe that is a good idea. Are you really serious about this?"

"I am."

''Then I don't want you to be confused about Gabrielle and me, Drako. I mean she's my absolute best friend and means the world to me. I even love her, but not like lovers. She was married, you know, and I was all right with that because it made her happy. It just so happened he died within hours of their alliance.

"I think I heard about that, yeah. Callisto wasn't it? Look, this is awkward. I just wanted you to know your act of friendship back there the other day, well, it touched me. I'm going to try to make something more worthwhile of myself. If it works, great. Maybe then I could start thinking about moving our relationship beyond just friendship."

"Don't set out to do good just to impress me, Drako. You need to want to change for yourself. Not for me or anyone else. I guarantee you doing good will satisfy you more than doing things like pillaging villages, plotting thefts, etc. Try it, you'll like it."

"How about a nice friendly kiss before we part."

Xena smirked. "With you it always turns to sex, doesn't it? Do I detect a little trick here?"

"You're wronging me, Xena. This is no scheme. I just thought, hell, if you and Gabrielle kiss..."

"OK, I shouldn't be so suspicious when a poor soul's trying to reform. People doubted me and it hurt. We can kiss, a friendly, good-bye kiss and nothing more."

"Like the ones you give that thief guy?"

"Autolycus? Well, those sometimes push the limits of the word friendly. He's quite a guy."

"And I'm not?"

"I didn't say that."

Drako moved in close and bent his face towards hers. Xena was almost as tall as he was, although the male warrior was much more stocky and powerful looking than she. They awkwardly touched their lips and waited for something to happen. When Xena did not pull back after his initial peck, Drako was emboldened. He put his arms about her and kissed more firmly.

Xena responded. At first her intention was to pull away but then something, could it have been passion, reared its head and she kissed back, twisting her face so that the kissing became more dramatic. Tongues met, breathing increased and suddenly Xena was bent backward as Drako came on more intensely. Xena refused to give ground. They kissed, kissed again, separated their lips an inch or so for a brief interlude and then kissed once more before again and again lips touched and bodies clutched. Each were now panting and feeling all kinds of internal emotions.

"Xena, you know I've loved you for almost ten years."

"Loved me, hell, you tried to kill me?" She muttered, but her words were almost lost as they kissed again and dropped to their knees, still intertwined.

During a break Drako grumbled, "I'm the one with the scar."

"You chained my neck and threatened to rape me."

"Only because I desired you so much." Drako was now fumbling with Xena's breasts. She was not wearing her bustier and it was easy for him to find them. They were remarkably round and firm, like the rest of her hard body. Xena responded perceptibly and favorably to his fondling.

Then, her rational side intruded. "Wait a minute, wait. This is wrong, irrational, stupid..." But her words did not match her deeds. She was groping for his junior swordsman, and breathing deeply. She admired the musculature of this powerful and sometimes very violent man. Could he ever really change? That thought flashed through her mind. Do I really care? A different voice asked deep down inside her body. The first voice seemed to come from her brain while the second was definitely housed in her groin.

They rolled over on the ground and were well on the road to copulation when Xena again hesitated. "I can't do this, Drako." She began to push him away but with less than all her might.

"Sure you can. We've both wanted this for years. Repression's bad for the psychic. Will this help? Marry me, Xena?"


"Marry me. I've changed. Right here and now I've changed. Prove to me that change is better for me. Love me. Marry me, Xena. We'll make a hell of team for goodness."

"You're mad."

"Seems as if I heard you were once. It's great--ain't it: to be madly in love. We can rush over right now to the nearest village and be married before darkness. We'll come back here and confirm how great this feels."

"My, how you tempt me. What if I say yes? Will you marry me first and them come back here to finish this...this...whatever this madness is?"

"It's love, passion, sex, life's most precious gift between man and woman-- that's what it is? Yeah, I'll do it that way--if I must. I want you, Xena not just to stimulate you, and to be sent soaring by you, but to be your forever mate. Your companion. Your..."

"Oh, shut up, pull your pants up and let's go then. Do you know where we can make it right?"

"We were making it right--just now, but if you mean make it official? Yeah, we can do that in Therepes. We can be there in half an hour."

Drako stood up, almost took a step and then smiled sheepishly on the verge of tripping over his own pants. He jerked them up as Xena had suggested.

"Hurry!" The frustrated male said as Xena dawdled, brushing the leaves out of her hair before elegantly rising to her full height. She was stalling and he knew it, so he pressed her and sure enough, within seconds they rode off together. Each wore a brilliant smile on their face. The wind of the ride failed to cool their erogenous ardor.

Xena had never dreamed she could be so excited about loving a man. Not since Caesar and his betrayal of her had her body felt so tingly and erotic.. This was not like the sexual encounters she'd had with Borias. Those had been pure sexual passion, but this--this, she was sure, was true LOVE.

Three hours later, they were a married couple and had located a lovely waterfall as the proper background setting for the consummation of their marriage. Xena looked absolutely radiant. Drako teased her that even her hair was shimmering. That was after they climbed out of a spot where they had let the almost chilly pool at the base of the waterfall cleanse their bare bodies and add to the excitement building in their zones of desire.

Their first copulation occurred with the water fall beating down on them. The second in a shallow poll off to the side of the main stream, and the third in the moonlight and on the grass where their still damp bodies reflected the dancing star light that provided a reflective cover for their first flights of desire together. It was truly a night to remember, but it soon paled with what was to follow.

Chapter Six
The First Day in the Life of...

A fluttering right eyebrow was the first sign of life in a contented Xena the next morning. She followed that movement by rolling over onto her back and feeling off to the left for her husband's manly body. A frown crossed her face when she couldn't find him. Her blue eyes popped open and she frowned. It was a disappointment. She'd wanted her first sight on this initial day of their new life together to be his handsome face.

I'm slipping, she thought to herself. I can't remember the last time anyone came in or out of my camp at night without my being aware of it. Guess I'm already growing dependent on the man in my life. Will have to watch that. She looked about her. Argo was browsing on the high grasses nearby, but she could not locate Drako nor his steed.

I bet he rode out to find some breakfast, she ruminated. Xena then stretched out her languorous body, pointing the toes of her big feet up into the air and stretching out all her muscles. She was buck-naked, not her usual way of sleeping, but it had felt right for her wedding night. Cozy, in fact. It was nice to snuggle up to another body for warmth rather than depending on leather and blanket. Most often, Xena only removed her armor at nights, sleeping both in her warrior garb and boots.

She sat up and realized her eyes were not as clear as usual. The wine, she decided. I must not get in the habit of having wine every night, but then, last night was hardly ordinary. Wedding nights should be special and it was. "Wow! Was it".

Xena stood up and began to don her uniform. "Drako?" She called his name to determine if he might be out there somewhere in earshot. Perhaps hot on the trail of rabbit or squirrel. There was no answer, and Xena felt a sudden quiver, as if her uncanny instinct was telling her something foreboding had happened or was about to, but she shook it off. How could anything bother me after last night, she thought positively. That was truly good beyond belief.

The newlywed sat down and began pulling her boots on, felling hungry and just a tad hung-over. She was definitely not used to drinking that much wine. Still, it had eased them into their romantic moments, blurring any hesitations. Out of habit, she wrapped the leather knee cap protectors about the top of her boots and stood up, twisting her lanky torso back and forth to loosen up the muscles. I'm getting real hungry. Where are you, my new husband? She looked at but decided not to put on the rest of her protective gear: the bustier, abdominal guards, shoulder pads and bicep and forearm protectors

Already Xena was discovering that being married had both its up and down side. One's expectations for her mate were, unfortunately, not always to be realized. They couldn't be. She'd have to adjust to that. It had taken some time to warm up to the idea of having a traveling companion when Gabrielle had pushed her way into her life. Oh, by the Gods, Gabrielle. How awful of me not to take the time yesterday to find her and include her in the wedding.

But then Xena excused herself. After all, Gaby was at a play, one of her favorite things, and Xena had not been able to remember which theater her friend had attended That's why she'd written off the urge to delay the wedding long enough to invite her bosom friend along. "We'll go into town today and tell her all about it." Xena spoke out loud although only to herself. "Boy, will she be one surprised little gal."

The lonely wife ambled over to her horse, called out again for Drako, and then rummaged though her saddle bags to see if she could find something to munch on -- anything stashed in there edible. Finding nothing, Xena ambled down to the river's edge, admired the falls and got herself a drink by laying down on her stomach and leaning over into the water. It was cold and delightfully refreshing.

Where is that Drako? she thought. Xena fought back angerthe anger that was trying to push its way into her brain in spite of her resistance.

Two hours passed and Xena had given up all pretenses at excusing her husband's absence. She was thinking all kinds of disturbing thoughts. I was a rotten lover and he's left me; The dirty bastard suddenly realized he'd made a commitment and split. He's a coward. How could I have been so stupid. He's never been any good. He was and is a devil-may-care, every thing is all about me, first class jerk. How could I have married him? I thought I put all that relentless drive for passion, passion and more and more Eros behind me after Borias died. I bet it's because of what those soldiers of mine did to me after they ran me through the gauntlet and raped me. I was always afraid that would tarnish my ability to have great sex. But it didn't hurt. Tartarus, it felt fabulous to me.

Five minutes later, Xena had just decided to board Argo and ride off following Drako's trail when she first heard and then saw him come riding out of the tree line and towards her. He was moving slowly until he spotted her standing by her horse and then he urged his animal into a fast trot.

"G'morning, my Bride," he beamed that infectious smile of his and through it touched Xena's heart. Her anger began to dissipate much faster than it had built.

"Good morning, Husband, and where in Tartarus have you been? I've been waiting for hours."

"I know; I know. I'm sorry, Darling."

For just a brief second Xena thought there was something amiss about the way Drako had pronounced the word Darling. Had she detected just a hint of sarcasm in his voice? Oh, don't be silly, her loving side told her.

Drako went on." I didn't think it would take me so long. I wanted to get just the right meal for our first breakfast together as a team, and I knew how much you loved hot bread pudding. The damn tavern owner didn't want to cook it for me, so I had to persuade him and then wait for it to get done." He produced a pot from his saddle bags and handed it to her as if it were a coveted prize.

"Thanks, Sweetie." Xena accepted the still warm pot, but her smile had narrowed. "But I'm afraid you've confused me with one of your other lady friends. I've eaten bread pudding, but it's hardly a favorite of mine."

"Really? How embarrassing. I thought sure I remembered it as your all time passion food."

"My passion runs to other things--joint endeavors, and I expected to have it both raised and satiated long before now today."

"Well, it's not noon yet. I bet I can still get the job done. But anyhow, the bread pudding was not the only thing I brought you. I was going to wait and give you my wedding gift after dark, but since you're not a pudding fan, afterall, and obviously peeved, I'd better share it with you now."

"What? I'm not one who needs gifts, you know. You're all I wanted and want. I..."

But Drako cut her off. "I didn't feel right yesterday. You know, about not presenting you with a proper wedding present. That's really why I went to town. I got something for you there--something to properly seal our covenant. Drako climbed off his horse and reached inside his shirt, withdrawing an object wrapped in a purple cloth."

"That's not fair," Xena replied. "I don't have anything for you."

"You have all I want, about six feet of it, my dear." He held her and kissed her, not passionately but energetically. Xena felt guilty for being angry at his absence.

"You should have told me. We could have bought gifts together and then exchanged them. Except, of course, I think all I have is about ten dinars."

"Do you want to see it?"

"Of course," Xena reached out.

"Oh no, not that way. Close your eyes. In fact, drop to your knees so I can readily slip it about your lovely throat."

"That's silly, I..."

"Please, Xena, I dreamed last night of doing it just this way. You'd be as you are, in your leathers but without your battle gear, with those lovely breasts just slightly exposed."

"All right." Secretly she was flattered. Xena dropped onto both knees and closed her eyes. She raised her chin and pushed it out slightly, anticipating that some sort of a necklace or broach would be attached to her slender neck.

She heard Drako fumbling. He unwrapped the cloth and then slipped something onto his right hand. He smiled at Xena. "Are you ready?"

"Yes, My Darli..."

Chapter Seven
A Rude Awakening

Xena's head popped up off of her chest with a jerk. Her chin hurt, and as her eyes popped open the world began to spin. She tried to reach her arms out for balance at the same instant she realized her feet were not touching anything solid. She felt as if she were falling, and she tried desperately to spread her feet apart to take the fall, knees bent. But neither her arms nor feet responded. By Zeus! She realized, I'm dangling.

And indeed she was. She was hanging from a tree limb, attached to it by a thick rope pulled tightly up under her arm pits. Her hands were bound snugly behind her back at the wrists, and had been further attached both to her feet, which were bound at the ankles, and to her throat, all by the same rope. Xena kicked and squirmed, bouncing around like a wobble toy on a string. She was also gagged so tightly the cloth was cutting into the corners of her mouth.

How in Tartarus did I get like this? Xena wondered, confused. And where in hell am I?

At least she was able to answer the last question. Argo stood fairly nearby. And then she spied her blanket on the ground and recognized the now familiar sounds of the waterfall where she and Drako had spent their wedding night. Xena looked around for the sun, finally found it and realized it was close to sunset, about seven at night.

She began to work frantically at her wrist bindings, realizing they were the key to her getting free. But the more she tugged and twisted against the ropes the tighter not only they became but so did the rope about her ankles and throat. Xena was hog-tied and angry.

Drako? Where was Drako? Had someone attacked them and carried him off? The only good news she could drum up was that whoever had hit her this time had clobbered her on the chin rather than on her noggin, which was still tender from the most recent knock administrated by Drako's former employee.

So, Xena hung there with nothing but her dazed and confused thoughts. Any effort to get loose only made matters worse. She would just have to wait until someone or something came along, and hope that it wasn't a bear. Her thoughts were disturbing, so she resisted them. But slowly, ever so slowly as the uncomfortable minutes dragged by, dark thoughts crept on tiny feet and slowly enveloped her mind set.

If Xena had been struck in the jaw, than the person who'd hit her had to have been in front of her, and the last person Xena could remember in front of her was her husband. Drako had asked her to slip to her knees while he gave her something. Her last recallable thoughts had been of his standing in front of her, fumbling with something. She had tried to help him, had tilted her chin and moved it towards him. By the Gods, it all seemed quite incriminating, but she resisted logic and refused to accept the fact that her husband had done this to her. Not yet.

Why would Drako have hit her? She questioned. And could a man, even one as strong as Drako, knock her unconscious that easily? She was tough, hardened by battle, had a powerful neck and had never considered herself a possessor of a glass jaw. But what if he'd hit her with something?

"This is crazy, Xena," she tried to tell herself out loud, only to be rudely reminded of the dirty rag pulled tightly into her mouth. "Biffissazy" it sounded like. Her words returned to thoughts. "Drako's your husband. We're lovers. He could not have faked that feeling of love. Someone must have hit him from behind, and then slugged me before I could react? Before I could react? Not me. Unless that wine last night so slowed my reflexes. No, no, no."

Hours passed and Xena finally drifted off into an uncomfortable half-sleep half-groggy unconsciousness before she was awakened by the voice of the man she thought was her lover. "Glad to see you're still hanging in there, wifey, dear. How's the chin?" He couldn't hold back his laughter as he eyed her dangling there so helplessly.

Xena's eyes whipped open this time. Drako was standing right next to her and staring up at her. The warlord wore a nasty and smug expression on his manly face. "I see you've tried to get loose, Sweetie. Your wrists are bleeding. I tried to tie you up so that you'd quickly realize escape was impossible. But then the great Xena never gives up--does she?"

So it was no longer in doubt, Drako had betrayed her just as Caesar and others in her past. Xena's rotten luck in love continued.. The gag garbled her expletive."Rufffou!"

Drako laughed, reached up and loosened the twisted kerchief abut her face.

"You did this to me?" Xena queried. "It's not funny." Her hurt and anger were heightened by his smirk and laughter.

"You're right. It's not funny. It's delightful, poetic justice. It's my moment of triumph. I've savored every second of it."

"Where have you been? Why? What happened to our love? To our plans for the future?" "I...I..." Xena was speechless, her worst nightmares confirmed.

"There were no plans for us, Xena."

Drako's words reminded the warrior princess of another dark moment in her life: they were almost Caesar's exact words as she kneeled in chains on the deck of her vanquished ship

"Well, that's not perfectly honest," a cocky Drako droned on, savoring his conquest. "I did want you more than heaven and earth, more than any other thing, and for years. But, you know, after I finally took your body, I realized that was all I really wanted. I wanted to best Xena. I wanted to conquer you. And once you gave yourself up to me, I had. After that, you became just another conquest, another woman. Oh, you're also a hell of a warrior. The best I've ever seen, but I'll be damned if there's any reason to give up my life of luxury, excitement, wealth and power, just so I can be with you doing...what is it you call it, the greater good. That's pure hogwash!"

Tears crept out of the corners of Xena's eyes, even though she was determined not to let them flow. "You bastard. I believed you. I loved you from the bottom of my heart. I...I...I'm going to kill you."

"I knew that's how you'd feel once I told you, Xena. That's why I've been gone for a while. At first I thought I'd better kill you. Not because I hate you, by the way, I really don't, but because I know that if given a chance you'll kill me for this, and because you constantly seem to be thwarting my best laid plans. But just as I was about to plunge a knife into your unconscious body, old girl, I got a better idea. Why not make a few dinars out of this, I thought."

"Then I remembered I'd seen Mohammed, the slave-trader, several days ago and learned he was getting ready to ship a load of slaves off to the middle east. I thought to myself, you know, I bet he'd pay a pretty penny to add Xena to that shipload. And sure enough, the old devil jumped at the chance. He offered me even more than I expected. So I did it. He'll be along to pick you up shortly."

"Mohammed? You've sold me into slavery?" Xena spit at Drako and her spittle caught him right in the face. She began twisting and turning, pumping her legs and trying mightily to reek some havoc on her bonds. But everything not only held tight, but tightened. It grew so restricted about her neck that she began to gasp for breath.

Drako watched with fascination, slowly wiping away her spittle expletive. He drew his arm back to swat her across the face but as he saw her gasping for breath, he held back the blow. "Hold on there," Gal, he chuckled. "I don't think Mohammed'll pay me all them gold pieces for a dead woman."

Drako put his arms about Xena's waist, and held her tightly until her wild spasm of energy passed. He then hoisted her up a with one arm about her chilled body while the other hand reached up and tried to loosen the rope about her throat. But it had drawn so tight, he could not loosen it with only one hand.

Xena was fading. Drako's face turned fuzzy to her, and she could not locate air to suck in. Drako pulled his knife and in her dizzy condition, Xena thought sure he was going to cut her throat. However, he merely sliced the section of rope between her wrists and throat. He then let her go, and the blood inside the helpless victim's body began once more to flow upwards to her brain.

"Yep, old Mohammed was eager to get his hands on you, Xena." Darko picked up his train of thought nonchalantly. "Seems you two've met before, and, in your usual manner, you left quite an impression on him. "

"Yeah, three times I've caught that slimy Arab running slaves and set them, free. Unfortunately, he got away each time because he'd treated his prisoners so badly I had to give them medical aid while he escaped. I'll be delighted to see him again."

Drako marvelled at her confidence. Hell, it's sheer arrogance, he thought. How else could she act, in her hapless status, as if once Mohammed arrived she'd take care of him rather than vice versa. "By Zeus, Xena, you constantly amaze me with your positive attitude. And even more so with that magnificent body." Drako found himself growing horny and seriously considering one last entry of his prize. After all, he thought, she is my wife. But wiser thinking prevailed. I can't afford to give her even the slightest chance to get loose, he reminded himself. This bitch can even be dangerous when she's all tied up. I once saw her whip a man with nothing but her teeth locked onto his ear lobe. Recalling that event, he stepped back defensively.

"By the way, Xena, how'd you like my wedding gift? Oh, that's right, you never even saw it did you? Boy, did you drop when I slugged you. Thanks for being so lovey-dovey that you made it easy." The gloating Drako reached into one of his pockets and extracted a metal item, slipped it over his knuckles and displayed it to her. "I call them brass knucks. Neat, eh?" He clinched his fist. "Bet you've never been hit harder?"

Xena frowned. "I knew you weren't man enough to knock me out with one punch--not without help. Thanks, your gift has kept me from making the mistake of my life?"

"And that would have been?"

"Spending a second day married to you. Consider this our divorce."

Drako laughed. "Sorry, it don't work that way, Xena. You'll go to your grave married to me and hating it. Of course, you'll probably be glad to die. I hear life with those Arab Sheiks is not all that pleasant for their love-slaves." He turned away from her chuckling. Xena began to wriggle again, encouraged by the fact she no longer risked unconsciousness from her efforts.

But two hours later she was still dangling there from that tree limb, more uncomfortable, sore, hurt, and angry than before. Drako had, for the most part, ignored her since releasing the pressure on her throat. Oh, he'd occasionally tossed a verbal barb at her, but generally he'd kept busy fixing his own dinner, and preparing the campsite for a hurried departure after the arrival of her new captors.

Xena spent the time searching for an escape mode. All the while knowing it was prety much a waste of time with Drako there and able to stop her at any point that she might achieve some visible progress. Still, she not only tried to wriggle loose, but to rock back and forth and try to wear the rope thin where it crossed over the limb on which she'd been hung. Anything was better than wondering about why she had once again been betrayed. She suspected she knew the answer though. It was proper punishment for the evil she'd wrought on so many innocents in her not too distant past.

Mohammed and his slave drivers arrived noisily and quite late at night. The wily old slave master had brought ten burly guards along for the task for he knew he was about to deal with a formidable foe. All were armed, surly-appearing and on alert. It was obvious that Mohammed did not trust Drako. Indeed, he had really doubted that the man had Xena, much less was ready to sell her.

Mohammed spent little time examining the hanging female. He knew her well, hated her deeply, and was delighted to have her almost in his grasp. She'd hit him harder than anyone had ever struck him, and she'd cost him tens of thousands of dinars. He paid Drako 30,000 dinars in gold without blinking an eye.

Drako was warmed by the heft of the money in its wooden box and quickly loaded it onto his horse. He offered to sell the Arab Argo as well, but the man wasn't interested. He was riding a fine steed, and all of his men were suitably sitting aside one of those small Arabian horses. It appeared they had also brought one along for their just purchased captive.

"I'll give you one piece of advice before I'm gone," Drako added as he mounted his horse. "Keep her tied up like she is: all four limbs all of the time. Otherwise beware. Give that woman even the slightest opportunity and she'll get loose and all hell will break loose. I know her, and she's good, better than you and all ten of your henchmen."

Mohammed spit on the ground and waved his hand. "Leave her to me. I know how to handle feisty women. You may think you've made a killing here, warlord, but I'm the one who's going to make the greatest profit. I not only get even with this she-devil, but I assure you I know men who'll pay a king's ransom for a woman with that kind of body and her talents."

Thinking to himself, the Arab added, of course I may have to dye her hair blonde. My clientele go crazy over blue-eyed blondes. His eyes left Drako and glanced back at Xena. Look at her, he thought, totally helpless yet still clearly defiant in all her body language. She won't be though when I get through with her.

Drako rode off, refusingto look back at Xena or the Arabs. He didn't want her to think he was having second thoughts, although he was, and he definitely did not want the Arabs to think he thought theywould dare to shoot an arrow at him or throw a blade. He hoped the old ass hole got Xena out of Greece, but he wasn't going to count on it. The old boy was too smug, and if he underestimated Xena, she'd beat him. The warlord suddenly stopped, turned in the saddle and tossed one barb at his captive bride. "Pleasant journey, Xena, don't fool around on your hubby." His laughter seemed to linger behind him forever.

Xena wanted to answer with a smart retort but she was busy. Mohammed's men had just released the rope tied to the tree, and she'dropped rapidly to the ground. She landed on her feet, bent her knees and held her balance, but not for long. With bound feet, she had no luck in trying to stay on her feet after a vicious shove from the rear. Xena hit the turf face first and hard. "Woufff!"

Two guards rolled her over and examined her bonds, assuring themselves that she was helpless. The bleeding around her wrists convinced them her ropes were more than secure. They picked her up, one at her feet and the other at her torso. They carried her over to the Arab pony and tossed her across it. One of them then took a new piece of rope and secured Xena to the horse by attaching it first to her feet and then under the horse before securing the rope to her long black hair on the other side. Xena wanted to yelp as they braided her hair and the rope together, but she refused to allow them the enjoyment of her pain.

They toted her that way all night, tucking into a cave just before daylight in order to rest and keep out of sight in the day time. Once inside the cave, Xena was released from the horse, her rib cage sore as hell from the rough ride. Mohammed instructed his men how to store her for their rest period.

First, they secured her bound wrists to her waist and then one of the guards took a stout stick, about five feet in length and ran it behind here back and under her arms so that it extended approximately equal distances beyond her body. Two men then grasped the opposite ends of the stick and hoisted the Warrior Princess roughly and painfully up in the air. They toted her, tied feet dragging along the cave floor, over and between to two tall boulders where they then balanced the ends of the stick on top of the rocks. Xena thus dangled between the two boulders, her feet just off the ground and all of her weight supported by her arm pits and upper arms. It was excruciatingly painful.

The guards alternated turns, two at a time, guarding Xena for two hour shifts while the others slept. Xena noticed at one point that two of the guards who'd started the trip out with them were now missing, and she passed a few hours trying to figure out where the had gone. It was better than thinking about her own plight and discomfiture. Every time she tried to shift positions even a little, the stick on which she had been hung would begin to slip off one or both of the boulders, and the guards would have to grab at the ends and resettle them in delicate balance. Such actions increased the victim's discomfort automatically. Additionally, it did so because the angered guards would kick her, strike her or pull her hair for having caused them extra work.

After he'd enjoyed several hours of sleep, Mohammed got up and began waging psychological warfare on his captive. He told her in dark and vivid detail about the fates of several other captives who'd been sold to special customers of the type he had in mind for her He and his men also ate and drank in front of her. It was hot in the cave, but Xena was given neither a morsel of food nor droplet of water. Indeed, when Mohammed caught her once licking her own perspiration. He had his men wipe her face dry with dirt off the floor of the cave. Xena's cheeks and chin were rubbed raw..

When it grew dark again, the Arabs renewed their journey, similarly to the night before. About an hour out, however, the two men who'd disappeared sometime the night before caught up with the party. Mohammed welcomed them back and counseled with them up well ahead of Xena. He then called a halt to the procession and walked back to her with a cloth bag in his right hand.

"Rest here," he instructed his men. Mohammed then kneeled down so that he could look at Xena eyeball to eyeball where her head hung off the horse.

It was the first time he realized that by tethering her hair to her feet, they had limited her view almost exclusively to that of the horse's underside. He smiled, that's good he thought, besides painful she must be bored. He pulled a knife out of his belt and cut her hair where it was entwined with the rope from her ankles. He then grabbed her hair and pulled her face up so that she was forced to either stare into his eyes or close hers.

Mohammed was pleased by the rather distant look in her deep blues, as if their owner's brain was slipping.

"I have a surprise for you, Xena." He spoke in a mocking tone of voice. "I think you'll like it. Don't say I never did you a favor. Would you like me to keep this for you so you can cuddle up to it at night while you're chained up down in the hell hole of my ship?"

The slave master then dumped the contents of the bag on the ground in front of them. A oblong object tumbled out. Mohammed let loose of Xena's hair so that his captive bird's eyes could follow the roll of the object. He bent forward and lowered his own head so that he could still see the reaction in her eyes when Xena figured out what he'd offered her as a gift.

The captive was so tired and exhausted her eyes were focusing poorly, so at first Xena was not sure what had rolled out. It looked like a black ball. But then Mohammed rolled it over with his foot, and Xena had a sickening urge to vomit. Fortunately, she'd had so little food and drink in the last many hours that all she managed was dry heaves. Between them, she muttered, "Damn you, damn you, you rotten devil. Yeaaaghhh!"

"Why, Xena, I thought you'd be pleased. I got you your divorce, as well as my money back. We're both winners?"

It was Drako's severed head!


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