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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.

This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.

This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.

Any polite comments you would like the author to read send to Short and to the point would be nice. Venting at the author is not advisable since the Muses protect their own. 8-)


By J. A. Bard



Chapter 1-2 Chapter 2 (cont'd) Chapter 3-4 Chapter 5-7 Chapter 8-9


Chapter 2 (continued)

On the Road Again

By the time the three returned to their rooms they also had an idea of how Menigines ran his castle and what he expected of his guests. One was that they were not to wander to the other side of the castle, the ward, or the hall, due to the visitors from Labdu. They were slave traders and Lord Mengines feared they would prey on them when it was time for them to leave. As if the women would let something that important slip.

There's that threat again, Aleka thought. Now why does he want us to stay away from the hall or inner ward? According to Captain Dunties when we first arrived we were free to visit the traders in the ward, but now...what has changed?

Agnes gave him the name of the satire they were putting on that evening. They had played it often enough that it wouldn’t take much preparation.

Aleka was silent for the rest of the night working out a plan to find out what the fourth challenge Menigines had made with Labducus was. She was sure their isolation had to do with the bet and the fact that the caravan that arrived was from Labducus' city. Captain Dunties had conveniently not mentioned to them that they were part of a bet. She could feel her skin crawl with suspicion that the fourth bet wasn’t going to be good news for them.

Agnes was not very talkative on the way back to their rooms either. She could feel the tension all around her and it was a nervous sexual tension. When the Named had suggested they travel as a drama troupe she felt the goddess herself had inspired her for it kept in tune with the priestess' dedication to their respective temples. The dramatis persomae becomes inflamed with the divine message during the performance as the spirit imparts the message of the satire or drama to the audience. As priestesses, Agnes and the other priestesses, had been trained to be the divine messengers in this respect. That was why they had all appeared at the same time on Lesbos, to perform in her annual festival to the Muses.

Agnes shook her head in dismay. It had seemed that though the couple spoke knowingly of dramas, satires and bard tales, their own request lacked the depth of what these arts were about. It didn’t make sense, unless she took into consideration that Menigines obsession with gambling with his neighbor took precedence over...It was so like Bacchus's followers. Aleka was right. They were going to draw the line there. Dionysus and Aphrodite together seemed to equal Bacchus in this case, and she was not a fan of his.

Lily kept her own counsel also. She had seen many intrigues as well as ran more than she cared to count of her own. She was sure Menigines had a bet with Labducus and it concerned them.

The room Agnes and Lily were sharing had a guard posted outside, as did the other two rooms. Aleka looked over the first guard who wasn’t even old enough to grow a beard. If the guards were also consuming the herbs they would have to be posting their own guards on the other side of the door. By the looks exchanged between Agnes and Lily the feeling was shared.

Aleka followed Agnes and Lily into their room intending to check each room on her way to her own. Gari and Brona were picking delicately at the food on the table with Candra pointing out the foods to avoid. They all looked up as the three entered the room.

"We’ve asked for unspiced foods." Agnes told the women.

"Great. I don’t want to even picture what would happen to that guard outside the door if we ate most of this stuff." Brona disgustedly pointed to a sauce that looked tasty. "Look at that! They ruined a good dip."

"We’ll have to have one person up at all times." Aleka told the women in a low tone.

Lily nodded in agreement. "Lord Menigines gives me a bad case of 'let's get outa here.' I’ll set it up here. Should we leave the connecting doors open?"

"No. Too drafty. Let's set up an unpredictable time for each guard to signal each other that all is well or otherwise. Lily, you and Alala will accompany me tonight on a closer look at this castle and its contents."

Lily nodded. "Say about three past the high mark?"

"Three candle marks past midnight. Good. Everyone should be deeply asleep, including the guards."

Aleka nodded to the others and passed through into the next room. In the second room the women were still in the pool talking in low tones.

Aleka stopped at the pool's edge.

"What did you find out?" She asked in a low voice of Alala.

"That Menigines is a consumed bettin’ man." Alala told her softly.

"Money?" Aleka asked.

"No. It’s more of an ego thing. Both Labducus’ wife and Menigines' had made the men swear off bettin money. The two women are twin sisters. But it doesn’t lessen the stakes. The stable boys had all sorts of stories about their rivalry. The latest one has to do with us. They had almost spilled the beans when the stable master came in and just about had a fit that they were standin around gossipin instead of workin. Now, he's one we'll be gettin' to know tomorrow. He's been with Menigines for a long time."

"We need to find out what the bet is." Aleka told her. "There are four conditions to the bet. We know three of them. He needs to get an original drama or satire written for him, it has to be performed on our third day, and it has to be Bacchus material."

"What?" Berik asked in a loud whisper. "He’s crazy. Do you know what those dramas are like?" Images of the priestesses rolling around on the floor in sexual orgies to please a male crowd so they can find a corner or a partner to fulfill a private fantasy was not something she wanted part of.

Aleka held her hand up. "He already knows Bacchus stuff is out."

"And?" Alala asked suspiciously.

"He said okay -- but I don’t believe him. That’s two out of four. If he's that much of a bettin man, he'll want all four."

"What do you think the fourth is?" Camilia asked.

"I have a bad feeling it's his own playwright. It fits in with his asking about Iaia and putting this test to her to write something for him. It also fits in with his competitive nature. He has to have it all. I know the type. We’re going to have to keep an eye on Iaia." The knot in her stomach was giving her heartburn. I don’t remember getting stomachaches from worrying about her. Ahh. That's me. Gads I forgot what they were like. Well, stop it.

"Alala, how does a walk at the dead hour sound to you?"

"Three candle marks past? I’ll be ready."

"Post a guard throughout the night. Set up a code with Lily between the watches. We’ll close the doors between the rooms. I can see you already noticed it creates a draft when open." She noticed they had the adjoining door already closed. However, behind the door she could hear laughter.

"It kept putting out the torch." Candra nodded. "And it was cold."

Tired Aleka made her way to her room. They had two candle marks to get ready for their evening performance.

Entering the room the squeals and laughter became louder. The noise was coming from the bathing room behind the curtain. The floral smell mixed with the food that was spread out on the center table was pleasing. She noted the women had moved the offensive dishes to one side of the table. Aleka was relieved, however she did notice some of the sauce looked like it had been sampled. Her suspicion was that Iaia was one of the testers. The enjoyment of food was just as strong in Iaia as in Gabrielle. Her glance took in the added pallet and the two familiar bedrolls that were lying on top of it. Her heartbeat increased as she recognized whose they were.

She became distracted by what she was hearing, a splashing war. Images of other occasions where she had digressed to such play came unbidden to her. She decided she would join them. Nothing like a warm water fight to relieve tension. She stripped quickly and stepped behind the modesty curtain for a quick toilet and to clean off the dirt her quick wash before dinning with Menigines missed.

"Hey, no fair!" Sputtered a wet Eleanor that appeared to be teamed up with Erica and were against Catherine and Iaia. Iaia had entangled her legs around Eleanor’s under water and pulled her feet from under her.

"I happened to learn that from a friend of mine who knows the art of water warfare very well." She giggled back

Iaia tried not to look at the mysteriously familiar body that slid into the water as Eleanor made room for her. That put Aleka directly across from her. Various erotic scenes kept flashing though her mind as the person she found especially desirous was soaking across from her and she had to keep her hands off her, or did she? She had stopped asking herself why she was attracted to Aleka and decided resisting the attraction may be counter to what her quest was about. What if I'm suppose to reciprocate Aleka's feelings for me this time around, she asked herself reasonably?

"Menigines wants our playwright to write a sensuous satire. He’s opened his library for Iaia to study various scrolls he has on the subject, just in case," Aleka looked directly at Iaia with her blue eyes sparkling with mischief, "she needs inspiration."

Eleanor started to laugh. With the henbane and whatever else Iaia had ingested she didn’t need inspiration in a scroll. She looked over at Iaia whose look of astonishment went to a frown then a smirk of her own.

"Hmm. Well, I guess a little bit of research never hurt anyone. Do I look under S for Satyr behavior, or B for Bacchus festivals?"

"Actually, we told him we weren’t going to do it. Just an original satire or drama will suffice. I’m sure with all your experience in writing stories you can handle it." Aleka smiled

"Hmm. A library?" Iaia returned surprised. "I’d like to take a peek at it." She still didn’t remember her life as Gabrielle, the Bard, but libraries, research and writing had a definite attraction to her. She was having fun working with Agnes on writing or rewording various parts in plays the group put on to fit the village or town they visited.

Aleka’s eyes closed as she could feel her muscles relax surrounded by the warm water. She needed to concentrate on something else besides the green eyes directly in front of her that were showing a mischievous glint. Oh, goddess. I hope Iaia isn't...Forget it. Even if she doesn't remember herself as Gabrielle...she is Gabrielle.

Aleka let the others carry the conversation while she thought of business, like the castle’s residents. There was a scattering of different cultures working in the castle. She didn’t feel they were slaves, though usually there were a few. Were they men and women from Menigines warlord days? She shifted her thoughts to the castle's defenses along the wall walk that she had seen, the castle's condition, the guards, the upkeep of the rooms, and the general atmosphere of the castle. Her mind was very busy reviewing these details. For winter quarters, Menigines kept it clean and well maintained. It was the atmosphere and what was done to maintain the atmosphere that bothered her. It wasn’t a place she would have chosen to bring a group such as theirs to.

Everything we experience on this journey is part of the challenge to this pilgrimage, she reminded herself, "so, dare I guess at what the challenge here is?

Under water, Iaia let her big toe trace the outline of the tantalizing familiar muscular leg slowly up towards the knee it was deliciously attached to. Aleka’s eyes suddenly opened and she sat up in the water. The others started to laugh not fooled by the innocent look on Iaia’s face.

"Well, what do you think about this place?" Aleka asked to no one in particular but her eyes flashed a warning look at Iaia to stop what she was doing.

Iaia smiled sweetly back at her. She could see the colors whirling around Aleka’s head and shoulders and translated them to desire, which heightened her own. The colors were just like the colors around Erica and Eleanor and she knew where their thoughts were. Iaia had the ability to see colors around things since she was a child. Her rendering of portraits with auras was her trademark, until she painted at her husband's direction. When she had lost her desire to paint the world had become less colorful for her.

"Well, if Aphrodite and Dionysus are our host's gods to honor, and the food keeps coming in as heavily spiced as it was, I would say some of us may not get out of this place without losing some of our...innocence." Erica snorted eyeing Iaia.

Iaia caught the glance. "Whose innocence?" She asked indignantly.

"I think between the henbane and whatever else was in what Iaia ate she's going to have some interesting dreams, to say nothing of what she writes." Eleanor teased.

"I'm sure Iaia is going to do just fine." Aleka told them. "Right?" She dared to look into the dark dilated eyes that were encircled with dark green malachite. Oh, oh. The dark enlarged centers of her eyes were either caused by the henbane or...desire. Whichever one, Aleka knew she was going to be in trouble real soon.

"Of course. I know exactly what to do in a situation like this. I've had this happen to me once before." Iaia waved a dripping hand in the air casually. Suddenly she had a puzzled look on her face. "I have?" She mumbled to herself.

Aleka tried to not laugh remembering Gabrielle's experience with henbane and her chorus of stalagmites.

Iaia's eyes grew small as she gave Aleka's poor attempt to hide her laughter a dirty look.

"Welllll!" Aleka’s voice went up as Iaia’s foot moved above her knee on the inside of her thigh. Aleka’s hand wrapped around the strong ankle before any more progress could be made and gave a tug that pulled Iaia under the water. Aleka found herself having to defend herself from an under water attack. The others quickly scrambled out of the pool as water started to erupt everywhere as Aleka and Iaia attempted to drown each other.

Though the water fight lasted a short time, half the water that had been in the pool was now on the stone floor. The others from the neighboring rooms, curious by the squeals and laughter from Gabrielle, rushed to the room to see waves of water roll onto the tiled bathing room floor while two figures in the center of the pool continued to dunk, trip and splash each other.

Their audience was delighted to share a playful moment in the private lives of two remarkable women who were legendary in their partnership in this life. They all knew that once they resumed their lives after the journey, they would probably not witness the private sharing of play between them again. The joy between the two, and perhaps with the influence of Aphrodite's charms that were inhaled or ingested, though they tried to keep their contact low, linked the women with an unseen bond that vibrated with a life of its own. In that moment when everyone's heart was open with a sharing of playful joy, a goddess who was watching gave them a valuable gift. Respect for her sacred herbs and their shared open hearts sanctified the moment.

Finally Iaia stopped and dripping wet glared at her pool partner, "I'm going to get you!" She growled and lunged toward the equally dripping wet dark figure that was laughing at her threat. Aleka caught Iaia in mid flight and dangled her upside down over the remaining water.

"Run that by me again." Aleka gloated.

The surrounding audience was laughing, some holding their sides as they watched a frustrated Iaia, who was dangling upside down by one foot, wrap her arms around herself and pout.

The banging on the bedchamber's door suddenly stopped everyone's laughter. Lily cautiously opened the door. Her eyebrows rose as a young boy nervously stood before her in a warrior's garb that reminded her of her grandson dressed in his warrior’s costume that he had received on his tenth Winter's Solstice as a gift from her.

"Yes, what is it?" She asked impatiently.

"Ahhh. I...ahhh. we...ya...we were worried...something was...."

Lily blocked his attempts to look into the room. "Son, do you have a problem?"

"Welllll." His voice died as he found himself looking into the eyes of Aleka whom had tossed on a robe and was standing dripping wet in the doorframe next to Lily.

"Get outa here." She told him in a low voice.

The young boy backed peddled rapidly down the hall to where the other two guards were standing, watching with anticipation.

"Bacchus and his ugly...."

"Don't!" Agnes pursed her lips at Lily as she shut the door angrily. "Don't bring that vile creatures name into this group. Not when we just had shared a very nice moment together." She finished in a low voice.

The others nodded.

"I don't think I'll ever forget the joy..." Catherine started.

"Hey. It was just a water fight." Aleka told the women, breaking the mood. "Now let's get going. We have a performance to prepare for."

As Aleka was drying her hair she made a mental note to sleep on the floor that night -- and the other nights too. Though the water fight relieved an immediate tension it also made her aware how much she missed Gabrielle's companionship. It other moments she and Gabrielle shared as they traveled. I don't think Iaia and I could have had that connection then, Aleka observed sadly. We had other obligations. Hmm...Xena didn't want to think about either lives and missed opportunities.

The other women finished with their dressing while tossing their lines back and forth. Iaia occasionally corrected a line.

The performance went without any problems, but the women noticed they had no connection with their audience. They politely clapped when the drama was finished and some stopped the women to tell them they enjoyed it...but the energy exchanged between the dramatis and audience was not there.

Aleka, Lily and Agnes had cornered Menigines after the performance.

"If you're going to post guards outside our doors, make sure they've at least been seasoned and off any type of drug." Lily informed Menigines, whom she had cornered between a bench and the exit. Agnes was standing next to her looking every bit angry at the first expression of innocence Menigines tried to show at the order.

"They're just in training! I'm sure you all can teach them the finer qualities of..." Menigines' wheedling voice stopped when a pair of bright blue eyes fixed on his turned to hard cold steel.

"I've never heard of guests being asked to train members of their hosts staff." Aleka drawled in a low voice. "We're here because you told Sappho you would gladly give us shelter if we performed our dramas for your people...That is all. If you can't treat us as guests, we will leave and let Sappho know that we moved on...and why."

There was silence for a few moments, as Menigines seemed to need to get his wits together. "I'll speak to Captain Dunties about the guard assignment and...their...condition to stand guard." Menigines waved to the skinny official that was hovering nervously near Katy.

Aleka worried that what gave him the incentive to agree with her came from her threat to leave not because he got the message that they didn't want to be hustled by little boys too young to have been in a war and too young to know what love and obligation meant. He doesn't want us to leave, yet.

When the women returned back to their rooms they were tired enough not to want to spend too much time talking amongst themselves.

"I can’t believe something this firm could be so comfortable." Erica commented, as she was the first to slide under the covers of the bed.

"It’s gota be that firm for what it’s set up for. I mean," Eleanor started to laugh as she was lying on her back next to Erica and looking up at the ceiling. "will ya look at that! They’ve really thought of a lot of things here."

"What?" Curious Iaia rose from the pallet where she could feel the warmth of her bed partner and padded over to the bed to see what the women were giggling about. Eleanor made room for her as she lay down and looked up into the bed's canopy. Catherine who was first on guard duty just leaned her head against the warm wall she standing next to and raised her eyes toward the ceiling in exaggerated disbelief.

Aleka knew very well what they were looking at and didn’t need any help in figuring out what it was used for. On their return to the room she found that she couldn’t get herself to sleep on the floor so she knew she was going to have to keep a firm hand on her feelings sleeping next to Iaia.

Iaia’s eyes opened wide and for a moment she caught her breath. This adventure is a real tough one, she thought. She frowned again as she thought about the rules to this quest. Just how much unlike the first journey was what she was concerned about. Her body wasn't burning to be touched as it had been while they were in the pool earlier and her thoughts weren't as focused on erotic visions of Aleka, but the desire was still there. It was a steady throb.

"I told ya, these rooms are set up for Bacchus type fun and games." Erica turned her face to look at Eleanor who was lying next to her. Iaia did not miss the heated look that passed between the two.

Aleka shook her head amused as she watched Iaia try to twist her head to see the ceiling harness better. Aleka knew Gabrielle had studied scrolls on love making in Sappho’s library and in the Amazon’s library when she thought Xena wasn’t looking, but she hadn’t actually seen the real thing. Or, Aleka didn’t think she had. Suddenly her own thoughts started to entertain fantasies. She turned over on her side quickly to break her line of thought. It was going to be a long night, she thought, and it was too late to move to the floor. She suspected her bed partner was going to have some vivid dreams that would be keeping her awake.

"Oh, yeeessss. This is certainly a game room." Eleanor started to laugh after glancing at Iaia’s face. "I’ve only seen two such rooms..."

Aleka turned over and made a quick gesture at Eleanor. Aleka didn’t trust the walls. Eleanor hesitated, "let’s see, one was in Sappho’s room and the other in one of the guest rooms."

Iaia’s eyes opened wide. She was sure she hadn’t been to Sappho’s room but she did hear stories about her romantic interests. It would explain some of the drawings she had seen in scrolls on lovemaking. She sighed. She wished she could remember who she was in this life. She knew in name, that she was Gabrielle the Bard, but she really didn’t know who that person was. Did she write stories that needed her to do research on the subject? She rose from the bed and made her way back to the shared pallet. Agnes had suggested she not read the scrolls tucked in her saddlebags so she wouldn't become confused and unfocused, and surprisingly enough, Iaia was not curious about what was in the scrolls. Agnes kept her busy with their dramas that needed slight changing to fit the village or town they were performing in. Using the village's speech patterns and descriptions added more depth to the dramas.

Iaia resettled herself on their pallet facing the fire with her back to Aleka. The fire had been rekindled with a large log. The room had a chill to it in the corners but the heat from Aleka’s back and the warmth from the fire she was facing promised to keep her warm until morning. The wind outside rattled the shutters over the loopholes. Soft voices from Erica and Eleanor ceased replaced by their soft breathing of sleep.

Iaia kept her mind busy with the sounds around her and the steady breathing of the body next to hers. She took comfort in the warmth that radiated from Aleka and the fact that she didn’t change her sleeping accommodations. For some reason she feared she would. She wanted to talk to her alone and find out if she had someone waiting for her or maybe it was just that she remembered what had happened on the first journey. It was strange that their roles had been changed, or had they? Iaia pushed the guilt that was threatening to intrude in the form of the dark haired warrior, back down. Maybe some things hadn't changed.

Aleka found Iaia’s presence close to her was surprisingly comforting. The familiar breathing and restless movements before Iaia finally settled down into sleep calmed Aleka’s own restlessness.

Soft mutterings from Iaia wakened Aleka before she was to rise for her night skulking with Lily and Alala. From her movements Aleka knew she was working her way into a nightmare. She wondered what it was about. Leaning over the muttering body she stroked the damp forehead and leaned close to her ear whispering comforting words. She continued to stroke her forehead, resting her free hand alongside the damp cheek until Iaia’s breath deepened back to a restful sleep. Aleka pulled her close and heard a sigh as Iaia burrowed her face into her cotton covered shoulder.

Eleanor was on guard duty and had started over to their pallet until she saw Aleka holding her. It was the pattern they had developed when Gabrielle first joined them. When she started her nightmares, Aleka would hold her. If she began to physically struggle and fight Aleka, one of the healers would have a hot tea for calming the spirit ready.

For the next candle mark Aleka listened to Iaia’s breathing as it changed with her dreams. The soft groans and sighs told her that she had moved into more pleasurable dreams. Suddenly, Iaia stiffened against her and wrapped her body tighter around hers, pressing her wetness against a surprised Aleka's thigh.

Oh Goddess! This is not going to be easy, Xena groaned to herself. Never mind that Aleka's thoughts were stilled.

Iaia ground herself against Aleka’s muscled thigh, emitting soft sighs and groans. Sighing, Aleka moved her leg so that Iaia had a better angle to it. Aleka’s hand was buried in the red hair not guiding but keeping contact. Silent lips burned a path across Aleka’s exposed neck to her ear, sending shivers down her spine and fire into her loins that made her own mound slick. She was torn between responding in kind or just letting the obviously sleeping woman, work off the energy.

No more henbane for you, love! She was use to Gabrielle’s talking in her sleep and sometimes her caresses that would wake them both, but this was different. She doesn’t know she's Gabrielle and she is under the influence of henbane and who knows what else was in what she ate.

Resolutely and gently, Aleka's trembling voice whispered in Iaia's ear trying to talk her into another mood. It didn’t work as she felt soft lips move back to her neck and like a bacchae fastened her teeth into the soft skin above her pulse point. Aleka clamped her teeth down and strangled the groan that nearly escaped her mouth as a fire at her apex threatened to consume her.

Xena was struggling with Aleka’s pent up desire for Iaia and Iaia’s desire for – she didn’t really know whom this passionate body that was rubbing up against her dreamed she was making love to. That was reason enough for Xena to stop her. This is not the time to have scruples! Aleka’s mind screamed at her in frustration. Xena didn’t want to carry on a mental argument, though it may take her mind off the small shudders of pleasure from Iaia as she released her hold on Aleka’s neck and sighed into a relaxed position still sprawled across Aleka’s quivering form. Great! Just great!

Iaia drew her own muscled thigh between Aleka’s legs, against a slippery center. The sleeping woman groaned at the contact. Aleka nearly shot up from the white explosion that hit her between her eyes. She held onto Iaia for a moment, until her own body stopped shaking.

This is not going to work! With all the control she could muster she slowly moved Iaia’s leg away from her still throbbing center then started disentangling their bodies. Whispering softly in her ear she coaxed Iaia to a deeper sleep, resisting the desire to follow the creases of ear with her tongue. She then gingerly withdrew her body from the pallet. The water in the pool had not been drained so she took a quick dunk relishing the coldness against her heated skin. It would have worked too, if the heat wasn't from a deeper inner desire. Disgusted, she dressed. She decided to wake the other two women and start their skulking early. Maybe they would catch some unlucky peeper about.

"Are you going to be okay, Aleka?" Eleanor whispered resting a hand on her shoulder.

"This journey is going to be ending quicker if this goes on much longer." Aleka grumbled to her as she was pulling her boots on.

She could hear Eleanor chuckling. "Ohhh, yea." She paused before asking, "Why don't you just give in?"

Aleka stilled for a moment. Well? "She doesn't remember herself as Gabrielle...but I do."

"She remembers herself as Iaia and you as Aleka. You liked her as Iaia..." Eleanor pointed out.

"Yea. And don't tell me that things are different because there is no husband. As Gabrielle she is clear on what is right...loyalty, love and things like that. She's not...may Bacchus spend a moon's cycle with Hades!" Aleka breathed in frustration. "I just can't give in to the influence of drugs and a past life that is just that. It's past! What chances Aleka and Iaia had are past. I have a loyalty to another's memory in this life and I intend on staying much as I can." She muttered.

"Aphrodite's charms enhance what is already there, Aleka." Eleanor told her quietly. You are both your past and present, just as Iaia and Gabrielle are the same." Eleanor smiled wickedly in the low light. "I think this is a control thing."

"Whaaaat?" Aleka turned toward her unbelievingly her ears.

"You heard me. Your hearing is legendary." Eleanor tapped her knee. "It must drive you crazy to have two life times worth of passion running through a system that is use to being in control.'

"Eleanor!" Aleka lowered her voice.

"Ooooh, yes." She smiled affectionately at the dark head that was shadowed from the low burning fire. "I may look young, but I have a lot of experience of life from listening to people and their problems. It's actually one of the things that contributes to our inspiration to be dramatists." She leaned forward to whisper in Aleka's ear. "I think you fight too hard!"

"I gota go." Aleka decided not to pursue the conversation...not now anyway.

Aleka found Alala and Lily awake impatiently waiting for their appointed hour to investigate their temporary shelter. She didn’t bother asking them what kept them awake. The energy in the castle was unmistakable to her.

In two candle marks the three had explored and found what they needed to know. Panels that opened to private rooms and passageways for private viewing ran behind every room they had visited. They found small lamps resting in nooks along the walls. The ones still warm gave a clue at which rooms were most recently viewed. It didn’t sit well with the women. The small space between the outside wall and the inside wall ran around the entire castle and had various exits into halls. The loopholes were high enough for even a tall person to pass under them without too much discomfort. They spent little time on the side of the castle Menigines deemed too dangerous for them to visit. He was right. Most of the party revelers were passed out in poses that were telling and sickening. Some had made it back to their rooms. A few were still at what Menigines had hinted at keeping the winter cold away.

Aleka memorized the tunnels in her mind so that she could draw a map if she had to for Lily and the others if they would need a quick exit. There was only one tunnel that led directly to the outside and it was well guarded. It went down under the castle's foundations and to outside the walls. Aleka had a feeling that these guards were not just there for their visit. Was Menigines trying to keep someone in or out? Or was it both? If Menigines and his neighbor, the merchant Labducus, were so competitive then Labducus probably knew the insides of this castle like the back of his hand, as Menigines knew his. Then there were the two sisters. Twins in some towns were not welcomed because of their uncanny connection. Were the wives true to each other or their husbands? Me thinks, they have their own interests at heart. She touched the sides of the tunnel to remember how much space was between the walls. What’s a castle without hidden rooms, closets and other secrets, Aleka smirked to herself.

So what were they going to do about the peek holes that someone was using to check up on them? Send a message, she thought. No harm in that, or should they use it to their advantage? Surely Menigines would realize they knew there would be tunnels behind the rooms. Everyone who's ever lived in a castle knew that.

Before settling back into their beds, the three women plugged the peepholes and wedged the doors that led to the tunnels behind their rooms closed. No more unwanted guests or private viewing.

Aleka couldn’t settle down after she returned to her pallet. She could hear Iaia’s breath deepen into sleep. It had changed when she returned to the room. Iaia hadn’t wakened but by the sound of her breathing, her sleep was lighter when she got back.

Aleka listened and identified each breath, including Catherine’s, who was now on watch. She moved now and then to keep awake in the chill. Aleka finally got up with the intent to pace but found even that didn’t help. It only got a wagging finger from Catherine, and a finger pointing to her pouch which Aleka kept her herbs that would help her relax. Catherine laid another log on the embers and warmed her hands over the raise in heat. Then moved to another part of the room.

It’s probably the side effects from all that stuff in the air, she thought disgustedly.

She could hear Iaia move on the pallet, with the distinct creaking of wood on one side when weight was shifted on top of it.

"Aleka?" A soft and familiar voice called to her.

Sighing Aleka returned to the pallet and sat on the edge looking down into the glittering eyes that picked up the soft light from the fireplace. Aleka shook her head to clear the thoughts that readily came to her. The light from the fire gave Iaia’s face interesting shadows. It was no longer the familiar Gabrielle’s face she saw but the thinner, longer face of Iaia. Her throat tightened as different feelings threatened to distract her.

"What is it Iaia?" She finally got out.

"Why aren’t you sleeping?" She asked. She gently tugged at Aleka’s arm and pulling the covers back indicated the warm space beside her. Aleka could smell their arousal from earlier under the covers. Without hesitation Aleka slid in and after Iaia wrapped herself around her, they both fell asleep..

Aleka woke to someone shaking her awake. Aleka opened her eyes instantly alert. It was still dark outside. Rain could be heard hitting the shutters that were tightly closed. The wind occasionally howled past the hollow the loophole created. It was weather best experienced in a nice warm place with good company. For Xena this type of weather reminded her of a time where she spent in a nice warm cave with one other person for company. Aleka sat up letting the warm covers fall from her shoulders. Iaia’s stomach was making a lot of noise as she leaned over her.

"Hungry?" Aleka asked raising an eyebrow.

"Starving!" She returned. "I could use a body guard, experienced and trustworthy." Iaia smiled as she studied the familiar deep blue eyes that had opened wide awake and alert.

They shared a moment together, gazing into each other’s eyes with nothing said. Aleka was hoping they made it to Mecsa...soon. She let the desire the bright green eyes showed pour into her while a sensible part of herself suggested she should break eye contact.

Iaia’s dreams were still clear in her mind and she was thinking of having to keep her hands off the Named until she talked to Eleanor. There was her own conscious she had to appease but somehow she suspected her connection with this women was more than an attraction Iaia had for Aleka. Staring deep in the bluest eyes she thought she had ever seen was like getting lost in -- a wonderful, warm, contented, safe...She took a deep breath and broke eye contact. Get a grip, Bard! Startled she felt a giddy giggle threaten to break out. Ohhh, goddess. I gota get a very firm grip here. She sighed audibly as she reminded herself again that she needed to talk to Eleanor before she approached Aleka. She didn’t want to sabotage this journey.

Aleka rose and moved to the bowl where a linen and cold water was waiting. She quickly changed from her nightshirt to her warmer travel wear she pulled out of her pack. They would have to do some cleaning today, she reminded herself.

"Erica," Aleka gently prodded the woman on the knee under the warm covers.

"Hmmm. Go away. I wanna finish this dream. Hmm."

"Erica." Aleka lowered her voice and put more authority behind it.

Erica’s eyes popped open and her arms started to work their way out of the tangle of covers.

Aleka put her hand on her raising shoulder laughing. "Hey," she said softly. "I just wanted you to know, we’re going to get some breakfast."

"Hmmph. Yea, right." Erica looked around with sleepy eyes. "Okay...Goddess, I was just settling down to a good dream." She mumbled irritatedly. "It's not even light out!"

"It's being winter out there. It's not going to be light." Iaia told her laughing.

Aleka found the guard outside their door sagging against the wall. Iaia gave him a pleasant good morning as she headed in the direction she thought the kitchen was in. Aleka put a hand on her shoulder as Iaia continued her conversation and steered her into another direction as the hallway branched off into four different directions. This getting up early was not a Gabrielle thing.

"What? Oh, this way. I was never good at mazes, ya know?" She laughed looking into the blue eyes and trying not to get lost in them. She kept reminding herself that she needed to keep her mind on Aleka as the manager of their road show not a person she desired and that desired her. Sometimes seeing people's feelings had its advantages, she thought with a silent chuckle.

"So what do you think of that story?" She asked her companion as the smell of food cooking got stronger. "Hmm. Now that smells good on a cold morning." She stepped before Aleka as the doorway to the kitchen appeared before them. People were moving around tables and around barrels that were open in the middle of the floor.

"Good morning. Can we get something to eat?" Iaia happily asked as she eyed the large chunks of cheese and fresh loaves of bread cooling off.

The thinner of the women came over and looked her up and down. "Now what do you do in the troupe." She demanded.

"She writes." Aleka put in quietly before Iaia could get a word out.

"Ahh. Well, if ya did the writing of last nights work, it was well done." She nodded to the others.

"Husband liked it too." She smirked and giggled. "It weren't as bad as some of the stuff his Lordship puts on."

The others laughed.

"So then, what dwoud ya like? It saves us some carryin’."

Both women loaded up on food for five women, taking in consideration Iaia’s ability to out eat anyone.

"Ya sure ya won’t be needin’ help now, huh?" The thin woman, Telly asked skeptically.

"We’re fine thanks."

At that moment Lily, Alala, Camila and Agnes found their way to the kitchen.

"Hey, you going to eat all that Iaia?" Agnes laughed.

"Well, I was going to share but you know, if I have to carry this by myself back up, I may work up a real big appetite." Iaia joked back.

"Then let us help you." Lily and Agnes helped themselves to more food. While Aleka, Alala and Camila held the trenchers, the other three loaded up on the food.

"Why don’t we set up in our room. Peepholes and secret doors still covered." Aleka suggested softly.

"Peep holes?" Iaia looked from one woman to the other.

"What castle doesn’t have secret rooms, hidden doorways and all that stuff that goes with peekin’ and sneakin’?" Aleka asked sardonically with an up raised eyebrow at her question.

Aleka walked in front of the women with Lily tailing behind as if prearranged. They entered through the first room to gather up anyone that was hungry but no one was there, as was the case in the second room.

In the third room they found everyone in various relaxed poses and by the sounds coming from behind the curtains of the pool that were discretely pulled, some were taking advantage of a morning dip.

The two women missing were Erica and Eleanor, whom Aleka guessed, were the ones in the pool.

"Anyone hungry?" Lily asked as she set her trencher on the table. The other trays were fit wherever there was available space.

"Hmm. Where does he get fresh fruit at this time of year?" Grace asked as she bit into a soft peach. The juice ran down her chin and was stopped by Brona’s tongue that followed it up to the corner of her lips.

"Hmm. Love it." She whispered in a husky voice.

Aleka’s eyebrows rose. So far anything going on between the women had been discrete but obviously the open sensuality in the castle was affecting everyone. She knew if the energy of the group shifted to these erotic feelings it would take away from the group energy of the quest.

She studied Iaia’s preoccupied face as she chewed her own peach catching the juice that escaped her captivating lips and dribbled down her chin with a finger. Her eyes tracked to Aleka’s as she suggestively sucked the juice from her finger.

Aleka’s blue eyes opened wide and she could feel the heat that started in her center and flare out to all parts of her body. She knew she was in trouble unless she got herself distracted. The weather was not suited to ride Argo, and she couldn’t do any sword drills without alerting Menigines' spies. No running around to work off this energy. She needed some private time.

Lily’s body mercifully blocked her view of Iaia’s enticing play. "So, what’s for today?"

Aleka closed her eyes for a moment and refocused. "Well." She took a few more breaths then forced herself to concentrate on what she had worked out the night before. "We’ll get ready for the four plays we have for today. Erica and Eleanor," she said this loud enough for the two still in the pool to hear, "will go with Iaia to the library to study scrolls. I’m sure between the three of them they can come up with a story line that Menigines and Katy will like."

In a lower tone she added, "I don’t trust Menigines. He’s too competitive to not try to fulfill all the requirements of the bet. We need to find out what the fourth one is. Maybe Alala and Camila can get that information from the stable crew. Meanwhile I don’t want anyone wandering this palace without being a three-some or more. I’d much rather it a foursome."

The others nodded. The noise in the tub had quieted. Aleka could hear what was still going on and by the red blush that was creeping up Iaia’s face she could too. Aleka tried to not look in her eyes. She needed to talk to Lily and Agnes so that she could clear her thoughts on this. If she were just Xena, it would be easy...or would it? She wasn’t sure she was going to be able to stay away from Iaia at this rate.

The two women from the tub finally came out when the others left for their stage area to rehearse and change the scenery. Both had a look of contentment and no guilty looks about them. Iaia shook her head as she chewed on some cheese bread. And they were teasing me about the henbane? Right!

"You two are lucky we brought a lot of food back." She studied the women. "Are you two going to be alright reading all those scrolls with me and making them less...suggestive?"

Both started to laugh. "No problem."

For a moment something came to mind but it was quick and left her without her getting a clear indication what the warning was about.

The two women grabbed something to eat and followed Iaia out of the room giving a nod to the solider that was guarding their room. Iaia looked back at him as he followed them. He was older and looked seasoned.

She attempted the raised eyebrow at him when she stopped to regard his presence behind them.

"Sorry. But it’s Menigines orders. He’s got some mercenaries and some people from the trading caravan here and doesn’t trust them in obeying his orders to respect your wishes to be left alone."

Was it being around her dark haired companion so much that she caught something in the man's eyes that told her it wasn't the whole truth, or was it the colors whirling around his head that told her he was lying? For now she didn’t have a return answer and she would let the others worry about it. Meanwhile she had a job to do and a suspicious thought that kept eluding her that she was hoping that by not dogging it, it would come to her. It had something to do with her dream, the nightmare she didn’t finish. Or did she finish it? This brought back memories of her erotic dream that seemed so real. The flush that heated up her face made her walk faster.

While the three women studied old and recent scrolls on the subject Menigines wanted a satire wrote on, the others had their jobs cut out for them as Menigines and Katy watched their practice performances and took great pleasure on giving free advice. Aleka had finally threatened Menigines with removal from his own hall if he did not stop interfering.

The next four performances, one midmorning, one in the afternoon and two after dinnertime were well received. The connection between the actors and audience was faint but it was there.

The women freely moved between their three rooms visiting and listening to Iaia recount some of the less sexual stories she had read while in the library. She had become too frustrated reading one sexual satire after another and decided to explore other scrolls on other subjects. Those were what she was telling the others about.

Iaia and Aleka both looked toward the door at the same time. There was activity in the hall and the sound of someone in a rush was heading toward their door.

Aleka was up and pulling the door opened as Menigines was about to knock on it.

"Aleka, we have to change everything." Here was a man very upset. Aleka was still dressed so she stood outside the door with it ajar so the others could hear.

"Clorinda is on her way. If she doesn’t stop at the inn she’ll be arriving here later tonight."

"Who is Clorinda?" Aleka asked.

Menigines sighed heavily. "My predecessor’s number one wife and consultant about everything."

"What is she to you?"

Menigines looked like he wanted to squirm like a small boy caught doing something he wasn’t suppose to be doing. He gestured to the guard outside of the room. "Take a break." When the guard had moved off to talk with one of the other guards standing in front of one of the other rooms he turned back to Aleka.

"She could cause trouble with the villagers. My predecessor was a man of ---harsh living habits." He grinned when he said this. "He didn’t believe life should be enjoyed and he ran his kingdom that way. When I defeated his army I thought they were a push over. I think they were looking for a change from his sorrow filled rule. Anyway, he had himself quite a collection of wives. I certainly didn’t want that much. I would have nightmares of one of their brats slitting my throat for the throne." Lord Menigines paused for a moment. "Katy was one of his wives. I think I liked her the first moment I saw her." He shook his head. "Anyway, to avoid any hard feelings I sent most of them away with enough funds for them to start their own business. The treasury could handle it. Clorinda didn’t want to go. She had it great here. She ran the show, so-to-speak. So I made her an offer of living in one of the villages nearby without having to worry about anything and an invitation for her to visit whenever she wanted to. Well, she has sent a message that she wants to spend winter here."

He shuddered at the thought.

Aleka was guessing that Clorinda would put a damper on his winter games. She restrained herself from clapping in childish glee.

"Why can’t you just go about your business?"

"Because, there are some people that are still loyal to King Jordra’s beliefs of life is to be suffered through until death, that is for everyone but themselves. Enough to cause trouble."

"So you think she’s not going to like the satires we've been staging?

"Nope." He sighed heavily. "I don't think there were ever any dramas or bard tales told during King Jordra's reign. It’s going to be a long winter." He moaned dramatically.

"Just what kind of dramas would you suggest?" Iaia asked as she joined Aleka.

"Boring and dull." He reported mournfully. "Gods! What have I done wrong?" He waved at the two women dejectedly then retreated back down the hall to return to his own chambers.

Aleka and Iaia looked at each other. "Satire." They both said in unison.

Aleka gave Iaia a broad smile. Holding the door she let Iaia enter before her. They weren't going to change their program.

"Well, it looks like things are going to get even more interesting."

"We heard. There are plenty of Sappho’s works that are not sexual satires, thank the goddess. This place doesn’t need any more on the subject of sex. This place is reeking of it." Agnes stated flatly. "If I hadn't been told that Dionysus and Aphrodite were honored here I would have thought this was the beginning of a Bacchus revival."

"You're right. But," Erica leaned over and blew air in Eleanor's ear, "I don't want to knock all that's happening here." Erica wiggled her brows suggestively toward Eleanor.

She sighed. "But we don’t need it to this intensity. I would rather not be...over stimulated to do something that I was...thinking about anyway." Her voice lowered as she finished. "There is no celebration or honoring the joining, it's just a mad urge to join."

Erica tweaked her knee in an affectionate gesture. "You’re right. But...I’m not regretting it a bit."

They exchanged affectionate glances.

"Iaia had told us one story that could be turned into a nice drama and chorus. It’s really funny." Eleanor suggested.

"Well, dream on it. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow, especially for you –Iaia." Aleka told her.

Iaia was sitting with her legs drawn up under her on their pallet. The story she was suggesting was what Iaia had been thinking about. It was a child’s tale that she wanted to have the others put on. Before Clorinda’s arrival she was thinking of how difficult it would be to get it staged because of Menigines' influence, but – there just might be a better chance now. Noontime would be a good time for the children to have a play for their pleasure, provided the weather wouldn’t be too bad.

Iaia’s dreams were on writing the child’s play she wished the others to act. Candra and Grace were young enough to play the parts of the two children, left alone in a forest by parents who no longer could feed them, much less themselves. She was thinking of having them meet up with a slaver, a warlord and a worthless god or two and have them survive those encounters with a child’s blunt wit and humor.

Aleka slept as she always did, alert to anything that wasn’t familiar. She felt the arrival of Clorinda before she heard the movement of many in the hall. She lay for a moment trying to pinpoint the new presence. There was a new presence in the castle. Moments later footsteps could be heard passing their closed door.

Now, I wonder why Menigines is placing her on this side of the castle. It’s like he's placing all his eggs in one basket. The question is...why? Warlords or exwarlords don’t make that type of move without a plan. Maybe he doesn't want her to see the types of people he's entertaining. Could be. Yea.

Aleka rose and cracked their door, peering in the direction she heard a door close. The hall was surprisingly empty of guards...and the smell of hemp. Clorinda’s influence, Aleka thought, puts a rather interesting twist to Menigines control over Adris. Another piece to a puzzle.

Aleka studied the two closed doors that were down the hall from the troupes. Clorinda would probably be occupying both. One of the rooms had two loopholes that overlooked a courtyard where the kitchen help and others that worked in the castle took their breaks. There was a door to a stairwell that led directly down to the first floor, right across from the kitchen area but it was locked and barred. That was why the women had to go to the other end of the corridor, down a dark stair case and along a more well lit hallway leading to the kitchen. Lady Clorinda had a much more interesting view than the one they had, which looked out into the forest that rose behind the castle. Aleka watched through the door crack as one of the kitchen maids left the room hurriedly with an empty trencher. She did not pass their door but used the stairwell that had been barred for their use. Now that’s interesting. I wonder if we’ll be able to use it tomorrow.

"Well?" The soft voice of Erica whispered.

Aleka carefully closed the door. "Looks like Clorinda and party have arrived." Aleka whispered back.

Satisfied, Aleka returned to her bed. As she laid down her eyes caught a glint of green from Iaia who was lying on her side facing her. They both watched each other for a bit then Iaia’s eyes closed.

Was she awake? No. She was dreaming. Listen to her breathing.

Aleka lay on her back and closed her eyes, letting sleep overtake her. Her dreams were of being chased by a very large woman with a broom. She was dressed in strange cloths she didn’t recognize and her hair was too short. Was that her? Maybe not. When the figure turned back to face her she was surprised to see that it wasn’t her, it was Lily. Aleka’s night was filled with dreams and they were all of her being chased by different people. With all her running around in her dreams she was going to be tired in the morning. She wistfully thought of taking an early morning run with the silver wolf whose presence she missed in the castle.

The next morning Aleka was up before everyone else. She worked out in the vacant room she had found and when finished, decided to visit the library to make sure it was safe and had no secret doorways. She had dreamt that Iaia disappeared while in the library and she was chasing after her abductors in the shape of the gray wolf. As she looked around she idly selected a scroll from a corner slot that her taller frame found to be at eye level. It was well-worn yet almost hidden out of sight. Unrolling it she quickly read over it. She was rolling it back up when she heard the door to the library open. Quickly she tucked the scroll in the long sleeves of her warm cloak and turned toward the door. Not many places to hide and why should she? Before her stood a large framed woman with another standing behind her.

"And what are you doing here?" The arrogant voice demanded surprised.

"I’m studying the scrolls." Aleka returned calmly. This must be Clorinda, she thought.

"I don’t recall giving anyone permission to visit my library."

"Your library? I understood from Lord Menigines it was his."

Aleka could see a discrete touch from the woman behind Clorinda. A reminder that this was no longer her castle?

Clorinda, the former ruler of the castle paused a moment. "You are correct. This is –Menigines' castle."

Aleka could feel animosity. It probably was not easy being the deposed owner of a castle and only being able to visit as a visitor, and unwelcomed at that.

"I can see you would like privacy so I will leave you to your morning reading." If what Eleanor and Erica had said was true, most of the scrolls were erotica. So why would a woman Lord Menigines believed did not read such things, want in the library? The scroll she had tucked in her sleeve came to mind.

The well-worn scroll she had read and tucked safely away in her sleeve was about a treasure long ago lost by a group of pilgrims. It traced the many owners of the treasure and what calamities had befallen them during their possession, when the object was separated from its two part pairing. From the author’s slant, the Sacred Flower had a curse on it that when the bud was separated from its leaves, the separate owners would suffer some sort of catastrophe, causing the parts to either be reunited or drawn to another village to be reunited. The power symbol was the ancient yoni of Gaia. The drawing showed the outer lips carved in detail, like succulent leaves, with the labia as a separate part from the clitoris, which when separated it looked a flower bud.

Berik and Kynthia! Yessss! I had forgotten that part of the journey. They were the carriers of the Sacred Jewel on our journey! When Kynthia had lost the part she was entrusted to carry, the bud, to a thief from Cad's group, things started to go bad for the group. Aleka could feel the cold glare of Clorinda at her back as she left.

I think a visit from Iaia would do Clorinda a world of good, Aleka thought mischievously. Why would you want to do that to her? She loves a good story, besides there’s more to that woman than meets the eye and Gabrielle knows how to pry stories out of the most sullen. Hmmm. I hope you’re not going to put Iaia in any danger. Of course not! But I don’t intend to over protect her either. Living in my head should have told you by now that she’s not one to be safely tucked away until danger passes. She doesn’t remember herself as Gabrielle. But she is Gabrielle. You keep pointing that out to me. When she handles her staff she remembers her skills as a master at the staff. She remembers she can write. And she has eyes and heart for us, Aleka mischievously interjected. Don’t remind me.

Aleka stopped in the kitchen to be met by Lily and Agnes who were arranging breakfast with Iaia, Eleanor, Brona and Grace.

"There you are. Iaia was worried about you. You’ve been gone for a while." Eleanor remarked teasing Iaia as she added another sweet roll to sit precariously on the trencher Eleanor was balancing.

"I was in the library." Aleka took the trencher from Eleanor and watched Iaia with amusement, add more sweets to the tray. Iaia glanced up at her but not for long. Aleka could see a red blush cover her face. Well, I can make a good guess at what her dreams were about. As if...Aleka returned good naturedly. Aleka noted she was a bit smug with that observation.

"What did you find?" Iaia asked casually.

"An interesting story and I had a visitor."


Did Aleka detect a bit of jealously in the tone?

"Clorinda. I seemed to have been trespassing in her library."

"Her lady? Visiting the library? Now that is a bit o news." One of the women who was helping Iaia select sweets and fruits for their trenchers laughed. "The old woman had never put a foot in there when she was running the castle. Now she’s visitin in the wee hours of the morning, for her anyway." Lettie laughed to the others.

"She never visited it, huh? Aleka asked Lettie.

"She can’t read." Lettie whispered in a loud voice. "Just like the rest of us, she is."

"But she’s a Hades of a cook!" An old man standing in the doorway from the outside declared. Camila and Alala were standing behind him with grins on their faces.

"Aleka, Lily, Agnes, this is Eryalios, the stable master."


"Eryalios, this is Aleka, Iaia, Agnes, Eleanor, Grace, Brona and the other tall one, Lily." Alala nodded her head to the women she was introducing. "Eryalios would like to trade for one of our horses."

Aleka felt a sudden apprehension. "Which horse is that?"

"The one we picked up about a week ago, the big brown stallion. No one can ride him, so Eryalios said he would like to trade some travel feed for him and some other supplies we could use."

Aleka didn’t change the expression on her face. She had been the only one that was able to ride the big horse and Argo was jealous about it. It was bad enough that she was riding Itali but another horse as well was pushing Argo's temperament.

"Sounds like a fair trade. We’ll let you two handle the rest of the deal." Aleka looked toward the other women for confirmation. They all nodded. One less unplanned hungry mouth to feed.

Alala nodded to the others. Aleka was thinking she fit in well with their group, so why was she feeling uncomfortable? Energy. Vibration. A lot of warrior energy attracks that type of action. Yea. Maybe that’s what it is. It has changed the vibration of the group. Aleka insisted. So, what does that mean? There was no response.

The women loaded up on food and made their way back to one of the rooms where they would all meet for a morning snack before they went about their tasks for the day. There was equipment to repair, clothing to clean, fix or purchase for when they left the next morning.

Today they were only doing three dramas so they could take care of their chores. The first play mid morning was a satire on love that Sappho had written for a couple on their seventh anniversary. The crowd they were drawing already knew that they were not going to perform lewd dramas so the age mixture was pleasing to Agnes. Many brought their children who showed rapt attention at the masked figures that were larger than life and representing fears that children knew so well. She was pleased the noon drama was for children. The priestesses were fast studies, as this was what they all were skilled in and were able to adapt masks from other dramas for some of the characters.

Agnes had made a point of approaching Clorinda and asking her what she would like to see so any changes to Menigines special drama could be made before they put it on.

The women met for a noon meal in the first room that Agnes and Lily shared. "I’m serious. It’s not because she thinks we have good taste, it’s because she doesn’t know anything about plays."

"Iaia,I hear you finished tonight's drama." Aleka mentioned.

"It’s finished and we'll be using masks from other dramas. Costumes are simple. There won't be any words so those hard of seeing will have to be seated close."

Aleka nodded. "Lily, did you manage to get that guard that keeps following you around to leave you long enough to let Menigines know that this noon we will have a show for the kids?"

"Hera’s tits!" Lily replied in disgust. "He followed me to the garderobe! I couldn’t decide which smelled worse, the pits, his prose or his hygiene! Yaaa, he left long enough to deliver a another guard."

"Ya, the best time to use them is in the morning after the boys have cleaned them." Candra pointed out helpfully. "After that..."

"Is he part of Menigines regular staff?" Aleka suddenly asked.

"He wears Menigines’ colors." Erica responded.

"That won’t mean anything in the spring." Lily returned with a smirk thinking she knew where Aleka was going with the questioning. The winter cold made all sorts of bed partners, just for the shared warmth and protection.

"You think he may be an inside spy for someone?" Grace asked leaning forward to get another slice of bread.

"His hygiene alone discounts him for a spy." Berik pointed out.

"That's what would make him a good spy." Iaia spoke as she carefully piled some cheese then meat on a slice of bread.

"Then, there's his hands, his walk, the way he wears his hair and the tattoo on the back of his neck." Aleka pointed out a little impatiently. She paused noting where the impatience was coming from. She didn't like staying in the castle. "So, why do you think he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the guards in this castle?" She asked in a form of exercise of observation for the others.

"Hands. They aren’t callused like a soldier. He had a callus on his finger...just like...a writer." Iaia informed the others as she seriously contemplated where to place her first bite in her creation.

"Well, if he’s a writer he must do it alone." Sniffed Gari. "Erica doesn’t even smell that bad after a work out."

"Hey! You’re not much of a flower yourself after a candle mark of Aleka’s drills." Erica returned quickly.

"Oh! Now its my drills." Aleka drawled. Sighing she looked toward the shuttered loophole whose covering occasionally rattled from gusts of the wind. She missed her own drills. Speak for yourself!

"So, where do you think he’s from? I can’t see him from a mercenary camp." Iaia shook her head. She couldn’t remember exactly the last time she had been in a mercenary camp, but the guard they were discussing was not the soldier type.

"Lily, and the rest of you, travel in groups of four or more. I’m getting a bad feeling about this place and until we know for sure what the fourth part of that bet is I don't want anyone without at least two Amazons in a group." Aleka cautioned. "Did either of you get any information about that the fourth part?" She inquired from Camila and Alala.

"Something to do with writing." Camlia nodded between chews of the bread she was snacking on. "The stable hands only knew of three of the bets. Eryalios was the one who told us it had to do with writing. He was a bit evasive and nervous in talking to us about it."

Aleka frowned. "So not everyone is privy to the contents of the bet." The thought of kidnapping a writer would fit in with the two men’s disregard for others on this competitive thing they had.

"Let’s get ready for our performance. Oh, Agnes. Do you think you can work the Amazons in some of the performances in the future?" Aleka asked. If there's too much warrior energy maybe a bit of acting will help even it out, heh?. She wasn’t going to sacrifice their welfare by toning down on their defenses, but she could balance both warrior and creative energy by having the women trained in both skills.

Agnes nodded. "We could add them to the chorus."

Aleka sighed as she remembered her anger at Menigines trying to strong-arm her into having noon meal and late dinner with them. She was feeling a danger to Iaia all day and was getting more anxious to leave Menigines and his wife with some excuse. The excuse she used surprised her.

"I will have to take leave of your company Lord Menigines. I need to prepare for the dramas as my troupe does."

"Aleka, you are the manager. You have only to..."

"Lord Menigines," Aleka anger at his apparent design to keep her from the group allowed Xena's ire to surface. "we all honor the Muses and pay our respects to them before and after our performances. For all the troupes you say you've hosted, you should know that there is this period that must be spent to honor them."

Lord Menigines tried to bluster past the blue eyes that were pinning him to his chair with their cold points. "We honor Dionysus and Aphrodite here...."

"Hmm. Your overuse of Aphrodite's charms and," she nodded to a lewd statue in the corner of a satyr struggling with a young girl with its hands in places that didn't speak of affection, "and Baccus type of displays of interaction tell me otherwise. Aleka told him bluntly.

Lord Menigines looked at the statue behind him. "That was a gift from Labducus. It's nothing but a statue of a satyr looking for some fun." He discounted.

"Looks one sided to me." Aleka cocked an eye at him. "That's not what Dionysus and Aphrodite are about. And another thing, Lord Menigines", Aleka told him softly, "Sappho gives the gods their due, belittles none, but she honors above even her beloved Athena and Aphrodite, the Muses." She leaned closer to Menigines. "It is in their honor and under their protection that we travel."

Lord Menigines was not able to take his eyes from the blue, cold and frightening orbs Sappho's Troupes manager had him locked into. For that moment he weakened and forgot his wager with his neighbor and determination to win at all costs

Katy was frightened at what was happening to her husband but was determined to keep it under some sort of control. The tall manager frightened her. She had realized that the first day they met that she was more than the leader of the group. Her foolish husband only saw with warrior's eyes and believed the Amazon, Lily, was whom he should worry about. So, his plans were primarily on how to remove Lily and the other Amazon's out of the picture. He was obsessed with owning the young playwright and having her write what he wanted. It had gone beyond the wager Labducus had presented to him. She didn't like Labducus nor did she like to visit his castle or most importantly, her sister, her twin...his wife. She had changed too much for her. She no longer liked to connect with her in their unique fashion that only twins shared.

It was Labducus who had introduced them to Dionysus and Aphrodite's cult, or his version. Thinking back on it she realized how clever he had been, just like the clever trader who is selling something to the public they have no need of. Now, it seemed to only be a darker side of the energy for life and love that they only experienced these days. Menigines was using only drugs now to heighten his sexual activities. There was no more tender moments or spontaneous words of love spoken from him. There was only lust. She shivered when she pictured Bahccus, the dark one, of taking possession of others.

She turned her eyes toward her husband who was appearing older each day. The young warlord that had captivated her heart when he had seized the castle and all its contents was hard to see these days. She had thought she had tamed his warlord blood lust only to have it replaced by something she was totally unfamiliar with. It was a lust for gambling with other people's lives.

Aleka had finally taken her leave of their host and hostess, just before the second performance that was for the children.

The performance was well received and Aleka could feel the power of the energy in the room from everyone. Agnes was was powerful when everyone shared the same feeling. The room took on a different atmosphere and she could almost swear that the dark energy she had felt when they first entered the castle was absent from this room.

The women were quiet when they returned to their rooms as they were thinking about the next performance. The last one to be performed as part of Menigine's bet. It was a silent drama with no chorus to guide the collective minds of their audience. Each woman, prepared her mask and robe while once more going over her part, feeling the spirit of her character and letting the energy sink into her being.

The performance was after evening meal. It only heightened the clean energy in the hall, sending shivers down Aleka's spine as she marveled at how noticeable it was. The crowd was larger than it usually was, since that was to be their last drama. Aleka was proud of Gabrielle's tale and the crowd that was silent for many heartbeats after the end, broke into a loud mixture of cheers and hoots. Perhaps they too recognized some of the people the characters were representing.

As they made their way back to their rooms, the thought of soaking in a hot bath was tempting to Aleka as she thought of Clorinda’s glares at Katy and Menigines throughout the last drama. Their exchange of energy when everyone was leaving didn’t sit well with her stomach. A thought occurred to Xena. If you are so sensitive to what people are feeling, why didn’t you pick up on Cad’s feelings? I did. That’s why I kept a distance from Iaia. It is Iaia who sat next to me and flirted. She was beautiful! Her hands were beautiful. Right. Right. Xena didn’t want her to go on. It was why I asked them to leave in the morning. His hate was making my stomach upset. Did Iaia feel anything toward you? Yes. But it was buried too deep for her at the time to know. She was focused on her pilgrimage to the Mountain. Her thoughts of dying were foremost. I also should have been focused on my duties. I let myself get sidetracked. It happens.

Aleka returned to their rooms after spending a period of time more than what she wanted with their hosts who were delighted to report that there was a snowstorm outside, giving their entertainers an extended stay. Entering the room, the aroma of lavender reached her first, letting her know that there was hot water in the pool. Glancing around she could see everyone was deep in conversation of their performance that night.

She took a quick dip listening to the soft conversations of the women as their reviewed their work. The heat and scented lavender relaxed her tight shoulder muscles. Reluctantly, she got out of the pool, dried off, dressed in her night shirt and took her place near the fireplace, half listening to the others while she went over what their next move was going to be.

During the evening meal Iaia was silent and appeared to be in deep thought. Agnes and Lily let her alone thinking her thoughts were on the extension of their stay due to the snowstorm that was raging outside.

The usual discussion and review of their drama work followed their leisure dinner, as was their habit. Each participant as well as the listeners drew a more in depth understanding of was transpired in the unfolding of the drama. What the actor felt or didn't feel from the crowd and how they could improve the crowd's understanding without taking away from the sacredness of the subtlety of the story was important. The discussions also helped settle their meal before they spent a candle mark working out with Aleka.

Greeks prided themselves in their dramas and in the cities the audience mouthed the lines the actors recited that they knew so well. Here in the lands of Paeonia, far from Athenian and Peloponnesian theaters, the Grecian spirit for theater lived on.

Since the women were staying until the weather cleared, the Amazons were getting ready to also participate in the sacred drama as was Aleka's request. Under other circumstances it would never have been allowed. This night was serious for the sacred drama was to be acted out by the uninitiated, the Amazons, and it was very important for all the participants to get into resonance with the message and character they were to play. Two of the Amazons would be wearing the sacred masks of the chorus and they had to be initiated into the sacred trust of the spirit of the masks they were to wear.

Aleka took her place near the fireplace after her soak, watching with unseeing eyes as the Agnes explained and taught the others about the spirit of the Muses. Aleka watched Xena's memories play in her mind on her experiences with them and of how favored Gabrielle was to them. With veiled eyes she watched Iaia as she absorbed what Agnes was imparting in a singsong voice about the mysteries of the drama. The struggles in life and the shadows of ones desires were symbolically acted out to give guidance to the audience who perhaps had forgotten there were always choices in difficult situations. Death did not always pertain to the physical but the ending of a way of life.

Aleka closed her eyes and remembered the dance of the dark one and her multitude of waving arms that spoke of death and destruction so that one could be reborn in a more purified state. Aleka opened her eyes to find the worried eyes of Iaia looking at her.

Why did that vision come to her?

The sacred circle of study was broken and the conversation of the group moved to a more mundane subject like to that of Eryalios, master of the stables. He most certainly was in a bother that Clorinda was in the castle. They all decided that he was in love with her and to occupy their time they thought up ways to get the two together.

Iaia had moved over to Aleka's side with some bread, cheese and stuffed mushrooms that smelled good.

As everyone finally moved off to their beds Aleka stretched and turned to Iaia. "Thanks again, for saving me something to eat."

"You seem to have this habit of forgetting to eat...when you have a lot on your mind." Iaia told her thoughtfully.

Xena almost replied with her usual come back, Hey isn't that one of your jobs? But refrained. "I do tend to get focused..." she let it go. She didn't want memories interfering with her thoughts tonight. She needed to focus on the problem they had, getting out of the castle and to the sacred Mountain in by the end of the week.

As she settled down on her back with the covers pulled to her waist she turned to look at Iaia. Aleka sighed inwardly and pulled Iaia over to her. The expression on her face was a familiar Gabrielle one when she needed to be held.

"You wrote a very good drama." She whispered into the golden hair that her lips brushed.

"Aleka?" The soft voice called from her shoulder where the golden head rested on.

Aleka’s stomach turned over at the all too familiar voice.

"Yes, Iaia?"

"Can I talk to you?"

"Of course." Her heart was thumping loudly in her ears and she was sure Iaia could feel it since her head was lying right over it.

"Let’s go where we won’t wake the others."

Aleka shuddered at the images that were passing through her minds eyes were in vivid color. They were very tempting to pursue.

"Where do you propose." She laughed softly, careful to eliminate the seductive timbre out of her voice.

"The bathing room."

Aleka watched as Iaia settled on some cushions that were in the corner of the bathing room. Iaia looked up at her waiting for her to join her.

Don’t think of anything! She told herself.

When Aleka was settled comfortably Iaia started her story.

"I read a story in one of the scrolls that," Iaia paused and shifted her weight, "well...I’ve been having these dreams and the scroll I read was like my dream." She finished awkwardly.

Aleka pursed her lips. Reading Menigines scrolls on sex, sex and sex was not a good idea given that...I hope she's not remembering last night...she was asleep. Why? "What kind of dream?" She asked quietly quelling her nervousness.

"Kind of dream? You mean what was the dream about?" Iaia corrected her. "It had to do with this jewel." She raised her hands to show the size and shape.

Part of Aleka sighed in relief. The question of what was she going to do if the subject was on erotic dreams with her as a key player was put off for another time.

"I read it too." Aleka thought about what she remembered of Berik and Kynthia's secret pilgrimage to deliver a Jewel to the Mountain for safekeeping. Mia was Kynthia, she carried the other part of the jewel. Right. The Sacred Yoni. Yes, but, at that time people were more familiar with it being called the Sacred Flower. To insure its safe delivery the bud was separated from the, an amused Aleka continued. Right. I read the story too. It's not just the story. After the group perished we were able to know what each persons quest was.

Aleka’s breath caught as she remembered Calae’s anger with herself as she realized she could have prevented the slaughter. Lia, she was there for other reasons too, Aleka reminded her. Lia knew about the Jewel and was there to steal it for her village. I remember that. That warning was prickling the back of Xena’s head about Alala again. I wonder what she remembers about her former life as Lia. So far, Lily’s emotional fluctuations of working with her and then challenging her decisions had lessened, but Xena was Xena. She trusted no one, except Gabrielle, whom she knew consistently made decisions from the kindness of her heart. But Iaia was not the Gabrielle that Xena had entrusted her life to. Aleka made an audible sigh.

"Are you listening?" Iaia asked laying a warm hand on her leg to get her attention.

"I was just remembering something. When did your dreams start?"

"Last night, the same day I read the scroll."

"Maybe that's what our next task is. To find it."

Iaia nodded. "Right! My thoughts too! But, I can’t find the scroll. I went back to reread it and it was gone!"

"Ahh. I got it." Aleka admitted embarrassed.

"You do? Where?"

"I put it in with your scrolls. I thought it was a safe place. I meant to talk to Agnes about the story. It seemed familiar and now I know why. The next question is...why now instead of at the beginning of this journey?"

"Hey!" Catherine whispered. When she had heard the word Jewel she gravitated toward the two catching Iaia's eyes in the low lamp light that didn't indicate it was a private conversation. "This Jewel you’re talking about...I overheard what you were saying about it." She whispered. "I overheard Berik and Kynthia talking about a Jewel this morning. It's the Sacred Yoni, right?"

"I think so, right." Aleka told her carefully. "What do you remember about it?"

"Well, nothing real clear. The conversation only caught my attention because the night before I was dreaming of it. Really odd, huh?"

"Now this is getting more interesting." Aleka was suspicious that Clorinda's arrival triggered something.

"How about the others?"

"I don't know. I was going to talk to Agnes but we got kinda busy. Now that we're stuck here until the storms end we'll probably have lots of time to talk about it."

"Why haven't they said anything?" Aleka asked exasperated referring to Berik and Kynthia. She knew she was upset because in the first journey they had also kept their sacred delivery secret. If she had known she felt she would have handled Calae/Lily differently. As Xena, it would never have gotten to a challenge of her leadership.

"In the morning we'll all get together and discuss this...openly. No secrets this trip." Aleka mumbled distracted with the differences of the two characters within her.

Turning to Iaia she rose and offered her hand. "Let's get some rest. I don't like this place and the longer we stay here the more my nerves get worked." She growled.

The moment Aleka was settled back on her pallet she went to sleep, she was vaguely aware of Iaia's arm that draped across her stomach and the head nestle on her shoulder. The first few dreams she wouldn’t remember. However, toward the third candle mark after the moon reached its zenith, she began an elaborate dream that had her standing in a small gray room. It had a small desk, a pallet in the corner and two buckets against different walls. It seemed to be a cell of some sort. She watched as the gray wolf walked through the loophole above the desk and sat in front of a small figure sitting in dejection on the corner of the pallet. This dream is important. What am I supposed to be seeing? She looked around the room again, much slower. The dejected figure looked up and Aleka held her breath. It was Gabrielle.

Just before dawn, Aleka was up, as was her habit. The women were still sleeping. Erica yawned and waved a sleepy hand at her from her guard post near the adjoining door.

Aleka turned around at a noise that was behind her.

"Morning." Eleanor whispered. "Whatcha doing up so early?"

Aleka smiled sheepishly. "I'm hungry."

"Hmm. Well, I only got up to relieve myself. This is way too early for me."

Aleka nodded. It was frustrating for her to wake up this early and not use this time to do sword drills or other things Xena usually did before the start of her day. Aleka’s morning rituals were of meditation and other shaman type stuff. Not Xena’s style. She dressed and decided to visit a place she knew would be deserted. She would take the back passages to it and see what lamps in the back passageways were warm. She borrowed Iaia’s staff. She would compromise and do a little of both, physical exercise and meditation, only Xena’s style.

By the time Aleka returned everyone was gathered in their room eating and exchanging ideas on the Jewel.

"Hey, where've ya been?" Lily asked eyeing the staff.

"Relaxing. I take it you all have been brought up to date on the scroll?"

"What are we going to do about this Jewel?" Alala asked her.

It sounded like a challenge to Aleka, which made her think, maybe she did remember something.

"Locate it." Aleka answered as she leaned the staff against the wall and helped herself to some bread and dried fruit.

"Right!" Berik agreed excited.

"Then what?" Alala prompted.

"Return it to the Mountain." Berik told her.

"Is there someone there who is going to know what to do with it after all this time?" She asked.

"That’s not our problem. Our challenge is to deliver it to where it belongs." Kynthia added

"How do we know it belongs there? Where did it come from? Perhaps it was stolen in the first place."

"We didn’t steal it!" Berik responded quickly with heat. She was on her feet standing across from Alala’s reclining figure.

"Hold it!" Aleka told the women. "This is getting back to the past. Leave it!"

"We need to refocus on our present journey." Agnes soothed. She looked at Alala when she had said that. "You are new to this circle so you don’t have the same intensity of focus as we, so let me explain again to you. We all have something to complete, a pilgrimage or a quest, as we call it. Our destination is not our primary determination but how we conduct ourselves."

"I heard you the first time." Alala returned briefly. "What I haven’t heard is where you feel I fit in this – journey."

The change in Alala’s demeanor was strikingly different than what everyone was accustomed to.

"Do you remember what your original purpose was when you joined us?" Aleka asked hoping that her purpose in this life wasn’t the same as it was then.

"If I believed all of this quest thing you mean? I’m not interested in your quest and what you think you need to do. My life is with Athena and I follow no other. I’m going along because we all happen to be going in the same direction and it bodes well to travel with others."

The hairs on the back of Aleka’s neck were rising. It was as if she were listening to this for the second time.

She said that to Calae. Calae choose to not do anything about the danger she posed. And you knew? Only after we had all lifted in spirit. Will the others remember this too? No. I was the leader so it became our burden to know where my failings were so that I -- we, do not make the mistake again. Right. Right.

Aleka looked toward Lily to see how she was reacting to words she had once been privy to. Lily’s expression was unreadable but her face looked paler than usual. So, she does remember. This is part of her recompense. She either denies it or accepts her responsibility. Is that what all this is about, that we accept our part in the demise of the group? We all have done that! No. You know that is not true. Everyone remembers only what she wishes to remember.

Iaia has a false sense of her part. Calae still blames us. Brona knew the truth yet said nothing and feels guilty for this. They all had a part that they must make recompense for. Just what is that to be? Being in the same situation, with foreknowledge of what happened the last time. That doesn’t sound difficult. You are forgetting our own battles as an ex-warlord. Do we not struggle sometimes nonstop to overcome our urge to kill, merely because it is a quicker way to take care of a problem? We are over compensating for Aleka’s weakness in defending those she was put in charge of. We have reached a balance ...but it’s tenuous without Gabrielle. If it makes us feel better to give all credit to Iaia or Gabrielle then so be it. But, do not depend on that belief entirely. It was in us to be able to overcome the darkness in our soul. It is with Gabrielle assistance that we stay on the lighter path. Without love returned even a good soul with the best of intentions can be swayed to darkness. This is due to the emptiness and the inability to shine from the love of another or others. But the darkness is not the enemy merely a teacher. It is a condition that passes. Right, like food after a stomachache. Xena could feel Aleka's laughter at her ill humor.

"Alala, you are welcome to join us. If this is how you choose to travel with us, then do so. But know this – we choose to finish our quest to the Mountain." Lily told her firmly.

Is that a warning, or what? Words. I’ll take the wait and see attitude. Aren’t we a little cynical? We all have our moments.

"I'm going to look in on my friends." Alala took her leave with a surprised Camila watching her leave.

"It looks like she was surprised at what she said." Iaia said in a low voice.

"Yes, it did." Agnes turned to the others. "We are almost at the end of our journey. By the looks of things, we may be experiencing a lot of past issues we still have not dealt with. Like Alala, we shall find ourselves dangling between two realities, confused at what we feel."

"Great. Now, let’s get back to an important element of this journey." Aleka remarked. "The Sacred Jewel Berik and Kynthia were to deliver to the Mountain for safe keeping. Iaia did you tell them the story in the scroll?"

"No. I was going to wait for you to return." She shook her head.

"We talked about Kynthia and Berik's remembered obligation to take the parts to the Mountain for safekeeping. Each not knowing about the other, only that the other part was nearby." Agnes explained.

Iaia looked up at the standing figure that was now leaning casually against the mantle of the fireplace. "Why don't you give us a quick version." The tall woman nodded.

"We found a parchment that tells a story of the Jewel." She paused a moment. "The story starts with it being transported from a village to a new resting place. The Sacred Jewel was separated in two parts to ensure that if it were stolen bad luck will overtake the thief until the two parts are reunited."

"Just how do you part The Yoni?" Brona asked finally. The sound of the Sacred Yoni being in parts was...painful.

"According to the story, the Sacred Yoni is referred to as a flower, the Sacred Flower. The description of the Jewel is the outer lips are shaped like thick leaves and the sacred bud looks like a long stemmed rose bud. When the two are more than two furloughs from each other the curse begins to gather energy. It draws danger and death to those that are around the two separated pieces."

Aleka pushed herself off from the wall and walked around behind Iaia as she took up the story. "We believe that Clorinda brought the Sacred Yoni here in pieces with her. I don’t believe she has fitted the pieces together...yet."

"Why would she bring it here and why hasn’t she put the parts together? Berik asked anxiously.

"The legal holder of the Sacred Yoni brings prosperity on all levels to the village the holder resides in. That is probably why Clorinda brought it here. She may want to reestablish her legal claim here." Aleka was silent for a moment. "Winter solstice is in a few weeks. I think she will put the parts together at that time."

"We need to find it." Berik told the others with sincerity.

"Why, Berik?" Aleka asked her seriously.

"Because it's ours!"

"NO." Aleka stated firmly. She looked around the room making eye contact with each woman. "It is Clorinda’s. She is the legal holder. If we interfere with her guardianship without knowing why it has been entrusted to her, we will be incurring the wrath of a power I don’t want to become familiar with."

"The Spirit of the Yoni," Iaia continued, "always protects the Sacred Blossom." She quoted. "The scroll said that the Sacred Spirit draws it into wholeness and brings it to wherever it is meant to be. The cycle of its stay at each place is seven years, coinciding with the queendoms that took a new consort to insure the fertility of her people and lands every seven years. So, the beginning of the thirteen months of stay begin at the new year, winter's solstice."

"What you’re saying is that it is responsible for Clorinda bringing it here?" Brona asked puzzled.


"What happens after the seven years?" Grace asked suspiciously.

"Nothing. Look at Athens, Pylus, Sichyon, Doris, Malis and Aegae. Those were some of the areas it had resided in that the scroll mentioned. They are all still here, though in various stages of decay there is also growth. Just like any other city over time." Iaia pointed out.

"So just what are we supposed to do?" Berik asked still angry.

"Wait. Our part will be revealed to us in the Sprit's time." Iaia advised.

"We would not be here at this time without a reason." Lily spoke everyone’s mind.

"Exactly." Aleka nodded. "Locating it is important...but do nothing. This does not mean we are to relax our guard. Menigines still has a four-part bet with Labducus, which I have no doubt Menigines is not going to lose without some sort of move. Labducus' has people here in the castle, which also means they are here to either make sure Menigines goes by the rules or they will try to prevent it. We would have been back on the road by now if the snow storm hadn’t lengthened our stay which may have caused Menigines to make other plans."

"He wouldn’t want anything to happen to us in his castle." Lily nodded. "I don’t think he would want to have Sappho after him. She has an amazing long arm in the form of a goddess or two."

"Great." Gari looked at Agnes disgustedly. "It means we are surrounded by the enemy and we still have to stick around to find out if we’re needed."

"Let’s wait for the weather to clear enough to travel." Aleka counseled. "Meanwhile, I want everyone to be prepared to leave at a moments notice. That means only have out what we are using. Keep it bare but not noticeable."

"We’ve arranged a performance midmorning but its more of a recitation of Morts Decent into the Mountain and it requires no masks. I had already arranged to have the chests moved to the cart this morning. "Agnes informed Aleka.

"Good. Keep close to each other for the rest of our stay. Be ready for anything that will try to separate you. Travel in four or more. Make sure that at least two Amazons are in your group. That’s going to be stretching our group but I would rather no one go anywhere except to the hall and back here. And most importantly...dress warm. I don't want anyone caught out in the cold without some protection if you become separated. This place is cold anyway, so it shouldn't look too strange dressing warmly. If anyone gets separated from the group, we will meet in Mecsa."

Aleka turned to Camilia. "Go and find Alala. She will need a friend now. Brona and Grace go along with her. Check the horses and equipment. Have the cart ready to move out at a moment's notice. They expect us to be leaving anyway when the weather clears so it won’t be too suspicious."

Aleka suddenly straightened up. The energy in the room had suddenly changed. It was an unpleasant feeling like something burning running up and down her arms. She turned to look at Iaia whose face was pale. The green malachite eyes whose dark centers were like pinpoints showed fear. The sound of marching feet could be heard echoing in the passageway outside their room. She turned toward the door in anticipation. A solid rap on the door had everyone standing.

Erica nearest to the door opened it. "Yes?"

Two soldiers that Erica was not familiar with were standing behind a slight man whom Erica had noticed sat behind Menigines during their performances.

"Lord Menigines is requesting Aleka’s presence. Now." He stated firmly.

Aleka looked at the other women. It had started. There was a shifting in the room as if they all were preparing themselves for something though they didn’t know what.

Aleka stepped through the door noticing that each of the soldiers carried short swords in plain sight. "Does it have to be now? We’re in the middle of preparing for our next stop."

"Lord Menigines said it was important. It has to do with a sensitive subject that he believes you can help him with."

Ya right. "Lily, why don’t you finish up the plans and I’ll review them when I get back."

Aleka went along believing that whatever happened she could get out of it. It was a very strong Xena belief in her will to survive.


Lily could feel cold chills run up and down her arms. She felt that the Named was in danger and she couldn’t figure out what to do. She was an Ambassador, a wizard with words and with handling delicate situations and she couldn’t think of a thing to do without jeopardizing the group. Yet the Named had given her the responsibility for the protection of the group until she returned. Wasn’t that what she had wanted on their first journey?

"Sure." She told her trying to cover her own unease.

The others quickly packed what they wouldn't need right away while the three women assigned to go to the stables used that reason for going to the stables, hoping they weren't going to be stopped.

Iaia’s face was white as all sorts of thoughts crossed her mind. Restlessly she picked through the scrolls looking for the one that Aleka had removed from Menigines library. She kept her mind busy with rereading the story of the Jewel.

Continues in Chapter 3

Chapter 1-2 Chapter 2 (cont'd) Chapter 3-4 Chapter 5-7 Chapter 8-9


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