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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.

When I Close My Eyes

by Rebecca Gill

Part I

It was almost midday when the trio walked into the small town, the tall warrior-woman in front leading an impressive looking horse. Following slightly behind her were two people, a young woman holding a staff and wearing amazon clothing, and a rather shabbily armored young man. They all looked as if they needed a bath desperately and hadn’t slept in days.

“Tell me again why we had to get here so fast.” said Gabrielle, the woman wearing the Amazon clothing. She shook her head in attempt to get her dirty reddish blond hair off of her face where it was sticking in a clump.

“Joxer,” the lead woman called back to the rather tall young man dressed in several layers of mismatched clothing. For some reason he was also carrying a bent sword, which he kept trying to thrust into an antique scabbard. Every attempt seemed to be unsuccessful. Finally, he just put it in his belt. “Would you please tell Gabrielle what I’ve said? AGAIN.”

“Okay. Sure, Xena.” Joxer ran up to Gabrielle and stood in front of her. Looking down at her, a rather boyish grin lit up his face as he thought about how beautiful she was and how much he loved her. “Xena said...”

“I know.” Gabrielle rolled her eyes and shoved Joxer aside. “The less we know the better off we’ll all be.” Joxer’s face fell as he once again started trailing behind the two women, his feet dragging the ground.

“Now you’re not talking to me, right?” Gabrielle asked Xena, swinging her staff a few times for good measure.

“Wrong. I stopped talking to you the fifteenth time you asked that same question.” They had finally reached the center of the town. On one side stood a tavern with adjacent stables. On the other stood a temple to Hera. Numerous homes and businesses dotted the area, and people were bustling about in a frenzy.

“Don’t know why they keep building these things.” said Xena, looking up at the pinnacle of the temple, which was, in her opinion, the ugliest structure she had ever seen.

“Yeah, what a waste of good clay.” Joxer piped up from the background. Gabrielle ground her teeth together at his response. She was dirty, she was sweaty, and she had had just about enough of Joxer and his following them around. On the first day after they had started out from Meg’s tavern, he had tried to help her across a mud puddle and accidently knocked her into it, causing her hair to start sticking all over her face. On the second day he had accidently gotten some bees mad at both of them when he tried to retrieve some honey for her and Xena. What happened on the third day she didn’t even want to think about.

“Xena, I thought we were past this.” Gabrielle grabbed the warrior’s arm, forcing her to look at her with her piercing blue eyes. “You have got to start being more straight-forward with me. I need to know what is going on so I can help.”

Xena looked down at her friend from about a foot higher and continued to hold onto Argo. “Okay.” she said, and shrugged.

“That’s it? Okay? Xena, you have been avoiding answering my questions all this time, and now you’re just going to tell me?”

“Hey! Watch where you’re going there!” Joxer suddenly shouted at a hooded young woman covered with rags who had just bumped into him. “Sorry.” the woman mumbled. Coughing hardly, she stumbled off in the direction of the stables.

“Will you be quiet if I do?” Xena said sarcastically.

Gabrielle smiled a secretive little smile at Xena and thought, “See...persistence does pay off.” To Xena she said, “Of course.” and looked down at the ground, seeming unhappy that her friend would insult her in such a way.

Xena put a comforting hand on the bard’s shoulder and immediately took it away as she noticed that Gabrielle was trying to stifle a smile. “So that’s what she’s doing. Well, she just might regret it.” she thought. “We’re here to intercept some weapons smugglers working for the warlord Pendaron. His men were supposed to arrive today. I just have to figure out where the smugglers are.”

“Whoa. You mean THE Warlord Pendaron? The man who defeated the Minoans with only part of his army?” Joxer gulped. “I thought he had retired!”

“Well, he’s back.” Xena tied Argo’s reigns to the post outside the stable, then proceeded to go into the tavern with Gabrielle and Joxer. It was filthy, and the patrons looked less than reputable. The walls were littered with bloodstains. A huge pool of ale had collected in the middle of the dirt floor. At least, they hoped it was ale. A dart board was on the wall to the side, it’s inner circle stained with blood. The proprietor himself was hitting on an attractive young woman, and didn’t even look up as they came in. On the whole, it was one of the worst taverns they’d ever been in. Definitely not as high a quality as Meg’s. “Well, what do you expect from a town with a temple to Hera in the middle of it?” Xena asked Gabrielle as she looked around in disgust. She paid for a room for her and Gabrielle and Joxer paid for his own.

Seating themselves at a corner table, she said, “I have to stop Pendaron. You two weren’t supposed to learn about it because I know whoever he sent to retrieve the weapons is extremely competent. They may be able to kill us all, and I just can’t let that to happen.” Xena’s voice had grown hoarse.

“It’s okay, Xena.” said Gabrielle, “We’ll be all right.” She touched Xena’s shoulder in a comforting gesture.

“You don’t understand. Pendaron’s intelligence operatives are the best there are. They’re better than the Spartans. Pendaron recruits young boys at an earlier age than they do. They are trained to be ruthless, merciless, and very, very, deadly. Those that don’t pass the fitness training usually die during it, and when they finally are finished being trained they are almost unstoppable. Worse than Callisto.”

‘Now, Gabrielle, I’m not joking about this. I want you and Joxer to stay in this tavern and wait for me.”

Gabrielle looked across the table at Joxer, shifted uncomfortably, and then sighed in resignation. “I see. Alright, we’ll stay here.”

“Good.” said Xena, getting up and leaving the bar. “I’ll be back soon.”

After a few minutes of sitting uncomfortably in silence with Joxer, whom Gabrielle was still not too pleased with, she said: “Joxer, I think I’ll go see if I can find some place to take a bath. You wait here.” Gabrielle took her staff and headed out the door.

Shortly after she left, troubling thoughts began to bother Joxer. “Great. How come I always act so stupid around her?!” He thought, slamming his fist on the table. “She must hate me. She does hate me. I know it!”

The barmaid came up to him and served him a drink. He fished around in his pockets and finally came up with a tip, one dinar. The barmaid tucked it into her blouse, and looked at him with a savvy smile as he stared at her doing it. “Oooh. Got a live one here. Sorry, honey, I don’t have the time.” She left.

Joxer put his arms on the table and put his head in his hands. “Fantastic.” He took a swig of his beer and immediately spit it out. It tasted like something he could get from Argo’s trough. “Even the people at bars cheat me.” He thought.

The tavern was suddenly illuminated brightly as the door opened and the woman he had bumped earlier came in, coughing so hard that her chest shook and she began gasping for air.

“Hey!” The proprietor rose from where he was having a conversation with an attractive looking patron. “We don’t want your sickness in here. Get out!” He gestured for the bouncer to throw her out of the bar.

“Leave her alone.” Joxer rose from the table and approached the bouncer and grabbed his arm. “She hasn’t done anything.”

The woman glanced from both Joxer to the bouncer, who was admitting a deep-throated growl at the young man, and hastily pulled a pouch out from her clothes. “I have money to pay for a room.” she said calmly to the proprietor, and coughed.

Joxer glanced up into the woman’s eyes. They were a clear dark grey, full of life and deep and calm as a river. Never before had he seen such eyes that hid so much mystery, that were kind and loving, and at the same time hard as steel. Not even Xena’s were like that. Her body may have been covered with rags, but this window into her inner being allowed him to see that her soul was beautiful. All he wanted to do was continue looking in those eyes forever.

“We’ve got no rooms.” the proprietor said fearfully.

“How about your stable, then?” she asked, jingling the bag sneakily.

The man looked her up and down once more, and said, “You probably stole that money. But, I’m a kind man, so I’ll let you have a stall in the stable for 8 dinars.”

“Very kind indeed.” she said lowly. “You sir.” she turned her eyes on Joxer, who swallowed. “How much did you pay for a room?”

Joxer searched around and finally found his voice again. “Two dinars.”

The woman’s head snapped back to the proprietor. She immediately coughed. “I’ll pay you 3 dinars for the stall.”

“Tartarus’ bells. Okay.” He took the money in one grubby paw. The woman slowly turned around and started to shuffle out the door. “But you’d better not leave a mess!” he shouted out at her.

“Trust me, sir. I would not willingly leave you anything. Not even a mess.” she shot back as she faded out the door.

Joxer just stood there for a moment, holding the bouncer’s arm until he finally shook it off with a growl. Then he ran after her, his helmet bouncing against his back.

Gabrielle entered the baths, which, surprisingly, were of a greater quality than that of the bar. Slipping out of her bilious green top and short skirt, she dropped into the steaming hot water, which was already populated with several other women who were apparently enjoying themselves playing with an inflated pig’s bladder. They were tossing it back and forth between each other and giggling up a storm. Gabrielle sighed and closed her eyes while she leaned against the pool.

She was still worried about Xena, but the water had a soothing effect that she hadn’t expected. “Gods, this is paradise.” she thought, inhaling deeply. “No fighting, no mud, and thankfully, no JOXER..” She almost immediately felt sorry for the thought. After all, Joxer had done all those things in an attempt to be nice to her and Xena. It wasn’t as if his reasons were wrong. But why was it that everything he did almost always turned into a disaster?

Gabrielle ducked her head under the water and reemerged, shaking her reddish-blond tresses in a whirl. “I’ll have to find some way to apologize to him later,” she thought, and then closed her eyes again.

“Wait!” Joxer cried as he ran after the woman. By the time he had reached the street, however, it was filled with beggar-women wearing similar clothing to hers. Desperately, he scanned the crowd. When he saw one of the women double up in a fit of coughing, her ran up to her and grabbed her arm. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“Just fine, sonny.” an old crone peered up from beneath her cowl. “Can you spare a dinar for a poor wretch?”

Joxer let go of her arm in shock and started searching the crowd with his eyes once more as he fished out a another dinar. “Sure.” he said, absentmindedly handing it to the old woman, who immediately fell down and kissed his feet. “Thank you, kind sir. Praise Hera! Hera’s blessings on you!”

“Huh? Whatever.” said Joxer, walking off, concentration on the woman whose eye’s he could not get out of his mind. “Where is she?” he asked himself.

Suddenly he spotted her talking to the village blacksmith. His view was blocked even as he ran toward her, but it looked as if she was handing something to the smithy. He finally reached her just as she was turning around and the man was going back into his shop, and smashed into her once again.

“Uumph. Sorry.” wheezed Joxer as they both went tumbling to the ground.

“We have got to stop meeting like this.” she said, coughing, and trying to untangle herself from his legs. Joxer managed to somehow stand up before she did and offered his hand to help her up.

“Thanks.” To his surprise, she actually took it. Lightning raced up his fingers and diffused throughout his body. He looked only at her eyes as she rose, fascinated beyond words. He had never felt like this before, not about Meg, not even about Gabrielle.

The woman finally broke the gaze by lowering her eyes and dusting herself off.

“I want to thank you for helping me in the tavern.” she said in her steady voice, once more looking up at him. Joxer inhaled deeply. “My name is...” she paused, seeming to think for a minute. “Leeza. What’s your’s?” she extended her hand in greeting.

“Joxer the Mighty.” he responded automatically, grabbing her arm in a warrior’s welcome. Then he winced as she grabbed back. Her grip was like iron. “You’re welcome.” he squeaked.

“I see.” her eyes searched him, seeming to pry into locked areas, opening all doors, stripping bare his mind, and finally seeing through his soul as if it were translucent as a shower of rain. And the thing about it was, even though it scarred him, he liked it.

Then she smiled at him. Joxer felt as if he was floating on air. Everything around him turned a funny hue and all other voices in the background dropped out. He didn’t even notice when a passerby accidently jostled him.

“Well, thank you again, Joxer,” was all she could think to say after such a long silence. She started to turn to walk away buy was stopped as another fit of coughing overtook her.

“Are you alright?” he asked, concerned. He put his arm around her.

“Fine.” Leeza pulled out a bottle from her sleeve and took a swallow, then discreetly put it back where it came from. “I must go now.” She began walking away.

“Wait!” Joxer cried after her. “I want to help you!”

Leeze stopped cold and said, “Then wait for me. We’ll talk later.” She started off again.

“Wait for you where?!”

“In the tavern, of course.” she laughed a little and walked away, shaking her head and smiling.

“In the tavern.” Joxer smiled a little dazedly and obediently went back inside.

Part II

Perched high above the ground in a tree, Xena watched the road below in silence. It had been nearly an hour since she had left the company of Gabrielle and Joxer, and still no sign of anything that could possibly be smugglers could be seen. She had first checked the rest of the town, looking for tracks of an overladen wagon that would be carrying weapons, but had seen nothing there either. Now, she turned her senses toward the forest, and identified every living thing that was within hearing range.

“Ah.” she thought, as she heard the sound of boots shuffling toward her. “Here we go.”

What she saw wasn’t what she expected. A lone woman wearing rags and a cowl and stopping at various instances due to coughing fits came into view. She walked over to the large rock behind the road and dragged a large sack out from behind it. Suddenly, she straightened and darted a look around, then pushed it back and ran and hid behind the rock.

A wagon, a very heavy wagon by Xena’s estimation, appeared further down the road and rolled slowly toward the town. It couldn’t have been anything but the weapons, judging by the countenance of the man who was driving it. He had only one eye and looked like he had been eaten and spat out again by Cerebus. “I can’t ambush it here.” she thought, thinking of the woman hiding behind the boulder. “Why doesn’t she leave?”

The answer came to her in a flash. Whatever that woman was hiding, she was going to stay there and protect. She obviously didn’t want anyone knowing about it. This just made Xena curious as to what could be so valuable to the beggar-woman. “I’ll come back and find out later.” she thought. The wagon rolled beneath her and passed on. Xena climbed out on a limb and flipped though the trees, following it.

Leeza hid behind the rock, looking out at the wagon as it passed. She knew there was someone in the tree, but that person hadn’t threatened her, and had in fact seemed more interested in the wagon. Whoever it was had followed it and was leaving her alone.

“I can’t just drag this into town,” she thought in resignation. She opened the bag and pulled what was in it out. “I’m just going to have to....” She coughed, and took another swig from her flask.

The wagon-driver was upset. He was partially upset because he was on the ground. He was mostly upset because a very beautiful woman was standing over him and not making love to him. She was, instead, holding a knife to his throat and demanding that he tell her just what he was going to do with his wagon-load full of weapons. This bothered him very much.

“Look, lady. I’m not talkin’. I don’t have anything to say to you. Go ahead and kill me, for all I care.” was what he said. The woman seemed to be taken a little bit aback by this. Apparently, she had not encountered this kind of reaction before. This seemed good. Maybe she would go away and not kill him. Maybe she would even....but even to his delusional mind that wasn’t going to happen.

“Ow.” he said, as she took the dagger away, nicking him. She just looked at him strangely for a minute, then put two fingers to both sides of his throat in rapid succession.

“I have just cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You’ll be....” the rest was lost to him as his ears seemed to stop communicating with his head and his throat felt like it was about to explode. This definitely was not pleasant. This was worse than dying. He decided to talk. He just hoped that Pendaron’s men weren’t going to catch up with him later.

“Okay. I’ll tell you everything.” he gasped. She smiled sweetly at him for this and untwisted something on the side of his neck. Better. Much better. He could breathe now. “I just hope, lady, you know what you’re getting into.”

“Oh believe me, I know.” she looked at him under arched brows, and dragged him to his feet.

Three men, all of them sleek and muscled, waited in a house near the edge of town. One was an unusual sort of tan, another had tattoos covering 90% of his body. The third had almost no distinguishing characteristics at all, except that his head was completely bald and he had a small scar on one cheek. Despite these differences, they all had something in common, though. They all had an air about them of complete and utter fanaticism. They had this look that said they would do anything to accomplish their goals.

“The weapons-dealer was supposed to be here half and hour ago!” the bald man was saying impatiently.

“He’ll be here.” the tattooed man replied, pointing the knife he was sharpening at the bald one. “Don’t get your breeches in a knot, Solsen.”

“I’m tired of waiting. I’m going to go outside and look around.” Solsen left the house, slapping a dagger against the side of his hand. Although it was inflicting slight cuts on it, he never flinched or seemed to notice.

The tanned man shook his head a little. “That impatience of his is gonna cost him someday.”

“Yeah, I know. I just hope we aren’t around to see it when it does. Figures.” the tattooed one stood up as a woman with black hair came in the doorway, dressed in Asian silks and bowing.

“Greetings, sirs. I am from the house of Qin. Are you the ambassadors from his noble lordship, Pendaron?”

The tattooed man scoffed at this a little and put his hand over his mouth to hide a smirk. The tanned man stepped on his foot perceptibly, with a harsh look on his face.

“Yes, we are. Let me introduce myself and my friend. I am Leapidios, and this is Uris. Greetings.” he bowed in return.

“This is good. I am pleased that I came to the right dwelling. My name is Fa Mu Lan. I wish to make an arrangement with you.”

“I see.” Leapidios waved her toward a chair next to a table. She sat down very gracefully, and he sat down at the table across from her. Uris put his back against the wall and watched her with narrow eyes. “Let us get down to business. What is your price for the “goods” you are selling?”

Mulan quoted a rather large sum. Uris smiled a little secretly, knowing that they were probably going to end up just killing her and taking the weapons. He began turning over different possibilities in his mind on how to enjoy himself the most while doing it.

“Alright. I agree. But, you must accept my wishing to see the merchandise first.” he laughed, pouring her some wine.

Mulan didn’t touch the wine. Instead, she said, “You are most wise. But I will not allow you to see them here. Surely a man of your perception will understand,” she raised a hand as he began to object “why this is so.”

“Yes.” Leapidios was a not a bit disappointed or surprised at this development, though Uris was. He wanted to have some fun, now. “I can. Name the location.”

“There is a temple to the god you call Hera in this town. It is deserted. That is the place where you can come.” she said, rising. “But not until tomorrow morning. If you come before, the weapons will not be there.”

“A temple to Hera? Are you out of your gourd?” asked Uris from the wall. “She’ll fry us all!”

Mulan looked at him with cold blue eyes. “Hera is no longer a problem. I have heard of how Hercules has trapped her in the underworld. It should be safe.” She bowed. “That is my offer.”

“We accept.” Leapidios rose and bowed, then hit Uris in the gut so he would double over and do the same. “Until then, Mulan.”

“Until then, Leapidios, Uris.” she bowed and exited the house.

“You really need to learn some diplomacy, Uris.” Leapidios stared at his companion, feeling like hitting him.

“Why? We’re just going to kill her anyway.” Uris said, plopping down in the chair that he had formerlly occupied. He picked up the goblet.

“Because, you idiot, she knows where the weapons are and we don’t. Unless you want to be combing the woods for them, I suggest you play along. Besides, it’s much more fun this way. I’m going to really enjoy this.”

A few minutes more of argueing passed before Solsen came in, dragging a coughing woman dressed in rags. “Looky what I found.” he grinned, showing several missing teeth. “A spy and a sneak. By the way, I hope you two know that that was the lovely Warrior Princess, Xena, you were just talking to.”

“Xena? Interesting.” Leapidios said, as Uris spit out what he was drinking. “That probably means that the temple is a trap. This just makes matters more entertaining.”

The woman continued to struggle in Solsen’s grip. “What should I do with this one?” he asked, looking down at her and grinning.

“Can I have her, Leapidios?” asked Uris. “She’s beautiful, even if she’s covered with those filthy things.” His eyes roved all over her body. She just stared at him with a shocked look on her face.

“I found her!” responded Solsen, shaking her. “She’s mine, and I don’t feel like sharing.”

“Uris, I hate to disappoint you, but he’s right. Go ahead. Go have some fun. We’ve got plenty of time before we have to meet Mulan. I mean, Xena.” He grinned in anticipation.

Solsen began dragging the woman out the door. “Don’t wait up for me, Mommy and Daddy, I’m not comin’ back for a longggg time.”

“Oh, Solsen, when you’re finished, be sure to kill her.”

Part III

Gabrielle starred across the table at Joxer. “What in Gaia is wrong with him?” she thought, watching him as he leaned back in his chair against the wall of the tavern with his eyes closed. He was humming slightly, and perfectly on key too. Even on his most ineffectual days he had never behaved like this. When she had returned from the baths, all of her attempts to have any kind of conversation with him had met with failure, even when she had boned up and apologized to him for the way she had behaved earlier. Usually it was just the opposite. He was almost always too eager to try to talk her into writing something in her scrolls about his “heroism.” Now he just wasn’t talking. Gabrielle hated to admit it, but she was feeling a little neglected. She hoped Xena would be back soon, so she could try to perhaps talk her into letting her participate in this mission.

“Just too weird.” She said, as Joxer got into the throws of yet another tune that she had never heard before. She wondered briefly if he could be musically talented. “Could be possible.” she thought, and fished around in her bag and pulled out a scroll. Gabrielle chewed on the end of her quill thoughtfully. Still, it was strange. She had been sitting here for over a half an hour and he still hadn’t hummed “Joxer the Mighty,” or even come close to it.

“Very weird”, she thought as she began writing scribing the latest of Xena’s exploits.

Another brawl in the tavern broke out. Gabrielle ignored it, concentrating on her scroll. Joxer, who usually loved to participate in bar fights, still sat with his back to the wall and hummed. She was just getting down a particularly lovely metaphor when one of the patrons came crashing into her, causing her ale mug to get knocked over and spill all over her scroll. “Son of a bacchante!” she wanted to yell, but stopped herself and instead grinned and said it was no big deal when the patron apologized to her. All the words she had laboriously crafted were a blurry mess now, and her scroll was soaked through-and-through. “Back to the beginning.” she sighed, and attached the scroll to the top of her pack to dry. To her surprise, she too started to hum along with Joxer’s current catchy tune as she pulled out another scroll and began a rewrite.

Her curiosity had gotten the better of her. Xena, having ascertained that she was not being followed by one of Leapidios’ men, had removed her oriental garb and returned to the big rock by the side of the road to see what had happened with the beggar woman and the sack. “I hate loose ends.” she thought, peering behind the rock.

“Well, what have we here?” she picked up the empty bag and looked at the indentation that it had left behind on the ground. “Interesting.” She spied the woman’s tracks leading off into the woods. “You’re up to somethin ’. I don’t know what yet, but I’m gonna find out.” Xena began following the tracks with renewed determination.

Solson had dragged Leeza way into the woods, so as to be out of earshot of his two companions and whatever of their men may be lurking around. He forced her up against the a tree and began disrobing her, stripping off her rags one by one while holding her down.

“Wait a minute! This looks like....aaaaaaaaaaggggggggghhhhhhhhh!”

Xena glanced up sharply when she heard a hideous scream resound throughout the woods, and began running toward where the sound had originated from. She came upon a slight clearing. A bald man was leaning on the woman in rags, pinning her to a tree. The woman was coughing and trying to get out from under him.

“Leave the lady alone.” Xena said, and pulled her sword out. The man didn’t move. Xena lowered her sword and walked up to the duo. The woman continued to struggle beneath him. “Did you hear what I said?” She shoved him. To her surprise, he fell away easily and slumped on the ground. He was very, very, dead.

Xena glanced back over at the woman. A thin trickle of blood was leaking from her nose. She wheezed and coughed, and then collapsed, her eyes unfocusing and snapping shut as she slid down the tree. Xena caught her in her arms and lowered the woman the rest of the way to the ground. “You’ll be okay for now.” she said, looking the woman over. “Let’s just check out your attacker first, shall we?”

Solson’s skin was turning a slight purple color. His face looked like a blowfish, and a small dagger was protruding from his right arm. Xena removed the dagger and looked at it’s edge. Just as she thought, it was poisoned. A very painful and quick poison to be exact; the type of poison that was particularly used in battle. Xena searched the rest of the body. Turning over one of Solson’s hands, she discovered what she was looking for. An elongated tattoo with the letter P surrounded by swirls was on the underside. This was one of Pendaron’s men.

The beggar-woman moaned from the ground, and Xena walked over to her. “You definitely aren’t what you seem.” she kneeled beside the inert woman. “I’m gonna take care of you. Hold on a minute.” Xena looked around, and then dragged Solson’s body to a nearby shrub and covered it up. The woman opened her eyes and tried to rise. She turned and coughed, falling unconscious again.

Xena picked her up in her arms and groaned. The woman was much heavier than she should have been. But after all, that was to be expected. She was wearing 30 lbs of armor under all those rags.

“Uuumph. Definitely not what you seem.” Xena carried Leeza through the forest, seeking out Gabrielle and Joxer for help with her.

Gabrielle was just getting around to her interesting metaphor once more when the door to the tavern opened and Xena walked in, struggling with a young woman in her arms, who apparently weighed a ton.

“Hey!” the barkeep yelled. “She’s supposed to be staying in the stables! I don’t care what happened to her! We don’t want that sickness in here! Get out!” He motioned for the bouncer once more.

Xena growled, a fierce look coming across her face as she struggled to keep the woman aloft. Gabrielle rose hastily from the table and ran over to her, trying to help her with the woman. “Xena, let’s go.” she said trying to stop her from attacking the bouncer, and turned around to where Joxer was still in never-never land. “Joxer! We need your help!” she shouted.

Joxer’s eyes flipped open and he gasped as he saw the woman. “Leeza!” he cried out, and ran to her. To Xena’s surprise and Gabrielle’s utter bewilderment, he actually took the woman from her arms and carried her out the door and into the stables.

He laid her down gently in a bed of straw. “What’s wrong with her?” he asked Xena as she came in.

“I’m not sure yet. First, Gabrielle and I have to get this off.” Xena lifted up the rags and exposed a full suit of golden armor. Joxer looked on in shock. What on earth was that? “She had it hidden in the woods. I’m guessing she wasn’t wearing it because it hurt her, but she also didn’t want anyone to know about it. So I figure that she put it on to bring it into town.” Leeza stirred and coughed in her sleep.

“Joxer, I want you to go outside, now. Just wait outside. She’ll be alright.” Xena ignored his protests and pushed him out the door. Gabrielle was looking on, a confused expression on her face. “I seem to be missing something here. How on Gaia does Joxer know this woman? And where did you find her?” she asked.

“I’m not sure. I found her in the woods. You still got that spare Amazon outfit?” Xena looked over her shoulder as she began removing the outer armor.

“Yeah, sure.” Gabrielle got it out of her pack. “Good. Put them down next to her.” said Xena, and removed the rest of the armor. Fortunately, the woman had some clothing on underneath. But what they saw made both her and Gabrielle draw in their breaths sharply.

“Gabrielle....” Xena looked at her friend in shock. “I know, Xena.” Gabrielle buried her head in Xena’s shoulder and closed her eyes, a look of horror on her face.

Leeza was covered from head to foot with bruises. There were what looked like whip marks curling around her rib cage. One of the bruises on her ribs were turning purple.

“Gabrielle, this woman’s been tortured...”

Part IV

“Torn almost limb from limb, to be exact.” Leeza rasped, opening her eyes. The room spun around and became focused. She saw the woman, Xena, who had been negotiating with Pendaron’s men standing over her, and beside her another woman, a blonde. Her body felt relief at the armor being off, though she was still in pain. “Where am I?” she asked in a guarded tone, and reached for where her dagger should have been.

“Easy.” said Xena in a calming tone. “You’re among friends.” She poured Leeza a cup of water calmly from a pitcher that Gabrielle had brought in earlier. “I’m Xena. This is my friend Gabrielle. You’re in the stables.”

Leeza accepted the cup and smiled a little ruefully. “Xena. It would figure that you were going up against Pendaron.” she said, trying to sit up. She gave up after a moment. “How do I know that I can trust you?” she said as an afterthought, staring at the glass.

“Gabrielle, go get Joxer.” Xena ordered, pointing at the door. Gabrielle nodded and headed outside. “Wait a few minutes before you come back in.”

“Joxer? What does he have to do with you?” Leeza said, as Xena put her arm under her and helped her to sit up. She took the glass from Xena but still only stared at it, not trusting her.

Xena looked as if it pained her to say it, but, “He’s our friend. What happened to you?” The cool grey eyes bored into hers, as if Leeza knew something that Xena didn’t.

“The usual. They caught me.” Leeza said, looking down at her bruised abdomen. She sighed. “Can’t I put on something decent before he comes in?”

Xena handed her the amazon clothing and a spare cloak of Gabrielle’s. Then she turned around while Leeza dressed. She winced every time she heard her cough. She had a hunch as to what the matter was, and she couldn’t fix it. It hurt her inside, like every other time she had been confronted with someone injured she couldn’t heal. “Where did you get that cough?”

Leeza didn’t answer at first. The memories came crowding in. “At Troy.” she said at last, in the same calm tone.

Xena flipped back around and stared at her, her blue eyes wide with astonishment. Leeza was sitting up, her auburn hair spilling all over the cloak. “I don’t believe that. You’re too young to have been at Troy.” Xena whispered.

“Am I now?” Leeza replied, lying back down and turning over on her side to face away from Xena. “How many servant boys did Achilles take with him, in plans of training them to someday become soldiers? Did you count, Xena? Did you examine them in detail? Did you even care who they were? No, you didn’t. Well, Neither did Achilles. All he cared was that they were willing and able to fight. I took advantage of that.”

Gabrielle poked her head into the door and looked at Xena questioningly. Slowly, and still in shock, Xena nodded her head. “How old were you?” she asked as Gabrielle came back in with Joxer.

“I was ten.”

“Ten what? Are you all right?” Joxer asked, looking down at the woman in concern.

Leeza turned back over and looked him straight in the eyes, her gaze full of meaning. “I was ten when I first fought at Troy.” She coughed, and upon seeing that Joxer was there, seemed to begin to trust Xena, for she allowed Xena lift up her head and pour some water into her mouth. “I’m fine. Just a little shook up.” she smiled at him. His heart started doing that funny thing again.

“You’re a warrior?” he asked, sitting down next to her.

“Unfortunately. That’s all I am. That’s all I will ever be.” Her eyes shadowed over, like she wanted something so very badly, something she had never had the opportunity to gain, but knew that she could never actually have it, never actually touch her dream.

“I don’t believe that.” he said hoarsely, and took her hand.

Leeza blushed and looked into his eyes. In all of her years, she had never, ever, blushed. Many men had forced themselves upon her, made offers to her, but she had always had the upper hand. Now she was blushing like an idiot. And in front of someone most would call an idiot, too.

“Ahem.” Xena said. Gabrielle was just staring at them like the bottom had fallen out of her world. “You sure have a lot to tell us, I see. But, I think you should rest right now, so it can wait. Joxer, stay with her. Gabrielle, come with me. We’ve got a temple to prepare.” Gabrielle looked slowly from Joxer to Xena with a look of utter bewilderment on her face. “I ’ll explain when we get there.” she started to turn her toward the door.

“Thank you for your help, Xena. I am in your debt.” Leeza looked at her with grave eyes. “So I will tell you this: Pendaron’s men know who you are. They know you are setting a trap for them.”

Xena took this in for an instant and then seemed to think for a moment. “Thank you. All right, I’ve got an idea. Gabrielle, let’s go. Joxer....just stay put, okay? We’ll be back later.” Xena went out the door.

Gabrielle, still looking confused, dropped her sack on the floor. “Um...You ’ll find some extra supplies in here. I....I think....”

“Gabrielle, come on!” Xena shouted from the doorway.

“I wish, for once, someone would just tell me what is going on!” shouted Gabrielle as she and Xena stood at the temple doors. She looked up and around. The temple really was ugly, a tall, yet froggish looking building with dead brown ivy growing up the sides of the black walls. Leaves littered the brown, overgrown steps and the statues in the courtyard were of the ugly goddess herself. There were several gargoyles on the roof, looking down with leers on their faces at Gabrielle as she stared in frustration and Xena tried to get the doors open, with Gabrielle conveniently standing in front of her where no one from the streets could see, even though large hedges blocked all view. The whole place seemed to exude a cloud of ominous force, as if something bad was going to happen at any second.

“Ah ha, here we go.” Xena’s dagger finally succeeded in cutting through the lock, and she slipped through the door, Gabrielle following closely behind. It was pitch dark. Except for an area along the far wall illuminated by a sky-light. Click-click. Xena lit a torch on the wall. What Gabrielle saw made her almost sick with fear.

“By the gods. What on Gaia could they have been thinking of?” They were in a dark hallway, with huge sweeping arches set at regular intervals all down the length of it with some sort of ball with prongs hanging down from each of them. On each arch, just before it met the floor, was a statue of Hera. “Modest, isn’t she?” Xena asked, swinging the torch around. Doors to various rooms were placed between the arches. Each was decorated with some kind of hideous creature. Some of them were open, some were locked shut. Xena walked down the hall, holding the torch up and looking watchfully around. Gabrielle followed her, holding her staff up, ready for anything.

Finally, they reached the end of the hallway. Xena and Gabrielle saw what was illuminated. It was actually a huge room, full of more statues of Hera, and a few pews and tables. Two more doors led out from the sides, and there was hay all over the floor. There was an elaborately carved grotesque altar on one end, with a basin in front of it. The white light from above descended directly on the altar, and there was some sort of red liquid in the basin. “Xena, is that...”

“Relax. It’s just wine.” Xena walked up to it and peered into the depths. “Probably an offering from a villager.” She looked up and around, a look of “it figures” forming on her face. “Take a look at the ceiling.” She walked over and put the torch in a niche on the wall. Gabrielle looked up and swallowed. Bats were hanging from the rafters on the roof. They must have gotten in through the hole for the light. Where there weren’t bats there were carvings of more grotesque animals.

Gabrielle gulped, fear rising in her throat again. A bat flew down toward her and she wacked it with her staff, sending it flying into a spiral. It flew out the sky-light. “Would you please tell me why we are in here?” she said, trying to keep the edge out of her voice.

“We are trap a few of Pendaron’s men so that they won’t go running home and tell him I stole the weapons they were supposed to buy.” Xena said, trying the door to the right. It was stuck fast. She pulled out her dagger and began hacking at the lock. “Besides, they are more likely to track us down and kill us in our sleep if we just leave. We have to get rid of them.” Xena kicked the door with her foot, breaking it in finally. “and this temple is the best place to do it. Good.” Xena walked into the room. Fortunately, there was another sky light-in here, this one covered with a grate, though. Weapons of all sorts and varieties were hung on the wall. Xena picked up a bow and glanced over it, looking satisfied.

“Why here? Why not someplace else, like the barn? Xena, I can’t believe you would risk Hera’s wrath by doing something like this.”

“Hera’s trapped in Tartarus right now. She’s not gonna be worried about one of her temples. Besides, no one would think to look for the bodies here.”

“Bodies? Xena, you aren’t going to kill them, are you?”

“Oh yes, I am.” Xena dragged a bag out from under the table. It was full of darts. “Perfect.”

“Xena, I can’t do this.” Gabrielle said, shaking her head and preparing to leave.

Xena dropped the bag of darts and grabbed Gabrielle’s arm. “Gabrielle, this is very important. I was lucky to find out where Pendaron’s men were getting their weapons from. If those weapons reach his army, Athens will fall. Besides, it will be a fair fight now. They know who I am, and know what I’m doing. These men are not innocents. They will kill us all if given the chance, and not think twice about whether it’s right or not. Do you understand?”

“Are you going to help me?” Xena asked, looking her in the eye. Gabrielle’ s eyes dropped and she looked disturbed. Ever since she had accidently killed that priestess, she had sworn never to do it again, or even to assist in it. She had already broken that promise when she killed Hope, and again when she let Crassus die. These men were dangerous, though. They had to be stopped before many innocent people died in Athens. She nodded her head slowly. “I understand. What do you need me to do?”

“Just help me set up the temple. I want you to leave after that. Go stay in the stable with Leeza and Joxer. Get some sleep. It’ll be all right.” Xena hugged Gabrielle, and then handed her the bag of darts. “Now, I want you to....”

“How many battles have you been in?” Joxer asked Leeza, sitting comfortably on the floor next to her. They had been talking about various subjects during the last few minutes, and now he was turning to his favorite, fighting.

“Too many. Joxer, why do you want to be a warrior?” she asked.

“Well, it’s mostly because of my family. My mother and father are warlords, and my brother is an assassin.”

“Sounds like a pretty tough crowd to please.” Leeza coughed. “It’s not worth it.”

“I don’t know about that. Xena seems to like it.” Joxer said. “Besides, it gives you a chance to earn glory in victory.” “Does Xena really like it?” she said, reflectively. “Alright. How many battles have you been in?” she asked, glancing at him in a perceptive way.

Joxer thought for a minute. For some reason, he didn’t feel like lying to her. He had lied to everyone else about his honor and deeds, but lying to Leeza just didn’t seem right somehow. It was like she knew him better than he did himself and that to lie to her would violate some trust. But, he still wanted to impress her, so recounted one of his “heroic deeds”.

Leeza began to look very tired about a fourth of the way through. “You’ve never actually been in a war, have you, Joxer?” she said, making it more of a statement than a question.

“No.” he finally responded, but then looked hopeful again. “But I hope to someday. I’m gonna help Xena and Gabrielle fight those men of Pendaron’s. That would be great!” Joxer stood up and began pacing the floor, smacking his hands together in anticipation.

“Joxer, do you have any idea what happens when you kill a person?” Leeza asked, looking at him with some bafflement.

“Yeah, they die.” Joxer said.

“That’s not all that happens.” she told him. The look on his face was enough to tell her that the point had gotten through.

“War is not fun, Joxer. It’s not heroic, and it’s definitely not fair. There’s nothing romantic about it. There are no rules, no chivalry, there is only death, death, and more death. Blood stains your hands, dirt gets in your mouth. Everywhere you can hear the screams of those that are dying. And then you kill someone yourself. And it hurts. It takes something away from you every time you do it. Day in and day out, you have to fight, and kill, and be sorry, and mourn as those you knew well die. When you go to sleep at night, you can still hear the screams. And then comes the day when you get caught by the other side.” Her voice turned hard at that, and she closed her eyes, tears flowing down her cheeks.

“Leeza, I’m sorry.” he said, sitting next to her and taking her hand.

“Don’t be. Just don’t let it happen to you.” she said, looking at him with tender eyes.

“But I want to make a difference in the world. You know, be somebody. Like Xena.”

“I understand that. And that’s why I like you. Everything in this world, Joxer, comes down to motive. Why you do things is more important than how you do them, in most cases. Your motives must be pure, if you want to fight. Why is Xena fighting right now? Is it to fulfill some selfish craze for power, or to do good for other people? Why would you be fighting? To actually help others, or to bring glory for yourself? Think about it, Joxer. Taking a life is not glorious, it’s more like taking your own life. Every time I’ve taken a life, it seems to me that I’ve died.” “Let me get this straight. You want me to fight for the right reasons. Then why aren’t you fighting now? Why aren’t you defending Athens from Pendaron’s men?” he asked, seeming to slip back into his old mode. She winced. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to...”

“It’s okay. They won’t trust me anymore, that’s why. I got caught.”

“Got caught?”

“I was sent by the General to gather information from the other side, in any way I could. So I dressed as a concubine to enter their tents. They figured out that I wasn’t who I said I was, though. I don’t know how. And they tortured me for information. I didn’t tell them anything, and they finally released me. When I returned to camp, minus my clothing and black and blue from head to foot, no one would trust me. They turned me out, like I was worthless, throwing my armor that I had left behind after me. I still, after a week of traveling, can’t figure out how Pendaron’s men knew, or why they released me. The only conclusion I can come to is that there must have been a traitor who told them about me. One of the command staff, probably, because no one else knew about the mission.” She stopped there, and coughed once more. “Hand me that bottle, will you?” She pointed at the bottle she had formerly carried in her sleeve. He gave it to her, first opening it up and smelling it. It was mead. He thought that maybe she shouldn’t be drinking it, but handed it to her anyway.

Joxer didn’t know what to say. She’d been through a lot. All of a sudden he felt very inadequate and small around her, like he wasn’t worthy of her. Like all of his dreams were worthless, that glory and honor weren’t what they were said to be. Sitting beside this woman, who was in such pain and agony, not only about her past, but in her physical being, he felt very helpless. He felt like a child, who has had an illusion for a long time, and has suddenly grown up. “I’m sorry.” was all he could think to say. Joxer sat there, next to her, trying to think of something, anything, that would comfort her and ease her pain. But he couldn’t.

“You have nothing to be sorry about.” she took a swig of the mead. “You didn’t do anything, did you?” she smiled at him. He felt better all of a sudden. Sighing deeply and looking around, he spotted Gabrielle’s sack, with the scroll pinned on top of it. It gave him an idea. He picked it up and returned to her, and fished out a quill.

“Gabrielle’s been writing down everything that Xena’s been doing.” he said, taking off his shield and using it as a brace for the scroll. He then dipped the quill into the ink jar. “I’d like to do that for you. That is, if you don’t mind.” he smiled at her. She smiled back. “Just start at the beginning, when you were ten....”

<this part is excerpted for an attachment later on called the Leeza Scrolls.>

Joxer couldn’t stop laughing. “And then he went running through the camp rubbing his backside, buck-naked except for that ridiculous mask of Aphrodite and screaming, ‘I’ve been shot!’ over and over again. When we finally found where he went to the next day, he was up in a tree, still wearing the mask, and refused to come down until we tossed him up some clothes! So, my friend Peronos got this crazy idea. He went and got the general’s wife’s best fur coat, and tossed it up to him. You should have seen her face when he came wondering back into the camp. Hades, you should have been there when he finally got some of his old clothes back on and started chasing us all around with a big stick. He never could catch any of us, but that didn’t stop him from trying!”

Leeza slapped her hand against the floor in hilarity. Joxer continued laughing and borrowed the bottle from Leeza and took a swig. He spat it out as another spasm of laughter shook him.

He looked down at the scroll in his hands, holding it over the shield that was sitting on his crossed legs. It was nearly full. That made scroll #6. He was going to have a tough time figuring out how to pay Gabby back for these. Scrolls were expensive, but it was worth it. Leeza had a whole lifetime of experience behind her. She had been in many of the wars that people now spoke about in awed tones. The way she told things from her perspective fascinated him. He could just sit there, all day and night, listening to her talk without ever wanting to leave, even though a lot of the stories were painful. The best times were when she told about the “good days” as she put them, when things weren’t so bad, the troops weren’t starving, freezing, or without water, and there were no dead bodies to bury. Her whole face lit up with her smile as she recalled those days. And that was what he remembered most, later on. Her smile.

Joxer took out another scroll, and inked up the quill. He began to write down the joke when Leeza reached over and stayed his hand. He looked into her eyes, and she smiled. Then she said, “Write something about yourself. Something true.”

Joxer looked down at the blank page, and his heart became still. He just kept staring at it. He searched his mind for anything, anything, that he could write down that would be true and be about him. Something good, something he had accomplished. He continued to look blankly at it. He brought the quill toward the page for a moment, but then realized that what he was about to pen was another thing he had dreamed about that wasn’t true. He threw the scroll away from him in anger and frustration, and then sent the quill and ink bottle after it. “I can’t.” he said, turning away from her.

Leeza looked over at the fallen scroll for what seemed like an eternity before she spoke.

“Ask me to do the same.” He looked at her strangely. But he picked up the quill and scroll and handed them to her. “Okay. Write something about yourself, something true.” he said, looking straight into her eyes. She took the scroll from him, and looked blankly at it for a second, then threw it against the wall as he had done.

“But....” he stared down at the pile of scrolls he had already written. She gazed at him with hard eyes. “There’s nothing to write.” she said gravely. Leeza crossed her arms over her chest and turned away abruptly.

“That’s not true!” he yelled, picking up the scroll. “You have a lot to say.” he said angrily, shoving the scroll back into her hand.

“Why is that?” she asked. “Joxer, all I have ever done is kill people.”

“That’s not all you’ve done! Remember when you saved that baby?” He sat back down and looked at her with confused eyes.

She turned to him in a flash. “That’s something true.” She picked up the scroll and wrote it down. “Now, I’ve written something down about myself that was true. We all have something to say, Joxer. Now, you write something down that is true about you, too.”

“I still can’t.” He said, finally admitting the truth. “I haven’t done anything heroic at all.”

“I’m not asking you to write down something heroic. I’m asking you to write down something about yourself. Something you feel, something you know, about yourself. And I want it to be true. Just close your eyes, Joxer. Empty your mind. Then, write down the first thought that comes to you.”

Joxer closed his eyes. Everything around him became still. Leeza stopped all movement and just watched him. The world seemed to be empty. Yet there was some sort of feeling of magic in the air. His breath came out in a slow, steady rhythm. He opened his eyes. A trembling hand went to the page. He wrote slowly, but only 6 words.

“I don’t know who I am.”

Gabrielle emerged from the temple, brushing herself off. The temple was very dusty, and she felt like she needed another bath. But she knew this time a bath wasn’t going to make her feel any better. Some of those traps she had helped Xena set made her wince just to think about them. The thought of a human being walking into a room and then having 20 spears descend on him from another wall made her heart stop beating, almost. She knew that what they were doing was right, but she still couldn’t shake the feeling of horror from her mind. At least Pendaron’s men hadn’t discovered that Xena knew that they had found out who she was. Xena had had to alter her plans because of that. It was a good thing she had discovered Leeza in the woods when she did. Otherwise, those men would have had the upper hand. As it was, they probably still had the had it, because they were probably planning something special for the Warrior Princess.

“If only there was some way to find out what they’re up to.” thought Gabrielle, walking toward the stables. She bit her lip, thinking. A thought hit her just as she was coming in the door. “Joxer, how would you like to....” Then she noticed it.

“Joxer!” she said sharply, looking in anger at the pile of scrolls on the floor. She didn’t even stop to think. This was another of his stupid schemes, that had to be it, and he was doing it in the middle of something incredibly important, instead of helping out, as usual. And he was using her scrolls without her permission. He still had one clutched in his hand, and was looking at it with an expression that is hard to describe.

“Yeah?” he said, looking up. He noticed the anger in her face, and immediately started to say, “Look, Gabby...”

“How many times have I told you NOT to mess with my scrolls?!” she said, ignoring Leeza and charging over to him and ripping it out of his hand. She didn’t even look at it. She dropped the hand that held it, shifted her staff so that it was nestled in her arm, and grabbed his nose in one firm yank. “Don’t you ever.....Do that....again” Yank.

Something happened after that she wasn’t quite sure of from that point onward. The next thing the bard knew, she was on the floor, face first. She no longer held Joxer’s nose. She heard Leeza’s calm voice come from somewhere, rasping in her ear. “If you want scrolls, I’ll give them to you. Personally, I think that friendship is worth more than a blank piece of paper.” Gabrielle looked up to see Leeza striding out of the door wearing her cloak.

“What happened?” she asked, sitting up and dusting herself off. Joxer just looked at her with a thinking expression on his face, then followed Leeza outside.

Gabrielle sat there, on the floor, confused. This whole thing baffled her. She knew she had lost her temper with Joxer. It wasn’t the first time it had happened, either. He was the only person she ever did that with. He tagged along with them, was rarely any help, and tried to pump them up making them think he was something, when in fact, he couldn’t even throw a knife correctly. And he did things that were STUPID most of the time. She had come to expect that everything he did was rooted in some childish notion, and had reacted accordingly. Still...she thought back, remembering the look on his face when she came in, and realized that there had been no childishness in it whatsoever. Maybe I should have asked what he was doing before I pulled his nose, she thought in resignation. She picked up the scroll from the floor next to her, and read it.

She put a hand to her head and rubbed it slightly. “Oh gods.” she said, and went to find Xena.

Leeza stormed outside. She was very, very angry. She knew how Joxer felt about Gabrielle. In one of the few moments that she had gotten him to talk about himself, he had practically admitted it by only speaking about the beautiful bard, instead. He held her very high in his thoughts, apparently. What she couldn’t understand was how Gabrielle could treat him that way if she knew. The bard seemed like a nice person, but the way she had acted was terrible.

“Leeza, where are you going?” asked Joxer.

“To help you find out who you are.” she said, once again entering a coughing fit. She had to pause for a second. Then she resumed her trek. Finally, they arrived at the blacksmith’s workshop.

She stopped outside the door. “Let me have your scabbard.” she said, turning to him.

Joxer looked down at it and swallowed, hesitating. Then he unbuckled it and handed it to her. “Take care of it.” he said, seriously. “it was my father’ s.”

Leeza took the scabbard in both of her hands, examining the workmanship of it and then looked back up at him. “Do you have a sword?” she asked.

Joxer looked uncomfortable. Extremely uncomfortable. Too uncomfortable. He shuffled one of his feet in the sand. “No.” he finally said.

Leeza’s gaze shifted. He was obviously lying. But why? “I’m sure you do. Where is it?” she asked, looking at him perceptively. Her anger still had not worn off, and she felt as if she were in a great hurry.

Joxer pulled out his sword, a chagrined look on his face. She looked at it, and noticed the cheap metal and the fact that it was totally, utterly, bent. She stared. She stared some more. Then she turned around and covered he mouth to keep a giggle from escaping.

Joxer scratched his head and went Uh-hm, looking anywhere else but at her.

Then she almost laughed, and her anger lifted a little. It really was a kind of funny. “How did that happen?” she asked, keeping her face straight.

“It’s a long story.” he said, putting it back in his belt. He really didn’t want to remember back to that time in his life.

“I understand.” she said, solemnly. “Wait here. I’ll be back in a minute.” With that, she entered the shop, taking the scabbard with her, and, as always, coughing.

“Wait, what are you going to do with it?” he asked.

“You’ll see.” she called back, as she faded into the shop.

Xena looked around in satisfaction at her arrangements. This was going to be one tartarus of a fight, she thought with anticipation. Gabrielle came back in, a downtrodden look on her face, which immediately changed when she saw what was hanging in the center of the chamber.

“Xena?” she asked, staring at it.

“You like?” Xena responded, clapping it on the backside as it swung back and forth.

“Why?” Gabrielle queried, her eyes baffled.

“Who says warriors don’t have a sense of humor?” Xena shrugged, then dipped a cup into the wine at the altar and took a swig. She immediately spat it back out again. “Okay, that wasn’t so good.”

“Xena, that’s not funny. Cut him down.” Gabrielle’s eyes crossed as it swung by again.

Xena pouted at Gabrielle. “But he looks so nice up there. Just look at the fun he’s having. Besides, where would you have me put him?

“How about back behind the altar where you had him before? Maybe we should let him go, Xena. What harm could he do?”

Xena looked up at the man in the ceiling once more. Her brow furrowed in thought. A crafty look began to form on her face. “Hmmm....Gabrielle, are Joxer and Leeza alright?” she asked, changing the subject immediately.

Gabrielle nodded her head slowly, seeming to ponder something deeply.

“Okay, what’s wrong?” asked Xena, concerned.

“Nothing. I just had an idea, Xena.” her eyes shifted downward. There was something muted in them. “We need to know what Pendaron’s men are up to. I would like to find out.”

“Gabrielle, no.” Xena said. “That’s out of the question.”

“Look, Xena. We can’t just go into this blindly. They know who you are. I want to help. I know the risks. Let me go.” Gabrielle looked at her with that expression in her eyes that Xena found hard to refuse.

“Gabrielle..” Xena started, sighing. “I didn’t want to tell you this before. When I found Leeza in the forest, I think that man was....was trying to rape her. I don’t want that to happen to you.”

“Xena, somebody has got to go. They know both you and Leeza. Now, the logical choice is me.”

“No, and that’s final.”

“What if I take Joxer with me?” she asked, looking up.

“My answer is still no. Gabrielle, I’ve told you what these men are like. I want you to stay out of this.”

“But Xena...”

“She’s right, Xena.” Leeza stood in the doorway, her slender frame illuminated by the sunlight from outside. “Someone has got to go, and she is the only one they don’t know yet.” Joxer stood behind her a little, a solemn look on his face. Gabrielle turned to both of them, like she didn’t know what to say.

“Close that door.” Xena rushed up and slammed it shut behind them, barring it.

“It’s the only way, Xena.” Gabrielle said, finally.

Looking at them like they were a bunch of wolves ganging up on her, Xena said, “Alright. But I want you to take this. And I want you to use it if you get into any trouble. No exceptions.” She took out the Leeza’s knife that she had pulled from Solson’s lifeless body. The poison had leaked through the blood, it’s green ichor shining in the torchlight.

Gabrielle accepted the dagger and stared at it strangely for a moment. “Alright. Give me a second to get ready. Joxer, you’re coming with me.”

“No. Joxer stays here.” Leeza said, and doubled up coughing, slumping against the wall.

“You should be lying down.” Xena walked up to her and put a supporting arm around the woman, and helped her to her feet once more.

“Why? I came here for this. Nothing you or I can do will stop it from happening, Xena. You know that.”

Xena stared at her for a second. “Gabrielle...”

“I know.” Gabrielle grabbed Joxer by the crook in his arm and began to gently lead him this time. “Come on Joxer. We need to talk.”

“Go across to the inn and get us something to drink.” Xena ordered as they left.

“Hey, what’s the matter with her?” he asked, trying to turn back to Leeza.

“It’s all right Joxer, Xena will take care of her.” Gabrielle pulled him the rest of the way out of the door, and shut it behind her.

Xena carted Leeza to the altar, and sat her down on its hideous bulk. Sitting down next to her, she began to check the woman’s wounds.

“You know.” Xena said. “There’s no use pretending any more, is there?”

“No.” Leeza said, quietly. “I just want to know how long I have left.”

“A week, maybe more, maybe less. The torture increased the progression of the disease.” Xena said, sitting next to her and putting her arm around her. “You should go home.”

“I don’t have a home, Xena. I don’t have a family. They’re all quite dead, I assure you. I don’t even know why it is I keep fighting. I guess it’s for those who do.”

“Have you any friends that you can stay with?” Xena looked at her with boring blue eyes, not believing what she was hearing. “No. They believe I’m a traitor.” Leeza explained to her what had happened. “I came here to die, Xena. Let me fulfill my purpose. You understand, you’re a warrior.”

“Yes, I understand.” Xena said, looking doleful. “What about Joxer? He’s quite taken with you.”

“Joxer...I have something for Joxer. I wish I had met him sooner.” she sighed. “But that is not important anymore. He needs help, Xena, but he’s afraid to ask for it.”

“I know.” Xena’s voice was very still. “There’s nothing I can do about it, though.”

“Yes, there is. I want you to take him some place for me when this is all over. I have a friend...” she explained to her. When she finished, Xena nodded her head, and said, “as you wish.”

Leeza looked up and around the room in satisfaction. “Good gods, how did you get him up there?” she asked, laughing suddenly.

Xena grinned with pride. “It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure.” The smile fell off her face as she thought of something. “I have an idea.”

Xena pulled out her chackram. With a slight flick of her wrist, it rotated toward the man, then veered up suddenly to cut the rope above him. The wagon driver fell into a pile of hay in a heep. Leeza and Xena could hear his curses even though he was gagged. “Yes, I have an idea.”

Gabrielle and Joxer stood uncomfortably outside the temple, neither one looking at the other, for a long time. Finally, Gabrielle broke the silence in impatience.

“Joxer, I’m sorry I yelled at you.” she said, turning to him, and immediately turning back.

“It’s not your fault. I was the one who wrote all over your scrolls.” he said, rubbing his neck uncomfortably.

“Yeah, but if I had just thought about it a second, I would have realized....”

“You couldn’t have. Anyway, just look at what I wrote on that last one. It was stupid.”

Gabrielle turned to him and stared at him. She just stared at him. He shifted uncomfortably again, turning away. “It’s okay. It doesn’t matter any more.” he said.

“Joxer, I want to talk to you about that...” she took his arm tenderly.

Just then, the door opened and Xena came out, Leeza’s arm draped over her shoulder. “Joxer, take Leeza back to the stable.” Xena ordered. “Gabrielle, you come with me, and give me that dagger back. I have an idea.”

Gabrielle straightened up and let Joxer’s arm fall. “Of course.” she handed the water jug to Joxer and went back into the temple. Joxer stared after her, still feeling her hand on his arm, trying to shake the feeling. He then slung Leeza’s arm around his shoulder and helped her back to the stables.

Xena walked over to where the wagon-driver was struggling on the floor. She began to cut him loose. Gabrielle was glad to see that Xena had listened to her, finally. Nothing would be gained by killing this man. He was, in a way, just an innocent bystander.

“I have a proposal.” Xena said to him, placing one foot on the alter and posturing like a general would.

“Not interested.” he responded, glaring at her. His hands were still tied.

“Oh, you’ll be interested all right, once you hear what I have to say.” Xena said, a sly look on her face. “It involves a great deal of money.”

That got his attention. He looked up eagerly, his eyes full of greed. “Okay. What is it?”

“That young man you just saw was from the Athenian infantry. We’re prepared to play fair, even though we could just take your weapons.” she said. “So, to compensate you for your troubles, I’m offering you double whatever Pendoran was offering.”

“Lady, nobody could pay that much. Not even the Athenian nobles.”

“Ever heard of Croesus?” she said calmly.

“Croesus????” He almost jumped out of the pile. “Okay, lady, you’ve got a deal.” he said, offering her both of his hands. Thoughts began to race through his mind on the possibilities. If the Croesus was willing to pay that much, what would Pendaron’s men pay if he told them about it? He quoted the sum at her. Gabrielle’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. That was enough to purchase the entire city of Thebes.

Xena nonchalantly cut the ropes off of his hands with a dagger she pulled out of her boot. She shook his hand, ceiling the arrangement. “Wait in the bar across the street for me, will you?” she said.

The bartender nodded his head and Xena watched as he scrambled out the doorway in haste.

“Xena, we don’t have that kind of money. What are you doing?” Gabrielle asked, worried even though she was glad that Xena hadn’t killed the man. Xena had begun to rearrange the traps she had so carefully placed.

“You’ll find out soon enough. There’s been a change in plans. You’re not going to spy on those men anymore.” she said, then looked up sharply as Gabrielle began to protest. She immediately fell silent. “Now, help me with these traps.”

Part 5

“Do you think we should check on Solson, Leapidios?” asked Uris. “He’s been gone for an awful long time.”

“You just want a piece of the action. I’m sure he’ll be back soon. Solson’s perfectly capable of taking care of himself, as you should well know.” He looked over at a faded scar running down Uris’ arm beneath the tattoos. Uris gained an uncomfortable look on his face and covered the scar with his other hand.

“That’s about right.” Leapidios muttered, putting another pin on a diagram of the outside of the Temple to Hera, carefully planning where his men should enter and in what strength. He knew that Xena had most definitely trapped the temple. But it did not matter. He had enough men to get through any of the traps and kill her in order to retrieve the weapons. Still, he did not like losing men, so he was trying to find the best way to lose the least amount. Pendaron would really appreciate it on a grand scale if he didn’t loose any at all. The rewards would be great, for to return with both troops and weapons would increase his respect and prestige in the army, and also insure victory over the Athenians.

He thought about the dark-haired warrior. In some ways he admired her. She was just as ruthless as he was, in a different way. A long time ago, perhaps....

He was planning to have a lot of fun with her when this was over; that is, if he could take her alive.

“We found this man outside. He asked to see you.” a soldier came in dragging a one-eyed man. Leapidios’ face became weary at the site of him. He was getting a sense of de ja vu.

“Thank you.” he said to the soldier. “Leave him here.” The soldier dropped the man, crossed his arm over his chest in salute and bowed out pointedly. Leapidios ignored the newcomer and marked another place on the map.

“That won’t do you any good.” the man said smugly, noticing where he put it.

“And by that you mean?” the commanding officer turned to him and put down the rest of the markers.

“I mean that it won’t do no good.” the wagon-driver responded.

Leapidios and Uris exchanged significant glances. The wagon-driver’s back was to him, and Uris made some signals to his C.O. First a waving sign to the ear, then a slash across the throat. Leapidios nodded thoughtfully.

“I see.” he said diplomatically. “I take it you have information for us on this temple.” He pointed toward the diagram.

The wagon-driver nodded eagerly.

“Who are you?”

“Arms merchant.” He said simply.

“Where in Tartarus have you been?” Uris almost shouts at him in frustration. “Do you realize...” Leapidios gestured for him to be quiet.

“Yep.” he responded, nonchalantly. Leapidios was starting to get really annoyed with this man. Here they were, playing the 50 million dinar question, to which he wasn’t even giving coherent answers, and Xena was no doubt setting more and more deadly traps the entire time. He picked up the wine bottle.

“Would you like some wine?” Leapidios poured some out into the same goblet he had offered Mulan earlier and handed it to the driver, who eagerly accepted. He took several gulps and then the wine was gone. Uris got a devilish grin on his face at that. “Would you mind telling us what you know?”

The driver wiped off his mouth and belched. “Nothin’ doin. That lady offered me a fair hunk of dinars to keep my mouth shut. And that’s what I’m gonna do, unless you offer more.” He said. He began feeling his neck, like it was bothering him.

“And how much would that be?”

The driver quoted the sum at him. It was at least triple what they had originally offered for the weapons. “I want double that, too.” His face had begun to turn red; his breath was coming out in gasps. Ulis began to chuckle softly from where he was sitting against the back wall.

“I’m afraid we can’t accommodate you.” Leapidios responded. He grabbed the driver by the throat. “Now, that drink you just swallowed was poisoned. If you don’t tell me all that you know about that temple, I won’t give you the antidote. Understand?”

The gasping driver nodded his head up and down a few times.


He told him.

Xena and Gabrielle finished putting the final touches on the temple. Everything was now in a different place, a different order, than they had it before. Gabrielle let out a sigh. She was exhausted, tired of moving things, hanging upside down from the ceiling to adjust traps, and checking out the grimy, spider infested crawlspaces that were left by the priests. What’s more, Xena had kept her busy the entire time, and she had not had time to explore a question that had been nagging her since the wagon-driver had left.

“Aren’t you going to go meet him?” Gabrielle asked, finally.

“Who?” Xena finished one of the traps on the ceiling, and flipped down. “Oh, you mean him. Not necessary.”

“Why not?”

“Think about it for a moment.” Xena responded, making some more last minute adjustments.

Gabrielle thought for a moment. “Son of bacchante.” she said, when it all of a sudden hit her. “He’s going to tell them about the arrangements you had before, isn’t he?” she asked.

“You got it.” Xena patted her on the back. She looked around in a rather sad manner. “Now, we have to go tell Leeza that everything’s ready.”

Joxer sat with a stunned expression. Leeza had just finished telling him that she was going to die.

“I want you to take this to a friend of mine.” she said, pulling the scabbard out of the cloak she was wearing. “Just show it to him, and he will know what to do. After that, it’s yours.” She gave it to him solemnly.

Joxer looked down slowly at what he was holding in his hands. His scabbard had been recut to fit the beautiful sword that was now nestled inside it, but was still valuable. He pulled the sword loose. Intricate carvings from what looked like another culture ran up and down it, swirling around what appeared to be a crest. The hilt was aged leather, well worn and cared for. A note was attached to it. Joxer almost opened it, but she stopped him. “That’s for him.” she said.

Joxer nodded his head slowly, realizing that this must be what she had given to the blacksmith.

“What’s his name?” he asked, seeming to stifle a sniffle. His eyes glowed with tears.

“His name is....”

Just then the door opened and Xena and Gabrielle came in. “It’s time.” Xena said simply.

Leeza nodded. “Joxer, stay here.” she said.

“No. I’m going with you. I’m going to help you.” he said firmly.

“Joxer, I need you to take that note to my friend. Please, do as I ask.” Leeza reached up and caressed his face. Gabrielle turned away.

“Alright. Just take care of yourself.” he said looking at the ground. Leeza kissed him on the cheek and whispered something in his ear. “You understand?”


Leeza put her hand on his shoulder softly, and left the stable with Xena.

Gabrielle watched mutely with tender eyes as Joxer sat on the floor, staring at his new sword, trying not to cry as Xena and Leeza left him and Gabrielle behind in the stables, maybe never to return.

It was almost dawn. The entire town was silent in the throws of sleep. Inky black shadows of men creeped upon the temple, gathering in force. Silently, they slipped in.

Xena was pacing the floor, and Leeza was sitting silently on the altar, her eyes closed, breathing deep and relaxed as she concentrated on memorizing where all the traps were located. Suddenly her eyes flew open and her gaze darted over to Xena, who snapped around and looked back at her. “They’re here.”

More to come....hmmm...battle scenes are always hard to portray, aren’t they?

Part 6

Leeza stood with her eyes on the skylight, holding a staff with her poison coated dagger tied to it. On her belt was another knife, and in her left hand was a mace. Xena faced the front entryway, her body held in a fighting stance, her eyes darting around and listening to every sound. Neither said a word. Time seemed to flow at an impossibly slow speed; one minute seemed like an eternity.



More silence.

“First wave.” Xena shouted, as men came plummeting through the skylight and bursting through the front doors, screaming hideous war cries in guttural tones and waving various deadly weapons around. One had a crossbow, and aimed it directly at Leeza.

“Duck!” Xena screamed, just as Leeza buried her spear into one of the men descending from above. She yanked it loose, not pausing to watch the man’s face turn purple, and rolled to the ground as another soldier came at her, bringing her knife up from her belt and throwing it into his heart. The shaft of the bolt flew over her head, and landed with a thump in the altar. Xena cast one wild, blood lust filled look around the room and threw her chackram.

“Aiaiaiaiaiaiaiaiaiai!” she screamed, catapulting up and above the heads of the men, landing on the altar as her chackram first slid across the archer’s crossbow, breaking it, and then hit the release lever and sent darts flying from the statuettes of Hera in the arches, impaling several men coming into the hallway and knocking them to the ground. In one swift motion she caught her chackram and sent it flying again, just as she kicked a soldier coming at her from below, and then spun around and punched another man coming up behind her. It hurtled around the room, deflecting off the statues of Hera and sending chips and sparks flying before it impaled itself in the stomach of one of the soldiers standing next to one of the side doors, trying desperately to get it opened.

Leeza dropped the spear and rolled back to her feet and brought the mace in a wide circle as a soldier with a scimitar came at her. She ducked just as he brought the blade around, trying to decapitate her, and knocked him in the knees with it, downing him. She turned around quickly as another soldier came hurtling towards her, dodged to the ground, and lifted her spear, which he ran directly into. She rose as he went down, see-saw fashion, and glanced over at Xena before she brought her spear back and hit another man in the gut with it.

Xena pulled out her sword, uttered another war cry, and brought it around in a slash on a man who had succeeded in getting onto the altar. “Archer!” she yelled at Leeza. Leeza saw him. He was concentrating on his shot on the Warrior Princess, who would not stay still on the altar for long enough for him to get clear aim. Leeza hit another man with the mace, then threw her spear javelin fashion across the room and into the archer, who let one bolt fly from his crossbow and then fell to the ground. The bolt flew across the room and hit one of his own men.

“HA!” yelled Leeza, pulling the spear from his fallen body, and reaching for Xena’s chackram. Xena screamed another war cry and drew a dagger from her breast, then sent it flying up into the ceiling as she brought her foot around and connected it with the face of another soldier. She fell into a crouched position as the knife hit a rope and released a grating with 10 inch pikes sticking out of it, which swung down and hit another group of men in the chests as they were coming out of the hallway. Some bats became upset and began stirring in the rafters as it swung by. Xena threw another dagger into the chest of the nearest soldier, and looked up at them in interest. “Second wave!”

“Leeza!” she shouted, flipping around from another kill. The woman grabbed her chackram and looked her way. “A torch!” she screamed.

Leeza used Xena’s chackram to slice the throat of another man who came near her, and grabbed a torch from the nearest wall, and threw it in Xena’s direction. It fell to the floor with a thud, narrowly missing a pile of hay that was near. Xena flipped off the altar hitting another man on the way down with her sword, and picked up the torch. She fought her way to the basin in front of the altar. Leeza was becoming swamped, and was backed up to the same place by the time she reached it.

“What are you going to do?” yelled Leeza over the din, her back to Xena. “Whatever it is, make it quick!”

“You’ll see!” Xena sheathed her sword and grabbed the cup she had earlier and dipped it into the basin, then took a swig. She held the torch before her face and blew out into it, the alchohol hit the flame, and a huge spurt of fire resulted. It hit some of the men, who caught on fire and had to stop and roll around to put it out, at which point Leeza hit them with the mace, and the rest of the men backed up. The bats stirred, but not enough.

The soldiers grouped around the two women, staying their distance and growling like a pack of dogs as Xena held the cup and the torch. Leeza began to become afraid, as one of them threw a knife at her and she easily deflected it. Xena’s eyes widened when she saw another archer step forward to get a clear shot.

“Need more!” Xena yelled frantically. “More what?” Leeza yelled back. Xena took a deep breath and plunged the whole torch into the wine, knocking Leeza to the floor as a giant tower of flame erupted from it.




A dark shadow cast over the room as hundreds of very angry bats swooped and clawed at the standing men. “Give me the chackram.” Xena yelled to Leeza, watching as the men batted and fought the flying creatures, who were trying desperately to make it to an exit in the skylight.

“The what!?” she yelled back.

“The round killing thing!” Xena hissed in frustration. Leeza quickly handed it over to her, and brought her mace to the knee of another man while she had the chance. Xena waited for the bats to clear a little and then stood up and threw her chackram, hitting the ground and watching it as it deflected to where she wanted it. The men were still dazed, but starting to recover.

ZING. The chackram hit another rope on the wall.

Spears came flying from all sides of the room.

All the men were hit and run through. After the avalanche was over, Xena stood up groggily and said. “end of second wave.” She pulled a spear out of the nearest man’s body.

Leeza dragged herself to her feet, and picked up the archer’s crossbow and quill, which was still intact.


More Silence.


More men came flooding into the room, knocking the grate aside. Xena and Leeza looked wearily at them, then began to fight once more.

“Joxer, no!” screamed Gabrielle, standing in front of the door to the stables and blocking it with her staff. “Xena said to stay here!”

“Didn’t you see that cloud?” he said, pointing through the window to the darker than night formation of bats that looked like smoke rising from the temple. “They’re in trouble! They need our help!” He rushed her.

Gabrielle hit him in the solar plexus with her staff. “Joxer, I’m doing this for your own good. You can’t go over there right now. It’s too dangerous.”

Joxer fell back to the ground with a thump and looked at Gabrielle with extreme anger. “You can’t stop me!” he yelled, and then ran to the window, and threw himself through the simple wooden bar on it.

“Son of a bacchante!” Gabrielle yelled, and rushed outside. Joxer made a mad dash toward the temple. Gabrielle was faster, and managed to get in front of him.

“Joxer, I’m warning you....”

Joxer dodged around her. Gabrielle brought her staff around and sweeped him in the leg with it, causing his feet to fall out from under him. She put her staff in his face and screamed, “Stop this!”

Joxer panted and sweated on the ground. He was covered with sand. He reached his hand into the dirt, and threw it at Gabrielle.

“Ack. Kumph. Kumph.” Gabrielle coughed, bending over and wheezing.

“Sorry, Gabby. I had to do it.” he said, and ran past her.

Gabrielle coughed and sputtered a little more, then got her wind back and ran after him.

“What in Tartarus is going on?” screamed Leapidios. “Those traps weren’t supposed to be there!” A surviving soldier stood trembling before him at the outside of the temple, having told him how most of the men were slaughtered.

“Damn that idiot.” Leapidios squeezed his dagger on the blade, not caring how much it cut him. “I wish I had made him suffer even more before he died.”

“I think we should go in there now.” Uris said. “Xena’s probably used up most of her traps by now. It’ll be a fair fight, and we might beat her.”

Leapidios looked at him as if he was luny. “This is....the...Warrior Princess...WE’RE.... TALKING.... ABOUT HERE, YOU IDIOT! SHE JUST KILLED OFF TWO THIRDS OF OUR MEN, AND YOU THINK IT WILL BE A FAIR FIGHT?” He choked in anger, and grabbed hold of the tattooed man.

“I’m sorry, Leapidios!” Uris screamed as his commander shook him and placed the dagger to his throat, blood running down his hand and mingling with Uris ’ shirt. He cast around for another idea, suggestion, that might make him let go, and help them to succeed. “How about another entryway? There’s one over there!” he pointed at something he could see from his elevated position.

Leapidios threw him against the wall and tried to calm himself. “ ...talking...about?!” he yelled, still angry.

“That!” Uris pointed again. Leapidios spun around, saw it, and began to grin evilly.

Leeza aimed the crossbow at one of the men and let the bolt fly. It buried itself in the mans chest, and also in the chest of a man coming up behind him. Xena flipped onto the altar once more, and then used that to catapult even higher, to where she grabbed hold of a chain wrapped loosely on one part of the altar. She swung across the room, feet first.

“Aiaiaiaiaiaiaiai!” Xena crashed into two men coming from the hallway, knocking them into the grate, where they were impaled on the other side. Letting go of the chain, which swung back to the exact center of the room, she dropped to the floor, kicking soldiers on the way down, and drew her sword.

Leeza had begun to cough again and was getting exhausted. She feinted to the left as a soldier threw an axe at her, and then let another bolt fly. She then dropped the crossbow, picked up her spear once more, and began to fight with both hands, alternating the mace and the spear, and backing up to the altar.

What looked to be the last of the men came running into the room. Xena fought three of them off with her sword, then flipped over them again, trying to find where her chackram went to, without success. She noticed Leeza near the altar. She flipped once again and worked to draw the remaining men into the exact center of the room. “Leeza, DO IT!” she shouted.

Leeza nodded and threw her mace into the head of another man charging at her, then rolled onto the altar and released another lever. Xena grabbed hold of the chain just as spikes began falling out of the ceiling around her, impaling the remaining men, who collapsed and died in a circle, feet inward and hands stretching out.

Xena held onto the chain, closing her eyes in relief. Leeza lay on the altar, panting with exhaustion and coughing. A few seconds passed, and then they both began to laugh. Leeza sat up and looked across the room at Xena, who dropped down from the ceiling and wiped off her sword on the nearest man ’s body.

“Good fight.” she grunted.

Joxer came running into the room, yelling, Gabrielle not far behind. Leeza smiled at him, and then gasped as an arrow flew into her chest, knocking her flat. Her eyes dialed closed just as she saw Uris emerge from the doorway of the room on the right, a broken grate emitting soft dawn sunlight from above in the room.

“Leeza!” Joxer screamed, his voice filled with anguish, and ran across the room in a panic. An arrow came hurtling toward him from an extremely angry looking Leapidios, who came out of the room at that second, just as Joxer was getting to where Xena was standing. She reached out her hand and caught it, then caught another as it almost flew into her chest. Joxer paused momentarily, and then continued barreling across the room like a maniac, not caring if any of the arrows hit him on the way to the altar.

Xena looked over at Leeza and a snarl formed on her face. Leapidios changed his target and sent a bolt flying toward Gabrielle, who brought her staff up and caught it with it, then brought it back around and hit the final soldier in the stomach, then the head, then the stomach again, and then she kicked him back. An angry look was in her eyes.

“Come on, Leapidios, this is not getting us anywhere.” Xena spat at the commander, still looking at Leeza out of the corner of her eye. “It’s me you want. Come and get me!”

Leapidios made sign to Uris, who was just about to kill Joxer, and he lowered his crossbow. “Alright, Mulan. Or should I say, Xena?” he looked over at Leeza and laughed gutturally. “I’m going to rip you into a million pieces.” he growled. Xena screamed, and threw her chackram at him. She stared in shock as he caught it easily.

“Nice try.” He threw it back at her, richoceting it on the room. It narrowly missed Gabrielle, spun over to the other side, and grazed Joxer’s arm. Xena snatched it in mid-flight.

Leapidios ran for her, pulling a sword from his scabbard.

Joxer reached the altar. He kneeled over Leeza’s inert frame and shook her. “Wake up.” he demanded hoarsely, and pulled the arrow out of her body, and held the tip up to his eye with a look of horror on his face.

Uris laughed gleefully from the wall at his grief. Joxer’s head slowly swivelled around to face him, the confused look still in his eyes.

“Bastard!” Gabrielle screamed, and rushed toward Uris. Uris ignored her, and sauntered over to where Joxer was sitting, and pulled out a knife, then spun around and launched it toward Gabrielle. Gabrielle managed to deflect the blade, but not enough to stop it. It hit her in the arm, knocking her to the side and against the wall. “Gabrielle!” Joxer screamed and put slapped his hand against the altar. His face changed as he felt something.

Xena turned in a flash, and threw her chackram at Uris. He dodged, and it came ricocheting back to her, slicing Leapidios, who was about to stab her in the back. “Gabrielle.” Xena whispered, and ran to her.

“Hahahahaha.” Uris laughed smugly, and went up to Joxer. “What’s the matter, wimp? You’re little friend hurt?” Joxer pulled the spear partly out from under Leeza, who began to stir. Uris came closer to the altar, pulling out another knife and taunting him. Joxer just stared at him.

“Poor little boy.” he said.

Joxer turned his head back to the other wall.

“Poor wittle boy.”

Joxer swung back around, brought the spear up, and stabbed him.

Uris turned purple and began to writhe on the floor. Joxer let go of the spear, and put his hand to his head, feeling sick and wobbly. “And so it begins.” came Leeza’s calm voice in his mind.

Leapidios ignored his bleeding arm and started toward Xena, who kept her hand on her chackram while she checked Gabrielle’s wound. He stopped and stared at her, sword ready. Xena pulled the dagger out of Gabrielle, held it before her face, which transformed into a snarl. She launched it at him viciously. He caught it effortlessly, and then flicked his wrist and sent it towards Joxer.

“Joxer!” Xena screamed, then threw her chackram, hitting the knife and sending it flying into the bottom of the altar. Leapidios took his chance and swung his sword at Xena. The chackram ricocheted around the room and hit it, knocking his blade slightly to the side so he missed her. Joxer face came up once more, and he gulped, a look of grim determination coming into his eyes as he saw Gabrielle trying to get up and Leapidios attacking them.

Xena rose to her feet and kicked out at Leapidios’ legs. He dodged, and came back with a hammer at her shoulder. Xena deflected it and brought her fist up and punched him. He grabbed her in a headlock. Elbowing Leapidios in the gut, she grabbed hold of his arm and attempted to flip him. Leapidios brought his right leg forward, let go of Xena slightly, and knocked her feet out from under her, sending her spinning to the floor face first. Xena turned over, her blue eyes wide as she saw Leapidios’ sword descending on her to decapitate, an evil grin on his face and a slow gurgle of derisive laughter emanating from his throat.

Xena kept her eyes open, refusing to close them in fear of death.

Leapidios fell on top of her with a thump. Xena saw Joxer standing over him with Leeza’s spear, the tip covered with the commander’s blood. Leapidios gurgled again, but this time not with laughter, but with pain as the poison raced through his body.

Joxer turned slowly and went back to the altar without a word.

Leeza’s eyes slowly opened. Pain. She felt pain. Joxer was sitting next to her, not looking at anything, his eyes dead. Light. Then darkness. Light again. She opened her eyes all the way, and stirred, moaning.

“Joxer.” she said, trying to sound coherent. The darkness encroached in again. She saw a large field, glowing with sunlight. The grass was green and there was a smell of lilacs in the air. Peronos was there, beckoning to her. “You’re dead.” she murmered.

“Yes, I am.” was all he said, grinning mischievously at her.

“Leeza! I’m right here.” Joxer bent over her, thinking she was talking about him.

“Come with me.” Peronos beckoned again, holding his hand out to her.

“Can’t. Have to...” she murmured, and then she was back in the regular world for a few seconds. “Joxer?” she said, recognizing his face over her, covered with that ridiculous helmet. “Perenos?”

“I’m here.” he responded.

“I’m here.” Peronos said.

“Joxer, I’m dying.” she said, trying to make her voice rise. Perenos nodded.

“No you aren’t. Xena will help you. XENA!” he yelled.

“Remember his name?” she asked.

Joxer nodded slowly. “It doesn’t matter. You’re going to be all right.”


“Joxer.” She laughed suddenly, coughing a little. “Do me a favor.”



“Get rid of the hat.”

He stared at her. Peronos reached forward and took her hand. “ friend.”


Peronos gave a yank, and pulled her through.

Sunlight filtered through the trees, scattering light all around and illuminating the cairn amongst the shadows. Joxer sat on a rock next to it, his knees drawn to his chest, and throwing flower petals on the grave.

Xena began to sing, her deep beautiful voice sounding throughout the entire valley, as she voiced the lyrics of the funeral song.

“Joxer, I’m so sorry.” Gabrielle said, coming over and putting a comforting hand on his shoulder. He looked at her with empty eyes, and then rose. Throwing the rest of the petals on the stones, he left, walking down the road woodenly. No sound escaped his lips, as he tore the hat from the string where it was hanging on his next and threw it in the bushes.

When I close my eyes,
I see the world die,
I see her smile at me,
and I think,
how can this be,
that I am left alone,
without my friend,
without my light
without her soft smile,
that made the world so bright.

I know I am nothing,
I have never been anything,
a blank slate,
for the bard to write upon.
And though I know,
she said it was so,
that things can change,
still it remains,
that I have no past,
no purpose,
and I don’t know who I am.

When I close my eyes,
I see my life before me,
and I want to die,
but her memory still stands,
so I will travel the land,
to fulfill her last wish,
from her sweet lips,
and to him I will go,
and follow him,
wherever he travels,
wherever he goes,
for it was her will,
that I do so.

When I close my eyes,
I see nothing.

Gabrielle looked up from reading the last scroll that Joxer had composed with a tear in her eye, and saw him standing there in the moonlight at the edge of their camp.

“What’s his name?” Xena asked calmly, her voice full of compassion.


The End?????

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