“And that is how you met?”
“Yes...” Gabrielle used one hand to roughly wipe her face, her eyes, bleary after so much crying.
The three were ensconced within the suite of cabins, paid for by her master, at the very stern of the Myron. Conditions within these rooms were luxurious compared to the rest of the decks, especially the hold which was filled with Roman soldiers. Little wonder why the Captain wished to be under way the moment he found out Xena had entered the town.
Iolaus, leaned back against the wooden bulkhead for support as the ship heaved to. He had long since ditched his sleeveless overcoat of patchwork colors, choosing to instead wear a simple white tunic and brown woolen pants and boots. Next to Gabrielle on the large hammock was a sympathetic Lilla whose arm was draped over her sister’s shoulders
“You can hardly be faulted for rendering aid Gabrielle.” Iolaus spoke at long last. “She was beaten and battered and you only did that which is in your nature, you cared for her.
“She looked so weary...so...so...”
“I can understand the feeling.” her master muttered grimly. “Gabrielle, you must understand and trust me when I say I speak from experience.” Iolaus anger had long since dissipated, now that he heard the tale of how this most gentle of all souls had met the monster that was Xena.
“I talk to you now as would a father to a daughter. He stated firm. Gabrielle looked up, and her eyes reddened as they were from weeping tore at Iolaus’ heart. “Xena is most beautiful, I know that fact well, being that I...” both girls watched as he swallowed hard, fighting back a sudden surge of emotion unable to finish the thought.
“She is most intelligent,” he recovered, “exceedingly charming, incredibly charismatic, and she knows how to best use those qualities to reach her goals. “But….” his hand rose, finger pointing directly at her, “learn it now Gabrielle, she uses her charms for evil intent.”
Gabrielle thought it could be different with Xena, at least from what she knew of the woman but it was best to remain silent on the issue, one did not argue with the master.
“Gabrielle, why would you try to leave us?” Lilla asked gently. “Don’t you know how terrible I would feel at loosing you?”
“I’m so sorry.” the tears began anew, causing Lilla to hug her more tightly. “I don’t know what came over me, “I...It just felt as if she needed me....I… I can’t explain.”
Iolaus moved nearer, and did something most unexpected, he knelt so that he might look up directly into Gabrielle’s sea green eyes. “While I do not understand what she wants from you, I will do all in my power to keep you from her grasp. You are too innocent for this world Gabrielle; I will not allow that beautiful light which burns so bright within you to be snuffed out by her darkness.
He stood, “I know Xena well, once her mind is set upon a task, she is unrelenting in accomplishing it.
“You think she will follow?” Lilla gasped.
“Oh yes...” Iolaus shook his head in sadness. “You had but a small taste of her will this day. My ears could hear and my eyes could see her rage at having lost you Gabrielle.
“But we sail to Rome; surely she will not be able to follow us there?”
“She will,” he said with conviction bone from experience. “Xena never gives up, never! However, you are right Lilla in that we are safe... for the moment.”
“Settle in,” he instructed. “Mind you, do not fraternize with these Roman soldiers, and do not be around them alone.”
Opening the narrow door to the cabin, he quickly walked through, closing it behind, he leaned against it. “O’ Hercules, how I wish you were here, how I betrayed you. Handing you over to that… butcher...” His head dipped forward, “Forgive me…” he uttered low, tears welling in his eyes.
“Gabrielle…” Lilla gazed down upon her hands folded upon her lap being too ashamed to look at her sister. “I’m sorry I did not believe your story these past cycles.”
“Sister, the story was so fanciful it was difficult to believe.”
“What was she like? You know, when you met her?” asked Lilla soft.
Gabrielle took hold of her sister’s hand most gently, and then met Lilla’s eyes as she looked up. “Angry Lilla,” Gabrielle shook her head sadly. “It was if she were a cornered animal, ready to lash out at anything and everything, to include me when I first came upon her. But then, as we spoke I came to realize she was afraid.”
“Afraid?” Lilla’s voice rose on the word showing her doubt, “Xena the Destroyer, Afraid? Of what?”
“Of being alone…”
The two sat in silence, what more could be said after such a revelation?
Gabrielle pursed her lips, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath as the ship lurched to one side.
“I don’t feel so good.”
“General Marcus Antonius.” The inflection of Sevastain’s voice rolled over the filled square. “You are hereby charged with conspiracy to levy war against Xena, Empress of the Greek lands. Furthermore, you stand charged with committing numerous brutalities against the Greek People, all listed and specified within.”
He looked up from the scroll he was pretending to read from, and then made a great show of holding up the parchment for the benefit of the assembled peasantry to display the writing within. Writing which, had those learned among them had been able to inspect, would have been revealed as a copy of Aesop’s Fables.
Xena, in the tavern, had whispered orders on how to set up the execution. She had wanted to make it… “Look official” and to “give the townsfolk a bit of theater.” He hoped that he had met her expectations.
“Do I not get to answer the charge?” Antonius yelled, his eyes sweeping over the crowd.
Sevastian glanced back at the Empress unsure as to how handle Antonius’ maneuver. She gave a very regal nod.
“Very well, how do you plead?” Inquired Sevastian in a mild tone.
“I demand a trial!”
“As you wish, Roman,” Sevastain figured that would be the next ploy. He swept his left hand outward and behind him, indicating the Empress. “Her Imperial Highness, will listen to your pleas.” Rolling up the scroll, Sevastain stepped back out of the way so that Antonius would have nothing impeding his view of the Empress
Antonius struggled like a wild animal against the chains wrapped solidly around the wooden log, chains binding both hands and feet.
“Please… Please Xena don’t do this! Don’t do this! Antonius begged most pitifully tears flowing free down his cheeks. “I can be of some use!”
“Please!” he beseeched, channeling terror into a piteous wail, “In the name of what we had! Show mercy!”
She casually raised the golden chalice of wine to beautiful lips, making sure to take a long lazy sip of the contents within. Setting it aside, she moved too slowly raise one gauntleted hand.
“Mercy!” Antonius voice was growing hoarse. His wrists bloody from pulling at the chains binding him.
The gold of her signet ring, placed over one gloved finger, flashed brilliantly in the setting sun. All watching focused upon the band, symbol of the Empress’ role of arbiter of life and death.
Within the square, silence as the hand of death remained motionless for long moments. Even Antonius stilled, swept up in the power of the moment, still hoping against hope that she would give clemency.
Her hand dropped.
“Xena!” Antonius screamed. “I love you truly!”
Her impassiveness faltered for a moment, and in that moment, true devastation marked her expression.
Solari walked forward, tossing the lit torch in her hand upon the pile of wood surrounding the Roman. Standing near, Sevastian casually pitched the scroll into the rapidly rising flames.
The flames whipped round Antonius, immolating his body, soon after the screams of her name subsided from burning lips.
Xena cleared her throat, working inwardly to regain her usual fortitude “I’m so very glad; you scrounged up some Greek Fire Praxis.” she remarked nonchalantly to the pale man sitting next to her. “Makes burning at the stake go so much faster.”
Her rising from her chair prompted the town leadership to do the same. “I will dine with you shortly, Praxis. Seems I’ve worked up quite an appetite, do be prompt with dinner, won’t you?”
“O-of course Empress.”
Stepping down from the dais, Xena took the short sword held by Sevastian, after her second had bowed low. “Good work.” She praised quietly. Striding past him, the crowd watched as she slowly mounted the steps of the temple dedicated to the God of War.
Entering, Xena paused, taking in the darkened space, and then looked up at the bronze statue of the deity. Sweeping past the statue, she threw the sword Antonius had been carrying when captured directly at the gilded throne of Ares. The blade smashed against the chair, clanking to the marble floor before it.
Offering duly made, she turned to make her exit.
“I love you Xena.”
She turned, dark indigo cape swirling about as she did so.
“Don’t, I’m not a lovable person.”
Ares laughter rang through the temple. “Yah you got that right, look whatcha did to your former beau out there.” Ares slid sideways in the chair, leaning against one arm, dangling his legs over the other while he twirled Antonius’ sword. “Talk about breaking up the hard way.”
“We were never together Ares. She said flat.
“He thought so.”
“He thought wrong.”
“You did a marvelous job of manipulating him, adeptly pulling information without the messiness of torture.” He smiled down at her from his throne. “And, truth be told, I love your sense of style, not everyone would think to burn a man at the stake in offering to me.”
“Will that be all?” Xena asked curt.
“Oh you are mean!” Ares praised. “I wish I could open you up and show everyone the mean in you.” He moved to sit up straight in the throne, and then tossed the sword aside. “Tell me why you chose to come to Piraeus?”
“To find those who try to run from justice,” She answered directly.
“Your boot-licker is more than capable of doing such. “No Xena, there is another reason you came here.”
He slowly rose from the throne and as he did, she schooled her features into blank impassiveness.
“I have told you my reason.”
“You forget, I know you well Chosen, I trained you in every weapon imaginable, I instructed you in the art of war, I gave you advice on running an army. Many an hour I spent building up your strengths, while minimizing weaknesses. So... you will tell me… why you are here?”
“As I said, to find those who run from justice.”
“Together, you and I are destined to bring peace and order to the world through force. You cannot afford any… distraction... from that goal.” He warned. “Your actions give me pause, I wonder if your thoughts are clear, Xena.”
“They are clear Ares.”
For long moments, he appraised her in silence.
“Then go with my blessing and conquer all before you.”
With a flash, Ares disappeared.