Disclaimers in Part 1.

Subtext: Well, there is a small hint at what *may* happen in the future. But just a hint. :)

We are calling this a Beta version. The editor of the first 2 parts has been consumed with real life and hasn't been able to finish Part 3 yet. However, our wonderful beta reader has reviewed it and done some editing. So we felt, instead of keeping everyone waiting, we'd post it. Once we get any changes from our editor we'll update it. But rest assured, the story line will stay intact. :) Our heartfelt thanks to beta reader (and bard in her own right) XenitBiker! You're the best! :)

Thanks to all of you who have written to us. Your comments are greatly appreciated. When posting a story in parts, it helps tremendously to hear from people who are reading it. Any and all comments are welcome. Send them to either Taiko or Ambrosia. Thanks :)

Phantasia

by Ambrosia and Taiko


 



Part 3

Gabrielle sat in the darkened room. It was well past dinner time, but she had no desire to eat. Her eyes kept returning to the side door of her chamber. She kept expecting it to open at any moment and a precocious little boy to come running through the door to kiss his mother goodnight. The queen turned her head away from the sight and stared out the window, into the blackness of the night.

Gallus had managed to calm the queen and together they set up search teams to find Prince Orion. They searched the island until night fell and it simply became too dark to continue. Gallus promised Gabrielle that he would keep a small group of men out searching in the darkness, but only if the queen promised to go and get some rest. After pointlessly arguing with her general, the queen had finally given in.

Ephiny had remained by the queen's side until reluctantly it was time for her to leave on her mission.

"I don't like leaving you at a time like this." Ephiny had said to her queen.

"You must, Ephiny. Everything is in place. The ship is waiting." Gabrielle replied, putting on her best royal face. The Captain of the Royal Guard knew it was a disguise, but said nothing. She bowed to her queen and turned to leave. A soft voice stopped her and she turned back around and stared into watery emerald eyes. Gabrielle closed the distance between them and hugged her friend. "Please be careful, Eph. I can't bear to lose anyone else." Ephiny returned the hug then pulled back, her hands remaining on the queens shoulders. "I promise you I will return soon." She quietly told her friend.

An hour later there was a tentative knock on the door. "Come in." The queen turned from the window and saw Ria entering with a tray of food. "Forgive me for disturbing you, Your Majesty, I thought you might want something to eat." Ria said, placing the tray on a table and lighting a candle, never looking up at the queen. Gabrielle walked over, surveying the delicacies laid out before her. "Smells delicious." She stated softly. Reaching for the pitcher, the queen poured herself a cup of tea. "Thank you, Ria, but I'm not very hungry." Gabrielle looked at Ria, catching the woman's eyes. The older woman tried to keep her composure but staring into the sad eyes of her queen made it impossible. "Oh, Your Majesty, I am so sorry." The woman began to shake, fighting back the tears that threatened to fall. Gabrielle set her cup down on the table and reached out, pulling the woman into a hug. "I know." she stated softly, fighting her own tears. The two women held each other, finding comfort in trying to console one another.

Ending the embrace, Ria stood and looked at her queen. "Try and eat something my queen." She said with a motherly look. Gabrielle noticed the look and smiled. She had been angry with Ria at first but knew it was not this woman's fault her son ran off. The queen turned and walked over to the window. "My son is out there somewhere, scared and alone." The anger resurfaced but this time it was not projected at Ria. "How many times have I told him not to run off? He knows better! I swear, when that child gets back he is going to be confined to his room until he learns not to run away from people!" The tears were flowing freely now and Gabrielle covered her face with her hands. She felt a gentle touch. Ria was standing beside her, gently rubbing the queen's back, giving words of comfort.

Slowly the tears subsided and Ria guided the queen over to the bed. "No, no, I can't..." Ria put a finger to the queens lips. "Shhhh...you need your rest, Gabrielle. You'll be up with the sun and out searching again. It will do you no good to be exhausted." Gabrielle's eyelids fluttered, becoming heavy, as if Ria's words had made her body realize just how tired she was. She laid down and Ria covered her with the quilt. The older woman sat in the chair next to the bed and watched as Morpheus finally took her queen.

*******************
The light peaked through the window and landed on the woman sleeping soundly. She began to stir and opened her eyes. Panic gripped her heart as she realized yesterday wasn't just a dream.

Quickly, Gabrielle left the comfort of her bed and went to wash and change. She wanted nothing more then to go find her son.

Gallus walked to the chamber door, a grim look on his face. Maron, the palace gardener, had received a note from a man with a dagger, with orders to deliver it this morning. Gallus had taken the note from the elderly man, assuring him that he would deliver it to the queen personally.

Gabrielle heard the knock and bade the person to enter. She looked up quickly, seeing who it was, "Gallus, have your men found Orion?" The general cleared his throat and Gabrielle's knees became weak. "What is it?" she asked, terrified of the answer. "We have word, my queen, of the prince's whereabouts." Gallus handed the queen the note. Gabrielle could see that there was a broken seal on the back. "This note was sealed." She said, stating the obvious. "Yes, my queen, but with circumstances as they were, I took the liberty of opening it. My apologies, my queen," he bowed his head slightly, "but the way in which the note was delivered made me suspect that it had something to do with the princes disappearance." Gabrielle looked down at the folded note in her trembling hand. "What does it say?" her voice quivered and the man reached out and helped the queen to a chair. Gallus kneeled before his queen, wrapping his hands around hers and the note. "He has been taken, Gabrielle," he spoke softly, "It was the Conqueror. She has kidnapped the prince."

Throughout the palace a piercing scream could be heard. A scream that came from a woman who's world has shattered.

*******************
The voices could be heard out in the hall. Loud voices of the members of the royal staff arguing over what action to take next.

"We charge in there-"

"We can't just charge in, the prince will be killed-"

"That murderer has probably already killed the prince!" The man, who's voice still echoed throughout the room, noticed how everyone suddenly fell silent and stared past him. He turned to find the queen standing in the doorway.

"The prince is not dead, Tallius." the queen stated, trying to keep her composure. Tallius lowered his head and turned back to the table. The queen walked to the far end of the oval table and put her hand out, motioning the others to sit. She looked around at the faces of her most loyal subjects. They were a mix of Amazons and solders. All of them had vowed to protect their queen and Phantasia. Many of them had been in the battle with the Persian's, fighting beside their king. Now, they looked at their queen with sorrow and regret. But also with pride. There she stood, in what had to be her darkest hour, yet she did not let it show. She was their queen and they needed her to be strong.

Gabrielle let the silence linger before speaking. "The prince is being used as a bargaining chip. The Conqueror will keep him alive as long as he is useful." The queen took a deep breath, then continued. "What she wants, in return for the prince, is simple, she wants Phantasia." Silence. Eponin was the first to speak. "What should we do, Your Majesty?" At any other time, Gabrielle would have smiled at the Amazon. Eponin was a woman of action. She knew the queen came here with a few ideas and simply wanted to be told what the plan was and get on with it. This time however, the queen's face remained passive. "We wait." she simply stated. The murmurs turned into debates, which lead to arguments. Gabrielle seated herself and waited. Finally she could take no more. "Enough!" She shouted, immediately quieting the group. "This matter will be handled very delicately. A message is on it's way to the conqueror, informing her that her demands have been read and are being discussed. Until we hear further, we will do nothing." Silence once again. "This meeting is over." the queen stated.

As everyone began filing out of the room, Gabrielle called Gallus, Eponin and Solari over. The three of them seated themselves on either side of the queen. Once the others were gone the queen spoke softly. "I do have a plan, but I don't want everyone involved." Gabrielle looked to each one of them, as they nodded their understanding. "You're not going to like part of it but I'm telling you right now, there is no debating. This will be done my way."

As the queen laid out the plan, Gallus began shaking his head. "No, my queen, I can not allow it." he stated emphatically. Gabrielle lowered her voice to a growl, "You do not have a choice. He is my son. I will do what I must to get him back." They knew there was no point in arguing with their queen.

Laying out the details of the plan had taken over an hour. Gallus, Eponin and Solari each had a job to do and each of them started on it immediately following the meeting.

Gabrielle sat by the window in her chamber, waiting for her time to leave. She would get her son back.

A knock on the door. Gallus entered the chamber. "We are ready, my queen." Gabrielle stood and looked out her window one last time. She will bring her son back home to Phantasia, even if it means sending the conqueror to Tartarus, herself.

*******************

The queen awoke due to feeling nauseous. Of all the ways to travel, by ship was the worst. No matter what, she always succeeded in feeling sick to her stomach. Sitting up on the side of the bed, Gabrielle took a few deep breaths. They neither helped to calm her nerves nor her stomach. Grimacing, the queen stood up and walked up the stairs to the deck in her bare feet. It was a little chilly, but she hardly noticed it, her thoughts were so focused on her son.

Over the last couple of days she had wondered many times what he was doing and how he was being treated. Every time she thought about the Conqueror her anger rose to a level that previously the queen did not know she could achieve. That vile woman had taken her child away from her, and Gabrielle silently vowed that she would not get away with it.

Queen Gabrielle shuffled over to the ledge of the small ship. It was not really small, but it was the smallest she had on Phantasia. Gabrielle wanted to remain incognito and the large ship known as the "Poteidaian Princess" would not be a wise vessel to travel in. Kyros had named it after her on their one-month anniversary. It was quite a grand ship, and Gabrielle was still in awe when she laid eyes on the beauty.

Leaning on the railing of the ship, the queen looked at the sky. The sun would be rising shortly and she knew that they were almost to their destination. Gabrielle had chosen to only take a small crew. The plan was for them to drop her, Solari and Eponin near the dock, and then to take the ship back to Phantasia. Gallus and many others had been against this, but the queen had given them strict orders as to how everything would be done. They would never even think to override her decisions.

Tears began to form in the queen's emerald eyes, as she once again thought of her son. She prayed to the gods to watch over and protect him from all harm. Gabrielle had heard too many cruel stories concerning the Conqueror, and she hoped that the woman would not do anything to Orion.

"Oh, my sweet boy," Gabrielle said aloud. "Mama will get you back. I promise you that."

She hugged herself as the first rays of the sun began to peak. Gabrielle felt a hand touch her shoulder, and turned her head to the side to find Solari standing there with two steaming mugs in her hand. The dark-haired Amazon handed one of the mugs to her queen, explaining that it was hot apple cider. Gabrielle thanked her before she took a small sip, announcing afterwards that maybe it would soothe her queasy stomach. The pair stood in silence watching the rising sun.

"Your Majesty?" Solari started.

The queen turned to face her, taking another sip from the mug. She could feel her insides warming up with the hot liquid, but it had yet to do anything to help her nerves. "Yes, Solari?"

The Amazon looked her in the eyes as she stated, "We will get the prince back. You can be sure of that." She smiled at Gabrielle and the young queen found herself smiling back. Perhaps everything would be all right after all. The situation could not possibly get any worse. So there was only one way to go, and that was up.

**********
An hour later, the ship managed to stop before it reached the dock. They were far enough away, that it would be difficult for the average swimmer to make it to the dock safely. Gabrielle had planned it this way, she did not want to chance the ship being recognized as coming from Phantasia. No, the queen did not want the Conqueror to know that she was there, otherwise she would be sure to keep her palace heavily guarded and have her men on the lookout for the ruler of Phantasia.

On the ship was a small boat that the queen planned to ride quietly towards the dock with. The boat, complete with two paddles, was lowered into the water with Gabrielle, Solari and Eponin as its passengers. They were wished good luck as the dark-haired Amazons began to paddle the boat. Gabrielle had wanted to help, but the other two were adamant in not letting her.

It was not long before they reached land. After getting out of the boat, Solari and Eponin turned it over and shortly there after the wooden vessel sunk deep into the water. They didn't want to leave any evidence that they were there.

The plan was for the trio to split up. Solari's job was to locate Ephiny, and fill her in on what was happening and what really happened to the prince. The Amazon was somewhere in Corinth, but they did not know where. Meanwhile, Gabrielle and Eponin would go after Orion and try to find him. They would get the little boy and then head to where they were supposed to meet Solari and Ephiny. It was then that they would wait for another boat that was to arrive and take them all back to Phantasia. All three women prayed that this would work out according to plan. They had never heard of anyone being able to break into the Conqueror's palace and not get caught, but they had to try. Orion's life was at stake.

"Okay," the queen started. "We all know what we have to do, right?"

Both of the Amazons nodded.

Solari reached out and put a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "Are you sure about this my queen? Why don't you find Ephiny and Eponin and I will get the prince."

Gabrielle shook her head. "I will get my son, Solari." She squeezed the woman's upper arm. "You just get Ephiny so that we can all go back to Phantasia and have a spectacular celebration." She smiled to further assure the woman.

Both Eponin's and Solari's eyes lit up. If there was anything an Amazon enjoyed, it was a party. They would use just about any occasion to have a celebration. Solari wished both women good luck and they in turn bid her the same, before she headed off to find the Captain.

Eponin turned her attention to the queen. "Are you ready, your Majesty?" she asked.

Gabrielle took in a deep breath. "Yes, I am. Let's go get the prince."

**********
Gabrielle and Eponin managed to sneak up to the palace. It was more grandiose than Gabrielle had imagined it to be. Her entire palace on Phantasia could fit inside and there would still be ample room left over. The queen and the Amazon hid behind a bush sizing up the two guards standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs that led to the massive double doors that were the main entrance to the palace.

The queen filled the other woman in on what they would do. The two women would somehow sneak up to the guards and ambush them. Afterwards, they could take the men's clothing and put them on for disguises. Then, hopefully they would be able to walk through the palace undiscovered, and check the place until they found Orion.

"With all due respect, do you think that that plan is wise, your Majesty?" Eponin inquired.

Gabrielle's brow furrowed. "Do you find something wrong with it?"

The Amazon nodded slightly. "I don't want you to get hurt. It is my duty to protect you, so I alone will attack the guards."

She started to get up from the ground, but the queen put a restraining hand on her shoulder. Eponin settled back down to the ground and peered over at the younger woman.

"And it is my duty to protect my son. I couldn't do that and now I have to get him back from the Conqueror. I intend to attack the guards right along with you." Eponin started to protest, but Gabrielle held up a hand. "I know how to defend myself, Eponin. Don't treat me like I'm fragile."

It was true that the queen knew how to defend herself. Mostly from Gallus. He had taught her over the last few years, but when the Amazons moved to the island, she learned even more. Gabrielle was well skilled in some weapons and knew how to fight to a reasonable degree. Her favorite weapon to use was the staff. She was quite good with it now, and Gabrielle found herself wishing that she had brought it with her. It would come in handy right about now.

"I know you know how to defend yourself, your Majesty. I just don't think that it's wise for you to go out there." She could tell that the queen was beginning to become angry. Eponin did not want that to happen. "But if you insist, I guess I won't try to stop you."

Gabrielle nodded. "Good. Let's go." She started to rise, when Eponin called her name softly. Gabrielle crouched down and looked at her expectantly.

Eponin said, "You protected the prince very well. You are a very good mother, so don't blame yourself for what has happened. You weren't there to prevent it. Your Majesty, you can't have Orion in your sight all of the time."

The queen was silent for a moment. "I know," she admitted quietly. Gabrielle glanced at the guards about twenty feet ahead of them. She looked back to Eponin and asked the woman if she was ready.

"More than I'll ever be."

The two arose from the ground and quickly decided to just charge the guards. Eponin, for her part, prayed to Artemis for this to work. On the count of three the women began to run out of the bushes, but Gabrielle suddenly stopped.

Eponin studied her. "Is something wrong, my queen?"

The queen nodded. "We can't just charge them." She put her arms out at her sides. "We have no weapons. I have a better idea." She explained the slightly changed plan to the Amazon, who at first was completely against it, but soon changed her mind. If this was what her queen wanted to do, then she would go along with it.

Gabrielle tore the skirt she had been wearing, until it was mid thigh. She then walked out of from the bush calmly, as if she was supposed to do that. The guards noticed her immediately as she sashayed towards them, swinging her hips enticingly, with a come hither smile on her lips. The queen let the tip of her tongue peek out and run across her upper lip. The guards gazed at her lustfully just like she wanted them to. So far so good.

"Hey you," Gabrielle said to the guard with the heavy beard. She reached up a hand and ran it down his cheek. "I was wondering if you could…help me." She gave him an innocent look, thinking that some men were so easy to manipulate.

"Help you with what?" he asked in a false deep voice as he placed a big hand on her waist. Gabrielle resisted the urge to knee him.

Without answering him, the queen turned towards the other guard and crooked her finger for him to come over. He rushed over to stand near her wearing a huge grin. Gabrielle grasped one of his hands and lightly brushed her lips against his palm. The man's brown eyes glazed over. She then reached for the other man's hand and did the same thing. They were so involved in the small woman that neither guard noticed when Eponin crept up behind the brown-eyed man and hit him on the back of the head with a rock. He sunk to the ground soundlessly. The bearded man did not have enough time to react, before the queen bent two of the fingers back on the hand she still held. He yelped in pain as he sunk to his knees. Gabrielle brought her fist up and slugged him squarely on the jaw. She and Eponin heard it crack before the man was out cold on the ground.

The Amazon regarded her queen with both approval and surprise. "That was excellent, my queen."

"Thank you, Eponin." Gabrielle balled her right hand into a fist and examined her stinging knuckles. They were sure to bruise later on and already hurt like Tartarus.

The two women dragged the two men one at time behind the bush they had previously occupied. Next, they stripped the men of their outer clothing and put the clothes on for themselves. Gabrielle put on the smallest man's clothes, which were those that belonged to the brown-eyed man, but they were still pretty big. It would have to work. She decided to keep her own boots on.

After tying the guards up with their own clothes, the women then headed for the stairs and quickly walked up to the double doors of which they opened. They went inside and closed the doors quietly behind them, taking in the hall they were now in. It was gorgeous. Shiny marble, beautiful vases and portraits on the walls greeted them. No one could say that the Conqueror did not have good taste. As they walked further down the deserted hall, Gabrielle saw a rather large portrait on the wall. It was the drawing of a gorgeous woman with icy sky blue eyes. For some reason, the queen knew for a fact that the woman was the Conqueror. A fire began to burn within Gabrielle as she glared at the picture. This woman was going to pay for taking her child.

The two went further down the long hall and then came to a halt. They could go either left or right. Going straight ahead would take them out a window. Gabrielle came up with the idea that they should split up, but Eponin was dead set against it. She would not agree to split up, so they headed left. They soon discovered that that was the wrong way to go. After taking less than six steps, they were greeted by five men. By the way they were dressed, the four men were soldiers. They started to run but then noticed four of the men had weapons. The man in front looked like the one to be in charge. He smiled at them coldly.

"Who are you?" he asked of them.

Both Gabrielle and Eponin remained quiet. The man asked them the question again, but did not receive an answer from the women. Sneering, the man backhanded Gabrielle across her cheek. The force almost sent the young woman to the ground, but Eponin was able to catch her in time. She made sure the queen could stand on her own two feet, before she tried to attack the man that had hit her. Eponin was not able to do so, because Gabrielle grabbed her, whispering in the woman's ear for her to remain calm. The Amazon gave a short nod.

"Now I asked you a question," the man who hit the queen stated. "I want answers. And I want them now. What are your names?"

Both women remained silent. Both the queen and the Amazon were glaring at the smug man in front of them.

"Fine," he started, "since you've both seemed to have lost your voices, then I'll just lock you up and let the Conqueror deal with you later." His eyes bored in to Gabrielle's emerald ones. "Something tells me that you're here after that little brat."

She never knew how she did it, but the queen managed to keep her hands to herself. Although, at that moment if she had been holding a dagger she was pretty sure that this man would be wearing it now.

The two women began to follow three of the men with two men behind them. The leader was in the front and was talking about how pleased the Conqueror would be with the prisoners. Gabrielle and Eponin were led down a flight of stairs to a place that was extremely dark. There were only a few lit torches hanging on the walls. There were six cells in the dungeon like room and six or seven guards were on duty. One of the cells had a man who looked to be in his late sixties in it. The queen and the Amazon were each ushered into their own cell. They were right across from one another.

The man who slapped Gabrielle smiled at them coldly again. "You can just stay here until you feel a little more talkative." With that said he and the four soldiers took their leave.

**********
Two hours later, neither the Conqueror nor anyone else had been to the prison yet. Gabrielle was sitting on a bench in her cell as Eponin chose to pace around hers. The queen could occasionally hear the woman mumble something about this not being a good idea from the start. Gabrielle chose not to comment. She looked at the man in the cell next to the Amazon's. He had on a morose expression.

"How long have you been here?" the queen asked the man.

He looked up at her and scratched his ragged beard in thought. "I don't know, miss. I've lost track of the days. I don't even know if it's light or dark outside."

"It's still light," Gabrielle replied. "Why are you here, if you don't mind my asking?" she inquired softly.

The older man sighed. "I don't mind at all, miss. I-

"Please. Call me Gabrielle," the queen interjected.

The man smiled slightly. "Okay then. Well Gabrielle, I did something foolish. I spoke against the Conqueror and was sentenced to death."

The queen gasped. She had heard stories of how ruthless the Conqueror was, but to have living proof was shocking to say the least. This man could have had grandchildren and he had to lose his life because he spoke. Well not if she had anything to do with it.

"What did you say?"

He scratched his beard again. "I merely made a suggestion on the summer solstice feast that is supposed to take place. She became angry and it wasn't long before I ended up here."

"Summer solstice feast?" Gabrielle inquired.

The man nodded. "Yes. It's a huge celebration. There is one every year and the Conqueror is the hostess of it."

The queen got up and walked over to the bars. "Let me get this straight. The Conqueror is going to execute you because you had an idea for a party?"

He nodded again. "That's about it."

"That's horrible!" Gabrielle replied louder than she had meant to. This woman must be stopped. She wasn't a ruler. She was a high class murderer and the queen then made it her personal duty to bring the woman down.

A few minutes later the iron door opened and in walked a woman dressed in a long colorful robe. Her dark hair had one braid that ran down her back. She went straight to Eponin's cell without even giving a glance in Gabrielle's direction, as if she wasn't even there. The woman stared at Eponin, who to her credit did not break away. The woman ordered for one of the guards to open the Amazon's cell. Eponin was motioned to come out. She frowned as she did so.

"I want you," the woman started, "to go back to Phantasia and warn them that I have their queen. Also tell them not to even think about coming to Corinth otherwise they won't be going back. At least not in one piece. Do you understand me, Amazon?"

Eponin glared at her without speaking, but finally nodded. It would not due for her stubborn attitude to be taken out on the queen after she left. She would not take the chance that they would hurt Gabrielle because of her behavior. The woman nodded, pleased, and gestured for the Amazon to leave. Before she walked out the door, Eponin caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned slightly to see Gabrielle give her a hand gesture. She nodded almost imperceptibly before exiting.

After Eponin left, the woman demanded that the guards leave as well until she told them to come back. They filed out of the room and the woman closed the door. She then turned around and began walking towards Gabrielle's cell wearing a triumphant smile. She had caught the queen. Well actually Jacob had, and she would have to reward him later. For now, she had a little cute blonde to attend to. Xena shook her head. Where did that come from? Cute? She chuckled to herself. Well she had to admit that the girl was indeed quite pleasing to the eye.

"So. I've got you. I had a feeling you would come."

The queen gave her a dirty look. "How did you know who I was?"

The Conqueror shrugged. "I just figured you were the Queen of Phantasia. I knew you were young but you don't look more than eighteen summers old."

"I'm twenty-three if you must know."

The Conqueror touched a finger to her lips. "Ah." She spread her arms out wide. "Well welcome to Corinth and my world, blondie."

The smaller woman was bristling. Who does this woman think she is? "My name is Gabrielle."

"I know what your name is. I can call you whatever I like." She headed towards the door but then said over her shoulder, "I'll deal with you later. I have more important matters to attend to now." The Conqueror then opened the door to leave."

"Wait!" Xena turned towards the young woman with one eyebrow raised. "What did you do with my son? Is he okay?"

Xena did not answer right away. "Your son is somewhere in this palace and…" She shrugged. "He's alive." With that she left the room, leaving behind a queen who was now on the verge of tears. Gabrielle collapsed on to the cold ground and wrapped her arms around her bent legs. So far, so good.

*******************
Darus absently scrubbed down the bar as he watched the women sitting at the corner table. It was not uncommon for strangers to stop into his tavern. After all it was located close to the docks. His eyes roamed over the firm bodies of both women. How
he would love to get them alone, up in his room.

“Ahem.” Darus’ wife cleared her throat to get her husband’s attention. It had not escaped the large woman as to what, or
rather whom, her husband’s eyes were fixed upon. Darus glanced at his wife and then made a quick exit into the kitchen.
Men! Sylva thought as her husband disappeared through the swinging doors. She took a quick glance at the women in the
corner, sighed and shook her head.

The blonde and brunette became silent as Sylva approached, holding a pitcher. “Refill?” she asked, with a raspy voice. “Yes,
thank you,” the blonde said, while nodding. Sylva refilled the two mugs, turned, and headed back to the bar.

The blonde grabbed her mug and quickly downed more than half. She put the mug back on the table and stared at the woman
sitting across from her.

“Say something, Ephiny,” the brunette pleaded. The captain sat back and ran a hand through her hair. “She is insane!” Ephiny
struggled to keep her voice down. “And she called my mission suicide? Does she realize that she is the queen? She should not
be taking a risk as great as this.” Solari nodded, “I agree with you, Eph, but you know how she is. Eponin and I were grateful
that at least we would be with her.” Ephiny rested her elbows on the table and placed her head in her hands.

Several minutes passed before Ephiny sat up and folded her hands on the table. “When is the ship due to arrive?”

“Tomorrow at sun up,” Solari answered.

“And if we don’t meet it, then what?”

Solari leaned forward and explained, “There will be a ship at the dock everyday until the day that we board one of them. Gallus is handling everything from that end.”

Ephiny thought it over for a moment. Gallus was a good man and an excellent general. She trusted him and she knew there had
to be more to this plan. “And his soldiers?” Before Solari could answer, the door to the tavern opened and Ephiny looked up
and waved the new arrival over.

Eponin quickly spotted the two Amazons and walked over, taking a seat next to Solari. “I’m glad I found you,” she said as she
glanced around the room.

The tavern only held about twenty people and at the moment there were only two other tables occupied. The patrons were too
busy drinking and talking to pay any attention to the three Amazons in the corner.

Ephiny glared at the new arrival, “Where is Gabrielle?”

Eponin sighed before she answered, “In the Conqueror’s prison.” The two younger Amazons watched as Ephiny’s face grew red from rage. They each knew that it was taking all of the captain's self control not to lose her cool. “She’s fine, Ephiny. This is exactly what she wanted,” Eponin added.

Ephiny took a deep breath, exhaling slowly, “Fine? Our queen is in prison and you tell me she’s fine?” her voice was low and menacing.

The younger woman flinched slightly and Solari decided she had better step in, “You’re right, Ephiny. She is our queen and we did as she commanded. Would you have done any less?”

Ephiny narrowed her eyes. “I would have stopped her,” she growled. Solari didn’t back down. She glared at her captain, “This is Gabrielle we’re talking about. She found out that the Conqueror kidnapped her son and you honestly think you could have stopped her? Think about it, Eph.”

Silence descended over the group. Each woman was lost in her own thoughts about the current predicament. They had sworn
an oath two years ago, to protect the Queen of Phantasia. It was an oath that they took very seriously, especially Ephiny. But
the captain knew that Solari was right. Once Gabrielle set her mind on something there was little chance of changing it.

Ephiny looked from Solari to Eponin. “Okay,” she began quietly, “now what? The queen would not risk herself unless there
was more to this plan. Solari, I believe you were going to tell me about the soldiers.” The younger women glanced at each
other, grinned and looked back at Ephiny. “I knew it,” the captain stated as she leaned closer to hear the rest of Gabrielle’s
plan.

Darus came out of the kitchen and noted that there were now three women at the corner table. My day just gets better and
better, he thought with a grin.

*******************

The sun of Apollo was high up in the sky, as Xena looked out of the window. She wasn't really looking at anything in particular.
The Conqueror stood there thinking back over her life and all that had happened. Xena shook her head sadly. Not often there were times like this when she actually gave serious thought to what she was doing. Sometimes the Conqueror hated her life. Sometimes she just wanted to run away from it all, never to return again. The power was what kept her there. She had to admit it to herself. Xena loved the power. She craved it like an addiction at times, and often it frightened her.

A sharp knock on the door drew Xena out of her reverie. She gave the person permission to enter. Immediately, Sal entered wearing a worried expression. The Conqueror sighed, wondering what the matter could be. She sat down in a chair
and motioned for the easily jumpy man to take a seat as well. Salmoneus sat down and folded his hands in his lap, choosing to
look everywhere but at the woman sitting in front of him. They sat in silence for a few minutes, before Xena's patience finally
wore thin.

"What is it, Salmoneus?" she asked in an irritated tone of voice.

The man flinched in his chair. "Uh...Conqueror...I have some news to relay to you."

Xena rested her forearms on the desk in front of her and regarded the man with a cool stare. "Which is?"

Salmoneus wiped his sweaty brow. This was something he did not care to share with this woman, but he didn't see where he
had much of a choice. He had to confess. The nervous man cleared his throat.

"I lost him," he started.

Xena raised one eyebrow, "You lost who?"

"The boy. I lost Prince Orion. One moment he was there and in the next he was gone."

The Conqueror leaned forward on the desk and glared at Salmoneus. "You lost the prince? How could you do such an idiotic
thing? You lost a four-year-old child?" She abruptly rose from her chair. "How did he get away from you?" At that moment she looked as though she wanted to murder the baby-sitter with her bare hands.

"Umm...well we were playing a game that he was showing me...and...and it's called hide and go seek. He...sa...said his mother
taught him how to play. What yo...you do is you hide and then someone has to find you," he paused to take a deep breath.
"Well I was hiding and then I somehow fell a..asleep. When I woke up the prince had vanished."

Xena perched herself on the edge of the desk, examining Salmoneus. "Vanished?" she repeated. "How long ago was this? Do
you have any....." Xena stopped, taking a quick look to her left after spying something out of the corner of her eye. When she saw what it was she turned her attention back to Salmoneus, "....idea concerning the time?" Her voice was calmer now.

The baby-sitter shook his head. "Maybe a little under a candlemark." He shrugged. "It depends. He could have left a few
minutes after I fell asleep. Who knows?" Salmoneus was wondering at the moment what the Conqueror would say or do to
him. He was attempting not to shake like a leaf on a tree.

"You know he's not supposed to be out of your sight, don't you?" Xena asked in a dangerously low tone. What made it even
worse was the calmness in her voice. The man would have preferred she just yell and scream at him.

Salmoneus fidgeted in his chair. "Yes, I do, Conqueror. I'm sorry."

Xena stared at him silently for a few moments, making the situation even worse for him. "Sal," she clasped her hands together,
"this is a win-lose situation for you."

"Ho...how is that, Conqueror?"

"Well, the only way you can win is if you were to find the prince within the next few minutes.

"And if I don't?" Salmoneus asked nervously.

"If you don't...well, your life is forfeit."

The baby-sitter jumped up from the chair, as if something sharp had just stuck him. "You're going to kill me!?"

The Conqueror shook her head. "No, I'm not going to kill you, Sal." She noticed the man taking a relieved breath and smirked.
"Someone else will do it for me."

Salmoneus collapsed back into his chair. "Bu...but Conqueror I don't want to die."

Xena walked slowly around her desk and took her seat with her hands folded in her lap. "Then it would be in your best interest
to find that boy. And find him soon, because you don't have much time."

The man once again left his seat and left the room in a hurry, mumbling something about having to find the prince. Xena
watched him go, closing the door behind him, leaving complete and total silence. Xena let out a deep breath as she
regarded the ceiling for a moment. "You can come out now," she said to the ceiling.

"How did you know I was here?" Prince Orion asked as he came out from his hiding place.

The Conqueror looked at him. She could not help but to think that the boy was adorable. His eyes reminded her of his
mother's. Xena shook her head. Get a hold of yourself. What are you thinking? She indicated for the little boy to sit in the seat that Salmoneus had previously been in. Orion took a seat and looked at her. Oddly enough, Xena couldn't for the life of her figure out what was going on in his head.

"I saw you. That's how I knew," she paused. "So you found it, huh? The secret compartment?"

The prince smiled, proud of himself. "Yes, I did. It wasn't hard."

The Conqueror replied, "No one else has been able to find it."

"I did," Orion said coolly. "We need to talk," he finished in his best grown up voice.

Xena raised an eyebrow at him. "About what? I don't usually hold discussions with children."

"I'm not a child," Orion retorted indignantly.

"You're four, right?"

Orion nodded.

"Then you are a child. A small one at that. Practically a baby," she teased.

The prince resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her. There was something about this woman Orion did not like, and he
sincerely wished that he was big enough to beat her up. He felt guilty right after that thought, because his mother had taught him that it was never right to strike a woman. Surely there was an exception to this one.

Getting angry, Orion leaped from the chair and came around the desk to stand in front of the seated Conqueror. His small hands were balled up at his sides. "I'm not a baby. I'm a man!" he shouted irately. When he saw that the woman was about to
interrupt, Orion put up a hand to stop her. "My daddy had my mama write me a letter on his deathbed for me to read when I
got old enough. In it he said that I was supposta take care of my mother, and that's what I'm trying to do. I'm a man! I don't
care what you say," the prince finished, breathing hard. His little face was red.

Xena had the urge to laugh, but in it was laced a growing amount of respect for the prince. She had to admit that he had guts.
Not just anyone would have the nerve to stand up like that to her. Many, if they even tried, would probably be on their way to a prison or worse by now.

"Okay," Xena held up both hands, "I want you to calm down and take your seat." She gave him a look that Orion could not
help but to obey. It was a look that she often used to get others to cower. The Conqueror placed her folded arms on the desk.
"Now you listen to me, little boy," she put emphasis on "boy" which only proved to anger Orion all the more, "you are in my
world now. If I say that you're a child then you're a child." She got up and sauntered around until she was leaning over the
prince who was desperately now trying to hide his fear. "If I tell you to jump you in turn will ask me respectfully how high? Do
you understand?"

The prince grudgingly nodded. "I understand." He then waited a beat before asking, "Why did you take me?"

Xena stopped leaning over Orion and perched on the desk in front of him with her arms crossed over her chest. "I have my
reasons. Your mother has something that I want. I'm going to keep you until I get it."

"You're not going to hurt my mother, are you? She didn't do anything to you."

The Conqueror chuckled. "That doesn't matter. The point is I want Phantasia for my own and I intend to get it. No one is going to stop me."

Orion shook his head. He had heard stories of this woman back on Phantasia. He was finding out that they were true. The
prince hoped that she would not try to do anything to his mother.

"Why do you have to be so mean?" Orion asked in a tone of voice that was devoid of any accusations. It sounded merely
curious. There was a trace of sadness as well.

Before Xena could offer a reply there was a loud knock on the door. She told the person to come in. Salmoneus entered the
room, took one look at Orion sitting in his chair and picked the boy up swinging him around joyously. After a few swings,
Salmoneus put the now slightly dizzy prince on his feet and kneeled down on the floor in front of him. Xena watched this scene,
amused.

Salmoneus put his hands on Orion's shoulders. "Why did you run away, huh? I was worried about you." At that moment the
baby-sitter realized that he really had been worried about the prince. His worry had nothing to do with the fact that he might be
in trouble with Xena. Not all of it anyway.

The prince gave Salmoneus his most charming smile. The one that most of the time worked with his mother. "I didn't run away,
Sal. You were sleeping, so I thought I'd go out for a bit. I didn't mean to frighten you. I'm sorry."

The nervous man smiled at him. "It's okay." Sal surprised himself by grabbing the prince and hugging him again.

"Did you come here for a reason, Sal?" Xena asked.

Salmoneus peered up at her and smiled quickly. He got up from the floor and walked towards her saying, "I thought I heard
Prince Orion's voice come from here so I thought I'd come and investigate. I'm so happy that he turned up with you. Did you
find him, Conqueror?"

Xena glanced at the prince who was glaring at her. She fought to keep a smirk off of her face. Yes, indeed the little guy did
have guts. She had a feeling that he was just like his mother. It wouldn't bode well for the queen to have the same attitude as
her son. "No," she told Sal, "it was more like he found me. Prince Orion needed to have a quick meeting with me." Xena
looked at Orion. "Are we done yet?" The little boy nodded mutely. "Then you can take him back to his room, Sal." She went
around to her desk and sat down. "You two are free to leave." Xena picked up a scroll and started to read it, but was
interrupted by Salmoneus. She looked up at him annoyed. "What is it now?"

So that the little boy would not overhear him, Sal whispered, "You weren't really going to kill me, were you Conqueror?"

Xena leaned towards the man and whispered back, "You'll never know." She went back to her scroll, noticing Sal's eyes
widening considerably. The man turned around and took Orion by the hand, leading the prince out of the room. Xena put the
scroll down, finding it hard to concentrate. She was thinking about what the prince had asked her. She hated to admit it, but it
really bothered her for some reason. "Why do you have to be so mean?"

*************************************

Light peered through the small window. The bars that lined the window threw shadows over the walls and floor.

Phantasia’s queen opened her eyes and squinted at the morning sun. The woman sat up on the bed and took stock of her
situation. Here it was, day number two in this prison, and she still had no idea where her son was. She had seen no one but the guards since the Conqueror left yesterday. Patience. That was what was required. Gabrielle needed to know what the conqueror wanted, in return for her son, and she needed to wait for the appropriate moment to strike.

The queen had faith in her people. As long as everything was in place, she could get Orion and they would all head for home.
Oh, the queen was not naive. She knew the conqueror would follow with her army. Her only hope was that Gallus would be
ready for them. She hoped.

The door opened and a guard appeared with the morning meal. He placed a tray in front of each occupied cell, except for the
queen’s. Before Gabrielle could protest a dark man walked in, nodded to the guard and stood in front of the cell holding the
young queen.

"My name is Marcus. I’m here to escort you to the Conqueror."

Marcus unlocked the cell door and motioned for Gabrielle to step out. As she did, she noticed the guard that had brought the
food in, coming towards her with large, iron wrist restraints in his hand.

"Those won’t be necessary," Marcus told the guard. The guard gave the dark commander a quizzical look. The commander
waved his hand, sending the guard back to his station, and then escorted the queen out of the prison and into a long narrow
passage.

The passage was only large enough to walk single file. There were small, closed doors every so often, along the walls. Torches
were lit approximately every 30 paces and there were twists and turns and at some points it forked into other passages. The
queen was sure that the passages were designed this way on purpose. Unless you knew where you were going, you would
surely get lost.

As the passage began to widen, Gabrielle noticed a doorway straight ahead. The man who was following her indicated the
door with his hand and asked her to stop in front of it. Marcus reached over and opened the door, motioning the woman
forward.

The room was small and dimly lit. Marcus walked past the queen and opened the door on the other side of the room. "This
way," he informed the young woman.

Gabrielle stepped through the doorway and into another world. It was a hallway. Simply a hallway. But it was unlike any
hallway the young queen had ever seen. Marble statues, exotic paintings, carpeting from around the world, all lined the walls
and floor of the long hall, and golden chandeliers hung every 20 paces from the ceiling. To Gabrielle, it was breathtaking.

"We're in the palace?" it was more of a statement than a question.

"Yes," the man answered. "The Conqueror is waiting in the Grand Hall," he informed the woman. "This way."

Gabrielle walked beside the tall, dark man, taking in her surroundings. Blood. Everything here was bought with blood.
Suddenly, the brightness, majesty and elegance of the queen’s surroundings dimmed. That woman killed, murdered and
tortured for all this grandeur. By the time they reached the double doors of the Grand Hall, all Gabrielle could see was
traces of blood everywhere she looked and it sickened her.

*********

Inside the Grand Hall, Xena stood, staring out the window. Marcus would arrive with the young queen soon. The image of a
blonde-haired little boy, standing up to the powerful conqueror flashed before the dark-haired woman’s eyes. He most likely
takes after his mother. That could make things interesting. Xena grinned at the thought. If there was one thing the
Conqueror loved, it was a challenge.

The double doors opened and in walked the Queen of Phantasia.

A maid had been ordered to find something for Gabrielle to wear, other than the stolen uniform she was wearing when
captured. The queen was given a plain long shirt and leggings to keep the chill off her in the cold, damp cell. Short brown boots completed the ensemble. In short, she was dressed more like a simple, peasant woman than a queen. But it did not matter what clothes Gabrielle had on. As she walked down the red carpet there was an aura surrounding her that told everyone watching that this woman was confident, brave, royal and someone you probably would not want to mess with.

The Conqueror watched the queen make her way towards her. By the gods, she is lovely. The thought past through her before she could stop it. Xena had to shake her head slightly to rid herself from thinking such nonsense.

The first thing that caught Gabrielle’s attention was the food. On the right side of the room, towards the back, was a round table with fruits, cheeses and pastries laid out. The queen's stomach reminded her that she had not eaten yet this morning.

The second thing that captured her attention was the tall, dark woman standing straight ahead in the very back of the room, in
front of a window. Light shone through the window casting a silhouette around the feared ruler of the known world. By the
gods, she is beautiful. Gabrielle was shocked at even thinking such a thing. She closed her eyes briefly and shook the thought
out of her head. This was the Destroyer Of Nations standing before her. A bloody trail followed this woman’s every move.

As Gabrielle stood before the Conqueror’s desk, Xena glanced at Marcus, inclining her head to indicate his dismissal. Marcus
turned and motioned to the two guards that were positioned on either side of the double doors, signaling them to step out into
the hall.

Several moments past as the room was cleared, leaving the young queen alone with the Destroyer Of Nations. Silence.

Xena looked the queen up and down, as she walked to the front of her desk.

Gabrielle forced herself to remain calm under the scrutiny of the conqueror. She could not stand the silence any longer, "Where
is my son?" she asked as respectfully as she could, but with a fierce determination in her eyes.

The Conqueror perched herself on the edge of the desk and folded her arms in front of her. "He’s safe," a pause and a wry grin, "for now," she finished.

"I want to see him." The determination and almost threatening tone that emanated from the queen did not escape the conqueror. She narrowed her eyes and lowered her voice to its most deadly register, "You will see him when I say you can see him. Not
before."

A shiver ran through the young mother’s spine. At that moment Gabrielle came to the full realization of who, or rather, what she was dealing with. A wave of fear washed over her, as she found herself doubting not only her abilities but the possibility of her
and Orion ever safely returning home. In a matter of moments, the queen regained her composer, determined to win not only
this battle, but what ever war would come from it.

Xena had a trained eye and an uncanny knack for reading people. In what was no more then an instant, she saw the fear behind the queen’s eyes. The sounds of victory exploded in her mind. But also, in that same instant came the sounds of regret. For
reasons unknown, the conqueror did not like seeing fear in the emerald eyes before her. Xena stood abruptly. She would not
become soft in front of this woman.

"Sit. Eat. Then we will talk."

Gabrielle thought she saw something in the blue eyes that had been staring at her. Something. She just couldn’t put her finger on it. Then the thought disappeared as the Conqueror instructed her to sit at the table and eat.

Try as she might, Gabrielle could not resist the temptation of food. She was known for her healthy appetite in the most normal
of circumstances. But now, here she was, a captive in the palace of the conqueror and she had not eaten a decent meal since
Orion’s disappearance. The woman was famished.

A chuckle escaped the Conqueror as she watched the queen eat. Gabrielle looked up at the woman, surprised to see a slight
smile on her lips. The smile quickly disappeared and Xena rang the bell for the servants to clear the table.

As the table was being cleared Gabrielle studied the tapestries on the wall. They were very beautiful in design and color but the
queen also noticed that they were filled with depictions of war and brutality. "You’ve killed so many." The blonde woman
hadn’t realized she had spoken aloud, until she heard the quiet confirmation from the Conqueror, "Yes I have."

Xena stared into emerald eyes, "You know what I want," blue eyes traveled over to the tapestry hanging directly next to the
table, "You know what I will do to get it," blue eyes met green once again, "And you are the only one who can save your
people from a violent, ugly death." The Conqueror stood and looked down at the young queen, "The choice is yours."

Gabrielle’s breath caught in her throat as the Conqueror’s words stabbed her. Her people. She would not fail the people of
Phantasia.

The Conqueror returned to her desk and took out a scroll. Clearing her throat, she captured the queen’s attention and waved
her over. Placing the scroll on the desk so Gabrielle could view it, Xena explained it’s contents, "This gives me all right and title
to the island of Phantasia. I will allow you to remain queen but all decisions about the country, land and people lay solely with
me. Nothing is done without my approval. Sign it, and you and your son may return home."

Gabrielle stared at the scroll. There was no way she would allow this monster to take control. Her people would gladly fight
and die first. "I will not sign this." There was a strength emanating from the queen that she herself did not realize she had.

Laughter filled the room that briefly startled Gabrielle. Abruptly it stopped and blue eyes bore into her soul. Leaning forward
resting her hands on the desk, the Conqueror spoke, "Then your son will die." An evil grin formed on the mouth of the monster
that stood before Gabrielle. It took all the queen’s willpower to remain on her feet and keep the threatening tears at bay.

Xena stood back up, her face becoming impassive, "Think it over." She casually sat down, crossing her legs and placing her
hands on her knee. "I am confident that you’ll see things my way." The conqueror rang for the guards before Gabrielle could
compose her thoughts.

"Bring her to the room across the hall," the Conqueror ordered.

The queen felt a hand on her arm tugging her back towards the door. Her eyes remained fixed on the Conqueror. Anger,
hatred, determination, strength and even a hint of fear were all held in those emerald eyes, for the Conqueror to see.

The guards took the queen out of the room and Xena stared at the closed doors for a long moment. The sight of those eyes
refused to leave her vision and the sound of her own voice as it threatened and intimidated echoed in her ears.

"Why do you have to be so mean?"

*******************
TO BE CONTINUED.....


Taiko's Scrolls Of The Xenaverse