That Darn Legal Stuff...
The characters of Xena, Hercules, Gabrielle, and Iolaus; as well as any others I’ve failed to mention are all property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. I do not mean any copyright infringement in the writing of this story.
Minuscule. I’m not very good at describing all that blood n’ gore, but since Xena + sharp objects = violence, I had to try.
The Romance Factor
Everyone (with the exception of Roy the Hermit in Cleveland) knows that Herc and Xena had a "thing" for each other a while back when Xena was still oh so evil. I like the idea of them getting back together (which is a constant theme of mine).
If you find any, I didn’t put it there, so you must have a very creative mind.
A naughty word here or there. Not much.
The characters of Damon, Linnaeus, and Phillimont are all products of my twisted brain and were originally stick figures drawn in the margins of my paper with my pen (be very afraid..) I don’t think Burbass, Alcynione, or Nestoria exist(ed), but if they do(did), then I must either be smarter than I thought, or a really good random guesser. This is my first finished fanfic, and I didn’t mean to write a novel or anything, but that’s the way it turned out. ‘Kay, enough of this junk...
The Wedding of Xena, the Warrior Princess
The sun blazed brightly in the sky as two weary travelers were making their way down a worn path. One was of average height with closely cropped strawberry blonde hair and green eyes. She was wearing an Indian sari and carried a staff. Her companion was of a taller stature with bronzed skin and raven hair, which both created the perfect foil for a startling pair of cobalt eyes. She was outfitted in worn battle leathers, armor, gauntlets, and greaves. A sword was strapped to her back and she had a silver disc secured at her hip. She lead a palomino horse and seemed constantly aware of her surroundings. The blonde sighed audibly.
"Xena," she asked. "How much farther is Alcynione?"
"Gabrielle, you asked me that a minute ago," her companion replied. "The answer hasn’t changed. The village is still a half-day’s journey from here."
"At this rate," Gabrielle snapped. "We’ll be out of supplies long before we get to Alcynione!"
Xena rolled her eyes.
"Gabrielle. Our whole reason for going to Alcynione is to get supplies." She looked sharply at her friend.
"Oh yeah…" Gabrielle realized and shrugged. "I guess I forgot." Xena gritted her teeth and stalked ahead of the bard, trying to control herself. "What?" Gabrielle called. "What did I say?"
An hour later, Xena entered a small village. A puzzled expression crossed her features. A breathless Gabrielle ran up behind her.
"I thought you said we wouldn’t reach Alcynione until tomorrow," she said.
"I did. And this," Xena said, indicating the town. "Isn’t Alcynione." The warrior stopped a passing villager. "Excuse me," she said. "I’m sorry to bother you, but what’s the name of this village?"
"Burbass," the cheerful woman replied. "We’re a mining town. We mine the best diamonds in all of Greece." With a proud nod of her head, the woman hurried away.
Xena stood silently assessing the situation, when a young boy, about fifteen years of age, rushed into the town at a breakneck speed.
"Help! Someone help!" he cried. "The mine has collapsed!" Gabrielle looked at Xena, her eyes wide. Nodding briskly, Xena turned to Argo and mounted. Wheeling about to face Gabrielle, she said:
"You stay here and try to calm these people. I’ll ride ahead to the mines." Before the bard could even respond, the warrior had spurred Argo and was riding toward the mines.
"Whoa, Argo." Xena pulled on the reins, bringing the horse to a halt and studied the scene before her. A rumbling noise was coming from the mine, which was hacked out of the side of a mountain. A cluster of frantic parents and dusty miners were gathered just outside the entrance. Every so often, a miner would try to run into the shaft, but falling debris always sent them reeling backward. Xena dismounted and strode to the group of people. "What’s wrong?" she asked urgently. "What’s happened?" A sobbing woman gave her the answer.
"Some children were playing around the mine. No one even realized they had gone inside until the mine collapsed and they were missing." A ragged sob tore from her throat. "My daughter’s in there!" She broke into hysterical weeping. Her husband put his arm around her and led her away. A miner came forward to fill in the details.
"How many children are in there?" Xena asked.
"About ten were in there at first," the miner explained. "We got all but two out." Glancing down, Xena spied a rope. She bent down and snatched it up, tying one end to a lone boulder that guarded the entrance. "What are you doing?" the puzzled miner asked.
"I’m going in there," she responded. Holding on to the loose end of the rope, she dashed into the mine.
Just moments later, Hercules and Iolaus were on the scene with Gabrielle right beside them.
"There’s Argo," the bard noted. "Xena must be here." Soon, the newcomers were joining the people milling about the entrance. "Excuse me," Gabrielle said. "Have you seen a dark-haired woman around here? She’s about this tall, and---"
"Some crazy woman ran into the mine about two minutes ago."
That was all that Hercules needed to hear. He turned to Gabrielle and Iolaus.
"Stay here," he ordered. Then, grabbing a rope, he ducked inside.
Xena carefully inched her way deeper into the tunnel. *I really wish I hadn’t gone in here,* she thought. The mountain rumbled and the warrior was pelted with rocks and other rubble. "I really wish I hadn’t gone in here," she groaned as she brushed the dust from her leathers. Her ears strained for any sound that might indicate where the children were hiding. She stopped her progress and held up the torch she’d found in the sconces lining the walls of the tunnel. The mine branched off into two separate tunnels. Xena glanced from one to the other. "Which one?" she muttered in frustration. Her body tensed as she heard the sound of boots crunching on gravel. The lithe warrior turned around, ready to tell whoever it was to hightail it out of there, but her words caught in her throat. "Hercules?" she rasped. The demigod nodded.
"I thought you could use some help," he said. "The miners informed me that ‘some crazy woman’ had run into the mine and I just wanted to make sure she got out." Xena gave him a lopsided smile.
"Fine, but first we need to find those kids."
Xena explained to him what had happened. The mountain lurched again and the two looked at each other. "We don’t have much time," she said. "Let’s get those kids out of here."
Less than a half an hour later, the two found themselves at a dead end.
*I knew we should’ve taken the left passage,* Xena thought as the torchlight reflected off the stone wall. She hated damp, small spaces such as mines. Walking in the narrow passageway with the demigod close behind her didn’t help to settle her nerves any. She was constantly aware of the man behind her, and that was really distracting. *Damn*
*I knew we should’ve taken the left passage,* Hercules thought. He would’ve voiced his opinion, but it was he who had chosen the right passage in the first place. If he was going to be trapped in a dead-ended mine, at least he was trapped with Xena. The beautiful Warrior Princess was a bonus, to be sure. *Damn* He was about to suggest that they turn back, when the ground lurched beneath them. Debris rained down on the small search party and Hercules reached out to steady his companion, lest she fall. One minute he was grasping her waist, and the next minute, she was gone. It didn’t take an oracle to figure out what had happened to her.
"Looks like I don’t have a choice," he said to himself. Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward into nothingness.
Xena landed on her back with a grunt. *Gods! That hurt!* Groaning, she sat up. A body fell from the shaft and landed on his feet a short distance away from her.
"None other," he confirmed a little breathlessly.
"Looks like you’re doing better than I am," Xena laughed. "At least you landed on your feet."
Hercules stepped forward and extended his hand.
"Need some help?" he asked with amusement sparking his eyes. The prostrate warrior gratefully accepted the proffered hand. As the demigod raised Xena to her feet, he gave his wrist a tiny jerk and the normally agile Warrior Princess stumbled against his chest, bringing her face just inches from his. For a moment, both were still. Then Hercules lifted his hand to brush a strand of hair from Xena’s face. He began to lean forward. Xena, sensing what was about to happen, broke eye contact and moved away, although she desperately longed for his kiss, she knew she wouldn’t be able to accept one kiss and just move on.
"Do..do you happen to know how we’re going to get out of here?" Hercules asked to break the tension.
"Do you still have that rope?"
"Well I’m fresh out of ideas," said Xena. The two stood silently, thinking when Xena heard a strange noise behind them. She whirled around and strained her ears for the sound again.
"What is it?" Hercules asked.
"It sounded like crying," Xena replied. "I thought it might be the children." Thus said, the soft-footed warrior made her way toward the sound. Slowly, her eyes adjusted to the dim interior of the cavern. Even with her keen eyesight, Xena could just barely make out two small figures huddled in the corner. Light chased away shadows as Hercules came forward, baring the torch that she’d dropped. Slowly, the figures came into view.
"Oh…" the sound escaped from Xena’s lips. Though it was a mere whisper, the exhalation seemed to fill the entire room. Two children, no more than seven or eight years old, sat on the cold stone floor. It was evident that they had been frightened, the muddy tearstains on their smudged cheeks was all the proof needed. Xena’s face softened and she slowly advanced toward the children. "There, now," she crooned. "There’s nothing to be afraid of. We’re here to help you." She checked them over for injuries, her movements so subtle and natural that Hercules doubted the children even knew they were being examined. Hercules attentively watched the normally stoic warrior tend to the little girl and he was amazed at the transformation. How often did anyone catch a glimpse of the compassionate woman who lurked behind her tough exterior of a warrior.
*She really is beautiful,* he thought wistfully. He shook himself quickly. *Snap out of it, Herc,* he warned himself. *It’s too late for that now.* "How are they?" he asked. Xena stood gracefully and lifted the little boy into her arms before answering the demigod.
"Aside from a few cuts and bruises, they should be fine." She jerked her head toward a little girl in a ragged chiton. "Would you mind carrying her?" she asked. "I can’t handle them both." Hercules scooped up the girl easily in one arm, since the other carried the torch. He and Xena carried the children to the opening from whence they came.
"How are we going to get out of here?" Hercules wondered aloud.
"I think we’ll use the ladder this time," Xena replied wryly.
"That one." Xena indicated a ladder that was bolted to the wall. "It’s a pity that we didn’t see that sooner," she mused.
Hercules just rolled his eyes.
"Come on, wise guy," he said. "It’s high time we got out of here, don’t you think?"
"Where are they?" Gabrielle asked frantically. "I don’t know how much more of this I can take."
"Don’t worry," Iolaus placated. "I’m sure they’re fi—" He was cut off by a loud rumbling as the mine collapsed before their eyes.
"Nooooo!" the bard wailed, starting toward the mine.
"Gabrielle, stop!" Iolaus deftly caught her arm. "There’s nothing we can do."
"Look!" someone cried. The dust cleared and Hercules and Xena came into view, carrying the children in their arms. A pair of frantic mothers rushed forward to relieve the small search party of their burden.
"Xena!" Gabrielle cried in relief. Soon, the startled warrior was enveloped in a firm embrace. A ragged sob tore from the bard’s throat.
"Hey, now," Xena crooned. "What’s this?"
"When I saw the mine collapse, I thought…"
"You thought I was dead, right?"
"I’m too stubborn to die, Gabrielle. Once was enough for me." The bard managed to laugh through her tears and was quick to dash them from her eyes.
Xena turned to Hercules and Iolaus. "We’d better get back to the village," she said. "Maybe we can convince these villagers to condemn the mine and dig elsewhere." The two men nodded in agreement. Xena whistled for Argo and the faithful war-horse came running. Then, the four friends headed back to Burbass.
The group strolled through the streets of the small mining town. Gabrielle finished telling one of her stories and they walked on in silence until Xena spoke.
"By the way," she said to Hercules. "How did you and Iolaus find your way to Burbass? The last I heard, you two were in Corinth slaying a hydra or something."
"We were," he said. "We finished ‘slaying the hydra’ so to speak, headed East and wound up here."
"Burbass isn’t even on the map," Iolaus said. "Everyone was so frantic, we could hardly get a word of sense out of them."
"Hercules and Iolaus came into town when I was trying to calm the villagers," Gabrielle explained. "I told them what had happened, and then we headed out to the mines." Gabrielle smiled sweetly. "Had I known it was going to take you two so long to rescue those kids, I would’ve snagged something to eat in town." Xena laughed and hugged the bard. Her easy grin slid off her face when she saw a man who was approaching their group. He was clothed in robes of scarlet and blue and he absolutely oozed ‘royalty.’ He wasn’t a tall man, but he carried himself in a way that made you believe that he was. Xena groaned.
"Oh, no…I don’t need this. Not today." She stepped forward to meet the stranger.
"Xena," the man said. "At last I have found you."
"Phillimont.." Xena returned evenly. "I had hoped never to see you again." The warrior preferred for her friends not to hear this conversation. "Would you excuse us for a moment?" she asked of them. Then, she firmly grasped the newcomer’s arm and propelled him over beside Argo, out of earshot of the rest of the group. "What are you doing here?" she fumed.
"I think you know the answer to that," Phillimont replied. "it is time. I’ve searched diligently for you since we last met. Now that I’ve found you again, I’m not letting you out of my sight until we reach the Isle of Nestoria."
"I’ve explained this to you before, but now I’m losing my patience," Xena said. "I’m not going with you. I have a path to follow and it doesn’t lead to Nestoria."
"You have no choice in the matter. It was settled long before you were born. I will not disobey my king’s command. You will come with me even if I have to remove you by force!"
"All right," Xena sighed in exasperation. "I’ll go with you, but I’m not promising anything. I will explain this to my friends my way. Got it?" Phillimont nodded. Xena reached into Argo’s saddlebag and withdrew a quill and parchment. She hastily scribbled a note, folded it into a small square, and concealed it in her palm. "Let’s go," she said.
Xena and Phillimont rejoined the group.
"Xena, what’s going on?" Gabrielle asked.
"Phillimont has told me of some problems up North that require my attention." She turned to Gabrielle. "I’m going to have to take care of this myself. I’ll send for you if it comes to that." Gabrielle started to protest, but the look in Xena’s eyes stopped her.
"All right, Xena," she acquiesced. "I’ll give you this one. But the next time, I’m coming along whether you like it or not."
Xena smiled, gave the bard a warm hug, and shook hands with Iolaus. Then, she turned to Hercules.
"See you around," she said and they grasped forearms. Hercules felt her slip something into his gauntlet. He easily interpreted the unspoken command in her eyes and nodded slightly. Bidding one last goodbye, Xena and Phillimont turned and walked toward the waiting ship.
Hercules sat on his bed in his room at the inn later that night. He pulled the square of parchment from his gauntlet and unfolded it.
I couldn’t tell you this before I left without having to tell the others, too, but I had to tell you my destination. I’m headed toward the Isle of Nestoria. Something’s happening up there, I just don’t know what. Please don’t tell anyone where I’ve gone until the time is right. I’ll send word as soon as I can.
Hercules raised his eyes from the parchment, a new determination in his eyes. He didn’t know what the hell was going on, but he was going to find out.
Xena arrived at Nestoria just one and a half days after leaving Burbass. It had been a boring journey since the sailors wouldn’t let her do anything. Instead, they waited on her hand and foot, treating her like a helpless infant.
Upon arriving at the castle, the warrior was ushered into a drawing room and was left alone. Uncertain of what to do, she awkwardly stood in the center of the room. She turned as a door opened behind her and a familiar figure was admitted.
"Mother? What are you doing here?" Xena asked.
Cyrene cast her eyes downward before answering.
"I figure I have every right to be at my own daughter’s wedding, don’t I?"
"What?!" Xena gasped.
"Oh, Little One, I’m sorry!" Cyrene cried as she crossed the room.
"Why didn’t you tell me?"
"I tried to find a way out of it. Honestly, I did," Cyrene explained. "It was your father’s debts, you see. He owed the King of Nestoria, Linnaeus, an amount so great…well, he wouldn’t even tell me what it was. And I still don’t know.
"He and King Linnaeus made a bargain. He would spare Atrius’ life and erase all of his debts if he would betroth you to his son Damon.
"The Prince was but seven years old at the time and you were due any day. I pleaded with your father not to do it…to let you find love when you got older, but he wouldn’t listen.
"I’ve saved all the money I could since that day, and it doesn’t even equal half of your father’s debts. Oh Little One, I’m so sorry!" Cyrene buried her face in her hands and wept. Xena enveloped the smaller woman in her arms and rocked her like a child.
"It will be all right," she vowed. "We’ll find a way out of this, I swear it."
"You will marry the girl, Damon!" King Linnaeus slammed his fist down on the arm of his throne and faced his son. "You have no say in this matter whatsoever." Damon gritted his teeth in frustration.
"Father," he said with visible strain. "I will not marry someone I don’t love especially if that someone is a complete stranger!"
The King fairly boiled with rage. When he finally spoke, his words were short and bitten off.
"You will marry Cyrene’s daughter, and that is FINAL!"
Phillimont approached the thrones.
"Your majesties…" he began, bowing low.
"WHAT?" the King bellowed. "Ahem. Er, what is it Phillimont?"
"The bride has arrived," Phillimont said eagerly.
"Oh, yes. Very good," the King said absently. "Have her dressed and bring both the bride and her mother to the throne room."
"No," Damon interjected.
"What did you say, boy?" Linnaeus fumed.
"I said ‘no’ father," Damon replied calmly. "I’m sure you’ve heard that word before. If I’m to marry this woman, I want to see her at her worst; in her traveling clothes and travel dirt. Bring her to me exactly as she is, Phillimont."
"Yes, your majesty," Phillimont said with hidden animosity at being counter-ordered. He glanced at the King for confirmation. The King dismissed Phillimont with a wave of his hand and turned to glare at his son.
Damon watched as the door to the throne room burst open and admitted three people. Phillimont lead the way, followed by two dark-haired women. The shorter one he knew to be Cyrene, the mother. Which meant the other was her daughter—his bride. He almost gasped when he saw her. She certainly wasn’t what he had expected. He imagined his bride-to-be as a short, burly woman with a ruddy complexion and work-roughened hands. She most certainly was not any of those things.
She was tall and lithe and moved with a leonine grace, reminding him of a panther on the hunt. Her raven locks shone in the mid-afternoon sunlight, but her eyes were her most amazing feature. His bride possessed the most startling blue eyes he had ever seen. A fire lit his own eyes as they moved down the length of her body. She was clad in battle leathers that were molded to her body like a second skin and showed off an incredible amount of leg. She wore armor over the leathers and a strange silver disc was at her right hip. She had a sword strapped to her back and Damon was almost certain that she had numerous daggers hidden in various places in her ensemble. With a satisfied smile, he turned to look at his father’s reaction. The Prince chuckled at the spectacle the proud King made. King Linnaeus’ eyes fairly popped out of his skull and by the flush that was creeping up his neck toward his ears, Damon could tell his father was not pleased with his son’s bride. The groom-to-be, however, was ecstatic.
"Cyrene. Your daughter, what is she called?" the King asked.
"Xena, your majesty."
"What of her health? Does she sicken easily?"
"And you? What kind of mother are you to allow your daughter to roam around, scantily clad, for all the world to see?" the King shouted. Cyrene’s face burned with embarrassment. Xena had had enough of this man. He clearly thought that his noble blood was a sound excuse for his behavior. The Warrior Princess studied the aging King. There wasn’t anything special about him, as far as she could see. He was just like any other old man. He had a thinning cloud of white hair and a beard, along with the booming voice that comes pre-installed in any ruler. He was dressed in robes embroidered with blue, scarlet, and gold. A bejeweled crown sat perched atop his head.
His son, however, was an entirely different matter. Prince Damon was a handsome man who absolutely radiated virility. *It was hard to believe that he was even related to the King,* Xena noted with feminine admiration. Damon had a mass of chestnut hair that fell nearly to his shoulders. His eyes were the color of amber—and they were fixed right on her. She watched absently as his gaze languidly roamed over her body and came to rest brazenly on her breasts. He noticed that she was watching his perusal and gave a small half smile.
*Okay, two can play at this game,* Xena thought. She allowed her gaze to wander over his sprawled form. Her eyes traveled down the slope of his shoulders to his muscular chest and arms, down to the plane of his stomach, and came to rest on…
She raised her eyes to his and cocked an eyebrow. Damon’s smile became broader.
"Well?" King Linnaeus boomed, bringing Damon back to earth. "Speak up, woman? What talents does your daughter have?"
*I’m pretty good at killing people..* Xena thought amusedly.
"Does she embroider?" the King continued. "Does
she play the harp? Cook?! Answer me woman!"
*How dare he…*
Xena stepped forward.
"I can speak for myself," she said coldly. The King grunted.
"I never said you couldn’t, girl. I was asking your mother."
"You’ve badgered her enough for one day."
"Xena," Cyrene whispered fiercely. "Be careful."
"It’s all right, mother," Xena said. Then, addressing the King: "Any questions that concern me, I will answer. Chances are, my mother doesn’t now me as well as you think."
"Nonsense!" the King retorted. " NO one knows a female as well as her mother…it’s common knowledge."
" You’ll find that we’re a different case..and that you don’t know as much as you think."
"How DARE you!" the King fumed. "I am King! You will show me the respect I deserve!"
Xena grinned broadly.
"Oh, you’d be surprised at how much I dare. I’ve never really cared for royalty all that much and from what I can tell, you’re no exception."
"That’s an interesting opinion, considering you’re about to be married into a royal family."
"We’ll see," Xena said calmly. "As for your ‘respect’…" She smirked. "I don’t feel as though you deserve any. You berate my mother, treat me as if I have no intelligence whatsoever, and then expect me to show you respect? What kind of a man are you?"
" You are under my roof.." the King erupted.
"And I didn’t ask to come here!" Xena yelled.
Damon was impressed as the room and his father fell silent. Xena continued, calmer now. "Twice now, your little lackey has disrupted my life. And twice, now, I have told him to get lost but he hasn’t listened to me. I have a path and a destiny to follow, and neither of those lead me to become the ‘Warrior Princess of Nestoria.’" Xena leveled an icy gaze on the King, who cleared his throat.
"Yes my King?"
"Take Xena and her mother to their rooms, have them dressed for dinner, and then bring them to the dining hall."
"Yes, my King."
King Linnaeus entered his son’s bedchamber shortly after dinner as Damon was preparing for bed.
"Son," he began.
"Perhaps I was a little hasty in this whole ‘arranged marriage’ business. You don’t have to marry this..this woman if you don’t wish to."
"No father," Damon breathed.
"She is the most exquisite creature I have ever laid my eyes on. I want to marry her."
"Well, then," King Linnaeus said slowly. "It shall be done. Just make sure she’s willing. I don’t want to force a woman like that into something she’s against—it might not be pretty."
Hercules was walking through the streets of Burbass when he was stopped by a young lad in blue and scarlet livery, who handed him a message, then added:
"The ship waits at your convenience, sir."
"Thank you." Hercules moved aside and broke the seal on the missive. Leaning against a doorway, he read.
"What’s wrong, Hercules?" she asked.
"What? Oh..I..just got word that a friend of mine needs some help. I’m supposed to come right away. It will take less time if I go alone."
"Okay, Herc," Iolaus responded. "We’ll see you back here then?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah," Hercules said distractedly. They finished their good-byes and the angry demigod strode off purposely toward the waiting ship.
Xena lit a candle and set it on the stone windowsill. It had been three days since she sent that messenger after Hercules. He should be here soon, if he decided to come at all. She sighed and leaned her head against the cold window frame. By the gods, she wished she wasn’t in this situation. If only there were some way…
She sighed again and turned away from the window. Well, it wasn’t worth losing sleep over. She’ll think of something in the morning.
Xena awoke to darkness. She glanced at the window and saw that the candle was out. Her body stiffened as she sensed someone was in the room. Silently, she slid out of the bed. Her fingers closed over the hilt of her dagger. The warrior crept toward the intruder, who was standing by the window. She was about to pounce when a hand was clamped over her mouth. She struggled to get away, but the dagger was taken from her hand.
"Easy," a familiar voice whispered. "I wouldn’t want you to cut off something you might need later." Xena relaxed visibly as the teasing voice continued. "If I take my hand away, will you promise not to yell or hurt me in any way, shape, or form?" Xena playfully, but gently elbowed her friend in the stomach.
"Very funny, Hercules," she said and started to turn toward him, but her halted her movements by snaking his arm around her waist.
"You’ve got some explaining to do," he said and kissed her bare shoulder.
"Do I?" She freed herself from his embrace. Soon, warrior and demigod faced one another.
"You can start," Hercules said. "By explaining this ‘marriage’ thing you didn’t want me to tell anyone about." Xena sighed and ducked her head. "Xena," Hercules whispered and tilted her chin so their eyes met. "Please?" Xena sighed again.
"All right," she agreed. "I’ll tell you. But I’m warning you, you won’t like it." She moved away from him and lit some candles. Hercules watched her intently. He noticed Xena wasn’t wearing her usual garb. Instead, she wore a thin gown of light blue silk. It reached mid thigh with a low, straight neckline held up by two straps about as wide as a bootlace. *Gods, she was beautiful!*
The object of his thoughts turned to face him and nervously ran her fingers through her hair.
"You might want to sit down," she said. Hercules seated himself in the wooden chair at the writing table while Xena perched on the end of the bed. "My father," she began. "Owed King Linnaeus a great debt. A debt that my father couldn’t pay. Linnaeus was going to kill him, but my father convinced him that there was another way. He offered to betroth me, his unborn child, to Linnaeus’ seven year old son. I was born and the agreement was official. When my father died, my mother wanted to break the engagement, but she couldn’t pay my father’s debts.
"Back when I was still a warlord, building a new army, Phillimont found me. It was my coming-of-age and it was time for me to marry Prince Damon. Only I didn’t know about it and wasn’t supposed to know about it. Phillimont told me that there was some trouble up north and I was to come right away. I was evil then and didn’t care about anything but myself. I told Phillimont to wait. I never came back." Xena glanced down at her hands. "Then, five days ago, Phillimont came back. I just wanted him off my back…and I was a little curious. After all, this guy just spent about ten years of his life looking for me, I figured I should see what he wanted."
Hercules crossed the room and pulled the Warrior Princess into a standing position. He slid his hands around her waist and rested his forehead against hers.
"I know how difficult this is for you," he said. "Don’t worry. We’ll find a way out of this."
"Yeah..we." Hercules gazed deeply into her eyes. He slowly lifted his hand to smooth a lock of hair away from her face.
*He’s going to kiss me.* Xena thought in alarm. Moaning slightly, she moved out of the demigod’s embrace.
"So," she said. "What do we do? How do I get out of this?"
"I don’t know," Hercules answered. "But what I do know is that you should get some sleep. We’ll think of something in the morning." Xena nodded and slid under the covers. Hercules extinguished the candles and went to the window. He was preparing to descend when he was stopped by Xena’s voice.
"Hercules?" she said plaintively. He turned and saw that she was sitting upright in bed, clutching the counterpane to her chest like a lifeline. She stretched out her arm to him. "Stay with me," she whispered. Hercules knew he shouldn’t give in to her plea, that he should turn around and climb out the window. Inside, he knew if he stayed, he wouldn’t be able to resist her. He knew he should leave…but something in her eyes made him pause. Slowly, he turned his back to the window and approached the bed, cursing himself with every step; asking himself why he was staying—knowing the entire time the reason why—it was the pleading in her eyes. He reached the side of the bed and stopped, unsure of what to do next. Xena raised herself to her knees and took his hand. Pulling gently, her eyes locked with his, she drew him onto the bed. Hercules asked himself for the millionth time why he didn’t just pull away, but Xena’s allure was more bewitching than a siren’s song. The demigod found himself reclining on the feather mattress with Xena lying beside him, propped up on her elbow. One hand idly stroked his chest.
"Thank you," she said.
"For staying with me. Especially now when I need you the most." She lowered her head to kiss the demigod on the cheek. But Hercules wasn’t about to let her waste her kiss on a mere cheek. Blindly, he turned his head and his lips met hers. The kiss was soft; a brief touching of lips, but it was enough to kindle the growing passion between them. Taking her face in his hands, Hercules stared deeply into Xena’s eyes and kissed her again. Not stopping at a brief brushing of lips, he took the kiss deeper, molding Xena’s body to his own.
*Slow down..take it easy* he warned himself. Gently he pulled away and looked into her eyes, hiding nothing, showing her the potency of his desire for her. Taking a deep breath, Hercules slid his hand through her ebony tresses to stroke her cheek.
"I’m not going to lie to you, Xena," he said. "I want you." Xena smiled. He didn’t need to tell her that. The proof of that statement was pressing hard against her thigh. "I want you more than I’ve wanted any woman." He paused, unsure of how to phrase what was next. "I…uh..gods! You’re so beautiful!" He closed his eyes and released a shaky breath. "I’m trying to say…" Xena silenced him with a kiss.
"Hercules," she said.
"Whatever you say." Her head dipped lower and her mouth took possession of his. He felt and tasted every bit as delicious as she had anticipated. No man had ever made her feel this complete. Not Borias, Marcus, Ulysses, or even Rafe. She wanted more. Her arm curved around his shoulders and up his neck to firmly grasp his head. Twining her fingers in his hair, she slanted her mouth over his, their lips sliding in joyful union. While her lips wreaked havoc on his senses, her hands drove him to the edge of his endurance. Her palms ran down his biceps and her fingers danced across his rib cage. As her hands roamed lower, Xena strained against the demigod, wanting to feel every inch of him. He obliged her silent plea. Holding her close, he rolled over so that their roles were reversed and the Warrior Princess was now underneath of him. Then, he claimed her mouth again.
Xena could sense his fight for restraint, feel the ripple that shuddered through him as he struggled to hold back. The instant her lips parted, the struggle ended. With a harsh groan, he ravaged her mouth, his tongue surging inward. It wasn’t enough. She wrapped herself around him and matched him kiss for kiss, giving as good as she got. She moaned, the sound ending in a ragged gasp as his lips moved down the column of her throat. It was that quiet exhalation that brought Hercules back to his senses. Taking one last sip from her lips, he reluctantly dragged his mouth from hers. Breathing heavily, Hercules stared down at the Warrior Princess.
"I had to stop us from going to far," he whispered huskily. Xena’s hand reached up to smooth the hair from his brow. "I couldn’t let you go through with—" His final words ended in a groan, for Xena had leaned upward to kiss him. "Xena…" he hissed in warning as her lips moved to tease and nibble his neck. He buried his face in the slope of her neck and sighed. Hercules softly kissed her collarbone and raised his face to meet Xena’s questioning eyes. "We can’t do this," he said. "You know that as well as I. We’re not casual people."
"I understand," she said. She smiled saucily. "If I promise not to seduce you, will you stay?" Hercules looked reluctant. Earnestly, Xena begged him. "Please, Hercules. I won’t be able to bear it if you’re not here when I wake up."
"All right," he relented. "I’ll stay." Relief crossed the Warrior Princess’ features. She settled into the crook of the demigod’s arm and was soon fast asleep.
Hercules lay awake, wondering again at why he was still in her bed. She had drugged him with her kisses and drowned him in her eyes and even now, laying still in his arms, the feel of her body threatened to make him toss aside his sanity and make love to her as he wanted to. And yet…he wouldn’t give up this exquisite torture for anything in the world. He sighed contentedly.
*By the gods…this is hell.*
Sunlight streamed in through the windows the next morning. Xena still lay nestled in Hercules’ arms. A knock sounded at the door, waking them both.
Xena sat bolt upright in the bed, her eyes wide. Hercules looked at her questioningly and was about to speak, but Xena quickly placed a finger over his lips and shook her head. The knocking sounded again.
"Xena? Are you awake?"
Xena bounded from the bed and over to a large armoire positioned on the East wall. She threw open the doors and motioned for Hercules to enter. He did and Xena closed the doors. The quiet murmur of voices and the jingling of keys outside in the hall hurried her along as she locked the doors of the armoire. A key scraped in the lock on her chamber door and Xena expertly flipped through the air and landed soundlessly on the floor beside the bed just as the chamber door flew open. Prince Damon, followed by her mother, and two members of the royal guard rushed in frantically to find Xena standing halfway between the door and her bed, looking very annoyed at the intrusion.
"What’s going on?" she asked. Prince Damon crossed to her side and took up her hand, kissing it fervently.
"Are you all right?" he asked worriedly.
"I’m fine," she replied, jerking her hand out of his grasp. "Just a little confused. Why are you all worried about me?"
"The guards saw someone sneaking around the outside of the palace last night," Cyrene explained. "They gave chase and the intruder started climbing the palace walls. We were afraid he might have climbed in your window. When you didn’t answer.." the small woman’s eyes filled with tears.
"Mother," Xena soothed. She enveloped Cyrene in a hug. "I’m fine, really. I heard you knock the first time. I didn’t answer because I didn’t feel like shouting through the door. I was getting ready to open it when the guards opened it for me."
"May we search your room?" Damon asked. "I want to make sure the culprit isn’t hiding in here." He gestured for the guards to search and they moved forward. Xena barred their path.
"I don’t think that’s necessary," she said.
"Still, I’d rather be safe than sorry," Damon objected and once again motioned for the guards to give search.
"I said I don’t think that’s necessary," Xena returned, her voice edged with steel. The guards stopped, sensing instinctively from the stance of her body that she was not a woman to be trifled with. "I’m a very light sleeper," the Warrior Princess continued. I saw no unwelcome intruders last night. Rest assured, if I had, they’d either be tied up or dead."
"You seem confident of that," Damon stated.
"I’m confident in my skills."
"How can you be sure no one came?"
"If someone was in my room last night with the intent of harming someone, wouldn’t they have made their move by now?" Xena smiled ferally. "I was up half the night, Your majesty," she said. " I very rarely sleep, and when I do, it’s not soundly." She looked at him pointedly. "Are you and your guards going to leave so I can get dressed, or are we going to make a party out of it?"
Damon flushed slightly, bowed and backed out of the room with the royal guard in tow. Once they had left, Cyrene turned to her daughter.
"Xena, I need to talk to you," she said.
"About what? Is something the matter?"
"We’ll talk about it later. After breakfast." She bestowed a kiss upon her daughter’s brow, turned and left, shutting the door behind her. Xena stood still for a moment, wondering what her mother had to tell her. Her eyes widened suddenly. Hercules! She’d forgotten all about him. Xena practically flew to the armoire. Fumbling with the key, she finally got it in the lock and turned it. The doors swung outward, revealing the demigod leaning nonchalantly against the frame.
"Nice of you to remember me," he quipped. Xena started to apologize, but Hercules laughed and quickly drew her into his arms. "So that was the Prince Damon," he said. "You lied to him. I thought you never lied."
"I didn’t lie to him," she corrected. "I said no unwelcome intruders came into my chambers last night. As I recall, I welcomed you rather well." She leaned forward and brushed a kiss on his smiling lips. He pressed closer, returning the kiss tenfold.
"So you did," he murmured and kissed her again. "You’d better get ready for breakfast," he said once he released her. "Or else they might come looking for you again."
"Oh, we wouldn’t want that," Xena laughed. "How are you going to get out of here?" she asked. "Guards are swarming all over the place."
"I came up with an idea while I was cooling my heels in the armoire," Hercules replied. "I’ll be fine." He kissed her and climbed out the window.
The man furiously paced the small confines of his chambers.
*Damn condescending youth!* he thought angrily. Soon he’d show that pompous Prince just who was fit to wear the crown. Then he’d take care of the King. Killing off the old man would be so easy..
*It’s almost insulting to my capabilities* *Soon…* he promised himself. * I only have to deal with the King for a short time more..then, I’ll be King!!*
After breakfast, Xena found her mother strolling in the garden. Hearing her approach, Cyrene turned and smiled in welcome.
"Xena," she acknowledged.
"What did you want to speak to me about?" Xena asked. Cyrene sighed.
"I talked to King Linnaeus," she said. "I asked him to free you of this engagement. He refused. Apparently, Prince Damon is very desirous of the match."
"Hmm. I know that," Xena scoffed. "I’ve seen the way he looks at me. It’s degrading."
"They’re treating me like some prize to be won. Like..like chattel!"
"Xena…have you ever thought about marrying Prince Damon?"
"No Xena, I’m serious. He’s obviously in love with you.."
"In lust with me."
"…He wants to marry you."
"What then, mother? What happens when he tires of me? When he finds another pretty face, someone else that he wants, he’ll toss me aside like garbage."
"I don’t love him, mother."
"You’re in love with someone else." Cyrene said. It wasn’t a question. Xena bit her lip and turned slightly away. "Little One.."
"Yes," Xena whispered painfully. "I’m in love with someone else."
"That explains your reluctance then."
"It doesn’t explain all of it. It doesn’t matter, anyway. It’s impossible."
"It..just…wouldn’t work." Cyrene raised both eyebrows at her daughter. "I don’t deserve him." Cyrene moved forward and embraced Xena. Phillimont came into the gardens.
"Cyrene," he began. "The King begs a word with you." Cyrene squeezed her daughter’s hand in reassurance.
"Don’t worry, Little One," she whispered. "It will all turn out." Chatting pleasantly with Phillimont, Cyrene disappeared around the bend, leaving Xena alone in the garden.
Damon paced nervously around the fountain with Xena on his mind. Zeus! What was wrong with him? How can a mere woman plague him so? By the gods, the thought he’d die when he saw her in her room this morning. And when she pranced around in that little nightdress…Damon groaned and thrust a hand through his hair. He had enough problems on his mind without his beautiful bride-to-be distracting him. Guards were swarming through every inch of the palace, food tasters and wine tasters were at every meal, sampling every dish before it was placed before him. Early wedding guests were being frisked for hidden weapons, and any and every weapon in the palace was under lock and key. All because of him. With two attempts on his life already, and his wedding day looming nearer, his father wasn’t taking any chances.
His wedding day. Damon’s body tightened in anticipation of his wedding night. She would be wonderful, he just knew it. The Prince didn’t just want a partner in bed, like his mother was to his father. They’d hated each other with a passion—and their marriage hadn’t been an arranged one. Damon wanted to know his bride before they wed. Wanted to know her likes and dislikes, her past, her hopes for the future, everything…
Almost as if he’d conjured her from his mind, Xena appeared, coming down the garden path. Damon grinned broadly. *Great! This is just great!*
*Great. This is just great,* Xena thought grimly as she noticed Damon striding toward her, grinning. She smiled in return. *Damn! He’s the last person I wanted to see.*
Damon extended his hand in greeting. Xena clasped his forearm as warriors do—as she had always done. Damon seemed surprised at her action, still, he humored her.
"What brings you out here?" he asked.
"Not much. Just a turn about the gardens." An awkward silence followed. Damon cleared his throat.
"Well," he said. "Shall we press on?"
"Whatever you want," Xena replied. Silence. Damon was about to speak, but Xena’s raised hand stopped him. She cocked her head to one side, listening. Then she heard it: the high-pitched whistling of a flying arrow—speeding toward Damon’s unprotected head. The Warrior Princess’ hand whipped out and caught the projectile just inches before it hit its mark. Almost immediately, a volley of arrows flew over the garden walls. The Prince and Warrior Princess dove for shelter in a nearby storage shed and waited for the ambush to halt. When they were certain it was safe, the couple emerged, unscathed.
"What was that about?" Xena wondered aloud.
"Number three," Damon replied.
"That’s the third attempt on my life this month," he explained.
"Who would want to kill you?"
"I don’t know. It doesn’t make any sense. Why kill me? If they want the crown, why don’t they kill my father?"
"You’re his heir," Xena stated.
"Yeah, so what?"
"It’s really quite simple. You kill the king’s son to gain the crown. You’re King Linnaeus’ only child. He’s too old to have more children. And once you’re dead…"
"It would be easy to take the crown," Damon finished. "They could make my father appear ill from grief and then kill him."
"Yes. Poison could do that. Don’t you see? With you out of the way, whoever’s behind this will be free to go for the king and take the kingdom."
"And just when did you figure all this out?" Damon laughed.
"Just now," Xena said simply. "It wasn’t all that difficult to piece together." *Especially since I’ve tried it once or twice before,* she thought. Damon gave her a small half smile.
"You’re amazing," he murmured. Then, without warning, he bent his head and kissed her soundly. At first, Xena was too stunned to do anything. Once she regained her senses, she was quick to free herself from the unwanted embrace. Turning on her heel, the indignant warrior fled from the gardens, leaving a thwarted Prince Damon behind.
Xena walked down the hall, clutching a missive in her hand after the embarrassing scene in the garden. Once she had entered the palace, she’d bumped into King Linnaeus who was on her way to have a message delivered to Hercules. Quickly deriving a plan, Xena had given him a sweet smile and volunteered to have it delivered herself. After all, a King shouldn’t have to bother himself with such petty things. Xena smirked. The King had been pleased at her turnabout then, patting her on head, he headed back toward the throne room.
Xena opened the door to her room and entered. She hadn’t taken but two steps when she stopped cold. Hercules was lounging on the bed, his form stretched out from head to foot.
"Very," he said without looking up. Xena tossed the scroll onto his stomach and sat on the bed beside him.
"You’ve been sent for," she said.
"Oh really?" Xena frowned as she looked at Hercules’ normally pleasant features which were now hard and grim.
"What’s wrong?" she asked, smoothing a lock of hair from his brow. His hand shot out and grasped her wrist. A firm jerk sent her sprawling atop his chest. Strong arms circled her waist and held her close.
"Enjoy your walk?" he asked coldly. Xena stared at the demigod blankly. *Okay. No more beating around the bush.* "I saw him kiss you," he said flatly.
"Is that what you’re miffed about?" Xena scoffed. "It was nothing. We were talking and he kissed me and I pushed him away." Hercules rolled over, taking Xena with him. He pinned her to the bed with his chest.
"I think I nearly went mad when I saw him kiss you," he whispered gruffly. " I wanted—still want—to go down there and kill him."
Xena chuckled and ran her hands up the hard planes of his chest to encircle his neck.
"Tell me why you’re about to go rushing off like an ape man?" she laughed. He kissed her then, swallowing her laughter and drinking in her very soul. He slipped his tongue between her lips and ravaged her mouth, fiercely plundering its soft depths. He broke away quickly and buried his face in the slope of her neck.
"You’re mine, Xena," he growled in her ear. "No one is going to take you away from me again." Hercules kissed her again—long and deep.
*Damn archers!* the small man thought angrily.
Fifteen of them—armed to the teeth with crossbows and two quivers
of arrows each—and still not a single arrow hit its mark. "The time
will come soon enough," he muttered. "Prince Damon’s lusting after his
bride. He’s distracted. He’ll get careless and I’ll get my crown." The
wicked man smiled gleefully. "Soon. Very soon…"
Xena made her way to the throne room, wondering if this plan was going to be pulled off without a hitch. She and Hercules had stayed up late the night before, conspiring and plotting. They’d come up with a plan that wasn’t guaranteed to work, but chances are that it would. Early that morning, she’d dispatched a message to Gabrielle and Iolaus, filling them in on the series of events, and urging them to come immediately.
"Ah. Here she is," King Linnaeus said as she entered the throne room. "Come here, girl. I’d like you to meet someone." Xena obediently crossed to the King’s side, positioning herself next to a handily placed –and extremely armed—royal guard. Damon went to stand beside her.
"Xena," the Prince said, gesturing to a figure entering from the West door. "This is—" He wasn’t allowed to finish. Xena’s arm whipped to the right and she drew a sword from the royal guard’s sheath. Her beautiful face contorted in anger, Xena coolly leveled the sword at Hercules’ neck, locking her lithe frame in a battle stance. Hercules started and quickly readied himself for the attack that was now eminent.
"Xena," he acknowledged her coldly.
"Hercules," the Destroyer of Nations purred. "I’d
hoped never to see you again."
"Same here." The two circled each other warily, both waiting for the other to strike.
"What in Hades is going on here?!" Linnaeus bellowed.
"Yes, Xena," her mother chimed in. "What is this about?"
"Just a little past disagreement, Mother," Xena replied smoothly. "Nothing for you to be concerned about."
" A little disagreement?!" Hercules burst out in disbelief. "You tried to kill me!"
"Yes, but obviously I didn’t try hard enough. If I had meant it, you’d be dead now."
"You doubt me?"
Xena brought the sword close enough to graze the side of the demigod’s neck.
"Do you really want to see If I’m telling the truth?" she drawled. "I thought bastard sons of Zeus always took someone’s word for it."
"And I didn’t realize murderers cared whether anyone believed them or not," Hercules broke in smoothly. Eyes blazing, the Destroyer raised her sword to strike, but Damon rushed in to pull her back.
"That was cheap, Hercules," she said flatly. "I
always thought cheap shots like that were beneath you."
"Yeah. Well, obviously you bring out the worst in me, Xena." Turning to King Linnaeus, he continued: "I’m sorry about that, your majesty. Perhaps in the future, we can at least attempt to be civil toward each other?" he questioned. Shooting a glance at Xena. She nodded curtly and the demigod smiled slightly. "I’ve already sent for a friend of mine, your majesty," Hercules said. "He’s very competent in cases such as these. We’ll find out whose trying to kill your son."
"Good. Good," the King said gruffly. "He should arrive in a few days then?" Hercules nodded. "Splendid. Now that that’s settled—" he looked sharply at the demigod and the Warrior Princess. "I trust there will be no more outbursts between the two of you?" When neither of them said a word, he sighed and waved everyone away. "You’re all free to go," he said wearily. "I suddenly have a headache."
Two days later, a small group stood on the shoreline watching a boat docking. Hercules’ friend Iolaus was due to come in on that boat and Linnaeus, Damon, Cyrene and Hercules, along with a reluctant Xena had turned out to welcome him.
Hercules smiled as a short blond man cheerfully made his way down the gangplank. His face turned cold once he spotted Xena. He quickly made his way to Hercules’ side.
"What in Hades is she doing here?" he hissed. Hercules chuckled.
"Iolaus, I’d like for you to meet Prince Damon’s bride-to-be."
Iolaus nodded to the Prince.
"My condolences," he said. "Let me guess: an arranged marriage?" Damon gave the affirmative. Iolaus grinned broadly. "Figures. It’s the only way anyone will marry that cold-hearted—" Hercules cleared his throat. "Let me give you some advice, your majesty," Iolaus continued. "Never trust this woman. She’ll rip your heart out and throw it to the wolves. Don’t turn your back on her either. She’ll betray you in an instant."
"Still bitter, Iolaus?" the subject of the conversation mused.
"What was your first clue?" He shook his head. "Herc should’ve killed you when he had the chance."
"And I should’ve killed you both when I had mine."
"Xena!" A cheerful voice broke in then, putting a stop to the conversation. A pretty young woman with short blond hair raced down the gangplank. She threw her arms around the Warrior Princess in a brief hug and then stepped backward to examine her friend’s attire. "The Warrior Princess in a dress?!" she exclaimed. "I’ve been trying to get her to dress like a girl for years," she said to the others. "I’m just sorry it took her wedding to do it." She turned back to Xena. "Why didn’t you tell me that you were betrothed?" she accused.
"Because I didn’t know," Xena countered. "Gabrielle, this is King Linnaeus and Prince Damon; their advisor, Phillimont; and of course you remember Mother." Gabrielle smiled at each one in turn and spotted Iolaus. She beamed brightly at the man.
"Iolaus! Oh, and this must be Hercules. Iolaus told me all about you."
"Gabrielle," Iolaus gasped. "Xena’ s the ‘friend’ you were telling me about on the ship?"
"Yeah. You know Xena? Are you friends of hers?" Everyone, remembering Xena’s reception of Hercules and Iolaus, merely gaped at the bard in disbelief. "What?" she asked in confusion. "What did I say?"
In the darkness of the gardens, two men stood waiting.
"Where is he?" one of them grumbled impatiently. "This place is crawlin’ with guards. It’s makin’ me nervous."
"Quit yer whinin’!" the other one commanded. A faint rustling was heard behind them. "Shhhhh!" A small, finely dressed man emerged from the brush.
"Is all in readiness?" the new arrival questioned.
"Yes sir," the first man replied.
"There will be no more mishaps?"
"No sir," the second replied.
"Good. I want no mistakes this time. The last attempt with the archers was an abominable failure. They paid for their folly. You’d do well to keep that in mind."
"Yessir." The small man turned to leave. "Sir?"
"What?" the man replied sharply.
"About our blunt.."
"Your what?!" The first speaker cowered at the small man’s tone. He may have been small, but he was dangerous.
"The money sir. What you owe us," the second chimed in.
"You’ll get it when the job is done. I’ll not pay for mistakes. If you do well, there is a chance that what you were promised will double."
Two pairs of greedy eyes lit up.
The following morning, Damon, along with Hercules and Iolaus, were walking through the gardens.
"How many attempts on your life so far?" Hercules asked.
"Two..no, three this month," Damon replied. "The first was on my way home from my uncle’s in Crete. I was pushed overboard by someone in a mask. The second was a stabbing in the marketplace. The third was just a couple of days ago—arrows."
"Well, they are certainly getting more creative," Hercules muttered.
"Do you have any enemies?" Iolaus asked.
"Not that I know of," Damon replied, then chuckled humorlessly. "The villagers are beginning to call me ‘The Accursed’ but I don’t think that counts."
"Is there anything that the attempts have in common?" Hercules asked, desperate for something to go on.
"Not that I can think of. On the boat, Phillimont had just walked me to my rooms. He went to his, but I was restless, so I went for a walk on deck. Then someone pushed me over. In the market, Phillimont was beside me before I was stabbed."
"Could it be Phillimont then?" Iolaus asked.
"No," Damon said with a frown. "In the market, I was stabbed by someone running toward me on my left side. Phillimont was on my right. And he wasn’t in the gardens." Damon’s eyes widened. "Wait! I do remember something else. When I was pushed overboard, I managed to grab onto the railing. My attacker tried to pry my hands away from the railing before he ran. I saw a flash of light before I was pushed. He wore a ring; a large amber stone in a gold filigreed setting. Before I was attacked in the market I saw the flash and also in the gardens with the arrows." Just then, Damon saw a flash out of the corner of his eye. All at once, they were ambushed. Twelve men leapt out of nowhere and surrounded the group. Then they attacked. The three men were so engrossed in the fighting that they never even noticed the two women who joined them. Gabrielle swung her staff into the midsection of one of the attackers and then brought it down upon his back as he doubled over, sending the man sprawling to the ground. Looking up, she saw another creep up behind Damon and was about to scream a warning when Xena’s chakram ended any need for one. Soon all of the attackers fled (excepting the ones who were unconscious, of course) but Xena would have none of it. Executing a series of perfect flips, and her famous warcry, the agile Warrior Princess landed lightly in front of one of the escaping attackers. Bringing her head forward, she slammed it into the man’s forehead. Then, with a sharp kick, brought the man to his knees. With two fingers, she jabbed the man in a few choice places on his neck and began questioning him.
"I’ve just cut off the flow of blood to your brain," she said. "You’ll be dead in thirty seconds unless you start talking. Who sent you?" The man gurgled but didn’t say a word. "I’m not a patient woman," Xena continued. "And I have no qualms about letting you die. I could care less about your life. Now, tell me. Who sent you?"
"Phaeton," the man rasped. "Phaeton and Ramon."
"Who are they?" Xena demanded.
"Mercenaries….someone… hired them."
"Who hired them?"
The man’s eyes rolled back into his head.
"Who hired them?"
Blood began to trickle from his nose.
"Who hired them?"
"I don’t know! I don’t know! By the gods, just undo whatever it is you did to me!" Xena complied, releasing the pressure points before giving the man a sharp blow to the head, rendering him unconscious.
"He was telling the truth," Xena said to the others who had joined her during the scene.
"Is he dead?" Gabrielle asked.
"No, but he’s gonna have one hell of a headache
when he wakes up."
"You were incredible!" Damon said in awe. He grabbed one of her hands and kissed it reverently.
"Uh..thanks," Xena muttered as she tried to free her hand, but Damon refused to relinquish it. He softly kissed her on the mouth before releasing her. Gabrielle attempted to hide a giggle behind her hand while Iolaus tried not to smile, both were failing miserably. Xena shot what Gabrielle had dubbed ‘The Look’. None of them caught the murderous glint in Hercules’ eyes as the demigod noticed that Damon had once again caught ahold of the Warrior Princess’ hand.
"Did you see the flash again?" he asked brusquely.
"Yes I did."
Xena and Gabrielle looked confused, so the information about the ring was shared with them both.
"I’ve seen a ring like that before," Xena said. "I can’t remember where. Amber isn’t a very common choice of stone." Her brow furrowed in thought. "You say there was a flash of light before you were attacked each time?" Damon nodded. "I’ll have to keep that in mind," she murmured pensively.
The man paced his room angrily, his robes swirling about his slight, but strong frame. Phaeton and Ramon had failed him. And just like the archers, they paid the price.
"If you want something done right, you must do it yourself," the man quoted the old adage thoughtfully. Yes. He would take care of the Prince soon. That bastard son of Zeus an his little friend would be distracted and of no use to anyone. *anyone but him.* the man’s feral grin gleamed in the lamplight. Yes. And maybe he’d take that warrior woman as well as the crown. *She fights beautifully. Xena…* "I like my women tall, anyway," he muttered. What an exciting prospect this was turning out to be.
Hercules was in her room when she entered it. A very angry Hercules who was pacing the length of it furiously.
"Stop that," Xena commanded gently. "You’re making
me nervous." Hercules turned to her, his eyes shooting blue sparks.
"He kissed you," he said. "He had the audacity to kiss you in front of us!!"
"It’s perfectly natural. Her thinks we’re engaged, after all."
"You’ve certainly done nothing to set him straight."
"But I have," she admonished. "He’s too stubborn to listen." She chuckled. "Almost as stubborn as you." Hercules stopped his pacing and came to stand in front of Xena. His hands grasped her shoulders. Hercules’ blue eyes peered anxiously into Xena’s deeper blue ones.
"You’re..not…falling in love with him, are you, Xena?" He looked so hopelessly miserable that Xena found it hard not to laugh. Hercules grew more and more distressed until he noticed the strange gleam in Xena’s eyes. She abruptly brought her hands up and gave his chest a hard push, toppling him onto the bed. With a small smile curving her mouth, she climbed onto the bed and atop the sprawled demigod, straddling his hips. She pressed her lips to his, consuming his mouth in a fierce kiss, showing him precisely who she was in love with.
"How are you going to get out of this marriage?" Hercules whispered against her lips. Xena said nothing, continuing to kiss his mouth, then moving down to tease his jawline and neck.
"I just thought I’d tell them the truth," she replied, moving aside the folds of his shirt to press a kiss to his chest.
Xena looked up at Hercules with apprehensive eyes.
"What about us?" she asked a little breathlessly. Hercules sighed and began to rise. Xena’s arm grasped his.
"No," she said. "What were you going to say?" Hercules looked deep into her miraculous blue eyes and debated inwardly. He slid his hand into her hair and cupping the back of her head, kissed her briefly and strode toward the door.
"I can’t tell you now," he said resolutely. "It’s not the right time yet." With that, he left.
The morning of the wedding dawned.
Cyrene rapped loudly on the bard’s door. Gabrielle groaned in response. Without warning, the door banged open and Cyrene flew across the room to shake the sleepy bard awake.
"Gabrielle! Wake up!"
"Five more minutes," the bard mumbled.
"Gabrielle," Cyrene said impatiently. "Xena isn’t out of bed yet."
Gabrielle’s eyes flew open and she sat bolt upright.
"What?" she squawked, knowing from experience that the warrior typically got up at the crack of dawn. The now wide-awake bard scrambled out of bed and down the hall to Xena’s chambers. She briefly pounded on the door before pushing it open. Xena sat on the bed, wrapped in a coverlet with her head resting on her bent knees.
"Xena?" Gabrielle said, seeing the dazed expression on her friend’s face. "Are you okay?" Xena’s head swiveled to look at the bard. Her features now had a determined look about them. Then she spoke.
"There is no way in Hades that I’m getting married today."
The palace was swarming with guests—both relatives and not—each person excessively pleased with Damon’s ‘choice’ of bride. Soon, all the faces had begun to look alike. Her head reeling, Xena sought refuge in the gardens. She wasn’t the only one.
"Xena…what are you doing out here?"
"Just getting some fresh air. Your family is nice enough, but they’re starting to get to me."
"Me too," Damon said. Finding common ground, the two smiled at each other.
"Actually, Xena," Damon said. "I wanted to talk with you."
"Xena…do you think you’d be happy..married to me?"
Xena saw her window of opportunity open and she seized the chance to set Damon straight.
"Damon," she began. "You are a very kind and charming man.."
"Ah. Here it comes," Damon muttered, thrusting a hand through his hair.
"…you’d make anyone a wonderful husband. But not me. I’m a warrior. A much different lifestyle than that of a princess. Maybe if I had heeded Phillimont’s summon ten years ago, it would have worked. But it’s too late." She smiled at the Prince. "I still have a lot of work to do to make up for all the crimes I’ve committed. You’ve lived so secluded from the mainland that you know nothing of my past. You need someone who wouldn’t end up hating you for forcing them into marriage." Damon’s eyes turned bleak and his face drained of all emotion.
"You’re in love with someone else," he said abruptly.
"You’re in love with someone else," he repeated and smiled sadly. "Don’t even think about denying it. I can see the truth in your eyes."
Xena gave a little half smile.
"So I am," she confirmed. "We can at least still be friends, can’t we?"
"Good. Now for the sake of argument, we need to keep this little charade going. Here’s what we’re going to do…"
The royal party and assorted guests assembled around the table in the dining hall for the afternoon meal. The King sat at the head of the table, with Xena to his right and Damon to his left. He had made the unfortunate mistake of seating Hercules next to Xena and the two glared at each other all through the first course. Phillimont was seated next to Damon with Gabrielle next to him and Iolaus beside her. At the end of the meal, wine was passed around. As the Prince’s cup passed from Phillimont to the Prince, Xena saw a flash of light. On the royal advisor’s hand was a large amber stone set in a gold filigreed setting. She knew instantly that poison had been slipped into the cup. The Warrior Princess’ hand closed around her chakram which was secured under her skirts.
"A toast then!" King Linnaeus cried joyfully as he stood. "A toast to my son and his bride!" Xena saw an evil grin spread across Phillimont’s face as the Prince raised his goblet to drink. Xena whipped out her chakram and let it fly—knocking the offending chalice and its contents to the floor. Xena caught the circlet of metal as it came back to her and stood. Phillimont rose as well and seized a long dagger from his belt. He grabbed the Price by the hair and dragged him to his feet, holding the dagger to his neck.
"Come any closer and he buys it!" the evil little man called.
"Oh, please," Damon groaned as he slammed his elbow into Phillimont’s stomach. The Prince spun away from his attacker easily. Phillimont’s ring flashed again and a small group of guards detached themselves from various places around the room and pounced on Damon. Hercules, Iolaus, and Gabrielle rose to join Xena and fight off the traitorous guards. Phillimont edged toward the exit as chaos resumed. Spotting the conspirator’s hasty retreat, Xena trilled her warcry and flipped over the mass of fighting bodies and landed behind the fleeing man. Grabbing Phillimont’s collar, the Warrior Princess spun the man around and planted a solid facer to his jaw. The traitor slumped to the ground, unconscious. It was soon over. Phillimont and his men were locked securely in jail, their plan to take the crown thwarted.
Damon and King Linnaeus stood on the docks bidding farewell to their new friends.
"I can’t thank you enough," Linnaeus said. "Without you, that rat would have killed both me and my son."
As the good-byes continued, Damon crossed to Hercules and shook his hand.
"Hercules," he said and then lowered his voice to a conspiratal whisper. "You’d better take care of her. If you hurt her, you’ll have to deal with me." Hercules’ eyebrows raised in shock.
The ship pulled away from shore, sailing off into the sunset with the heroes as all ships must at the end of stories. It carried its passengers off into their future. A future which was still unknown.
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