"The Saving of Gabrielle"
His mind reeled. Fear. Desperation. Determination. The need to keep her safe. It was all there.
He propelled the stunned girl forward into the dark-musty barn, just after himself. "Shhh." he demanded, placing fingers on her lips as she was about to speak. With purpose, he pushed her into a darkened corner, ignoring her mute protests, and watched through a small opening to the outside as the six soldiers passed them at a run. Xena's guards. He still couldn't quite get over it. "It won't take long for them to return." Iolaus spoke in a hushed tone. He turned his head to look at her.
Gabrielle. He couldn't get over her either. The tousled red-blond hair, the peasant clothes and the appealing yet heavily painted face ... In this alternate reality she seemed so different, yet the same. Gabrielle was still a fighter, a young woman who felt the urge to battle evil.
"You saved me. Why?" she asked, a slight twinge of suspicion in her probing voice.
*Because I couldn't do otherwise*, he thought.
Iolaus had gone to the past to save his best friend's life but, unable to do that, he followed the evil goddess Callisto, Alcemne's murderess, through a time portal.
Eventually to end here, in this alternate present. A world where Xena was an evil warrior queen, someone the true Warrior Princess would have done battle with in his own reality. Yet, this woman - having had no Hercules to guide her in the right direction - didn't think twice about execution or, in Gabrielle's case, crucifixion.
**Break her legs**. The command still echoed in Iolaus ears.
His first instinct was to run forward and stop it. He held back for an instant. If he could just get to Ares, talk with the God of War, have him send the willing hunter back to the past again ... If he could just try once more to rescue Alcmene ... then Iolaus could change all of this. This madness - where Greece was ruled by a lone ruthless sovereign - would never happen. But what if he couldn't get to Ares? What if this WAS it and there could be no second chance? While pondering these frantic thoughts, Iolaus watched the soldiers drag the beaten girl to the cross and witnessed "The Enforcer of Justice" as he lift his heavy mallet -- Gods help him. It was probably a mistake but Iolaus couldn't just stand and watch.
He sprang forward and struck out, hitting the executioner once in the face - hard - stunning the watching assembly. He wasn't really certain what happened after that. The hunter-warrior punched out at others who came forward to subdue him and Iolaus recalled hearing a woman's voice:
"GET HIM!" she screamed. It could be none other than Xena herself.
Then he was pulling the astonished but grateful girl to him and they ran. How they got out of the executioners courtyard he didn't know. But Iolaus remembered feeling apprehensive. Wretched even -- and frenzied. Hoping and praying they were going in the right direction.
Then this barn, a stable really, unexpectedly appeared in front of them and he thankfully took what was offered.
Perhaps Zeus was watching over them after all.
She was still waiting for an answer to her question.
"You were in trouble." Iolaus said a bit too simply. He looked again outside to see if they were still safe.
Gabrielle folded her arms and rested most of her weight on her left leg. "Do you do this often? Interrupting imperial death sentences?" She asked and there was a hard untrusting edge to her voice.
Distracted, the hunter said, "All of the time." He then looked at Gabrielle again when silence greeted his answer. She was staring at him, doubting but curious. Her blue-green eyes were impenetrable and it - a barrier which hid her softness - nearly broke his heart. Always, with this young woman, he'd appreciated the fact she had remained innocently inquisitive and pure of heart, despite the many abhorrent events she and Xena had encountered.
Xena! He turned to look outside yet again, his eyes searching frantically for the soldiers. Unless they were total idiots they would be back soon. He and the girl were both in a lot of trouble, Gabrielle particularly. There was little time. Iolaus blinked and, unthinking, turned to take her arm, "I have to ..."
A sudden spark of panic appeared on Gabrielle's face. Her hands lifted as if she wanted to fend him away. "Please ..." She backed up, brave-face gone and shoulders hard against the wood slats of the stable wall. "Don't ..." and her voice quivered. She was breathing heavily in fear and her eyes closed, as if she didn't want to witness some inevitable abuse.
"Gods." Iolaus gasped lowly. What had this world done to make Gabrielle so afraid of his advance?
He didn't have to guess really. It was all too obvious. Even in his own reality warlords sacked villages, destroying or taking property. They'd imprison the healthy men, forcing heavy labor upon them. The old and infirm were usually killed. And the woman - particularly young pretty girls - were either given to the soldiers for their own amusement or sold as love-slaves at auction. Iolaus recalled Gabrielle telling him how she first met Xena. The pillaging of Potadia in THIS timeline hadn't been prevented -- because Xena wasn't there to stop it.
"Gabrielle..." He lowered his hands and spoke soothingly, "I'm not going to hurt you. I only want to help you get to your family. Your mother and father ... your sister."
Her eyes opened and narrowed in puzzlement, "How do you know about me? I don't even know your name." she whispered.
"Iolaus." she repeated, as if it struck a chord with her, "I've heard of an Iolaus ...from Thebes I think." She searched her memory, "He is a thief but a good man. Honorable in his own way and very clever. Quick and strong, they say." She looked up again at her rescuer, "No, it can't be you. They say he's scarred badly. His face and arms. Tortured and nearly whipped to death by Drakus the warlord. I was hoping to recruit him but ..."
Iolaus could almost feel his legs grow numb. She was talking about him even though she did not know it. The Iolaus of this world.
" ... but I heard he died."
"Are you sure?" The hunter knew he shouldn't allow himself to get side-tracked but he couldn't help his curiosity. A thief, she had said. Well, that wasn't surprising. Yet, even without Hercules, he'd managed to be true to himself. A fighter and champion of sorts. A hero to some. With a sigh, Iolaus shook his head. He just didn't have time for this. He had to get the girl out of here before the guards returned. "Listen Gabrielle, I'm going to take you from Corinth but I have to return as soon as we reach the boarder. Run home, wherever it is, and be with your family. I'm ..."
"I have no family." she interrupted, "They're all dead." She spoke plainly. Yet, there was pain in her body language. The memory of the fire which killed her mother, the sword blade which claimed Father and Lila ... How her sister fought ... then died when the soldiers had finished with her. It could very easily have been her. Gabrielle wanted to die too but managed to stay strong. It was all so wrong. This could not go on. The people needed her voice. She had to fight.
"But I have friends." Gabrielle stepped forward, feeling more comfortable with her rescuer now. "They can help us. They can hide us, Iolaus. It's part of a resistance against Xena and her minions."
"Good," Iolaus immediately felt relieved, "go to them."
She reached out suddenly and took his arm, "You must come with me." She smiled and unintentionally felt the hard muscle of his upper arm, "We can use you, Iolaus. You're powerful and a talented fighter. One of the best I've ever seen ..."
Iolaus sighed and reluctantly pulled away from her. Gently, with a concerned finger, he reached up and touched Gabrielle's temple. She'd been cut by one of the guards who imprisoned her. The blood had dried but, no doubt, the bard (Was she still a bard? Did she still tell stories?) would end up with a small scar. Iolaus tried to make her understand. "I can't, Gabrielle ..." He knew, despite the brave face, she was afraid and needed someone to lean on. But Iolaus also recognized the inaugural signs of inspiration coupled with desperation. He had obviously touched something in the young woman. "I have things I need to do. And I've got to do them quickly ..."
"Later." she piped, "Please, Iolaus. Can you come to us later?" she asked stubbornly. "We can make plans. With your help we can bring down Xena ..."
Gently, with both hands, he cupped her face. This action immediately quieted her. "If I'm successful in what I need to do, you may never have to fight again, Gabrielle."
An odd thought, Iolaus mused, Gabrielle fighting (her best friend) Xena. A thumb strayed, stroking her smooth cheek. It was a simple, kind gesture his Gabrielle - the dear young friend from his world - would have understood. It was a bonding ritual between the two. Whenever they got together he touched her in this way. It was an unpretentiously sweet gesture which meant nothing more than a demonstration of how special she was to him. Gabrielle held a place in his heart. Perhaps it wasn't an all encompassing love but he did have feelings for her. He just wasn't certain what they were yet. And, he was positive, Gabrielle was equally as unsure.
Misinterpreting, the girl stepped boldly forward - resting her hands on his shoulders, and pressed herself against him. "I'll do anything you want, Iolaus, just promise me you'll look us up ..." And her eyes held an invitation that was both suggestive and serious. "I don't mind really. You deserve a reward ..." She leaned forward as if to kiss him.
Slightly stunned, he dropped his hands and stood before her, mute.
The girl felt a shiver go through her. Embarrassed, she stepped back - seeing what she determined was disapproval in his eyes. "I'm sorry." Gabrielle said, "It's just -- A man has never helped me before without wanting something in return. I guess I don't know quite how to cope with this ... "
"I understand." he said, quickly. "Really I do. And believe me, you're very tempting but ..." It was suddenly very important for Iolaus to prove to Gabrielle that she had done nothing wrong.
She continued, trying to shake the image of his rejection from her mind. "But we do need you, Iolaus. Our numbers are small and we have few real warriors. You've already proven your contempt for Xena ..."
Iolaus reached down and took one of her hands. If he made it back to his own world he would have to talk with Gabrielle about a few things. He couldn't deny that this girl's open ways were rather appealing and he wondered if his Gabrielle - as virtuous and honest as she was - could be just as direct. "If I'm unsuccessful but manage to get out of Corinth alive ... I'll join you. I promise, Gabrielle."
A somewhat sad and incredulous smile appeared on her face. "Thank you."
"Come on." he pulled her gently to the stable doors.
He'd get the girl out of the city then go to Ares. The war god's temple was close. All would be well, Iolaus thought. It had to be. For Hercules sake ... for his sake ... for the sake of the known world.
(Please Continue ....)
Alternate Armageddon -2-