"Wait a minute. You're telling me he was a *friend* to the King of Corinth?"
Perdicus stared at Regus, the unspoken denouncement of 'liar' not quite
erupting from his lips. "Right, and I suppose Aphrodite was his love slave."
Firmly, preparing to make his rounds as the evening hours sentry, Perdicus
tightened the straps which held a heavy leather breast plate tight against
his chest. "Besides, what would King Jason be doing in the company of
someone like Iolaus? *He* was a great man and Iolaus is nothing but a ..."
"Iolaus saved the king's life more than once. They were friends when they
were boys." Brucitius insisted, "I wouldn't have believed it myself if it
wasn't for Archivas and Phoebe. They are also close to Jason and told us all
The names mentioned were recognized by Perdicus and he suddenly grasped why.
"He knew The Argonauts?"
"He *was* an Argonaut. At least, for a brief time."
Perdicus rolled his brown eyes, "You must really think I'm thick." He shook
his head back and forth, refusing to be fooled. "That mercenary might know
his weapons but he isn't fit to polish Jason's boots. No one with character
would be caught in Iolaus company for too long." Distracted, and forgetting
who it was he was talking with, Perdicus checked his sword then his
Regus looked over at his comrades with raised eyebrows. Who did this little
moron think he was, anyway?
Lepcles, who had been quiet and brooding during the exchanged, watching
Perdicus with contempt, asked: "That include your girlfriend?"
Perdicus froze at the implication then looked over at the warrior. "What do
"He and she have been in his tent all evening." Lepcles smiled coarsely,
"They're ... *talking*."
Indecent laughter followed the statement.
A worried expression chased across Perdicus boyish features. Then,
"Gabrielle's never been an easy one to give up on a lost cause." He
commented, unsmiling, both defending her and attempting to hold back an
outburst of jealousy, "If she says they're *talking* then that's what
they're doing." Almost too casually, Perdicus put a hand to his sword and
turned from the men. He could hear their laughter behind him and, as he
prepared to report to his post, could not deny - even to himself - that he
"Fire ..." Gabrielle whispered and visibly began to shake as she looked down
at her hands. She had been able to take in most of what he said, the horrors
Iolaus had faced, but when he talked about Iphicles and Rena, when she
pictured their young children roasting alive in their home, Gabrielle could
not help the shudder. "Fire." she repeated.
Iolaus gazed down at her and realized he must have hit a nerve. Gabrielle's
face was a mirror of remembrance. Obviously some of it wasn't very good. He
told himself he would respect her privacy but since she had started the
"opening up" theme he asked, "Are you thinking of Potedia?"
She hadn't been anywhere near Potedia for nearly five years. Not since that
night Drako came with his warriors. He took the women to sell and enslaved
the healthy men and children. Xena had just begun to make a clear name for
herself and Drako, having a former alliance with Xena (and wanting to be in
her favor again), scoured the countryside to find her slaves, warriors and
**And he burned every village he came into contact with**.
Despite being a warlord, Drako had an odd sense of style and was noble in an
even stranger way. His men, however, were vicious animals, having killed
both Gabrielle's Mother and Father. Drako prevented she and Lila's deaths.
They would make "very lovely house servants" for any rich man or woman
lucky enough to own them. The girls were virgins and that was a bonus.
But Lila ... she had died later while they were on the road to Corinth. A
soldier got drunk and took her with him, as she struggled, into the woods
one evening ... The following day, finding her dead near a creek, Drako had
the solider, who pleaded for mercy, executed.
Upon hearing the news about her dear, much loved sister, Gabrielle wished
she had died too.
Jolted into the present Gabrielle whispered, "Yes, a Potedia and a life
that's only a fleeting memory." She sensed he was waiting for more and
continued: "For years I've been passed around from warrior, to chariot
driver, to land owner. I've been beaten, berated and ..." She stopped and
closed her eyes.
" ... burned?" Iolaus asked, his voice quietly sympathetic.
Gabrielle, warmed by his concern, unexpectedly stood and reached to the left
shoulder of her peasant blouse. She pulled the material down and turned
slightly to let him have a good look. Her shoulder and a quarter of her back
was disfigured, burned by brands and pokers. "They needed to mark me as
owned." she explained, "and they also punished me when I ran away. The worst
time was when I was hiding in a barn and was found by the keeper. He tied me
between two horse stalls and brought out a hot knife ...." She pulled the
material back into place again. She couldn't continue and sensed Iolaus
didn't want her to.
Teeth gritted with restrained furor he murmured, "I told you. Good people
always get the worst of the worst. Lambs to the slaughter. I will never be a
good person, Gabrielle." His eyes met her's: "I'm a survivor."
"I haven't been slaughtered yet, Iolaus." Gabrielle reminded, with mild
humor. "But then again I'm not that good either. I've done things I'm not
proud of." she admitted, "But I live in hope. Always have and always will.
Some day things *will* get better and there are a few of us who want to be a
part of that process."
"That makes you good and foolish." Iolaus remarked. He could not look at
"And is that worse than being bitter and wallowing in self hate? If you stay
with us long enough, Iolaus, I'm sure you'll come to understand what we're
fighting for. It's freedom, yes, but also self respect. And even more than
that ... it's a fight between right and wrong. I know how you feel about
GOOD and from what you tell me you have every right to be skeptical ... but
there will be a time when men and women will be able to live free and happy
"I would settle for a little peace and quiet." Iolaus confessed, trying to
conceal sarcasm. "I can't really see your vision, Gabrielle, but I respect
your right to have it."
With a smile of understanding, Gabrielle nodded and whispered, "Never mind.
Tomorrow none of what we're saying this evening may even matter. One or the
other of us could end up dead or even ..." She broke off, not wanting to
speak of the possibility. "The thing is," she gulped slightly, a little
nervous now, attempting to make her wishes known. "I don't want us to be
part tonight in anger, Iolaus. Even if it is disguised as a polite
tolerance." Her smile widened when he looked up at her, "I care about you,
even if you don't think you're deserving, and I just want you to know ..."
"What?" Iolaus asked gently, almost hopeful.
At this moment, perhaps a bit more boldly than she would normally have
proceed, Gabrielle demonstrated by examined Iolaus closely, a hand gently
raising to touch his face, to flutter gently over the lines of suffering
near his eyes. He did not pull away and she gazed deeply into them and saw
something that nearly startled Gabrielle to the very depth of her soul. The
aura in these eyes, the hidden passions and feelings of affection, were the
same as what she saw in her hero, the Iolaus who had rescued her from Xena.
It pulled at Gabrielle's heart, especially when she recalled her first
meeting with this man and how cold she thought he was. Gabrielle was
confused. Could the mercenary and the hero be the same man? But how was it
possible? Two of the same being living at the same time but as different men
...? Was it the work of the gods?
Her other hand lifted, almost as if it had a will of its own. Fingers
touched his chin - one of the differences between the two Iolauses - and
traced the thin scar softly to his ear. The fingers then trailed to his
hairline and temple. "Iolaus, I ..." Gabrielle tried to speak a truth but
understood there was nothing she could say that would add to the moment.
Slowly, she continued her quest. A hand moved to the back of Iolaus head and
found the leather band that held his hair in a ponytail. She pulled and the
release allowed his golden curls to fall loose about broad shoulders.
Iolaus appeared both intrigued and troubled. For a brief period of time he
looked as if he thought she might have an ulterior motive. Yet, he could not
deny how her delicate touch made him feel.
Gently experimenting, Gabrielle's fingers ran through his thick golden
locks. Her other hand rested against his upper chest and slowly moved
downward until it reached a piece of stone jewelry resting near his firm
upper abdominals. Gabrielle lifted the decoration, examining its
transcendental lines, wondering if the stone meant something special to
Iolaus. She let it drop with a gentle bounce and her hand moved upward once
again. However, before the fingers progressed to Iolaus throat he moved in
and kissed Gabrielle's lips. He was surprising gentle; unhurried. Yet,
Gabrielle could feel a surge of desire that was as explosive as it was
Iolaus arms came around her.
She was excited and hopeful. She wanted him so much but ... "Wait."
Gabrielle unexpectedly pulled back, breathless.
Holding her, but at arms length, Iolaus searched her expression, "You're
kidding, right?" he exclaimed.
"Iolaus, please forgive me." she whispered, stunned by her own unwillingness
to proceed. "Believe me when I tell you I want this as much as you do ...
but not now."
"Gabrielle, I can't think of a better time." Iolaus replied and moved slowly
in again, hoping to change her mind. His lips found her neck and the tip of
his tongue flicked very gently across its sensitive skin.
With a super human effort, nearly gasping, she pushed back again. "I know
you must think me a horrible tease, Iolaus. I didn't mean for it to go this
far. I'm not sure I know what I'm doing. I just ..."
"Gabrielle, you started this and you're right. One or the other of us might
not survive the battle tomorrow. If it's going to be me on Charon's boat
tomorrow I'd like to go out with a wonderful memory ..".
"All the more reason *not* to indulge tonight. We have to be focused,
Iolaus. I know if we make love tonight that's all I'm going to be thinking
about tomorrow." Gabrielle sighed. She was torturing him but she couldn't go
against what she knew as right. "It's not you, it's me and my conscience."
Gabrielle bit her lower lip seeing he needed more from her than cryptic
phrases, "As lovely as this is it reminds me too much of ... You see, there
was a time when I ..." She closed her eyes and felt embarrassed.
"When you slept with men as payment for help with the resistance?" Iolaus
questioned but there was no malice in his tone, "I've heard the stories but
that's not happening here, Gabrielle." he reminded, "I'm being paid with
good denar and this is just ..." he hesitated.
"... just a moment in time between a man and a woman?" she finished.
Iolaus wouldn't admit it but he hoped it was more than that. Disappointed
but yielding, he raised a hand and softly touched her cheek. "Maybe you're
right." he admitted, half hearted. He smiled mildly, "We're both good
fighters and I think we'll get through this just fine. There will be other
'Oh, I hope so.' Gabrielle almost said but kept it to herself. She was
relieved and leaned forward to gently kiss him on the lips, "I'll see you
tomorrow, Iolaus." Gabrielle whispered, momentarily appearing to have second
thoughts, then quickly left his tent.
He watched her go, silent until the flap closed behind Gabrielle, then -
with a long exhale of breath - sank shakily into the chair next to him. "I
bet you think this is funny, Hades." he whispered, looking up at the torch
which lit his tent. Regretfully, Iolaus acknowledging the heat radiating
from his lower extremities.
She had ducked and was nearly halfway into her tent when a voice sounded.
She was grabbed by the arm and pulled out.
"Gabrielle, where have you been?"
"Perdicus?" Gabrielle asked, puzzled. She had been thinking rather too
deeply about what had passed between she and Iolaus, wondering if maybe she
should have allowed nature to take its course. Now Perdicus, who was
obviously on sentry duty this evening, was looking at her as if she had been
caught doing something she shouldn't, "What's wrong?"
"I was told you were in Iolaus tent tonight. Are you crazy? Do you know what
that savage might have done to you?"
"What are you talking about, Perdicus?" Gabrielle asked, angered but also
confused. "Iolaus and I spoke with one another. It was nice. He'd never
purposely hurt ...."
"And that's all you did? **Talk**?"
Now Gabrielle stared at Perdicus, seeing the real reason for confrontation,
and her eyes narrowed. "What possible business is that of **yours**?" she
asked, folding her slender arms under her breasts, "Perdicus, you are my
friend , not my master."
"We're going to be married, Gabrielle. It's most definitely my business."
Trying to control herself, Gabrielle spoke lowly yet firmly: "I told you I
would **think** about marriage only after The Conqueror is defeated. I never
told you I would, without a doubt, wed you Perdicus. And now, the way you're
acting, I'm not sure I could ever consider it."
Slightly contrite, lowering his head slightly, Perdicus murmured: "I love
you. I have since we were kids. You know that."
Gabrielle silently sighed. She almost liked him better when he was angry. "I
know." she said and reached up to gently pat her friend on the shoulder,
"But you can't hold onto me like this. People change, Perd. I've most
certainly changed. I'm not that little girl from Potedia you remember."
"You will always be that beautiful, innocent girl to me. Your past is not
something we ever have to discuss. I don't *need* to know about it. I love
Poor Perdicus, Gabrielle thought. He was trying hard to say the words he was
certain she wanted to hear, but he was so wrong. Maybe, Gabrielle continued
to think, that was why she and the would-be warrior could never be lovers or
marry. She needed someone who didn't mentally paint pretty pictures of her.
She needed a companion who recognized what she was, understood her
limitations, and accepted her and loved her despite them. She needed a mate
a little more like herself. One day, Gabrielle was sure, Perdicus would come
The rebels started their trek early in the a.m. and had reached the academy
by late afternoon. The last hour consisted of setting up their pre
constructed battle plan and deciding who in their group would make the first
"I didn't think it would be so well guarded." Dandilus commented bleakly,
returning from his reconnaissance with Lepacles. They had gone to the
academy ahead of the others, looking up at the tower, various guard-post and
patrols around the the academy fortress.
"He's right. Soldiers everywhere." The dark warrior concurred.
"Just remember what I told you," Iolaus stood in the middle of a crowd of
resistance warriors, "there's a secret passage, an entry way into the
academy, that gives us access near the lower levels. It breaks off into two
different directions. One is close to sleep quarters and the other a passage
into the kitchen. A total of eight of us, including myself and Gabrielle,
will creep through the back. Space is limited. On the last leg we'll have to
crawl on our hands and knees, but we'll get in."
Aramis, adjusting a strap under her chin, nodded, "Iolaus' stealth troupes
will whittle their numbers down from the inside then, once in the courtyard,
one of them will drop the draw bridge and the rest of us will enter."
"Right." Regus, at Iolaus side, spoke: "And don't take your time about it.
The element of surprise is everything. To win this thing we'll need your
clubs, staffs, crossbows, swords and fists blazing like the flames of
Tartarus." He paused, taking in the nods of the others, "And no stragglers."
All were wearing makeshift battle gear and looked, even after a month of
practice, nervous about what was to come.
Iolaus didn't blame them. "Any questions?" he asked.
"Yes." Perdicus, one of the few looking primed and ready for a good fight,
said - "How do you *know* about this mysterious passage if it's such a
secret? I never saw a hint of it on any of the maps and schematics we were
Iolaus regarded Perdicus soberly, "I built it." he said, "I was a student at
this academy for two years. Cheiron, the school master, is the only other
person who knows about it ... and I heard he died several years ago."
'Like we were told you were dead. But you aren't, Iolaus. And you're not
scarred or insane either.' Gabrielle stood across from Iolaus, her red-gold
hair pulled to the back of her head, and - like the others - wearing a
leather outfit more suited for physical combat. She could see a minuscule
pang of hurt in his expression at the mention of his old school master.
Gabrielle's own life had not been pleasant, by any stretch of the
imagination, but the horrors Iolaus had faced were insurmountable. There
were things, she was sure, he hadn't told her last night. He'd rather put up
a mask to hide true emotion.
Earlier this morning had been a good example. Gabrielle had awakened early,
about five am, to feed their campfire and check on a few elderly and unwell
rebels. She wanted to make her rounds before preparing to dress in battle
gear. Distracted, noting the moisture in the air and how mist swirled about
her ankles, Gabrielle heard a sound, a sigh, and looked up.
She saw Iolaus, his back to her, staring out at a damp, foggy trail. In the
distance she saw Falavius, Lydia and Stancles, heading east to Gargarencia.
Gabrielle recalled the conversation Iolaus had with Falavius and realized he
had arisen early to make sure Stancles' father kept his word. She moved very
quietly and stood beside Iolaus. She watched his expression closely. No
tears. Deeply hidden sorrow. Empathizing, she put an arm around his
shoulders. Iolaus seemed to have known Gabrielle was there all along and did
not pull away. They watched the family until the three could not be seen
anymore. Then, with a deep breath, his expression stoic, Iolaus looked at
Gabrielle and murmured, "Time to get ready."
He then motioned her away.
It wasn't rejection, Gabrielle knew. Just a man sorry yet at peace with a
decision he had to make. Now it was time to take care of matters in the
They crawled slowly through the tunnels, waving away cobwebs and tossing
rubble aside. The eight warriors chosen hadn't been an accident. All were of
a smaller build, easier to navigate the tunnels, but well practiced in
"Are we there yet?" Gabrielle whispered from behind, anxious to get going.
"Soon." Iolaus said, "Ten more minutes and we'll be under the kitchen."
"That's what you said twenty minutes ago."
Brucitius, tall but thin, led the second group of rebel fighters through the
passage near the sleep quarters.
"Here." Iolaus stopped and felt along the wall. The small torch he carried
with him was little help. Then he felt a hinge and privately smiled. He
pulled back and hoped it would stay in tact. It had been a long time and he
wondered if the hidden door was rusted shut. A loud click and he could
practically feel the relief in the rebels behind him.
Slowly, Iolaus pulled it open and peered inside. He saw only one person, a
tall man with a dirty apron and discolored teeth. Apparently he was the
academy cook and was concentrating so hard on the stew he was stirring in
its pot he didn't notice the warriors as they emerged from the passageway
"Oh Falafal," the man unexpectedly lamented verbally to himself, "You were a
cook for the Conqueror herself. Why have you been exiled to this gods
forsaken outpost?" When the mixture began to burp and sizzle incessantly, as
if in response to his question, the cook stirred again.
Gabrielle could not prevent the amused smile she passed Iolaus. 'Be gentle
with him.' her manner stated. She motioned to Najara who held a length of
rope, miming her to get ready.
Iolaus pulled a dagger from his boot and silently came up behind the cook.
He placed the blade right underneath the startled man's chin. "Don't make a
sound." he warned, "We're going to tie you up and blindfold you. We'll then
place you in a chair in the corner of this kitchen. If you cry out for help
you will be killed. Do I make myself clear?"
The cook nodded, a low choked squeal escaping his mouth.
The driven resistance fighters moved quietly through the academy, taking out
the freshly trained soldiers one, sometimes two, at a time. When they had
secured the inside structure it was time to move to the courtyard.
Brucitius and Iolaus met with their warriors in the academy's foyer then,
without a word, surged forward, slamming the front doors open wide, with a
quickness that surprised even themselves.
The rebels pounced on the unprepared academy warriors like locust on a field
Gabrielle headed directly to the drawbridge-gate crank, slashing a soldier
dispassionately across his unprotected chest as he attempted to stop her
progress. One soldier, a short distance away, fighting a rebel from his own
post, saw what Gabrielle was going to do and attempted to call an alarm.
Yet, there was little the academy trainees could do. There may have been
only eight invaders inside but they were well armed and had caught all at
the academy by surprise.
Gabrielle, both of her booted feet planted firmly on the soil, swung wide
with her short sword and pushed out with as much power as her short, finely
toned body could muster. She cut the gate tether cleanly and the rollers let
loose with a horrid shriek. Soon the drawbridge dropped and the fortress
The two hundred resistance fighters, headed by Perdicus and Dandilus, backed
by Lepacles and Regus, were immediately inside. Their weapons connected
fiercely with the Conqueror's fledgling warriors. Screams were heard, mortal
bodies fell, and blood spattered the earth, making it dark and spoilt.
Iolaus disarmed a young soldier and backed him against a stone wall, the
warrior's own sword pressed against his ribs, "Where is your leader?" he
demanded, "Tell me or die."
Fear appeared for a moment on the young, clean shaven face, "I will not ..."
he started briefly, attempting the bravery required in his job description.
But when Iolaus, his eyes unshifting and a little deranged as he stared into
his, pushed forward, as the swords tip slowly began to penetrate his flesh,
the solider cried , "Demetrius! He's our Commander. He's over there!"
Marhea, Brucitius' student, and Aramis were currently fighting him. The
Commander nearly laughed at the two women, outmatching them easily despite
their prowess, stroke for adroit stroke. However, unlike his opponents the
tall, muscular man with the cheery expression and sandy hair, barely broke
into a sweat.
His mastery was undeniable, Iolaus thought, but like most of his kind, he
was also reckless. Of course, Demetrius had always been that way. Iolaus
remembered him well and, despite the circumstances, felt badly about what he
had to do to his older comrade.
Deftly, Iolaus motioned for the soldier to stay put or suffer the
consequences then he fought to get to where Demetrius was engaged. Aramis,
exhausted and calling for help, fell backward and was nearly stabbed to
death when Jacobus quickly took her place, slamming his sword against the
Commander's. Quickly, Iolaus made his move, not so gently pushing both
Jacobus and Marhea away and confronting Demetrius himself.
"Ah, Hera is smiling down upon me!" The Commander gushed at the site of a
familiar face, "How are you, Iolaus?"
"Getting by, Demetrius."
"You were always the adaptable sort."
The warriors rounded on one another, their swords lifted but neither, as
yet, coming to blows.
"So, you're working for Xena now?" Iolaus questioned rather casually, "What
happened to that lucrative "assassins for hire" business you were going to
"Some fool named Salmoneus beat me to it. He did well for awhile. Funny guy.
Too bad I had to kill him. You know how it is when The Conqueror calls. You
do what you're told. She's persuasive."
Gabrielle, dispensing with one of the last academy soldiers, looked over and
listened to Iolaus and Demetrius.
"Xena's a ruthless bitch. You know that, don't you?" Iolaus asked.
"I prefer to think of her as the world's best business woman and myself as
an opened-minded follower. No one would have ever thought The Warrior
Princess, a woman, could do all she has done. Now she's The Destroyer of
"She's tortured and murdered some of your closest friends."Iolaus reminded,
"I nearly became a casualty myself!" He looked for regret in Demetrius
expression but saw none. Only disinterest and ... contempt.
"It happens." he stated, coldly.
Iolaus lunged forward then, their swords connecting together sharply.
Technique against brute force. Strength of body against strength of will.
The courtyard cleared for the final showdown, the resistance fighters backed
against the fortress walls, their captives with them. All stared as Iolaus
and Demetrius squared off. Gabrielle's body tensed as she watched the men go
after one another. Iolaus was fighting to the death against a one time
confidant. Certainly this had to make a difference in his approach. The
warrior he was crossing swords with wasn't a no-name stranger.
"Give it up, Iolaus!" The Commander spoke through gritted teeth, "You've
never been able to beat me and you never will!" His sword made contact,
slashing Iolaus across the shoulder.
"Ancient history!" Iolaus countered, recognising the pain but ignoring it.
He dodged another more fatal blow, then quicxly thrust forward.
All time and sound seemed to have stopped as the men looked into each
other's eyes. Then, shuddering, Demetrius slowly slid to his knees. Iolaus
had pushed his sword deep into the academy commander's lower abdominals.
Solemn, Iolaus said: "You were always good during training, Dem, but not so
good during genuine combat." Iolaus paused, "You should have paid more
attention to what Chieron said, my friend." Then, "I'm sorry."
"Damn you." Demetrius pitched forward and died.
"Too late." Iolaus spoke lowly.
A triumphant chant rang out about the academy. The rebels had won their
first battle in an on-going bloody war against The Conqueror and all were
jubilant. Perdicus came up on Gabrielle and hugged her from behind. She
smiled up at him and patted his strong arms in mutual affection, but her
attention was still focused on Iolaus as he stared down at the body before
Then slowly, a hand raised to touch his wound and he looked up and straightened his shoulders. Iolaus looked over at her ... and smiled
mildly to show Gabrielle he was fine. Not unkindly, Gabrielle pushed away
from Perdicus and ran to him, throwing her arms around Iolaus, kissing his
Perdicus looked coolly at them, his joy turning into silent indignation.
"Iolaus, you did it." Gabrielle whispered, examining the wound to see for
herself he was well.
He pulled her back, his expression serious. "We *all* did it, Gabrielle.
Your people were incredible." He glanced over at Lepacles, Regus and
Brucitius. He gave his men a thumbs up gesture. They replied with the same
then turned to see to their prisoners.
Her smile fading slightly, Gabrielle looked down at the body of Demetrius.
"Iolaus, I'm sorry about him. I take it he was a classmate during your
"Yes," Iolaus nodded and also looked at the lifeless form. "He was my best
Gabrielle's head snapped up to look at Iolaus, stricken. "Your *best
"Yeah," Iolaus released Gabrielle and slowly began to walk over to Dandilus,
who required his assistance. Quietly he murmured, "I was never very good at
that sort of thing. Friends."
It was almost as if, Iolaus thought, the man who was supposed to be his true
best friend had never been born.