A short debate followed. Many of the resistance fighters wanted to move
their families to the academy and set the fortress up as their new eastern
headquarters. It seemed logical. The structure was big, the area well wooded
with fresh water nearby and - despite the rebels penetrating it's defenses -
their security seemed assured.
However, wiser heads prevailed.
"Where you are right now," Iolaus told them, as they gathered in the
courtyard "is safe. This academy is close to Corinth and known to Xena. As
far as she's concerned, it belongs to her and she will not take kindly to
its capture. If she knows you're here she'll come after you with a vengeance
and burn it to the ground. A lot of innocent lives will be lost."
"In other words," Dandilus nodded his understanding, "we can expect an
onslaught bigger than we ever could have imagine. They'll destroy us and
possibly the entire resistance." Contrite, Dandilus admitted: "You're right
Iolaus. We have to stay in the background a little longer, until our army
"So we take what we need." Gabrielle spoke, "and return to camp."
"And we party." a young voice announced from the back of the crowd.
It was met with laughter.
"But we need to make a statement, I think." Lepacles, lifting hands to his
unkept, scruffy hair looked about the courtyard, his vision taking in the
barracks and out-buildings. "A big one."
"What do you suggest?" Aramis asked.
Perdicus offered, "The Conqueror *would* burn the academy down with us
inside. I say *we* burn it down. If Xena wants another warrior sweat-shop,
she'll have to rebuild. That takes awhile."
For the first time, and probably the last, Lepacles looked at Perdicus with
something akin to kinship, "Good call."
Gabrielle noted a flicker of pain on Iolaus face. This had been his home for
two years. He'd made friends here. He'd met Jason, that brave King of
Corinth, at this academy. He'd also met Demetrius, who did not fair as well.
Still, the academy housed good memories of a time when Iolaus was young and
there was still hope in the bleak world before him. Gabrielle could
understand his reluctance to agree with the consensus.
Later, while the rebels were tearing apart the sleep quarters, gathering
supplies and organizing their prisoners - some of which would be transported
to Eprius and others allowed to leave; to return to Xena's legion, with
tales of harrowing defeat - Iolaus and Gabrielle returned to the kitchen and
"No please, I'm just a cook!" he squealed, afraid for his life once the
blindfold was removed.
Gabrielle glanced at Iolaus briefly, amused by the man's misplaced fear.
"So, tell us, why should we keep one such as yourself alive? Why shouldn't
we cut off your head and send it to The Conqueror on a pole?"
"I, I, I ... don't even *like* her!" he gasped, his generous lower lip
trembling and his thin face a cloak of nervousness, "When I worked at the
palace she scoffed at my culinary creations. She did not appreciate that I,
Falafel, creator of the taco, hot dog and most especially coffee was a
creative genius! Even when I brought her ambrosia ..."
"The food of the gods?" Iolaus asked, startled.
"No, a salad. Lots of marshmallows. It's delicious!"
Gabrielle and Iolaus grimaced at one another over the sitting cook's head.
"Well," she drawled, "Puckus could use a break away from the kitchen. He
never gets to see his family anymore."
Iolaus crossed his arms and leaned his weight on his left leg, "Gabrielle,
are you suggesting we take this glorified pastry chef back with us?" Iolaus
asked but his objection was half-hearted. "It's risky. If he were to give us
away to the enemy ... " Iolaus raised his sword in mock demonstration.
"No, no! I would never do that." Falafal stood quickly and raised his hands
in pleading to to both, "The Conqueror, blah, she's bad. She never liked me
and that's why I'm here. I would have been killed by this rabble long ago if
it wasn't for Chieron. He ..."
"Cheiron?" Iolaus suddenly became exceedingly serious. He took Falafal by
the collar, "Is he alive?"
"Yes, they have him hidden away."
Iolaus pulled the dagger from his belt and placed it under the cook's chin,
"Iolaus, stop." Gabrielle demanded, firmly, working her way between the two
men. She put fingers on Iolaus' hand and made him lower the blade. She
directed her question to Falafal and spoke rationally, "Do you know where he
is?" she asked.
"Yes, I bring him food every day. We're great friends. But he's not well.
Hasn't been for weeks."
As Falafal took Iolaus and Gabrielle to where Chieron was held prisoner he
explained that the old warrior was initially kept on to train Xena's
soldiers. He threatened mutiny but The Conqueror, in turn, menaced his
family. Then Taybor himself became a soldier under Xena's watchful eye. The
only thing Chieron could do was stay on. He tried to steer his son in the
right direction but Taybor was determined to become what Chieron most feared,
a warrior loyal to The Destroyer of Nations.
"And where is Taybor now?" Gabrielle asked.
Falafal spoke solemnly, "He died during practice a few months ago. Two of
the men got too rough. That's when they had to lock Chieron away. No one
wanted him dead. Some of the warriors, who had been old-time academy
graduates, respected him too much to execute their master."
"So they hid him away where they didn't have to look at him." Iolaus
seethed, "Cowards!" he spat.
"Go to the centaurs." Chieron told Iolaus with a croak. His one time student
held Chieron's head gently, "They're strong and have allied with the
Amazons. But neither have direction. You and the rebels can change that."
Gabrielle and Falafal stood at the barn's door and watched as Iolaus - that
mercenary, thief and fortune hunter - sat on the straw covered floor and
held his mentor close to his chest.
Chieron was dying from a combination of old age and heartbreak. Yet, he had
information and advice that needed to be disclosed before it was too late.
"You're on the right track, Iolaus." Chieron whispered, lifting a frail hand
to rest on the younger man's shoulder, "But you can't beat her alone. The
Conqueror is just too powerful. Aligned with the others, as I say, and lay
waste to the evil that plagues us."
Iolaus nodded and heard himself, through a fog, promise: "Whatever you say."
Then Chieron smiled weakly, his tail swishing ever so slightly where it lay.
"I always knew you would come to good. No matter where you failed, Iolaus, I
knew you were destined for great things."
"I'm not so great." Iolaus murmured, nearly apologetic.
"More than you think." Then Chieron became slightly unfocused, "If you had
lived another life, had someone to show you the way, had a friend you could
count on ...the adventures you two could have had ..." he trailed, then
looked again up at Iolaus, who stared at him with confusion. " ... but you
will help others to win this war, Iolaus. I know you will, my son."
And with those words Chieron, the wise centaur, Iolaus friend, teacher and
second father, died in his arms.
And for the first time since he was a child, Iolaus wept.
The night sky was threatening, dark clouds had moved in from the north, but
nothing could spoil their mood.
The rebels did not return to camp until very late in the evening but their
families, all who were left behind, greeted them as the heroes they were.
Word had been sent through the resistance network that the eastern rebels
had claimed a solid victory. Congratulatory scrolls were everywhere.
There was food, drink and those rebels who could play musical instruments
did so. No one was tired. All wanted to enjoy themselves.
The animals, a few which were butchered for the party, included cattle,
sheep, pigs, goats and sturdy horses. They were moved to corrals.
Other materials, including fresh bedding, kitchen supplies and - most
important - weapons and armor were also stored away, until they could all be
distributed as was proper.
Gabrielle was pleased to see even Iolaus feeling better once they returned
to base. He left Chieron's body in a state of grace in the master work-out
hall. He started the flame which burned the room himself. He had told her
that Chieron would have wanted to be laid to rest here, where he'd spent
most of his days and nights, teaching young men and woman to be strong and
sensible. Iolaus was gratified to be able to do that for his old friend.
Regretfully, there had been very little interaction between Gabrielle and
Iolaus during their return. Perdicus took up most of her time, as did
Dandilus and Aramis, with ideas for the future. Her friends were bubbling
over with opinions, wild suggestions and happiness. It was contagious but
also slightly sobering. They were right to be proud but it was also
important to realize they had a long way to go before they could claim a
convincing triumph over Xena, the Conqueror.
Iolaus lagged behind with Lepacles, Regus and Brucitius. While the rebels
played during the walk home the instructors were speaking seriously to one
another in quiet tones.
Gabrielle wished she knew what it was they were talking about but figured
they'd all know soon enough. Even now, Gabrielle noticed, the four men were
sitting away from the party, talking and contemplating. Lepacles and Regus
were drinking from wineskins while Brucitius pulled out what looked like a
map. When he got a confirming nod from Iolaus, the younger rolled up the
parchment and slipped it into a long pouch. She watched as Iolaus called to
Dandilus from where he was enthusiastically dancing around a splendid
bonfire, and she noted how their leader's expression grew sedate at
something Iolaus and the others were communicating.
Gabrielle nearly joined them when the first splatter of moisture brushed her
It started to rain. The dark clouds opened with a vengeance and all ran for
the shelter of their tents. However, it did not dampen spirits, for everyone
was laughing and making merry as they settled in for the night.
Perdicus trotted with Gabrielle to her tent then, after a thoughtful pause,
kissed her a quick goodnight. He then dashed for his own safe haven.
Inside her tent, after having lit a candle on a small bedside table,
Gabrielle lifted a tattered towel from the seat of a wicker rocking chair,
to dry her hair. For the first time in a long time Gabrielle felt puzzled.
Perdicus had seemed to expect something from her. Perhaps for her to invite
him in, to ask him to stay the night? *Maybe*, she thought, or perhaps it
was something a little more devious. Perdicus wanted to make certain she got
to her tent *alone*. It dawned on Gabrielle very suddenly that he had been
trying all evening to keep her attention away from a certain attractive,
Not that Perdicus had to worry.
Iolaus had glance in her direction only a few fleeting moments during the
celebration, so busy he was with whatever it was he and his companions were
discussing. If he hadn't been so distracted and hadn't witnessed the death
of a centaur he truly cared about, she might have felt hurt or insulted.
Instead, Gabrielle took it in stride but also hoped for better between she
and Iolaus in the future.
She heard a call from outside her tent and instantly felt vindicated. She
told him to enter. Iolaus was soaked to the skin and, grinning, she quickly
used her towel to brush him off, chuckling at his soggy appearance. "What
you need, my friend, is to get out of those wet clothes and into a hot
She left the door open for an droll, seductive comment but Iolaus, this
time, was not biting.
Seriously, he said: "I need to talk with you about something, Gabrielle."
and silently accepted the blanket she offered to drape around his shoulders.
He sat on the wicker rocking chair across from her bed, where she sat, and
appeared to be struggling with an unveiling.
"What is it?" she asked, fearful.
"In a couple days Lepacles, Regus, Ursa, Selene and myself will be leaving
camp. We're going north to a large centaur village. We're going to get them
to join us. We want to band together and attack the three warrior training
centers in Cirra."
Gabrielle stared at Iolaus through the weak light for a moment then, "How
long will you be gone?"
"Weeks. Maybe months."
"Months?" she nearly gasped.
"Getting there is one thing but gaining their confidence is another.
Besides, we're not just going to see the centaurs but also The Amazons."
"But why ...?"
"That's why we're taking Selene and Ursa. They're good fighters and it might
go better for us if we have women with us. Besides," Iolaus half smiled,
"they *want* to go. Both have grown fond of those two brutes I travel with.
Don't ask me why, I don't understand it."
"And Brucitius? Where will he be?"
"He's staying here, to continue training. The rebels are good but still need
Biting the inside of her lip, frustrated and balling her hands into fists
Gabrielle asked, "But why *you*, Iolaus? Why are you going?"
He hesitated before replying: "They're my men and they're walking into
danger." He explained. "And when you think about it, out of everyone
mentioned *who* do you think is the best negotiator? Lepacles would face off
with the centaur leader, start an argument within minutes, and nothing would
That was true enough. Her own first meeting with the mercenary was less than
"Then *I* should go too, Iolaus." Gabrielle said and quickly continued
before he could protest, "It's what I do. I settle, lay down the law and try
to smooth things out. You've seen me, Iolaus. You know it's true."
"You're needed here, Gabrielle."
Iolaus took his eyes off her and looked at the candle. "It's dangerous. I
don't want to see you hurt."
"Yet, you want me to sit back and do nothing while you go off and possibly
get yourself killed?"
"I told you ... I'm a survivor. I won't ..."
"Oh Iolaus, just shut up." Gabrielle sobbed, staring down at the straw
strewn floor of her quarters, "You're so stubborn." she added.
"But am I cruel?" Iolaus slowly stood, regretting he asked. He allowed the
blanket to fall off his ample shoulders, onto the chair. The question was
asked not to hurt but because he truly wanted to know.
"In a way ... yes." Gabrielle looked up at him, tears not quite in her eyes
but pain plainly visible, then lifted a hand to take one of his in her's.
"But you're also a hero. And I think ... I'm falling in love with you." She
stood and they gazed at one another, face to face. Breathlessly she
revealed, "I don't know what I'd do if you didn't come back, Iolaus."
Gently dismayed, his soft blue eyes stared into her own and he could not
speak. Yet, the fingers on his free hand touched her lower arm and traveled
very softly upward, relishing the warmth of her satin skin. Iolaus then
moved in and kissed her, feeling Gabrielle's firm body melt against his own.
When they parted, eyes still shut, experiencing the gift just shared, their
breaths shallow, Gabrielle whispered one tiny, emotional little word:
And, at least for the night, he did.
He entered her skillfully, powerfully and recognized her heartfelt feminine gasp for the surprise and pleasure it conveyed. His hands and lips were a welcomed fire on her already warm, responsive flesh as he probed, pushed and suckled, igniting her senses in a raw, delicious excitement she thought long gone and never to return.
Together, they felt a sensation of body and mind, a pinnacle, an elation not to be equaled.
Gabrielle, unable to do otherwise, cried out her passion during the course of their love-making. Only his lips on her's quieted the release. Over-come and defenses down, she nearly wept in the midst of the encounter, overwhelmed by the beauty of the engagement. Her hips frantically surging to meet with his manhood; with the measured frenzy of his dauntless, artful thrusting.
Iolaus well muscled back and thighs were object of intense wonder. She allowed her fingers to kneed the scarred, sweat soaked, naked flesh, tracing erotic patterns anywhere her fingers could reach. In turn, he found that one special spot on the side of Gabrielle's neck, just behind her right ear, near the hairline, that caused her unfathomable pleasure.
They explored each other, at times even softly chuckling at their clumsiness, but knowing all along that their relationship could never go back to the way it was. Inner depths were revealed, mind numbing pleasure exchanged, and they had seen parts of each other, both physically and emotionally, no other had ever seen.
They were not just friends and lovers but **soulmates**.
And, in that sense of the word, although neither quite understand what had been missing in each other's lives, they were all they had.
The battle, this night, had been won. A victory scored on both sides.