Ares watched her from where he stood.
She was staring into his portal, confused. "How can she forgive him?" the goddess wondered, unaware she was speaking the words aloud, "It's not possible. No self respecting woman can forgive a man something like that ..."
Gabrielle should be traumatized. More than anything Discord had wanted to see the girl devitalized and broken. She should be cowering somewhere in a corner. A shell. An emotional mess. She shouldn't be sleeping peacefully in his arms! What type of deviant was Gabrielle?!
"Arrrg!" Discord pounded a fist into her other hand. This hadn't gone off at all as she wanted. She'd have to try something else. But what? What could ...
Silently, Ares walked up behind the goddess and purposely startled her with his booming voice, "I see the debt is paid."
Discord twirled to look at him, "The debt?"
"Yes, she managed it. Just in time. Gabrielle paid off her debt."
"Oh." Discord watched Ares closely as he advanced on her. Something was up. He was too calm. There was something on his mind or he knew something.
"Did you ever figure out what all of this was about, Discord?" he asked her, calmly.
"The debt..." she began.
"The debt was never an issue. Its all about power, dear girl."
Licking her lips, a pang of fear suddenly penetrating her being, Discord stepped back from him slightly.
"The power of war, the power of wealth, the power of men over men and gods over other gods."
"And disloyalty." Hephestus added, unexpectedly appearing just behind Ares.
"What have you been telling him?" Discord quickly demanded from Hephestus.
The usually pensive Hephestus almost smiled, "As if." he said, having spent possibly a bit too much time with The Goddess of Love. Then, "I just opened his eyes a little. Common sense did the rest."
Time to go home to Dite. The God of the Forge disappeared.
Without preamble, Ares reached out and grasped Discord tightly by the throat, lifting the goddess off the ground, her feet dangling. "Tell me about Zeus, your petition as Goddess of War and - oh yes - how your meddling might possibly be destroying everything I have worked on between Ditea and Trecherius."
"Ares, its not what you think ..." Discord cried hysterically.
"Well then, youll just have to set me straight, wont you?"
Morning came, Helios multi colored carriage sliding across the skies to bring in a day as beautiful as Demeter could grant. Behind her, he snapped the last of the fastenings on Gabrielles new dress, the green gown having been destroyed by himself the night before. He then gently turned her about so he could get a good look at her. She was just as beautiful as she had been the night before, the cream coloring of the pearl trimmed garment granting Gabrielle an untouched quality. It warmed him and made the passion he experienced with her last night all the more significant.
Iolaus raised a hand to her cheek and she leaned into it.
No matter what happened next they were both ready for it.
Silently, Gabrielle lay a hand to his vest and, with a mischievous twinkle, pick an imaginary bit of lint from it.
They smiled at one another and said things without uttering words.
They were as they once were.
Yet, Gabrielle did notice something new in Iolaus. Perhaps it was just the situation they were in, secrets which had been revealed, but a gleam of adventure had gone out of his eyes. A fire and passion for life. He seemed calm and almost too accepting.
But then, so was she.
"I wonder if Hercules..." Gabrielle started, with a mild smile.
"Maybe." he dreamily replied, also smiling but not really knowing what she wondered about Hercules.
They heard a key in the doors lock.
Both smiles faded to be replaced by resignation.
The time had come.
They had been bound again but this time a gag was not necessary.
The young tower guard, who appeared to have a soft spot in his heart for Gabrielle, was quick to agree with Minya's request that the indignity of this cloth was not fitting for a woman of royal blood. Yet, to save face with his superiors, the soldier insisted on the hand bindings. However, he didn't tie either Iolaus or Gabrielles too tightly.
Looking curiously at him, Iolaus wondered if there was something behind that.
His expression revealed nothing.
Advisor Tallus met Iolaus and Gabrielle at the bottom of the winding stone stairs, "You're late." he said, "Court is already in session, awaiting you."
Iolaus looked for something in the man's expression. Were he and Hercules planning for their escape? There certainly seemed to be something being implemented last night before he left the comfort of his holding cell, "Don't blame us." Iolaus said, "We can only go as fast at the guards push us."
A rude laugh was heard a bit down the hall from the four soldiers mentioned.
Iolaus was nearly as impressed as Gabrielle. The courtroom was huge and the throng impressive. However, unlike the day before peasants and nobles were also in attendance, many expecting to attend a wedding, not a trial and execution.
Annoyus and Trecherius were both there, conferring and secretly plotting. The child, Prince Homer, dressed in finery for his possible marriage sat beside the Lord Councilor.
Gabrielle felt a pang of pity for the boy. He really had no idea what was going on.
The Judge, Magleus, and his panel of experts were also there, expressions grim as they watched the couple brought before them.
Iolaus looked about. Hercules and Tallus had been making arrangements, he was sure. He was ready to move whenever the word was given. *If* the word was given. It just occurred to the hunter that Hercules might not have been able to do anything this time. Actually, when he thought about it -- just what *could* his best friend do to prevent a law sanctioned execution? After all, this wasn't Scyros and the King wasnt Menelaus.
"Please be seated." a bailiff told the spectators.
The room grew quiet.
Magleus stood and appeared genuinely uncomfortable. "It is with regret that this panel has decided that Princess Armeta and her lover, the man Iolaus, are guilty of adultery. A marriage between Armeta and Prince Homer is therefore a none issue."
A murmur of confusion and protest arose from the on-lookers.
Iolaus and Gabrielle glanced at one another then at Tallus, who stood a bit to the front of them. He was passive.
"We also regretfully announce that because of this high crime - against the law written in The Scrolls of Sovereignty - the incarcerated will be executed forthwith and publicly."
Unexpected, a tall, muscular executioner in a black hood came out from behind a curtain.
A gasp was heard from the audience.
"Bring the man forward." the bailiff called.
"What?" Tallus stepped forward, "Your honor, this is unheard of! You haven't even allowed the accused to speak. If you did you'd learn this young woman is not really the Princess of Temptius at all but..."
Councilor Annoyus, with Trecherius nudging stood, "Your Judgeship, Advisor Tallus is obviously desolate. Of course this woman is Princess Armeta. Who else could she be? We've seen evidence of she and this," he thumbed at Iolaus, "man's adulterous affair. The great god Ares himself supplied us with evidence. Now who are we, as mere mortals, to disbelieve what has been so generously supplied?"
"Supplied by a god who would like nothing better than to have some one loyal to him in power!" Tallus exclaimed.
Magleus took awhile to digest both pieces of information. Then, "I am sorry, Councilor Tallus, but I must rule in favor of Councilor Annoyus. You have shown this court nothing to make us believe..."
"I have indisputable evidence that will be here shortly, Your Honor. It will prove that this woman is not Princess Armeta and that the true princess is ..." Tallus looked about, knowing how this bombshell was going to be greeted, "...dead."
He was not disappointed. Shouts of protests and cries of anguish met their ears.
"This is ridiculous!" Trecherius stood, "I am the rightful heir to the throne and this is merely Advisor Tallus method of delaying the inevitable. The girl is a slut and deserves to die!"
Iolaus couldn't take much more of this. Hands still bound but body and mind full of energy, he shouted: "Why don't you just stop with the stupid remarks and wait for the real evidence to get here?"
Gabrielle smiled. A bit of Iolaus old fire was back and she liked it.
"Your Honor ..." Annoyus began again.
"The evidence is here!" Hercules suddenly busted his way through the solid chamber doors, pushing a large cart and dragging three shackled men behind him.
Those who had been sitting were now standing.
Shouts of: "Its Hercules!", "Son of Zeus!" and "What is that smell?" echoed through the hall.
Iolaus met his friends eyes and grinned. How could he have ever doubted him? The Judge sighed and called the court to order, "Hercules, what is all of this?" he asked with a tired expression.
"In this cart is the body of Princess Armeta of Temptius." Through the gasps of on-lookers he continued, "I am sorry, Judge Magleus, that I wasn't able to bring this to your attention in a better way but there was no time."
Gabrielle looked over at Trecherius who had suddenly paled.
"She was killed over a week ago and her body hidden in the burial vaults of a small palace recently purchased by Lord Trecherius!"
"Not true!" Trecherius bellowed.
"These three men," Hercules indicated the nervous, manacled soldiers, "guarded that vault and its contents." Hercules turned his attention to them, daring the men to lie - "Tell Judge Magleus what you told me."
A soldier, small and turned meek by the fighting fists of the demigod, said: "Councilor Annoyus told us to watch the body for Lord Trecherius ... that she was royalty."
"Ridiculous!" Trecherius insisted, "Besides, even if this were true, how do we really know this is Armeta?"
"This." Hercules lifted up what looked like a bejeweled pendant, "Armetas royal seal. Who but the Princess of Temptius would have this?"
Iolaus glanced about as Hercules spoke. Not only was the crowd growing ugly but he noted several soldiers had moved into position all around the hall.
"Honorable Judge," Annoyus implored, "Somehow Hercules came across Armetas seal. Probably stole it out of desperation to save his friend -- and now he wants us to believe that it belongs to the decaying corps underneath that blanket. How foolish does he think we are?" He then pointed at Gabrielle, "Princess Armeta is standing right there!"
Piqued, Gabrielle couldnt prevent an outburst, "And I keep telling everyone I am *not* Princess Armeta - but no one will listen!"
Iolaus allowed a giggle. He couldnt help it. She just seemed so frustrated.
Trecherius bellowed, "This coming from the *condemmed* princess herself! Who should you believe?"
"Your Honor," this time it was Minya who stood, "There is another way and it will prove, without a doubt, that Armeta is the body in that cart."
"When she was a girl, her crest was tattooed on her outer thigh. Only three people know of this. Her father, the late King Detores, was one and I was another."
"Me." A soldier, walking up the aisle, came to the attention of the assembly.
Gabrielle and Iolaus recognized him as the young guard who was watching over the tower room.
"When I was a boy I was asked to assist in the procedure. I held Princess Armetas hand and we talked while she was tattooed. She and I became friends." he trailed off slightly, a sad look of longing in his eyes. "I can say, with a certain amount of certainty, that this girl - although as beautiful as Armeta - is not the Princess of Temptius."
The Judge stood and nodded at Minya. Unprecedented, the two - along with Lord Tallus - walked over to the cart and lifted the covering from the bodys legs.
The tattoo was there. Slightly peeling do to decomposition but a clear image of Armetas seal.
Angered, the Judge turned defiantly to Trecherius, "Case dismissed!" he announced, "And I want Lord Trecherius and Councilor Annoyus brought up on charges. Arrest them!"
"No!" Trecherius bellowed.
Suddenly men, soldiers faithful to Trecherius, came out of the woodwork. Screams were heard as a battle, something nearly all expected, broke out.
Iolaus and Gabrielle, thanks to the loose bindings around their wrist, were easily able to pull free and they too took part in the conflict.
Yet, in the end, all knew who would win.
Even the executioner. He dropped his ax and walked casually over to Judge Magleus large chair. He sat heavily and crossed his legs. With his right hand he pull the black hood off of his head and leaned back, defeated.
Ares was not a happy war god.