"Iolaus, she's beautiful ..." Gabrielle whispered in awe as bard and hunter discreetly hid themselves behind a large-leafy bush near Dienrra's comfortable home.
Iolaus wanted to be extra cautious and not walk brazenly up to the front door, knocking as if visiting his best friend's wife while she was dead in The Elysian Fields, was the most natural thing in the world. The situation demanded discretion. For all they knew, Haleus was laying in wait, having arranged an ambush. But it did seem very quiet and niether saw a barbarian or gold cloaked fiend anywhere. A little relieved, Iolause centered on what Gabrielle was watching.
"I knew she would be special but to see the her, the mother of Hercules children, like this ..." It was over-whelming. Gabrielle had written stories about this auburn-haired, statuesque lady without having ever laid eyes on her. Iolaus had imparted a few tales and Hercules himself told Gabrielle the story of he and Dienera's first tempestuous meeting.
They watched as she walked from her home, a perfect depiction of what she and Hercules had shared in life, a wooden bucket in her hand. Dienerra strolled calmly over to a stone water well at the corner of the house. Carefully, she tied what she brought to a length of rope and allowed the bucket to drop inside of the well. Diernerra then waited, a somewhat sad slope to her expression, as she looked out at what had once been her husband's corn and wheat fields. She then returned her attention to duty.
"Does she still think she's alive?" Gabrielle unexpectedly asked Iolaus, remembering a piece of information he had conveyed to her earlier in the day.
Unintentionally, her comment brought to him a particle of pain. Anya and Myles thought themselves still alive when he had seen them but -- "No. The last time Hercules visited his wife and children, just before he married Serena, Dienerra knew she was gone and he was visiting her from the living."
A thought suddenly came to Iolaus and he crouched down to the base of the bush. He did something Gabrielle could not quite see from where she stood, his body hiding whatever action was taking place. Iolaus then popped up again, seeming no different than when he had crouched in the first place.
Gabrielle looked at him, enquiringly but he said nothing.
The couple's attention then turned and watched as Dienera pulled on the rope, bringing the water filled bucket up to the lip of the craggy circle. She'd accidently splashed a half dipper of water against her wafting skirt and brushed the fluid away before turning to lift the bucket. "Well, it's now or never." Iolaus commented and made his move, Gabrielle close behind.
Dienerra looked up, hearing a noise that startled her. Then, she saw the man and woman moving from behind the bush. If she had actually been carrying the bucket she would have dropped it, "Iolaus?" she questioned with a amiable grin.
He smiled back, lifting his arms for a hug.
Warmed by the friendly greeting, Gabrielle stood back and studied what she saw. Iolaus had not just been Hercules best friend but obviously very dear to Dienerra as well. It then struck Gabrielle that this woman probably knew more about Iolaus, from her husband, than she did. If she could just get Dienerra alone for a minute to asks questions ...
"I can't believe you're here." she chuckled over his shoulder then, suddenly worried, Dienerrra pulled back. "Oh Iolaus, what happened? You wouldn't be here unless ..."
"It's a long story but I'm not dead, I'm actually in Elysia helping Hades with a problem and ..." He lifted a hand in mime for the bard to come a little closer, " ... this is Gabrielle. She's going back with me when I return to Greece."
"Gabrielle ..." For a moment Dienerra didn't seem too certain what to think as she gazed at the lovely young woman but, as a reflex, she nodded and smiled warmly, "It's nice to meet you, Gabrielle."
The bard could read something disconcerting in Dienerra's momentarily unguarded expression. For the moment she chose to ignore it. This was an odd situation for all. "I've heard so much about you ..." Gabrielle started then, realizing she probably shouldn't start going into anything too heartfelt, she simply said, "Hercules told me a little bit about his family."
Still half holding Iolaus in her arms, Dienerra looked a little anxiously into his eyes. "How is he?" she asked.
"He's good." Iolaus assured, "Slaying monsters, saving villages and being a pasin in hera's backside ..."
"Same old Hercules." both Dienerra and Iolaus said at the same time and chortled. Then Diernerra tugged on his arm, "Please, both of you come into the house. The children will love seeing you again, Iolaus."
It was the afternoon of the third day since Iolaus had made his plunge into the Olympian River. Both Hercules and Xena were still hopeful that their friends would be joining them soon, their spirits lifted a little by what could only be described as atmospheric anger from Hera. Yet, niether were willing to leave the river for long.
Minister Glothus, before he left King Iphicles palace for the jouney back to Thesilla, had send a servant to them - by the river - to see if there was anything he or any other noblman could do to help. They told the young man, "No, all is fine.' but did thank him for bringing Argo, Xena's horse, with him. They then asked that he take the three horses he, Xena and Iolaus rode out on back to the castle when he returned.
He did as they asked and was gone only an hour after he arrived.
Xena, at least, was grateful to see her faithful animal and brushed Argo down gently and affectionately, watching Hercules as she did.
He had lifted his hand and was unconsciously fingering Iolaus amulet again as it hung around his neck.
She wished she could do something for him.
Argo nussled Xena's cheek.
She wished there was something she could do for herself too. What if Iolaus failed and Gabrielle really was gone from her forever? How could she cope? Who would be there to steer her in the right direction when the sweet sound of evil came whispering in her ear again?
"I'm sorry. Please forgive me!" Dienerra begged, her hands raised in a praying gesture in front of her lips.
Two barbarians had come up on either side of Iolaus and Gabrielle, as they entered the house, and held knives to their throats.
"He threatened the children. I didn't know what to do." Dienerra further explained.
They had been waiting for them inside, right at the door, as Klonus, Ilea and Aseon kept uneasy company with Prince Haleus in the living room area.
Iolaus almost cursed out loud. He should have kept with his original instinct, to be on constant alert, but the last thing he expected was a betrayl by Dienerra. Yet, he had to admit that Haleus had a way of frightening the wits out of even the most strong-willed women. Gabrielle could attest to that.
The children ran, at first, to Iolaus with calls of "Uncle Iolaus!", "We missed you!' and "Where's Daddy?" but when they saw the nasty men that their mother had allowed into the house (for reasons they would never truly understand) they backed off. Instead of hugging the man, who was only second in their eyes to their own father, they were steered clear and ushered into their bedroom. The children were told to be still by their mother, to take a nap. Obedient, and knowing something strange was happening, they did as they were told.
Dienerra pulled the curtain between living area and bedroom closed then turned to watch what was unfolding. It had been so long since she was threatened by someone so disabolical that she wasn't certain what she should do.
Haleus, his magical gold cloak hanging loosely about his shoulders, paced infront of the couple as they were being held by his henchmen. "I must say you both look very good considering you haven't eaten for awhile ..." he mentioned as he rubbed his chin with thoughtful fingers, "... but now, my friends, you have come to the end of your journey." he spoke diplomatically.
"So, what comes next?" Iolaus asked brazenly, "Are you going to kill me?"
"Oh definitely." Haleus answered without hesitation, "No doubt there, dear boy. You see, Hera - more than even having Hercules wife and children thrown in chains for eternity - wants you and he parted forever. That's why she offered you an eternity with Anya, which you foolishly refused."
Stricken, Gabrielle turned to look at Iolaus. She knew nothing about this. Hera had offered him Anya? How could he walk away from that? Unless it was because of ... her?
"So, now I've been ordered to take you to Tartarus. Once there, you'll be greeted by men and women you and Hercules have ... Well, let's just say you and he have created enemies in your time and they all eagerly await the opportunity for retaliation. An eternity of constantly fighting blood-thirsty warlords will be your reward for a lifetime of helping the poor and unfortunate, Iolaus." Haleus sneered, "And you ..."
Gabrielle's face was unreadible as Haleus reached over to touch her hair, lifting it and allowing the red-gold strand to slid through his fingers.
"So lovely ... I really need to do something unforgettible to you, my dear." His eyes, gleaming unsoundly, examend her shoulders and arms, "I see you heal well. I wonder how well your fair, unblemished skin would hold up to a hot poker." he commented. Then: "You will be mine or join your lover in Tartarus."
"Compaired to being with you, Tartarus will be like living in Elysia." For that comment, Gabrielle received a moderate slap accross the cheek - which she was expecting.
Iolaus made a move to strike out at Haleus but the barbarian closest to him pulled the hunter back.
"A few centuries of my correction will curb that tongue of yours." Haleus declared.
Gabrielle only stared at him, furious, but made no move to comment further.
Prince Haleus, lifted his head - inspred . "It's beautiful day. Let's go out side and allow the children to settle down for their afternoon nap, shall we?"
Roughly, the henchmen turned Iolaus and Gabrielle around and shuffled them outside the door.
Iolaus could feel, before his booted feet even touched the first blade of grass as he was shoved out side, Haleus slipping the charmed sword out of his back scabbard.
They were in some real trouble now.
The blade of the Hades' enchanted sword glinted in the afternoon sunlight as Prince Haelus swung it about, practicing moves which had been taught to him by fencing instructors while he was still a teenager. That was at least one reasonable craft his father, The King of Thesilla, had insisted he perfect. Defensive skills. Attack skills. "I like it." Haleus said, "The balance is superb." He then gripped the handle firmly and threw the sword, with great proficiency, at a tree near where Deianeira stood. Haleus laughed when the woman jumped, "Sorry, dear." Then Haleus retrieved the sword, winking vulgarly at the woman, and his attention focused again on Iolaus, who stood beside Gabrielle.
His barbarian henchmen stood behind them. Neither bard or hunter looked impressed with the prince's display of skill but, when he thought about it, they were facing an eternity of torture and servitude so Haleus could forgive them their lack of enthusiasm.
"Time to send you on your way." Haleus lifted the sword and placed the tip underneath Iolaus chin.
"No!" Gabrielle cried, one of the barbarians taking her by the shoulders from behind and moving her away. "Don't do it, Prince Haelus. I'll stay with you willingly, just let him go!"
"Don't, Gabrielle." Iolaus warned rigidly, feeling strong hands on his own shoulders. The other barbarian held him still, awaiting Haleus command. "It doesn't matter what you say. He doesn't care. Promise me one thing ..." Iolaus azure eyes moved from staring directly at the prince to the distressed bard, "If I'm sent to Tartarus and can't get back -- make sure Deianeira stays safe. I don't care how you do it. Just make sure it happens. Don't let him put a *knife* to the kids."
But he did care and Gabrielle could see it in his expression. She also saw something else. A plea for understanding. A hint. A plan. "Iolaus ..." she nearly whispered, a thought dawning.
*Earlier. The bush. Iolaus had done something she couldn't see ....*
"Here we go." Haleus pulled back on the sword a little, preparing to shove it through his gullet. "Any other last words?" he offered.
"Yeah," Iolaus snarled, "You should always guard your breadbasket." With that, the warrior kicked forward and, pulling free from his guard, dropped to his knees. His foot had connected with Haleus gut, causing the prince to lurch forward. Unintentionally, he stabbed the goon, who stood directly behind Iolaus, through the heart.
The prince saw the shock on his man's dark face before he disappeared, returning to Tartarus.
Meanwhile, as her barbarian was distracted, Gabrielle took the opportunity to thrust back an elbow into his stomach as he held her. Her show of force wasn't enough to drop him to the ground but at least he loosened his hold on her and that allowed the young woman to break from his grip. Gabrielle then pitched forward, behind the very bush she and Iolaus had been hiding only fifteen minutes before. Desperately, she dug with her fingers into the moist earth and found what she had been looking for. "Iolaus, you're always thinking." she smiled.
Gabrielle jumped to her feet and just before the goon caught a hold of her right wrist she was able to toss the dagger, which Iolaus usually had hidden in his boot, at the hunter and watched him catch it in one smooth motion.
Iolaus lifted the dangerously sharp blade in front of Haleus, squaring off.
The prince laughed, bending slightly forward, the tip of the sword aimed at Iolaus chest. "Do you really think that small blade is any match for me and the power of Hades?" he asked.
"Let's just say it evens the odds a little."
They circled one another.
Haleus swung in a wide arch but the always limber Iolaus was able to avoid the cutting edge by ducking and rolling onto his two feet. "I'm going to enjoy this you scrawny little nusiance!" Haleus expression was demented, "Remember, your blade may hurt me but I can't die. You, on the other hand, will not just expire from this sword but a simple scratch will send you to Tartarus forever!"
Haleus swung again and Iolaus threw himself on his back onto the ground, "Why do you people always think you need to remind us about these things?" he asked, shoveling a hand full of dirt and throwing it up into Haleus face.
The prince coughed and sputtered but held onto the sword.
Iolaus was on his feet again. He swung his own blade and connected with the prince's billowing imperial robes, making a tear in his tunic.
"Do you have any idea how expensive this outfit is?" the prince asked, royally piqued.
Iolaus spat out, "Take it up with your task master when you get to Tartarus."
With a fierce cry of derangement, Prince Haleus ran at Iolaus and fought more viscously than before. He swung at the hunter madly and nearly connected a couple times, showing himself the true threat he was.
Suddenly, a rock came flying through the air and hit the prince squarely in the back of the head.
Iolaus attention went to Gabrielle but he was surprised to see it not the warrior-bard but, looking in another direction, Deianeira, who was making an attempt to help. The woman had been somewhat ignored by Haleus and his men - them thinking her no threat at all - and she took the opportunity to form a small pile of nice sized stones which she threw at the prince with amazing precision and velocity.
The barbarian who had Gabrielle's arm pushed her back and went after the wife of Hercules.
Haleus, not prepared for the assault and also angered that this mere mortal woman would attempt to interfere, turned blindly in her direction, his sword slicing ever so gently at the barbarian's arm. Hardly enough to break the skin but both men knew what it meant. Haleus could only stand motionless as he saw the wide-eyed expression on the last of his followers in this realm, as he disappeared.
With quick agility, dropping his dagger, Iolaus moved behind Haleus and gave him a firm karati chop to the neck. When Haleus fell he then scooped up Hades sword into his own hand. Panicked, Haleus turned over, his back to the ground. Iolaus placed the blade underneath his chin, as was done to himself only minutes before. "Any last words?" Iolaus asked.
Deianeira and Gabrielle came up on either side of the hunter and looked down at the now blubbering prince.
"Please, oh please, don't send me to Tartarus! I have too many enemies there. Soldiers I've had to have killed and prisoners that I had no choice but to execute! Do you know what they'll do to me when I arrive?"
"Oh yeah," Iolaus spoke sarcastically, "Sure, I have an idea."
"Please ..." he whimpered in a small, cowardly voice. "I'll go off on my own here in Elysia. I'll build a little house and stay a hermit. I won't touch or do anything to anyone! You have my word!"
"You're word?" It was Gabrielle's turn to be ridiculing but there was something about his diminished manner that cause her to feel somewhat sympathetic. She fought it and it bothered her, after all he'd done.
"I know I've done evil," Haleus went on, "But I'm a prince and have been spoilt since birth. Please understand .... I promise not to hurt another soul while in Elysia. I've learned my lesson. What can I do to make you believe me?" Tears started to fall from his wide brown eyes.
Even Iolaus couldn't strike down a man when he was doing something like that.
Haleus then threw himself at Iolaus feet and kissed boots, "I'll be your servant if you want. You can whip me as much as you'd like."
Embarrassed, Deianeira turned away. "Er ... I better check on the children." she said.
Iolaus took her hand before she moved away, "Thank you, Deianeira." he said.
Relieved that he had forgiven her for the betrayal, Deianeira moved forward and leaned in for a short but friendly hug, "Thank you ... Tell Hercules I love him."
"I will." Iolaus promised and watched the woman disappear into the house. "Now, *you* ..." the hunter wiggled the foot Haleus continued to apply wet slobbering kisses to, "Stop that. If anyone deserves to whip you it would be Gabrielle."
Haleus looked up at Iolaus then Gabrielle, momentarily appearing terrified by the idea.
"But I won't." Gabrielle sounded tired, "I'm better than you." she added.
Haleus opened mouth shut like a trap and he suddenly appeared hopeful.
"Give me your gold cloak." Iolaus told the prince and watched as Haleus hurriedly did what was commanded. He didn't trust him but, when he thought about it, what really could Haleus do now? He had nothing here. No hope of building an army from all the pure souls in The Elysian Fields and no kingdom with servants bowing to his very will. He'd have to learn to fend for himself. *That* could either be Tartarus for Haelus or a new beginning. Xena had changed. Maybe Haleus could change too.
Haelus raised himself to his knees.
Iolaus took the cloak from Haleus and pointed with the sword, "Start walking down that path and don't stop until you are well away from here. When you find the perfect place to build you better start and do it right the first time. Get people to help you but don't sit on your butt. Work. Maybe your soul can be saved after all."
"Thank you!" Haelus gushed, "Oh, thank you."
Iolaus and Gabrielle then turned in the opposite direction, to where the portal would be waiting for them, and started to walk
When the heroes about faced Haleus expression changed. He felt the ground without looking at it and felt something hard. A handle. A sharp edged blade. Iolaus had dropped his dagger had fallen. Haleus eyed the retreating figures and something twisted inside of him. He smiled, not a smile of joy but of pure unadulterated hatred and vengeance. Hera wanted Iolaus dead, away from Hercules and he would do it. He would gain her favor and get out of this bad predicament -- *He would be a king and damn all who stood in his way!*
The prince reared back and took careful aim, not wanting to botch the job.
Then, just before he saw all of those who would torment him in Tartarus, Haelus felt a sharp blow to his body. He never saw the sword enter into his abdomen but - somehow - it didn't matter.
Hera would be furious.
Iolaus and Gabrielle turned quickly when hearing his cries and saw the prince pitch forward. He then disappear.
Hades bent down and picked up the sword and walk over to meet with them. "Some rules were meant to be broken.' he mumbled.
Iolaus lifted his own sword and stared at the approaching god, confused.
"What?" Hades said, slipping his blade into a side scabbard. "Did you think I only had one of these things?"
Gabrielle couldn't believe what he was willing to give up for her.
Anya, the love of his life, and his child.
But then, what did that make her? She gazed up into his eyes, startled by their self-assured brilliance. "If it wasn't for me ...You and Anya ...." she started.
"If it wasn't for you I never would have seen them at all." He smiled, a bit sadly but also certain. "I loved Anya and Myles but they're gone from me, Gabrielle. I need to live my life, as do you. I know - don't ask me how - that you were not *ever* meant to die by my hand. It was not predestined and should never have happened. It was Hera's handiwork." He touched her hair, gently pushing some of it behind one of her slim shoulders, "You are meant to live a long life and, I think, were put on this earth to make history."
"As are you." She agreed without the open-eyed hesitation his comment might have elicited from another. Gabrielle couldn't fathom how both she and Iolaus knew the two of them were vital to those who still lived above -- but it was true. They were deeply important for reasons neither would ever fully understand.
Hades walked over to them as they stood in front of the portal, "Hera interfered with a natural order - played with Zeus' timeline. This was one reason we had a meeting on Olympus. To set boundaries. She will no longer interfere with my realm or the mortal timeline as we know it. That's not saying she won't break her promise but at least Zeus now has it written in stone."
'We, two mortals, managed to put a bridle on Hera. Now, that's funny.' Iolaus thought and encircled Gabrielle with his arms and held her close. This nightmare was almost over. "Now it's time to go home." he stated.
Always a bit somber, Hades unexpectedly appeared positively gloomy at Iolaus comment, "No ...not quite." He waved a hand.
With a startled yelp, Iolaus and Gabrielle found themselves in middle-underworld, standing next to the portals on the opposite side of Tartarus and The Elysian Fileds. "Isn't this where we started?" the hunter asked, almost glad to be out of the visually beautiful world they just left. "Hades, I wish you'd let me know when you're going to do that!" he complained, eyeing the god of the underworld who stood thoughtfully before them.
Persephone, appearing a little less joyful than usual, came to stand beside Hades. "Did you tell them?" she asked.
"Not yet. I thought I'd better bring them here to explain, then they can say their good-byes."
"*Goodbyes*?" Iolaus questioned, suddenly tense.
Gabrielle gently but firmly pulled free from Iolaus' embrace "What haven 't you told us?" .
Appearing more uncomfortable then they had ever seen him, Hades glanced at Persephone then looked directly at the mortals, his expression passive and his voice inelastic - "One of the other decisions made by the ruling committee on Olympus was that ... Gabrielle has to remain in Elysia. I'm sorry. There was nothing I could do."
It was as if a door had suddenly slammed shut in their faces. Stunned, Iolaus and Gabrielle stared at Hades, speechless for a moment. Unbelieving. This was a joke. It had to be. It wasn't possible. After all this, it just could not happen!
Betrayed and furious, unable to believe what he was hearing, Iolaus could not prevent the strangled cry that escaped him. He turned and punched out at the stone wall next to him. It vaguely entered into his mind that if Hercules had done the same thing - with as much frustration and anger - the entire wall would have fallen in.
Gabrielle's head bowed with a deep felt despondency and a single tear coursed down her cheek. She should have known better than to expect a god to honor a bargain.