Her eyes, the mirror to her soul, were wide as she stared into
his. Her tender lips parted, but not to receive the passion of
his kisses as they had the evening before.
"Gabrielle!" he choked, dropping his stained sword and catching
her in his arms ...
Holding her body, her hands crawling up his arms, clutching his
shoulders, holding him to her. He collapsed with the slender form
to the floor, sobbing.
"Please don't ..." she gasped, the pain and dismay clouding her
eyes, "It's not your fault ... I shouldn't have ..." she gasped.
"Iolaus!" and she coughed, causing yet more pain.
Horrified, he frantically smoothed her fair hair back and kissed
her forehead - "Please ... you can't leave. Not like this. I
can't have .... I can't ...." he spoke as if possessed.
A hand raised to touch his cheek, "Oh ..." she recognized his
pain through her own. "I wish I had enough time to tell you how
you've made me feel." she whispered, forgiving him everything.
"We'll be together again ... some day." and she smiled until
another thought, deep with concern, came to her, "Xena ....tell
Xena ...it was *my* fault."
"No ...." He couldn't accept it, "No."
She pulled herself forward to tenderly meet his lips with her
own, shaking in his arms.
And then she was gone, her head dropping back, her arms falling
lax to the floor.
"No! Please ... " and Iolaus shook her body, "*Please* ..." he
wept, crushing her as closely to him as possible. He then let
loose with a strangled cry, unable to hold back, his own head
falling back in suffering.
"Gabrielle?" came the deep, feminine voice of another. Xena
pushed her way into the room, breaking through the barricade
which had separated her from Gabrielle and Iolaus.
Hercules followed cautiously, stepping over rock and splintered
Iolaus eyes focused on her and he trembling ever so slightly with
his grief. Unchecked tears coursed down his pale cheeks. He was
like a small boy holding onto a much cherished, broken toy.
Confused, she knelt on the other side of Gabrielle, quietly
examining her friend as the lax form rolled from Iolaus lap onto
her own. "Gabrielle," Xena took the young woman's jaw between her
fingers and shook her gently, ignoring the wide unseeing eyes
that looked up into her's, "Gabrielle, you have to get up now,
honey. Don't tease me ...." Xena spoke as if to a mischievous
As if she were holding Solan ....
"Xena." Hercules - glancing briefly from the dead bodies of the
barbarians Iolaus and Gabrielle had so recently been forced to
slay while in captivity - crouched behind her and placed a hand
on The Warrior Princess shoulder. "There's nothing you can do
"Of course there is." Determined, she put a hand over Gabrielle's
chest and began to administer heart massage, "Come on, Gabrielle
.... " Her voice was choked with emotion, so often concealed, and
the tears slowly began to slide over Xena's cheeks. "We still
have work to do. You can't leave when there is still so much work
to do ...."
Now Hercules slid both of his hands over her shoulders, gently
brushing the warrior woman's dark hair back, his lips close to
her ear, feeling the tenseness in Xena's powerful shoulders. He
recalled holding Iolaus in much the same manner as she held
Gabrielle once, not believing his passing possible. If it hadn't
been for a remarkable set of circumstances Hercules might still
be bereft of his best friend. Hercules heart broke for Xena,
understanding her deep grief, her unwillingness to believe what
had come to pass.
Hercules glanced briefly at Iolaus who still sat, stunned and
silent, across from Xena. The bard's body laying between them.
Hercules was about to implore his friend to speak, say something,
tell them which dastardly barbarian had done this to the young
Then a stark realization dawned - ('Oh no, Iolaus ...').
This wasn't just grief he was seeing in his partner ....
"I did it." Iolaus whispered, dazed. He suddenly looked down at
his hands, noting the blood stains. "I killed her. It was my
sword." He looked from his hands to the wound which cut across
Gabrielle's abdomen. The mortal wound he inflicted.
Xena, upon hearing the words, slowly looked up and over at him.
Her eyes narrowed and the woman's breathing was heavy, full of
Hercules shook his head, too stunned for words. No, it wasn't
possible, he thought.
A fire of hatred burned in Xena's striking eyes and her lips
curled in a fierce snarl. "If you killed her, Iolaus ... you
will join her." she hissed.
She reached for her chalkram.
Three Days Earlier:
Iolaus held the parchment out and reread the words:
"King Iphicles of Corinth hereby announces the wedding of himself
and his royal betrothed, Princess Megra of Thessila ...." he
laughed as he walked the path and rolled the parchment again,
"Iphicles: always the showman -- and getting married again! I
still can't get over it, Herc." he fell into step beside Hercules
who appeared equally amused at the thought, "The last time I saw
Iphicles was during Corinth's celebration of the Summer Solstice.
He was drinking a little too much and told me he'd never love
another after Rena. I felt really sorry for the guy."
"Yeah, but he's a man who needs a wife to keep him centered."
Hercules chimed in with a chuckle of his own. "He doesn't do well
Iolaus nodded, suddenly serious. "You don't suppose he's marrying
her just because Thessila has an incredible army and would make
for a great ally, do you?"
Hercules shrugged, "I never really understood the politics of
such marriages but I guess it's possible." Sometime Hercules
wished he knew his blood-brother, Iphicles, better. If this was a
marriage arranged for convenience he'd be grievously disappointed
in the king. Still, until he was sure, why consider it? Besides,
it really was none of his business. Iphicles knew his own heart
and what he was willing to do with it better than any man. Who
was Hercules to make judgments?
The two men were quiet for awhile. Both considering.
"At least we're in for a great party." Iolaus encouraged, always
enjoying a festive atmosphere. He loved weddings. A short
ceremony and then there was food, dancing girls, music, drink,
games, dancing girls .... "I wonder who else has been invited."
"Oh, knowing Iphicles *everybody*." Hercules chuckled and the men
picked up the pace.
They weren't disappointed.
Corinth was alive and gleeful. The wedding was a little less than
a week away and already merchants had set up booths. Tables laden
with food and drink were plentiful and a throng of men, women and
children danced and made merry in the streets.
Hercules and Iolaus needn't have feared where Iphicles priorities
Upon greeting his brother and friend at the castle gates the king
could do nothing but speak enthusiastically of his beautiful,
incredibly gifted bride to be. "She's the most incredible woman
I've ever met. Smart, funny, magnificent ...." he gushed, walking
the men into the main dining hall.
They had arrived just in time for the evening meal, of which
Iolaus was eagerly appreciative. Palace food was the best.
Iphicles raised his arms as he spoke, the bells of his rich,
purple sleeves swaying as he moved, "I was a little worried about
Megra making the journey to Corinth. So much can happen on the
road these days and Thessila has enemies ...."
At least he wasn't wearing that stupid crown, Hercules thought a
bit distracted. He understood it was custom but he knew Iphicles
hated it. It was nice to see his brother letting loose a bit.
Perhaps his fiancee had admitted a dislike for the royal crown as
well? Hercules had a feeling he was going to like Megra very
" ... and there are those who would rather not see Corinth and
Thessila align ay all .... but I felt far more at ease when I
discovered who would be her attendants."
Hercules and Iolaus entered The Great Hall just behind Iphicles.
"And who would that be?" Hercules asked.
"Them." Iphicles thumbed good naturedly at two of his guests.
"Hello Hercules ... Iolaus ..."
The men stopped short, glanced at each other and smiled.
Xena and Gabrielle stood from where they sat at the dining table
and moved to greet the two other heroes.
'Ah yes,' Iolaus thought as he took the smaller woman into his
embrace for a warm hug, 'this is definitely going to be one of
the better weeks of my life ...'
Megra was as beautiful as Iphicles described. Tall, slim and
auburn haired, she sported a manner which spoke of gentleness as
well as aristocracy. Her large brown eyes veiled shyly as she was
introduced to Hercules and Iolaus, "It is an honor." she
The princess was escorted to the table by her Court Minister,
Glothus, who gave Megra over to Iphicles the moment man and woman
Xena, who had been watching the official during their trip to
Corinth noted that Glothus did not smile during the exchange. She
didn't expect he would. He was a sour man and she suspected he
was dangerous as well. She would continue to watch him.
Megra's younger brother, handsome yet somewhat disheveled Prince
Haleus, bounced in - a little late - behind them, holding a
goblet of wine that he slurped greedily. He smiled mischievously,
eyeing the assembly, and seemed amused by something he was
keeping secret. His eyes took in the gathering, searching for
Iolaus recognized the swagger and the drunk-rumpled look even if
the fine lords and ladies of the palace didn't. Haleus had very
recently been with someone, probably a pretty young servant from
Iphicles palace. And he was now reveling in his conquest.
"So, how did you and Gabrielle become the princess's guardians?"
Hercules asked quietly, positioning himself near Xena as they
stood beside their chairs at the dining table. "Not usually your
style to protect royalty."
Xena allowed a short laugh. He knew her too well and considering
she and Hercules hadn't been together for quite sometime Xena
suspected it had something to do with Hercules being a halfgod.
"Megra's father contacted me and I know how important this
alliance is. It could prevent a war. Besides," She turned to the
demigod and, with a sly grinned, said - "He's *your* brother. I
still feel I owe you more than I can ever give for all you've
done for me, Hercules."
Hercules manner became thoughtful, "You owe me nothing, Xena." he
said, sincerely. "You've made up for your past by doing what
you've been doing over the last few years. Being good and helping
people. That's all the payment I need."
"But no matter what I do it will never be enough." she stated.
Hercules was about to reply when Iphicles spoke.
"Friends and family," he proclaimed to the four heroes as well as
five other couples friendly to the king and princess, "Thank you
for being here. Eat now and be merry. And may you all experience
for yourselves the same love I feel for Princess Megra." He then
bowed and kisses her delicate hand with great tenderness.
A gentle applause, lead by Prince Haleus, spontaneously erupted
from the king's guests.
When all were seated and proper introductions had taken place, as
well as a toast from Hercules to the happy couple, food was
Iolaus dug into his meal with zeal. He observed that Gabrielle,
who had been curiously quiet and pensive, did the same. She side
glanced at him while busily munching on a pork rib and chuckled
at his expression. A small thing, this unity, but he was warmed
by it -- and her presence.
"I am hoping," Megra spoke as the first set of dishes were being
taken away, "that our union will put to rest the rumors of civil
war between Corinth and Thessila." She reached over and once
again took Iphicles hand in her own. She then smiled when he
squeezed her fingers gently. "I truly adore your king and there
is nothing we would like more than to see peace between
"Here, here!" Prince Haleus intoned, almost too eagerly, sloshing
the wine in his goblet from side to side. "Soon, after our dear
ailing father's passing of course, I will be King of Thessila and
I can assure all that there will be no war!" The prince then
unexpectedly winked at Gabrielle and raised his goblet in a
'cheers' gesture to her.
The bard, a bit stunned at his open forwardness, looked away from
the prince and down at her hands where they lay on the wooden
Iolaus saw the strange exchange and noted how uncomfortable it
seemed to make Gabrielle.
Another appreciative and polite round of applause greeted the
Xena's eyes narrowed as she looked at Minister Glothus, who stood
to the rear of the room, observing all that took place. He smiled
for the first time that evening and The Warrior Princess found
herself wondering why.
After the evening meal some of the guests retired to their rooms
while others moved to lounging areas in the castle where after
dinner drinks and conversation took place.
Gabrielle stood back from a stone wall outside the dining area in
the foyer, examining a tapestry imprinted with a colorful coat of
arms. It was from the royal family of King Jason and she admired
the fact that Iphicles left it there, for all to see, to honor
the one time ruler who left his royal throne to marry a woman
without highborn blood. It was so romantic and she had a scroll
somewhere in the sack in her room that told the story Hercules
had related to her during one of their past meetings.
With a sigh, Gabrielle was about to walk to where she saw Xena
and Hercules speaking only a few moments before, when Prince
Haleus suddenly appeared, blocking her progress. He positioned
himself uncomfortably close to the bard, nearly backing her into
the stone wall. She could smell the liquor on his breath. He'd
been binging on more than just wine and she wasn't surprized.
He'd done little else but drink and flirt with women during their
entire journey to Corinth.
"Dear Gabrielle," he drawled, lifting a familiar hand to touch
her hair. "King Iphicles tells me there is a beautiful garden
just outside of the palace walls. In this full moonlight it
should be easy to see. Would you like to take a stroll?" He
lifted an arm as if he knew her answer could be nothing but an
"I ..." Gabrielle struggled, looking for a way out of the
"Now, don't tell me you have something you need to do." His hand
lowered and he stroked her left cheek, "Saying *no* to a future
king can result in dire consequences ..." he stated, watching for
her reaction. "Besides, it's a warm, inviting night. Much like
last evening when our little incident happened ..."
"Your Highness, I apologized for that."
"Yes, but I'm not fully satisfied, Gabrielle. I want to be
Her jaw set and she was prepared to do what she had to when he
leaned in closer.
"Your Highness!" Iolaus stepped into the foyer, "Minister Glothus
needs to have a word with you." he spoke urgently.
Haleus growled, "Tell him I'm busy."
"He says it's imperative."
The prince frowned, "Of course it is," He let his arm drop, "the
little rodent ..." Haleus straightened and adjusted his tunic,
"Some other time then." he said and moved away.
Gabrielle took a deep breath.
Iolaus stepped forward quickly and took her hand, "Let's get out
of here before he finds out I lied."
Chuckling, the couple made their way into the garden.
Xena stood beside Hercules as he watched his brother and Megra
in the distance, chatting with officials and laughing at their
silly attempts at humor. "You brother wears his crown well and I
think he and Princess Megra will be very happy."
"I hope so."
Curious, Xena looked over at the demigod. "You have concerns?"
"Not really with Iphicles. I know he'll do his best to keep
Corinth from war. I just wish I could be as certain with
Thessila." He turned to look at the warrior woman, "You've been
traveling with Megra, Haleus and the rest of the officials for a
week. Does this alliance seem strong to you?"
"I'm not going to lie." Xena pursed her lips, "If Megra were
Queen and in charge I wouldn't worry about Thessila too much.
She's genteel but intelligent. Haleus, on the other hand, is not
King material. He's a playboy, drunkard and lout."
Hercules couldn't prevent a small laugh, "I know a lot of kings
that fit that description."
"Yes, but when it comes down to the ruling of their kingdoms they
usually pretty well know what they're doing. At least they have
an agenda. The only person who comes close to having a brain in
that kingdom's royal advisory committee is Minister Glothus. And
I don't trust him."
"Just a feeling."
Hercules looked down at Xena and met her eyes. Said from anyone
else he would consider it a personal objection and dismiss the
comment as immaterial. But Xena wasn't just anyone. She was a
smart woman with intuitive good sense and, like himself, she saw
things and felt things that usually held deep meaning.
Their attention was diverted from the topic when Iphicles and
Megra made their way passed their other guests, over to the
"Before I retire I wanted to say goodnight to the both of you."
Megra smiled charmingly, and took one of Hercules and one of
Xena's hands in her own. "I know with you two warriors, as
dedicated as you are to the safety and security of Greece, that
all will be well in our lands."
"You know you can call on us at any time." Hercules said.
"And we may have to, Hercules." Iphicles murmured almost to
himself, glancing briefly to where he spotted Haleus and Glothus
speaking quietly to one another. "We may need you sooner than any
of us would like."
" ... and the next thing I know he's all over me. If I didn't
have my staff with me to knock a little sense into that blue-
blooded head who knows what he might have done."
Iolaus sat with Gabrielle on a stone bench near the palace
gardens. As Haleus mentioned earlier, it was a warm night and
pleasant. The stars above twinkled brightly and the moon, full
and splendid, cast a warm light down on the palace lands.
"What did he do when you hit him?" Iolaus asked, still amused by
the bard's tale of the unwanted affections of Prince Haleus.
"What could he do? For a moment I thought he was going to call
his guards on me but Haleus has a reputation with the ladies and
I suppose he didn't want to sully his name by admitting that a
simple girl from Potedia refused him."
"Hardly simple." Iolaus commented and meant it.
"Well, to the crown prince of a kingdom I *am* simple. He let it
go but I could tell he had something on his mind. Future revenge
or cornering me like he did in the foyer. He's a guy who doesn't
take no for an answer."
The smile on Iolaus face faded slightly, "If he bothers you again
let me know." he said, "I'll explain to him that no means no."
Gabrielle turned to Iolaus and was warmed by his gallantry,
"Taking on royalty, Iolaus?" her voice held a lilt, "I'm
surprised you weren't thrown in prison long ago with an attitude
They looked at one another and laughed softly. Then they were
quiet, taking in the pleasant sounds of the night.
"Where are you and Xena off to next?" Iolaus suddenly asked,
Gabrielle's brow furrowed a bit, "I don't know."
An honest answer. He liked that.
"Do you ever get tired of it, Iolaus?"
He looked at her, curious. "Tired?"
"The travel, fighting and helping people."
"Hercules would say it is its own reward." But he knew what she
was saying. Or, at least he thought he knew. "Sometimes I want to
settle down." he said, "I think of a pretty wife and children and
want it again."
Iolaus looked quickly at Gabrielle. Had he said *again*? "Yeah."
"You act as if you've been married."
He nodded but said nothing, looking up at the night sky.
"You've been married, Iolaus?"
He nodded again but, for awhile said nothing.
She waited patiently.
"Her name was Anya and we were both young and in love ...."
Iolaus told Gabrielle the entire story. His engagement with Anya,
their short life together, the son she bore him before she died
and the boy -- how he also died shortly thereafter.
Gabrielle could only sit and stare, taking it all in. Listening
to his words, hearing him recall a life she never knew about. The
wife he loved, the son he cherished and an experience he felt
better off not thinking on. How utterly sad, she thought. This
wonderful, caring man. To have everything taken away like that.
Then she thought of Hercules and his family and Xena with Solan.
Gabrielle visibly winced when recalling Perdicus .... and Hope
Were none of them allowed the luxury of a life without
Impulsively, when his story had ended, Gabrielle leaned forward
and placed her lips directly on his. It not only broke the sad
spell Iolaus' memories had cast but she felt he needed it -- and
felt she needed it too. They stayed like that for a long while,
his hands raising to touch her upper arms, but when the kiss
began to deepen into something more passionate she could feel
Iolaus pulling back, and she let him.
There was silence between them for a count of ten as they just
stared at one another.
"I'm sorry, Iolaus. I shouldn't have done that." Gabrielle
"No, don't say your sorry." he whispered, "I just ..." He leaned
forward a bit and looked down at the grass, resting his elbows on
his knees. "I know where this can lead and I'm not sure either of
us are ready for it." He was candid, "I'm not." Then, when
silence greeted his words, Iolaus looked up at her. He expected
to see hurt in her blue-green eyes. Instead, he saw
Relieved, she linked her arm with his and leaned into Iolaus a
little, resting her head on his shoulder. She wanted to tell him
something important but it could wait. They had time.
The couple jumped to their feet the minute they heard Hercules
call their names. There was an urgency in his voice that demanded
"We're here." Iolaus called when he saw the demigod searching
near a stone fountain a little away from them. "What's the
matter?" he asked as his friend rushed over to them.
"It's Princess Megra." he said, "She's been kidnapped."
It was past midnight and the wedding guests had all retired for
Now there were only five figures in the Great Hall. Four of them
wore grim expressions as they quietly watched and waited on the
Xena gently pressed a cold cloth to Iphicles neck and head, as he
sat in a simple wooden chair, his back to her. "He'll live," she
told Hercules and their friends, "but it *is* a pretty nasty
"I can't believe we were actually sneaked up on." Steadying his
hands, which were shaking from both pain and anger, the king
lifted a silver goblet to his lips and took in a slow sip of
wine. Lowering the drinking container he said, "Who would want to
kidnap Megra? She's never done anything to hurt anyone."
"It's the alliance." Iolaus said, "Someone is hoping that by
keeping her from the marriage you won't be so eager to make
friendly with Thesilla."
"But she was taken from me in my own castle, while I was
escorting her to her room! How did the kidnappers get in? How did
they know we'd be walking down that hall? I'm really going to
have a serious talk with my Captain of the Guards."
Hercules stood beside his brother and silently sighed relief,
satisfied that Iphicles would eventually be well. The demigod's
arms crossed over his chest, "More likely they're hoping the
kidnapping of Megra will make her father, the king of Thesilla,
so angry he'll declare war on Corinth."
"Or break off the union of kingdoms." Xena added.
"The people of Corinth had nothing to do with this," Iphicles
stood somewhat shakily to his feet, "It was my own fault. I
should have been more careful. It's an outsider, I'm sure. No one
in Corinth would have a reason to take Megra away. Everyone knows
how important an alliance with Thesilla is. As long as we're
friends there will be no fear of being overthrown. Thesilla has
the power to do that, you know."
Hercules and Xena looked at each other. Both were thinking about
their earlier conversation. Prince Haleus. This was serious.
Gabrielle almost smiled at Iphicles manner. He'd seemed so regal
and handsome to her when they first met but he now looked like
any other abused man who was unsure, upset and fearful. Iphicles
wasn't born of royal blood, Gabrielle knew, and it was at times
like this that they could see his honest, simple nature. a
demeanor a mountain of royal training couldn't totally eclipse.
"There's an abandoned castle about twenty miles from here." Xena
spoke, rounding Iphicles to stand by Hercules side, "If they took
her anywhere it would be there."
"Why's that?" asked Iolaus.
"It's between the boundaries of Corinth, Thesilla and Thebes --
and it's protected by Hera."
"I know the place." Hercules said, "When Iphicles and I were
little boys we used to play there." He glanced at his brother
who's eyes veiled slightly. Yes, they'd play there before
innocence was lost, jealousy was harbored and Iphicles walked out
of he and Alcmene's lives ... "We called it Elysia."
Iphicles nodded, "Because it was the perfect place to play."
Iolaus said, "So, whoever it is that took her could settle there
without worry of either kingdom as long as they pay Hera
Iphicles closed his eyes then opened them again, "You have to
help me, Hercules. Go there and find Megra. Keep her safe. In the
meantime I'll keep everyone in Corinth ignorant of the facts.
I'll make excuses, tell them Megra has decided she needs a few
days alone, and see if I can pin point the master-mind behind all
An image of Glothus suddenly popped into Xena's mind but she said
nothing. She couldn't accuse without proof. "I'm going too." she
"And so am I." Iolaus added.
"Me too." Gabrielle chimed in.
"Yes, all of you. Go." Iphicles tone was both grateful and
commanding, "And you must get her back before the wedding or I'll
have to publicly announce what has happened." He paused to allow
the weight of his words to sink in, "*That* could be very