"Iolaus, please wake up."
He heard her voice through a fog. An exquisite voice, he thought,
and wondered if it was Anya -- calling to him from the Elysian
Fields. His eyes flickered open and he soon realized, as the
golden figure before him focused into a single form, that he was
laying on a cot. "Gabrielle?" he asked, coming back to reality.
She smiled her relief and touched his left cheek with gentle
fingers, "I'm so glad your back. I was worried."
Iolaus paused for a moment, enjoying the warmth of her touch,
then he suddenly recalled what happened and looked quickly down
at his chest. The gash, where he had been cut by Megra an hour
earlier, was red and inflamed. Gabrielle had made an attempt to
keep it clean and applied an awkward bandage that he now removed.
The wound wasn't bleeding and he decided that was a good sign. "I
thought I was dying." he said honestly, sitting up. "The Princess
..." he began.
"I'm here." she whispered and approached the couple, apology in
Iolaus sat up in bed quickly and noticed, for the first time,
that they were being held captive in a cell. They didn't seem to
be in the dungeon but locked in an area that was comfortable --
but confining. "Why did you do that to me?" he asked abruptly,
"It wasn't her, Iolaus." Gabrielle explained, "Princess Megra was
kidnapped and her brother plans to put a double in her place, to
wed Iphicles. It's complicated but the woman we thought was Megra
earlier was a lookalike ... a hand maiden of Hera."
Iolaus sighed in an 'of course' gesture, then: "Why?" he asked
"Power." Princess Megra spoke plainly, "My brother always hated
the idea of Thesilla and Corinth becoming allies. He *wanted*
Corinth and was continually insisting that father conquer King
Iphicles and take his kingdom. Our king wanted nothing to do with
it, considering Haleus no more than a foolish drunk. A part my
brother played well, I might add. The King was determined to
participate in the Union of Kingdoms and, when he became ill, he
asked me to speak with Iphicles, to forge an alliance before my
brother's rule. Father wanted to be certain Thesilla flourished
and Haleus didn't run it into the ground." she smiled slightly,
"It was fortunate that Iphicles and I fell in love, nearly at
first sight. Once we're married, and a treaty is written on an
official scroll, there will be *nothing* Haleus - King or not -
can do to prevent a union."
Iolaus nodded, "But in the meantime, if your double were to call
off the wedding, especially after having been kidnapped by some
filthy Corinthians ..."
"A beautiful excuse for war." Haleus approached from the hall,
with Hercules and Xena in tow.
The cell door was opened by one of his guards and the two heroes
were tossed inside with their friends.
Before the bars closed and locked, Gabrielle's arm was grasped by
a barbarian and she was dragged out, without warning, from the
cell. Iolaus made a move to stop whatever was happening but a
barbarian punch him hard on his wounded chest. He fell back on
"Where are you taking her?" Xena demanded, pushing to the front
of the cell, her fingers bunched into fists.
"Not to worry." the Prince assured, "Gabrielle and I are merely
going to have a small chat and I'm going to take her to a place
of contemplation. I hope she likes rats."
"The dungeon." Iolaus thought through his pain.
"You hurt her and I'll kill you!" Xena declared and only pushed
away from the bars when Haelus and her friend disappeared around
a corner, following by two guards.
"Princess?" Hercules questioned Megra.
He then sat on the cot next to Iolaus, "You okay?" Hercules asked
his partner, knowing the long gash which cut across his chest
must hurt like Tartarus.
"I feel drugged, like I'm not totally together. My reaction time
is off ..." Iolaus breathed out a little, pain evident. "But I
feel much better now that you're here."
Hercules clapped him gently on the shoulder.
"I'm so sorry for all of this." Megra murmured, looking over at
Xena - who still stared with worry out of the barred doors - then
at the two men, "Minister Glothus warned me this might happen but
I chose to ignore him."
"Glothus?" Xena exclaimed and turned, recalling her irritation
with the official, thinking him a disruptive influence.
"He's never trusted my brother. Even when Haleus finally agreed
with the king's terms he suspected treachery." she smiled at
Xena, "I know he seems bitter but it's because he cares so much
for Thesilla and its well being. He's strict but doesn't want to
see it destroyed and hoped by keeping tight control, being
inflexible, all would be well. Glothus is actually a very good
man and I hoped to use him as an advisor once Iphicles and I wed
... That is, if it happens now." Worry and sadness marred the
attractive face, "Poor Iphicles. If Glothus doesn't realize what
has happened and my beloved marries that woman ..."
"It won't ever get to that." Hercules assured and stood. He
walked over to the bars, making note of the guards that stood to
the outside of the cell door. He lifted four fingers to tell all
inside what they were up against.
With a crisp snap, he pulled the door off of its hinges.
"Bitchin ..." Iolaus murmured, standing.
The battle began.
The woman, Princess Megra's double, sat perfectly still on the
sofa, her legs crossed. Her eyes were closed and she told Haleus
she was now communicating with Hera. The Queen of the Gods was
"I want the girl, dear sister." Haleus spoke into her ear,
enjoying his deception. The real Megra could learn a few things
from this ambitious woman. "Make certain Hera knows that. We'll
kill Hercules and Xena for her greater glory but I want Corinth
and Xena's attractive friend in return."
She opened her eyes and side glanced at the prince. Did he really
think the execution of Hercules and Xena would be so simple? He
was young and a fool. Then she smiled, "Do you plan on marrying
the girl, Gabrielle?" she asked.
Haleus frowned his contempt, "Of course not. She's a commoner. I
want her as my personal slave. I plan to flog her often, brand
her, humble her, teach her many *erotic* lessons." the frown
was replaced with a smile, then the prince straightened, "Mostly,
I want to wipe that superior expression off the little blonde's
face." A mere peasant and she had the nerve to strike him with
her walking staff. Gabrielle had the opportunity to be with him -
- something most unworthy women would mame for and yet she
refused his charms. That little snip thinking herself better than
the Prince of Thesilla. He would make her meek if it was the last
thing he did -- or she did.
Hera's hand maiden closed her eyes again. Enslaving the girl was
one option but it wasn't enough. Xena could set her free. It was
Xena that needed to be tamed and emotionally tortured
Then there was Iolaus, Hercules friend. His journey was already
enfolding. If he only knew what he was about to do ... Hercules
would surely die inside, knowing there was no way to save his
friend this time. Once a man commits suicide even Hades can't
reverse the process.
Hera was discerning and imparted a piece of wisdom all hand
maidens could learn from. If you can't destroy a hero or heroine
by killing them, which was forbidden for Hercules and impossible
with Xena for other reasons, then one should work on their best
friends ... and watch with delight as untold agonies befell the
objects of Hera's greatest grieves.
"Where is she? The girl." the woman asked, "Hera wants to know."
"She's in the dungeon, awaiting my carriage to whisk her away to
"Good." she stood, "We have work to do."
Once defeated, they locked the unconscious barbarians in the
"We need to find Gabrielle." Xena said, quickly. "Where could
they have taken her?"
Iolaus spotted his sword, which had been laid on a rickety table
and suddenly felt very heavy in his weakened hands. He quickly
sheathed it in his leather back holster. Xena's sword was no
where to been seen but they didn't have time to consider this
odd. "I think I know where she was taken." he said, "You and
Hercules go find Haleus and the impostor. I'll get Gabrielle.
We'll meet you outside."
"Good thinking." Hercules agreed and took a reluctant Xena by the
She had a very bad feeling about this.
Iolaus could feel the palace shake beneath his feet as he ran
down the stone steps into the lower regions of the dilapidated
architectural nightmare. "Please. Just stay together until we can
get out of here, okay?" he almost prayed.
As if in answer, the castle groaned.
Gabrielle found herself breathing deeply. They had tied her, the
barbarians, to a long length of rope which dangled from a heavy
support beam above her. It ran from one end of the ceiling to the
other. They had her standing or, more precisely, balancing on the
tips of her booted toes -- dangling from the rope. Whatever the
purpose of this abuse, it was painful and she wished Prince
Haelus, or whoever her tormentor was for the day, would just come
in and talk with her, hit her or do anything. Perhaps even cut
her down before her bones broke or became dislocated.
She heard the familiar voice and twisted her neck about to see
who stood at the closed door, "Iolaus, hurry." was all she could
squeak out, seeing his face through the grate.
The hunter rattled the metal hinges but the door was bolted. Only
one thing he could do. With as much force as he could, Iolaus
stepped back and pushed all of his weight against the wood which
barred his entrance. The door flung open with relative ease,
splintering do to age and rot.
"Thanks the gods." Gabrielle whispered when he came to her and
unsheathed a small dagger, hidden in his boot. One fierce slash
and the rope was severed. She fell forward into his embrace and
was a little surprised when Iolaus nearly dropped her.
"Sorry." he murmured into her ear, holding the woman close. "It's
the drug they cut me with. My reaction time ..."
"Sh." Gabrielle whispered, moving her lips to his, grateful for
his rescue and their touch.
As they kissed his hands moved up to pull the rope from her
hands. "Gabrielle," he forced himself to break with her, "As
great as this is ... we need to go. We ...."
The words, the reasoning, stopped as they felt a shift under
"I said *please*!" Iolaus muttered to himself.
"Iolaus!" Gabrielle cried as a rain of stones fell at her feet.
The roof, what seemed to be the entire structure, suddenly began
to give away around them. Iolaus pulled Gabrielle with him into
the relative safety of a corner. When all was done, stone, wood
and rubble blocked their exit.
"Just great!" Iolaus patted dust from his vest, "We'll have to
find another way." he said and peered around to an aperture he'd
never seen before. They would have to take the long way but,
eventually, he would get her out of this place and they could go
back to Corinth, with the imprisoned Prince Haleus, and celebrate
in the most positive, intimate way possible.
Neither had any way of knowing that Gabrielle would be dead, and
on her way to meet with Hades, before they left the palace.
If there was one thing that was not in short supply in the
castle, it was bindings. Chord and heavy rope hung from the
draperies, wrapping themselves around bedposts and memorabilia
trunks. Manacles were found in nearly every room of the now
deteriorating structure ... Neither Xena or Hercules questioned
this. After all, the castle had been owned at one time by a
rather strange nobleman, prone to the decadent and unusual.
Haleus himself had apparently been holed up in the place for
awhile, making his treacherous plans before implementing them and
- well - he did have some rather *odd* appetites of his own.
Quite frankly, it was a line of thought neither hero were
interested in pursuing.
The rope and chord, however, came in handy as Hercules tethered
together six of the ten barbarians who followed one another out
of the castle into the courtyard. These men were accompany by
Xena and Princess Megra who pulled both Prince Haleus and Megra's
double with them.
Hercules pointed to the grass, indicated the barbarians should
take a rest before they made their way back to Corinth. They'd
have to walk, after all, and they were in a hurry. Megra still
needed to make it back to the kingdom in time for her scheduled
He then looked back at the crumbling palace, in somewhat of a
quandary. There were still dangers in there for the two heroes
who remained. Not just from the structure but at least four
barbarians still remained, who didn't yet realize they were
fighting a losing battle.
"You won't get away with this!" Haleus shouted, pulling at the
restraints that held his hands together. "I am the Prince of
Thesilla -- soon to be the king! You will regret the day you
treated me like a common criminal."
Megra, so often meek and quiet, had enough - "Oh shut up,
Her retort, so out of character for the genteel princess, was
astonishing. Even the barbarians, as they sat on the grass,
looked at her: "You brought this on yourself, you greedy little
bacchi. And father will know exactly what you've done, putting
people's lives in danger and planning to break apart what he has
tried so hard to accomplish." She stared hard at her brother,
"Face it Haleus, you *will never be king*! Not ever!"
"Megra ..." her brother verbally stumbled a bit, shocked by her
manner. "Of course I will be ... I'm his only son ..." he nearly
Then they heard horses.
Xena looked over a wooded ridge to the right of the palace and
saw a small army of men on horseback, "I think they're from
Corinth.' she announced.
Megra nodded, "Yes, and they're being led by Minister Glothus."
When they arrived Glothus, startled at first by the appearance of
two Megra's, told them that Iphicles had become concerned and
told a few of his most trusted men what had happened. He then
told Glothus to follow the heroes to the castle in case help was
needed. They really didn't know what they were facing.
Grateful, Xena and Hercules told the Minister - as he sat looking
down at them from horseback - to take the barbarians, Haleus and
the two Megra's to Corinth and they would follow shortly with
Iolaus and Gabrielle, with a full explanation. In the meantime,
the true Megra could give them details.
He agreed but insisted on leaving a few of his men at the palace
with the heroes in case their assistance was needed in rounding
up what was left of Haleus men.
Xena made a private mental note that she was going to apologize
to Glothus after the wedding.
Megra's double, dressed elegantly, her hands bound together in
front of her, gently being prodded forward, looked at Hercules
and Xena - trying to meet their eyes. A simpering smile was
directed at them, her expression beaming with a silent merriment,
before she was placed inside a coach with Prince Haleus. As the
rode off, she turned her head and winked at the heroic couple.
Disturbed, Hercules and Xena glanced at each other.
"I get the feeling she knows something we don't." Hercules said
to the Warrior Princess as she stood to his left.
"I know what you mean." Xena reluctantly agreed, taking a quick
look at Gabrielle's staff as it lay on a clump of grass. She had
found it in Haleus chamber and brought it out herself to return
to her friend. "It's as if something hasn't been played out yet."
Then, as the Corinthian assembly road off, leaving the heroes and
a few soldiers -- Hercules and Xena heard the palace structure
groan yet again. It was getting ready to fall in -- and neither
Iolaus or Gabrielle had made an appearance yet.
"We better go get them." Hercules suggested, suddenly wondering
if Hera hadn't made arrangements for Iolaus and Gabrielle to be
caught inside when the palace finally met its end. It would be
just like her to be so spiteful.
Equally curious and anxious, Xena followed.
"I don't believe this, another dead end!" Gabrielle gently bit
her lower lip and tried hard not to whine. They'd been walking
around in circles for over an hour and a half. Now here they were
- exhausted and dirty, their skin streaked with dust and grime -
faced with another blocked aperture. They weren't asking for
much, just an escape from the lower half of the castle -- but it
didn't look as if would happen soon.
"If we could just find the opening that allowed us into the
castle in the first place." Iolaus said, looking about the room
and using his great sense of direction, those tracking skills he
was so noted for, to get a foothold on their situation.
"How do we know *that* won't be block as well?" she asked,
brushing off then sitting on a flat platform behind her.
Iolaus sighed and jumped up to sit beside her, "We don't." he
said with a weak smile and chuckled when she tiredly leaned
against him. "But we're going to try anyway." He lifted his hands
in front of him, flexing the fingers - uncomfortable with the
sensations he was feeling. Not just physical but mental. He was
having a terrible time focusing, although he wouldn't allow
Gabrielle to know it. She had faith he would get them out of this
and he wouldn't disappoint her.
"We don't have much choice do we?" Gabrielle massaged her wrists
as she spoke.
Iolaus lowered his hands and looked down at her's. He regretfully
noted the marks where the chord had dug deep into her tender
flesh. He didn't really know what Haleus had planned for her down
there in that pit, hanging Gabrielle up like some insignificant
sack of oats, but he could only guess and it made his blood run
cold. Once they were out of this place he'd make certain the
prince wouldn't come to harm any other comely young woman.
He took a deep breath and stretched, "Okay, let's ....."
"Wait, listen." Gabrielle stood and gazed at the wall of stone
before them, "Someone is on the other side, trying to break
"Hercules?" Iolaus questioned then moved a little closer to the
blocked door. He heard a clanging and what seemed to be the
removal of stone. "Hercules, is that you?!' he called.
There was a pause then a muffled voice. Iolaus thought he could
hear a "Yeah!" on the other side.
He looked back at Gabrielle and she smiled. A joyful, trusting
smile. He would always remember her expression at this moment.
It would haunt him in his nightmares.
"Hercules, look out!" Xena pulled at the demigod's arm and both
watched as the large, dislodged boulder flew passed them, bounced
against a stone step then crashed to bits of grain on the
The castle rumbled again and they held onto one another, keep
each other erect and safe, until the quake stopped.
For a few moments after the motion had stopped they look
unabashedly at one another, recalling a time from their past when
holding onto each other during a time of emotional turmoil seemed
the perfect thing to do. Such deep feeling back then ....
Then they straightened a bit and cleared their throats.
Hercules said, "Very nice." under his breath.
Xena replied with an "Oh yeah." of her own.
They continued their downward trek.
They began to remove stone and timber from their side as well,
throwing the trash aside with far more physical energy than
either really felt. They were getting out, that's what mattered.
"I'm glad we got to spend a little time together, Iolaus."
Gabrielle spoke hoarsely, digging through the smaller stones and
tossing each aside with disinterest, "But on our next date why
don't you just take me to a theater or out to dinner?"
Iolaus chuckled, admiring her good sense of humor despite the
surroundings. He then pushed aside a large square of wood and
breathed out with relief, "We're breaking through!" he said ...
... and heard a cheer form the other side.
Suddenly, at the same moment, Iolaus and Gabrielle stopped what
they were doing, and looked seriously at one another. Fear of
what they now knew to be true enveloped them like an
Cautiously, they stepped back away from the blockade - not making
a sound - Iolaus drawing his sword and Gabrielle hunting for a
long length of wood that might serve as a fighting staff..
There shouldn't have been a cheer. Who was on the other side?
The four barbarians crashed through what remained of the rubble
wall, weapons drawn, and attacked without further preamble.
Iolaus was quick with the first man, clanging swords then ducking
when the barbarian took a long hard sweep at him. Iolaus stabbed
out once, connecting with his unprotected belly and watched him
Gabrielle was like-wise involved. The stick she found was of the
near consistency of her own Amazon staff. She caught one
assailant under the chin, watching him fall backward and managed
to catch another, who obviously thought her the easier target of
the two, hard in the stomach. He doubled over in time for the
woman to slam her foot against a private part of his male
anatomy. He cried his shock and surprise.
Xena had taught her well.
Meanwhile, Iolaus fought the fourth barbarian. He could feel
himself growing weaker, his system not completely cleansed of
whatever was in the potion Megra's double had infected him with.
His hands were trembling even as he held tightly onto his sword.
His usually top-notch reactions were slowing in complete contrast
to his usual energy.
Understanding the situation, Gabrielle grew determined. She threw
the length of wood down and began to pick up hand sized stones.
As Iolaus clashed metal with the man she launched rocks at the
enemy. It had to appear odd but Xena always said improvising was
often the mother of necessity. Besides, Gabrielle certainly
didn't want to seize the sword from Iolaus hands and attempt to
fight the barbarian herself. That would not only be foolish,
because she didn't know the first thing about sword play, but
even with his strength depleted Iolaus still had his cunning and
could fight a barbarian with the strength of any five normal men.
Iolaus, as he fought the man, could feel himself being bested.
The only thing he could think of at this moment was what an old
master from the east taught him -- how he could remove himself
from his body, fight and focus but not really be there in spirit
... For a brief moment of time he could lose his humanity ... but
Iolaus fought it. He needed to be there because if he wasn't he
could suddenly lose control. He'd seen it happen with other
students. Not him, of course, because he could learn ... But that
was when he was physically well, younger and in peak condition.
That was before he was struck with a decorative silver blade,
touched with the poisonous power of Hera ....
... and then he saw the man go down. Iolaus thrust forward,
spearing him in the heart, the hunter's focus on his mission. And
he heard another sound, right behind him. So focused was he,
clamping unintentionally onto that eastern technique, that he
didn't realize that the sound he was hearing was a jump for joy.
Gabrielle congratulating him on a remarkable show of skill and
He twirled quickly, the movement of his sword beyond his control
now .... and he watched her eyes grow wide with puzzled shock ...
Two, maybe three seconds passed but it seemed like an eternity.
Then she began to fall ... and he realized ....
Her voice, her dying words, held honey as she pleaded with him to
not blame himself. But he didn't hear it. He was at fault ...
Dearest gods, he was at fault!
A few moments later he heard Hercules and Xena arrive. Too late
... Oh why oh why couldn't they have arrived just a few minutes
earlier? They could have prevented him from doing this horrible
And now, as if waking from a horrible dream, Iolaus looked over
to see Xena - who sat on the ground directly across from him -
with one hand holding Gabrielle to her and the other holding her
She was going to kill him.
And Iolaus didn't really care ....