Before we start:
This story is gratefully dedicated to Steelmagnolia, a truly kind and gentle soul who patiently, generously and intelligently led my 'pen across the parchment', so to speak, throughout the development of this tale. Without her good sense and fine judgment, this story would never have come to be; it would still be hiding in the back of my mind. Thank you, DB. I honestly couldn't have done this without you. MMG 2/26/97
The two women strode side by side through the rambling countryside. One was tall, sleek and alert. A mass of raven-black hair fell about her neck and shoulders. The thick tresses fluttered lightly in the summer breeze as she walked. Her steel blue eyes seem to move in all directions, surveying the terrain they faced as well as the road just traveled. Now and then, the leather clothing under the battle armor that covered her torso sounded a subtle warble as her trim form turned and flexed. The warrior remained aware of all the precise aspects of the area, her senses always sharp, her reflexes toned and ready.
In her left hand she held the reins to her mount, a golden-coated mare who trudged comfortably at her left hip. The animal's silvery mane moved softly on the breeze, now and then touching the woman's face in a gentle caress. The tall woman reached up to the horse's neck to return the affection. After a few paces, the rhythm returned to their matching steps.
At the moment, Xena was faced with trying to concentrate on the path and on her companion's conversation at the same time. The slight, young woman who had become her soul mate and most valued friend was indulging in her own favorite pastime - talking. Xena had finally grown to accept Gabrielle's penchant for words and their discourse. It wasn't even necessary to contribute to the seemingly constant stream of phrases that emerged; apparently all Xena had to do was at least appear to listen.
Xena cast a side-long glance at the blond head beside her. The young woman matching her cadence, stride for stride, carried a long, fighting staff in one hand and a satchel-pouch bag over one shoulder. Her face was open and responsive. Her sparkling green eyes explored the world around her with a brave, courageous spirit. The girl always seemed capable of discovering the world anew, over and over again. It was only one of the extraordinary facets of the young woman's being that nurtured and soothed the warrior's soul.
Gabrielle's entrance into the warrior's life had occurred totally without plan, apparently by accident. Xena would not have easily admitted that the young female's presence could possibly change her world to the slightest degree, except perhaps as an irritation. In truth, when their trek together had begun, the warrior had looked upon the girl's insistent pursuit more as an intrusion, and an unwanted one.
Now, after nearly two years on the road together, the two women were permanently connected, each a part of the other's essence, separate yet necessary to the very soul of the other. Xena was always amazed at the depth of her feelings for Gabrielle, as well as by the unflinching loyalty she found returned by her friend. It had been a very long time since she'd able to trust someone so completely.
Gabrielle had long ago become aware that conversation was not her best friend's favorite activity. Extracting more than a few words at a time from Xena took long, concentrated work. When they'd first begun traveling together, Gabrielle had simply continued to ask questions until she'd received an answer, or until she'd seen that warning glint come into Xena's eyes. She wouldn't have believed the warrior's blue gaze could change to cold gray so quickly, until she'd seen it happen the first time.
Their relationship had matured in the past months; each had been to the ridge of Tartarus and back. Through it all, their friendship had sustained them. The spirit of their trust and faith in each other had been the saving element through the worst events of their lives.
The stories Gabrielle practiced on the warrior's somewhat 'captured' ears had begun to have a mending effect on Xena's heart as well. The demons she had carried there for so many years had found a worthy adversary in Gabrielle's decency and kindness. Each time Xena had expected the inevitable ending to their friendship to happen, Gabrielle had instead provided another example of the truest brand of kindred faith in her.
Today their journey was to take them to Xena's home village, Amphipolis. During their most recent stop for supplies, Gabrielle had been only mildly surprised when her friend announced where their next stop would be.
For months now, it had been a case of her following wherever Xena had decided they would go. Not that the arrangement always bothered her. She trusted Xena completely and found it a most natural instinct to defer to her judgment. It was just sometimes that Gabrielle resented Xena for assuming that it would always be the case.
However, Xena had engaged in a rare activity during their evening meal by volunteering a few pieces of information about their upcoming mission. The facts had been sparse and brief, even for Xena. But it had been one of the few times she had candidly supplied any particulars about her own past. Gabrielle was pleased whenever Xena decided to share what appeared to be very private - and very painful - parts of herself.
"An old friend of mine needs a favor", Xena had said to explain their rather abrupt change in direction. "I'd like to help her, if we can."
Gabrielle had heard 'we'. That was certainly a new concept to their relationship. Even though she knew Xena valued their friendship and enjoyed her company, Gabrielle had only recently come to believe that her own contribution to their adventures was anything more than a simple case of following Xena's orders.
The only other clues to emerge during the repast were the name of the friend they were going to help, Lanessa, and the fact that she had somehow managed to get a message to Xena requesting assistance. The next morning the trip had begun and was proceeding as usual; with Xena plotting the way and Gabrielle alongside, practicing her stories.
For a dozen strides, the two were silent. The only sound heard along the dusty road was the sound of the horse's bridle rattling about her attractive head. Argo's soft nicker accompanied the steady thumping of Gabrielle's staff on the firm ground. The women walked in the comfortable quiet for a while longer.
Xena slowed her pace to negotiate a slightly hilly area. Gabrielle let her lead Argo down the small embankment before following in their wake. When they had returned to level earth, their steps again fell in unison.
"So this Lanessa", Gabrielle began when the path again stretched flat before them. "How long have you known her?"
"An eternity.", Xena answered in her clipped style. "We were children together."
For a moment Gabrielle forgot her surprise at the personal nature of Xena's response. A small tickle of amusement swelled in her and she laughed softly, almost to herself. Xena turned toward her, a questioning look changing her face.
"Something you find funny?" she asked.
Gabrielle shook her head and turned a warm smile to her friend. "I'm sorry", she said, a gentle giggle betraying her amusement. "But I guess I never thought of you as having been a *child.*" Her smile grew larger now, causing a tiny grin to invade Xena's stoic face.
The warrior's eyebrow crept upward, but the grin stayed in hiding. She stopped walking and turned fully toward the smiling Gabrielle. "We were all children once, Gabrielle", Xena said, "even me." Gabrielle searched the blue eyes trained on her.
"I didn't spring full grown from under a tuber, you know." Xena's tone now displayed a trace of hurt and Gabrielle immediately regretted causing it.
"Oh, I know." the young bard answered, placing a loving hand on Xena's arm. She watched subtle emotions play across her friend's lovely face. "It's just ...", Gabrielle tried to explain. The gentleness of her nature made her search for a kind way to proceed. "Well, it's a new image for me to form." Wheat-colored brows darted under her blonde bangs.
For an instant, Xena seemed not to be amused. Then the warmth of Gabrielle's smile soothed the mistrust that for years had plagued her soul. Xena felt the tenseness relax and found herself smiling back. She turned back to the path and they resumed walking.
After another moment, Gabrielle's voice again broke Xena's reverie. "I'll bet Lanessa could tell me stories about that time." Xena heard the question within the statement. Gabrielle was subtly asking for permission to seek Lanessa's knowledge of the past.
"She just might", Xena conceded, "if she's of a mind to." Then the familiar wave of sadness caught in her throat.
"Actually", Xena said softly, "she was Lyceus' friend." Gabrielle's heart caught as it always did at the pain that showed in Xena's voice whenever she mentioned her younger brother.
"They were in the same level in school." A moment of quiet mourning hung in the morning air. Then Xena forced the ache to recede. "But I must admit", she continued, with a new grain of levity, "the three of us did get into trouble, from time to time."
Gabrielle welcomed the lightness she heard returning in Xena's voice. "You?" she chirped. "In trouble?" She watched Xena's eyebrow retreat behind her bangs again. "Nah!" Gabrielle gasped in exaggerated disbelief.
After a moment, Gabrielle's soft chuckle reignited the discussion. "I'll bet you were an onery little kid." she joked.
"You bet", Xena answered, entering into the fun. "That's why I'm an onery big kid", she finished, playfully bouncing her fist on the top of Gabrielle's blond head. Xena pursed her lips to keep from surrendering to her own laughter. She cast her best 'warning' look at Gabrielle, but the girl's amused eyes were trained on the road beneath them.
'How easily she can remedy my heart', Xena thought for the dozenth time. 'This person was surely sent to me by the gods', she mused. As always, the depth of contentment she felt in the girl's presence fascinated and confused the warrior. She still wasn't sure which made her more uneasy.
"So what's she like?" Gabrielle said after another short silence.
Xena gave in to her own sense of fun. "Who?", she asked innocently.
"Lanessa." Gabrielle said, enjoying her friend's rare attempt at humor.
"Oh", Xena answered, continuing the exchange. With a tiny smirk, she turned to Gabrielle. "You'll like her", she said, indulging the new joy she found in this game. "She's rather talkative." Now it was Gabrielle's turn to expend 'that look' on her companion.
After another moment Gabrielle said, "You'll be able to visit your mother, too, while we're there."
"No", Xena said matter-of-factly. "She's in Thessaly visiting a friend of her own." After another few strides, she said quietly, "Might be just as well."
Gabrielle turned to her, slightly confused. "Why do you say that?"
Xena decided to forego her own intuition for the moment. She smiled warmly at her young friend. "This way, Lanessa and I can 'catch up', as you call it."
"Oh", Gabrielle said, nodding, but she had her own misgivings. She had learned a great about how to 'read' Xena's moods and the true inference that sometimes subtly colored her friend's sparse remarks. The young bard had the distinct feeling that the warrior was either concealing something or that her comment had another meaning. But, she just couldn't decide which, at the moment.
Soon they had reached the ridge surrounding Amphipolis. The soft grassy mounds surrounding the road grew more lush and fragrant. When the path brought them directly above the town, the small party came to a halt. Gabrielle's gaze searched the landscape, trying to renew her memory of the area. It was a village much like many others in the area; people busy at various chores in the field, vendors bartering in the marketplace, children shrieking about playing cheerful games.
Gabrielle turned to watch Xena's reaction to her home. She saw a myriad of emotions travel across the warrior's face. The breeze dancing across the valley carried the gentle sounds from the town up to them. The combined noises were accompanied by various smells and colors. From their vantage point on the hill, they were witness to the very essence of the hamlet. It was as though the small conclave was performing just for them.
The bard could sense the uneasiness rise in Xena. Her chiseled features grew more and more immobile as she watched the activity within the village. Gabrielle knew her friend's visions included the destruction and violence that had occurred many years ago, the cruelty that had turned her soul to a life of war. A cold, determined glare turned Xena's blue eyes to granite. The hardness in them sent a chill through Gabrielle.
She placed a gentle hand on Xena's arm. The warrior turned a stony gaze toward the young blond. For an instant, Gabrielle wasn't sure Xena recognized her.
"Do you see her ... Lanessa?" Gabrielle asked, her eyes watching Xena.
Xena's gaze returned to the busy town. "Do you see her anywhere?" she heard Gabrielle ask again.
Shaking off her own tortured visions, Xena searched the area for her old friend. Finally she recognized a slight form reclining near a number of children playing. Drawing a slow, silent breath, Xena unclenched both fists and relaxed her tight jaw lock.
"There", she said pointing to the figure near the children. "There she is." As the pain seeped away from her, she turned an apologetic smile toward Gabrielle. "Come on, my friend", she said to the open face beside her. "You two will enjoy each other."
Xena turned to Argo and swung herself onto the animal's back. She reached a hand down to Gabrielle, took the staff Gabrielle handed her and hoisted the girl onto the blanket behind her. When Gabrielle's arm wrapped around her waist, Xena felt the rest of her anger fade away. Gabrielle reclaimed the staff and settled herself on the blanket under them.
"Now you can meet my other wonderful friend." Xena said. Then she urged Argo toward the town.
The small, auburn-haired woman reclined comfortably at the edge of the grassy area. A group of children scampered happily within the encircled space, chasing a large, leather ball. The woman's contented smile matched the joy she always experienced whenever she witnessed this particular activity.
Lanessa heard the children's happy voices floating around her. The sounds of their laughter always filled her with a sense of contentment and peace. She knew them all by name, knew the structure of each small face. She identified every innocent squeal as it bounced about her. The mothers of the town knew she was with them and the women trusted Lanessa's vigilance. The children all loved the woman's gentle manner and considered her a trusted friend.
One youngster sporting bright copper curls broke from the game to race to her side.
"Lanetha", he lisped. "I caught the ball! Did you hear me?" he bragged, his breathless clamor music to her ears. "I caught it juth like you thaid, with both handth!"
The small woman raised a hand to the boy's soft cheek. "Yes, Efron", she told him, her voice smooth and quiet. "I heard you. You did it perfectly."
The boy let out a joyful yelp and ran to rejoin the cavorting group. Lanessa flashed a proud smile in his direction and resumed her attention to the game. For the time being her concentration was centered on the boisterous activity. She listened as each child completed an attempt at kicking or throwing the ball to another in the circle. The clattering of small feet around the circumference of the play area made identification a particular challenge.
The woman felt the warrior's approach at once. The moment the travelers entered her sphere, Lanessa's senses were alerted. A deep warmth filled her being as she recognized the presence of her oldest friend. She rose and clapped her hands to get the children's attention. The game came to an immediate halt as all the young faces turned toward Lanessa.
"Time for supper, cherubs." she called to them, only partially aware of their response. "The game will keep until tomorrow. I'll miss you until then."
The children cheerfully gathered their playthings and sang out 'good-byes' to her as they jostled away to rejoin their families. As the sweet voices faded away, Lanessa turned toward the ridge above the town. A singular vision had altered her focus. It was a face she knew well and welcomed without uncertainty.
"Xena", Lanessa said, her voice smooth and affectionate. "She's here."
Lanessa walked slowly in the direction of the horse's cadence. She recognized the smell of that mare; she knew who her rider was. A warm smile glowed on the woman's face as the animal strode closer. When the horse came to an abrupt stop a meter's length from her, Lanessa extended a tender hand in the direction of the animal's nose. Argo took one more short stride and began to nuzzle against the small palm.
Xena sat watching the loving ritual. Her throat tightened at the memory of the more innocent days, when Lanessa had first demonstrated her amazing affinity with animals. The warrior waited patiently while Argo said 'hello'. She knew Gabrielle was bursting with interest. But some instinct had quieted the girl's curiosity. She sat silent behind Xena, watching the exchange between the slight woman and the powerful horse neighing gently against her.
After a moment, Lanessa turned to Xena. Still stroking Argo's neck, she raised her free hand toward the tall warrior. Xena swung herself down off the blanket and gathered the petite lady in a warm embrace. Lanessa returned the hug, then pulled herself an arm's length away. She seemed to focus attention on Xena's mass of long hair.
"Dear friend.", the woman said in a voice as soft as pillow down. "It's good of you to come." The two friends smiled at each other for a long, private moment. Then Lanessa turned her attention to Gabrielle, still seated on Argo's back. She favored the girl with another luminous smile.
"And this is Gabrielle", she said to the astonished bard. "The one with all the stories." Gabrielle's jaw dropped a perceptible degree before she found her normally ready voice. She swung one leg across the blanket and jumped down to the ground.
"Yes.", she said, obviously unnerved by the woman's precise use of her name. "Nice to meet you." Gabrielle extended a hand in greeting, but the small woman instead placed her palms gently on the girl's smooth face. Although the movement confused her somewhat, the bard waited patiently while the soft palms made delicate moves around her countenance.
Lanessa's hands moved to Gabrielle's arm. "Welcome, Young Bard," she said to the now speechless girl. "Food, comfort and new stories await you." Lanessa turned to Xena and the warrior took the small hand extended to her. "Come." The three of them walked toward Lanessa's house. Argo fell in step behind Lanessa, the reins still lying unattended on her neck.
Inside the comfortable home the fire winked warmly, throwing pleasant patterns on the walls of the room. The three women sat at the wooden table, evidence of their meal still strewn about the surface of the fixture. The aroma of cinnamon and azure tea clung lightly to the room and its inhabitants. Two of those present were currently engaged in hearty laughter. Conversation had been temporarily halted by helpless gasping and raucous slapping of palms upon the table.
Lanessa and Gabrielle were involved in the exchange of a tale, initiated by the former and thoroughly enjoyed by the latter. While the elder of the two wiped tears of amusement from her eyes, the younger participant clapped her hands in gleeful appreciation as the tale unfolded.
The third female present in the room displayed none of the symptoms of unbridled mirth shown by the other two. Her smile was definitely more subdued, her discomfort at the story's unfolding particularly obvious. Yet she was not about to spoil the fun being enjoyed by those in her company. Their joy was enough to bring lightness to her own spirit, even if she was the uncomfortable subject of their humorous story.
"All of a sudden", Lanessa choked, her voice thick with laughter, "Xena comes flying out of a *tree*." Another wave of merriment temporarily disabled her speech. She fought to regain enough control to continue. She took a deep wavering breath and plunged ahead. "She lands -*kerrsplattt*- right in the center of the biggest puddle in the street!" Again she and Gabrielle are dissolved in laughter.
When she had recovered again, she finished her thought. "Mud flies *everywhere!*" More peals of glee were heard in the small kitchen. "The entire Council looked as though they'd been struck with a case of brown measles!" By now Gabrielle was holding her arms tight across her stomach to stem the ache that the laughter had produced.
Xena covered her own amusement with the earthen mug in her hands. She had forgotten the event; it was part of her life that had all but vanished from her memory. Yet it was the wonderful, loving time she longed to regain the most. She knew the events of her life between those years and now would never allow her to return to that time. Still it was a pleasant exercise to remember the innocence.
The warrior's awareness returned to the scene at the table. Her gaze fell on Gabrielle's face, flushed with energy and entertainment. The young girl's attractive features were trained on Lanessa's animated face.
"Cyrene was *furious!!*", Xena's old friend imparted to the young bard. "I thought she was going to burst, she was so angry." Lanessa turned in Xena's direction. "Remember?"
Gabrielle's attention settled on her friend's usually quiet form. She was glad to find a rather relaxed Xena, a warm smile softening the features of her usually stoic expression. She watched as the warrior quietly searched her own memory. Happily the pain that had surfaced upon their arrival did not threaten this particular remembrance.
Xena nodded her assent to Lanessa's question. She swallowed another mouthful of the warm ale from her mug and turned toward Gabrielle. "Mother had spent nearly a fortnight on my festival dress. She wanted to remind me that I was, in fact, a girl. Now the whole thing was covered in mud ... and various other substances one finds in the middle of the road in a town square." The warrior's eyebrows hid under her dark bangs for an instant then returned to their normal position. Xena raised the mug again.
Gabrielle covered her mouth with one hand, giggling again at the vision that had formed in her mind's eye. She could clearly see a youthful Xena, unabashed and totally unaware that her new garment had been ruined by the fun. Even her mother's wrath would not have interrupted the exercise, Gabrielle knew.
"Actually", Lanessa spoke again, "as I recall that escapade had been another of Lyceus' clever plans." Xena's eyes traveled to the face of her old friend and they seemed to share a special remembrance together. The warmth in Lanessa's tone told Gabrielle that hers was a loving memory that the woman held of Lyceus, but definitely a different love than that of a sister.
Lanessa turned then to Gabrielle again. "That was his genius, the *planning*." She shot Xena another conspiratorial look, then returned her attention to the bard. "All of his elaborate schemes always had two clear purposes. One", she pulled at one of her own fingers, "that if anything went wrong, *we*", she indicated herself and Xena, "would always endure the blame..."
"And the punishment." Xena interjected. Lanessa's gentle laugh sounded again. Then she continued.
"And two, "she said bending back another finger, "that, if everything went well, *he* would always get the *glory*."
A soft chuckle escaped from the warrior. Gabrielle turned to her friend in surprise. It was very rare for the sound of a true laugh to escape from Xena. But she had heard one, Gabrielle was sure of it. Suddenly the wild abandonment and silliness that had reigned within the room began to ebb away. Both Lanessa's and Xena's smile became subtly shaded by melancholy and downheartedness. For a long moment, neither spoke.
Finally Lanessa's soft voice sounded. "I still miss him", she said without looking at either woman in her company. Then she turned toward Xena again. "It's been almost twelve years now, and I still miss him." Gabrielle watched tears fill the small woman's eyes. She turned protectively to Xena, but found the warrior's azure gaze trained on their hostess. Xena reached to cover the small woman's hands with her own.
"I know," Xena said softly. "I do, too." The two shared a moment of grief, then Lanessa's posture straightened. Purposefully she wiped her eyes with the back of one hand and patted Xena's hands with the other. Gabrielle saw the pain again drain away from her friend's weary countenance. As usual, Xena was burying the emotions that Gabrielle found most worthy.
The young girl reached out to lay a comforting hand on her best friend's arm. Then she became aware that Lanessa was speaking to her. She also realized that she hadn't been listening. "I'm sorry", Gabrielle said, sheepishly. "What did you say?"
Lanessa's wide, warm smile had returned. She reached across the table again, this time to cover Gabrielle's hand with a tender touch. "You must be exhausted, Gabrielle." Lanessa said, an honest concern showing on her open face. Suddenly the girl realized that indeed she did feel more than ordinarily tired. She blinked at the fire in the hearth and gave in to a hearty, cleansing yawn.
"Oh, my", she apologized. "I guess I am sleepy." She covered her mouth and yawned again.
Lanessa motioned toward a small room next to the area where they sat. "Your boudoir awaits, m'lady.", she said, rising and coming around the table to pull Gabrielle gently up from the bench. "The cottage nymphs have supplied clean linens, fresh pillows and I took the liberty of putting a pot of herb leaves to steep on the bedside table." Gabrielle looked over at Xena, then glanced again at Lanessa. They obviously would have much to talk about, these two friends of years gone by. Gabrielle touched Xena's arm again and the warrior turned a quiet smile to her.
"Well, I'll say good night, then." Gabrielle said. She flashed her warmest smile at Lanessa who returned in kind. "See you in the morning. Thanks for the stories, Lanessa." Another small chuckle skipped from her throat.
With that, Gabrielle turned from the table and made her way into the smaller room. When the girl had departed, Lanessa again settled herself across from Xena and drew a slow, deep breath. Xena waited, knowing what was to come. Except for Gabrielle, who was developing much the same instincts, Lanessa was the only other person who truly knew what was in the warrior's soul.
Finally Lanessa laid clasped hands on the table between them. Xena focused on her old friend's face. "I sense a certain peace in you this time." Lanessa began. "Oh, the rage is still there .. and the demons.", she said in the vicinity of Xena's blue eyes. "But I can feel at least a part of your heart has been healed and has found comfort." The petite hostess' gaze settled again on Xena's dark tresses.
"And I think this young one shows you the path." Lanessa's head bobbed toward the smaller room and the young woman who now slept in it. Xena's eyes softened as she glanced in the same direction. "She's a true friend", she said, turning back to Lanessa's open stare. "She's a gift, like you ." Xena watched her oldest friend's face.
"She is loyal," Lanessa said, "and stronger, I think, than even you know." Again the two childhood friends shared a confidence without either of them speaking.
"No," Xena said, "I've seen her strength. And I know her heart is decent and kind. I've seen that, too. She has honor, she has courage. She's .. she's my friend. As you are." Xena finished what was, for her, a long speech. Lanessa nodded her understanding and, the warrior felt, her approval.
Xena noticed Lanessa shiver slightly. She pushed the earthen mug away and rose to move toward the fireplace. After she had thrown several logs on the glowing coals, she turned back to her hostess and waited. She watched as Lanessa spread her hands nervously on the table in front of her. The tall warrior felt the tell-tale warning signs mounting within her. She tried to keep her senses in check, vowing to wait until she had a reason to worry. Trying to remain calm, Xena returned to the table and sat down again, facing Lanessa.
"Lanessa", she said gently, "your message said you needed a favor." Xena waited a beat. "Are you ready to tell me what it is you need me to do, exactly?" She watched as the woman seemed to decide how to proceed. At last Lanessa took a slow, deep breath and began. She turned to face Xena squarely.
"What do you know of a man named ... Dryfius?" Lanessa asked.
Xena recognized the reference at once. "He's a petty criminal", she snapped. "A charlatan, a cheat. He tricked a number of people in the northern villages out of some of their crops and their livestock. He's a sly weasel, but at the base, he's pretty harmless." Xena fell silent when she noticed that the nervousness had not left Lanessa's manner.
The woman's small hands were still clenched together. She glanced quickly in the vicinity of Xena's intense gaze, then seemed to return her attention to her own fists. "Well, Dryfius plans to change his image. He's trying to climb down the ladder of crime." Lanessa cast another nervous glance at Xena's face. "He's let it be known that he intends to challenge the warlord Melacon. He's forming his army right now. He's acquired quite a collection."
"Then he's a fool", Xena said, coldness returning to her tone. "No rag-tag bunch of pickpockets and swindlers is going to survive against Melacon. He'll cut them into little pieces." Xena refilled her mug from the jug on the table and raised the vessel to her lips. "Well", Lanessa continued, "Dryfius is very confident about their chances...especially since he has a scheme to acquire a powerful new weapon." The woman showed a dread that sent a foreboding through the warrior's senses.
"What powerful new weapon?" Xena scoffed, trying to ignore the churning instincts that were threatening again. She watched as Lanessa's expression changed from nervousness to outright fear. "What powerful new weapon?" Xena asked again, a hardness creeping into her voice. She waited for Lanessa's answer.
Finally the small woman facing her closed her eyes tightly and drew a shaky breath. When she opened her eyes again, a look of intense pain showed clearly in the dark pools. Xena's internal warning sounded loudly. She gripped the mug angrily, then carefully put the ceramic vessel down.
"You." Xena said, coldly and clearly.
"Me." Lanessa answered quietly. "Dryfius wants *me*." Xena's jaw clamped together in an icy rage.