by Joseph Anderson

All characters belong to the author but are derived from Xena fanfiction I wrote. No copyright infringement is intended.

This story includes violence. It follows Casting Couch and All in the Family in my extended storyline.

We were running as hard as we could. My old mother had keeled over and we had to leave her in the road. I wept but my wife and children were with me and I had to save them. Looking back I saw the horses ride right over her old body. I thought we had lost them and were hiding in some dense trees. Peering out I could see some of them on the road walking their horses. I recognized a necklace of the wife of our village elder. It was hanging from a horse's mane now. I heard a squeak from little Ailla my daughter and turning I saw a huge warrior. I prepared to throw myself at him but he held a large hand up and shook his head, and I stopped.

"I am not your enemy," he whispered. I couldn't identify his accent. I believed him. None of the men who had attacked us would have said anything. And there was something about him that I trusted even though he was a foreigner and we hate foreigners usually. With his almond skin, black eyes and blonde hair, he was more foriegn looking than anyone I had ever seen. He stepped close towering over me and looked at the passing horsemen. I heard him make a hissing sound.

"They disgrace their caste," he said in his odd accent. He looked at me and my family. I was embarrassed by our ragged bruised appearance; my children half undressed. What odd things pass through our minds. He then said, "I am Kush. I will assist you."

"Why?" my wife Eena asked before I could silence her.

"Because I am a Lord Military. My duty is clear."

"I've heard of Kush. Are you from Good Prince Samuel?" I asked now, my voice breaking.

"Yes. I serve the Lord Progenitor. I am returning from a mission for him in another land."

My daughter Ailla then said, "I'm hungry!" but my wife silenced her.

I said, "We want him to rule us! Our own king lies in his palace fornicating with concubines while his people are prey to marauders! His soldiers are tax collectors, nothing more! We sent to them for help but they did not come!" My family began to weep. I remembered my dead mother in the road and nearly wept myself.

The warrior knelt down and little Ailla threw her arms around his neck before I or my wife could prevent her. He stood holding her; she so small and pale and he so big and dark. I saw the many rings on his fingers for the first time. The leathers he wore were embossed with dragons.

"You deserve better. Prince Samuel will rescue your land and I will personally take your king to task. I, Kush, promise you this."

I fell to my knees and kissed his hand as my wife also did. He raised us up. "I am only an agent of the Lord Progenitor." He set little Ailla down though she kept holding his leg until my wife pulled her off. My other children also crowded round him, as if seeking refuge under a tree. Kush asked, "How many did you see?"

They seemed an army but I tried to think clearly and said, "Perhaps thirty men in our village. That's all I saw."

He nodded and said, "They sent you word that they were an army though, is that it? Demanded tribute?"

"Yes. We sent them what we had but they attacked us anyway."

He hissed again. "I understand my brothers, Angela and Jilly, more now. I thought them too cruel but I see now I was naive. It is this world which is too cruel."

Kush told us to follow him and he led us to a small camp. A young warrior was there dressed similarly though he did not have foreign features. "Laconius, give these people all of our food. They have been abused and are hungry." He paused then said. "What should we do?"

The young man was handing dried beef and fruit and such from his saddle bag to my wife. Stroking my daughter Roxa's hair, he looked up at Kush and said, "Punish whoever has abused them and prevent it from happening again."

Kush nodded.


The big warrior instructed us to wait for him and Laconius while they dealt with our oppressors. I looked at my family and said I wanted to help. Kush looked me in the eyes and put a ringed hand on my shoulder. "All right. Come with us but do as we tell you."

Kush and Laconius had horses and I rode behind the young man. We first found the men, eight in number, we had seen earlier and had been pursuing my family. They were returning on the same road. "Give him your dagger," Kush said to the young man, who handed me a finely crafted blade. I slid off the horse at a gesture from Kush. Then the two warriors charged at the bandits who cursed and drew their own swords.

Laconius wounded a man who fell off his horse and I ran to stab him. Looking up I saw Kush kill one by splitting him down the middle and quickly behead another, just as Laconius ran a man through. Laconius then received a wound to his arm but slew his attacker, and Kush killed another man as Laconius wounded another who fell and I ran to stab him also. The two remaining began galloping away and Laconius and Kush pursued them and in a flurry of movements both bandits fell from their horses. One remained unmoving. The other began running back in my direction and I stood before him and he ran onto my knife. He had not even seen me, he was so frightened of Kush and Laconius.

The wound Laconius had received was not bad and I began to bandage it, but Kush said that was not how to do it and showed me a better method. I returned the knife to the young warrior and armed myself with a sword and dagger from the dead. I also took one of the horses, the one with the necklace in the mane, which I removed and put in my pouch so I could return it to whoever remained alive of the elder's family.

It was dark as we three rode to my village and studied it from hiding. Much was burnt and the bandits appeared to be drunk now. Bodies lay about. Those of the village girls were naked. I began to weep. Kush said, "Laconius, what should we do?"

The young man's eyes were burning and he said. "Kill'em all, Lord Military!"

Kush nodded his head. "Indeed. This world is too cruel. Try not to become cruel yourself, Laconius."

All three of us drew our swords and rode into the village and began killing the drunken swine. About half were sober enough to fight, but Kush and Laconius had seen them already and made short work of them. As I slashed down at a naked crying man who still held my niece's shift in his hands I realized they were now in just the position we had been. Helpless. I dismounted and went from drunken fool to drunken fool, killing them as cruelly as I could. Kush and Laconius saw this but did not try to stop me.

The man whose face I was holding in the fire had finally stopped moving. Laconius and Kush came to me and the young man helped me to stand and gently took the sword from me. He kindly said, "Let's go to your family, friend. There will be others who escaped. You can rebuild your village now." So we rode back to where my family awaited us in the cave. My wife Eena and my children all cried to see me and I cried to see them.

The two warriors were watching us. Kush said, "Tomorrow I will seek out your king." Laconius was baring his teeth.


King Alacrianus roughly pulled the young naked girl who had been painting his toenails in front of him. His guards threw their weapons down and ran.

"Who are you?! What do you want? Don't hurt me!" he cried.

Kush cast a glance at Laconius. They had been prepared to fight the king's personal guards at least, but no one had fought them even once as they made their way here. This kingdom was a small city-state. Soldiers had ordered them to halt, but when Kush and Laconius didn't obey they fearfully watched them ride past. At the palace gates a man who looked like a mercenary had finally tried to bar their way. Kush asked if this king was worth dying for. He'd stepped aside. The soldiers of King Alacrianus were good at wringing taxes out of unarmed villagers but when it came to fighting warriors who looked like Kush and Laconius they left something to be desired. Prince Samuel's subjects would fight until they were hacked to pieces--not only soldiers--everyone: bakers, milkmaids, shepherds, millers, even harlots. Saving him was the best death anyone could have, from the lowest kitchen scull to the highest lord.

"Do not hide behind an unclothed child, your majesty," Kush said. Laconius was surprised. He'd never heard him use irony before; perhaps it was unintentional.

Alacrianus held the girl tighter and pulled a jeweled dagger that he wore. "Get away from me! I'm the king! You have to do what I say!" He looked frantically around for his guards but just saw the open doors and windows they had left as they fled.

"If you injure the young female I will punish you severely," Kush said.

"Who are you?" Alacrianus said desperately, gripping the frightened slave and pushing the blade against her throat, not understanding why she was valuable but seeing she was. He'd just grabbed her as a shield.

"I am Kush."

"From Prince Samuel?" Alacrianus said and dropped the dagger from shaking fingers. Laconius pulled the terrified girl away from the fat king with his curled and scented hair and beard.


"What do you want here?" He had feared this day would come. The king had an idea. "Tell Prince Samuel I will become his vassal! I know... I'll make him my heir! Do that and I'll reward you! What do you want, Kush? Land? Slaves? You like this girl, don't you? Take her! I'll give you fifty more just like her! Better than her....virgins!"

Kush looked at Laconius. Sometimes the inhabitants of this world confused him and he would seek clarification from his young caste brother. "Is he serious?"

The young warrior, who had an arm protectively around the shaking naked girl, said, "Yes, Lord Military."

Kush said, "You are unfit. Prince Samuel will not allow you to rule in his name." Fast for someone so big he stepped forward and a large ringed hand lashed out. The king fell to the floor making choking sounds. Kush said, "You are lucky it was I and not my brother, Angela, who discovered your foulness. Your death would not be so easy."


"Your highness, a message for you has arrived."

Prince Samuel stood up from his meal and held a hand out for the scroll, which he quickly read. He waved the messenger away. The prince looked at his companion at the table, a tall redhaired woman in black leather. "Read this," he said and handed her the scroll.

Captain Angela set the child she was holding on the floor where he began examining his right foot. The woman studied the scroll and smiled. "Alacrianus, huh? Good riddance."

Prince Samuel said, "Yeah. But how'd Kush get involved? He was just checking out fortifications in the south."

The little boy looked up at the name, "Daddy!"

Captain Angela poked him in the tummy and he giggled. She said, "My guess is he helped the great king to a better world."


Angela stood up and stretched. "You know how he is about duty. If he got a whiff of Alacrianus that'd be all she wrote. That toad is lucky it wasn't me."

The tall long-haired prince said, "I don't go around killing kings to take over their lands. I'm not some conqueror."

The tall woman picked the almond skinned, redhaired child back up and said, "I think you oughtta make an exception this time. I trust Kush's judgment. Maybe he saw something bad and just fixed it. You know...hero stuff."

Prince Samuel frowned and then sighed. "I suppose. It's just I don't like the precedent. I don't assassinate rulers. He set himself up as my temporary governor too. Just told the heir to take a hike apparently. Don't you think that's a bit much?"

"Nah, I like it. Shows leadership. The nephew was even worse as I recall," Angela said. "They must want you. Kush just has Laconius with him."

"His trusty sidekick," Samuel said with a smile and Angela smiled too, then winced as the child grabbed her hair and yanked.

"You want me to set up an official visit?" the tall freckled woman said, as she disentangled the child's fist from her hair.

The prince said, "Yeah. I've gotta clean that cesspool up. You're right. I'll bet that's why Kush took out Alacrianus. He just couldn't stand it probably."