by Joseph Anderson

Xena, Gabrielle, and all elements from the TV show Xena: Warrior Princess are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. All other characters belong to the author. No copyright infringement is intended with this fan fiction, which may not be sold, may be copied for personal use only, and must contain all notices of copyright.

Sequel to Child of Darkness in the Kimberly/Jilly series.

This story contains graphic violence, some rough language and mild sexual situations.


The dorm was pretty quiet. It was around 9 o'clock on a Wednesday night and outside the snow was high. Sam Snopes closed his Physics textbook in frustration. He couldn't concentrate, still upset over that reporter who had ambushed him on the street. He wanted to ghostwrite a book for him about his father. Sam wanted to tell him to go ask his sister but he'd restrained himself. The jerk might have a family or something.

"Cal was one of the most feared killers in the history of organized crime. You have a fantastic story," the pushy pudgy man had said. "What was being his son like?"

Sam had looked down at him, his black hair setting off his blue eyes. "He was a wonderful father and that's all I'm saying about it. You better leave." The man made no move to go though, just grinning up at him. Sam wondered what it was like to be like his sister or his dad and have violence as an option in any situation. He knew they killed as easily as breathing. They'd said his mom was like that too, although she had to be pushed more than Dad or Sis. Dad was the only one outsiders knew about.

This guy just wouldn't give up. "Is it true Robert Washington Mills used to babysit you?"

"Why don't you ask him that?" Sam said coldly, and the man laughed as if he'd made a joke.

"I will when I can get out to Sing Sing," the reporter said.

"All right, Sam, one last question. When did you last talk to Langland? Is it true he's married to your sister?"

"Why not ask me?" The reporter turned and flinched slightly. An expensively but casually dressed man in his 40s stood there. Another well dressed man, a large one, moved beside the reporter. Sam recognized Paulie.

"Mr. Langland, the people have the right to know," the reporter said defensively. The man on his right chuckled.

Langland smiled. "Really? Well, we have a philosophical disagreement there. My premise is that living is a privilege not a right, so where do you think that puts annoying me and my family?"

"You don't scare me, Langland. This isn't the roaring 20s."

"Scare you? I'm not trying to scare you. I would suggest you do a little investigative reporting to see who owns the company that owns your paper, not to mention the mortgage on your house. Maybe talk it over with your counselor from when you were in rehab the last time, the one you confessed incest with your son to." The reporter just stared at him, then Paulie led the pale man away with a tight grip on his arm.

Sam tried to smile at his brother-in-law but no matter how many times he saw things like this it upset him. When he was 15 he had been the target of a kidnapping attempt--he wasn't sure if it was about money or revenge on his family. Three men had burst into his room but a moment later his sister and Langland had just appeared. He remembered Jilly saying, "Not in front of Sam!" Langland had sprayed something in their faces and they collapsed. "Help us carry them out to the car, Sam," Jilly had ordered; and he did like he was told just like he always did with his big sister. He never heard what they had done with the men.

"Your sister wants to make sure you're eating enough. We'd like to have dinner with you, Sam," Langland said.

"I can't tonight; have to study. Tomorrow's good," Sam said.

Langland gave him that sincere smile of his and took his hand in both of his. "That's great. We'll send a car." Then he walked back to the black limousine. Sam could see the reporter with Paulie's arm casually around him in the back.

Jilly was an unbelievable cook and the smell hit him before he reached the door. One of her obscure Greek recipes, Sam guessed. He glanced behind him and saw Paulie just waiting in the car. He knocked on the door and Jilly opened it and hugged him tightly. Sam worshiped her though he was a little afraid of her. Anyone who really knew her was afraid of her.

Sam Snopes' memories were confusing and he wasn't sure what was real. He knew his family had been gangsters, of course. He'd seen a picture of his father just the other day in a magazine article. Whenever you saw a gangster movie and there was a killer with an out of place southern accent--well, that was Cal Snopes. They never called him that, of course; they'd name him Seth or Jed or something. Maybe his family still were gangsters though they denied it. Langland always smiled and said there were more efficient ways to accomplish things. But there was something else. Memories with everyone dressed strangely and horses--and his mother wearing a scary mask. He thought they had to be dreams even though that wasn't how they felt. Vivid dreams.

Since their father had died his sister had become even more protective of him than she already was. He didn't want to call it obsessed but some of his friends said that. There was something in her eyes whenever she looked at him. Like she was afraid of something she would see, though Sam couldn't imagine what. Jilly wasn't afraid of anything. Once when he was around eight he said he wanted to be called Sammy. She'd dropped the saute pan she was holding and looked like she might faint. Dad had caught her. He'd looked closely at him and said he looked more like a Sam to him. He didn't understand what had upset his sister. At least she had stopped drinking. That was awful. She would get drunk on Wild Turkey and hold him and just cry, saying she was sorry. Dad had come home once and found them like that and it had never happened again.

Sam was curious about that reporter but he didn't ask. He never asked questions like that because he was afraid of what he might hear. Maybe he would have to eventually.

"How're the classes going, Sam?" Jilly asked as she spooned the subtle and delicious smelling dish onto his plate. She would cut up his food for him if he let her. His dad kept her from going overboard but after he died from his heart attack Jilly got worse than ever. Whatever Sam said about it just didn't register with her so he'd had to ask Langland to talk to her for him when he was 16. The man hadn't looked thrilled at the idea but he said he'd talk to Jilly for him. Sam didn't know what happened exactly but Langland was back in the hospital one more time and Jilly backed off.

"Great, sis. I love it even though Physics is tough. Oh, Langland?"


"You could've mentioned to me that you wrote my textbook."

"Why, do you want the answers?" Jilly looked sharply at Langland. Sam changed the subject. He didn't want to put Langland back in the hospital again. He'd just been joking around and so was Langland, but Jilly didn't have much sense of humor where he was concerned.

"It's a good book. The professor loves it," Sam said quickly. Langland looked disappointed they were ending the banter but understood why, of course. Sam knew that Langland always understood everything. Except for his sister, maybe. Or maybe he did and just accepted that being with her entailed getting every bone in his body broken at one time or another. That was probably it. Sam hadn't realized that yet when he'd asked Langland to talk to her for him. He felt guilty over that now.

"What I really like is history though, Jilly. Especially Ancient History. I'm thinking of changing my major." He looked at Jilly and she was pale and motionless. Langland looked like he always did but had slid a hand into a pocket as he watched Jilly. Then Jilly smiled in a forced way and Langland took his hand from his pocket.

"Oh, why do you want to waste your time on that stuff, Sam? It's all over and done with."

"I don't know. It's like I can feel a connection to it, sis."

Langland reached back into his pocket and took a small vial out. He simply reached over and poured it into Jilly's water. She didn't seem to see it. He tapped her shoulder and lifted her glass up. She looked at him, then took the water and drank it. Sam had seen stuff like this before. He saw his sister's eyes get dull. Sam never knew what would set Jilly off. Thank God, Langland did. She looked at Langland. "I'm going to lie down. Why don't you tell him about Jan and Mel. It's not fair to keep from him. Mom said that really bugged her." She walked from the room, Langland watching her.

"What did I do now!?" Sam said desperately.

Langland answered, "You didn't do anything, Sam. Your family is prominent in the field you're looking at. Jilly just hoped you wouldn't be interested in it. It's a personal thing maybe she'll explain to you some time. Your Aunt Mel is an important scholar and she did a lot of work with Janice Covington, the archaeologist. Your mom and dad knew a lot about Ancient Greece too. So does Jilly."

Something strange was going on here. Sam could tell Langland wasn't telling him everything. "And you do too."

Langland smiled, "And I do too. Look, Sam, go to the University Library and check out the Pappas collection. That will have everything by Janice and Mel. It's in the Fredericks wing."

" in Uncle Franklin and Aunt Mel?"

"That's it."

"I probably shouldn't talk about this with Jilly."

Langland said, "I'd appreciate it. I don't have time right now to spend another month in the hospital."

He stepped off the elevator on the fifth floor of the library and froze. A life-size black-and-white picture on the wall opposite the elevator was straight out of his dreams. It was a statue of a warrior wearing a helmet with a chainmail veil. Sam looked at the information next to it in large letters painted on the wall.

The Sword of Ares a.k.a. Kimberly a.k.a. Kimlee a.k.a. Destroyer of a Thousand Cities a.k.a. Kishranhara a.k.a. ...the names went on for quite a while. c. 700-1000 B.C., Beijing Museum of History, People's Republic of China. Discovered J. Covington, Gobi Desert, 1959

He finally tore himself away from it and walked further into the air-conditoned quiet rooms. He stopped again as he saw two helmets similar to that in the photograph. They were next to each other in artfully lit glass cases. One was relatively plain and undecorated, though it was beautifully elegant in its lines. The other though of the same design had an intricate gold and silver inlay pattern winding over it. Both had simple chainmail veils which were identified as modern additions. There was a small bit of the original veil exhibited with the more ornate helmet. Even now there was an odd shimmer to the links. Its method of construction was still under study, it said. The simpler helmet was identified as from Euphemies' workshop; the more ornate helmet by Euphemies himself. They were on loan from the collection of Gillian Snopes, it said. Sam's mouth was dry.

He turned and saw another glass case. This one was climate controlled and held a ragged leather garment with armor attachments. There was a kind of segmented skirt too. It looked like a dominatrix outfit. Sam walked over to look at the label for it. Fighting leathers. c. 700-1000 B.C. Traditionally said to have belonged to Xena a.k.a. The Warrior Princess a.k.a. Destroyer of Nations. On permanent loan from collection of Melinda Fredericks. To one side was another glass case containing two swords and a dagger simply identified as by Euphemies and from the collection of Gillian Snopes. On the wall on the other side of the leathers were photographs of swords and a ringlike object identified as a chakram. All currently on tour with the Xena scrolls and expected back in three years. The chakram was from the collection of Melinda Fredericks; the swords from the collection of Gillian Snopes.

"Can I help you?" Sam turned and saw a tall, freckled, red haired girl looking at him. She looked about 20, the same as him.

"Uh, hi. I was told I should just come and look around. I have a family connection with some of the contributors."

Her green eyes widened. "Really? that's exciting. Who?" Sam looked around.

"Gillian Snopes. I'm Sam Snopes. And Melinda Fredericks is some kind of cousin, I guess, though I call her Aunt Mel."

"Snopes and Mel Pappas, I mean Fredericks, are related? Now that is something I didn't know!" the young woman said. "And you didn't know about all of this?" She waved her hand.

Sam looked at her. Even surprised as he was he couldn't help noticing how attractive he found her. She was pretty in this off center way. "No. They just sprung this on me last night," he said openly.

"Wow," the girl said. "That's fascinating."

"You don't think it's weird?" Sam said.

"Well, yeah, that too. I wasn't going to say it though. Would you like a tour? I'm Angela."

Sam said gratefully, "Thanks, Angela. Yes, I would."

Angela showed him the various document collections. The collected works of Mel Fredericks nee Pappas and Janice Covington alone was fairly extensive. Not to mention the works of Mel's father. In addition, the library had virtually everything ever written relating to Greek warlords and especially Xena, Callisto and the Sword of Ares. There were also ancient manuscripts and a few coins on display too. Various other artifacts, Angela said, were loaned out to museums.

"You know, your name sounds familiar for another reason. But I can't place it," Angela mused. Great, Sam thought. He had enough to think about without having to deal with this.

"Well, it's not that rare," he said hoping she'd drop it.

She energetically snapped her fingers. "I've got it. Cal Snopes. I loved how Steve McQueen did him in that movie, " of Evidence"; was that its name? No relation, I assume?" she said with a laugh.

Sam thought of lying but then it might come back on him later. Might as well get it over with. "He was my father." She laughed then stopped suddenly.

"Really? You're not kidding?" He shook his head. "Listen, I'm sorry. I mean.."

Sam smiled. "Don't worry about it. Steve McQueen actually got it pretty close in that. Richard Widmark played him as too mean. "The Contract" was his. Dad wasn't mean; just a pro. Or so I've been told."

Angela's face was red. "I'm so embarrassed." She paused. "Gosh, that's interesting. I mean, I hate to say this but that is pretty fascinating." Sam didn't answer. It could be worse. At least she wasn't a gangster groupy--more just a Steve McQueen fan. Sam actually liked "Lack of Evidence" himself. It was exciting and reminded him of his dad. Jilly took tranquilizers whenever it was on TV and when it came out Langland wound up in the hospital for a week. "So can I ask who Gillian is?"

"She's my sister," Sam said. He wanted to get off this subject. Talking about family business wasn't something you did. He might talk a little about Dad since he was gone but no way was he discussing Jilly or Langland. Angela heard his tone and her face reddened again. Gosh, she's cute, Sam thought. "Listen, it's okay. I just don't want to..." he trailed off.

"Sure, I understand," she nodded energetically. "I'm in here Wednesday and Thursday afternoons," she said out of nowhere.

Sam smiled. "I'll see you Thursday, Angela."

"What do you know about that girl, Langland?" Jilly said. She was looking out her window as her brother and a tall red head came into view down the street holding hands. He'd said he wanted to bring her to dinner so Jilly could meet her. He'd never done that before.

Langland glanced over at her from the oceanographic charts he was studying. "Her name is Angela Gilroy. She's just a kid who works at the school library and is on the basketball team. Library Science major."

The slender blonde turned away from the window. "You've checked her out?"

"Of course, I've checked her out. Don't worry about it. And if you like Sam don't cut up his food in front of her either."

"I haven't done that in years," she said defensively.

Langland smiled. "More like months. You do it without realizing it sometimes. Though you're definitely better than you were. My concussion wasn't in vain."

"Give it a rest, Langland. You don't have to let me hurt you; I've told you that before. I'm tired of feeling guilty."

"Well, my options are avoiding your company which I don't want to do because I love you. Keeping you more or less permanently sedated, which I don't want to do because I love you. Or finding some effective way for me to incapacitate you when you decompensate. That has promise but the technology isn't here yet. You're just too fast for me. I've been trying things out but you always take me before I can implement them. They're doing some interesting research with rhesus monkeys that have electrodes implanted in their brains that I'm following."

"God, you're a sweet talker, Langland."

He changed the subject. "We need to get back to Greece pretty soon, Jilly. Our kingdom can't run itself. We're spending too much time here. Whenever we go back you have to put down rebellions. That's fine for you since Ares likes fighting but Athena is tired of it." He paused. "Sam will be all right."

"How do you know that?" she said angrily. "What if one of Dad's old enemies comes after him again. Or somebody you left alive?"

Langland calmly said, "Those weren't Cal's enemies. Just morons who figured he was rich and vulnerable. They'd have been taken care of whether we were here or not by the people I've got on Sam. I told you that at the time. Doing it yourself was a bad idea. You shouldn't let Sam see that kind of thing at all. And as for the idea that I've left dangerous enemies alive: I won't dignify that with an answer."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Jilly said as she went to open the front door for Sam and his date.

Angela had never known food could be so good. Sam had told her his sister was a great cook but this was unbelievable. It was classic South Italian and Sicilian cuisine. Sam said they had a restaraunt in Little Italy. Angela did some research--she was really good at that--and found out that a mafioso had been killed there once. Soon after three men were found dead with napkins stuffed in their mouths. It was generally assumed that Cal didn't appreciate his place being used for business like that. Sam knew the story when she asked him about it. What he didn't tell Angela was that his dad had been out of town. Jilly wasn't though.

Angela was nervous. She looked at Langland. He sure didn't look like an international mystery man. Seemed more like a guidance counselor. Sam's older sister Jilly seemed nice but she had this strange vibe, and she would just stare at Sam sometimes. She thought it must be some kind of family in-joke when she started to cut his food up for him. Sam grabbed her wrist and she got this peculiar look and looked down at her hands like she was surprised.

Angela said, "This meal is fantastic. Sammy said you were a good cook but I had no idea."

"Oh, is that what you call him?" his sister said softly. Angela didn't get it. The table seemed tense all of a sudden.

"Yeah, sometimes. He just looks like a Sammy to me."

Sam spoke up, "Funny you should say that, Angela. I think I said once I wanted to be called Sammy but my dad said I looked more like a Sam. So I stuck with Sam." He looked at his sister. Angela could swear he seemed nervous.

Jilly finally spoke. "Oh, well. You're my little brother whatever you're called. Would you like me to call you Sammy?" Angela thought Langland and Sam both looked relieved.

"Not by you," he said smiling. Jilly got up to bring the next course in and Langland went to help her.

"What was that all about?" Angela whispered to him. He shrugged. He didn't know. Just one of his sister's quirks. Jilly was really trying hard, he could tell.

In the kitchen Jilly had pulled her skirt down on her hip and was staring straight ahead of her as Langland gave her an injection. He swabbed it with alcohol and put a bandage over it. He had everything he needed in what looked like a silver cigarette case. She felt herself calm down, then she and Langland carried the main course in.

"Come on in, Sammy," she said at her front door.

"Okay," he said, tripping slightly on her front step. She laughed. He was always tripping over things--she wondered if he did it to be funny.

Inside he looked around. He'd been here before. Not that different than his place. More girly of course but still just a student's apartment. Even had the same basketball in the corner though the one at Sam's belonged to his roommate. She wasn't in a dorm though. "Want a beer?" she said.

He shook his head then said, "You can have one. Don't worry about it." Angela hesitated and took a Coors out and pried the top off the bottle.

"How come you don't drink?' she said. She had sensed it wasn't just health.

"My mom drank. I don't want to talk about it, okay?"

"Sure, baby." She'd never called him that before. It just slipped out. He didn't seem to notice.

They sat down on her old sofabed. "Well, did I make a good impression?" she asked patting his knee. He smiled at her.

"I'll say. She asked me the the same question when we were leaving."

Angela stared at him. "Really? Wow! What does that mean?"

Sam said, "That she likes you, I guess. She may even consider you good enough for her little brother. If so, it's a first."

Angela laughed. "Sam, don't take this wrong, but the way she stares at's kind of...intense."

He nodded his head resignedly. "I know. After Mom died she got like that. Then when Dad had his heart attack...she's got all this stuff about family and blood. She spent a lot of time with Cal's boss, Jimmy Falconi and his family. She's not Sicilian but she might as well be. Last year she went to see the old don in Sicily just before he died. When she got back.... Angela, don't cross dis family unless you wanna sleep wid da fishes." He said it in an exaggerated way but he hoped she got the message.

She laughed. She could tell he wanted her to understand it was real even though he was embarrassed by it. It was exciting and--she had to admit--it turned her on. Like the movies, but more like that one with Richard Widmark than Steve McQueen. Widmark played the famous enforcer like he was half crazy. He'd stare at people the way Jilly did.

The little boy came running up to his father. "They're coming! They're coming! You said they wouldn't!"

Bancher looked at his son. "What are you doing here, Garen? I said I hoped they wouldn't come. That's why everyone left. And now we are, too. Come on." He took the boy's hand but froze as several spears were held on them. A one-eared man walked up and laughed.

"Look at this. Some kind of hero and his son. You stayed to, what, reason with us? see where we were going from here and send warning? or maybe just to give us a little entertainment?" There was no answer. "Kill him and put the boy in the slave line," he ordered roughly. Just before a spear would have punctured his belly it stopped. Everything stopped.

"Get away from those spears," a deep voice said and Bancher and his son were on the other side of the soldiers that had been ringing them in. Now he was facing the speaker, a muscular beautiful man with a perfectly trimmed black beard and dressed in fine black leather armor. "This is your lucky day, Bancher."

The village leader looked at the figure. Had to be a god. He took a guess: "Ares?"

The god smiled at him. "You did a good turn to one of my favorites so now it's payback time. You should've requested her help before now but I can understand not wanting to ask for help. Good attitude. You put too much value on life though. I'm not the god for you to worship but maybe Hera--she's big on family values. Anyway, my favorite owes you and you need help so I'm going to put you two in touch. Exterminating this scum will help your people and be good for her frame of mind. No, no, don't bother to thank me. It's just a god thing."

"All right," Bancher said calmly.

Ares looked at him, smiling even wider. "Oh, you're good! Smart, classy, brave. Too bad you don't like to kill. Oh well. Say hello to Jilly for me." He began to raise his hand but stopped, "Oh yeah, and your brother Sammi is there, too." He finished raising his hand and brought it down with a blinding flash and Bancher was in a strange place. He looked down and Garen was with him.

"Get outta the way, asshole!" Bancher whirled, grabbing Garen and they were narrowly missed by a huge horseless chariot, just one of many racing by. They were buffetted and surrounded by more people than they'd ever seen. Bancher looked up and couldn't believe what he saw. The huge buildings scraped the sky.


The phone rang in the restaraunt office and Jilly answered it. "Yeah...speaking." She listened. "So why call me? Am I the only Jilly in Chicago?...Oh, that's really funny, Pat, so funny maybe your envelope will be light...Nah, course not...but really why me?...a brown-eyed blonde...okay...okay...what? Christ! I'll be right down. No, no. Be nice to 'em. I don't know yet." She slammed the phone down on its receiver. She wished Langland was here.

Jilly entered the precinct. The cops all knew her though waving wouldn't be in order. Pat spotted her and came over. The huge red-faced Irish beat cop towered over the slight blonde woman. Pat O'Bannion had been around. Screwing with Jilly Snopes was usually the last thing anyone ever did. On the other hand, helping her got you fat envelopes and occasional meals at her restaurant--which was as close to heaven as you were getting in this lifetime. You wanted people like that as your friends. It was common sense. Officer O'Bannion had no sympathy for people who lacked common sense.

"Hey Pat," she said, as he walked up. She slapped his arm.

"Over here, Jilly." He led her to a bench where a man in nondescript clothes sat with a small boy. The man stood up. Jilly felt her knees buckle and Pat caught her. He sat her on the bench and looked ready to turn the man into pulp but Jilly held her hand up.

"Pat, let me shake your hand." He felt the expected bills in his palm. "Call me for when you and Mary want to come in." Pat smiled at her and frowned at the man with the boy. "Let me talk to my friend a minute, okay." The huge cop lumbered away.

Garen was bored. Finally something was happening and someone was there. He ran over to the nice leg of the pretty lady and just grabbed it. He felt himself lifted and held by the pretty lady. All of a sudden his daddy was holding him again.

Jilly forced herself to stand up. She couldn't deal with whatever this was in the middle of the precinct house. "Come on," she said trying to keep her voice steady. The man looked calmly at her. Just like he had so many years before when he was 15 and she was 13 and he learned the truth. She had helped Callisto butcher his family. He was so goddamn noble and sensitive he made her feel like something that had dropped out of a horse.

Bancher looked at Jilly. He stood up holding Garen. "All right," he said. He could see she was upset at seeing him and trying to control herself. He followed her out of the building to the street. She waved her hand and a huge black horseless carriage appeared. She opened the door and indicated for him to get inside, after which she followed.

"Take me home," she said to her servant, a large scarred man. Garen scrambled out of his arms and back over to her. Bancher could tell she wanted to hold him so he allowed it. Garen seemed to settle comfortably in her lap. There were tears running down her cheeks but that was all. They rode in silence for what seemed a long time--the chariot moving smoothly at speeds Bancher could barely believe. It finally stopped and her servant opened the door for them. The scarred man saw the tears on her face and looked at him. Bancher knew her servant would kill him without a qualm; just as that other man would have beaten him. "It's okay, Paulie. Why don't you go by the restaurant and get something to eat."

"Right, Jilly."

To Bancher's surprise she led him and Garen into a relatively modest dwelling; not the palace he'd expected. "Hungry?" she said and Garen nodded enthusiastically. "Okay, Bancher. Tell me what you're doing here while I whip up something." She led them into a room he could tell was a kitchen, even though he didn't recognize anything in it. She began preparing food in a practiced manner. Bancher could see she used it as a way to focus herself; a way to control at least something when life was out of control.

"Ares sent me, Jilly."

"Yeah, I figured that. Why?"

"My valley has been overrun. They were about to kill me when he appeared and said I should request your assistance."

She was beating eggs with a whisk so fast Bancher could barely see her movements. "Why does he think I would help you."

Bancher thought she was so tense she might explode. "The God of War said that you owe it to me."

She didn't look at him but took some vegetables and began cutting them up in a blur of movements. "Well, he's right there. What else did he say?"

"He said that it would be good for my people and your frame of mind." Jilly set the knife down and looked at him, relief in her eyes.

"That's it? You just need me to do some fighting for you? Fine. I can do that. Slaughtering people and cooking: that's what I do. Jilly the gourmet killer." She laughed in a brittle way.

Bancher hated to see the pain she was in. He had to ask her though. The god had told him that for a reason. "Ares said something else, Jilly."

"What's that?" she said hollowly.

"My brother Sammi is here."

"There's some pretty fish in the next room. Why don't you go look at them," she said to the little boy. "He'll be okay," she said.

"Stay in that room," Bancher ordered his son. He watched the child run to look at the fish. She closed the door after him.

Jilly started a high flame under a pan, then put oil in it. "Wait a minute, Bancher. Lemme just do this, okay?" She waited until the extra-virgin olive oil was almost smoking then put her hand into it.


Langland drove up in his Corvette and parked. Paulie had called him and said he was worried about Jilly. Paulie wasn't especially bright but he had good instincts and was loyal. He just said Jilly had picked up a man and a little boy at a precinct house and seemed really upset. Jilly being "really upset" could have any number of outcomes. Langland hoped he wouldn't walk in and find the walls covered with blood, for example, with pieces of people arranged in artful ways. She used to do stuff like that when she was a little girl with Callisto.

As Langland approached the front door it simply opened and a man was standing there. Well, that was a good sign, anyway.

"I'm Bancher," the man said calmly. "Jilly needs a healer but I don't know how to find one here."

He understood it all as soon as he heard the name. Langland pushed past him and not seeing her in the living room went to their bedroom. There he saw Jilly with a heavily bandaged right hand. She seemed to be asleep. A little boy was sleeping next to her on the bed.

"What happened here?" Langland asked. He felt something he'd never felt before in his life. He felt his judgment might be impaired by emotions.

"She burned her hand in hot oil. I found bandages and ointment but she needs a healer."

Langland looked at the man, wanting to kill him, holding him responsible. He had never done anything like that and there was no reason to think the man was responsible in any intentional way. Langland was almost intrigued, seeing his cognitive functioning affected this way. He decided not to kill the man. No reason to compound things.

"I'm Langland. Will you accompany me to the healer with her?"

"Yes." Bancher intuitively understood this man. He was the most dangerous person he'd ever seen, which was saying a lot since he had met both Kimberly and Jilly. But Langland was dangerous in a different way, in a calculating inhuman way that would go through Kimberly or Jilly like a hot knife through butter unless they managed to kill him first.

At the Emergency Room Langland could see the shocked looks that it was Jilly and not him coming in. He felt their suspicions. It was fine for him to get his ass kicked apparently but not her.

"She burned herself with oil," he said to the doctor. Langland looked at Bancher. "Did she take anything? Is that why she's unconscious?'

Bancher answered, "No. I pulled her away from the stove and she just collapsed and hasn't been awake since then." Langland and the young doctor were listening closely. Then they whisked Jilly away and asked them to stay in the Waiting Room. Bancher was sitting, holding his son. Langland was just looking at him.

"Why don't you tell me everything you know," Langland said.

Bancher knew he was as close to dying now as he had been when he was ringed in by those men. He told Langland everything that had happened. He could tell by looking at him that he already knew his history with Jilly, so he didn't bother describing that. Langland nodded and then stood up as the healer came in and went to talk to him.


Jilly opened her eyes. She was in a hospital bed and Langland was sitting across the room. He set his book down and came over. "Hey there," he said.

"Hey yourself." She saw that her right hand was encased in a huge bandage. "I shoulda got you, I guess."

"That's what I'm here for."

"What are you reading?"

"Dostoievsky, Crime and Punishment."

"Jesus, Langland...Bancher didn't do anything. You didn't kill him, did you?" Jilly said.

"No...thought about it, though. See what you do to me? Next thing you know I'll be watching the roller derby."

Jilly smiled weakly at him. "Ares told him about Sam. What am I going to do?"

Langland began stroking her hair. "Sam can't have the normal life you wanted. Think about it, Jilly. You wouldn't want to live like that but you think Sam has to. The gods are setting something up. Who knows how complicated it is? Sam is one of Xena's descendants, Jilly."

"I just wanted him to be safe. I thought maybe my protecting him could make up for before, Langland."

"I know. Jilly, you have to tell Sam what's going on. If you don't Ares probably will. Then Sam will be mad at you for not telling him the truth."

"Goddamnit, Langland! Why do you have to be so smart all the time?" Jilly said tearfully.

"It's what I do, Jilly. Just like you cook and kill."

Sam was in Angela's apartment when the doorbell rang. She pulled on a big oversize football jersey and went to answer the door. Sam came wide awake when he heard her say, "Oh, Langland. Just a minute." He was up in an instant pulling his pants on when Angela came back from the door. It was just a studio apartment. She looked worried. Sam pulled a tee-shirt on and went to the door.

"Come on in," Sam said.

Langland walked inside, his cashmere sweater a strange contrast with the funky little studio. "Your sister was hurt, Sam. She needs to talk to you about something important, too."

"Hurt! Is she all right?" Sam's stomach seemed to fill with acid. First Mom, then Dad, now his sister.

"Yeah, she'll live, Sam. She has third degree burns on her right hand and she'll need skin grafts eventually. She can do anything with her left hand she can with her right, so it shouldn't really slow her down unless she wants it too."

"Was she attacked?" Sam said. He wondered if maybe it was time for him to join the family or something.

Langland looked at him with a smile. "Don't worry, Sam. You don't have to sign anything in blood just yet. A Get Well card might be nice, though. Why don't you come by the house for dinner. I'll send Paulie. Nice seeing you, Angela."

After he left Angela walked over to Sam and took his hand. He was shaking. She realized Jilly was just as important to Sam as he was to her.

"He said she'll be all right, baby." It was all she could think to say.

"Come with me," he said helplessly.

She looked at him. "She has to talk to you about something important. I don't belong there, Sam."



"Listen, Sam, I'm sure your sister will be okay. The boss knows what he's doing." The driver was speaking emotionally.

"Thanks, Paulie," Sam said, briefly hugging the big scarred man when he dropped him off. He'd known him almost his entire life. Paulie had been driving the car that he, Jilly and Langland loaded the men into who tried kidnapping him.

Approaching his house, the smells were as delicious as ever. Sam knocked on the door and just walked into the house he'd grown up in.

"Jilly. Langland," he called then stopped as a man who was in the living room stood up and looked calmly at him. Sam froze where he stood.

"Sam." It was Jilly coming in from the kitchen. Her right arm was in a sling and her hand huge with bandages. Langland was behind her, and a little boy was hanging onto her leg.

"I...I'm glad to see you're up, Jilly. Here." He handed her some flowers with a card. She smiled, smelling the flowers and held them down for the little boy to smell.

Langland said, "Sam, this is Bancher. The kid attached to your sister's leg is his son, Garen." Sam nodded to the man who did the same. Sam felt something...a connection...he didn't know what. Bancher appeared about Langland's age. Sam held his hand out and Bancher took it. Sam didn't understand what was happening. Feelings he couldn't account for surged through him. Warmth. Trust. He looked over at Jilly who had a nervous look on her face. Langland was holding something in his hand and watching Jilly.

Jilly looked over at Langland and said with irritation, "I'm all right. I'm not Callisto for God's sake." Langland raised his eyebrows and put whatever it was back in his pocket. "Sam," she said and took a breath, "it's a long story but Bancher is your older brother. So Garen here is your nephew. Go say hello to your Uncle Sam, Garen." The little boy disengaged from her leg and ran up to Sam. Confused, he knelt down.

"Hello Garen," he said.

"Hello. Are you going to help Aunt Jilly kill the bad men?"

"Jilly?" Sam said, standing up and looking at her. As he looked at her, she seemed to come to a decision and her body language altered a little, relaxing. She smiled at him.

"Well, Garen, Uncle Sam might not be ready yet to help me kill the bad men. Maybe he'll just watch this time. You can't just start off killing people. I never beheaded somebody until I was probably nine. And I never lined a road with my crucified enemies until I was at least 17. Not that I hadn't helped Callisto and Kimberly, of course." Jilly's eyes were wide and she was smiling in a crazy way he'd only seen in his dreams before. Sam thought Langland would sedate her but he was just looking at her amused.

"That's my girl. Don't fight it." He looked at Sam. "Your family is even more dangerous than you know, Sam. Cal probably did the least damage of any of them. If you don't count Callisto, your mom killed more in a single battle than Cal did his whole career. She depopulated entire regions, though not intentionally--they just got in her way. Your ancestor, Xena, well, she had her ups and downs--she ran the gamut from just being dangerous to being something close to a plague. And your sister here--the only way she has ever been defeated is by treachery; by me as a matter of fact."

"Jilly, what's going on?" Sam said. They were all out of their minds.

"Tell him the rest of it," Bancher said. "He doesn't believe you."

Langland spoke. "He won't believe it until we take him to Greece or Ares does some hocus pocus. Why should he?"

"What's going on? Is this some kind of joke?"

Jilly walked up to him and took his face with her good hand. "Sam. All that stuff you saw at the library about The Sword of Ares: that's Mom. Bancher is your brother. Actually, you're the reincarnation of his brother. I killed you in your first life when you were a little younger than Garen. I know you can't accept it yet, but when you do at least you'll know I told you." She looked around. "Okay, let's eat."


Gabrielle pulled the fish up on shore. Since Xena wasn't there to fool around with she just efficiently caught it and two more in quick succession. She gutted and cleaned them and took them back to camp. Xena still wasn't awake. She could see the gray in her hair from here. She just wouldn't accept that she wasn't what she used to be. Xena was worse than Meleager had been. Gabrielle's husband Euripedes couldn't understand her being away from Athens so much. She told him she owed it to Xena--she'd warned him when he asked her to marry him. Gabrielle would've been disappointed if Euripedes didn't bitch about it though. Most eloquent bitching in history, probably.

The bard knew her friend's eyesight was far worse than she let on. The other day she'd killed a seagull with her chakram and seemed to think she'd driven off a harpy or something. Gabrielle sighed. Xena still got the job done, more or less. But just like with Meleager it didn't come as easy anymore. She hated to think what would happen if somebody in their prime like Callisto used to be showed up. She almost hoped whoever it was killed her friend before Xena realized what was happening. Not really, of course. Gabrielle just dreaded the day when Xena realized how far she had slipped. They would win somehow; they always did. But one of these days Hercules would have to pull their fat out of the fire because Xena couldn't cut it. The demigod didn't age. Xena looked like his aunt or something now. He'd tried to get her to slow down just like Gabrielle and Xena's son Solan had. She just glared at 'em.

The bard thought that Kimberly's death was what really started her friend's slide. That had been 15 years ago. After that she wasn't the old Xena. She'd just stare at the fire a lot, sad. They hadn't seen Kimberly's daughter Jilly since then, though they knew about her of course. She and Langland had a joint kingdom but they were only there half the time if that. Xena just shook her head at the regular reports of rebellions and attempted coups. Gabrielle suspected Xena would like to have been asked for assistance but of course the call didn't come. Jilly didn't need that kind of help. The bard had tried to get Xena to just go and visit her descendant but she wouldn't. Xena felt responsible for Kimberly's death. Gabrielle sighed at the thought. Sometimes she wondered what Sam looked like now. He was a toddler when she'd seen him last.

"Hi bardy."

Gabrielle slowly turned and looked at a woman with a bandaged right hand who had silently come up behind her. Jilly looked in her late 30s now. The bard had attacked her the last time they met because she was afraid Jilly would kill Xena. She'd stood about as much chance against her as a kitten and Jilly had treated her accordingly--not even being annoyed. The slender woman saw her hesitation and just walked up and hugged the bard, who found her eyes tearing up.

Before Gabrielle could say anything she heard, "Hello Jilly. What happened to your hand?" and Xena was standing there. "Who's that?"

"Hi Xena. Oh, I burned it cooking. That's Sam. Looks just like you. Nobody even realized that when he was little. Come over here, Sam."

Gabrielle was released and turned to see the tall young man she hadn't even noticed. He was about three inches taller than Xena and did look like her; the same dark hair, blue eyes, and broad shoulders. Really impressive.

"He doesn't look like me; he looks like his mother," Xena said with a smile at the young man who blushed with embarrassment.

"Same difference. Mom looked like you," Jilly said.

Gabrielle spoke up, "I'll go catch some more fish. Three isn't enough for all of us."

"I'll come with you," Jilly said, and she and the bard walked off leaving Sam and Xena looking awkwardly at each other.

Finally Xena said, "This looks like a setup to me."

Sam said, "Yeah..."

They both laughed nervously then Xena said, "Well, what's going on, Sam? Why are you here?"

The relief at being able to talk about it was in his voice. "I don't know. I don't see how this can be real. It's a dream. Jilly and Langland just told me a few weeks ago that our family went back and forth from the present--I mean my present where I grew up--to Ancient Greece. And we were going there. Here we are."

Xena widened her eyes. "'Ancient Greece.' That's what you call this? How 'ancient' is it to you?"

"About 2500 to 3000 years," Sam answered blushing. He felt like an idiot having this ridiculous conversation. It was in Greek though he didn't see how he could know Greek.

Xena nodded, not particularly surprised. "Have you met Ares?"


"You will. Hope you have better luck with him than me and your mother did."

"Jilly says he's not so bad," Sam said.

Xena shook her head. "Jilly has a special relationship with him. I hope you do too." She looked at the young man, shy and not meeting her eyes. He obviously had no idea what he was getting into. Jilly was Ares' special favorite--almost his daughter--she didn't know what it felt like to be jerked around by the God of War the way Xena and Kimberly, and even Callisto, had been. Xena bet Sam was going to learn what it felt like though. There was more going on here too; there always was: deep dark secrets and past crimes. At least for once Xena didn't see how THIS could be her fault.

Sam continued, "Anyway, we're here to help some people. Jilly owes a favor to somebody and Ares sent him to get her help, I guess. She says she's going to clean up a valley and she brought me along to watch." He couldn't keep from being ironic. It was just so absurd.

Xena's ears had perked up. This poor kid. Ares was setting him up. He thought he was just here to watch and Ares was probably going to dump him in the middle of a war to turn him into a killer--just like he did with his mother. Jilly might not know that but Xena did.

"Nice sword," she said, "Mind if I take a look at it?" She was pulling it out of Sam's scabbard as she asked and examined it bringing the weapon close to her eyes. "You know what this is? specifically, I mean?" she asked.

Sam was embarrassed. "No. It was part of my mother's collection--well, I guess it's my sister's collection now."

Xena nodded and returned it to him. "It's one of the swords Euphemies made for your mother. She had a real taste for fine weapons and armor. Kimberly and Euphemies were made for each other. Have you seen her helmet?"


"Then you know what I mean. Sam, has Jilly been teaching you to fight?"

"Um...a little, Xena."

"Good. Hold your sword up and try to block me when I swing at you."

Gabrielle was finishing cleaning the additional fish she and Jilly had caught--Jilly not helping because of her bandages--when they heard the clanging swords. Gabrielle leaped up and grabbed her staff but Jilly caught her and smiled. "Don't worry, bardy. That's not fighting. It's just Xena and Sam."

"How do you know that?" Gabrielle said frantically.

"By the sound. Believe me, I know what real fighting sounds like and that's not it. Let's get this fish back. Mind if I cook?"

"Sure, Jilly..go ahead," Gabrielle said distractedly, still listening to the swords. If anyone knew what fighting sounded like it would be Jilly, so she tried to relax and just walk back to camp.

When they got back Gabrielle thought Sam looked pleased with himself and Xena had an inscrutable expression. Jilly prepared the fish, pulling out a bag with spices the bard had never even seen. She was salivating at the smell and even Xena seemed affected by it, and it tasted as good as it smelled. Sam and Jilly didn't seem to think anything of it, however. After eating Xena stood up and said "Jilly." The smaller woman got up and followed her away from camp.

Jilly looked up at Xena, knowing what was coming.

"Sam is completely uncoordinated. He's worse than Joxer! What are you thinking bringing him here? He said you were going to pay off a debt by fighting."

"Just calm down, Xena," Jilly said placatingly, "I didn't have any choice. The man Ares sent to request my assistance is his brother--well in another life--you know how that stuff goes." Xena nodded. "Obviously I had to tell him and I was supposed to bring him. You have to take hints."

"Okay, Jilly. I'm a little relieved to tell you the truth. I thought Ares must be planning to turn him into another warrior but that's not possible. You shouldn't let him walk around with a sharpened sword, especially one of Euphemies'. He might hurt himself," Xena said.

"Hey, now hold on there. That's a little harsh and that's my brother you're talking about. And...I only just sharpened it, Xena."

"So what's Ares up to, Jilly? Any idea?" Xena asked.

"No. I've tried asking but he hasn't shown."

Xena was frowning at the ground. "Okay, let's get back to the others. What are you going to do about the bandits or whatever they are? Want some help?"

"Well, first I'm gonna check it out and see if I need to get my army or not. I thought maybe I'd leave Sam with you while I was doing that. Let you two get to know each other. Um...sure, Xena. Glad for the help. You're still doing this, huh?"

"What does that mean?"

"Xena, how many fingers am I holding up?"

Xena was quiet and said, "three." Jilly didn't say anything. "I can still handle myself, Jilly!"

"Okay, whatever you say, Xena. I know you could be blind and still be great."

"Jilly, how many were there?"

"None, Xena."

Jilly could sense something wrong. It all seemed clear-cut but there was something that didn't feel right. Like Bancher had said, the valley his village was in had been invaded by a group of mercenary-bandits who were looking to make it their permanent base. Jilly could appreciate their feelings having been in their position with both Callisto and Kimberly. Just being a free-floating army sucked. You wanted some place to call home, where you could go and just relax. And this valley wasn't a bad choice: easy to defend; a few farming villages to support them as far as food and craftsmen. Jilly knew of warlords who were actually welcomed since they paid for what they took, brought new money in, and provided protection. These guys weren't like that though. They were just taking food, taking women, and killing a few people in the bargain. There were good arguments for that approach too, Jilly knew. They weren't massacring anyone. Who would grow the food then?

It had taken her a couple of days to evaluate the situation, and she knew all she needed to do was come in with about a hundred men. There were two-hundred of them but they didn't particularly impress her. She'd kill the leaders and some of the rank and file and that would take care of it, probably in an afternoon. If Xena was with her she could make do with fifty men. Or...she could just do it all herself--kill all two-hundred of them one at a time. That would be so much fun. Like the old days with Callisto. Jilly shook her head. She didn't have time. That could take weeks. She had responsibilities she had to get back to and couldn't just screw around like that. She sighed and started back to meet up with Xena and Sam.


"So you're definitely taking Sam along then?" Xena said disapprovingly. Gabrielle stood to one side, nervously watching the two warriors. She hated family disagreements.

Jilly said with exasperation, "I already told you, Xena. Ares wants it for some reason. I figured that anyway but he came to me the other night and told me flat out to take Sam along. So that's that."

"You don't have to just do what he says. I never did." Xena growled.

Jilly said icily, "Well, Xena, I do. I serve Ares. I love him. I owe him everything. Just because you can't appreciate the honor he gives you, don't expect me to act like some dumb peasant bitch!'

Gabrielle quickly stepped in holding her hands up, "Ha ha ha. What a jokester you are, Jilly! Little rough, but, hey, FUNNY STUFF! Now, Xena," she was looking back and forth at the two warriors, both of whom had their hands on their swords, "Sam is Jilly's brother. And this is her decision. Now you know she loves him, right? She's protected him his whole life after all."

Xena slowly let her jaw relax and took her hand from her sword. "Yeah, Gabrielle, I know that Jilly loves Sam and will do everything she can to protect him." The bard patted her hand and turned to Jilly, whose brown eyes had white all around them--not a good sign.

"Now, Jilly. You know Ares and Xena don't get along like you and he do. Xena just really got to like Sam while you were gone, okay? And she's worried about him being around fighting since he's not exactly good with weapons. She feels like she's his granny."

"Hey!" Xena said, but Gabrielle shushed her with her hand.

The mad homicidal light died in Jilly's eyes and she took her hand from her sword. "I know you're just worried about Sam. So am I. I don't have any choice and Ares told me he'd be okay. Xena, I'm sorry about that crack about the dumb peasant bitch."

Gabrielle smiled widely and said, "See, that's how relatives should act! Now you two kiss and make up." Both Jilly and Xena just looked at her and walked off in different directions.

"Or maybe you wouldn't be comfortable with that, being strong warrior types," she said to their retreating forms. "I know that you actually feel like it though." After they disappeared, she continued, "Yup. You did it again, Gabrielle. Gabrielle the peacemaker. I like it!"


Xena and Jilly were riding at the head of the column. Their scouts hadn't returned with any surprises. Sam was well back in the formation almost dead center, the safest place Jilly could find for him. He'd asked why he couldn't ride with her and she'd told him flat out he couldn't handle himself well enough yet. She wasn't going to lie to him, not if he had to stay in Greece.

"Something doesn't feel right, Jilly," Xena said as they began entering the valley.

"I know, Xena. I felt that when I was checking it out."

"It's probably Ares." Xena said grimly.

"I don't wanna hear it," Jilly replied equally grimly.

As the columun was making its way through a forested region arrows began flying at them, and men on foot came at them from out of the forest. Jilly saw several of her men down. She and Xena both had killed archers with their chakrams almost before the first arrows had hit.

"My scouts should have seen this!" Jilly yelled.

"Not if Ares didn't want them too!" Xena yelled back.

They both pulled their swords and Jilly began barking orders. Xena rode to the men Jilly had assigned to her and quickly reformed them. She saw with horror that the main force of the enemy was attacking the center, where Sam was. They were working to cut the center section away from the rest of Jilly's relatively small force, and they succeeded in forcing Sam and about ten other men into a ravine that Xena could swear wasn't there minutes before. Xena couldn't ride to his aid. She had been assigned these men by Jilly and they needed her. She grabbed a soldier and yelled in his face, "Tell Jilly Sam and some other men have been isolated by the enemy. Go!" She watched the man take off riding, then she returned her attention to keeping her men alive, throwing her chakram and killing a man about to spear one of her men.

The fighting was fiercer than Jilly had expected. They hadn't seemed this disciplined when she had been here before. Her men were largely scattered now fighting in small pockets. She was still winning. As she had known it would be, the presence of both her and Xena was a major factor. The warrior princess was probably glad Gabrielle couldn't see her now. She'd reverted to war mode and was absolutely awe inspiring. Jilly could outfight her and maybe even outgeneral her, but she didn't have the kind of larger than life presence that Xena did that made men willing to follow her and die for her. Kimberly had that too, she thought. Jilly was more feared the way Callisto had been. Maybe it's a brunette thing. She'd seen a rider coming who looked like he might be bringing a message from Xena but he was cut down by an arrow before he reached her.


Sam stumbled back, tripping over a rock as the soldiers advanced on him. He looked around at the arrow-riddled bodies of Jilly's men. One was moaning but stopped when a sword flashed down. Sam drew the sword, nearly dropping it as it accidentally sliced the end of his boot off. He tried to hold it like Jilly had shown him. A bearded man with only one ear stopped and looked at him and burst out laughing.

Sam knew he was going to die. He said what just popped into his mind as his last words. "Angela!"

In the Pappas Collection in the Fredericks wing of the library, Angela Gilroy stumbled and cried out. Luckily no one was there to hear. She walked to a table and leaned on it, not knowing what was happening. "Sam!" she said in a frightened voice.

"You can help him."

She whirled around to see a man in a black three-piece suit. He was the most beautiful person she'd ever seen, with jet black hair and a perfectly trimmed black beard. "He's about to be killed. Sam knows it and called your name. Nice kid. Really cares for you. Do you care for him?"

"Who are you? I love Sam!"

"Do you want to help him?"

"What's happening? Of course, I want to help him!" Angela said hysterically. The man nodded and walked over to a glass case, somehow reached inside and drew a sword out without breaking the glass or tripping the alarm.

"Nice," he said looking at the sword. "Here," he held it out to her. "Take it if you want to help, Sam. Otherwise his head is going to be decorating the top of a spear very soon now." Angela held her hand out and took the weapon. It felt right. Ares admired her with a smile. "Just go with the flow."

"What's..." she started to say but then she and the man were both enveloped in flame, though it didn't burn. Instead of the library, Angela was in a cul-de-sac and looking at Sam as several men, led by a big bearded one with only one ear, advanced on him. There were bodies all around looking like pincushions from arrows.

"Turn around!" Angela yelled. They all whirled and looked unsure; one laughed but the one minus an ear just looked careful. "Sam! Are you all right?" she said loudly.

"Angela? Angela! What are you doing here? Run!"

"Sam, a man brought me here to help you!"

"Who are you?" the one-eared man snarled at her.

She felt a roaring inside her head. "The last thing you're ever going to see!"


"What are you doing here?" Jilly said, seeing Gabrielle approach her. The fighting had ended. As she knew she would she had won. They'd finally realized they were losing and fell back, then just ran.

"I followed at a distance. I knew I didn't belong in the thick of it--you taught me that a long time ago, Jilly--but I still wanted to be here. What's wrong?" She saw the blonde warrior become frantic as she searched the faces of all the men standing she saw. Then Jilly was gone. Gabrielle caught a glimpse of her and followed.

As she ran Jilly asked every man she saw about her brother. Many said the same thing: that Sam had seemed to be the target of the attack. Being at the front of the column Jilly hadn't been aware of that.

Jilly was terrified looking for her brother. Gabrielle was trying to follow her but had a hard time. "Gabrielle," she heard. The bard looked and waved. Xena finally saw her and came running toward them.

"They were after Sam, Xena!" Jilly said bitterly. "Why would anyone want to hurt Sam?"

Xena didn't answer. The bard didn't hear or see anything but Jilly and Xena both took off running the same direction. She followed as well as she could. The bard came around a steep embankment and stopped. Xena and Jilly had their swords out but were just carefully walking around, peering and listening. Sam and a tall freckled girl Gabrielle didn't know were locked together in an embrace. There were bodies everywhere. Jilly's men were full of arrows and there were others who were lying about, a few still writhing, but most hacked apart. Xena and Jilly didn't seem concerned about them so Gabrielle wasn't either--she wasn't as soft-hearted as she was in the old days.

Jilly came walking up to her brother and the girl. "Sam, are you all right?"

"Yeah, Jilly."

She looked at the bloody girl holding one of her own old swords. "Hello Angela. You do this?" she waved her hand. The young woman lifted her head from Sam's shoulder.

"A man came and told me Sam needed me. He told me to do what felt right." Jilly was pale and her eyes wide, a little spittle at the corner of her mouth. Xena came up to her.


She walked away from her brother and the girl, who melded back together. "It was all just to get Angela. Ares staked Sam out like a piece of meat."

"That's what he does, Jilly. He's the God of War. He creates warriors...any way he has to."

"He's never treated me like that!" Jilly said.

Xena said, "You're special."

"What about my men here? And those bandits? Did he have his own men killed?"

"Maybe. Not necessarily. He could've just seen an opportunity and took it."

"I love him, Xena! How could he do this to Sam? And my men?"

"He's the God of War, Jilly."

Langland looked up from the architectural plans he was working on. "Come on in, Bancher. I received a message from Jilly. Everything is taken care of." He studied the man as he walked in holding the little boy's hand. He allowed the child to pull away and he ran up to Langland and grabbed his leg--he was a leg man. If you just glanced at Bancher you might think he was a warrior. He was athletic looking and had a serious manner that was even a little like Xena. But he was genuinely calm instead of having a coiled snake inside him like the warrior princess. Sort of like Gabrielle but more masculine and, let's face it, smarter. Bancher would never have done the naive things the bard had periodically almost gotten herself and Xena killed with.

Langland could imagine Jilly leaving him for Bancher. If she did she'd probably kill him first because she'd think that would be the only way to protect Bancher. Actually, that wouldn't save Bancher if he wanted to kill him but Langland really didn't know how he would react if the situation arose.

Bancher tried to ignore how Langland looked at him sometimes. He felt like an insect being eyed by a lizard. He got that all the time from men, just like women wanting him for themselves or their daughters. Since Sila his wife had died it had only gotten worse even though he was in mourning and never encouraged anyone. He just tried to be a good father and village leader. His official period of mourning was only now coming to an end. Whatever happened, happened.

"Did Jilly say anything else?" Bancher asked, as he pried Garen off Langland's leg.

Langland handed him a folded parchment, "Read it yourself."

"I can't read," he said handing it back.

Langland didn't show any reaction but took the parchment back and began reading aloud.

Langland. Threat to valley gone. Angela is with me. Tell Bancher Sam is okay. Should be home two weeks. Jilly

"That girl Sam went on and on about?" Bancher asked.

"Presumably," Langland answered.

"Well, that's good news."

Smiling, Langland said, "That might be premature for me to say though it sounds as if it's worked out for you."

Bancher nodded, took Garen's hand and left, and Langland returned to the plans for a temple to Athena spread before him.


The bard looked up at Angela standing next to her. The red-headed young woman gave her an odd feeling but she couldn't quite put her finger on why. She was taller than Xena, just about the same as Sam. Gabrielle liked watching the two of them together. They were so young and in love. She couldn't quite read how Jilly felt about it. She was so angry at Ares that nothing else seemed to have penetrated very far yet. Sam was the most protected person in Greece probably--surrounded by lethal women who adored him. Xena's usual reserve had broken down with the sweet young man and she was practically a doting grandmother; Jilly just continued watching out for her little brother like she always had; and now Angela could barely stand to let him out of her sight. Gabrielle sensed he felt smothered but didn't want to offend any of them.

She had overheard Jilly discussing Angela with her friend. "She's a natural, Xena. She did that without ever holding a sword before. To do anything fancy she needs some training, but it'll just be icing on the cake. As far as 99 percent of the actual fighting she'll ever need to do, she's fine the way she is."

"Think she could take me...or you?" Xena asked.

"Nah, not yet. If I start working with her--or Ares does--who knows? She'll probably be good at strategy and tactics too. Ares looks for that." Jilly said.

"She needs a chakram," Xena said.

"I thought I'd let her have the Japanese one that Mom had made up."


"An island east of the kingdom of Chin. Great swordmakers."



Langland was waiting for them when they came riding in. He could see at a glance they had suffered greater casualties than Jilly had anticipated. She had only taken fifty men. He looked over at Roderick; he obviously had registered that too and was frowning. Simi no longer left his bed but somehow he was still managing to calm Roderick. That was a dangerous situation. How much longer could Simi live? When he died Langland didn't know what Roderick would do. Maybe so many years with Simi will have permanently changed him. Langland hoped so. Ares had taken the berserk warrior and somehow connected him with the careful old man, thereby allowing him to control his temper. Jilly was the only warrior who could beat him that Langland knew of. He and Xena had fought once briefly and seemed evenly matched. That was years before. Roderick could probably beat her now from what Langland had heard of Xena's failing eyesight and general decline, though Roderick had slowed down too.

"How many men did you lose?" were Langland's first words.

Jilly dismounted and tossed her reins to a slave who had run up. "Sixteen, and another twelve wounded. It was a setup by Ares. For her." She tossed her head in the direction of Angela who was riding next to Sam. She'd never ridden a horse before either but that came to her just as naturally as using the sword had.

Langland nodded, having deduced everything that had happened from her letter. He also understood how Jilly must feel. "He's the God of War. That's what he does, Jilly."

"So I've been told," she replied grimly.

"You can understand it," Langland continued. He knew she didn't want to hear this but she needed to. "You're the only favorite he has left who is in top form. Kimberly's dead, Xena's half blind, and Roderick's not what he once was either. Ares needs fresh blood and it isn't as if there are all that many great warriors with the right emotional makeup to serve him. When he spots one he has to act."

"Langland, since when did you become Ares' lawyer? Why are you defending him?"

"I care about you. Don't cut him off. He means too much to you."

Jilly looked at him. Sometimes Langland really surprised her. Not his genius; she was used to that. But when he demonstrated something akin to feeling it always floored her. "Yeah..sure..whatever," she said and went to talk to Roderick. They handled the army, security and law enforcement for the kingdom while Langland handled governing and public works. Jilly had input on foreign affairs though she always followed his final decisions.

Sam and Angela, Xena and Gabrielle all walked up just as Jilly returned. Langland studied Angela. He'd missed the boat there; hadn't even suspected anything like that about her. Maybe Xena and Roderick weren't the only ones slipping. Bancher came up quickly and hugged Sam. Angela looked for a second like she wanted to kill him. Poor Sam. Now he had Angela AND Jilly hovering over him. Xena came over to Langland. He braced himself. She hated him just like Kimberly had, and there was no reason he could think of that would have changed that.

"Hello Langland," she said pleasantly.

"Xena," he said surprised.

"Jilly seems happy with you. So I guess me and Kimberly were wrong. You're still a monster but you're our monster."

"Thank you, Xena," he said. Langland hadn't anticipated this either. He really must be slipping.

He saw Bancher and Jilly walk off talking. Gabrielle, who had come up next to Xena, saw the frown cross his face and the reason. She'd have to mention it to her friend. That was the kind of thing she missed now; just literally couldn't see well enough.


Jilly sensed his presence but it wasn't coming from the throne room or her quarters. It was from the room she had given Angela. Sam had carried his stuff in there too, which surprised her though she knew it shouldn't. Now she just opened the door and walked in. Angela looked at her with surprise but Ares didn't. He smiled widely at her.

"There's my girl. I was just getting to know Angela a little bit more. She's my new favorite, you know."

"So I gather," Jilly said coldly. She clamped down on her anger. Part of her, a big part of her wanted to attack Ares; but another part loved him. She had always assumed he owned her. That attacking him would be absurd and pointless was also a factor, though a smaller one. It was really just that he owned her; always had; always would.

Angela looked at Jilly and HIM. She had never felt so complete, so powerful. When she had killed those men threatening Sam a bloody joy she'd never known existed had filled her almost to bursting. And she owed it to Ares. This wonderful being who helped her fulfill herself.

Jilly said, "Angela, did he tell you that he arranged for Sam to be in danger like that? He planned it all in order to get you."

Ares smiled. "I was just explaining that to her, Jilly."

"I saved Sam, Jilly, and we're closer than ever now. It all worked out perfectly," Angela said with a rapt expression.

"Perfectly, huh? My 16 men who died might not feel that way about it," Jilly said.

Now Ares said disdainfully, "You mean MY 16 men. In case you've forgotten this is my army. The others were also mine. All of them died well serving me and are perfectly fine with Hades." His voice softened and he smiled again. "Anyway, Jilly, it takes a lot of blood to create a great warrior. You know that better than anyone. Angela is worth it just like you were. Do you think all the fighting you did as a child simply happened?"

Jilly felt close to losing control so she turned on her heel and quickly left. She could hear Angela laugh. She was a natural all right. Ares had spotted a darkness in her and set it free, and Angela was grateful. Who knows what she would become. Her feeling for Sam was probably the only softness left in her. When Jilly arrived at her rooms she opened the door and the god was waiting for her.

"Ah, Jilly...don't be mad at me. It all worked out. Now I want you to help Angela improve her skills--whatever you think she needs to work on. Your men are in the Elysian Fields, for the most part. Oh, and Jilly...killing Langland won't save Bancher if he doesn't want it too. My sister also won't be too thrilled if you kill her favorite. Remember that." The god disappeared in a blaze.

Jilly stared at where he had been standing. Bancher? She'd been finding herself thinking about him but hadn't really understood why. Why would she kill Langland for Bancher? It hit her. "Shit!" she said vehemently.

The throne room was dark except for shafts of moonlight coming through the tall windows. Rather than sitting in one of the twin thrones, Langland was on the floor staring vacantly at a wall. He had been there for two hours--the longest period of inactivity he could remember in his entire life. A shadow loomed in one of the large blocks of moonlight on the wall. The crested helmet seemed ominous and distorted over the bulk of the shield, the spear a savage vertical raping the light. Langland didn't turn. The figure seemed to glide in front of him.

"Oh, Langland! My sweet killer, my lovely man! What has become of you?" Grey-eyed Athena looked down at him. Langland heard a flapping of wings and an owl settled on his throne. "Even you, Langland, even you...destroyed by a whore! What's the matter with you?" The Goddess of War's voice though not loud was making the foundations of the building shudder.

"Kill them both! The little slut and that weakling. You have made her a Queen. She would be a mud covered soldier or else dead from her own stupidity if not for you. And this is how she repays you. This is how she treats MY favorite!"

"I can't kill her, Athena. I love her," Langland said in a dead voice. He didn't react as Athena slapped him with a sound like a thunderclap.


He didn't say anything. Athena continued in a suddenly reasonable voice. "You need not fear Ares' old threat if you kill her. I will not allow it. Ah, Langland, you are wise. I am sure that is the real reason even if you do not realize it. You should fear my brother's wrath, unless you have me to protect you. He will be angry, of course. That does not matter. I will protect you from him. He has found a new favorite, anyway. Langland, what about Angela, eh? She is like Jilly used to be: young, nubile, dangerous. Kill the whore and her brother and take Angela. Produce an heir, Langland. An heir for me!"

He looked up at the goddess's perfect face, which seemed to glimmer inside her helmet. He shook his head and didn't react as she picked him up with one hand and flung him across the room.

"Kill that whore, Langland! I command you!" Langland didn't move, simply remaining in the position he had fallen in. He didn't particularly mind the broken bones. He was used to that from Jilly. The goddess stared at him and disappeared in a thousand shards of mirror flying off in different directions.


The bard was looking at her friend. "Xena, what is it?"

"I'm not sure, Gabrielle. Something has happened; I can feel it."

They could hear a rooster crowing outside in the early morning. Xena put her chakram on her hip and walked out of their room, just looking around. The bard followed her. "Wait here," Xena said and began jogging toward the throne room. To her irritation she realized Gabrielle was following her.

Outside the throne room she stopped. "I feel it too, Xena," Gabrielle said nervously. The warrior princess pushed the large ornate door open and carefully walked inside.

"Gods!" Gabrielle cried and ran over to the figure by the wall. Xena walked slowly after her. "Xena, do something!"

Xena looked down at the crumpled broken body, the hands still around the dagger in his heart. She hadn't realized how small Langland was. He seemed so much bigger. "It's too late, Gabrielle. There isn't anything to do."

"Ahhh! Ahhh!" They turned and saw Jilly. She was weaving where she stood and her eyes didn't look human. "Ahhhhh! Ahhhh!'

Xena watched her carefully and approached her. "Jilly, wait outside with Gabrielle. Let me clean this up. Jilly. Jilly! Can you hear me? Do you understand what I'm saying?"

The slender blonde lashed out and Xena felt her left arm break as she fell back. "Gabrielle, DON'T!" she cried frantically but the bard swung her staff at Jilly. The warrior queen took the quarterstaff out of her hands like she was taking a rattle from a baby, then hit Gabrielle with it almost as an afterthought. Xena could hear her friend's ribs crack as she fell. Xena jumped at Jilly again and was instantly doubled over on the ground. The slender blond ignored both of them, dropped Gabrielle's staff and just went to stand over Langland.

"Ahhhhh! Ahhhh! Ahhhh!" She began weaving again then crumpled to the floor beside him. She took one of his hands and began rocking rhythmically. She was still doing that when Xena was finally able to get up. Xena set her own arm with a painful snap, then checked Gabrielle and helped her up. They both stood looking at the little blonde figure rocking beside the dead body. Xena realized she was probably looking at something very close to Callisto beside her mother's body--until her men came and began raping the little girl.

Xena heard steps and looked to see Angela, Bancher and Sam.

"Oh Christ!" Sam said. Angela looked cold and watchful. Bancher approached.

"Don't get near her!" Xena ordered but he ignored her and just kneeled down next to Jilly. Xena fully expected Jilly to kill him but she didn't.

Bancher looked at her mad face, rocking and rocking. "Jilly...Jilly...look at me. It's Bancher." The rocking stopped and the face turned in his direction but still seemed unseeing. He took her face in his hands. "Look at me, Jilly." Slowly her eyes seemed to focus.

"Bancher?" she said. He took her arm and helped her up. Xena just stared at them, astounded.

"Come on, Jilly. There's nothing for you to do here." She let him lead her away from Langland's corpse.

"Sam!" she cried, and her brother held her as she collapsed in tears. She kept looking at Bancher though.

Angela was observing the situation with amusement, barely able to keep from smirking. Sam and Bancher led Jilly out of the throne room leaving it to Xena, Gabrielle and Angela.

"What's so funny?" Xena said icily. Gabrielle looked with surprise at her then at Angela who had finally broken out in a smile.

"You know, Xena. Weakness." She stopped and got her expression under control, barely, then resumed, "Oh, Xena, Ares wanted Jilly to help me with my fighting but I guess she won't be up for that now for a while. Can you help me out? You're no Jilly but Ares says you're pretty good."

Gabrielle was almost nauseated but Xena didn't seem surprised. "Sure, Angela. I'll work with you. Jilly was right. She said you were a natural." The tall red head grinned, winked at Gabrielle who nearly jumped, and walked out of the throne room. Xena walked back over to Langland's body.

"Guess me and Kimberly really misjudged you, Langland," she said. Xena waited until men came to pick up the body, then she and Gabrielle went to deal with their own simple wounds.

Angela smiled at the towering man. Roderick looked at her then in a flash threw his sword at her. The tall girl laughed as she ducked and reaching up caught the grip. They almost looked related, the two of them. The tall muscular man with his red hair and bushy beard, going grey now, and the red-haired long-bodied girl in black fighting leathers. He nodded in approval and caught the sword which she sent flying back at him. She drew her own sword now and they approached each other. Angela leaped at him slashing down. She was faster than he was but he could still parry her. Roderick just had so much more experience than Angela he didn't have to be as fast as she was. He doubted he could beat her much longer though. Everytime they practiced she was better. He had begun working with her after Xena had left to visit her son Solan.

He and Angela continued fighting, circling and slashing. He knew what she needed and he gave it to her. Roderick disarmed her and flicked his sword and Angela grabbed her arm, her hand coming away bloody. She stared at him. He could see the vein pounding in her temple. She picked her sword up from the ground and carefully came at him again. Yep. He knew that was what she needed. Roderick wondered if she would kill him when she was able to. He wouldn't be surprised. He couldn't worry about it though. She was Ares' new favorite and he had to teach her what he could.


The throne room was packed. Word of Langland's death had sent shock waves through the land and everyone wanted reassurance. This was the first official audience. City and village representatives were there. Neighboring kingdoms sent emissaries to judge the situation. They didn't know if it was good or bad for them. In a sense the kingdom was infinitely weaker without the brilliant ruler, but Jilly was still there and many felt Langland had held her back from going to war any number of times. No one in their right mind wanted to fight Jilly.

Everyone was standing waiting when Jilly came in and took her seat in one of the two thrones. They all looked at her trying to read whatever they could but her face was expressionless. She wore a black glove on her right hand but they caught glimpses of scarred flesh. She had new advisors: a calm looking man who stood near her, a young female warrior who looked like she might be Roderick's daughter and sent shivers through everyone, and a young man who resembled Xena. Roderick was the only familiar face. The same thought crossed everyone's mind. Jilly had killed Langland and seized sole control.

Jilly was dressed in her robes of state, long brocaded garments that only a few knew resembled how the Sword of Ares had dressed when she wasn't fighting. She looked around the assembly and began speaking. "Our kingdom has suffered a great loss. I have lost my husband and co-ruler and my people have lost their king. This kingdom will go on as before, however; and none..." here she let her brown eyes settle on the ambassadors from neighboring lands, "should think we are vulnerable. At this time I am introducing my brother, Samuel, to you. Before all I name him as my heir. Sam."

Every eye was fastened on the dark handsome young man who stepped up beside Jilly and took a seat in Langland's throne. He looked like Xena and everyone had heard the old warrior princess had been visiting Jilly. There were rumors Jilly and Xena were somehow related. Her people were relieved. Langland and Jilly's lack of an heir had always been dangerous. This was a good sign for the future. The ambassadors were disappointed for the same reason. This was the smartest move Jilly could have made. Maybe she didn't need Langland.

She looked around again and said. "All of my people are commanded to pledge their fealty to my brother. You may begin now." Guards came forward and indicated for people to approach Sam one at a time. An old man came forward, took the young man's hand and kissed it, followed by a large warrior, and an aristocratic looking woman. This was going to take a while. Jilly was staring straight ahead but that young red haired warrior was watching closely. Without warning she leapt and slashed down with a sword beheading a young man who was about to kiss Sam's hand. Jilly calmly looked over. The young warrior rolled the body over and took a dagger out of a lifeless hand. She indicated for guards to come and take the body, then picked the head up and handed it to Jilly.

"As I said," Jilly said, "this kingdom will continue as before. Go on with the ceremony." She tossed the head to a guard who took it outside.


Sam was shaking. It had been impressed on him that no matter what happened his job was to look calm and keep his mouth shut. He had managed it somehow though Angela killing that man right in front of him nearly made him sick. It wasn't like in the battle when she had appeared and saved him from love. He saw how she was smiling as she lopped the head off. He had been sprayed with blood but they just continued as if nothing had happened. Sam was afraid of something else. Maybe it had been arranged. Jilly could have wanted to have a demonstration and orchestrated it with Angela, perhaps with a condemned prisoner or something. How could he think like this about Angela and his sister? Sam realized that he had better start thinking like this. What would Langland say, he wondered.

He looked up as Angela came in and stripped her leathers off, her long toned body freckled all over, her red pubic hair matching the hair on her head. She smiled at him seductively and came over to where he sat on the edge of the bed.

"That turned you on, didn't it?" Sam said to her.

"You know it, Sammy," she said and breathed in his ear.

He was disgusted with himself for being aroused by her. As she began kissing his face and working down his body, undoing his clothes, he responded though. No matter how appalled he was at what Angela seemed to have become he was still excited by her--now more than before, possibly. There was a kinky edge to it that was missing before. Angela seemed to have gone from light to dark as if Ares had thrown a switch in her. Before their sex had been all about love and tenderness. Now it was some complex thing: there was still love but her darkness had introduced new elements. Power, cruelty and bloodlust tinged their lovemaking now. Sam could feel himself being drawn into it too.


"Jilly," Bancher said.

She looked over at him from the pile of documents she was going through. She hated this. Langland had handled all of this kind of thing. She hoped Bancher or Sam might be good at it. God knows what would happen in their Chicago life to Langland's shadowy empire. It might trigger a worldwide recession or something. She only got involved if he needed somebody hit.


"Did you arrange that assassination attempt on Sam?"

She smiled at him. "No, Bancher. I'm not that smart. It sure worked out though, didn't it? Did you see their faces?"

He looked at her. He didn't understand their relationship fully yet. They were fated to be together; both of them felt it. However, Jilly was mourning Langland and there was nothing false about that at all. It didn't change that they belonged together. Eventually they would proceed to being intimate but neither was in a hurry. That was the last thing on Jilly's mind. It might even be years. Langland was the only man she had ever had sex with just as she was the only woman he had ever had. Neither of them had known which of them was sterile.


Jilly crooked a scarred finger at Roderick. She only wore the glove for public appearances. The big man came over, dwarfing the woman.

"Just tell me, Roderick. Did you and Angela arrange that in the throne room?"


"Why didn't you tell me?"

"We thought you might be too soft, what with everything. Langland would have loved it, Jilly."

"Yeah, okay. Whose idea was it? Yours or Angela's."

"Angela's. Jilly, you're going to need to start working with her pretty soon. She'll pass me before long in fighting skills. I'm not what I used to be. Couple weeks is my guess."

"Great, that's just what I need: a younger, smarter version of me."

"I don't think you need to worry, Jilly. She loves your brother and she loves Ares."

"So she won't kill me and take my kingdom because it would piss off the men in her life?"



Sam heard the familiar THUMPTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP sound and curiously followed it. Angela had commandeered a side courtyard in the palace complex not far from their rooms. Instead of her black fighting leathers she was in her basketball uniform and was dribbling a ball around the yard. There was an ornate brass and silver hoop on a backboard which had paintings of Olympian gods. He saw her make a free throw and it smoothly went in the basket. She saw him and grinning came running over.

"Isn't this great, Sam! Jilly went back to Chicago to get your mom's chakram for me and feed my parents a line about the internship I'm supposedly on. She asked if I wanted anything from there. I'm going to try to get a couple of teams going. Maybe even a league. Gimme a kiss, you prince and heir apparent, you!" She grabbed him and laid one on him, then went dribbling off around the courtyard and hooked one in. Her soldiers were standing around watching. When Sam glanced at them they bowed.

Jilly was at her desk, still trying to make headway on the pile of documents when a fast knocking came on the door.

"Yeah," she said. It opened and a soldier was there.

"Your majesty, it's Simi. They say he's dying!"

"Shit!" Jilly cursed and ran past the startled soldier. She reached Simi's apartment in the palace and the people standing around the bed bowed and backed away from the bed. She looked at the old man. He'd looked at death's door for a long time but not like this. His head seemed tiny and fragile on the pillows. Only wisps of white hair were all that remained of his old beard, and he was completely bald. His eyes seemed half open and were sunken deep in his cadaverous, waxy face. He looked dead to her but she glanced at the healer who shook his head and approached with a small mirror which he held under his nose. Finally Jilly saw a slight mist.

"How much longer?" she said abruptly.

"Any time, your majesty. He could die this moment or he might last for hours. I doubt he'll last the night though."

"Have you sent for Roderick?" she asked.

"Lord Roderick told us not to. That we should send word to you or Lang...when it appeared Lord Simi was dying."

He's a real team player, Jilly thought.

She stared down at the old warrior. They were never particularly friends but she had respected him. And of course he and Roderick were a sort of composite being and another favorite of Ares just like she was. In that sense Jilly and Simi shared something close, almost intimate.

"All right, stay with him. Send me word if there's a change," she ordered and quickly left. She had to find Roderick. Simi and Roderick's relationship was a closely guarded secret. Simi would've been a target otherwise.

"Where is Roderick?" she snapped to some of his men.

"With Lady Angela, your majesty. Practicing swordsmanship," one answered.

Jilly simply grabbed the first horse she saw, pulling the rider off and took off riding for the practice yard. When she arrived she knew Simi must have died. Angela looked perplexed and was easily parrying Roderick as he loudly cursed and swung at her. The girl danced out of his way and reaching in disarmed him just as Jilly came riding up.

"What's going on, Jilly? Has Roderick lost his mind?" Angela quickly said, not taking her eyes off of Roderick. Unarmed now, he glared at both of them, then spat to the side.

"I'll kill both of you fucking whores!' he growled. Angela frowned and began to smile and weave her sword as Jilly dismounted.

"Give me your sword, Angela."

"What? Why?" the tall red head said, then found herself on her butt several yards away and Jilly had her sword and was facing Roderick.

"Get this straight, Angela: I'm the queen. I don't have to say why."

Angela pulled herself up. She was furious but fascinated. How had Jilly done that to her? Jilly picked Roderick's sword up from the ground and tossed it to the huge man who looked at it and her and laughed.

"You stupid little slut. You're dead now!" He charged Jilly whose face was sad. She sidestepped him easily. He whirled and yelled, "Fight me, bitch!"

"I'm sorry, Roderick," Angela heard Jilly say. When he charged her again she saw Jilly somehow duck his blade and he ran right onto her sword. Jilly leapt away and watched the giant warrior just continue on from momentum before he went down and was still. Angela saw that her sword was in his heart. The blonde warrior queen slowly walked over to the body. Angela approached it too though she was careful to watch Jilly.

"Sorry, Angela. I just wasn't in the mood to explain myself," Jilly said.

"Sure, Jilly. You are in charge. I shoulda known that."

Jilly looked at Angela. The girl wanted to kill her; she could hear it in her voice. Why not? That's how Jilly would've felt at her age. Jilly hoped Angela had enough control not to try, forcing her to kill her. She didn't want to piss off her brother or Ares any more than Angela probably did. She decided to be conciliatory.

"I didn't want you to kill him like a mad dog or something. I owed it to him to do it myself."

Angela looked at Jilly trying to understand why she was being weak and explaining herself now. Angela wouldn't have in her position. Jilly wasn't afraid of her. Why was she bothering?

Jilly watched the girl. Is this how Langland felt? she wondered. Knowing exactly what someone was thinking. Jilly could do it with Angela because they were so similar. Langland could do it with anyone, people he hadn't even met. She rolled Roderick's giant body over and pulled the sword out, wiping it on his shoulder, then returning it to Angela. Jilly felt old.

"Ares can explain what happened with Roderick to you," she said tiredly. "You have Roderick's job now. I'll send men to prepare a pyre for Roderick and Simi. He's dead too." She remounted the horse. "You and me will start working tomorrow." Jilly rode back to the palace. She had to get back to that paperwork.


Gabrielle was reading the new play her husband was working on. "Kinda dark, don't you think?" she asked him.

He played along. "It's a tragedy, Gabrielle. I've explained to you before. Tragedies are supposed to be dark."

"I know," she said, "but couldn't you put some bunnies in it or something?"

He exaggeratedly sighed and shook his head walking out of the room. "Bunnies. It's about a family destroyed by its own desires, a cycle of hatred that leads to generations of violence, and she wants BUNNIES..."

She grinned. "Well, okay, what about puppies then?"

Euripedes popped his head back in the room, "Puppies? Puppies? Fantastic! Now you're talking! Why that's...that's TRAGIC!"

Xena was sitting in the next room. If she heard them do that one more time she thought she'd scream. Maybe it was a bard thing. They would vary it--maybe with kittens and monkeys, or baby chicks and ponies. If Gabrielle was working on something they would reverse the roles: her friend would play the long suffering poet and Euripedes would be the uncomprehending dolt. Xena got up. They were just getting started. Pretty soon the metaphors and similes would start flying thick and fast.

She walked outside and looked around the street. Everything was blurry but she could still get around okay: she just used her hearing and sense of smell a lot more now. She had mixed feelings about Athens--well, any city really. Too many people who could stab you in the back or something. She'd prefer it if Gabrielle and Euripides had a house outside of the city in an easily defensible position, maybe on top of a mountain or something. When she'd suggested that to them they looked at her like she was crazy. Well, she thought, don't blame ME when you're under siege and you can't poor boiling oil down on your enemies because you aren't snug and safe on top of a mountain. She imagined how she would defend the house as it was. They weren't very responsive to the idea of a moat either. Euripedes had said, "Xena, we live in the middle of Athens. We can't have a moat around our house." She sighed. Just because nobody did it didn't mean it wasn't a good idea. They didn't know it but she had weapons secreted all around their property--just in case.

They had all gone to this bard tavern that Gabrielle and Euripedes hung out in the other night, Xena disguising herself so she could hear what was really being said. They'd heard some works in progress about what was going on in Jilly's kingdom. All the bards were watching it closely. Seemed like a good story that just hadn't played out yet. What they were saying about Sam was disturbing but believable; she could read between the lines.

The throne room was full again. The petitioners and ambassadors all waited patiently. Finally the ruler came in, flanked by advisors. They watched him take his seat in the throne, dressed in his long robes of state. Prince Samuel let his blue eyes travel around the assembly. He had a mustache now which curled up at the ends and he wore his hair long. Standing to one side of the dark prince was his consort and Captain of the Royal Guard, Angela. To the prince's other side was the queen's advisor, Lord Bancher. Prince Samuel was more popular than Langland or Jilly had ever been. The areas that used to rebel viewed him as their protector. There was just something about him.

Bancher spoke. "Your highness, a deputation from the emperor of Terruk has arrived."

Three cruel-looking, dark-skinned men with drooping black mustaches and black eyes came forward. They did not bow or remove their small hats. Angela frowned and glanced at Sam who hadn't shown any reaction. She ordered, "Remove your caps in the royal presence."

One of them spoke. "It is not our custom to remove our caps except in the presence of our own emperor." There was almost a sneer in his voice. Terruk was a land on the march with an army known for its ruthless cruelty. Jilly's kingdom did not share a border with them but Terruk had begun encroaching on some of their allies and had even seized some shipping flying Jilly's flag which they claimed had entered their waters.

"Really?" Sam said conversationally. "Well, I can understand that; you have to follow your customs." The man who had spoken looked contemptuous but one of his companions looked nervous. "Captain," Sam said, "Why don't you make sure they keep their hats on permanently." Bancher started to say something but stopped when Sam held a hand up.

Angela grinned and walked toward the emissaries. Her soldiers came forward and grabbed them roughly. "What are you doing?" the one who had been speaking said angrily.

"Bring a hammer and nails," she ordered. It took a few minutes for them to arrive. The throne room was silent except for the deputation from Terruk who were frantically threatening and squirming. More hands grabbed their heads to hold them still. Angela hefted the heavy hammer, placed a nail over the head of one man and drove it in. His body jerked convulsively in the arms of her men. She repeated the procedure with the man who had looked nervous. Finally she took another nail and looked at the man who had been doing the talking. One of his companions was still jerking spastically making gibbering sounds though the other had died immediately. The arrogant ambassador was weeping. He wanted to reach up and pull his cap off but his hands and head were held firmly. Angela kissed him on the forehead, showed him the nail with a smile, then hammered it in as he screamed, pinning the hat to his head. His eyes began rolling and he began moaning and flopping around on the floor when Angela's men released him.

Sam was watching without expression, wanting them to just die. He could control his wincing though he still felt like it. He would have nightmares about this and Angela would be excited by it. Jilly had gone back to Chicago to salvage what she could of Langland's empire and get plastic surgery on her hand. She had told him not to take any shit, especially from Terruk. If they wanted a war Angela was champing at the bit. Jilly said to just turn her loose. Sam could feel a slight jarring and knew that Bancher had grabbed the throne to support himself. He'd have to talk to him about that.

Sam was glad to have his brother to advise him. He knew he almost literally had an angel on one side and a devil on the other. Bancher brought Sam a different perspective than Angela, a humanistic one that he couldn't afford when it came to foreign affairs. Bancher would never rule. He could be sentimental.

"Send them back to their emperor with my compliments," the prince said. "What's next?" He wanted to get this over with. He had trade agreements he had to read over.

Jilly made her hand into a fist then stretched the fingers out. They told her to do that a lot for a while to keep the new skin elastic. She looked at her right hand. It still wasn't exactly pretty but it was a hell of a lot better than it had been. Back in Greece, since she had learned to compensate and use it okay, she'd gotten used to it. Then when a bunch of kids who didn't know who she was practically screamed at the sight of it, she realized maybe her hand looked worse than she thought. She had spent so much time around soldiers in a land without plastic surgery that her own tolerance, like their's, was pretty high for this kind of stuff. The kids' parents had hustled them away, looking scared to death. Geez, what'd they think she would do? Why were her people so scared of her? She protected them. After that she started watching Garen and realized the little boy was upset by her hand too. So was Sam. That was why she decided it was important enough to just leave Greece for however long it took to take care of.

Jilly also wanted time away from Bancher. She felt like a whore even though they had never even spoken about it. She needed time to think about Langland without Bancher around. Ares had come to her and told her his sister held her responsible for her favorite's death. She'd asked him what that meant for her. "I don't know," the god said. "She's as much smarter than me as Langland was you. I'll protect you as well as I can. So will Hades." Well, she wasn't worried about it. Jilly held herself responsible for Langland's death too. Whatever Athena did to her, she deserved it. Ares tried to get her to just come with him now and serve him as an immortal. He could protect her that way, he thought. She'd told him it still wasn't time; she had to see what was going to happen with Bancher. She imagined she could see in his eyes the same thought she had: whore.

She didn't have much hope really for holding onto Langland's empire in the modern world. It was just too complicated for her to grasp since it wasn't about armies and occupying territories, or even trade which she sort of understood. It was about manipulating economic forces behind the scenes, gaining political influence in a hundred countries for arcane reasons, trading favors with presidents, premieres, and drug lords. Jilly couldn't hope to follow any of it. It surprised Jilly, though it shouldn't have she knew, that he had prepared in case he died. Several new bank accounts were opened in her name and some of her aliases in Switzerland, which probably made her the richest person in the world, and she apparently was the proud owner of huge tracts of prime real estate around the world. The small fraction of Langland's empire that had to do with material goods was automatically reverting to her. God knows how he arranged it. When she looked at the paper or listened to the news she wondered how much chaos had to do with Langland no longer being there.

Now she took Ares' token and thought of the god and returning to her kingdom in Greece. She had been away a year. Seemed like a good amount of time. A year for her to mourn Langland and figure out how she felt about Bancher; a year for Sam to learn to rule and get to know Angela; a year for Angela to reach her potential as the killing machine Jilly knew she was.

Jilly materialized outside a village not far from her palace. She wanted to get a feeling for what had happened while she was away. She was dressed in a coarse blouse and skirt and had her hair tied up in a ponytail. She smeared dirt on her face and hair. No one would recognize her. She made her way into the village, where a peculiar painting caught her eye. It seemed to be a crude picture on the side of a wall of a man impaled on a spear planted in the ground. In front of the simple image were what looked like offerings of flowers, tiny bags of grain and cups of wine. A man on crutches and missing a foot also paused to look at the wall before passing by. Jilly went to where she knew an inn was and went inside. It was nearly dusk and the tavern part of the inn was bustling. She asked for stew and took a seat and just observed the surroundings. What immediately caught her eye were two pictures in back of the bar. One was another picture of the impaled man and next to it was an iconic picture that looked kind of like Sam but with long hair and a mustache.

"A toast to Good Prince Samuel!" a man said. The entire bar echoed him and said "TO GOOD PRINCE SAMUEL!" They all drank and began talking. Jilly heard Sam's name over and over in bits of conversation. It got quiet. She looked at the door and saw that a couple of soldiers had come in. Jilly ducked her face lower down and put her hand over her mouth.

The soldiers walked up to the innkeeper. The mood in the inn was strange. Not tense just odd. One of the soldiers said, "Jarrik, you've been warned before."

The innkeeper, a middle-aged man with a potbelly, snorted and reached under the bar and brought out another picture and hung it up beside Sam's. Jilly looked. It was a picture of her in the same iconic mode as the other. The soldier spoke loudly. "All of you know, by order of Prince Samuel, no picture may be exhibited of him unless it is accompanied by an image of her majesty the Queen. The prince further forbids all criticism of his sister. Furthermore, anyone heard referring to him as King or suggesting he should depose his sister will be arrested. The prince warns all that if it does not cease he will view it as treason and act accordingly. May Zeus bless Queen Jilly." The room was silent. The soldiers looked around nervously then left.

Jarrik took Jilly's picture down. "May Zeus bless Good King Samuel!" he said defiantly and the room cheered. Jilly was in shock. What was going on?

She carried her bowl of stew up to the innkeeper and smiled at him as she continued eating it. "Good," she said. He smiled at her. Jilly knew what a cook wanted to hear. "I only arrived in this land. What's going on? What does that picture mean?" she pointed at the impaled figure, "and why does everyone hate Queen Jilly?" The innkeeper had stopped smiling. He looked suspiciously at her. Jilly smiled ingratiatingly. "I'm not one of THEM if that's what you're worried about.." she jerked her head at the door indicating the departed soldiers. "I swear it by Ares, Zeus, and whoever else you want."

"Well, young lady, that is a mighty dangerous oath to take if you're lying. But it is no great secret. Good Prince Samuel does not punish those who love him, though it sounds as if he may start. The good prince is loyal to his sister though she abandoned us just when we needed a great warrior such as her. All she's good for is killing, if you ask me, so how should we feel when the terrible Jilly leaves her young brother and her people helpless before the Terrukan menace?" Jilly's stomach was in a knot. She must have underestimated Terruk.

"What about Angela and Bancher?" she said.

"Ah, not so ignorant as you pretended to be, eh? The queen's advisor Bancher was on the other side of the kingdom helping the poor. Captain Angela smote the dogs for Good Prince Samuel it's true. But when she was carrying the fight to their very doorstep, one of their armies arrived here and Prince Samuel had to rally us against the murdering swine. And he did too. No thanks to the great Jilly."

"Sam had to fight?" she said in shock.

"Sam! It's Prince Samuel, I'll thank you to remember. Good Prince Samuel!"

"I'm sorry, Good Prince Samuel led the fight when Terruk invaded?"

"In his way. He wanted to actually fight but his soldiers refused to let him, saying he could kill them later but they would not obey him in that. The prince can barely cross a room without tripping and he's stabbed himself any number of times accidentally."

Sounds like Sam, Jilly thought.

The innkeeper paused to set a drink in front of a man beside her and reached out to guide his hand to the vessel. Jilly glanced at him and realized he was blind and had a scar from a sword slash across his face. The innkeeper patted the man's shoulder and continued his story.

"The prince was at the battle front though. The soldiers that he had were not nearly enough so we all went to help too. And Good Prince Samuel stood before us all saying how he knew he was only a pale imitation of his sister and Captain Angela but he would do his best and die if he had to, and for us all to do our best to protect our land from the invaders, and how proud he was to be our prince and he prayed to be worthy of us. And we were all crying: every soldier, every farmer, every tradesman. Good Prince Samuel is no bean counter like Langland was and no butcher like his sister or even Captain Angela. He's one of us, you see, but better and a fine prince!"

The man's eyes were red as he finished and his voice had risen. Jilly looked around. Everyone in the bar was listening and she could see tears on many faces. She had tears in her own eyes. They understood her all right: all she was good for was killing.

The innkeeper struggled to regain his composure. "So, young lady, you just deliver your report to whoever you want to."

Jilly looked at him. "I already told you. I'm not some kind of agent. I swear to you. Nothing you say will cause you harm. Please. What about the other picture there."

The innkeeper walked away without a word, but after a moment a young man came up to Jilly and tapped her shoulder. "I can tell you about it if you want."

"Please," Jilly said. She looked at him and realized his left sleeve was empty.

"Well, the Terrukans arrived and we drove 'em back at first but they outnumbered us, and there was none among us like Queen Jilly or Captain Angela." Jilly winced inside. "I remember seeing the prince held by his men to keep him from the battle. They were crying to be disobeying him but they kept him from the fight. Then we received word that Captain Angela had heard of this Terrukan army sent after us. Terruk was losing the war and this was a last bold attack, to try to kill Prince Samuel. Anyway, Captain Angela was on her way with relief but would not arrive for a few days. Well, a few days was all this Terrukan army needed to kill Prince Samuel and turn his kingdom into a wasteland."

Another man had walked up, an older one. "Let me tell this part. I was there in his guard when Prince Samuel received the word that we needed to hold out. Let me tell you. He just shook himself loose from the men holding him--the battle had receded so we let go--and seemed to be thinking. Then he ordered that all the Terrukan dead be gathered and all the Terrukan prisoners too. And he ordered that all the spears be brought to him."

Jilly was listening fascinated.

"Good Prince Samuel walked among the dead and living Terrukans, and told 'em they'd invaded his home and deserved whatever they got. Then he had one of the prisoners impaled alive on a long spear which he had planted in the ground. He ordered the same done to all of the Terrukans alive and dead. Good Prince Samuel stayed to watch too, though you could see it made him sick. Well, there was a wall of them skewered Terrukans between the two armies now. He had the live ones mixed with the dead so the Terrukan army might have a hard time telling which was which. The prince wanted 'em screaming. He had the live ones skewered in such a way so they'd last quite a while.

Well, sure enough, it worked. The other army, you see, didn't know Captain Angela was on her way. They tried taking their wounded down and our archers got 'em. And we took THEM and impaled 'em. It was like them Terrukans couldn't decide what to do. They tried to play the same game with us by crucifying our soldiers they had captured, but Prince Samuel had archers and their job was to kill any who seemed alive. Them Terrukans needed to just charge through all their skewered friends to get us but they couldn't seem to make up their minds to do it. They would've, I'm sure, if they'd known Captain Angela was coming to cut all their hearts out. But they didn't know that."

The one-armed young man spoke up. "I started it, and I'll finish, if you don't mind!" The older man looked annoyed but acquiesced.

"Well, that was good for a day. But we needed another day. So what to do? The Terrukans thought they was hard but Prince Samuel had discovered they wasn't so bad. If you just showed 'em you were worse than them they were nothing but whipped dogs. They'd heard about him before that anyway on account of their ambassadors with the fine hats..." the room laughed but Jilly didn't understand what was so funny. "Well, Good Prince Samuel thought some more and said he needed some more prisoners. That was how I lost my arm here." Jilly heard a small cheer in the room and several men slapped the young man on the back. "We went into the Terrukan lines and brought some back. I lost my brother besides my arm. Prince Samuel himself looked at me and told me I was a hero-and he wished he was a man like me. I'm not ashamed to say it: I grabbed his hand and kissed it and cried like a baby!"

Jilly looked at the young man and down at her own hands. Everything he was saying; all of this heroism would have been child's play to her. She could never be heroic like this man or Sam was. If she had been here she probably would've gone behind their lines herself and killed their important officers, crippling their command structure; then killed more men at key points and led a couter attack which would crush them. It would have succeeded but it wouldn't be heroic like this. It would just be another hit. All she was good for was killing.

A teenage girl came up and said excitedly, "Can I tell this part? I know it. My father died there."

"Aye, tell it, tell it." Several voices said.

"The Terrukan commander sent a messenger to demand that Prince Samuel surrender. They said he was outnumbered and stood no chance since he had few real troops, nothing but peasant scum. He promised the prince himself would be safe." Jilly could hear a growl go through the inn. "Good Prince Samuel sent word back that he would meet with him if he wished between the battle lines, but nowhere else, the next day at noon. You see, the prince had gained hours and hours just by that!" Jilly heard the room chuckle appreciatively.

"So at the appointed hour the prince went between the battle lines but he brought with him a small table as if for a picnic, with servants carrying baskets and servers for food. And he was waiting like that, sitting at the table as if for lunch when the Terrukan commander and his officers came. Well, Prince Samuel looked at them and one of the Terrukan officers took his hat off but his commander ordered him to put it back on. And Good Prince Samuel asked the commander to sit and dine with him.

'I am not here to dine' the Terrukan said, 'but to take your surrender. You stand no chance, your highness.'

The prince then asked if they were thirsty, and said that he was. His servant poured him a glass of deep red wine, which he drank some of and smacked his lips. But the Terrukans looked at his lips and realized they were red with blood, and they stared at his goblet, and the goblets in front of them which they had not touched for fear of poison. They were all filled with blood!"

Oh Sam, Jilly thought. Did you really do this?

"Prince Samuel then said, 'let's eat' and his servant took the covers off the serving dishes and they had fresh Terrukan in 'em. And the Terrukans began cursing and reeling back and Prince Samuel merely laughed, and drank more Terrukan blood. One of the Terrukans tried to kill the prince but was prevented by the commander who would not violate a miltary custom in that way. And so Prince Samuel gained more hours as the invaders tried to decide how to deal with him since he was obviously mad."

Jilly asked, "But he couldn't keep stalling like that forever. When was Angela and her relief force due to arrive?"

"That evening," the older man answered. "The prince needed another eight hours. Go ahead," he said to the teenage girl, who looked put out.

"Well, the Terrukans waited a few hours after the meeting and then they prepared to attack. They had decided to just go through their impaled men. Prince Samuel spoke to us again and said we should just fight and try to hold 'em off. He didn't say anything about Captain Angela, of course. None of the regular soldiers knew of that then. It had to be kept secret so the Terrukans wouldn't learn of it."

Jilly said, "You mean you were all following him like this even though you didn't know he actually had a plan and was just stalling for time? You didn't think his impaling prisoners and drinking blood was a little odd?"

"We all trusted in our prince," the one-armed man said, and there was a general agreement throughout the room. Many eyed her, not liking that she would even think of something like that.

"Please go on," Jilly said. They wanted to finish it now. Not for her; for themselves.

The girl continued. "We were all ready to fight, and this time Good Prince Samuel was going to fight too. He said we should all live or die together, and he would rather die here than be killed like a dog or taken back to the Terrukan emperor for entertainment. So the prince was there too and had that great sword of his that he was always cutting things with accidentally. And he gave it to a common soldier to use and took the soldier's sword instead, saying a weapon like that should not be wasted on him at this time."

"Zeus bless him!" someone said fervently and there were ayes around the room.

"Then the Terrukans attacked, charging through their own impaled men. My father was one of the first to fall, not far from Good Prince Samuel himself!" the girl said reverently. "And the fighting was fierce and many brave men of ours and many Terrukan swine died there."

"What about Sa..Prince Samuel?" Jilly said.

The innkeeper took the story back up. The girl seemed overcome now thinking of her father. "Good Prince Samuel fought as well as he could but he was soon wounded and fell to the ground. He ordered the men who tried to carry him off to get back into the fighting or he'd kill them himself. So they set him down and returned to the fray. We were losing as we feared we would. We were outnumbered and many of us not even soldiers, but Prince Samuel's ruses had paid off, because help arrived."

"Wait a minute, you said help wouldn't arrive until that evening? From your story it sounds like that was still hours away."

"Well, the army itself wouldn't be arriving for several more hours, but one person did."

Jilly knew. "Angela."

"Captain Angela had been riding horses to death to reach her beloved Prince and she did, just at that moment. She came up behind the Terrukan forces and just came right through 'em, cutting a path to Good Prince Samuel. Even in the yelling and fighting we all knew something was happening because screams were coming from behind the Terrukan lines and getting closer. That war cry of hers, her pet name for him,'Sammy,' rang through the air and we all had hope again. And suddenly where one moment there was just a wall of Terrukan soldiers there was a hole and Captain Angela was in it, swinging her sword so fast none of us could see it and blood flying like a wet dog shaking water. Captain Angela saw that Prince Samuel was still alive though wounded and seeing him hurt made her even more enraged than she already was. She disappeared behind their lines again and we heard many more screams up and down their lines. Then she reappeared out of nowhere and told us to follow her, that the Terrukan officers were dead and their men couldn't last long without 'em. She had us fall back to reorganize into a wedge and then she just led us into them Terrukans and they broke ranks."

Jilly could see it all. Angela had done exactly what she would've done, though from the sound of it she was more berserk than Jilly had been since she was a little girl with Callisto.

"Prince Samuel tried to hobble back into the fight, but we held him back again. We told him he could kill us later but we would not risk him again that day."

Jilly waited. That seemed to be it. Made sense. Angela obviously routed the Terrukans. She'd get the specifics from her later.

"So is the Terrukan war over then?" she asked. Several people looked at her. They seemed drained from reliving the battle and didn't want to talk more.

Finally the one-armed young man said, "Yes. Captain Angela burned their capitol and broke their army though not for another month. She captured their emperor and brought him back along with the Terrukan treasury and many prisoners. Terruk is nothing now. No one knows if their emperor is dead or is alive somewhere in the palace. No one cares."

"Are Good Prince Samuel and Captain Angela in the palace now?"

"Why? We thought you might be a spy for the police. But you sound more like you want to murder Good Prince Samuel!" It was the innkeeper this time. Other people looked closely at her with suspicion.

This wasn't a good situation. She didn't want to have to hurt any of these people but they looked close to becoming a mob. Something simple occurred to her.

"I'm Queen Jilly. I've just returned and this is the first I have heard of any of this."

The innkeeper cursed and looked like he wanted to throw her out and a couple of people laughed, but the two soldiers, the middle-aged man from Sam's guard and the one-armed man looked closely at her and got scared looking.

"It is the Queen! Welcome home, your majesty," the older man said.

The inn was quiet now. The innkeeper was sweating as he put her picture back up. She looked around. They were frightened to death of her. Had they always felt like that? Probably.

"The story you have told me is a wonderful tribute to your courage and my brother's loyalty. You should all be proud. Do not worry about anything you have said. I am proud of all of you." The room was silent, everyone watching her. She just looked around and everyone bowed. Jilly put a coin on the table and left the inn. She could hear sighs of relief and people praying when she closed the door behind her.

Jilly took her hair out of the ponytail as she walked along in the dark. She was walking the road to her palace. She passed a few wagons and other people on foot but no one took any notice of her. When she began nearing the palace she could hear music. Some guards told her to halt then begged her pardon when they recognized her. They looked scared to death too, she realized. That had never really registered on her before. She'd been treated like that her whole life by those who knew her. Even Sam was afraid of her. In her entire life after being rescued by Callisto, there had only been a handful of people not frightened of her; and of them only Bancher wasn't what most people would consider a monster himself.

She had never considered herself a monster; just a very good fighter. That wasn't what everyone else saw. They thought of her as like Callisto; but worse probably because she had more control so was more dangerous. Xena and Kimberly were feared but also loved. She and Callisto were just feared.

The music was coming closer and she could make out some sort of garden party lit by torches. There was something else besides the music: moans and laughter. Several poles were set up around the tables with impaled men on them. She stopped in surprise then continued on. Another guard stopped her and again begged forgiveness.

She reached the outer poles and glanced up at a squirming Terrukan moaning in agony; just one of many. The richly dressed guests finally noticed the apparent peasant in their midst; some looked angry, others recognized her and ran to a large table where she saw a tall elegant figure in white silk stand up and begin coming toward her, tripping slightly.

"Everyone! Everyone! Queen Jilly has returned!" The music stopped and everyone in the yard except for the speaker were on their knees to her. He was smiling broadly and practically running toward her. When he reached her he stopped and got on his own knees.

"For Christ sake, Sam! What are you doing? Get up!" she said. He smiled and rose and just grabbed her in a bearhug. Another figure came walking up now, tall and graceful. "Hello Angela. I heard about what you did down in the village. Nice work."

The Captain of the Royal Guard looked at her and said, "I should have expected them to try that. I don't think I did such a good job. At least Sam's alive. If I'd been too late there wouldn't be a Terrukan alive in the world, I'll tell you that."

"Well, that'd be too bad," Sam said, "who would we have to impale then?"

Angela smiled and rolled her eyes, saying, "Oh, Sammy," in a long suffering tone. He gave her a quick kiss.

Sam looked around, "We need some more light. Set a couple more on fire." Before Jilly could say anything men had thrown some kind of liquid on two of the impaled figures and set their squriming screaming forms alight. She saw Angela get a gleam in her eye but Sam didn't seem particularly interested. He just wanted more light. "Tell Lord Bancher the queen has returned," he said to a servant who jogged off.

"We need to talk," she said to both of them. Sam smiled and nodded and Angela gave her a knowing look.

They were in the throne room. Jilly and Sam were sitting in the thrones and Angela was sitting on the floor with her arms around Sam's legs and resting her chin on his knee. Before Jilly could say anything the door opened and Bancher came in. Jilly stood up and went to meet him. They just looked at each other and hugged for the first time. She could see the pain in his eyes. She wondered if it was in hers too.

She resumed her seat in the throne and Bancher grabbed a chair from the wall and pulled it up. She studied her brother in his rich clothes. He was beautiful she realized. If you wanted a handsome prince you couldn't come up with a better one. His new look, with his curling mustache and long dark hair, also had a dangerous sensuality about it. "Sam," she said, "I heard the story of what happened in the village. It's fantastic and you and Angela did a great job. I'll never forgive myself for leaving you in the lurch like that. But for God's sake, what are you doing now?"

"What do you mean, Jilly?" Sam said. Angela was trying to control her smirk.

"I mean, that party out there where you have men impaled and set on fire. Jesus Christ, that's awful! What are you thinking of?"

Sam looked perplexed. "Those are Terrukan soldiers, Jilly. They're our enemies. If you were down in the village you probably saw men without arms, legs, eyes, not to mention widows and orphans. What's the problem?"

Jilly took a breath. "The problem, Sam, is that these are human beings and you can't treat human beings like this."

"Excuse me, Jilly...but haven't you done exactly this kind of thing?" It was Angela.

Jilly coldly looked at the tall freckled girl looking innocently at her. "When I didn't know any better, yes. Now I know better. Sam, this is like something Callisto would do; but she was crazy. Think of Mom. She used to hunt down people who did stuff like this, and I helped her."

Angela said, "That would be after you killed all of the children in his village and took Sam's head to Callisto in his first life, right?"

Jilly stared at her, trying to remain calm. Bancher came near her and put a hand on her shoulder and she found herself in control again. "That's right, Angela. I know better now."

Sam said, "Well, I don't know anything about Mom. But you're the queen, Jilly. If you say not to do this, I won't do it."

Jilly said calmly, "I would rather you understood why it's wrong, Sam. Didn't Bancher say anything about it to you?" She looked up at him.

Sam said, "Yeah, but he wasn't there. You have to understand what those bastards put us through, Jilly! When I was in the fighting men kept throwing themselves in front of me to save me. I'm not sure how many died like that. I ordered 'em not to but they kept doing it. Killed by Terrukan pieces of shit!" Sam's voice had a tone Jilly had never heard before. It reminded her of Xena or Kimberly when they were angry. Pretty scary.

"All right, Sam. I want you to stop this stuff, whether you agree or not. Okay?"

"Of course, Jilly. You're the queen."

She took another breath. "Sam, you and me are both from 20th century America. How can you say I'm the queen like you think I have divine right or something?"

"We aren't there now, Jilly. The way the people treated me; that's how I'll treat you."

Jilly looked at him. She couldn't understand how he thought anymore at all. What he had been through had permanently changed him. "Okay, Sam. Oh, and Sam...thank you for being so loyal. I heard in the village how the people feel about you--and about me."

"What did they say to you?" he said dangerously.

Jilly looked at her little brother. "Sam, they love you, that's all. I heard your decrees. Don't punish anyone for preferring you to me. I've got enough on my conscience; I don't need that too. That's an order, Sam."

"Whatever you say, Jilly." In the distance they could hear wolves howling. Sam closed his eyes a moment and smiled at her. "Listen to 'em, Jilly: the children of the night. What sweet music they make!"

Angela's head was resting on his leg as he spoke. It hit Jilly what they reminded her of: Hades and his demon Helms.

Gabrielle and Xena were sitting with Jilly who looked despondent. Jilly and Xena had just shown up and asked if she wanted to go out with them. Euripedes waved her away with them. He knew he wasn't included in the invitation from the look on Xena's and Jilly's faces. Bancher was just parked somewhere too. They hadn't talked about what was wrong yet. The bard guessed Jilly had gone to see Xena because she was depressed and now Xena was doing the same by coming to see her. They'd gone to the tavern again where they had heard the bards before, but neither Xena nor Jilly was disguised this time, so no one was declaiming. Gabrielle was impatient to hear what was wrong but she didn't push it--just tried to give the two warriors whatever comfort her presence seemed to provide.

A waitress the bard didn't recognize brought a tray of drinks over though they hadn't ordered another round. She set it down and said, "We have a special tonight for whores." Xena angrily reached for her but her arm dropped numbly to the table. "Keep your hands to yourself," the waitress said. Gabrielle had tried to leap up but found she couldn't move her legs. Jilly hadn't reacted, just looking at the dark haired young woman who took a seat at the table. Gabrielle found she couldn't speak and she saw a panicked look on Xena's face that told her Xena was the same. Gabrielle stared at the beautiful young woman who was just looking contemptuously at Jilly.

"So you did this to Sam. Why?" Jilly said.

The waitress's grey eyes flashed. "You stupid slut. Why do you think?" She reached her hand over and slapped Xena in the side of the head. "Here, warrior princess. I'll correct your vision so you can see the destruction of your house. If you'll behave yourself I'll let you speak and move too. Will you?"

Xena nodded. Gabrielle saw an amazed look in her friend's eyes; she can see all right again, she realized. "Who are you?" Xena said carefully.

The waitress looked at her pityingly. "How can my brother survive with such imbeciles as his favorites?" Gabrielle tried to speak but couldn't. The grey eyes glanced at her and she could speak.

"Great Athena," Gabrielle said, "how have we offended you and how can we atone?" The goddess's eyes softened and she reached over and caressed the bard's cheek.

"Ah, Gabrielle, why didn't you sacrifice to me and seek me out? It is not only Phoebus Apollo who loves the arts. You have not offended me; however, your companion has in the same way she has offended my brother: by not showing us proper respect. That is nothing to what this whore has done though." Her voice had turned cold again as she said the last words and she looked again at Jilly. "Tell them. You know. You only pretend ignorance from rightful shame."

"Langland," Jilly said.

"Yes, whore. Langland," the goddess said acidly. "My beautiful man, my crafty killer. He defied me; did you know that, whore? I commanded him to kill you but he would not. Instead he took his own sweet life."

Jilly was looking down at the table. The goddess continued. "But you...if my brother commanded you to kill Langland, you would have obeyed."

Xena couldn't stop herself. "You slept with Bancher?"

Jilly just kept looking down at the table. Athena answered. "No. She would have eventually though and Langland foresaw it. But rather than take his rightful vengeance he killed himself so the harlot could have his kingdom AND her paramour."

"But she didn't actually do anything!" Gabrielle said. She tried to say something else but found she couldn't talk again.

Xena again carefully spoke, "Athena, what does this have to do with Sam?"

"Langland has continued to protect this slut, and from Hades' kingdom begged me not to do any of the things I originally planned. Letting her brother sink into blood by his own weight, and allowing her to see her limitations is my only vengeance on this filthy harlot. I merely helped the emperor of Terruk realize his country's great destiny. The rest followed as Artemis follows Apollo."

The goddess stood up and said to Xena, "Ares would have corrected your sight if you had asked him. This is my gift to you for saving my outpost years ago." She walked away and seemed to break apart into a thousand shards of light.

The End