By Joseph Anderson

Xena, Gabrielle and Callisto belong to Renaissance Pictures. All other characters are the property of the author. No copyright infringement is intended with this fan fiction, which may not be sold and must contain all notices of copyright.

WARNING: Extreme violence, sexual violence, and language. Noir alert. Alt and het sex. NC-17

This is part of my extended storyline about Kimberly and Jilly although it can be read alone. For those interested it covers the same period as Jilly from another viewpoint and refers to characters and events in History Lesson, Dropout, and The Graduate among many others. Write me if you have questions.



With a sword on my back, I swagger into the tavern. Men glance nervously at me.


The tavern keeper pours it with a wary look. "A meal." He nods. I walk toward a table with three young warriors. Two get up quickly but not the third. He's big and what passes for good looking.

One of his friends says, "Don't be a fool, Patrocles."

I widen my eyes and smile. He scowls and leaves with his friends. I take his seat, my back to the wall. Everyone goes about their business but I feel their looks.


A man walks right up to me, nothing but a villager. I widen my eyes again but he doesn't run away. Instead he smiles and sits across from me.

"Marina is here. So is Aegeus. We've told him all about you."

"Was that wise?"

He looks confused. Now a dark haired woman with big tits comes bustling up. She says, "Veder, gods! Jilly!"

"Hello, Marina. Where's Aegeus?" I see Veder relax.

"I'd never bring a child to a place like this! What's the matter with you?"

She speaks me. The whole room freezes and Veder's face goes white. Marina is stupid. I get it. So does she apparently because her face crumples. No one knows what I might do, friends or not. "Jilly...I didn't mean..." Her hands are fluttering in front of her. I twitch my mouth. Veder hustles her away mumbling about having to go.

Nobody asks me to pay for my meal so I leave feeling the eyes on me. As I head towards the stable someone saunters out of the darkness, a skinny village boy with long brown hair and too good looking. He catches my eyes and smiles. Why not?

"How long do you think you can pull this off?"

I was starting to smile but I bare my teeth instead and make my eyes wide and blank. He looks comically impressed. "You should hold your head at an angle sometimes. Oh, and get a pouty little girl expression. And scratch your head. She does that too."

Sweet Athena. He can't be sure. I pull my sword. He puts his hands on his hips. "Jilly wouldn't touch a piece of crap like that with a ten foot staff. A warrior spots it and you're in trouble." He looks bored. "Somebody's not gonna back down. You've been lucky."

"What do you want?"

He continues, "You shouldn't have done that with Veder and Marina. Jilly doesn't have many friends. She might think what you've been doing is funny. But scaring her friends...not funny."

"Who are you?"

"I'm Langland."

The name means nothing to me. He's just a villager. "What do you want?"

He gets this innocent look and I feel confident again. "Jilly is building an army. Did you know that? You should. I'm gonna be her lieutenant."


He looks hurt. "Yes, me. We can help each other."

"I'm doing fine."

He smiles. "Free meals, maybe a horse, getting paid to protect a village or do a murder and disappearing. Did you think Jilly wouldn't hear about it?"

"I'm listening."

He says patiently, "A warlord can always use a double. Good opportunity for you."

"I don't need you for that."

He smiles, "Oh, you wouldn't just steal my idea would you?"

"Sure I would. But I'm not interested. Thanks anyway."

He purses his lips. Then he slaps me. Then he slaps me again. When I fall he kicks me. He simply grabs the sword out of my hand and tosses it away, pulls a knife and holds it to my throat. All this time he's looking at me with these earnest eyes. They're hazel and he's got these beautiful long lashes. "Do as you're told?"

I nod. He releases me and helps me up. He smiles. "I knew we'd make a good team. You're better off with me believe it or not." I pick the sword up like I'm going to sheathe it. I slash at him. He grabs me and takes the sword, then twists my arm up behind my back. Langland sighs and shoves the sword back in the scabbard. He hustles me into the dark stable where he lets me go with a shove. My brown mare snorts.


I hesitate and he slaps me again. He's holding the knife at arm's length to my throat. I feel his eyes on me as I remove the black leather piece by piece. I hesitate when I'm down to my undergarments. He puts the knife under my chin and lifts it so I'm looking down my nose at him. I awkwardly uncover my breasts and step out of my drawers. When I'm naked he lowers the knife and says, "Good." It's like he's talking to a child. "Grab your ankles." My heart is pounding as I obey. I watch him from between my legs as he goes through my leathers and my money purse. He picks up the chakram, nothing but painted wood, sets it down and examines the dagger. Satisfied he stands up and walks over to me.

He looks upside down. My blonde hair scrapes the filthy stable floor. Langland kicks my legs further apart. My heart is pounding.

"I wonder if this is like Jilly too."

I feel the blade scraping. He's using it instead of his fingers. I'm so scared. He flicks hair off. It's cold, sharp, hard.

"Don't kill me! I'll do whatever you say. Ple..." I gasp...his finger. Not the knife at least.

" when I tell you." His voice is different now: Softer, lower. It curls inside my brain like smoke, filling every corner. "Get on your back." I scramble to obey slipping on dirty straw. The knife is back at my throat. Now my knees are bent up to my chest and my bare feet are bouncing in the air. His cold pretty face is moving over me, long hair brushing my cheeks. The straw and dirt chafes and a stone presses painfully into my back. As he comes inside me the blade at my throat draws blood and I squeeze my eyes shut. Then he pulls out, rolls off and pats my belly like I'm his pet dog. "Don't think I won't kill you."

"Yes sir." I lower my legs. They're still shaking.

"What's your name?"


He smiles at me again, his teeth perfect in the dim light. "You can get dressed. How are you feeling?"


He looks at me with these soft pretty eyes. "Good."

I want to throw up. I'm trembling as I pick up my undergarments. He watches me dress like I'm a dish he's cooking. As I'm about to step into the leather I notice something. Langland catches my look, gets up and strolls over to my horse's stall. He's just a girlish looking boy; that's all he is. He motions me over. There's a man lying in horse dung with his throat gaping open. He didn't want to give up his seat. There are other dark shapes, his two friends. Langland says lightly, "Patrocles and his merry band of outlaws tried to ambush terrible Jilly."

My mare nudges me for attention. They were right there while he fucked me with a knife to my throat. But they came to kill he saved me? I feel dizzy. "You killed them."

Langland gets this innocent look. "Me?"

"Jilly killed them. I killed them."

"That's my girl!" He rubs his hands together and says, "Now you're gonna apologize to Veder and Marina for scaring 'em. But don't tell 'em the truth. You're still Jilly. I don't want it getting out, and Marina....well, you saw."

"Yes sir."

"Jilly brought them Aegeus about a year ago, found him a better home."

"Jilly did that?"

"She's got a soft spot for kids, Deianira. That doesn't mean she hasn't killed her share of children. Don't bring it up when you meet her."

"I understand, sir."

He smiles at me again. "You don't have to call me sir. We should be friends."

I'll kill you. Someday I'll kill you. He's looking at me like I really said that. He's got this slight smile.

What I say is, "Sure, I'd like that, Langland. We're gonna be friends." I finish putting the leather on.

It's taken three weeks to get here. We avoided people as much as possible and I wore a long hooded robe so I wouldn't draw attention. He watched me closely the entire time. We even bathed together in lakes and streams and relieved ourselves together. He never touched me again but then I never tried to get away. Langland tied me up every night and apologized every morning. Now he's in warrior gear that he just donned. It looks ridiculous on him. We simply ride past horses, tents and lounging warriors. No one even asks our business.

Langland says, "We could be spies or assassins." He sounds disgusted. It's the first real feeling I think I've seen.

"She's overconfident."

His green eyes flick over me appraising.

We continue past more of the same until we reach a group of warriors clustered around a table. They watch us dismount.

The warrior sitting at the table has one eye and gray hair. He gets up and demands, "What do you want?"

Langland says, "I'm here to see the commander."

"She doesn't just see anyone."

Langland flips my hood off. The man beckons us closer. I hear snickers. Langland says to me, "I'll protect you."

A big young warrior snorts, "You'll protect her?" The man at the table looks annoyed. He's about to speak as the other puts a meaty hand on my right breast and squeezes painfully. Langland turns with that soft smile. There are some laughs and then quiet. The big young warrior is crumpled on the ground with blood gushing from his ear. Langland holds a needle-like spike. All these big tough warriors are stunned. There's a burst of high-pitched laughter. A slender figure with big boobs in skimpy black leather comes striding up. Refined beautiful face, wild blonde hair, gorgeous brown eyes: there I am.

"I remember you!"

Jilly looks at Langland and down at the young warrior. She rolls him on his back with her foot, frowns and looks from him to Langland and then at me. Her brown eyes go wide like I always did. She opens her mouth slightly; I've gotta remember that. She cocks her head, grabs my hair roughly and yanks my cloak off revealing worthless weapons, fake gems and cheap leather.

"I heard somebody was ruining my reputation. This her?"

"That's her. Meet Deianira."

"Why'd you bring her here?"

"You can use her."

She releases me like a chicken whose neck isn't worth wringing. "Langland."

"That's right, Jilly."

She giggles and glances at the wary one-eyed warrior. She looks down at the dead man again. Her head snaps up like she hears something. No one else does. Men are inching away from her.

"Kimberly's hubris destroyed the army, just like you said."

Langland shrugs.

Jilly grins, "That was a nice present. It was fun teaching those assholes a lesson."

"This one is better." Langland gestures at me. My heart is pounding. Here's my vengeance.

Jilly glances at me. "She doesn't like you. What'd you do? Pimp her on the way?" Jilly stretches. The way she an animal. I'm remembering all I can.

Langland shakes his head. "No." Then he says to me, "Go ahead."

"He's here to take the army."

Jilly smiles. "Of course he is. So are they, the ones with balls." She gestures at her nervous men.

"Kill him or he'll do it."

She purses her lips and her brown eyes are glittering. "That's good advice. What do you say, Langland?"

"She's right."

Jilly shakes her head. "Do I need this?" She looks back at me. "Come on." She turns and walks off. I hurry after her. Glancing back, Langland is kneeling over the corpse going through his things as the one-eyed man says something and shrugs. Jilly enters a large tent. I hesitate and she yanks me inside. She lights an oil lamp revealing a fine carpet, sleeping furs, and a small table covered with scrolls. There's a shrine to Ares. She studies me. She's my distorted reflection or I'm hers.

Jilly takes the sword from the scabbard on my back, wrinkles her nose and tosses it aside. She examines the fake chakram with a contemptuous smile. The dagger isn't quite so offensive. She just says, "You need a boot knife." Then she orders, "Strip."

Oh gods...not again.

When I'm naked she smiles and comes closer. Jilly runs a finger over my ribs and teases my belly button. Her other hand holds the dagger. "Turn around."


"No wonder everybody wants to fuck me." She pats my ass.

I start to tremble. She grabs a stool. "Put your foot on that." As soon as my left foot is planted on the stool she grabs the back of my neck and bends me forward. I have to awkwardly put my hands on the floor to keep from falling. The backs of my legs feel like fire.

Jilly feels my arms and legs, pokes my sides, weighs my breasts. She sees tears running up my red face and says offhandedly, "Don't cry, it's weak." Then she sticks a finger in me, feels around, and does it again in my butt. Jilly cleans her finger in my mouth and dries it with my hair. She squats down and runs her hands over my scalp and around my ears.


I take my foot down from the stool and straighten up. I can barely stand. I'm desperately trying to stop shuddering. She looks irritated and pours wine in a bowl that she hands to me. She watches coldly as I hurriedly drink spilling on my chin and breasts.

"Can you talk now?" She's sarcastic. I nod. She comments, "Hercules was married to Deianira."

"It's my name." I hold the bowl uncertainly and then carefully set it down.

"Sure it is. Aresthes paid you ten-thousand dinars for Megaron. He heard about it and tried to get me first."

"It was five-thousand! I swear by Zeus! Five-thousand!"

She purses her lips and nods. "It seemed high. All right, five-thousand. If you're lying about that..."

"I'm not! But I don't have it."

"Who does?'

I start to weep. "My father lost everything to a gambler in Argos. When he died the debt passed to me. My sister and brother are still there. I had to do what he wanted or he'll kill them! He has it."

"Your sister and brother! Nice touch. What about your pious aged mother?"

"Jilly, you're right. I shouldn't have..."

She punches me in the stomach.

"Don't just agree with me! I want the fucking truth! Where's my money?" She yanks me back to my feet. "Lie to me again. See what happens."

I gasp out, "Kinyras has it. He gave me the props and showed me how to act. He really is in Argos. I swear by Hermes it's true!"

"That's better. At least it's believable. He your pimp?"

"I've never sold myself like some slut!"

She grabs my hair again and bends my head back. "Callisto didn't have a choice and neither did I."

I begin trembling again. She releases me.

"Langland thinks I can use a double, huh? For now you're my servant. Unless you'd rather I killed you."

I shake my head, scared to answer.

She smiles and walks to a basket where she scratches her head and rummages. The gems on her black leather glitter in the lamplight. Jilly tosses me an old loincloth. "Go find Langland. Invite him to dinner. Tell the cook too."

I put the scrap of fabric on. "Can I please have something else to wear?"

"Maybe later."

"I'm sorry."

"Get out."

My arms are crossed over my chest. I have gooseflesh. The men are laughing and commenting on my body as I shiver and ask for the boy I arrived with. His name is Langland, looks like a girl. Yes, he's the one who killed Mekisteus. For me. There is that. The ground is rocky. My bare feet are bleeding and I'm limping. That's funny too.

I find the cook first.

"Jilly is having a guest for dinner. I'll serve it."

"Right you are, girl. Give us a look, eh? Let's see those titties."

He laughs as I hurry away. I feel a hand on my ass and jump. A grizzled old man grins at me...he's not even in the army...just some beggar. I hurry on in my search. Two men grab me and pull my arms wide. My nipples are hard from the cold. They look under my loincloth, laugh and let me go. I finally locate Langland. He's got his own Mekisteus. He's sitting in front of it writing in a small volume. He raises his eyebrows when he sees me and marks his place.

"You made her mad. What was it?"

"You said you'd protect me!"

"From the men. Not Jilly. Be reasonable."

"I told her I wasn't a whore."

Langland says knowingly, "Oh. And she informed you she was. And sent you out naked into the world to make your own way. Heartbreaking. Rather merciful, considering."

I don't dare answer him. I don't trust what I might say. He won't hurt me now. He gave me to Jilly. But he's the reason six men aren't waiting their turn. Jilly doesn't care.

"You're invited to dinner." I hear hatred in my own voice.

Langland runs his hand through his hair and nods. "Thank you, Deianira." He looks at my bloody feet. "I imagine that's painful."

A man approaches and jerks a thumb at me. "Come on." He's Roman, no taller than Langland but older and heavier. His pig eyes root in my body.

Langland glances up, "She's busy."

"I wasn't asking you." The Roman spits on the ground.

Langland has a sword now. Did I mention that? The Roman carries a gladius, an army short sword, and wears a legionnaire's helmet. He's a deserter. It's not really about me, I know. I'm just a marker for them. I've never hated anyone like Langland, not even my old master. And I pray he wins and keeps on winning.

I've seen gladiators in Pompeii. Neither would be winning their freedom anytime soon. The men are making bets. There's a grunt and a curse, some running around, and the Roman falls with a wounded side. He throws his gladius away and holds his hand up. He's also seen gladiators.

Langland is breathing hard. He eyes the cowering man and then curiously says, "You think this is the Coliseum?" Everyone laughs as the Roman scrambles for his sword and Langland sticks him. I back away on my painful feet covering myself as well as I can. Men are slapping Langland on the back. I won't mention this to Jilly.


"Yeah, come in, Deianira."

"Mistress, the carpet."

"Huh? Get in here." Oh gods.

She lowers a scroll. As I limp inside, her brown eyes flick to my bloody footprints. I know my worth. It's nowhere near this fine Chin rug.

"Get raped?"


"I should kill Langland like you said. Course that'd leave you up shit creek."

"Yes, mistress."

She sets the scroll aside. "Come over here." She pushes me down and grabs my feet to examine. "Stay there." Jilly gets clean rags from the same basket as my loincloth. She pours water from an amphora into a bowl. She brings all of this over, places my feet in her lap and carefully cleans my wounds. She takes a carved vial from a pouch and applies ointment. Finally she bandages my feet. I thought she was going to torture me.

She mutters, "I didn't plan that." She strokes my calves tenderly but it seems unconscious. Jilly frowns, twists and reaches for something. I wet my lips when she's not looking. She hands a pair of sandals to me and pats my knee.

"Don't worry so much. There'll be more food."

Her voice: it sounds like a different person, someone older. And her eyes. Even her touch is different. I lay my hand on top of hers. She looks startled and I instantly pull it back. Jilly pushes my feet off her lap and I wince as they hit the floor. "Clean that up." She indicates the bloody trail I left.

I put the sandals on. She's not paying attention to me. As I limp to get more water she puts her face in her hands. Maybe I don't need Langland.

The food smells delicious and I'm still nearly naked. I pour his wine and want to smash the amphora into his pretty face. Both are reclining on cushions. It's how you have a nice meal, with a servant cutting up your food and handing you this or that. I'm good at this, too good. I didn't think to hide it. Langland looks at me.

"Do you play the flute, Deianira?"

Jilly smiles. "A flute girl! Oh, I would never sell myself like some slut! Not me!" She bursts out in laughter. "Where?"



"I was a slave. I never sold myself. My master sold me."

Langland looks amused. Jilly says, "Escaped slave. That's a better hard luck story than the sister and brother. Didn't want to use it cuz it's true?" I nod. She says, "Blow anybody famous in between courses?"

"My owner admired philosophers. He hosted symposiums."

"And you were the entertainment?"

"Usually he'd hire another flute girl and a few dancers."

"Socrates and his crowd? Plato?"

"Yes, mistress. And sophists. Georgias. Protagoras once."

"I'm envious," Langland says. At Jilly's look he says, "I mean listening to them."

Jilly says, "I'd like a demonstration." She sees my face and laughs, "Playing the flute. You don't have to suck off twenty guys." The knot in my stomach goes away.

Langland indicates the wine amphora. "The Sword of Ares?"

"Yeah, that's Kimberly."

On the vase a hero fights a monster. Turn the amphora and the same hero instructs a slender armored girl. And beside that as you continue turning she's drunk, holding her veiled helmet loosely while her young companion supports her.

"And you," Langland says.

Jilly softly says, "We saved a town from this two dinar bandit, Simoeisis. Waste of time I thought. They painted some amphoras for her. Heroic ones. Then these start showing up in Corinth. I woulda cooked 'em in their own kilns." She gestures at the krater I mixed the wine in. The design on it is the veiled helmet.

"But Kimberly liked them," Langland comments.

Jilly nods. "Long as they don't make me look fat." She smiles slightly and says, "I can hear her. We're gonna protect some village that can't pay a single stinking dinar. Or she's laughing at me for being so serious. Or she's sorry she got mean when she was drunk...slapped me...that was only near the end...I didn't care." Jilly's eyes are red. "Xena did it! First Callisto, then Kimberly!"

"Did what?" Langland asks.

"Ruined their lives. Callisto was sold to a pimp after Xena burned Cirra. Ten years old! Then Xena's bitch tricked Kimberly into cleaning up their mess. Kimberly doesn't belong here. Oh, you have a life? They're both gonna pay."

"That's what you're planning for the army?"

"That's right."

"What's in it for the men?"

"Me not ripping their nuts off. Do you object, Langland?"

"It's your army."

"Fucking right, it's my army." Jilly looks at me. "Come back tomorrow."

"Yes, mistress."

I bow my head and leave the tent. Then I hear,"Hey."

Jilly throws me a blanket. I wrap it around my naked shoulders as Jilly disappears back in the tent with Langland. She made him her lieutenant earlier. Langland killed the one-eyed man in another duel.

The cook is packing up. "I'm hungry." He smiles at me and pulls his hands apart. I roll my eyes and open the blanket.

"Lovely, darlin'." He prepares a plate of food for me and one for himself, pours us both wine and we sit on the cold ground. The cook is maybe 30 years old. He's pudgy with a round face and thinning red hair. He says, "I'm Kleitos. I ain't such a bad sort. I just like titties."

"Whatever you say."

He looks so unhappy that I flash him again and he smiles like a little boy. There's something wrong with him. Then I notice the winding scar on top of his head partly covered by hair. Kleitos sees me looking and raps his skull sharply. "I wasn't always like this, girlie. Russes came out of nowhere. Captain Imbrios was there...him and his scalps! After that Great Kimberly herself told me to help the cook. The stinking wogs thought I wasn't worth killing. Later I mean, at the big one. If they'd known what I done before...hah!"

"Kleitos, you were in the Sword of Ares' army?"

"Jilly's light cavalry. Whoosh! We'd hit 'em and we'd be gone!" He claps his hands together. "Not many of us left, darlin', I tell you! Found me sweeping a tavern. Iphiclon told me get back to work. Told Jilly he owned me. And I'm stupid!"

"What did Jilly do?"

"Cut an ear off, cooked it up and made him eat it. Jilly loves to cook. Just don't have time. Lucky it wasn't Captain Imbrios." Kleitos laughs so hard he spills his wine.

I finish my meal and stand up, wrapping the blanket around me tightly. I need a place to sleep. He's looking up at me. I don't think so. "Good night, Kleitos."

He waves at me and smiles. Plenty of offers come my way but I head to Langland's tent. Later when he comes in, he ignores me and lies down. I go back to sleep.

At dawn I'm outside Jilly's tent when she opens the flap. "Oh yeah. You." She pulls me inside. I've got the same blanket wrapped around me, which I carefully fold and set down. I stand there with my arms across my chest; then I lower them. It seems stupid with her. For one thing she's nude herself. She grimaces and looks at me.

"I don't want anybody mistaking you for me."

"Yes, mistress."

"If I cut your nose off I can't use you later. You see my problem."

"Yes, mistress."

"I don't like you prancing around naked. I thought I would but I don't." Jilly hands me a shapeless garment of coarse wool. I pull the scratchy robe on.

"Thank you, mistress."

She shrugs and turns away. I'm dismissed but I see her clothes, hurry over and pick up a loincloth like the one I'm wearing. Jilly is still then takes it from me and puts it on. I kneel holding her small leather pants for her to step into. Her face is expressionless as I pull them up to lace just under her delicate hipbones. She has a slight smile and raises her arms. I settle her breasts into the leather cups. The exquisite chest and shoulder armor is next and a low slung belt holding a dagger and whatever else a well-equipped warlord might require. Gems wink discretely against rich deep black leather. I slip inlaid bracers on her arms, kneel again for matching knee protectors and help her into her tooled boots. I pick up a delicate gold chain. She hesitates, then lets me fasten it around her muscular bare stomach.

"Mistress, would you like me to braid your hair?" I'm handing Jilly her chakram. She shakes her head. Jilly takes her sword from me and slides it into the scabbard on her back.

"Tomorrow. I don't have time now." Then she adds, "Clean up in here. Then see if Kleitos needs help." She leaves.

I close my eyes and offer a prayer of thanks to Hermes.

After peeling a tub of potatoes I ask Kleitos if he knows anyone with a flute. He screws his face up and then claps his hands. There's a Cretan. I find him but he won't sell it to me for even ten times its worth.

"What do you want?"

We go behind a wagon and I get on my knees in the dirt. He's cleaner than I expected. I lick the tip a few times then take him in my mouth while I stroke his balls with my fingernails. Plato showed me that. He liked women no matter what you've heard. The Cretan grabs my hair and nearly gags me. This doesn't take long and soon I'm wiping my mouth while he adjusts his robe. He holds the flute but pulls it away as I reach for it. "The money."

I give him ten dinars. It's worth one if that. He smiles and hands the instrument to me. "You can earn it back." I don't answer but take my prize and walk away. I need wine to wash his taste from my mouth.

It's night and I'm playing something mournful. Jilly wears a rich brocaded robe and sits listening in the dark. Her sword is on her lap but I'm not scared. It's Callisto's sword. Her face is hidden because she's crying. Callisto wouldn't approve.

I've been with her four days. Jilly has been staring vacantly at a map for over an hour. I quietly approach her. "Mistress?"

Jilly doesn't respond at first then slowly turns to look at me.

"Are you all right, mistress?"

Jilly closes her eyes and then reopens them. "Did you say anything just now?"

"I asked if you were all right."

"After that. Did you say something after that?"

"No mistress."

Jilly's jaw tightens slightly. Her eyes slide to the left.

"Mistress, is someone speaking to you?"

Jilly's brown eyes slide back over to look at me. She whispers, "Can you hear them?"

What if I say yes? I don't dare. "No. I don't hear anything."

Jilly looks down. "I was testing you, Deianira. I don't hear anything either." Jilly places her hands wide and stares down at the map intensely. She twitches and looks at me again.

"I didn't hear anything, mistress."

"This is Thebes. Xena is overrated."

Jilly's face relaxes and she leans back in her chair. She lets her head loll and she smiles at me. "I ever tell you about the time I fucked Ares in Xena's body? No, silly, I was in Xena's body." The's the same voice as before. She reaches a hand out and takes hold of my hair. "You're not Jilly!" She looks suspicious and pulls my face close. Then she smiles. I open my mouth passively for her lingering kiss. I'm pushed roughly away.


"Leave me alone." She says it abruptly and looks back at the map. Her hands are trembling.

I had a dream last night. I was wandering in dark woods until I came to a stone herm. I placed a wreath on the god's head and stroked the erect phallus for luck. The herm was set at a crossroads and I should follow the direction the marker's shadow was cast. But I don't. Then the herm and the road were gone and I saw a little blonde girl. I approached her and I was the same age. She held a ragged doll and looked frightened. I grabbed her doll and ran off. I wake with Jilly standing over me. It's past dawn.

"Mistress, forgive me!"

She sees how terrified I am. "Relax. I'm not Callisto." She turns and walks out of Langland's tent. Trembling I dress and follow.

I had another dream. I was naked with Langland in the stable again. He pointed at an amphora that was there for some reason and said, "Great Kimberly the Sword of Ares." Then the figure stepped off the vase and was full size; a big woman warrior whose face was covered by chainmail. Langland disappeared and we were on a cliff but Jilly was there as well. But it wasn't Jilly it was Callisto. She pulled her sword and started screaming. I looked at Kimberly but she wouldn't help me. I wake to find Langland watching me with an amused expression.

"Everything all right?" he asks.

"Fine." I rearrange my tangled sweaty covers and close my eyes.

It's been two weeks. She hasn't kissed me again. I don't like women that way but I like dying less. I want to bathe and oil her body. Maybe that'll do it.

I arrive as usual at dawn but she's already dressed. I'm nervous but Jilly tosses me a chiton of rich white material with an embroidered collar. She's heard me admire it. I smile. She slings her sword and scabbard over her shoulder, not waiting for my help. I strip off my slave garb and slip into the chiton. The gift is a good omen. I run my tongue over my lips but she's only interested in the chiton. She adjusts the way it hangs off my left shoulder, cocking her head to study the effect. Then she says, "Looks good. I want my money or I'll kill you."

"Mistress! Please!"

Her brown eyes are wide and her face is pale. "Tell me tonight how you're getting my money." She turns and leaves me in my lovely new clothes. I sink to my knees because my legs won't hold me.

After frantically searching the camp I find Langland with the quartermaster. Finally the man walks off muttering. Langland looks at me. "Nice chiton." He raises his eyebrows.

"Jilly wants five-thousand dinars."

"Megaron I presume. So?"

"What do I tell her? What am I going to do?"

He looks put upon. "You think I'm obligated to help you?"


"I didn't tell you to impersonate Jilly. This would have happened sooner or later, assuming you lived that long."

"It's sooner because of you!" I'm crying now and it's real. It won't help me with Langland, Zeus knows.

He shakes his head. "What did you expect?" I try to hit him. I can't help myself. He catches my hands.

I can barely breathe. I sob out, "I don't know! Everybody kept saying I looked like Jilly. Then I ran away and once in a tavern they thought I was her! I wasn't just some flute girl handing out figs and spreading my legs!"

He's looking at me quizzically. "Go on."

"They respected me. Me! Kinyras heard about it."

"He's got your money?"

"It was all him. He knew Aresthes hated Megaron. I was scared but since it worked he made deals with some villages too. We were gonna split it later. All I ever got were free meals."

Langland runs both his hands through his beautiful hair. "Why should he give you anything?"

I don't have an answer. He sighs and says, "What you have to tell Jilly is you're getting her money back from Kinyras. Then go do it."

"Will you help me?" He raped me.

"Truthfully it sounds fun but I'm busy here. I can't leave."

"So what do I do?"

It's like when you hitch up a horse. Langland's face, in his eyes...he hitched his horse. "Tell me about Kinyras."

"He makes loans. Glaucus collects for him."

Langland says, "That's it. Make Glaucus love you. Tell him you can live happily ever after with his boss's money."

"That won't work."

"Why not?"

"Glaucus doesn't like girls."

Langland smiles. "This is getting interesting. Well, find someone tougher. Maybe he can even scare the money out of them. Neater if Kinyras and his man are dead though. Loose ends have a way of unraveling.

"Then what?"

"Fuck your savior to sleep, slit his throat and bring Jilly her five-thousand dinars. Keep the rest. You deserve some remuneration."

"I can't kill anybody."

Langland yawns and says, "Tell him the truth then but he has to love you. That's the key."

I feel nauseous. "I can find a warrior here."

"You're trying to make things right with Jilly, remember? Stay away from her men."

Of course. I know that. I'm not thinking clearly.

"It shouldn't be hard for a flute girl." He says this lightly but then he studies my face. I must not inspire confidence because he says, "There's something else you could try: Xena the Warrior Princess. Kinyras is just the kind of pimple Xena likes to squeeze, if she has nothing better to do."

"But Jilly hates her." My mind is racing. Ask Xena's help?

He shrugs. "Sometimes Jilly is all business, sometimes not. Your choice." Then Langland smiles at me. "I have to see about our grain supplies." He turns and saunters off.



"What if something happens to Jilly?"

I see a flicker in his green eyes. "Something?'


"Then you don't have to worry about it. But you can't count on 'something.'"

Jilly's face twitches and she bites her lower lip. She's reading a scroll, rolls it up and sets it down carefully. I can tell she wants to throw it. She looks where I'm sitting on the floor in the corner.

"Know Gabrielle of Poteidaia, Deianira?"

"No, mistress."

"How about Xena?"

"I've heard of Xena's adventures."

"They're evil lies."

I don't know how to respond to that. She says, "Gabrielle makes Xena look like this noble hero. Xena is a murdering selfish bitch. Gabrielle is a lying monster."

"A monster?"

"Yes! A Fucking Monster!" Jilly leaps to her feet. "Acts all nice: Oh, I'm just waiting for my friend. I'm lonely, wanna eat with me? What's your name, honey? But she's a treacherous conniving cunt!"

"Yes, mistress."

She hauls me up by the collar. "I told you not to agree with me all the time!"

I stop myself from saying 'yes mistress' again. "I'm sorry."

She lets me go and steadies me. "Yeah, sure. Never mind." She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. After several seconds she slowly exhales. When she opens her eyes they seem calmer. "You got anything to tell me?"

"I'll go to Argos and get your five-thousand dinars."

"That's it? Deianira, if you run I'll hunt you down and skin you like Apollo skinned Marsyas."

I can't bear the way her eyes look, like they're painted on a statue. Her voice is calm. I want to scream.

"Mistress, I'll find a warrior to kill Kinyras. That's how I'll get your money."

"A stooge, huh?" Jilly stretches and says, "Kimberly wouldn't approve." She smiles and her brown eyes are soft and kind now. "Well, get to it."

"Mistress, can I have my clothes back? The leather."

She freezes.

"Kinyras gave them to me. He'll know something's wrong."

She stares at me and after a moment nods at a basket. I retrieve my costume with its fake gems. I pick up the wooden chakram. I don't see the sword.

Jilly says, "Wait." She goes to the tent flap and looks out. "You. C'mere." A young warrior enters the tent. "Lemme see your sword." She studies it and then hands it to me. She orders the man, "Get a new one from the quartermaster." Red-faced, he turns and leaves.

"I melted down yours. Worth more as horseshoes." She frowns and looks at the tent flap. "What'd you think of that?"

"He didn't like it."

"Ripe to betray me now. That's your fault too, Deianira."

"Mistress..." I hold my hands out.

"Next time I see you, Deianira, I want my five-thousand dinars."

Holding the sword and fighting leathers awkwardly, I bow out of her presence. I rush to Langland's tent for what money I have. Then I hurry to the corral and get my horse. I have to get out of camp. I don't have her money. If Jilly sees me she'll kill me.

I've got 49 dinars and my mare. Zeus, oh Zeus! How could I be so stupid? Oh Hestia, Artemis and Athena, virgin goddesses help me. She just wants her money. How else can I get it? With Kinyras at least I have a plan. Xena? Not with how Jilly feels about her. Hermes, guide my course!


"Look at her. What do you think, Oscar?" The speaker was a clean-shaven dark-haired young man.

A man about ten years older with a blond beard turned in his chair. He only had a right arm and he raised that to scratch his beard. "Indeeding. Looking like her, but not." He spoke with an Eastern Gaul accent.

"I know it's not," the younger man said with irritation. "But it looks like her."

"Yessing. So what?"

"So nothing. Never mind."

The Gaul who had resumed his position turned again. "Ahh..."

Deianira was simpering at a burly man with a shaved head and earring. She was oh so frightened and oh he made her feel safe. Arelas pursed his meaty lips out and smirked. He looked big enough and had a small battle-axe at his side. She smiled as he put a big hand on her thigh. Deianira had been talking with warriors for two weeks. Most laughed when she broached needing help, usually in bed. One wanted to be her pimp. Deianira knocked him out with a sandal. That wasn't a good sign. Arelas looked tougher, along with being more repulsive. Deianira saw a young guy checking her out. Her hero noticed too.

"What are you looking at, asshole?"

The simply dressed younger man got up.

Deianira nervously clenched and unclenched her hands. "Walk away," she advised. The bearded man was watchful. He looked like a merchant.

Arelas laughed and rose. The younger man pulled a small knife. Arelas looked amused and took his axe from the thong at his side. Both feinted then the young man moved quickly, avoided the axe and made a quick slash. Arelas fell with his hands over his face. His opponent sheathed his knife and calmly picked up the axe.

The tavern keeper said, "Don't kill him! Not here!"

The young man glanced at him and shrugged. Then he struck down with a whump splitting a foot lengthwise. Arelas screamed. He left the axe imbedded in the floor. The other patrons stared in fear. He looked around at them. "Problem?" No one answered. The tavern keeper and another man carried the moaning bloody figure away.

The bearded man said, "Too much, Imbrios."

"I thought I showed restraint, Oscar."

Deianira said, "Captain Imbrios?"

Imbrios studied her with his boyish face and beckoned his bearded companion over. "That's right." He sat down across from her.

The one armed man smiled revealing twisted yellow teeth.

Two bodies were entwined on the bed. A diffused morning light played over their supple graceful limbs. The dark haired young man opened his eyes and looked at the beautiful sleeping blonde girl. With his index finger he lightly traced the edge of one delicate ear. She unconsciously pulled the blanket closer. The door to the room opened. Her eyes snapped open in fear and the young man grabbed a knife then set it down.

"What, Oscar?" Imbrios sat up in bed. Beside him Deianira apprehensively watched the bearded man from under the covers.

Oscar said, "Using you, Imbrios."

"I don't know what you mean!" Deianira sat up looking outraged. Imbrios glanced at her and back at Oscar. The covers slipped and she quickly covered her breasts.

The one-armed Gaul sat on the bed beside Deianira. "Think Imbrios! Jilly fleeing fights? Look at her." He roughly grabbed her chin but she shook free.

Imbrios looked at Deianira. "Well?"

Her face was teary and she wouldn't meet his eyes. She quietly said, "It was me."

Oscar said, "Now looking for a warrior."

"I have to get five-thousand dinars for Jilly."

Imbrios said, "Megaron. I thought it was ten-thousand."

"No. Five-thousand." She finally looked up to see Imbrios's cold boyish face.

"Jilly's more merciful than I'd be."

Oscar grinned with his awful teeth. "She'll lead you by your rod until she has the dinars. Cutting throat next, eh?"

"No! Langland said I should but I can't! I told him that! I'm no killer!"

"Langland?" Oscar asked.

"He brought me to Jilly. To get on her good side!" She added pathetically, "I'm looking for help. That's all. I don't have the money. I don't have anything. They made me do it."

Oscar and Imbrios looked at one another. Imbrios got of bed. He put a loincloth on and then trousers over it.

Deianira pleaded, "Please!"

The Gaul made a disgusted slashing movement with his remaining hand. Imbrios got a soft expression though and reached out to touch her hair.

Oscar asked roughly, "Why settle for this?"

Imbrios shook his head and lowered his hand. "I'm not taking any more orders."

Oscar scratched his beard. "And her?"

"Look at her, Oscar."

Deianira's face-hardened. She ignored her nakedness, climbed out of bed, and pulled her chiton on. Imbrios said, "Where do you think you're going?"

"Use your hand and call it Jilly!"

Imbrios coldly said, "Stay there." She stopped moving, remembering the tavern.

Imbrios retrieved his purse. He took a three-dinar piece and held it out. Deianira didn't move.

"Take it."

She accepted the coin in a trembling hand.

"You can go."

Oscar was smirking. Deianira slammed the door behind her and started to cry.

The cook glanced up. "Captain Imbrios! Captain Oscar!" He dropped a ladle and flinched as hot stew spattered him.

The two horsemen smiled and dismounted, a dark haired young warrior in new fighting gear and a bearded one-armed merchant.

Imbrios said to the excitable figure, "Hello, Kleitos. Good to see you."

"Indeeding," Oscar agreed.

"Gods, where's your arm, Captain?"

Oscar replied cheerfully, "In the ground. Lucky to be alive."

Kleitos hopped in his excitement. "The big one? Wogs thought I wasn't worth killing. If they'd known! Right, Captain Imbrios?"

Imbrios put his hand on the man's shoulder. "That's right. Kleitos, I wouldn't be here if not for you. Don't think I've forgotten."

The cook smiled and rapped his head. "Sorry, Captain. I remember the Russes coming at us...and the snow. That's all."

Somber eyed, Imbrios nodded. "I remember the snow." Then he brusquely asked, "How's Jilly?"

Kleitos clapped his hands. "She's darlin'! Just darlin'! Cuttin' off heads like Ares himself! Great Kimberly'd be proud!"

"Would she?" Oscar asked. Imbrios frowned at Oscar. The cook looked unsure then grinned.

A slight figure approached and demanded, "Who are you?"

Imbrios studied the speaker, an almost pretty teenager with long hair and wearing leather.

Kleitos said, "This is Captain Imbrios and Captain Oscar, Langland! From the Sword of Ares days!"

Langland smiled. "The commander will be happy to see you."

Imbrios nodded. Oscar was studying the teen. Langland caught his eyes. "Question?"


"I'll take you to her." Langland reached to take Imbrios's arm. Oscar sent the youth reeling with a kick.

"Don't let him touch you!"

Imbrios looked alert. "Why not, Oscar?"

The Gaul showed his yellow twisted teeth and sneered, "Where's the poison, Langland? Ring? Up sleeve? Fingernails? Shall I be looking?"

Langland pulled his sword. "No one touches me."

Oscar said, "Prudent answer. Admitting nothing."

The cook cackled in laughter. "Nice knowing you, Langland!"

The teenager glanced at Kleitos and back at Imbrios whose handsome face was calm. Imbrios's weapon flowed into his hand. Langland swung at him. Imbrios easily blocked the blow and others that followed. Men came running to watch and wager. As the stranger's name went around Langland's odds plummeted. Finally Imbrios disarmed him and kicked Langland in the gut making him crumple. Langland clawed for a dagger and froze with a sword point at his throat. The teen waited.

Oscar called, "Kill him, Imbrios!"

"I wouldn't be searched either."

The Gaul hissed in frustration. "He's not you! All right, I'll kill him!"

"No!" Imbrios ordered and the Gaul stopped.

"Jilly needs a smart lieutenant."

Oscar spat, "He's too smart!"

Langland waited as they discussed the pros and cons of ending his life. He ran his hand through his long hair. At Oscar's look he showed his open hand.

Imbrios sheathed his sword. "He can't hurt Jilly. She can squash him like a bug. If he poisoned her, the men would flay him."

The Gaul sighed, "Mistake, Imbrios. Kill him. Begging I am."

"Let it go, Oscar. Take us to Jilly," Imbros ordered.

Langland flicked his eyes from one man to the other. "Follow me." He unsteadily got to his feet and retrieved his sword. He sheathed it and walked away letting them follow or not.

"You'll regret this," Oscar said to Imbrios as they both took their horses' bridles.

"Nothing personal!" The cook called after Langland. Kleitos scratched his head and began scrounging for another ladle.

Twenty men stood side by side and Jilly was going from man to man. A scroungy warrior held his sword up. She examined it and tossed it onto a pile. She proceeded to the next man while the scroungy warrior was given a new sword from a wheelbarrow. The next man also received a new weapon but not the one after that. The young man whose sword she took for Deianira pushed the wheelbarrow. He saw Langland approaching. "Commander," he said.

Jilly looked over and said curtly, "We'll finish later." The men shrugged and left and the wheelbarrow was pushed off. When they reached her Jilly said, "Oscar." Then in a softer voice, "Imbrios."

"Hello, Jilly."

Jilly stared at Imbrios a moment and threw her arms around him. She released him and grabbed Oscar's stump. "I know where the rest of this is." She gave it a shake.

Oscar smiled. "Stinking. Imbrios chopped it so Sikhs and Chinmen not smelling us out."

Jilly's brown eyes lit up. "But you made it, Oscar! We'll go back and teach 'em a lesson!"

Oscar shook his head. "Nein. Pushing of luck I am not."

Jilly's eyes flashed. Then she frowned and nodded. She looked at the squeaky new leather Imbrios wore. She said to her lieutenant, "Langland, disappear. Good luck."

Before the teen could respond Imbrios said, "I'm not joining you either, Jilly."

"What?" Her face fell. Then she demanded dangerously, "Why not?"

Oscar and Langland watched carefully but Imbrios was relaxed. "I want my own army."

After a moment she said, "Course you do." She added, "I know some good leads for you. Armies ripe for a new captain. Come back to my tent. Let's talk about it. You too, Oscar."

The Gaul was watching closely. "Nein."

Jilly blushed. She and Imbrios walked away. Oscar looked at Langland.

"Mistake not to kill you."

"I swear by the gods..."

"Knowing I am what you are." Oscar scratched his beard and smiled bleakly with his yellow teeth.

The young man looked interested. "What's that?"


The teenager said reasonably, "My rivals aren't exactly Hestian acolytes."

"A new age is coming. Iron replacing gold. Hercules just a story. Instead of Xena or"

Langland said with amusement, "This is my fault?"

"Nein. The festering sore is only a symptom."

The teen smiled. "I'm glad we understand each other."

Before Langland could react Oscar backhanded him. The young man snatched his sword again but Oscar watched calmly. Langland sheathed his weapon. "They'd kill me."

The Gaul grinned with his awful teeth. "Hearing you are of Imbrios? Killing least of your worries. But I could slit your sleeping throat. Bad Oscar! Bad!"

Langland's eyes flickered but he said lightly, "No need for us to be enemies."

"Yes there is, vermin."

Langland ran his hand through his hair again. The anger slipped from his eyes and they were their usual opaque green. "This is your choice."

"Knowing that I am."

Langland earnestly said, "That's too bad." He turned and sauntered away.

Oscar thought of what his brother would say. The Gaul muttered, "Friedrich, why am I such a dumb head?"

Jilly got to her feet and scratched her mass of wild blonde hair. Imbrios smiled as she stretched her lithe muscular body, making her breasts rise and the muscles in her abdomen taut.

"Phedias should sculpt you." Imbrios threw the covers off and sat crosslegged. He was naked too.

She put her hands on her hips and cocked her head. "He did. Only way he'd take my frieze commission. I woulda screwed him for it. Course later I'd a killed him. Wonder if he knew that?" She shrugged. "Dunno what he's gonna do with it. He said something about Artemis." Jilly shook her head. "Ares won't like that." She saw the shadow come into Imbrios's eyes. She wouldn't make him say it.

"A frieze?" He asked.

"For a monument. A small one. Tasteful. Kind of thing she'd like...before I mean. Not how she was at the end."


"Last battle site. Wasn't hard to find."

The young man said quietly, "You left 'em?"

"Gods, I couldn't spend a month burying skeletons! I just had the architect and his workmen with me. They were so scared of Persian war chariots they tried to run twice before it was finished."

"Didn't they know the risks?"

Jilly smiled, "I wasn't exactly honest about where we were going." She got serious. "I looked for Weldon. He must be on display somewhere." She looked away. Finally she continued in a lighter voice, "But I found Anchises. He had that ring he got in Indus. He was under a horse skeleton. Explains why they didn't get it." She held a hand up showing a silver ring. "I burned him."

Imbrios smiled ruefully. "Anchises despised me. Wanted me to challenge him. Guess I got lucky." Imbrios looked down and seemed to stare at a pattern in the rug.

Jilly bit her lower lip and sat beside him. She took his hand. "I miss her too." The naked girl studied him. "Listen, Imbrios. I have to tell you something."

He looked over at her with his head still bent. "What is it, Jilly?"

"Kimberly is alive."

Imbrios shook his head. "She would never leave her men."

"She didn't. Ares took her as punishment for losing his army. I told Xena too. Nobody else. Fucking bitch."

Imbrios said, "Jilly..."

She squeezed his hand. "I don't know where but she's alive and it's eating her up."

He looked in her eyes. "How do you know this?"

"Ares told me."

Imbrios didn't respond for a moment. Then he put his arm around her shoulders and she leaned into him. She closed her eyes and whispered, "It's true, Imbrios. You think I'm crazy but I'm gonna help her. I'll make Ares help her."

Imbrios kissed her hair and said, "If you say so, Jilly."

Jilly and Imbrios stood in front of her tent. Both wore armored black leather. Jilly ran her hand down his arm. "What's this?" A length of red hair was unobtrusively attached near the shoulder. "Oh, Imbrios. Kimberly wouldn't like that...but I do."

He said, "I don't want just anybody." Jilly let the human hair trail through her fingers. She tapped a medallion of carved bone and licked her lips.

Jilly's tent was on high ground affording a view. The handsome warrior scanned the encampment, noting the horse corrals, lounging men and pockets of activity around the blacksmith and cooking tent. He estimated a thousand men. She was building a lean attack force. Later it would be bigger, a lot bigger. Jilly was nothing if not ambitious.

Jilly ironically asked, "You approve?"

"Brings back memories." A fight broke out where a circle of men gambled. Langland appeared out of nowhere and kept it from turning deadly. Imbrios commented, "Oscar says you need to watch him. Wanted to kill him."

Jilly sneered and Imbrios shrugged. He saw several drunken men, in the middle of the day, and another near-fight. Imbrios said, "They're restless. What are you waiting for?"

"Xena and Gabrielle."

Imbrios glanced at her without speaking. Changing the subject he said, "Met a friend of yours: Deianira."

Jilly scratched her head. "Yeah?"

"She's trying to pay you back. Good luck."

The blonde grimaced. "Dammit, Imbrios, I've got an army to equip. I need that money!"

The innocent faced young man commented, "She wasn't much good at using people."


"So if the money is important..."

Jilly groused, "I know. Asshole played her. He's got my dinars."

"What asshole?"

Jilly glanced at him. "Loanshark named Kinyras." She paused and said, "Langland brought her to me. Said I could use a double. She pissed me off though. I told her to get my money back."

"A double could turn a battle. Compared to that..."

Jilly drew her dagger and started flipping it absently. "That's true. Why do you want to help her?" She stopped tossing the blade. "Screw her?"

Imbrios appeared casual but he was ready for anything. "Yes." He saw Jilly's pupils dilate. "But that's not why."

"So who's better? Tell you she was a flute girl? Lotsa practice. But when I was little..." Jilly's voice trailed off and her mouth tightened.

"You, of course."

Jilly snorted. "What else you gonna say?" She flipped the knife again and resheathed it.

"I was thinking of you."

Jilly muttered, "Men. Wasn't there a sheep or a knot hole handy?"

Imbrios looked appropriately sheepish.

Jilly eyed him. "All right, why should I help her?"

"It's what Her Ladyship would do."

The blonde looked down at the dirty floor and blew air out of her mouth. She was tired of this, tired of haunting taverns, tired of throwing herself at men who frightened her and then laughed in her face after fucking her in the ass. She looked around the lamp lit room. It was getting late. A girl was on her knees in the corner working. Deianira scratched her head. Titus said he had a friend she should meet. He was passing her around. But on the slight chance this friend was as dangerous as advertised she would meet him. Men got obsessed with women all the time. Maybe one was stupid enough to love her.

A couple of dark shapes approached. She recognized Titus's sandals. Deianira raised her eyes to check out his friend.

"Hello, Deianira. Been a while."

Her stomach turned over. Titus grinned at her. His friend handed him a coin and Titus wandered toward the girl in the corner who was spitting into a bowl. The friend had big sloping shoulders and heavy arms, lank dark hair and a broken nose. He wore a plain shirt with a leather vest and dark pants.

"Hi, Glaucus." She looked for a place to run but Glaucus grabbed her arm with a big hand.

He said sadly, "Why'd you come back here? Come on. Kinyras wants to see you."

"Lemme go, Glaucus. Please. Just tell him you missed me."

He stooped to look in her eyes. "If you knew that what are you doing here? You know how it works." The big man pulled the blonde woman out of the tavern. Everyone saw. No one cared.

"Where's the costume? He wants you in the leather."

"In my room. Please!"

Glaucus's viselike grip hadn't relaxed. "I'm sorry. Let's get it."

The room was lushly appointed. Kinyras had let himself get soft. When he collected his own debts he was intimidating. Now he had Glaucus for that. Kinyras was just over middle height, with a straight nose, graying hair dyed black and a scented curled beard. He ran his hands down the silver thread embroidering the edges of the shimmering yellow robe, worn over a dark woven shirt and red silk pantaloons. He loved sensuous textures: silk, gold, flesh of slave girls. Kinyras suspected Deinara had wonderful skin but he never touched her. Business was business. He was amazed she was alive. He'd see how smooth her flesh was now.

Glaucus stood waiting with crossed arms.

"Bring Deianira."

Glaucus left and Kinyras picked a bronze statuette of Ares off his desk. The door opened and there she was in her costume. He set the statuette down.

Kinyras said with mock sincerity, "You want your money?"

"That's right."

Kinyras opened his pantaloons and pulled his erect penis out. "Suck it out of this, Jilly."

She cocked her head and didn't respond. Glaucus appeared in the doorway with another blonde in cheap black leather.

Glaucus released Deianira and took a step back. "I was only..." He pressed his hands over his eyes and was pushed stumbling out of the room. Kinyras hurriedly shoved his penis back in his pantaloons. The blonde closed the door and turned to look at him. She shook blood off her fingers.

"I have your money, Jilly!"

"Tell me again what I have to do for it."

Kinyras could hear Glaucus moaning outside the door. He tried to smile, "C'mon. I didn't know it was you."

"Sounded like you knew it was me."

"You know how it is."

"No, why don't you tell me."

"It was her idea, Jilly. I just..."

She hissed, "Megaron came after me! And you just got paid for it!" Her beautiful brown eyes showed white all around the irises.

Kinyras was sweating. "Jilly, lemme get your money."

She walked towards him with her face twitching. "Act like a maniac; that's Jilly. You never thought I'd find out. Deianira would get killed and you'd have made a few dinars." He nervously wet his lips. She continued: "Make a deal, take the money and run. They'll blame Jilly!" Suddenly reasonable she said, "I can't allow disrespect like that. Do you understand? Do you?" She was concerned that he saw her predicament.

"Sure, I understand. But I respect you!" He looked around as if help was coming. "I'll pay you five-thousand dinars now and a thousand a year from now on! Like a tax. Think of it, Jilly. You'd be like a queen!"

"Queen, huh? Queen Jilly. I like that." She slowly began to smile. It got wider and wider until it seemed like her face would crack. Kinyras looked relieved. Jilly said, "Do I look stupid to you?"

Deianira trembled. Glaucus's moans continued. Jilly softly said, "I rode with Callisto, served the Sword of Ares, skinned my father, and you think you can fuck me?" Her voice cracked as she screamed, "ME! You think you can FUCK ME?" Her face was pale and she was weaving from side to side. Kinyras wiped her saliva off his face with a shaking hand. Deianira's legs felt weak.

Kinyras fell to his knees to beg. Then he lunged at her legs. Jilly danced backward and kicked him in the belly with an iron-toed boot. He curled up. Jilly stared down at him with a contorted face. Then she started laughing. She laughed so hard she held her stomach like Kinyras. Jilly looked over at Deianira and pointed at him. Tears ran down her cheeks. Deianira tried to smile. Jilly pulled Kinyras to his feet. The warlord was still giggling uncontrollably. Unexpectedly she slapped him hard. He was too disoriented to resist as she yanked his hands behind his back. In one swift movement she pulled a dagger from her belt and pinned his right hand to the desk. She kneed him in the groin and pinned his other hand with a boot knife. He cried out.

"Shut up!"

He became silent except for ragged breathing. Jilly's giggling overwhelmed her but she glanced again at Deianira and got a fake serious expression. She said to Kinyras, "Now, where's my money?" She tried to maintain a serious demeanor but smiles kept breaking out.

"Under the desk. There's a strongbox." Kinyras spoke through tears.

Jilly looked at Deianira. "Gimme a hand."

Deianira rushed to obey. They pushed the desk aside as Kinyras stumbled and gritted his teeth. Jilly discovered a removable tile and she and Deianira lifted out the box. Jilly said, "Key?" When she didn't get an immediate answer she kicked out from her squatting position. Kinyras's right knee buckled and he sobbed as the weight hit his hands.

"Around my neck!"

"Get it," Jilly said.

Deianira looked at Kinyras's sweaty face. She pulled a chain off over his head and handed it to Jilly. A moment later the warlord whistled. Jilly stood up and smiled at Kinyras. "I'm impressed."

"Please, Jilly...leave me some to put out on the street. You understand." Kinyras was wheedling, trying to sound reasonable again.

Jilly dissolved in giggles. "Oh gods! You are too much!" She said to Deianira. "Take his pants down."

"No!" Kinyras tried to struggle. He could only stand on one leg because of his injured knee. Deianira undid his sash with shaking hands and pulled his silk pantaloons down exposing him.

Jilly grinned. "Get Glaucus."

Nervously Deianira went to the door. Opening it she found Glaucus seated on the ground, hands over his eyes.

"Glaucus. Glaucus. Jilly wants you."

The big man swung out wildly at her voice.

"Don't make her angry, Glaucus. You're still alive at least!"

He got to his feet and Deianira led him inside.

"Over here," Jilly said, looking from the blind man to Kinyras whose face was white. Jilly said in a crooning voice. "Your boss is right in front of you. I hear you like boys. Well?" When he didn't move. She picked up the statuette of Ares and rammed it into Glaucus's stomach. He keeled over. She grabbed him by the hair and lifted his face. "You're blind as Oedipus. Wanna be deaf too? How bout I stick a knife in your ears?"

"No don't..." the blind man whimpered. He fumbled with his bloody hands and took Kinyras's limp penis in his mouth. Deianira wrapped her arms around herself and also sank to her knees.

Jilly looked at Kinyras's pale terrified face and ran her tongue over her lips. "Don't you like it?" She whispered in his ear, "I expect appreciation."

Kinyras closed his eyes. His penis became half erect.

Jilly laughed. "Well that's a start at least." She said to Glaucus, "Suck his balls." Glaucus held Kinyras's penis up against his belly. It twitched and got slightly harder. Glaucus took one of the man's hairy testicles in his mouth. Jilly watched judiciously. Then she grinned at Deianira and climbed on the table, sitting down behind Kinyras. Jilly wrapped her legs around his midsection, reached up and grabbed his ears.

"What are you doing?" Kinyras pleaded.

Jilly giggled, "Bite it off."

Deianira was vomiting. Glaucus shook his head like a dog with a bone. Kinyras was screaming. Glaucus spit something out.

"And the other one!" Jilly could barely speak for laughing. That was the last Deianira remembered.

Deianira opened her eyes.

Kinyras was no longer pinned to the desk. Now he was tied over it, his backside inviting. Glaucus lay motionless on the floor with his pants around his ankles. The statuette of Ares matched a dent in his head. Deianira got to her feet and carefully approached them. Kinyras was breathing from bloody lips. She took three rings and a gold chain off of him, ignoring his half open eyes. Glaucus was also alive, face and shirtfront soaked with blood. She took a bracelet from him, wiping it off as well as she could. Deianira unsteadily searched the room and found an inlaid gold cup and a few loose coins. She threw on a rich cloak that must have belonged to Kinyras and slipped out into the dark mean streets.



"Xena, look at that girl."

"I see her."

Naturally. Like I would spot something before her. The girl just brought an amphora of wine to a table and glances around the room. Her eyes don't dwell on us longer than anybody else. That's what you'd expect of course. I look at Xena. She's got a half smile.

"What?" I ask.

"Not everybody is out to get me. Most people don't even know me. They've got their own lives." Xena is amused.

I'm still watching the girl, sneaky like.

"That's not Jilly," Xena says. "It's not her style."

I nod. Xena's right. Of course. Like always. The girl carries food to another table. But she's got the blonde hair, the big brown eyes, and the delicate chiseled features. If she were older I'd take her head off with my staff and ask Xena's opinion later. She doesn't only look like Jilly. She looks like Callisto.

"Besides, she's your friend," Xena says. Jilly is my friend. She calls me bardy. I hope I never have to choose between her and Xena. She can't trust me.

As the girl carries a tray past a table a warrior mockingly leers, "Commander!" He roughly pulls her into his lap and her tray goes flying.

"Asshole!" She angrily tries to pull away. This is our cue.

"Let go of her." Xena stands up. Me too.

The warrior looks over holding the struggling girl. "Mind your own business."

"This is my business. See, I'm here to eat. And I can't with a piece of dung like you around. Let go of the girl and run along."

The warrior is sizing her up: blue eyes, chakram, stunning sidekick--he knows who she is. He lets the girl pull away but he stands up and squares his shoulders. He's gonna fight.

"Walk away," Xena says calmly. He won't. She knows it better than me. Warrior stuff. Xena even respects him a little. I can tell.

He doesn't reach his sword. He makes a move and Xena jumps, catching him in the head with a kick. Xena makes sure he's still breathing. I'm thinking about her in the old days. That guy is SO lucky.

The serving girl straightens her clothes out. She's used to it. Looking like Jilly she must be.

"Thank you," she says. My friend nods at her. "Are you Xena?"

"Yeah, that's me."

"So you're Gabrielle."

"Yes," I answer.

The girl says, "Thanks again." She picks up the platter and bowls she dropped. There's something brittle about her as she heads back to the kitchen. I look at Xena who nods imperceptibly at me. The warrior's friends are carrying him out. They don't want trouble with Xena. So we follow the girl. The tavern keeper doesn't say anything. Xena has that effect on people.

We find her shaking and sitting on the floor. I squat beside her. "It's over." I put my hand on her shoulder.

The girl looks at me with teary eyes. "That was nothing."

I look up at Xena who is watching. I ask, "So what is it then? Is it something to do with us?"

"I wish I'd gotten your help before. That's all."

Now Xena says, "It's not too late."

The girl climbs to her feet. She really does look exactly like Jilly. Except for the crying. Jilly thinks crying is weak and dangerous. Callisto taught her that. Never cry. Make your enemies cry. Make 'em wish they'd never been born. That's another pearl of wisdom from Callisto.

"I don't need help now. It was messy."

Xena grimly asks, "How messy?"

The girl looks away. She's pale. Xena waits. Finally she says, "Have you heard of Kinyras?"

Oh gods.

"Did you see it?" Xena asks.

"Yes. Not all of it. Enough." She shakes her head. "Kinyras was probably gonna kill me. But even so..."

Xena says, "Yeah, even so."

She stammers, "He's ali..alive. That's mercy. Right? Glaucus wasn't so bad. If I hadn't...I caused it all."

"Who did it?" I ask.

"Gabrielle," Xena says warningly.

The girl starts shaking. Her eyes go wide but nothing like Jilly. Xena keeps her from falling and says, "It's all right. You don't have to tell us."

I feel like an idiot. I'm supposed to be the sensitive one. Glaucus is blind. Kinyras ate his own testicles. She's scared. Go figure.


"Hey, Langland, whatcha doin'?"

I lower the bow. It's a rhetorical question.

Jilly strides up and squints at the bow and the bale of hay I'm shooting at. I've hung a small piece of cloth as a target. My arrows have all hit the bale but missed the cloth. She holds her hand out for the bow. I've never seen her use one. She takes an arrow from the quiver and lets fly. Naturally it hits the target dead center followed by two more in quick succession. She hands it back to me.

"Lemme see what you're doin' wrong."

I oblige and nock an arrow. She clucks her tongue and stands behind me placing her hands on my hands, correcting my stance. Two more arrows hit the target as she watches with crossed arms.

"Xena is coming," she states matter of factly.

It doesn't have to be this way. She shakes her head pityingly and walks off. Callisto told her about Theodorus. I remember what she showed me about stance and put five arrows into the target.


I tiredly put the wine cups away and nod at Elephenor. He wants under my skirt but he's not obnoxious about it. He doesn't want to lose me. I bring in business: The girl who looks like Jilly the warlord and plays the flute. They know I don't do any more. I'm not a flute girl. I'm not a slave. I've been making friends at the temple of Hermes and the priestess wants me to meet her brother. Hermes is god of thieves and commerce, of crossroads and change. His followers are more open-minded than some others about shady pasts. This isn't a bad place really.

That warrior, he wasn't really gonna do anything. Make a couple dirty jokes then let me go. That's probably what was gonna happen. But what if he wanted more? With his friends, nobody here coulda stopped him. Xena stepped in just like in Gabrielle's scrolls, the ones Jilly says are lies.

I climb the stairs to my room. Has Jilly forgiven me? She has her money back. But maybe Jilly wants me to thank her. Kinyras screaming. Gabrielle seemed to really care...and so did Xena. They didn't even know me. I didn't warn them about Jilly. They offered to help me and I didn't warn them. Glaucus biting down. Blood spraying. Kinyras never made me do anything. I heard Aresthes hated Megaron. It was all my idea. I talked Kinyras into it. I'll take all the risks but I need the costume and a horse. I must've seemed like a gift from the gods. This stupid slut who thinks she's smart. But I wasn't killed like I should've been. Instead I met Langland. Kinyras begging in terror and pointing at me. Glaucus holding his eyes. I dream every night. I'll go to her. I owe her that. Be careful of Langland. Please be careful of Langland. And please forgive Xena and Gabrielle too. Glaucus on his knees. Kinyras arching his back. Jilly laughing. That part I'll play by ear.


There he is. Little weasel. I kick the dirt around the cooking pot.

"Kleitos, life's too short. Hate the Persians not me."

I glower. "The Russ. It was the Russes, Langland. Bastards. With their furs and their fucking little ponies! Made me like this!" I'm crying! Dammit! Dammit! Like a girl or a slave!

"What in Hades is going on here?"

It's my darlin! Jilly comes up and puts an arm around my shoulders. "Nuthin." She looks at me close then she glares at Langland.

"What happened? What'd you say to him?"

"Just I'm not his enemy."

I'm still crying. I used to be smart. Fucking Russes. Smart like Langland. No, Oscar was. I know something. Why I hate him. Jilly. I hate him for Jil...

"Kleitos, you're the cook. Do your job and let Langland do his."

She's taking his side! Captain Oscar knew. He's got Jilly fooled just like Captain Imbrios!

"Kill him, Jilly! Do it now!" I start jumping to make her listen.

Jilly grabs my face in both hands. "Stop it, Kleitos! Now just calm down." She lifts my shirt to wipe my mouth.

Langland says all phony concerned, "You don't have to like me, Kleitos. But we're in the same army." He lays a hand on my shoulder but I shake him off. Jilly is petting my head like I'm a dog. Fucking Russes! I was one of Jilly's horsemen!

"Yeah, Kleitos, you were. Those were the days, right? Riding with Great Kimberly."

Did I say that out loud? I nod.

"All right then." She lets go of me, and her and Langland walk off together. My shoulder feels funny.


It's a real army now and two guards stop me. I'm not in leather but they watch their manners just in case. Word comes back to bring me in. There's more men than before and everything carefully laid out, tents in ordered rows. A horseman is waiting. My escort nods at him and heads back to her post. She has a feathered necklace. I think she's an Amazon.

"Hello, Deianira."

"I'm here to see Jilly." I try to sound confident.

He smiles at me. Gods. "I'll take you to her." He turns his horse and I fall in beside him. He says, "Prudent of you to come back."

"You know what happened?"

He glances at me. Of course he does. "I didn't anticipate Jilly helping you. An old friend suggested it I believe. Imbrios."

"Imbrios asked her to help me?"

"Sometimes people surprise you."

We come to an open field. Jilly leads galloping horsemen that sweep past us so close we're hit by dirt from churning hooves. They make a quick change of direction and leap over several barrels and then make another quick reversal and jump more barrels. Not all the horsemen manage it. She loses four along the way. As the men reform she rides over to the four who are waiting. She's yelling at them. One says something back angrily. There's a flash of metal and he slips off his mount. The other men don't speak. Jilly says something to them and rides over to us. The men go back to their drills as slaves carry the dead man off and lead his horse away. She wipes her chakram and comes over still holding it.

Jilly ignores me and says to Langland. "Don't give me that look. I have to maintain discipline." Jilly's face is flushed.

"So whip him. Send him to the infantry. It's a waste."

Her chakram is suddenly at Langland's throat. I remember how it felt when he held a knife on me. He wasn't expecting that. Do it. Do it. She grimaces, reattaches the round blade to her belt and looks at me. "You're back. Why?"

I sneak a look at Langland. He's trying to hide his trembling.

"To thank you."

She laughs. "I'll bet."

"I owe you that, mistress."

She narrows her eyes slightly and studies me. Then she grunts and looks at her lieutenant. "Sorry, Langland." She says to me, "Call me Jilly. Have the cook prepare us a meal."

"You and Langland?"

"You and me."

I feel Langland's eyes on me. I say, "It will be good to see Kleitos."

Jilly gruffly says, "Kleitos is dead." She turns her horse and rejoins her men on the field.

His eyes are opaque, lovely green with an abyss behind them. Langland looks absurd, like a child playing dress up: A little warrior. How cute. He's so pretty with his long hair and long lashes. He doesn't have to look like this. He could cut his hair; grow a beard. Langland shaves daily. You wouldn't think so. Is it just to be underestimated? He draws pederasts like moths to a candle. I saw it when we traveled together. I never saw any of them again.

"What happened to Kleitos?"

"Just fell ill. Something about his head injury I expect."

It's stupid but I start crying. Over a half crazy cook who liked titties. Langland looks curiously at me. I don't know why or how but he did it. No, I do know why. Kleitos saw through him. He smiles like he can read my thoughts. Hatred he understands.

He takes me to the new cook, a hatchet-faced woman who fawns on me. When she learns I'm not Jilly she hates me.

"Why aren't you naked, whore? I heard all about you."

"Say that to Jilly."

"Don't think I won't, trollop!"

"Do that. Jilly is having a guest for dinner."

The woman looks at Langland. He says, "That's right."

She glares at me and gives Langland a fake smile as we walk our horses off. He glances at me and runs his hand through his long beautiful brown hair.

Jilly keeps looking at me. I can't read her expression. The meal is spread out before us. This time I'm reclining on cushions and an olive-skinned boy serves us. Cyrus is about eleven. He's good at it like I was, a trained servant. I catch glimpses through his clothes of old scars. He's not afraid of Jilly. He worships her. She pats his arm once.

The boy hands me a long fork with a piece of savory lamb. As I finish chewing Jilly smiles at the boy and says, "Leave us alone." Cyrus takes the bowls and utensils and glides out of the tent. He's good. A single oil lamp softly lights the tent. Jilly is beautiful in the yellow light. So am I.

"I've got my money back so don't worry. Doubles aren't my style. Go live your life."

"I owe it to you."

She looks away. "Yeah, well, you were just gonna get killed. That wouldn't get me anything."

"Saving me didn't get you anything either."

She doesn't answer at first. Then she says, "Callisto always said I was too soft." After a moment, "I was never soft enough for Kimberly."

My heart is pounding. I stand up. She's propped up on cushions and watching me. Jilly is wearing a white chiton exactly like my own. She gave it to me. I move behind her carefully, waiting for a command to stop. I lay my hands on her tense shoulders. She's quiet so I begin rubbing. Then I slip the chiton off her shoulders and massage more deeply. Jilly sighs. I look down and she is staring straight up at me.

"You don't know what pain is. Kinyras was nothing. Hurt Jilly and you'll learn."

I continue kneading. "I won't, Callisto."

"I'm not Callisto."

"I won't hurt her, Kimberly."

"You better not."

"How many of you are there?"

Jilly closes her eyes and lets her head turn, enjoying my touch. She murmurs, "Legions, armies, the world."

"Sounds cozy," I say.

"Huh?" Jilly says and opens her eyes again.

"Nothing, mistress."

I bend down and lightly kiss her shoulder. For a second she tenses and then relaxes. I kiss my way up her throat to the underside of her delicate jaw and then her cheek and her full lips. Her mouth is half open. I move around and lay my head in her lap. Jilly runs her fingers through my hair. She sits forward so I can pull the chiton over her head. She's wearing the gold chain around her muscular belly. I quickly strip my clothes off. She lays back. With trembling fingers I lightly stroke her breasts and kiss them raising her nipples. Then I bring my hands down to her thighs. I begin kissing her belly. I work my way lower reaching curly blonde hair just like my own. She squirms slightly and spreads her legs. I explore more deeply with my fingers and tongue and she moans. Then she grips my hair, pulls my head up and stares in my eyes. Her pupils are dilated. She smiles, releases me, and stretches her arms above her head as she lays back on the cushions. Is it even Jilly? I lower my head and get back to work.

Langland is waiting for me. Jilly is asleep. I imagine Hermes like this: androgynous face, moonlit long hair, lovely lethal eyes.

"Go back to your new little life. Marry the brother."

"I haven't even met him."

"He's perfect. Sowed his wild oats and wants to be a solid citizen now, just like you."

"Don't do it, Langland."

He asks innocently, "What are you talking about?"

Langland avoids the dagger I hid in my chiton. "You bastard!" I slash again and slender hands restrain me from behind.

"Dammit! Stop it, Deianira!"

"He's going to kill you! Believe me, please! Please, Jilly!"

Jilly's nude and her hair is a mess. She pushes it out of her eyes and takes the dagger from me. Jilly smiles and raises her eyebrows. "Stick to what you know, Deianira. Leave this to me."

"You don't understand! Kill him, Jilly!"

She laughs. "Thanks for the concern." She pushes me back inside her tent. I hear her. "Oscar said that too. Deianira and Kleitos; what do they know? But Oscar... Should I be scared of you?"

"I'm ambitious."

"Yeah, I know. But should I be scared of you?"


Jilly bursts out in laughter. "Gods, Langland! You're almost as funny as Kinyras."

"I am not what I am."

"Who is? Well, me, I guess. Crazy Jilly. No surprises here. Nice tits, huh? You're good at your job and I like you. Langland, you know what I'll do if you betray me. Kinyras was nothing. My father lasted a week. Remember that."

"I know."

"And Deianira..."

"Water under the bridge, Jilly."

"Good. Check on the men, Langland. Make sure they're set to move when I give the order."

"Everything's ready, Jilly."

She comes in the tent casually flipping my knife. I get on my knees. Before I can beg again she stops my mouth with a kiss.


I'm waiting. A merchant eyes me and purses his lips. I lay a hand on my dagger and he disappears. They're talking to each other and scanning the street. Why so many armed men? Careful. I walk toward them.


Gabrielle is surprised at my appearance. Xena studies me from her horse. "Yes."

"The commander would like to see you if you don't mind. She wants you and the bard to be her guest."

"Her?" Gabrielle says. Stupid as per report.

Xena smiles at me. "Lead on." Xena dismounts and follows with the bard.

The army is camped outside of town. Jilly moved her tent in close so we reach it in minutes. She's in front of a table as if she's recruiting. Men are lounging about. The bard spots her and yells. "Jilly!" A man blocks her. They don't know anything. Jilly only trusted me.

"It's all right, let her through." Jilly's face is radiant and she picks the woman up in a hug. She doesn't have many friends. This isn't easy for her. "Hi Bardy!" Then she looks at the warrior princess. "Hi Xena." She's civil but that's all.

"Commander Jilly now is it?" Gabrielle says with a smile.

"Well, you know how it is. I didn't mind Callisto or Kimberly telling me what to do, but somehow when anybody else tries I want to cut their heart out."

"Jilly, I don't really, but I'll take your word for it," Gabrielle answers. Xena is watching.

Jilly leads them to her tent where she will let Xena glimpse some maps. I'll go in once supposedly with private news and I'll send others in later. I expect Xena to see through it. If she kills Jilly they'll slip out of the camp leaving the body to be discovered. I'm prepared to seize the army.

It's all going according to Jilly's plan. Xena thinks she's attacking Thebes. I'm disappointed. Maybe Hercules doesn't live up to expectations either.


Xena and Gabrielle are with Jilly. Eating. Don't they know she hates them? Me and Cyrus are supposed to stay out of sight. She's serving this meal herself. Jilly prepared it too. The cook is gone. I hear the hatchet-faced woman said something about whores. One story is Jilly broke her neck like she'd swat a fly. I don't believe it. Maybe Jilly told hatchet face she would swat her like a fly next time she saw her. I peek out the tent flap hoping to glimpse the big dark woman in leather and the little blonde with her staff. Maybe I can catch their attention.

"Looking for something?"

Langland! He's right beside the tent flap and steps inside. Cyrus moves in front of me protectively but I pull him back. The boy sees through him. Langland smiles at us. He pats Cyrus reassuringly on the arm. "Stay out of sight like Jilly said." He winks at me and leaves. The boy rubs his arm.


I'm sitting by the river working on a scroll. I sense being watched before I see or hear anything and have my staff ready as he comes walking up on his horse.

"I never got your name."


He looks so harmless but Xena says he's not. He can't be.

"You don't want to be on the opposite side than Xena."

"No I don't. Let's talk."

He gets off his horse and is turning toward me. "Sorry." I mean to clobber him with my staff but he's faster than I thought. Damn! He kicks me. I stumble but manage to hit him in the side. He grabs my staff and head butts me. He's got the staff at my throat.

"Why did you do that?" He's wincing from his side. I got him pretty good.

"I don't trust you."

"Same here." He jabs me hard in the stomach with the staff. Then he ties my hands and puts a chain around my neck. I glare at him.

"You attacked me."

"You're a bad guy."

"You could've killed me."

"I wouldn't kill you."

"You ever been hit in the head with a quarter staff?"

My face is red. "I know what I'm doing. But...well I would feel guilty. There. Satisfied?"

He ties my staff to the saddle and remounts, holding the chain. "Kimberly didn't like you, is that right?"

Huh? Jilly must have talked to him. "We had a rocky start is all."

"Kimberly forgave you for being a smug bitch then?" He starts the horse forward and I have to follow.

I'm looking at the I don't trip. "Yes, she did."

I turned an innocent girl into a drunken warlord. Lured her in with my famous charm to fix a mess I caused. I have no memory but I did it. Xena never became the Bitch of Tartarus and it never happened for me or anyone else. Just her. She forgave me though. Great Kimberly.

"How old are you?"

"I'll be 17 in a few weeks."

"You're better than this, Langland."

I've been quiet for over an hour walking beside the horse. He looks down at me. I want to get through to him. "You have a choice. You aren't some stupid thug."

"You don't know me."

"I know you better than you think."

"Maybe if you hadn't tried to brain me."

I blush. "I shouldn't have done that. Forgive me." He nods. I'm making him uncomfortable, I think.

"We're not making good enough time. You can ride behind me or I'll tie you on like a sack of grain."

What a waste. "I'll ride."

He helps me clamber up behind him. He attaches the chain to the saddle. With my hands tied and the chain around my neck I won't try anything. I could break my neck. He spurs the horse and I grab his belt in back to keep from falling.

After a time: "What's Jilly's plan?"

No answer.

I try another tack. "Whatever it is it won't work. Xena will foil it like always. Or maybe this is really you? No. I don't think it's you. You're just a henchman. Huh? You just gonna take that? What kind of bad guy are you?"

"Hard for you not to talk isn't it?" I glare at him.

We're quiet as we ride. He glances up at the sun checking the time. I don't want to give him the satisfaction of asking. The woods we've been riding through thin to a clearing. He unties the chain from the saddle. "Get down." I awkwardly slip off the horse and wait. Jilly comes out of another forest trail, glances at us and rides into the clearing.


"Be quiet," he says.

I stop talking but not because of him. I've spotted the other figure in the clearing. We both listen.

"Hello Xena, Warrior Princess, Destroyer of Nations, Butcher of Cirra!"

"Where's your army, Jilly?"

"Burning Amphipolis as we speak, warrior bitch! I always knew Kimberly overrated you. She would've never fallen for something as obvious as those maps. Maybe you were better before you got so old."

"Where's Gabrielle?"

Jilly raises her hand and he rides out pulling me. He tosses the chain to Jilly and moves off. Jilly's twirling the end of the chain.

"Jilly, why are you doing this?"

"I'm sorry, Bardy; I really am. You should've expected this after Kimberly told you about the Bitch of Tartarus, though. You're not old like Xena so I don't know what your excuse is. Maybe Kimberly forgave you for what you put her through, but I don't." She yanks the chain so I fall.

Jilly launches into a diatribe, righteous hatred bursting out of her. Every word sears me. Jilly loved Callisto and Kimberly and hates us. Why shouldn't she? Finally Jilly gestures to Langland again and he rides out. Jilly kicks me in the face and tosses the chain back to him. He leads me stumbling away. Then he dismounts and steadies me? Langland unties my hands and removes the chain from around my neck. I stare at him then turn to watch Xena fight like so many other times.

"What do you want, Jilly?" Xena calls out.

"To make you into a saddle blanket!" Jilly is practically spitting and her eyes are mad. I look at Langland and know: He loves her. I squeeze his shoulder.

Jilly and Xena charge each other. I expect Jilly to go down. Instead they separate and one of Xena's shoulder straps is cut. Jilly yells something mocking. They charge again and Jilly cuts the other shoulder strap. I vaguely see Langland walk over to a tree.

They charge again. This time Jilly cuts off one of Xena's forearm bracers. They ride away from each other. Jilly throws her chakram and it slashes off the other bracer when Xena deflects it. That's impossible. Xena can't even do that!

Langland steps beside me. He strings a bow and slips a quiver of arrows on. I stare. Jilly is my friend. I can warn her but don't. The pretty boy takes a perfect stance, nocks an arrow, draws it back and lets fly. I haven't made a sound.

"Jilly!" Xena cries in warning. The second arrow is already loosed and he's grabbing a third. Jilly turns in the saddle and barely catches the first arrow and somehow the second. The third hits her throat. The fourth arrow pierces her upraised hand. She weaves and falls off her horse. I run out onto the field. Xena hurries to Jilly's side.

"Oh gods! Jilly!" Now I'm concerned. Hypocrite.

Xena is desperately trying to treat the throat wound. Xena's face looks broken. Jilly manages four words: "Fuck both of you." Then she gurgles and shakes for minutes before it's over. I remember a suspicious little girl who finally smiled at me. Trusted me.

He comes toward us, an arrow ready in case we're ingrates.

"You don't have to worry about Amphipolis, Xena."


"Because I countermanded Jilly's orders after she left. I just said there had been a change in plans."

I feel like a lost child. "Why did you do that? Why did you save me and Xena?"

Xena answers, "It's his army now. Jilly built it but he's got it."

"I didn't think I would need to do anything. I've heard of you my entire life, Xena. I thought you'd beat her easily. If she learned I had changed her orders to attack Amphipolis she'd have killed me."

Langland walks back to his horse. Our savior. He loved her. I couldn't be wrong about that. He killed her anyway.


It's midday. Xena and Gabrielle left three days ago. Jilly and Langland rode out yesterday. I tried to warn Jilly again; make her listen. It's now, Langland is moving against you now. Her face was set. I don't think she even really heard me. I would have followed her. But I can't leave Cyrus. He's burning up with fever, shaking and moaning. When I undressed him I saw a red spot on his arm where Langland patted him. Cyrus is delirious. He mutters and cries in Persian, I suppose. Anyway I don't understand him. He's getting worse. He's thirsty no matter how much he drinks. I can't leave him. Is that why Langland did it? Or was it Cyrus? Would she have listened to him? Jilly has a soft spot for children. Langland told me that.

When I go for water I see how on edge everyone is. Warriors standing in groups arguing and complaining. They were ready to move finally but then it was called off. The entire army must be like this. I listen to three men:

"Amphipolis would be sweet. It's never been taken."

"Xena's from Amphipolis. That's why."

"Jilly can take her."

"So why'd she back down?"

"I didn't hear Jilly say shit. Only that little catamite. Maybe Jilly don't know."

"Say that to his pretty face."

"Fuck you."

"Me, I'm in no hurry to piss off Xena."

"You prefer Langland?"

"I'm just saying."

"She's Ares's daughter!"

"Pull your head out of your ass."

They notice me and nod a greeting. I wander over and they pass me a wineskin. It's not like before. I'm under Jilly's protection now not to mention Langland. I'm like them, waiting to see who comes back. We aren't as dumb as we look. And I belong to the winner. That's what they think. They're right but not in the way they mean. The whole army is saying these things. Before taking a drink I pour a little on the ground as a libation. "For Hermes." The men copy me, playing it safe.

I walk back towards the tent. Cyrus is waiting in front of it. I hurry and the boy looks seriously at me. He doesn't even seem ill.

"You need to leave, Deianira. Right now."

"Cyrus! How do you feel?"

"It's dangerous here for you. Get out. Return to your new life." He walks away disappearing behind some horses.

I don't understand this. I push the flap aside and enter the tent. Cyrus is lying motionless. He's thrown his covers off and his young body is naked and vulnerable. I rush over to wrap him up again but he's cold. A god. A god warned me to flee before Langland returns. Jilly is dead as Cyrus.

"Thank you, Hermes," I say reverently.


My brother didn't believe me but he came anyway. When I introduced them she was embarrassed and didn't say much. She's ashamed of what she's done.

"He feels the same. Believe me. Bienor won't hold anything against you. Hermes will lead you both to a new life. He is the lord of journeys and crossings." So she squeezed my hand and met my little brother.

My brother said to me, "She looks like a Hestian virgin. I'm a thief and a murderer!"

"You were a thief and murderer; you aren't now. And she's not a Hestian by a long shot but her heart is good just like yours. She loves Hermes and so should you. Just get to know her."

They are both so frightened. And both fear their pasts will come to claim them, always afraid of what strangers will bring. Perhaps they are right to fear but they still must live. It is the lot that Father Zeus has apportioned them.


I can't move. I came walking out of the kitchen and there he was. I tried to warn Jilly about him. I tried to kill him. Run? Useless. Seek help? And get them killed too? Bienor dead with a frothing mouth and glazed eyes. Maybe Xena but she's not here now.

Elephenor looks at me. What am I waiting for? It's not like he's a warrior. Elephenor understands when I'm nervous with them. This is just a boy. He's dressed like a villager, the same clothes as the first time I saw him. I feel sick.

I force one foot in front of the other until I'm standing in front of him. He looks up at me and winks. "Hello, Deianira. How the heck are ya? Picked out a name yet?"

I put a hand on my swelling belly without meaning to. "Langland...uh...If it's a girl, Cassandra. We haven't decided on a boy's name."

He nods with understanding and his hazel eyes seem friendly. He says, "You might wanna consider Imbrios."

"Why?" It's all I can think of.

He runs his hand through his long hair and shrugs. The tavern door opens. Langland glances over his shoulder. "Speaking of whom."

Imbrios is in gleaming black. Every eye is on him. The weapons and the human hair fringing his sleeves mock that innocent face. He's not Langland. Imbrios wants you to know exactly what he is. "Deianira," he says and sits down at the table.

Langland says, "As I was about to..."

Imbrios interrupts him. "Don't worry. You're under my protection. He won't hurt you."

I quickly look at Langland. He's got an easy smile but his eyes are cold. "I never intended to hurt anyone. Why would I?"

Imbrios says, "I had a visitor. Said you planned to tie up loose ends."



"Kleitos is dead."

"I know. It was really a god." Imbrios states this matter of factly.

Langland smiles. "Whatever you say." He tries to touch Imbrios for emphasis. There's a quick movement and a thunk. A dagger pins Langland's sleeve to the table.

"Next time it'll be your dick."

"You've been listening to your Gaul friend."

"If I listened to Oscar I'd be wearing your hair." Imbrios puts a protective hand on my belly. "Anything happens to Deianira--fever, accident, dying in childbirth, anything at all--I'll peel your skin off in strips. That goes for her family too."

I start crying. "Thank you! Imbrios, thank you!" I'm unsteady and he stands up and helps me to a chair.

Langland frees his sleeve, pulling the knife out. He looks mildly irritated. "Women die having babies every day."

"You better hope Deianira isn't one of 'em."

"Why are you doing this?" I take Imbrios's hand. I'd kiss it but he stops me. Langland watches like a snake.

"Because Jilly wanted to help you." He pauses. "And somebody helped me once."


He looks down. "Yeah."

I stand up. "I'll get your wine."

Langland says pleasantly, "Thank you."