by Joseph Anderson

REVISED 4/1/04 Mostly just editing, changing tenses, simplifying phrasing, deleting useless stuff. The only real rewriting is in the fight which I thought needed it. (More editing in June 2008.)

Xena and Gabrielle belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. Langland belongs to me. No copyright infringement is intended with this fan fiction which may be copied for personal use only, may not be sold, and must contain all notices of copyright.

This would fall between Jilly and Family Affair in my Kimberly/Jilly chronology. It should work just as a Xena story though I hope, and shouldn't require knowing my other stories.

There is violence in this story.

Part I

It was a nice little town and Gabrielle located the inn while Xena found the smith; something about Argo's hooves and a new style horseshoe. She told the bard to get something to eat. It might take a while.

"Okay, Xena."

Now the little strawberry blonde walked in the inn. A young man rose from a table.

"Would you join me?" he said with a smile.

"I don't think so. You move just a little fast for me," Gabrielle said coldly.

"You don't recognize me?"

That stopped her and she studied him. He did look familiar but she couldn't remember where from. He wasn't threatening; just the opposite. He was almost too handsome and a little younger than she was, with a babyface and long brown hair. He wasn't much bigger than her.

"I'm sorry, I don't recognize you but I know I should. I didn't mean to be rude before."

The young man smiled earnestly at her and cocked his head at his table. Gabrielle said, "Sure," and joined him.

"So where do I know you from?" she asked then stopped as the innkeeper took her order.

"It'll come to you. I think I'll let you chew on it," he said with a light laugh.

Gabrielle laughed too. "Oh, that's mean! I deserve it, I guess. So what are you doing here in town. Maybe that'll give me a clue."

He sipped his wine fastidiously and said, "I'm scouting for talent. There's some good kids around with a lot of potential. Young people have to be nurtured."

Gabrielle gushed, "Oh, that is so true! And I'm so glad to hear someone say that! The Athens Academy of Bards; I'll bet that's where I know you from."

He shook his head with a smile. She made a frustrated sound.

The inn suddenly got tense and quiet. Gabrielle looked around and saw two young thugs. She didn't like the look of this and made sure her staff was within easy reach. The guy with her was looking at them too but didn't seem nervous. He must really be sheltered in his ivory tower somewhere, she thought. This could get ugly fast.

The young punks spotted Gabrielle and came over. She wasn't surprised. She was good looking and jerks like this were always hassling her when Xena wasn't around. She looked nervously at the young man with her. She'd have to make sure he didn't get hurt. He sure didn't look like he could handle himself. He put another piece of cheese in his mouth and sipped his wine, seeming completely unconcerned. Then he dabbed at his mouth.

"I love an older woman," one of the teenagers said, and put a hand on her shoulder. The other stood threateningly near her table mate. She shrugged the hand off. He was standing on her staff she saw. He was smarter than he looked but she could still handle him.

"You ought to go on your way. After you apologize to the lady here, that is." It was her companion speaking now pleasantly.

The kid laughed and looked at his friend expecting him to kick the crap out of this wimp. His friend just stood there though with a dopey look on his face. The long-haired young man stood up.

"Like I said, you need to apologize to the lady and be on your way."

Gabrielle jumped up and threw a punch at the young thug that connected. He cursed and raised his fist. Suddenly he was down and her table companion stood between them.

"Last chance," he said mildly. Gabrielle picked her staff up but the young guy said, "Let me handle this. You're my guest." Suddenly Gabrielle knew who he was. Before he'd still been growing. That was why she hadn't recognized him.

"Run! By the gods, run!"

The long-haired young man had a hurt look. "I'm helping you here, Gabrielle. This will be twice now."

"I don't want your help, Langland!"

The teenager got to his feet with blazing eyes. He pulled a knife and rushed the smaller man who sidestepped him easily and patted his shoulder in passing. Gabrielle jumped out of the way as the boy collapsed and began to shake.

Langland sauntered over and kicked the knife away. He smiled ironically at Gabrielle. "What a waste. Both of 'em would've been good for my army--as sword fodder anyway. Oh well. And you're not even appreciative. No good deed goes unpunished."

The young thug on the floor started banging his head then abruptly stopped shaking. His eyes stared and there was a bloody froth around his gritting teeth and bleeding from his ears. The bard looked at him in horror, then at his standing companion with the dopey look. She touched him and he fell over.

Langland paid the innkeeper. "Let me get this, Gabrielle." As he sauntered out of the inn, he said, "Say hello to Xena for me."

The other people in the inn watched her nervously, not sure how she was involved. They were afraid to touch the bodies, not knowing what had killed them. Gabrielle felt the same. The minutes crawled by. All she could do was wait for Xena.

With relief she finally looked up at a voice. "Gabrielle, where are..."

Xena stopped, came and knelt studying the bodies. She looked around her. "It's safe to touch them. You can take them out." She went to her friend and looked closely at her. "Are you all right?"

The bard nodded, and swallowed hard. "They...uh...they were messing with me. And I...uh... ran into someone who didn't like that."

Xena looked in her friend's eyes and at the bodies, killed by two different poisons. Whoever did this wanted to punish one more than the other. There was only one person she could imagine doing this.

"Langland say anything, Gabrielle?"

"Yeah, Xena. He said to say hello."

Part II

The village was a shambles but Gabrielle was relieved no one was dead. They had met the fleeing villagers. Luckily they were warned by hunters about the approaching bandits. The bard looked at Xena, not understanding why she was so grim. This wasn't bad at all compared to a lot of things they had seen. The warrior walked around studying everything.

"Come on, Gabrielle. Let's go," she finally said quietly.

"Tell me what's so bad, Xena."

"All right, I'll show you."

The bard looked curiously at her and followed the tall woman leading Argo to a temple outside the village. The village provided services to pilgrims, its sole business. Gabrielle began to understand what was bothering Xena. The doors were broken open. The strawberry blonde nervously entered the temple and saw shattered vases and broken furniture.

"By the gods, Xena!" Athena's statue was defiled, its head smeared with horse dung.

The warrior princess grimly said, "Let's get out of here, Gabrielle. Athena isn't Aphrodite. Whatever she does it won't be amusing."

They heard steps and watched a man walk in. He saw the statue and grimaced, then smiled at the two women.

"Xena...Gabrielle...what brings you to my mistress's temple?"

Gabrielle kept quiet for once. Xena said to the handsome young man, "Athena sent you to take care of this for her?"

He smiled earnestly but didn't say anything.

"What do you have to do with Athena?" the warrior princess asked suspiciously.

In response Langland took a medallion from inside his collar. Gabrielle thought she made out an owl. Xena said nothing.

The long-haired, almost pretty, man asked, "Glad to see me, Gabrielle?"

"No Langland."

He seemed hurt and looked to Xena as if for support but the warrior's face was stony. Langland got a faraway look then said, "My mistress wants you to help punish these blasphemers, Xena. Why I don't know. I can handle it."

The warrior frowned and to Gabrielle's amazement said, "All right."

"Nice to be on the same side," Langland said pleasantly, then turned and sauntered out.

The bard grabbed Xena's arm and asked furiously, "What's going on?"

Xena shook her hand off. "I don't have a choice, Gabrielle. Not if I don't want Athena as an enemy. And believe me, I don't!"

Gabrielle asked, "You're taking Langland's word for it?"

Xena answered, "He's wearing the token she gives her favorites. He's too smart to lie about that."

Outside the temple Langland waited on a brown horse next to Argo. "Care to ride with me, Gabrielle?"

"I'll walk. Thank you."

"Suit yourself." He started his horse in the direction the bandits had gone, leaving Xena and Gabrielle to follow him or not.

Xena mounted Argo and started him forward while Gabrielle walked as she always did.

They didn't see Langland again until near nightfall when they saw his camp. To the bard's surprise Xena dismounted and removed Argo's saddle.

"We're making camp with Langland?" Gabrielle whispered to her angrily.

"Yeah," Xena said. "Take care of Argo for me, will you? I want to talk with him." She walked off without waiting for an answer. Gabrielle felt herself flush angrily, then took the brush from the saddlebag and began combing the horse.

Langland was sitting in front of the fire and glanced at Xena as she sat down. She coldly said, "What's really going on? What's Athena up to? I'll just get in your way."

The boyishly handsome figure ran his hands through his long brown hair. "You got me. Maybe she's testing me. Maybe she's testing you. It could be about Gabrielle or your mare for all I know."

Xena looked at the fire in frustration. She hoped he would tell her some lie that would reveal a scheme. "Yeah," she growled.

"Sorry to disappoint you," he chuckled, and she glared at him. "Xena, you really shouldn't dislike me so much. I've done nothing but help you and Gabrielle."

She looked at him. "I know that, Langland. It's the way you help that I don't like. You killed those boys bothering Gabrielle when you didn't need to. You murdered Jilly. I don't care that you saved me and Gabrielle in the process. She's worth a thousand of you."

He grinned and said, "You can say that again! She's back and we're together now."

"What?" Xena said in disbelief.

"Oh, come on, Xena. Don't be so surprised. You've died and come back yourself. In the old days you wouldn't be caught dead with anyone who wasn't dangerous. What about Draco and Borias?"

Xena didn't have an answer for that. She changed the subject. "So what's your plan?"

Langland picked up a wineskin and looked questioningly at Xena. She hesitated then nodded. He took two cups from his saddlebag and filled them both. He exaggeratedly allowed her to choose the cup then sipped his wine. "Hmm, doesn't seem to be poison, Xena. Well, if I was handling this alone, I would simply kill them."

"All of 'em?" Xena said quietly. "It was probably only one or two."

He shrugged. "Whoever did it couldn't have without the others." He smiled. "Maybe this is what Athena wants: you to nobly save innocent lives from the ruthless avenger. What is the lesson to be learned? Perhaps I'm to learn mercy and compassion, OR perhaps you save someone who doesn't deserve it and some real innocent will die as a result. Thus a lesson for you in obedience." Langland chuckled.

"This whole thing stinks," Xena said and tasted her wine.

Gabrielle finished taking care of Argo and watched Xena and Langland sitting by the fire. She didn't like seeing them together. Langland personified a kind of evil that frightened the wits out of her: a cold calculating mind that never made a misstep from anger, fear or kindness. If Langland was cruel it was only because he thought the situation required it. He showed mercy for the same reason.

Xena finished her second cup of wine as Gabrielle joined them. She felt the bard's disapproval. Langland had the same opaque pleasant expression he always had. Zeus knew what he was hatching. She idly considered what he said about Jilly. What if she met him in the old days, Xena mused. She knew she would have underestimated him like so many others. Most of 'em were dead. She'd have spotted what he was before it came to that. Her lovers had been warriors like herself: Borias, Marcus, Jedic. Langland was just as lethal but in a different way. It would have tempted her. The only one at all like him was Julius Caesar. But while Caesar was calculating, he was a great general with an ego to match. Langland made Caesar look like a hothead.

The young man smiled at the way Xena was looking at him. Xena reacted exactly as he expected her too.

"I'm not a pipe for you to play on, Langland." Xena said to him coldly.

He smiled. "Oh?"

Xena couldn't help from smiling. She caught the look on Gabrielle's face.

Gabrielle woke to murmuring voices. It was the middle of the night and Xena and Langland were talking quietly, well away from her. She heard them chuckle. The bard gritted her teeth and hoped it was just some plan Xena hadn't let her in on.


The next morning when she awoke Langland was gone. Xena was preparing breakfast and had been throwing pebbles at her. The bard was relieved. "Where's our friend?" she said sarcastically.

Xena said without looking up, "Langland is trailing the bandits. We'll catch up with him later."

"Xena! Even if we have to work with him, how can you treat him like a human being? What's wrong with you?" Gabrielle couldn't keep it inside anymore.

The warrior princess said, "Eat your breakfast, Gabrielle. And where's that famous compassion and belief in people of your's, huh? People felt the same way about me as you do Langland. Think about it."

The bard wasn't buying it. "Xena, he's not you. He's not trying to change. He doesn't even want to change. And he kills people in ways you never did."

The dark woman looked away. "Gabrielle, you don't know a tenth of what I've done. And when I killed people in battle who didn't stand a chance, how is that better than Langland poisoning them. I also tricked enemies into killing each other and turned friends against each other, just like he does. That's what I tried to do with Ioalus and Hercules. He's just better at it than I ever was."


They were near some trees. Xena quietly said "hold it, Gabrielle," as she slid down off of Argo. She disappeared and returned moments later. "It's all right," she said grimly.

"What was it?" the bard asked.

"Never mind. Let's just go around."

The blonde looked at her then ran in the direction Xena had gone. The warrior took the horse's reins and followed. She caught up with her friend staring in shock at what she saw.

"Xena...did Langland do this? Is this it then--these are the men who defiled Athena's temple?" She spoke in a choked voice. Five corpses were scattered around a campfire, four of them gritted their teeth and appeared to have torn their own eyes out. The fifth body looked relatively peaceful with a slashed throat.

Xena answered, "No. Langland would've waited for us if this was the end of it, since Athena wants us to cooperate." The warrior indicated the grimacing bodies. "He did that to make this one talk. He must've cooperated since Langland only cut his throat. Though I think Langland stayed around after that and used their fire to make something to eat."

The bard shuddered uncontrollably. "Who were they?"

"Bandits that left the main group. Maybe they found out about the temple desecration and wanted to put distance between themselves and whoever did it."

Gabrielle was trying to get a handle on what Langland had done. "So they were probably innocent?"

Xena walked back to Argo. "That's not how gods look at things, Gabrielle. If they knew about the desecration they should've punished whoever did it themselves."

"How could that monster do this?" the bard cried.

Xen said, "Don't blame Langland. He's just doing what Sweet Athena wants, Gabrielle.


"Gabrielle, move!" Langland snapped. She looked suspciously at him, then grunted as the butt of a spear doubled her over and a big warrior grinned down at her. She heard his curse as he barely managed to block Langland's sword with the spear. He dropped the spear and drew his own sword. From the ground Gabrielle watched a big filthy warrior in furs sneering at Langland who seemed half his size. The smaller man weaved his sword carefully. Gabrielle was surprised. She never thought of Langland actually fighting. Langland attacked the fur-clad warrior and a blow to his face sent him reeling. The barbarian laughed and spat to the side. Gabrielle grabbed the warrior's discarded spear up. She hit him in the back of the head as Langland did some tricky move to get under the man's guard and drove his sword into his gut. The huge warrior went down with a groan and a curse but grabbed Langland's ankle with a big tatooed hand. Breathing raggedly, Langland yanked his sword out and slashed down at an awkward angle. It took six blows to take the head off. The hand on his ankle relaxed. Langland dropped the sword and bent over with his hands on his knees, shaking.

"Are you all right?" the bard asked as she painfully approached. Langland would have a huge bruise on his face later and he was splattered with blood. He nodded but didn't look up. "I didn't move when you warned me. You could've been killed rushing him like that. I mean...look at him!"

Langland straighted up, wiped his mouth and looked at the blood on his hand. He smiled wryly at her. "Don't get too excited, Gabrielle. I'm sure to do something else to make you hate me."

Gabrielle wet a cloth from her water bag and started cleaning his face "Yeah, you're probably right. Hold still."


Since she was a better tracker, Xena volunteered to handle that and Langland assented. With what Langland had learned from the men he killed they were much closer. Nearing sunset, Xena stopped in surprise as she entered their camp. Gabrielle and Langland were sitting near one another easily, the bard working on a scroll and the long-haired young man writing in a small bound volume. They looked up at her approach and she saw his face.

"What happened?"

"We ran into some trouble, Xena. It's all right," the bard said.

"What kind of trouble?"

Langland said, "A robber. We killed him."

Xena stared. "WE?"

"Well, me," Langland said.

"Can I talk to you," Xena said to her friend. The bard followed her out of Langland's earshot. He went back to working on whatever he'd been doing.

Gabrielle explained, "Xena, this big ugly bandit jumped us. Langland told me to move but I wouldn't listen and I got clobbered. Then Langland and him fought."

Xena said, "What was that 'we' stuff?"

Gabrielle looked uncomfortable. "Well, I hit him just as Langland stabbed him. I don't know if I changed anything or not."

The warrior princess listened carefully. "It was a setup, Gabrielle. It must've been. I've been thinking all day and you were right the other night. Well, now it's you he's got fooled."

The bard looked with surprise at her friend. "He told me to move and I didn't. That's all. How could he set that up? And he was almost killed, Xena. You didn't see the fight."

"He KNEW you wouldn't listen, that's how. Why didn't he use a poison dart?" Xena said.

"Xena, there wasn't time! He was right on top of me and Langland just went for him. I didn't think he had it in him, to tell you the truth."

The dark woman made a disgusted sound. "Listen to yourself! He's playing you just like he was playing me. Just like he played Jilly before he murdered her probably. Stay away him, Gabrielle."

"By the gods, Xena. Something about him really gets under your skin doesn't it?" Gabrielle said in a wondering voice. "You like him. That's it. And you hate the idea."

Xena turned on her heels and walked back into camp without a word. Langland looked up. The warrior stared down at him. "On the off chance you didn't plan the whole thing, thank you."

The young man smiled softly. "My pleasure, Xena...whether I planned the whole thing or not."


Later that evening Xena glanced over at Langland for what seemed like the hundredth time. She was afraid Gabrielle was right. She did like him even though she despised him. It made her uncomfortable. He was still scribbling away like he was every minute they weren't on horseback.

The warrior princess asked, "What's that you're working on all the time?"

Langland handed the small volume to her. She saw foreign symbols of some kind. "Is it in code?"

He took it back and shook his head smiling. "No. It's a mathematical problem I'm working on."

She looked at him suspiciously. He made her feel stupid and she didn't like it. "What kind of problem?"

"Xena..." he started to say as if speaking to a child, but stopped at the look she gave him. "All right, I'm trying to prove subatomic particles can exist in more than one place simultaneously."

She stared at him. "No. Nothing can exist in more than one place at the same time."

"Spoken like a true Aristotelian," he said with a smile.

"Who?" Xena asked.


"There they are," Xena said. Langland stood beside her and Gabrielle came up and looked. It was late afternoon. They were on a hill in some woods. Smoke from several fires were coming up from a camp far below them. "I got in close for a look. They're amateurs, Langland. Some older third raters who wouldn't last in a real army and kids who don't know the difference. The men you killed were the only ones any good at all."

The bard said, "Why would anyone like that defile Athena's temple?"

Xena was going to answer but Langland beat her to it. "Just a stupid prank, probably. Somebody who wanted to impress his friends by being outrageous. When I first saw it, I thought it might conceivably be a cultist. But it's just some dumb kid."

Gabrielle looked at him then at Xena. The warrior nodded in agreement.

"Well, what are we going to do then?" the warrior said to the man.

Langland raised his eyebrows and said, "We already had this conversation. Why don't you leave? You helped track them; that should be enough. You won't like what I'm going to do."

Gabrielle said, "What? But you just said it was probably only one of them and just a stupid kid at that."

Langland walked to his waiting horse. "One of them defiled the temple of Athena. His companions assisted him whether they knew it or not. By dying they will serve as an example." He remounted and smiled at her. "I told you I'd do something else to make you hate me."

Xena responded, "Like you said, we already had this conversation. I'm not going to let you kill 'em all. I'll take care of it."

"I don't think so, Xena."

She paused and then said, "I'll discover who defiled the temple and hand him over to you."

Langland sat easily on his brown horse listening to her. He shrugged. "All right. This is something Athena is setting up with you anyway. I'm not gonna fight about it--that is as long as whoever committed the sacrilege is punished. But Athena is my mistress, Xena, and I'll do whatever it takes. You've got until sunset tomorrow. After that I'll handle it my way." He rode off.

The bard looked at her friend. "Xena..."

The warrior princess said, "I guess Langland really didn't arrange for that robber. Maybe he's not so bad."

"Gods, Xena. You just heard him!"

Xena looked at her friend and said, "Wait for me. This shouldn't be any problem."

Gabrielle said pathetically, "Are you really going to hand some boy over to Langland? Can't you outwit him like you usually do?"

Xena frowned at her. "Gabrielle, someone smeared horse dung on the statue of Athena. She won't forget that. Make up your mind. One dying or all of 'em? And I can't outwit Langland even if I wanted to. I might be able to kill him, but that's not the same thing."

"There has to be another choice!" the bard cried.

"There's not," Xena said flatly.

"Okay, Xena," Gabrielle said defeatedly.


The boy was blubbering as Xena roughly pushed him into the camp. It was nearly sunset. Gabrielle jumped up, her face red. Langland closed the little volume he held, carefully marking his place. He stood up with a smile.

The bard grabbed her staff up but then didn't have it anymore. Xena held it. Langland sauntered over to stand over the boy by the fire. He put his hands on his hips and shook his head disapprovingly.

"Thanks, Xena. I'll take it from here," Athena's favorite said lightly.

"Just get it over with, Langland. I'm not leaving to let you torture him," Xena said coldly. She kept an eye on Gabrielle, afraid she'd try something else.

Langland smiled and said, "Whatever you say, Xena." He flicked a hand at the cowering youth.

"What's going on, Xena?" Gabrielle cried. The warrior watched the blubbering boy. Her face paled as the youth began screaming and flopping uncontrollably. The warrior princess pulled her sword and struck ending it.

"Are you sure he was the only one, Xena?" Langland asked seriously. "Athena will know if he's not."

The warrior looked at the boy's body. Whatever Langland used continued to eat away at him and he was beginning to smoke. She carefully wiped her sword off and said, "Yeah, he was definitely the only one. It was like you said. Just a stupid prank. His friend told him how bad it was and that he shouldn't tell anyone else. That was good advice."

The long-haired young man got a distant look again and Xena knew Athena was communicating with him. "The other must die also. He should have denounced him. Athena demands his death."

The warrior princess tossed a cheap knife on the ground beside the corpse. "I already have, Langland."

"Excellent!" Gabrielle said with relish. The little bard walked over and picked the knife up smiling. Then she kicked the smoking dead body.

Xena looked at her. "Athena."

The goddess smiled with Gabrielle's sweet grin. An owl flew up and landed on her head before being shooed off. "Oh boy, Xena. Such a noble clever warrior! I should have taken you as my favorite and not allowed my brother to have you. You killed the other because you wanted him to die mercifully, knowing Langland would make them suffer for their sacrilege."

"Where is Gabrielle, Athena?" Xena asked simply.

The little blonde said, "I took her place this morning, Xena." The bard waved her hand and another Gabrielle stood beside her, looking disoriented. Athena-Gabrielle walked up to Langland using the bard's bouncy step. "My crafty killer, my beautiful man! I love you deeply, Langland. You knew it was me hours ago."

He nodded. Athena-Gabrielle grinned and squeezed his arm just like the bard would do to someone.

"How about you, Xena?" the goddess asked.

"I was never sure but I suspected this morning. She's crankier than that when she wakes up."

"Hey!" the real Gabrielle said, coming out of her daze.

The goddess walked over and looked smiling into Gabrielle's face, began shimmering and resolved into a beautiful young woman with dark hair and gray eyes. She wore a simple chiton but carried an Athenian style helmet under one arm. "You hit me quite hard when Langland stabbed me. You've become most skillful with your staff."

"The robber was you?" Gabrielle said in amazement.

"What was the point, Athena? What were we supposed to learn?" Xena asked.

The goddess, now with a serious dignity about her, answered, "There was no lesson, Xena. I wanted to see how you and Langland were together. I was thinking of breeding you."

Xena managed to keep her mouth shut but to her surprise Langland exclaimed, "I love Jilly. I don't want anyone else."

The goddess looked disdainfully at him. "What you want is not an issue, Langland. However, the coupling would be too dangerous. The Fates have warned it would produce a child with your craft and Xena's talents. Zeus forbids such a being unleashed at this juncture."

"Thank the gods!" Gabrielle said emotionally, then cringed at the look Athena gave her.

The owl returned, settling on her shoulder this time. The goddess said, "farewell," and disappeared in an explosion of mirrored shards.

Gabrielle said, "You know, if you look at it, it's really kind of flattering, don't you think?"

Langland and Xena looked at her then caught each others' eyes. Xena said to her friend, "Remember that when a god wants to breed YOU with somebody because he wants an irritating little warrior."

The End