The tomb was still dark early in the morning; Xena lit a torch and held it high so that she could see around the room.
It was much as she remembered-- decorated in earthen tones, a simple room, if large, with sparse ornamentation and a sarcophagus in the middle. Xena lowered the torch slightly as she moved across the stone floor to stand next to the coffin; her hand reached out and grazed the edge of it. Her eyes shone in the dim light, wet with tears, remembering.
He wouldnít want this, mother had argued. Your brother was a simple man.
He died defending his home-- which is more than I can say for you and Toris, Xena had replied. She remembered that she had been shaking with anger.
Lyceus would have wanted a simple burial, Cyrene had continued. Not some elaborate monument like this. That wasnít his nature.
Xena had shaken her head and growled, What would you know? He stood with me until the end. He was a warrior-- and a man. He deserves to be remembered.
Cyrene had narrowed her eyes. This isnít about your brother, itís about you! You want a trophy you can show everyone that says, "I beat Cortese! I saved the city!"
Xena had trembled in fury.
Well, you did beat him, Xena... at the cost of your brotherís life.
Never before-- and never since-- had Xena hit her mother. Cyrene had looked at her, aghast, and walked away in silence. And thatís the last time we saw one another, Xena thought as she ran her fingers absently over the mask that covered her brotherís face, the vague resemblance familiar to her fingers. What would have happened had you lived? Xena wondered, a tear sliding down her cheek. By Ares, I did love you, Lyceus. I still do.
She sighed and looked up at the ceiling, wiping away the tear. "I always seem to lose the men that I love," she murmured, thinking of her brother, of the father she had barely known, of Marcus, of the others whom Xena had thought might make a difference in her life. Itís not like I need them to survive, she mused, looking back down at the coffin. I can take care of myself. But itís nice to be loved. Thatís something Iíve had all too little of in my life.
"What do you think, Lyceus?" she asked, the ghost of a smile on her face. "Is Petricles the one? Will he make me happy, like you did, when we were children..."
Xena lowered her head. Unbidden memories returned to her, running in the fields of Amphipolis with Lyceus, a year her junior. He was always laughing, always smiling, and he made Xena laugh when he would wind flowers in her hair or chase her into the river. They would play at being warriors; Lyceus had a stick that was his sword, and he would wave it in the air wildly and run off into the trees. He was always getting dirty, always getting wet, and she was right with him, mud up to her thighs, or grass stains on her knees. Cyrene would cluck at them when the two came home, but the next day they would be out in the fields again, fighting the Trojans or the Romans or someone else, getting filthy in the service of some imaginary king.
She remembered the night Lyceus came home late; he was about fourteen. Xena had been helping out at the tavern and he was supposed to have been with her; but he had snuck away after the dinner rush, and he came back with a huge smile on his face and a bounce in his step. Xena had said nothing, imitating her mother; cold shoulder, silent treatment, an occasional stern glance over her shoulder. She was all too aware of what her blue eyes could do, even then; Matthias had made sure to tell her. Finally Lyceus had stepped back outside, and he had come in with a handful of wild flowers. Slowly he had crept up behind her and he had slipped one in her hair behind her ear. Xena had been unable to contain herself; she had started laughing, and she turned to face him, her face split in a grin as wide as his. "Well?" she had asked.
"I kissed her," Lyceus had whispered.
Xena had giggled. "Really?"
Lyceus had nodded dopily, and was about to tell her more when Cyrene had entered with a tray full of empty goblets and dirty bowls. The two of them immediately got back to work, with a reproving look from their mother; but they had giggled the rest of the night.
Xena closed her eyes, letting the feeling of missing him wash over her.
"A year later you were dead," she murmured, her hand caressing the cool stone face that was and wasnít her brotherís. "And I was alone, until I forged my army."
I donít have to be alone forever, she thought. "You wouldnít want that, would you, Lyceus?" She smiled faintly, her lips barely curling. "You would have wanted me with Matthias, Iím sure. I doubt you would have liked Petricles..."
Dark hair rustled as she shook her head. "I wish you could answer me, sometimes. You were the only person in my whole life that Iíve ever known who had no guile, no... agenda. You were just..." She smiled, and she felt a tear running down her cheek. "You were so special to me, and he took you."
Xena bent over, the tear dripping from her face to his stone features, and sliding down his cheek. She kissed the other cheek gently, her soft lips touching the cool stone. One last time she ran her hand lovingly over his features, letting her fingers touch his forehead, his eyes, his nose; she rested her hand on his chin, and then, after a space, she withdrew it.
"Good bye, Lyceus," she said, staring down at the stone relief of his face. "Iíll always miss you," she murmured. "But I donít think youíd want me to be alone the rest of my life." She shook her head and turned to go, holding the torch up so she could see better. Then she opened the door and was momentarily blinded by the bright sunlight, streaming into the cavern and forcing her to blink as her eyes tried to adjust.
The club smacked her in the shoulder, knocking her down and forcing her to drop the torch.
"Kill her!" a reedy voice shrieked.
Xena rolled away from the club wielder, trying to get her back to the outside of the tomb. Something else struck her back-- something hard, and she grimaced as she got to her feet.
She had to duck immediately-- the club came whistling in, and only years of experience as a warrior saved her as she dodged, the heavy weapon zipping past her ear and thudding against the stone wall of Lyceusí tomb.
Xena dove forward toward the man, lowering her head and ploughing into his chest. They went down in a tangle of arms and legs, and she stabbed two fingers into his throat. She rolled off of him, drawing her sword in one smooth motion and throwing her cape off with her other arm. The man stayed down, his fingers on his throat, gasping for air.
Xena took a brief glance around; there were still nine men, all of them armed, all of them coming toward her. Dammit, this isnít good, she thought as she sheathed her sword and flipped backwards twice to give herself some room. She drew the sword again and ran through the first man who attacked her, a bald man with a tiger tattoo running up his arm. He sighed as the sword slid into his stomach, and he doubled over, falling to the ground.
Xena heard a twang not far off; she reached up and plucked the arrow out of the air, tossing it aside. "Two can play at that game," she hissed as she pulled the chakram from her belt. Before she could throw it, though, another man had moved up to engage her, his curved scimitar flashing in the sunlight. He slashed at her quickly, but by now the warrior princess was prepared, and she slapped the sword aside and stabbed him in the shoulder; he fell back, and Xena lunged at him with her sword; it sank into his throat, and he gargled up blood as he fell to the grass.
The men hesitated, but Xena took advantage of the lull to loose the chakram; it sliced through the air, hitting one manís helmet, denting it, and he fell; but the disc ricocheted, and headed straight for the archer. The man raised his bow to block it; but the chakram cut through the wood and sank into his chest. He pitched forward.
"Five to one," Xena said, raising an eyebrow. "Are we still feeling frisky, boys?"
Two of them charged her with long staves, and for a second she regretted loosing her chakram too soon. One man landed a blow on her shin even as she spun from the other. The blow slowed her down, and the first man hit her again; but her armored shoulder pad caught much of the force of the blow, and Xena stepped in and stabbed him in the side. He fell, and she somersaulted over him and thrust outward with her sword, piercing the thigh of the other staff-bearer. He tried to grab her sword as he fell, but she wrenched it free before his hands could grasp the blade. He sank to one knee, and then the other, alive, but very much out of the fight.
Alric turned to the small, robed figure hiding behind an outcropping of rock. "Go!" he barked.
"No!" the voice said. "There are still three of you. Kill her!"
He risked a glance back. "Leave. If she gets past me, sheíll kill you. Go!"
Xena eyed the last three opponents; one was a dark skinned, dark-haired man with a long scar across his chest. He leapt forward with incredible speed and kicked Xena, knocking her sword away and sending her sprawling. She rolled to a crouch, but the man was on top of her, and he kicked her in the ribs. She felt a stabbing pain and hoped nothing too serious was broken. He lashed out again, hitting her in the side once more, but Xena pinned his leg against her aching side and stabbed his thigh with two fingers on her other hand. He freed his leg, but as soon as he put any weight on it, he fell. He tried to get up, but his leg was numb.
The next one came forward; he wore brown leather armor, and he drew a pair of long wavy knives, almost like sacrificial daggers, and wove them in a pattern that soon turned into a silvery blur. Xena favored her right side, where she had been kicked; she tried to circle him, keeping him at a distance, when she was slammed from the other side. The punch hit her like a sledgehammer, connecting with her temple, and she felt faint as she fell to the ground.
No! she cried inside as she hit the ground. I will not die here.