The Xena Scrolls
Scroll # 40: The Execution
By: Gabrielle Bard of Potedia
April, 47 B.C.
The story of Meleager was coursing through my heart as Xena and I rode into the next kingdom upon Argo. For all hope had been lost to the people of Potedia until Meleager appeared returning to the village crushing Damon’s troops. He had single-handedly pulled a war wagon full of spartan javelins over twenty leagues of rocky road to save a people who loved him very dearly. At least that was how I had remembered the story although Xena seemed board of hearing it for the sixteenth time. I could not help my excitement for I had not seen Meleager in almost eight seasons. Yet Xena seemed a little irritated that I was telling such passionate stories about one of my life’s greatest heroes. Xena didn’t believe in Meleager the way that I did, but it was only because she had not yet met him. I was certain that she would feel less suspicious once she got to know him. Suddenly it dawned on me that maybe Xena was jealous of my complements for Meleager so I asked if it bothered her. Naturally she replied with a no, but I was not so certain that she was confident in that answer. I decided that maybe she needed a reminder of how passionate my stories of her always are. Not even Meleager the Mighty can top my adventures with Xena. I would not want things any other way.
Yet it was still wonderful to receive a message from my old friend although it only contained two words. Meleager’s message was “come quick” and nothing more. This peaked my curiosity for it sounded a bit troubling to me. As I wondered about this Xena was just finishing tying off Argo at the saddle post. We began traveling through town only to notice a barrage of people walking out of one of the buildings in the alley. There were four men walking swiftly as if there were something serious going on. I decided to stop one of them and ask if he had seen Meleager, but when I tried to ask him my question he brushed me off with urgency. His only response to me was that he was sorry and that he had to get to court. Then Xena and I watched him follow the others across the square toward the town court. Xena just looked at me when I inquired silently. She appeared uninterested in what was going on. It really didn’t matter. Whatever the trouble was here it had not been the reason for our coming.
Although I was still curious, but Xena was already into the next moment scouting the square trying to decide where to look for Meleager. Hands on hips demonstrating a slight bit of impatience the warrior princess looked into the direction of the tavern. She suggested that we start there. I found that idea to be a bit ridiculous for I was certain that the tavern would be the last place we would be likely to find Meleager. If for no other reason than the fact that in the past Meleager had his little drinking problem. It wasn’t something I often liked to mention and I could not remember if I had told Xena that part of the story before. She looked to me reminding me with a candid glance that she remembered that part of the story clearly. It was not something I liked to broadcast for even the warrior princess has her flaws. Those don’t include drinking of course. Xena seemed skeptical that Meleager was able to quit his drinking binges to sober up to save my village from Damon’s army, but he had. That was the most admirable part of the story. If someone could gather the courage to stop drinking to fight an army then there was no doubt in my mind that Meleager would never set foot in a tavern again. Xena wasn’t so certain. She seemed to be mocking the idea that a person could succeed at this. As we continued on toward the tavern to satisfy Xena’s judgements she explained to me of how she had seen many men destroyed by the very same flaw.
It was then that I knew she would never be convinced and so I politely asked that we stop discussing this unpleasant topic. It was too personal even for Meleager.
Just as my words cheerfully escaped from my lips a rather gruff man with a large sword and entourage approached us. He inquired if he had heard us right. The man wanted to know if I had indeed said that Meleager was my friend. With confidence and pride I confirmed that he had heard this correctly. I was certain that he must be a friend to Meleager as well. These men that followed him must have all been trained by the mighty Meleager. Though our friend could not drink surely there were many toasts made in his name. Yet the response was not what I had expected. The gruff young warrior violently drew his weapon and declared that we christen the battle with him and his men. He moved quickly into an offensive mode swinging his sword across both Xena and I. We responded quickly ducking to miss his unexpected attack upon us. I jumped back three steps putting out my staff not ready to defend hoping that this was all just a misunderstanding. Again I shouted out that we were friends of Meleager, but Xena was already in a warrior sweat. She was tossing men over her shoulders as they approached her for attack. Xena called out to me trying to get my attention. She was certain that these guys were not so friendly for they were our enemies and not friends. It was all so sudden and confusing, but I found myself dodging the men Xena was throwing over her shoulder trying to get out-of-the-way. I found myself fighting to help Xena calm everyone down as Xena continued to do battle in hand to weapon combat. The enemy was fully armed and ready. Xena was pressing for an opportunity to gain control. She never did draw her weapon. Xena fought all six men with the fury of the fist and the thunder of her boots.
I decided that it would be to my own advantage to gain a higher vantage point. There was a long table in the market square so I jumped upon it and began to defend the advancing attackers from above. This strategy of defense worked pretty well as I was able to jump and dodge their blows and knocking them over the head since they were at my boots. Yet one of the men was able to jump onto the table from behind while I was distracted by the sounds of Xena’s boots running up the side of a building and her battle cry. My enemy was fully armed with a blade. He parried into my defensive stance breaking it sending me spinning around. I had almost lost my balance. Suddenly he was upon me on the table. I was unprepared to defend so I ducked and swept his feet with my staff. This move was pure adrenaline, but I was impressed with my ability to recover. Suddenly as I was defeating my enemy I heard the sounds of a large crash just to my right. When I glanced over I realized that our battle had just ended. Xena had thrown the aggressive rogue leader into several barrels in the market. He was unable to return to his feet. Xena and I had left a path of destruction without drawing a single drop of blood. It was impressive.
When I approached Xena grabbed the enemy shaking him hoping to get some answers to his violent advances. The man was nearly unconscious yet still full of fire and rage. He had only the strength to say that if we had come for Meleager we were too late. Then he passed out. I looked to Xena realizing that those men we had seen rushing off to court must have been the jury off to give their final verdict. On what we did not know, but somehow it seemed to be the reason that Meleager had called upon us to come quick. Just moments later Xena and I were busting down the doors of the court where the most unfriendly of the town were entertaining themselves. The scene looked dramatic as I scanned the court room for Meleager. Then the most unimaginable events began to unfold. It was like a bad dream as Xena asked with a sarcastic tone if maybe the man in chains on the witness stand was indeed Meleager the Mighty. When I looked up I was devastated. The ungrateful people in this town had chained his wrists and put him on display in a courtroom drama.
Meleager seemed cheerful despite his situation as he proclaimed how glad he was to see us, but not so satisfied with our timing. He joked about it explaining that the verdict had just been given. Meleager was guilty, but of what I did not know. I did not care for I was certain that whatever he had been accused of it had not been true. I’d seen this happen once before with Xena. When Ares the god of war had set her up making it look like she was a murderer when in fact she had been a healer and a defender. It had to be the same with Meleager. Only I had to find out. I wanted to give my defense for him, but I had to approach the judge politely. He said that his name was Arbus. The sound of his name was smooth and calculated yet Xena interrupted declaring that she had heard judge Arbus to be a just and fair man. Arbus thanked the warrior princess for her complements and then asked me what my relationship was to the defendant. I explained that I was a friend to Meleager.
Although I felt uncomfortable I suddenly found myself challenging the verdict explaining why Meleager could not have been guilty. I didn’t care what the crime may have been. Suddenly I went into defense of Meleager the Mighty as I asked the spectators and the jury to consider the names of the heroes we turn to in our times of darkness. I mentioned Hercules the obvious one and of course Meleager. I was certain that there was not a person out there who had not heard of Meleager’s exploits in the tavern. That was how I had come to know him. I began to recall them beginning with the 100 warriors of the evil Dulcecan that Meleager had slain, and I went onto remind them of the 317 rogue Lagruians that he had taken down. I was on a roll and so excited to come to his defense that I found myself caught up in his legend for Meleager corrected me stating that it had only been 300 men. He reiterated modestly that it had all been in the name of saving the lives of the innocent. I followed up reminding the crowd that despite the numbers and the legends he was a good man and a hero. His path was of a righteous warrior and a champion of the greater good. I swore my own honor by him to demonstrate how true all of this was to me and about Meleager.
Then I looked to the judge after giving my heart-felt plea. Arbus paused seemingly contemplating all that I had said. Then Arbus looked up and stood explaining that though my testimony was moving he could not allow the heart to sway his judgement. Therefore the defendant was found to be guilty of murder. His sentence would be death carried out in one turn of the sand glass. Arbus had dropped the axe upon Meleager and pulled the rug out from my heart. I could not believe what I had just heard. It was like another nightmare. How this could be was a mystery to me. As the sentence and judgement were passed the men of the court took Meleager to the town prison while the people prepared for the execution in the square. I watched as the sand fell into the glass as it was posted for all to see. It was madness. Everyone was so eager for vengeance on anyone regardless of their guilt or innocence. This was worse than when Xena had been tried. She knew that she was up against Ares, but it seemed to me that Meleager was up against an unfair Arbus. I didn’t care what the people said. There was no way that Arbus could have been fair in Meleager’s trial.
As Xena and I were down in the prison with Meleager we discussed these issues. Unfortunately for Meleager he had the privilege of watching the people prepare his hanging rope through the bars of his cell. He felt that the only thing that was to be discussed was how to execute him either by hanging, beheading, or tearing his limbs apart. Meleager was hoping for beheading or even being torn apart, but hanging had won out. He spoke with sarcasm and a slight humor although his impending death was not a humorous subject. Even a strong spirited warrior like Meleager could not laugh about his own execution. I was furious as I confirmed with Meleager that he was innocent. It was even ridiculous for me to have to even ask him about it. Meleager was deeply disappointed that Xena did not believe in him. He was upset that Xena had seemingly passed judgement on him without knowing the truth of who he was. Yet Xena quickly defended her suspicions stating that although she didn’t know Meleager she knew me very well. Then she stated that she also knew that a judge could make a mistake. She was very interested in hearing Meleager’s story. Xena asked for more details about the one who had been killed and how it happened.
Meleager was eager to share what he knew with Xena. He explained that the murder had happened last winter and the victim had been a man named Akalman. Meleager stated that he had never even met this man before and that he had not even been in town at the time. When he had passed through town again recently he suddenly found himself under an arrest directed by Arbus. Now he was in the middle of a controversy becoming the accused on trial about to be executed. It seemed to me that Arbus just wanted to make an example out of Meleager for he had been unable to track down the real murderer. Xena was quick to disagree with me explaining that Arbus was not known for jumping upon an accusation. She went onto explain her knowledge of the trial of Valker the Vicious. Xena told of how the towns people had wanted to tear Valker apart, but Arbus did not allow it until sufficient evidence was able to be presented to prove his guilt. The warrior princess was not so certain that Arbus was capable of making a fatal mistake. Although Xena had a good argument for Arbus I was still not convinced that he couldn’t be wrong. I reminded Xena of how sometimes these vengeance cases can spiral out of control. Xena could not deny this for she knew exactly what I was referring to. I decided to give Arbus and Xena’s arguement for him the benefit of my doubt for a moment asking Xena if he had been acquitted as a result of careful trial. Xena chose not to answer so I knew the outcome had not been so positive for Valker despite his vicious nature. Xena seemed just as torn as I felt. She looked to Meleager with sympathy in her eyes knowing that Arbus was also a tough law man. She decided to go talk to Arbus herself to find out if there was more to the story. I decided that I would try to help Meleager get his mind off of the issue at hand by hopefully lightening the conversation, but it led back to murder in the end.
In fact, Meleager told me the whole story from his point of view. He explained to me that there was indeed one witness that he had known of who could tell the truth. It was a man who had only one eye. I was full of excitement when I found out about this witness for it was just what we needed to prove to Arbus that Meleager was not the killer. Quickly I ran to find Xena for our mission was clear. We had to search for this witness. He had to be nearby for Meleager said that the man lived in a neighboring village. As I searched through the town and the square I found that there was a pandemonium of sorts. I ran into a Salmoneous type salesman offering fake reproductions of the murder weapon that had never been found. This only lended more evidence to his case for innocence. As I rushed through the square I saw people lining up to get a spot for viewing the execution. They were arguing with each other as if they were going to miss something if they didn’t get the best spot. It was sickening, but I kept searching for Xena. Finally I had found her. She had just been talking with judge Arbus. I was certain that she had been able to convince him to retry Meleager.
Xena explained to me that it was not the case for Arbus had heard of her reputation and past. He did not trust Xena despite her changed ways. She even went onto say that if Arbus had been able to come up with enough evidence against her he would try her for her past crimes against humanity. Although I did not like his attitude toward Xena she seemed to be understanding about it going onto explain that the judge was a good man. She spoke of how Arbus seemed to be a good leader and of how he told of the star witness. In fact, Arbus had introduced this witness to Xena and she told her story. She had witnessed the crime on that night. The woman had stated that she had seen the victim stumbling out of the horse stables in the dark falling to his death. He had been badly wounded. When the woman had approached the victim lying on the ground that was when she had seen Meleager walking out of the stables with the bloody sword in his hand. It was then that Xena asked me to stop. She told me that I should stop chasing the man with one eye. When I told her about him she thought that Meleager was talking about a cyclops. I was insulted that Xena didn’t believe in Meleager. Yet I was more hurt that Xena didn’t believe in me. She didn’t trust in my judgement of people and for this Meleager would have to die. I could not let it happen. If Xena would not help Meleager with me then I would help him on my own. As I ran Xena tried to stop me, but I didn’t want to waste time talking when I could be acting.
I did take Xena’s advice in one way. Quickly I scouted the market for the best food and wine that could be offered. Every dinar that I had I spent for I wanted Meleager’s last meal to be the best. After about an hour I had purchased a large cart containing fruit, and wine, and all of the trimmings available. When I entered the prison the guards were suspicious of what I had covered underneath the cart. They were certain that I had brought the warrior princess, but instead I had brought them bliss. Although Meleager found himself utterly disappointed that he would not be able to participate in the consumption of his last meal it did not matter for I had plans. Once the guards had consumed all of the food and wine there was little left for Meleager. Soon after their feast the guards fell victim to their own gluttony as they fell into sleep one by one. As soon as the last man began to snore I went for the keys to Meleager’s door. If Xena and I weren’t going to find his witness then he would have to find the man. Meleager seemed pleased that I was able to come up with such an excellent escape. I urged him to hurry and find his freedom. As I opened the door to let him out he grabbed a weapon from one of the sleeping guards and urged me to leave town as soon as possible. He was certain that I would find my own trial and punishment if I did not go right away. In a moment and a blink he was gone disappearing back out into the world, but I wasn’t so lucky for one of the guards had just awakened and I found myself being dragged out into the town square. An angry mob surrounded me led by the man who Xena and I had made enemies with when we had entered into town earlier. He led in the action against me as the crowd began to tear me apart limb by limb. I cried out for them to stop, but nobody heard me.
Just when I thought that my life was about to end painfully I heard Xena whistling for Argo. Argo responded to Xena with great loyalty as she broke free from the stable post. Suddenly I heard Xena’s battle cry as the warrior princess jumped into the middle of the mob to separate them from my limbs. Xena meant business as she pulled her weapon ready to injure the next person who tried their luck with her. The mob was still poking and prodding attempting to find a way though the warrior princess. Xena stood strong as the crowd continued to grow more enraged. It was all out of control until judge Arbus entered the square and shouted out for order. Suddenly everyone melted into silence as Arbus approached the center of the crowd. He declared that I would be held responsible for the release of Meleager the Mighty. However, I explained my actions to Arbus hoping he would understand that Meleager was only trying to prove his innocence. The judge ignored my pleas again. He was ready to lynch me, but only after my trial. Xena stepped into the battle of Arbus and myself. She declared to Arbus that she would seek out and find Meleager. Xena vowed to Arbus to bring Meleager back to serve his sentence. I felt very alone in that moment despite my life having been saved for the moment. Xena then ordered Arbus to allow her to take me with her before she would bring Meleager back.
Arbus agreed to Xena’s terms, but promised that if she did not return with Meleager he would send men out to find us all. Xena agreed to Arbus’s terms and then pushed me to move forward forcing me to participate in Meleager’s capture. I was angry at Xena. Furious with hurt for Xena did not understand and seemingly did not care about justice for Meleager. I did not understand why the warrior princess was so determined to make Meleager face an unneccesary death. As we rode out-of-town I argued with her and refused to help her track down an innocent man. She explained to me that the only way to find the truth was to bring Meleager back first and then ask Arbus more questions. It seemed to me that Arbus had already asked all of the questions he was willing to ask. Xena was so focased that it was making me uneasy. She declared that Meleager was going north for if he were to reach Gaul he would be able to roam without being questioned of his crimes. Gaul was a rough country without much in the way of law and order. I desperately hoped that he would be able to out run the warrior princess. Yet she was so good at tracking that I dreaded what would come next. I tried desperately to plead with Xena to give Meleager a chance, but she had already made up her mind. There was no changing it. She was too stubborn to notice the truth in front of her that was always loyal and walked beside her.
We rode on through the open pass for another hour traveling north upon Xena’s anticipation. I spotted a thick line of trees just up ahead. My hope was that those trees were the way to Gaul for if Meleager had made it there it would be much more difficult for Xena to capture him. Suddenly Xena began to call to Argo to pick up the pace. I tried to see if I could spot something up ahead. Just off in the distance was Meleager upon a horse. He was just about into the woods. Xena was determined and closing in fast as I desparately called out to Meleager to warn him of our approach. I hoped that he could make his way to safety, but Xena was too quick. Moments after Meleager had disappeared into the woods Argo stopped as I dismounted hoping to be able to stand between Meleager and his enemy. Xena dismounted just behind me. I wanted Xena to just let him go. Yet I knew that she wouldn’t. I felt her presence coming up from behind and then I made a choice. Spinning around to defend I confronted Xena not allowing her to go a step further toward the woods. If I could slow her just enough maybe Meleager could get enough distance. I asserted my position upon the warrior princess who seemed surprised at my action. Her surprise only lasted for a moment before it shifted to frustration. Xena firmly commanded me not to participate in Meleager’s escape. I knew that I would never be able to fight her in a combat and I didn’t really want to. My hope was to make one last attempt. I pleaded with her to forget and to just let him go. We could just walk away from it all and forget we ever came to this place where Arbus held the law. Yet Xena could not hear me. She was too busy trying to get justice. It was all about justice for her. Xena was blind like Arbus. She was just like him. My heart could take it no more. I raised my voice with conviction for Meleager could not be capable of killing an innocent. If Xena couldn’t see that then I had to stand in her way. Justice could never be served in killing an innocent man.
For a moment Xena was quiet as if she were contemplating my motive. I hoped that she could see it if not in my eyes, but feel it in my soul. Suddenly she smirked shaking her head with disgust as she flipped over me sending out her battle cry which echoed through the woods. Before I could even think she was gone. All I could sense were the sounds of her boots closing in on Meleager’s boots. I had taken a risk with Xena. Hoping she could back down I found that she defied our friendship and so all I could do now was hope to catch Xena before Xena could catch Meleager. Quickly I dashed into the woods. My heart was pounding with exhaustion and my soul with ache. I tracked Xena hoping that she would not make the same mistake that Arbus had. The problem was that because there were two warriors in the woods it was difficult to tell who was who. They moved in a similar fashion although Xena appeared to be a bit more graceful while Meleager’s path was heavier. I kept calling out to Xena in desperation as I tripped and fell over a fallen tree. By the time I returned to my feet I could hear the sounds of a battle ensuing and voices exchanging. First one sword dropped to the ground followed by a second. I recognized that as Xena’s sword for it was familiar. I kept on running and calling out to Xena. My hope was that no one would get hurt for passions were high.
By the time I reached the battle it was ending with Meleager on the ground and Xena standing over him triumphantly. I heard him tell her that he would not go, but she pleaded with him to return for if he did not I would be hunted by Arbus for life. It did not matter to me that Arbus would not rest without my conviction. I would never return to this land. It was time for me to make my final stand against Xena the warrior princess. I stood before Xena declaring that I would not let her take him. Even if I had to walk away from her and be sentenced to my own death. I did not care. There was no way that I would let an innocent friend die. Yet Meleager pleaded with me to stop. He said words that I’ll never forget for they stung my heart like a raging nest of angry bees. Meleager had betrayed me too. He quietly admitted with his soft words that he indeed was guilty of murder. Meleager went onto explain the true story. In this story he had been drunk sleeping inside the horse stable. He was barely able to remember the details because his intoxication was so intense. Meleager said a man came bursting into the stable upon a horse slumped over. When the man dismounted he came at Meleager who staggered to defend himself. Meleager assumed that the man thought he was about to be robbed by Meleager. After he died Meleager still held the bloody sword in shock as he ran out of the stable away from the witness who had seen him strike the blow.
I could not believe that Maleager could ever lie to me. He finished his story explaining that his lie was to avoid my disappointment for his returning to the bottle. It wasn’t his drinking that disappointed me. I was too angry to feel anything, but stunned and alone. My loyalty to our friendship was so great that I challenged the limits of my friendship with Xena. I hurt another friend because of Meleager’s lies. Yet the worst part was Meleager was willing to sacrifice my honor to protect his own. It was more than I could bear to hear and so I walked away from it all. No one could take away the anguish of betrayal. Even Xena could not comfort me for my naive choices. I didn’t like being played the fool. It was embarrassing to realize that I was the one who did not believe in Xena. She really was a good judge of character. I was the blind one.
We spent the night in the woods. Me, Argo, Xena, and of course Meleager. I could not stop brushing Xena’s horse for it seemed that only Argo could put up with my flaws. As I brushed and brushed I found myself unable to come to terms with it all. Later in the night as the moon rose from the low horizon Xena came to reckon with me. I hated being wrong again. Xena tried to tease me about how well I had been treating Argo all night. I was only keeping busy, but Xena knew the truth in me. She knew that I could not face someone who had lied willingly to a friend. Yet Xena tried to persuade me to talk to Meleager. Maybe he had not really been a friend at all. That was when I admitted to Xena that she had been right about him and his dishonesty. It was difficult to admit that for I had to swallow my pride. Yet that wasn’t enough. I had to apologize to Xena for I had behaved terribly against her. It was a disgrace and I wouldn’t blame her for never wanting to travel with me again. What I did was not forgivable.
Xena continued reminding me that we had plenty of time to work out our differences of the past day, but Meleager’s time was short. She kept talking. Xena’s voice was soothing yet serious as she pointed out another of my flaws that I did not want to see. She was speaking of how I idolize my friends including Meleager. I didn’t want her to be right, but she continued with a warning. She said that although we all have heroes and idols they are all people like ourselves. There will be a time that they will disappoint us. She finished by reminding me that Meleager was about to pay for a few of his mistakes with his life. Xena was certain that I would regret not working things out and coming to forgiveness. She was concerned that I would live with that guilt for a lifetime. Xena was hoping that I would choose forgiveness. Then she quietly slipped back into the darkness from which she had come. She left me to think about these things. Although I was disappointed in Meleager it was my own mistakes that truly bothered me. In order to work through my own flaws I had to help Meleager work through his. I had to accept my own as well. For the rest of the night I spent it with Meleager. He apologized to me for his betrayal and asked for my forgiveness. I did forgive him and I forgave myself. We shared in more stories. It was nice, but I wished that it could last forever. About an hour before the sun rose we finally settled in to sleep. It was bitter-sweet for in the light justice would have to be carried out and I would lose a friend again.
In the morning we took our time getting back to judge Arbus. It seemed that Xena was still asking questions despite the truths that had revealed themselves already. Meleager had told Xena the night before that he allowed himself to be captured not because he was drunk, but because he didn’t want to harm an innocent trying to escape. The day before he would not allow himself to fight Xena with a sword to escape. Xena had felt that there was something more to the story. When she asked Meleager again about the night of the murder she wanted to know if the Callamond had looked okay when he got off of his horse. Meleager recalled that the victim may have stumbled, but again he wasn’t certain. Meleager went onto say that if Xena and I were hoping that he could confirm that the man had possibly fallen on his own sword it was too fuzzy to remember. I then asked him if the lady had actually seen him commit the crime at the moment it happened. Maleager then said that the proof of his guilt lied in the fact that the female witness had seen him carrying the bloody sword. As usual Meleager was joking about a serious matter. There was something humble and courageous about that.
Then Xena had another question. She wanted to know what happened to the murder weapon that was never found. Meleager explained that he had held onto the sword and found it lying next to him in a cave the next morning upon waking up. He began to describe the weapon as monstrous and ugly with a skull for a handle. Calliman’s description suddenly escaped from Xena’s lips. She said that he was big, burly, and ugly. It was strange and as if Xena had seen this man before. Meleager was just as surprised as I was asking if Xena knew Calliman. Suddenly I could see Xena’s senses sharpening as her body reacted to the sounds of arrows flying through the air. The first one she caught just before it could strike Meleager between the eyes and the second near the same mark as she called for me to get down. I responded as I looked for the shooter who was up in a tree yards a way. The archer fired a third arrow as Xena dove over Meleager catching it in her teeth. It was an amazing move and even Meleager was impressed. Indeed it was true that Xena was young, ambitious, experienced, and the best.
Quickly Xena took the advantage as the archer tried to reload. She dashed off toward the tree flipping up to the top with her battle cry. The archer tried to avert capture by Xena jumping down to the branches below, but he could not hold on. Xena then grabbed the rope he had used to climb the tree and made a noose. She the threw it down around the archer capturing him and hanging him by the waist from the tree. His fear of the warrior princess was obvious as he begged her to allow him to bring in Meleager. He had been ordered by judge Arbus. It was all beginning to come together. The man was not really afraid of Xena as much as he was of judge Arbus. I found myself irritated that justice was so swift in Arbus’s country that one had to come out and execute the sentenced before he could make it to his scheduled execution. Meleager had a few words of his own for the man who had just tried to execute him. Yet Arbus’s henchmen swore that he was within his rights. It didn’t matter for Xena was the one who would bring Meleager back. This brought Meleager to his next point. He was curious to know why Xena was saving his life from an execution only to take him to one. Xena explained that she was not going to take him back just yet for she wanted to go see the cave that Meleager had said he left the weapon in.
It was not far from where we had run into the archer. In fact, the bloody sword was still there where Meleager had left it in the burned out fire. It was drenched in old dry blood which didn’t look so good for Meleager. The blade was curved like a thick sharp spiral and indeed it did have a monstrous skull on the handle. Xena carefully picked up the weapon and studied it as if in shock. I pleaded with her to leave it behind for it only proved more against Meleager. Yet Xena said that was a wrong assumption. Cryptically she explained that she was certain that Meleager was not guilty. It seemed it was just one shock after another. Twists and turns around every corner made it difficult to piece things together. Xena began her story with last winter at the time I had gone off to the Athens Academy. She explained that she had run into Callimond on the road just outside of town. There she witnessed Callimond attacking a man and so she stepped in to protect the victim. Xena engaged in a fight with Callimond who ended up taking his own sword in the chest. As Callimond tried to escape the battle with Xena he jumped upon his horse which must have led him back to the stable where Meleager and the witness had been involved. Xena was certain that the man would have died as a result of the wound through the chest.
This was exciting news, but there was still a problem. It was how to prove all of this to judge Arbus. Xena had an idea. She spoke of the man she had saved. At the time he had explained to her that he had been chased by assassins wanting to kill him. When Xena asked what he was wanted for the man would not say, but she advised him of an old hiding place that she used to use for her armies in her days of looting. Xena hoped that this man would still be there and so she advised us to stay in the cave until she could return with the proof needed to free Meleager from his execution. Meleager was glad and relieved to know that he had not killed anyone and that he had not lied to me about being a murderer. Despite all of the confusion there was hope once again. I was confident that Xena would find the witness.
All of this excitement has led to this moment as I transcribe the events of the past day and a half. Meleager has let down his guard thinking that he is saved already, but I know that it will not be over until Xena returns with the witness. I have asked Meleager not to go outside for fear that someone may spot him. Xena has asked us to stay in the cave. She only asks these things for good reason. Meleager has now sat down before me and has asked me to transcribe his will. Most certainly this is his idea of light humor, but I will play along. He says that he leaves his humble possessions to me Gabrielle, his family, the only daughter he has ever known. I take this as an honor and as a complement, but I have faith that Xena will return. Meleager’s valuables are of sentiment for the innocent lives of villagers he has saved. Many are trinkets he carries of those who have been grateful for his courage. These trinkets are his only worldly possessions.
Yet endings come in mysterious circumstances as Arbus has turned out to be persistent and ambitious. Meleager and I were indeed captured at the cave by Arbus and his henchmen. We were taken back to the prison to await Meleager’s execution and my sentencing for his escape. Xena had been unable to return in time to save Meleager’s life. It all seemed like such a waste. As Meleager and I spent our last moments together we tried to comfort one another. Although Arbus had promised a good show it didn’t matter anymore. All that mattered to me was that Meleager go in peace. I wanted the last thing he saw in life to be a friend. My request for him was that he look at my face as he was leaving this world. I wanted to be able to help him if not in life in death. And so we held each other for the last moments as I shed tears with Meleager. It was like saying good-bye to a father. He was too brave to cry. When Arbus’s men came for him they threatened to take his life right there before ever getting to the public square. Meleager only said that he could never give them that satisfaction. So they took him away to be hung in the square. My heart wept for him and all of the days that should have belonged to him.
I held onto the bars tightly as I watched them bring him to the platform. My heart fought my emotions to keep a smile and a bright face till the end. Yet it was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was nearly impossible for me not to shed my tears. Meleager looked to me as they placed the noose around his neck sending back a smile of confidence as he welcomed the shadow of death. He seemed satisfied with all that he had done. The irony of Meleager’s life was that his death was by those whom he had spent a lifetime defending. It was not fair and it was unjust, but Arbus would never see that. He seemed only hungry for blood like the warlords, and the assassins he fought for justice against. Maybe they were more just than Arbus himself, but it seemed no one would ever know. I heard Arbus call for the gate to be cleared. The hooded executioner then pulled back the lever and Arbus’s man declared that it was indeed clear. Now it was only a moment before Meleager would be gone forever. It was difficult for me to watch as they tightened the noose around his neck. Meleager was indeed more brave than I. He was facing death still smiling as if he were about to make a joke, but then Arbus caressed the large amulet around his own neck as if preparing to give the order. Then it happened. Arbus declared Meleager’s death. The dark hooded executioner then pulled the life from beneath Meleager.
As he dropped I could no longer watch. All I could do was sob with loss. I was unable to control my emotions, but it didn’t matter anymore. Now that Meleager was gone I no longer had to be brave. My only regret was that our last days together could have been lighter. For several hours I waited as I tried to remember the good things about Meleager and the wonderful adventure we had together back in Potedia. Though it seemed my heart would not stop aching. It was like losing Perdicas all over again only it was to justice and not evil. As I leaned against the cold hard walls of my cell I wondered what Arbus had in store for me. It seemed there would be no mercy. My life would be spent running from the justice I had once embraced. Justice by men can never be flawless. There will always be tragic errors and mistakes. The only real clarity is between good and evil. At least those are black and white. Night soon fell upon me in the prison followed by the sound of a key unlocking the main door. I heard Xena call out to me, but sadly she was too late. Part of me felt discouraged for she had disappointed me for the first time. This was the first time she had been unable to save a good man. Yet then there was another voice that spoke. It was haunting, but I turned to see Meleager. He unlocked my cell and smiled brightly. I could not believe it, but he was alive. He asked what he had missed and all I could do was reach out and hug him. I did not want to let go.
Then I hugged them both for my two dearest friends were still with me. It was the best gift I could ask for and my hope had been restored. At first I was a bit angry that they let me think Meleager was dead all of this time, but Xena apologized as Meleager stated that she had indeed almost been too late. Meleager then took us to the tavern for dinner, but he did not drink one drop as the two of them divulged to me the story of how Xena saved Meleager’s life. Xena had indeed found the witness in the place where she had left him. The witness was just as jumpy as she had remembered him to be. Yet this time he was willing to divulge his reason for running and hiding. It had been judge Arbus who had sent assassins after the man. Xena’s witness knew something about the Vulker case that would have acquitted an innocent man. Arbus had built his entire reputation on that case, and had to keep quiet his mistake. When the assassin who tried to kill the witness in the Vulker case failed and was found dead near the stable Arbus had to find justice even if it were a lie to protect his reputation. Meleager happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If it had not been for Xena’s intervention judge Arbus would have succeeded in the cover up.
I asked Xena what happened to the witness. She explained that he was too cowardly to stand up to Arbus. The attempt on his life eight seasons before had spooked him beyond his wits. By the time she and the witness had arrived back at the cave Arbus had already taken Meleager and I back to prison. It was there that Xena had made a mistake when she had mentioned why she had come for the witness. When her witness realized that he was up against Arbus he decided to run back into hiding. Xena decided that she had only one more chance to save Meleager. When she arrived back in town under disguise she seeked out the executioner and explained why he had to stop the execution of an innocent man. The warrior princess knew that because the executioner was from outside town he would not be biased in favor of Arbus. She also knew that a professional executioner could not bring himself to execute an innocent if he knew the truth. Xena hid underneath the gate during the execution and just as it took place she stood beneath the trap door to catch Meleager’s feet. He had to quickly adjust and play along without knowing the plan. Once the square had finally cleared and Arbus and his men were out of sight the executioner took Meleager to his coffin where all awaited Arbus’s record. Arbus was surprised to find a live corpse when he came to declare the cause of death. It was then that they exposed Arbus and arrested him for his crimes against the innocent and against justice.
Late the next morning Xena and I left town off to find another battle to fight. As we left town we saw Meleager gleefully taking an ax to the hanging post. It was the final justice to be served and his final duty before leaving the town himself. As we said good-bye I was certain that one day we would cross paths again. I only hoped it would be on a day when no one was accused of murder. Continuing on I caught sight of the old hag whom I had seen knitting in the square the day before the execution. She had finished her craft; however, it was morbid at best. The old hag had knitted a man hanging. It looked a lot like Meleager. She was a bitter old woman and I hoped that I would not be knitting such things when I reached her ripe age. Xena explained that I had nothing to worry about for in our line of work people never lived to see that age. I hoped that she was wrong for I liked that outlook even less. Still I thought that knitting socks would be much better than an execution.