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An Adventure of Xena: Warrior Princess and Gabrielle
They swarmed upon the town of Hypata as if they were locusts, not men. Even though they weren't accoutered as warriors, they struck in large groups armed with axes, swords pitchforks, clubs, rocks and finally with fire. Destruction was their cause and death trailed in their wake. Scores of innocent lay dead and dying for a purpose that nobody that was left alive could possibly believe let alone fathom. Yet when the raid was finished, the criminals awakened as if from some trance to collapse in pain and horror over what they had just done. Many of the men, in utter despair of their awful deeds fell upon sharp implements or hung themselves from the nearest tree. It was a spectacle of terror that no one who had witnessed it could expunge from their memory for the rest of their lives. It was not yet over too.
Another town, Oechalia, fell victim to destruction by its own citizens raising a panic that swept through Aetolia as if it were a dry, scorching wind. The King of Aetolia, Catreous became desperate for a solution. His army was useless. He had dispatched a large force to Oechalia, in hopes of preventing the riot that destroyed the town, but his trained soldiers had disobeyed his orders, abandoned their weapons, and joined the murderous throng. The aftermath was the same as Hypata---suicide by the score.
In deep despair from his throne room in Chalsis, Catreous called for a reason for these horrible riots. The investigators sent out to find that reason came back scratching their heads with devastated looks on their faces. "By the Gods there was no
reason for these disasters!" Catreous was told by them. They had to be right; the King knew that there was no political reason for these disorders to occur. His kingdom was prosperous and free of roving bands of brigands and warlord armies. Perhaps some God sent his kingdom back into Chaos for his own capricious ends. No matter what the reason, Catreous knew that it would take very powerful help to quell his Kingdom's agony. So galoppers raced through all of Hellas to find the help that Aetolia needed.
Xena and Gabrielle stood on the deck of the ship from Paegae to Chalsis while the strong east wind blew their hair towards its bow. Gabrielle had been on only one sea voyage before and she was excited. The Bard's excitement was tinged with concern because Xena had been more taciturn than usual. The big Thracian had clammed up from the moment the messenger had accosted her and pulled her to an inn's alcove to talk to her. After that, Xena had just told Gabrielle that they were leaving and to follow her. So Gabrielle had tried to content herself that she was off on another of her grand adventures with The Warrior Princess. Gabrielle was also curious. "What did that man show her?" She wondered. Xena wasn't cooperating. She stood on the deck with two alternating looks upon her incredible face: distant thoughtfulness, and lightning eyed, implacable resolve.
Gabrielle was about to try once again to get Xena to talk when someone came up on deck. Gabrielle recognized him as a man that had passed them on the street in Paegae. He was tall, very tall, taller even than Xena. He had dark chestnut colored wavy hair cut short and on his chiseled face grew a neatly trimmed full beard, but strikingly, he had a uniform stripe of pure white hair that started in his beard and continued in his head of hair---A "skunk stripe" as it were. This man was slender, but had a barrel chest. Gabrielle had seen men built like this before and they were all long distance runners. He was dressed simply in undyed, homespun linen, but at his throat on a gold chain he wore a delicate charm---a tiny image of an owl. There was something about this man that made Gabrielle curious. He was always smiling, but yet he seemed as if he was not really of this earth. He carried himself with an ease and serenity that was very different than most men. Gabrielle, who would have normally gone over to him and buried him under conversation, felt that he was involved in something and that he should not be bothered.
So, Gabrielle went back to Xena and said: "Did you see that man over there? He is so good looking and he looks so smart! He's got to be interesting!"
Xena still stood looking ahead. Gabrielle's words had gone right past her.
"When am I gonna learn that you are just not interested in girl talk!" Gabrielle humphed, and she walked aft and tried to talk to the man at the ship's tiller. The brawny seaman, once Gabrielle's verbal assault began, just rolled his eyes and tried to get on with his job.
The man with the stripe in his hair finished arranging something that he had lashed to the deck and stood upright. He took in a deep, evidently satisfying breath and walked forward and stood next to Xena. Before coming along side her, he looked at her, and the way the big Thracian was dressed. He noticed the thick leather dress and the small, ornately decorated bronze cuirass that she wore. He noted as well the heavy broadsword on her back and the unusual large ring she wore on her right hip. He then opened the distance between them and walked up beside Xena and took a quick look at her face. He saw the forbidding look on the Warrior Princess's visage and opened up a sharp, crooked grin and then slowly shook his head muttering: "UUHNN uuhnn"
Xena turned her eyes slowly and leveled a strong gaze upon the man. "May I help you?" Xena asked.
"No." The man said affably. "But you're doing the best impression of a ship's figurehead that I've ever seen!"
Xena's serious mien softened almost into a smile.
"You know, you interest me greatly. I have never seen a woman so extraordinarily lovely yet so incredibly powerful before."
Now Xena hardened her expression to flint. "Then take your interest elsewhere or your head will be following it over the side!" She snapped menacingly.
The man's smile broadened to glittering brilliance "My! Don't you need to work on taking compliments better. By the way, you're right! It IS scary jumping into something you don't understand!"
Xena's face swiveled fully towards the man, her eyes throwing lightning bolts. A terrifying smile was on her lips. The man's smile broadened even further. Then he bowed his head and raised his hands as if to say "OK". Turning, the man sauntered to the companionway and ducked below deck.
Gabrielle saw the exchange and hurried to Xena's side. "Xena what happened? What did he do?" The Bard asked.
"He stuck his face in where I didn't want it!" Xena glowered.
Chalsis is a modest town for the capital of a Grecian province as is its castle which is on one floor but covers a wide area. Gabrielle noted this difference from the usual fortified Greek town and she surmised that the King must have either great confidence in his army or disrespect for whatever enemies he must confront. The building, however low it might be, was richly painted in ochre and burgundy, especially so on the dozens of Doric columns that surrounded it. Gabrielle wanted to stop and admire the architecture, but in her year of traveling with the Warrior Princess she had gotten used to losing not a second.
Xena was fully alert. She was half expecting something to happen upon her arrival in Chalsis. The note was very short on details, but the extreme mystery of the situation made her think that the whole affair was the product of a sophisticated plot. Divine intervention seemed a distant possibility, but masses of armed men was a concept that Xena was comfortable with. A fight is still a fight and she knew that she could handle any kind of contingency when it came to combat. Right now though she needed more information. Xena hoped that the King's briefing would fill in a lot of gaps.
When they arrived at the front gate Gabrielle presented the message that King Catreous had sent them to the guards. These soldiers were initially suspicious of Xena and Gabrielle but the sight of the official seal on the parchment changed their attitudes in a hurry. Soon, under guard, the pair were conducted to the throne room. On their way, Gabrielle asked something:
"Xena do you have any idea at all what we might be up against?"
"It sounds like the people in the towns just went berserk." Xena replied. "I have seen people act that way in combat before, but these attacks are for no reason at all. There hasn't been a war around here in many years."
"Berserk?" Gabrielle asked. "Doesn't that just mean crazy?"
"Yes and no, Gabrielle. Sometimes in combat, the stress of the situation causes some people to be totally overcome with rage. You've seen before that grief can turn people into monsters. A berserker exemplifies the worst kind of that sort of behavior.
Not only do people under the influence of such feelings start killing everyone and destroying everything that they come across, but they also gain superhuman strength and endurance. Berserkers become almost impervious to pain. The only way you can stop one immediately is to either cut the berserker's head or a leg off or worse. Anything less probably won't stop them. Fortunately, berserkers are stupid. All they can think about is right in front of them. A good warrior can slip the berserker's first rush and get in a killing strike as he passes. It takes a clear head and really quick feet to do it. You can't get in close with berserkers, their strength is just too great."
Gabrielle was utterly horrified at what Xena had told her, but then she said: "You shouldn't have any problem out muscling one though, Right?"
"Gabrielle, a berserker can be stronger than Hercules for a few seconds. One time I let one get too close and got his hands around my throat. I had to really act fast or he would have broken my voice box and killed me outright. He was so strong that there wasn't anything I could do without a weapon. Fortunately, I had my dagger and I stabbed him at the base of the skull and scrambled his brains. I was DAMN lucky."
Gabrielle went totally white, so white that Xena had to comfort her. The first time Xena had to do that to her friend for a very long time.
"Don't worry Gabrielle, once a person goes berserk he usually forgets what fighting skills that he might have had. Good fighting needs calculation and imagination. Berserkers have none of that. I know how to handle them and I'll show how you how to do it." Then Xena's expression turned to pained concern. "Nevertheless, berserkers are very dangerous. I had hoped to never see the day when you would have to kill someone Gabrielle, but this time you might have to. Talking to a berserker is just useless. Frankly, I'm hoping that when we arrive at the throne room, Hercules will be waiting for us." Gabrielle nodded her vigorous agreement.
King Catreous proved to be a small, elderly man with bright eyes and a peppery manner. He carefully laid out the situation as his investigators had discovered it. He was not optimistic. The two towns that had been wiped out were not the only sites of disaster. Scores of smaller hamlets seemed to be affected and the disaster appeared to be coming closer to the capital.
"Who else have you contacted?" Gabrielle asked.
"We tried to get Hercules and Iolaus, but our first reply from Thebes was from Alcymene, Hercules' mother, who told us that they were on their way to North Africa. Jason was out of town too, somewhere in Asia Minor."
Xena kept a straight face but couldn't help feel relieved at not having anyone else along. She had taken nearly a year to finally feel comfortable with Gabrielle's assistance. Working with a stranger at the same level of command as herself didn't please the Warrior Princess too much.
The King looked depressed, but a disturbance at the entrance door made all turn as a messenger arrived. The messenger had another of the King's letters with him. "Send him in!" King Catreous exclaimed after he read the reply. The messenger left and in a few seconds the stranger was led in.
Gabrielle's jaw dropped. "Its the man on the boat!" The Bard hissed.
Xena's expression hardened. "Great!" She thought.
The man looked very different from when Xena and Gabrielle had first seen him. He was now dressed in a simple grayish blue robe made of the finest silk with gold braid upon the sleeves. He wore the simple gold headband of a priest, or doctor. The little amulet around his throat seemed more prominent somehow. Yet he still moved with a serenity and grace that commanded attention.
The King introduced them all.
"Demodocus, this is Xena, known as the Warrior Princess, and her associate Gabrielle. They are the other respondents to my call. Xena is now a roving.."
Demodocus finished the kings sentence with a small smile. "Penitent?"
Xena's eyes flashed. This man was proving to be a wise ass. "Who are you?" Xena asked rather petulantly. "You're certainly no warrior, or I would have heard of you."
"Well, you might say I'm a warrior, but I fight for people's hearts, not for their bodies. Judging by the description of the situation here you might need my kind of help."
"Why?" the Bard asked.
Xena looked Demodocus in the eye very closely but could only read that the man was very easy in his own skin.
"I'm the Chief Priest of the Maiden Athena in Athens." Demodocus said off handedly. "I'm convinced there is evil divine influence at work here. Its my job as the Maiden's spear carrier to help her keep people's passions more even. If there is another god involved I act in the Maiden's stead to prevent that god from doing much mischief. Athena does most of her work on Olympus, and she prefers to keep her works on earth quiet. I'm her eyes on earth so to speak!"
Xena was incredulous. "That is the most silly story that I have ever heard. No mortal has that kind of relationship with a God unless they are part God themselves! The only demigod that I know of that is still around is Hercules."
"I have heard stories that you yourself have personal relationships with gods." Demodocus countered good naturedly. "Ares? Hades? Didn't you once defeat the Titans as well?"
Xena shot back. "Very different! I have worked for Hades, and he has done me a favor or two. We certainly aren't friends. Ares is my worst enemy. He wants me to go back to my past, a past I would like to get behind me. He dogs me constantly. As for the Titans, I was lucky that Gabrielle was there. She beat them not me. The Gods are far too erratic to be trusted!"
"Xena!" Gabrielle exclaimed, trying to prevent an argument.
The priest held up his hand to the little redhead. "Patience my friend, with certain exceptions Xena is right. It is an unfortunate fact of life that events are all dictated by the gods and that all the gods have their own purposes, and some of them are none too stable. Also Xena is right to be cautious. In her position, I would be cautious as well. Just because I am a priest doesn't mean I don't need to earn her trust. I hope to do that. Just as I hope to show Xena that not all gods are irresponsibly capricious."
Xena was slightly rocked back on her heels. It was not her impression that most priests were such reasonable people. Elkton, the mystic that helped her save Gabrielle from Morpheus, was a nice fellow but he still had the tinge of a fanatic. This reasonableness made her suspicious, maybe Demodocus had some kind of stake in these riots?
After a bit, the King finished his briefing, and the general reaction amongst the three adventurers was one of shock and bewilderment. As they turned and walked out of the throne room Gabrielle remarked: "That was the single most remarkable and senseless story I have ever heard. What could be driving those poor people mad? Who could benefit from such a disaster? No warlord took over the villages. Nobody saw any kind of monster. It can't be Ares. Ares always shows up when there is a war going on, but he never starts villages destroying themselves---someone is always conquering somebody else when Ares is around."
Turning to Xena, the Bard saw that the Lioness was just as perplexed as she was. Turning to Demodocus next in turn, she saw the priest's eyes aflame with caginess. His jaw muscles were working as if he were literally chewing on an idea. "I need to get to Hypata and interview the survivors." he said. They all started walking towards the throne room door.
"Do you have an idea, Demodocus?" the Bard asked. The Athenian just smiled and walked on. When they arrived outside, the priest walked over to a large brown mule tied to a second hitching rail. On the mule were two large boxes. Once Demodocus arrived
he removed his priestly raiment and his head band revealing the simple homespun linen shirt that he usually wore. Gabrielle could see that the boxes were the same ones that she had seen him so carefully tend aboard ship.
At the rail were Argo was hitched, Xena pulled the Bard to her and started talking to her earnestly: "Gabrielle, I think that we have no choice but to split up. If Demodocus needs to find someone to talk to, I need to see the area and scout for the existence of an army. We must cover both villages at once, so I will go to Oechalia. This means you have to stay with Demodocus. Gabrielle, you must keep an eye on him for me; I don't trust him. I took a quick look at him; he's not armed and he is keeping no obvious weapons on his mule. I don't know what's in those boxes, but I think that he is worth the risk. Also, I don't know if he is really the Chief Priest of Athena in Athens, but if he is, and he gets killed, we'll have to get out of Greece as fast as possible, so you will have to keep him alive. Anyway, no matter how much I don't like the idea, its now high time for you to have an independent mission. You're ready. Don't let me down."
Gabrielle's face lit up in excitement. A huge smile exploded across her face and Xena could see that the Bard was struggling to keep from shouting in joy. The Bard was already making little hops in glee while giggling quietly. Finally, Gabrielle came down enough to say: "Oh Xena, thank you, THANK YOU! I won't let you down! Thank you so much for a chance!
"EEEAAAHGGHHH!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!!???"
Xena's, Gabrielle's and Demodocus' heads whipped around to their right. The scream had come from up the street.
"What in Hades?" Gabrielle asked.
In a second, a great series of shouts arose followed by the sound of pounding feet. From in between a group of houses a mob of men came sprinting. Ordinary townsmen, they were carrying knives, clubs, cleavers, seemingly everything that they could get their hands upon that could kill. On their faces was a look of maniacal rage that was utterly terrifying to the city's passers by who scattered like frightened pigeons. The mob moved like a tide sweeping up all before it and leaving many writhing on the ground dead, or dying agonizing deaths. Worst of all, this juggernaut was headed directly for the castle gates!
Xena watched and a short flicker of horror flashed across her face, then her eyes ignited and she roared a great belly laugh as her sword rasped out of its scabbard. "Watch him Gabrielle!" The Warrior Princess bellowed, pointing at Demodocus. Then she raced toward the oncoming threat.
Gabrielle had already reached into Argo's saddlebag to get her staff and expanded it. "Stay behind me Demodocus!" She yelled.
"You don't worry about me girl! Take care of yourself!" The priest shouted. As finally the shout of "Call out the Guard!" rang out and the castle's great tocsin began to sound, Demodocus stood, his eyes fixated on Xena's back; his eyes were wide with wonder. "She's turning her fear into POWER! I have never felt such life force before! What joy she has!" The priest looked up in horror at the charging mob of madmen and then raised his arms beseechingly to the sky and roared: "Maiden hear my shout!
See this outrage! Spread oil upon these roiling waters!" He immediately fell upon his face in supplication.
Ululating like a monster, Xena ran towards the mob of squalling madmen while staying low. Just before she made contact with the first men, she raised her arm over her head while bending low from the waist and the knees. Pivoting hard left on her right foot she executed, what would be called in the distant future in arenas far away, a rolling chop block. She hit four men all along the right side of her body at the their knees. Xena had knocked the men in front down, and those men that fell tripped the four men that followed. The four men that took the brunt of the block were out of the fight altogether, their kneecaps shattered and the joints dislocated. The four trailing men were thrown headlong into the air and they landed on their heads knocking themselves silly. Wails of pain and frustration shattered the air.
With a screeching yip the big Thracian rolled smoothly onto her feet, her left hand reaching across her body for her chakram. Her hand a blur, Xena made a backhanded throw of the weapon that caromed off of the timbers of two houses. The flying ring struck three of the charging mob in turn knocking two out and beheading the third before it buried itself in a hitching rail. At last the Warrior Princess was ready to wade in with her blade.
Gabrielle saw her chance. Four of the mob had stopped running and had turned to face Xena. With her staff parallel to the ground and her arms stretched out in front of her, Gabrielle charged them. With a great grunt, she struck the four men at once at the base of the skull knocking out two and stunning the other two. Changing grips, the Bard pivoted back on her right foot and made a sweeping swing to her left which forced her to pirouette. The blow struck one of the stunned men on the left ear knocking him out. Pushing out strongly with her left arm, her last blow hit the other stunned man flush on his nose breaking it and spraying blood everywhere. That man collapsed unconscious as well.
There were still four maniacs left to go. They were now looking dazed and confused although Xena had not touched them. These men had also turned towards the harpy in their midst, their mouths now open in shock. Feeling that a lot of the fight was out of them, Xena deemed deadly force no longer necessary. So she bounded into the air kicking the two on the ends of the group at once. The blows landed on their chins sending them flying. The other two were rendered H'ors Du Combat by a sweeping backhand blow with the hilt of Xena's sword.
Demodocus stood stunned. The priest couldn't believe that he had just seen two women utterly destroy sixteen charging lunatics in the space of thirty seconds! He looked up and whispered "Oh how great is the Maiden!" He then opened one of the boxes on his mule and took out bandages, splinting materials and several vials of liquid then hustled toward the wounded people.
"Whew! Boy, Gabrielle, that was fun!" The Warrior Princess said with a deep breath as she stooped to grab a handful of water from a horse trough. THAT Gabrielle is how you deal with berserkers! Looking at the Bard she continued. Great timing! That was as skillful first strike with a staff as I've seen in a long time."
Gabrielle, still panting, smiled widely at the compliment and added: "You've got to show me that move you used to knock all those men down. The battle was won right there!"
"Sure!" Xena said while nodding. "Come on now, we've got wounded to tend."
Demodocus reached the pile of downed people. "Ye Gods! what a mess!" he muttered." LET'S GET SOME HELP OUT HERE!! He bellowed over his shoulder while stooping. It had taken seemingly for ever, but the first squad of soldiers had emerged from the keep and ran up to see. They stood helpless. "Get back to the castle and bring the court physicians and bring bandages and litters MOVE!! Demodocus' commanding presence convinced the military men and in a trice they all turned and ran off."
Xena had already untangled the men that she had downed and was kneeling at the side of one of the men whose legs she had broken. The man was conscious but was wailing "What have I done! WHAT HAVE I DONE!! KILL ME LADY! Why didn't you kill me?" The man's voice trailed off into deep sobs of anguish.
Xena looked at him with confused concern as she examined one of his shattered knees. She felt a tap on the shoulder and in turning she saw Demodocus. "C'mon Xena get out of there. I'll do that." The priest said gently. "I'm a physician." "Like Hell you will!" Xena snapped. "If you're a healer get back there to the women and children. I'll deal with these guys."
Demodocus was about to put up an argument when Gabrielle stopped him: "Demodocus! Xena knows surgery and she knows battle wounds. Come back and look here. There's plenty to do!"
Demodocus turned back to Xena. "I'm sorry Xena. Did I hear this man ASK you to kill him?"
"No problem, and you did hear that. Nobody in this good of shape ever asked me to kill him before."
"Let me touch him for a sec." The priest asked gently. He put both his hands on the poor man's head and looked at him with intense concentration. The man's anguish seemed to ease. Then he nodded. Turning he told Xena: "I have laudanum for the pain." "No, it won't be necessary." The Warrior Princess told him, then she tapped the man several times on the leg, abdomen, and finally on the neck.
"I can't feel my legs!" The man hissed very frightened.
"Don't worry." Xena replied. I've blocked off the nerves to your legs. Setting your knees will be very painful otherwise. You won't feel pain when I do it now. I can restore your feeling when I'm done.
Demodocus' jaw dropped and he looked at the big woman with new eyes. Xena turned slightly and she put a tiny smile on her face. "Do you have white willow bark for later?" Xena asked.
"Yes! I have a tea concentrate all ready made up!" Demodocus said, now very impressed. Then saying "Excuse me!" Demodocus took Xena's head in his hands for a brief moment. When he did so, his eyes opened wide and his face expressed extreme pain and sadness followed by understanding and contentment. Before Xena could react he had already gone back to help Gabrielle. So, Xena went back to her work.
The trio worked with quickness and efficiency. They were eventually joined by two more physicians and several loblolly boys who carried the wounded to the castle infirmary and the dead to the morgue. The butcher's bill was surprisingly light. Only thirty two wounded and eight dead. Three women, two children and two men, including the man Xena's chakram had beheaded, had gone to the other side.
The work was hard but it was done. Demodocus had written prescriptions for the wounded's subsequent care and Xena had made sure that the wounded's dressings were changed at the appropriate times. Finally Demodocus, Xena, and Gabrielle gathered where the late unpleasantness had begun, by the hitching rails.
"Demodocus," if this is any indication of what happened at Hypata and Oechalia, we are in for a dangerous bit of work ." Xena began, Since you are headed to Hypata, I intend to go to Oechalia to scout. I am mounted, so I should be able to cover the ground and get to Hypata in the two days it will take you to walk there. I intend to look for an army or any other reason for the start of these riots. I need to move fast so, if it is all right, I'll send Gabrielle along with you. Gabrielle's smile got even larger if that was possible.
Demodocus looked at the Warrior Princess with an indulgent look on his face and said: "Sounds like a plan, but I'm not sure that traipsing around the countryside is going to get to the bottom of this horrible affair. Besides the only scraping I intend to do is to scrape the grime off me if I find a nice creek in which to bathe come camp time!"
Xena's eyes opened wide and she struggled to keep her temper while adding. "It is my opinion that someone is benefiting from these riots, but I don't know who or why. Terrain is vital in any fight, and I need to see what the ground looks like. You have no need to worry with Gabrielle around either. She is a capable fighter and should be able to keep any danger off of your back."
Demodocus chuckled. "Oh don't you worry Xena! I have resources you know nothing about, but I'll appreciate the company. However, I'm afraid that this excursion that you are going on reflects your need to DO something rather than any rational assessment of the situation. Clearly there is no human agency at work here, but it is one of the gods having a bit of perverse fun! Why not accept that and relax?"
"YOU'RE RIGHT! But dammit, I still have to find out for myself!" Xena's eyes opened wide in embarrassment. She had not intended to say that aloud. Demodocus rocked back on his heels at the violence of the admission then smiled gently.
"Ye Gods above this man is irritating!" Xena thought. OK he's got guts. He didn't run with the battle swirling around him and he is an incredible healer! I never saw someone so expert and compassionate. He also has something that lets him get to the sick in the head that I don't understand."
There was something else. Nobody had been able to read Xena so well before, and Demodocus was an expert with the verbal needle. It was as if he knew what she was thinking before SHE knew it. And Gabrielle was right. He IS good looking. She hoped that fact explained the odd feeling in her gut about this man since he had held her head in his hands. She hoped as well that she wasn't becoming attracted to him. That was the last thing she needed at this point in her life. Her brief reverie completed, Xena exhaled sharply, mounted Argo and rode off, shooting a loaded glance back at the irritating priest with the skunk stripe in his hair.
Gabrielle had watched Xena's talk with Demodocus with curiosity and concern. Xena, never EVER lost her cool under stress. "What could have happened to her?" The Bard wondered. Demodocus' few words had totally taken away her friend's icy command. Not even Ares had done that! Gabrielle, in hope of giving her friend some cover jumped to her defense: "Watch, Xena's instincts are rarely wrong. There will be some kind of warlord behind this."
"There won't be young woman." Demodocus replied firmly. "The poor people in this tragedy are but pawns in a divine game. Xena may be wise in the ways of war, and capable of the stupefying feats she demonstrated today, but she still has much to learn about the human heart---especially her own. Perhaps she will learn something from this experience. I'll tell you something else. Under that warrior's hard shell is a sensitive young woman with immense compassion who doesn't yet know herself.
"Perhaps, if I'm lucky, I'll really get to know her so that I could show her a thing or two someday. Now what was your name again? Gabrielle?"
"Yes!?" Gabrielle gawped. Not only because of Demodocus' notice but because nobody had ever called Xena compassionate before.
Gabrielle was astounded. She could see that Xena was totally disarmed by this man. Hell, SHE HERSELF was disarmed by this man. All the years of accumulated emotional reserve the Warrior Princess had built up in her life had been stripped from her in a few sentences, and Xena could do nothing about it! Gabrielle marveled at that fact. Yet the man had not insulted Xena or made any kind of uncivil remark. Most men around Xena that Gabrielle had met had been crude, insensitive, or downright violent and evil. Nobody had ever been so perceptive, not even Xena's beloved Marcus. Demodocus was also witty! Gabrielle's curiosity was greatly aroused. "Perhaps it would be more fun to follow Demodocus?" She thought. "Naaaah!" She said aloud, to Demodocus' amused surprise.
Gabrielle watched the priest's expression. At times it was soft and distant, and at other times it was sharp and very intent. His facial muscles worked constantly until he muttered what Gabrielle thought was the word error several times, then the look of soft tranquillity returned to Demodocus' face.
"You do know something!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "Did you just say error? Did you make a mistake or something?"
Demodocus chuckled. "No, No, No. Not error. I have an idea though, but I need to find out more. Patience my little friend, all will be soon revealed!"
"Hey! I'm not so little anymore! I've been working out! Look at that arm!" Gabrielle flexed a bicep with pride.
Demodocus almost fell over with mirth. "C'mon Gabrielle, we have a god to corral!" Demodocus chuckled heartily while he unhitched his mule from the rail and started to lead her out of the castle gate---Gabrielle laughing like a hyena right behind him.
It was the familiar stench that reached Xena first. It was the awful odor of burning wood, and rotting flesh, and drying blood. It was the stink of war. Xena had been fighting continuously since the age of 13, and for a long time she had reveled in that smell. It was a sign that she had won battles and taken territory. That smell used to mean victory and glory to her. Now, all that the stench created in the heart of the Lioness of Amphipolis was disgust and horror. The sight of what was left of Oechalia left her sick, sick almost unto death---the death of her own spirit.
Xena had carefully rode up the road to Oechalia and had taken the time to examine fields and woods on either side of the road and found nothing. She had looked at possible camp grounds and found nothing. She had explored all the countryside that surrounded the town and still found nothing. Finally she went into the remains of the town, still not knowing what to expect. What she saw was horrific. She had seen few towns raised to the ground in her past, thankfully, but this was the worst. All of the major buildings were packed with the charred corpses of women and children and the streets were littered with these awful remains as well. The only thing that remained alive in the town were the insects that had begun to buzz hideously about. As the King had reported, she found no male bodies about. Having seen more than enough, Xena spurred her palomino up the main road to a small clearing on a hill with several large trees in it. There she found what she expected to find, but yet didn't want to find. The site where the men who had rampaged through the town had done themselves in.
That is exactly what they had done, Xena surmised, after examining most of the bodies Most of the men were dressed in civilian clothing. The few soldiers, who were wearing the uniform of King Catreous, had fallen upon their swords. The others had done the same with farm implements. Some had cut their own throats, for they still had the daggers with which they had done the deed still in their hands. Several had clearly hung themselves from belts or knotted shirts from the trees. Those that hung must have gotten help because the trees' limbs were several feet over Xena's head even when she sat on Argo's back.
Sadly, everything that the King had said had happened did happen, and just as the King said, there was absolutely no sign of any kind of hostile force that came from out of town. All the evidence showed that the men of the town simply went mad and slaughtered everything in sight---men, women, children, dogs, livestock, anything living of any size in the town was brutally butchered. Demodocus was right. Only the gods could have done this. Xena felt sad and utterly helpless. Remembering that the king was sending a force of his army to come and bury the dead, Xena slued Argo back around to the west, and she and her mount slowly walked towards Hypata.
A few miles west of the wreck of Oechalia there lay a small clearing with a kind of natural amphitheater in it. As Xena approached from the east she became curious because she heard music! Music so close to such a terrible tragedy? The closer she came to the clearing she heard voices, many shouting in anger but many others laughing. She also heard the cooing and screeches of people engaged in activities that could not possibly anger. With a jolt, Xena realized that there was a debauched open air party going on---less than three hundred yards from a mass suicide! Then, without warning, Xena was seized by a white-hot, towering, rage! She spurred Argo so hard that the spurs cut her beloved horse. The steed reared and bolted forward with Xena bellowing like a wounded water buffalo. Her eyes glittering like hard, blue lightning Xena pulled her sword out of its scabbard and she charged headlong towards the party screaming "I'll KILL THEM! I'LL KILL THEM ALL!!" Yet somewhere in Xena's mind a part of her remained rational.
It was a wildly odd sensation. She was seized with all the hot rage of battle, but she didn't cause it. It was as if the feeling came from outside of herself. A little part of her mind stayed rational, but was utterly helpless; all it could do was to stand by and observe. Argo finally rounded the limb of the rock amphitheater and Xena was seized by the intense desire to stop and she sharply reined in the horse who nearly threw Xena off headlong. Her mind fuzzy, and her vision still red with rage, Xena looked and saw what she had thought she had heard. There was before her a scene of the most debauched revelry that she had ever seen. Xena was certainly no prude, and she had been around. Yet what lay before her eyes was still shocking.
Seated on a raised dais above the writhing and cooing people was a young man with dark hair, who was rather short, but in excellent physical condition. He appeared to be nearly naked but he was richly decked out with jewelry and smelled of the finest scents. He was clearly enjoying himself. This enjoyment seemed to increase for when he saw Xena ride up, he jumped up like an overly excited child. "Great WONDERFUL! Another lovely addition to my little festivities. Let me get a better look!"
The man jumped down from the dais and skipped over to Xena and Argo. He carefully looked Xena over with a look that usually would have drawn a hard kick from the Warrior Princess, but she was so overcome with rage that she couldn't move or speak. She just sat there quivering.
"Oh MY! They are really growing mortal women BIG nowadays!!" The man said. Then amazingly, he began to float up into the air!
"By Zeus!" What a BEAUTIFUL creature!" the little flying man gushed with enthusiasm. I can really see that taking a tumble with you would be a true Olympian experience! Now let me see what can I do to you gorgeous!"
The man giggled explosively and made a small gesture of his hand and Xena was overwhelmed with an incredible desire for him. The small part of Xena that stayed rational struggled to resist with everything she could. Nevertheless, she began to breathe very hard and her eyes rolled back into her head. The feeling was indescribable. Yet she still sat unable to move.
Suddenly, the little man became terribly angry; he thrashed in the air as if he were a baby having a temper tantrum. NO! NO! NO! NO!! You can't do that ! OH you're a strong one! You won't let me give you any pleasure! Why? Why? Nobody can resist Eros!" He moved his face very close to Xena's and peered into her eyes while still moving around the woman as if to examine her face in all of its detail. Xena moved her eyes along with the flying apparition somehow keeping her mind clear enough to try to divert the feelings she was having. Xena's eyes began to glare.
"NOW I know!!" Eros exclaimed. "You are that woman Xena that Ares is always bitching about. I just love torturing him by making him lust for you! By the Gods you are a big believer in self denial aren't you?!! Don't you believe in enjoying anything! Can't you feel? You must!! Xena still sat silent, her face working through dozens of expressions, her eyes following the flying god. She was trying to focus what was left of the rage she once felt towards the apparition.
"Oh there, THERE you are weak! So no quickie from you eh? But you LOVE TO FIGHT!! You have a hard time with anger! I can work with that! Wait! What's this?" The god's expression changed rapidly from that of lust, to rage, to curiosity, then back to rage again. "DEMODOCUS!! YOU'RE THINKING THAT DEMODOCUS IS IN HYPATA!!" The flying god shouted. THAT BIG BITCH ATHENA IS AFTER ME AGAIN!!! SHE IS ALWAYS STOPPING MY FUN!! Rage, RAGE, you silly woman; KILL THAT MEDDLESOME PRIEST!!"
Whatever desire that Xena had for the god disappeared instantly, and whatever rationality she had disappeared as well "KILL DEMODOCUS!" Xena bellowed and she dug her spurs into Argo's bleeding flanks once again. Horse and rider exploded westward towards Hypata, both irredeemably berserk.
Gabrielle was having a lovely time despite the fact that she was constantly forcing the specter of what she was expecting at Hypata out of her mind. It turned out that Demodocus was superb company, intelligent, learned, but extremely easy going and just flat out fun with which to talk. Her surmise about Demodocus being a runner was also correct. His long strides and endurance made The Bard scramble to keep up, but Gabrielle had great endurance as well because of her putting mile after mile of walking under her feet following Xena. Demodocus was also complimentary, and this was a welcome change from the Warrior Princess who was sparing with her praise.
"Gabrielle" Demodocus opined, "you can march like a soldier; I'm really impressed! You've put on at least fifteen miles and you look like you could go a lot farther.
"Xena needs to move fast. We average twenty miles a day, and we have done fifty. When I first started following her, I could barely make fifteen miles! She was always telling me to hurry up! Now Xena's started calling me a mule!" Gabrielle turned to Demodocus and gave him a big smile.
"What? That doesn't hurt you! That seemed like an insult to me. I know my feelings would be really hurt!" Demodocus looked with curiosity at the small woman.
"No, I think its a compliment! You see, I can be pretty stubborn at times y'know? Anyway, that name makes me feel like I can pull my own weight now! There was a long time at the start of our friendship when Xena was always saving me. I saved her a few times by being able to talk; that's why she kept me around. Now we've worked out a real partnership. I tell stories in inns for pay and she gets to stay on her mission. I've also learned a thing or to about fighting!" Gabrielle went through a quick kata with her staff. Demodocus watched with surprise and admiration. Finishing with a flourish, she stabbed forward with the weapon while yelling, "HAH!" The Bard looked at the priest with an even bigger smile on her face.
Demodocus laughed and nodded vigorously. "I see what you mean!" The priest exclaimed.
"How long have you been with Xena, Gabrielle?"
"Just under a year."
"I've heard of how she struck terror into half of Greece," Demodocus said, "I have also heard that life in the areas she had conquered wasn't that bad, and I heard the stories of her reform. Actually, those stories were yours. I was in the audience during most of last year's Bards competition at the Athens Academy. So I saw you perform with great enjoyment. Those stories were exciting, and they were really moving. Gabrielle, you care about Xena a lot. I feel it!"
"Why thank you Demodocus! You feel it? Never mind. I could have stayed at the Academy, but following Xena for a week teaches more than any Academy can teach in a lifetime, and its a LOT more exciting!" The Bard continued: "Yeah, I do care about her a lot. She has suffered enough for twenty women. Her father and two brothers are either dead or missing. Her relationship with her mother is strained at best. Every man she ever loved is dead; one of them even died TWICE in her arms! She has seen, and maybe inflicted, more of war, death, and destruction than nearly anyone alive. Thank the gods her heart is so strong! What she has gone through would have killed any other woman, or man for that matter, many times over."
Gabrielle began to mist up; a hint of a tear formed on her cheek. Seeing this, Demodocus placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. The Bard looked at him appreciatively, wiped away the tear and smiled.
"Xena is very different from you Gabrielle. Don't you get on each others nerves?"
"We used to when we first met. I talk a lot (if you haven't noticed) and Xena wouldn't tell me anything. I found that really frustrating. She still has a habit of trying to act like my mother, but let me tell you, I straightened her out on that many times. See, Xena is a loner, and I'm very sociable (in case you hadn't noticed that either!) I've helped her out with being around people and she has taught me how to survive in this rugged world. For example, Xena is instinctively suspicious. Me, I'm trusting, maybe too trusting. Well since we have been friends she has been trusting more and I've been more, well, careful. We compliment each other now."
"I had a good reason for joining Xena." Gabrielle continued while Demodocus listened carefully. Do you remember the old saw about: 'Those who can do---do?'"
"Yeah, " Demodocus replied. "And those who can't do---teach!"
"Well, I was headed towards teaching in a big way. I was always lost in my books or in my head---fantasizing about being in some exotic spot getting into adventures. I would do my chores, and I was betrothed to a nice, boring guy. (Only to find out five months after I'd left him he'd become a professional soldier---DOH!) Then my village was raided by the Warlord Draco. I was sure that I was going to be enslaved, raped, murdered or worse; then out of nowhere comes this big, black haired woman who just ANNIHILATES fifteen heavily armed MALE warriors with her bare hands---in her shift yet! How could I NOT follow her?"
Demodocus chuckled and put his hand on Gabrielle's shoulder again. "Xena has found a great friend in you Gabrielle. I'd bet you're a great help to her. It is one of the great joys in life for the Gods to have given a person a friend who provides unconditional support. I would think Xena feels blessed by your presence."
"I don't know, Demodocus. Xena is closed mouthed generally, but I'm sure she really appreciates me being around. She did tell me that our friendship binds us closer than blood ever could. Boy, did it feel good when she said that! I just wish she wouldn't put herself under such pressure. She is so driven to make amends. Its almost as if she has to save everyone in the world that's in trouble to make up for her past." Gabrielle looked at Demodocus searchingly then asked: "You knew about that already didn't you?"
"Yeah I did." The priest answered.
"How?" the Bard asked.
"Its what I do."
"You said you were a priest!" Gabrielle gawped.
"I am. To me, being a priest of Athena is much more than praying and running rituals. People get confused about the meaning of wisdom. Most think that it only means learning. It does mean learning, but the Maiden represents much more than that. She represents balance, ease in all things including the heart. That's what I do. I try to heal wounded, troubled souls. The best way to do that is to help people to believe in, no identify with, something bigger than themselves. I'm also an initiate in the cults of Asclepius and Psyche."
You pray to Psyche too? Well, you are a fine healer but what does it mean for a healer to pray to Psyche?" Gabrielle wondered.
"It means a great deal to me! Psyche is the symbol of the soul and very important in helping people get peace of mind. See my interest is not in setting broken bones or stitching up cuts. I help people with their feelings, like helping them if they feel depressed all the time. I have made up some medicinal preparations that can really calm upset people down too. In the boxes on my mule are my vestments, a small altar, my apothecary, and my scientific equipment. I dabble in alchemy too. Athena is big on intellectual pursuits. For example, I just got this formula from a Persian trader. Mix charcoal, brimstone and saltpeter in the right proportions---strike a light to it and BANG!! Biggest noise and flash you ever saw."
"Wow! That sounds like fun, and Xena might even be able to use it!" The Bard said excitedly, then a look of curiosity came onto her face She continued with a question.
"How did you become a priest Demodocus? I mean you seem to be a regular kind of guy. Most of the priests I've met are so distant and grand, come to think of it, so is my image of Athena. You're so sociable and easy going."
"Gabrielle, faith has always been important to me, but I chose the wrong aspects of life and Gods to worship. I'm one of the sons of one of the most important families in Athens, and I was really wild. I started worshipping Dionysus too much; you know, too much of the grape?"
Gabrielle nodded, she knew of men in her town that were besotted with the God of revelry. Many of them became sad, scared people who were very difficult to deal with. Some of them were violent. Gabrielle didn't like being around people who were drunk---period.
"I was a terrible rake when I was a kid as well. Eros and Dionysus are gods that when put together too much are dangerous. One day I woke up not knowing were I was, and found out that I had gotten a girl pregnant. I had the money to take care of her, but my parents refused to let me marry her because she was below us socially. So I paid the parents a thousand dinars and that was the end of it. Some time later, I found out that he baby was exposed after it was born, and the girl was banished. I don't know to where." Demodocus's humor dampened into gentle sadness.
Gabrielle reached back towards the Priest and put her hand on his shoulder and said: "That is so sad. What happened?"
"The night I found out that the baby was killed, I went to my room and destroyed all the wine and beer that I had and I vowed to quit drinking and be a lot more responsible with my socializing. I then fell down on my knees and asked the Maiden for the wisdom to never go back to my old way of life. That very night while I was wide awake, Athena came to me, and my life has never been the same since. She came to me because I had made the right decision and that I had shown myself to be worthy of her attention. She told me that she wanted me to spread the word that faith can defeat the worst of villains, and that the worst of villains is often ourselves. I was confused about that. It was a riddle to me."
"Gabrielle, I want to tell you the next year of my life was the hardest period that I ever experienced. It ended up that praying hard to the Maiden, and finding and talking to people that were going through the same thing, helped me get over the wine. All though the terrible experience of drying out, the Maiden was with me, and when I had finally shaken the demon wine, Athena told me to go to her temple on the Acropolis and ask to be accepted as a novice. When I arrived, I told them what Athena had told me and they looked at me strangely. They told me that I had to prove that Athena had come to me. Most of the priests of Athena were given great intellectual gifts, and that they were very learned men. Their intelligence was Athena's gift. I was just a teenager with but the basic schooling. I didn't even think I was all that smart. What could I tell them? So, I prayed silently to the Maiden who answered me with a voice in my head. 'Touch them and tell them their hearts!' She told me. So I did. The Maiden had given me the gift of seeing into a person's heart unerringly, even if they didn't know their heart themselves. I told the priests what was bothering them so accurately that they immediately admitted me to the order."
"Oh my!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "No wonder Xena was acting so strangely around you! You said something to her that showed that you knew her better than she knew herself! She was actually flustered!" Gabrielle stared at the priest in wonderment.
"Not quite Gabrielle, I can't read minds. I don't know what people think. I know what people feel, and I know those things that people cannot face in themselves. Athena has given me sight into what Eros is doing to make people unhappy. That is why she calls me her eyes."
"Eros? The God of Erotic love? What does he have to do with making people unhappy?" Gabrielle blurted out. Gabrielle blushed. Any mention of that god just made her self-conscious of her virginity.
"Gabrielle, Eros is far stronger than just sex. Eros is the god that gives people any kind of passion; Rage, fear, sexual attraction and frustration are but a few of these passions. Our feelings come from him. But he is a trickster, and often very cruel. He only feels satisfied when people act on the feelings that he gives, no matter what the consequences may be for the unfortunate mortal. That is one reason that Athena is involved in watching him. She gives people the power to NOT act on feelings that may be destructive. I show people how to get the Maiden to help."
"I understand. Our village didn't worship Eros and I only knew about his, well, intimate work." Gabrielle added firmly, "Demodocus, if I hadn't seen your effect on Xena I would have told you to your face that I thought you were lying. But now I know that you're telling me the truth. Gee!" The Bard then continued: "Tell me Demodocus. What am I hiding from myself!?" Gabrielle begged.
The priest turned and put his hands on the Bard's head and concentrated. Then he took his hands away and let out a breath and smiled. "I can't tell you anything Gabrielle, you aren't hiding anything from yourself . You see, you are a rare gem, a completely open, spontaneous, and happy woman. You are doing what you want to do. You are associating with the people you want to associate with, and having a wonderful time to boot. There are a couple of small things coming from your exposure to your adventuring life that you find painful, but you are accepting them and working out the consequences for yourself. You have strong faith, especially in things you feel to be good for all. Frankly, you are amazing! I'm surprised the Maiden hasn't come to you herself!"
The Bard bowed her head modestly, and her fair skin reddened into a bright blush. "Thank you!" She replied. Then she followed this up with a loaded question: You said that Xena is a sensitive woman that doesn't know herself. How do you know?"
"I touched her heart." The priest said slightly sheepishly. "I used my gift."
Gabrielle's eyebrows went up and she looked at her new friend's face carefully. Demodocus had this odd, distant look on his face, the look was odd because his brown eyes were on fire. "Well then what do you think?"
He turned to the Bard and said quietly: "Xena of Amphipolis has the most wonderful, powerful, soul that I have ever encountered in a mortal. Only the Maiden exceeds her. There are depths of feeling, compassion, and humor in Xena, that are awesome to contemplate. She has, as you have said, suffered enough for most of humanity, but she accepts that with such courage, that I have begun to doubt that she is a mortal. Only the deep bleeding wound caused by all of the losses she has suffered in life and her mistaken, twisted reaction to that pain, with the regret that it has caused her to have, is holding her back. No one uses her own fear so well. She can turn it into physical power. Her gifts are beyond magnificent." As he completed that sentence tears began to run like waterfalls down his cheeks.
Gabrielle looked at Demodocus open mouthed. "Demodocus, are you saying that you love Xena?"
"I don't know my friend," the priest replied, "but even though she does not know it, she has me by the gut and I don't want her to let go!" The priest looked at Gabrielle with a wan smile on his face. "I, I think I'm going to walk on ahead for a while. Would you lead my mule for me?" The priest handed the reins to Gabrielle and walked rapidly, quickly opening up the distance between them.
Gabrielle stared at the priest's back. It was all that she could do.
Demodocus forced the pace the next morning. He was worried. The priest had awakened with a strange feeling that something awful was going to happen. Things were going well and they were making good time when something spooked Demodocus' mule. "Hey Maude! What are you doing?" Demodocus' mule had begun to shy and prance around, in a second she began to bray with screeching intensity. "Maude calm down! What are you afraid of?"
Gabrielle yelled: "Maude? you named your mule MAUDE?" And the Bard started laughing very hard indeed. "Maude, GODS!"
"Yes Maude! She's my big sister. Thickest individual on this earth. My girl here isn't as bad as her! Whoa there girl? What's the matter?" The priest tried to calm the skittish animal but her agitation increased.
Gabrielle suddenly screwed up her face in disgust. "I think I got our answer Demodocus!" she exclaimed.
"Yeah Gabrielle, I smell it now!" An expression of deep sadness came over the Priest's face and he mouthed a quick prayer. They were getting close to Hypata.
Both were moved to tears when they arrived. Gabrielle had become somewhat hardened to seeing death, but she had never seen it on this scale before. The stink was incredible; the intense violence of what had happened in the town horrific. Gathering back some of their composure, they carefully examined every burnt out house and searched the surrounding countryside until, outside the outskirts of the town they found a small, stone, animal byre. In it, they heard the sound of weeping. Going in they started searching in the hay loft.
"Come out! We don't want to hurt you!" Gabrielle shouted. "Its all over now; you're safe!" Demodocus added. "Please come out! We want to help!" After a bit they localized the sound and swept away the hay. They found a woman and her toddling child both quivering with fright.
"Gabrielle, Go to Maude and look in the box on the right side of her. In it you will find a bottle marked 'Valarian in wine' and bring it in here, and bring the water skin too. The Bard nodded and quickly left. Then turning to the poor woman he said: "Its all right, its all over now. I'm going to give you something to calm you down." Then, sitting next to the distraught woman, he put his arm around her and tried to comfort her again, but the woman was inconsolable. All she could do was emit huge racking sobs and call out a word that Demodocus could not understand. The child apparently in good shape sat silent and shaking. Demodocus then put his hands on each of the people's heads and concentrated. This eased their terror somewhat but not completely. Gabrielle then came back in and delivered the valarian and the water. The priest asked her to go back and to get some of the food out of the left hand box on the mule.
"Now I know this smells like rotten laundry, but drink it, just a few sips it will calm you down. I have water here too to wash away the aftertaste." The woman at first shunned the draught but after a bit she did take it and drink. Demodocus opened the toddler's mouth with some difficulty and put a few drops of the potion in his mouth. The woman took the water skin and drank from it thirstily. Demodocus was then pleased do see that the drug had taken immediate effect and the woman had stopped her wailing.
The Bard came back with the food which she gave to the unfortunate victims. "How are they doing?" Gabrielle asked.
Demodocus got up and urged Gabrielle back outside and filled her in. "Bad. The both of them have had a horrible fear planted in their minds. I took some of it away but not all of it, and it might come back. I am now convinced that Eros is involved in this awful affair. The god looks at a person's heart and finds an inability to deal with a feeling and then plants huge amounts of that emotion in the poor person's heart. His objective is to get the unfortunate victim to ACT on those feelings, not just acknowledge them and move on. That is how he gets the worship that all the gods thrive upon.
As for them," Demodocus pointed at the woman and child, "I have given them something to calm them down. Both of them have weak characters and thus are very vulnerable to this kind of psychological attack. I will send them down to Chalsis with the soldiers that are following us and then on to Athens to the Temple clinic. They are going to need a lot of directed talk and drugs to deal with the damage done to them. Even then they will have to deal with the consequences of this event for the rest of their lives. Right now they need food and rest. Fortunately, I have enough food on my mule to feed us all for at least a week."
After they had left the byre and set up camp near a stream, Demodocus began to work with the unfortunate family. The woman was incredibly jumpy. Any unknown sound or even the rustle of leaves would make her cower, and the baby screech with fright. Demodocus spoke to them, held them, fed them and gave them the valarian. All of which seemed to help. Demodocus had Gabrielle watch what he was doing and then he left the Bard to care for the unfortunates while he set up his altar from one of Maude's boxes and then sat cross-legged on the ground, and sat in repose. Gabrielle wondered what was going on, but she had gotten to know the priest well enough to know that he was probably directly communicating with his patron goddess. It was indeed a remarkable thing to behold.
The Bard had just given a dose of valarian to the woman , when she looked up at the priest. He had sat bolt upright his eyes wide in shock.
"What's wrong Demodocus!" Gabrielle asked in alarm.
"Gabrielle, please get the woman and the child under cover. I have just felt the most powerful surge of rage I have ever felt. I fear that we are both in danger. Please do it quickly."
Gabrielle complied and she hustled the unfortunate pair into a group of large rocks in a thicket of trees where they slept, still stuporus from their earlier treatment. When she returned she went over to Maude and retrieved her staff. Then she returned to the priest who had resumed to his meditation.
"Demodocus?" She asked, shaking him by the shoulder.
The Priest's eyes opened. "Are they safe?"
"Yes, they're hidden in that thicket. " Gabrielle said pointing. "What's going on?" "Gabrielle, I never told you this, but do you remember Xena saying that Ares is after her?" "Yes?!"
"Well I have a god after me too. Eros. I believe that Eros wants me just as Ares wants Xena. I was once such a strong worshiper of Eros that he wants my worship back. If he cannot have my worship, then he wants my death. I fear that this entire awful affair may be an attempt to get to me!"
Gabrielle looked sick. She nodded. Demodocus' look narrowed and he cocked his head.
"Do you hear that Gabrielle?"
"Yes. Its a horse! And going like Hermes too."
Both stood and looked into Hypata. After a few very long nervous moments, out of the smoke emerged two familiar figures. Gabrielle relaxed then yelled: "XENA OVER HERE!!" The horse and rider heard the call and changed course towards it. Suddenly the priest grabbed Gabrielle by the shoulder and exclaimed: "Gabrielle, Xena's insane with rage! Eros has possessed her!!"
"GODS!!" Gabrielle barked and she turned and ran to Maude where she got her staff and expanded it. The moment she turned, there came from the throat of her best friend a long, strangled howl of senseless fury that Gabrielle had never heard before. She had been expecting Xena's intimidating ululation, but the bard remembered that all calculation is gone in a person gone berserk. Finally, when Xena and Argo were close enough the Bard could plainly see that Xena was gone. The Warrior Princess' beautiful face was locked in a rictus of pure insanity---her eyes inhuman in their brightness. Argo too was affected. Sweat lathered the Palomino's withers, and Gabrielle could see the cuts on the horse's flanks made by Xena's inhuman spurring.
Xena was closing fast. "Can you calm her if you get your hands on her?" The Bard yelled at Demodocus. But when she turned she saw that the priest had thrown himself on the ground his arms stretched out in front of him. She knew that he was calling on Athena to aid them. "OK Kiddo, Focus!!" Gabrielle muttered and she stood ready.
"OK Xena keep coming!" The Bard whispered to herself. She found Xena's eyes and fixed her gaze upon them. She tried to make herself look as big and intimidating as possible. But she could tell that Xena was not even there. The palomino now looked as big as a house. Behind her she could now hear Demodocus yelling in a tongue she did not understand. She could also see that Xena had not even seen her. The big Thracian was focused on the priest behind her. Argo was now charging flat out right at her.
Gabrielle felt every breath rasp out of her lungs, her pulse pounded in her ears. In a trice Argo was on top of her.
Just in time, Gabrielle sidestepped and with both hands she swung with all her might at Argo's mouth. The blow struck home. Before the maddened horse could react, the torque of Gabrielle's blow had carried her all the way around in a pirouette.
Catching her balance the Bard then struck the Palomino on the right front knee, collapsing the leg and making the animal fall. Xena was thrown headlong out of the saddle. Normally, that would have amounted to nothing. The Warrior Princess would have pushed out of the stirrups, done a front flip and ended on her feet ready for battle. This time she landed hard on her back. Xena's sword, which she had obviously forgotten to draw, flew uselessly from its scabbard into the bushes.
"Sorry Argo!" The Bard yelled. Gabrielle knew not to relax. The Warrior Princess is incredibly tough. A charge was inevitable. Gabrielle could also see that Xena's reflexes were much slower than normal, and her tactical sense was gone. The expected charge did come, for Xena had regained her feet and started running, screeching all the way, directly at Demodocus, her arms outstretched reaching for the priest's throat. Behind the Bard Demodocus was now praying loudly.
"Oh Mighty Maiden, Your enemies have taken your daughter! Restore tranquillity to her soul! Let not Eros steal the earth and destroy all you and your father Zeus Thunderer have built!"
Xena kept coming and Gabrielle interposed herself between her and her target. Xena was looking right through the Bard, her face twisted in rage. Then Xena's face softened suddenly, but her charge continued unabated. Gabrielle sidestepped to her left and got in a strong blow to Xena's stomach, but Xena grabbed the staff and pulled. Gabrielle held onto the pole and the pull got her close enough to Xena to allow the big Thracian to get in a right backhand which threw the Bard head over heels behind her. Xena's pull had sent the staff flying far out of Gabrielle's reach.
"OH BOY THAT HURT!" The Bard blurted, shaking her head. Scrambling to her feet, she looked up and saw Xena within feet of her target. Thinking that Demodocus was dead, and she was going to follow him, Gabrielle ran towards her best friend in the hopes that she could at least divert the Thracian from her obsession. Then to her intense surprise, Gabrielle saw the priest stand before Xena until just before she got in a blow. The Priest then ducked a wild right hand. Pivoting hard to his right, he buried a shoulder in the Warrior Princess' belly then grabbed one of her legs and stood up. This move threw the big woman onto her head behind him. Equally quickly, Demodocus dove towards the supine Warrior Princess where he was able to get a hold of her by the head.
Demodocus had hold of Xena by the chin while the Warrior Princess thrashed about as if she were a salmon on a hook. Desperately, Gabrielle dove and landed her body on her big friend's legs pinning them. The struggle was extremely difficult for Xena's strength is incredible, but the Priest started singing! "Maiden! Calm thy mighty daughter's soul, come to me and touch her with thy steady hand, take from her the rage that vexes her so!"
Gabrielle, still clinging for dear life to Xena's thrashing legs, turned her head towards the priest. Demodocus was staring at Xena with intense concentration mouthing the words to a chant that the Bard did not recognize. Then Demodocus took in a sharp breath, his eyes became as big as platters, and he screamed a shout of rage and pain that was more terrifying than anything the Bard had ever heard before. Somehow Gabrielle mustered the strength to hold on even tighter, even though Xena's thrashing became even more violent. Xena's hands flailed at Gabrielle's back and she nearly got a good hold of the Bard's hair. Then looking at the Priest again, she could see the priest look up then scream: "THE MAIDEN!!"
Gabrielle screamed. Over the head of the priest a huge owl appeared that seemed to be made out of blue diamond. The apparition shimmered and incredibly another apparition took the bird's place. Kneeling there, her feet and knees at least four feet off the ground, was a woman who was more than a woman. At least 10 feet tall, she was incredibly beautiful with golden hair that cascaded like a cape down her back. She was dressed in a simple, nearly sheer, blue robe and her incredible, carved face was centered around a pair of glittering gray blue eyes. Reaching down from her perch, the apparition touched the heads of both Xena and Demodocus. Then in her head, Gabrielle heard a woman's voice that was rich, deep and silky smooth begin to speak. Gabrielle watched the apparition in awe and saw that its mouth didn't move.
"Mighty Warrior! Feel my hand! Struggle not, for you are with a gentle soul. Let my Eyes see into your heart and sweep away your anger. That anger was never yours! My kinsman Eros stole your life from you; I now give it back, so that my Eyes can teach you to keep it forever! Happiness and peace will some day be yours Xena. Blend your wisdom with Demodocus for some day you may join me on OLYMPUS!"
At the pronunciation of OLYMPUS Xena bucked and shrieked a blood curdling scream. It was not the scream of a young woman. It was the scream of an enraged and terrified little girl, then all was silent. Xena finally relaxed. Gabrielle looked at the faces of both of her friends. Xena's was at peace with her eyes closed---her breathing deep and rhythmic. Demodocus' eyes were open, his face, while still strong with concentration, was full of relief---a tear came down his right cheek.
The Bard relaxed her grip and stood. The vision of the Maiden Athena stood as well; a lovely smile was on her serene face. The Bard stared at the goddess who slowly turned her head and fixed Gabrielle in her gaze. Gabrielle stood stark still with a stunned look on her face, for she felt that the goddess was looking into her very being. Athena stooped slightly and reached out to the little strawberry blonde and caressed her face. "Well done little Bard!" The Goddess' awesome voice exploded into Gabrielle's mind. "There is no greater love in the universe than that of one who would lay down her life for a friend! I will never forget you." The great apparition stood to her full height and evaporated. Gabrielle fell over backwards landing flat on her behind; she sat there stunned, her mouth agape.
Gabrielle recovered her wits at last. She looked at Xena and Demodocus. Xena seemed to be asleep. Demodocus was whispering into her ear and stroking her hair. The Bard got to her feet and offered to help.
"Thank you, Gabrielle, but look after our orphan family We need to get our charges indoors. The struggle is not yet over." Gabrielle hustled off to check on the woman and her child and to find Argo. "Thank the Gods!" The Bard exclaimed, for both the woman and child were safe in their hiding place---still fast asleep.
When she went out looking for Xena's horse she didn't have to go far. Argo was up and about. Gabrielle approached the palomino in a circumspect manner, but the horse seemed to be over her madness as well. When Gabrielle approached, Argo threw her head and tried to nicker the Bard. Gabrielle smiled and petted the horse at the animal's usual greeting to a friend. She looked carefully at Gabrielle's mouth and found that the blow had hit her on the end of the nose and it was only bruised. The knee was badly swollen but when Gabrielle felt it she found nothing broken and there was no cut. There was a deep cut on either of the horse's flanks that would need stitching. At least there was someone around who could provide that medical attention. Gabrielle grabbed the horse's reins and led her back to the priest.
The priest had propped Xena up against a tree and was giving the big woman some water. Xena was awake but stuporus. Gabrielle bent down and took a look and then asked the priest about it.
"What happened Demodocus?" Gabrielle asked. "You screamed when you touched Xena. Are you all right?"
"Yes Gabrielle, I'm fine, but spent." The priest said looking wanly at the Bard. "The scream was me taking all of Eros's rage from Xena. I can deal with Eros, Xena couldn't. Even then I could not take it all; that is why Maiden herself came and took the rage Eros planted from the both of us. That was an extraordinary event! Athena is so modest she almost never manifests herself. Even the visions in which she came to me were in my head. That was the first time I had seen her in person! Athena cares very much about what happens to this woman!" Demodocus had nodded towards Xena with a big smile on his face.
"How's Xena?" The Bard inquired.
"She's spent like me. I have also given her a mild dose of valarian. When she wakes up she will calm, but Gabrielle, you will not recognize her."
Gabrielle became frightened. "Why? What do you mean?"
"Gabrielle, people over the years build defenses around the feelings with which they are least comfortable. That is true with Xena. Most of her personality is healthy, indeed most of it is supermortally healthy, but there are issues with which she is very vulnerable. Eros gets what he wants by stripping away those defenses. So the reserve, the sardonic humor, and the coolness under pressure will be completely absent. She will be extremely emotional and totally in touch with all the wounds that her spirit has had to endure through the years. If I cannot rebuild those defenses against all these past issues, she will either go into a suicidal depression or become irredeemably mad. The first possibility is horrible, the second possibility, in which she would become a completely remorseless, conscienceless killer is too terrifying to contemplate. With my help, I hope to get the Warrior Princess' incredible courage to do the job."
Gabrielle was now white with shock. The Bard had repeatedly made Xena make promises to her that whatever happens she wouldn't become a monster. Now the priest was telling her that if he fails, Xena could no longer fight that horrible impulse to kill, or kill herself. Gabrielle began to feel sick. "Can't Athena rebuild her defenses for her, or heal her soul's wounds?"
"It doesn't work that way my friend." Demodocus said gently. "You see, the human spirit is stronger than any one god; most people don't understand that. The gods represent only aspects of life. The human heart, if strong, represents ALL of life.
That is why some faiths claim that there is only one God. Indeed one faith, one that is very close to my heart, says that there are no gods at all, but that everything we perceive is nothing but an illusion. The human spirit is everything. What I need to do is to begin to show Xena that she is godlike, but to reach that godliness, she cannot continue to live only in her head and body. She must learn to live in everything. Generally, that is a very long term process, and even then most people never achieve that amount of wisdom. I hope with the help of the Maiden, and mine, she can go back to what she was doing in the past to cope: push down the pain that she is carrying so that she can confront it little by little when she is ready. What I need to do is to show her how to surrender to her own godliness. The risk is: will we be able to do it fast enough, for Eros is very close, and we need her to fight him."
"Can she do it at all? Demodocus I am really frightened for her!"
The priest smiled widely and said: "Have faith Gabrielle! You said that Xena's heart is strong. I can assure you that was a VAST understatement! Come on now, we have to build some travois for Maude and Xena's horse."
With Xena's sword it was easy to cut poles for the dragging stretchers and willow to thatch into their platforms. When they had finished, the woman and child, who had finally calmed down enough to share their names Lyla and Rose, were loaded aboard one of the appliances, while Xena staggered to hers and lay down. Fortunately, a few miles away from Hypata on the western road, they found what appeared to be an abandoned road house and the group moved in. The woman and her toddling daughter were put in one of the upstairs rooms while the main hall was left to Xena and Demodocus. The priest thought that the air would be better for the big Thracian who was in for very hard work. The situation could have not been more ideal, for the road house was chock full of preserved food, and there was enough flour and yeast to make pita for an army. The priest suspected that the road house's staff had been killed in the Hypata tragedy. All Gabrielle and Demodocus had to do was do their healing work, and wait for the King's forces to arrive.
Demodocus set up a bed and a screen around it in the main hall and when he was finished, he had Gabrielle undress Xena and get her to bed. The priest gave Xena another draught of valarian and she dropped off to a deep sleep. The same thing was done for Lyla and her daughter. Finally, their charges snoring away, Demodocus started the fire in the ovens and baked bread while Gabrielle finished making the living arrangements. After a simple meal, and since they were both exhausted, they each picked a room for themselves and went to bed---trying to forget the consequences of a terrible day.
Demodocus awoke early and looked to the animals then set up his altar in the hall and began a service. Gabrielle was up as well and she joined him and watched fascinated. Gabrielle had heard from someone during her wanderings that there were no such thing as atheists in the front rank. The Bard now realized what that meant. Although Gabrielle was not a religious woman, she was afraid for Xena, so she prayed and prayed hard. Her friend had always come through severe crises on her own strength and resourcefulness. Xena had even beaten a dose of poison that would have killed a lesser person by going with the venom and fighting it all the way. Now the Mighty Princess was helpless, at first abused by a god she did not worship, and now dependent on a man she did not know. Xena was almost the complete embodiment of pride, now that pride had been ripped from her for the sole reason that a god wanted to have a little fun. Surely the Fates, who had saved Xena so many times, would not be so cynical as to let Eros get away with his crimes. Gabrielle stated to herself: "Not if I have anything to do with it!"
"Gabrielle?" At the sound of Xena's voice, Gabrielle bolted from the service, grabbed bread and water and hurried to her friend's side. Gabrielle wanted to cry, for Xena's appearance was terrible. Xena was pale and somehow looked smaller. The warrior's face was pinched, her perpetual look of confidence gone. "Gabrielle, are---are you all right?" she asked uncertainly.
"Yes Xena, I'm fine. Demodocus is fine. You have nothing to worry about. You just get better OK?"
"Gabrielle, I remember everything! I was going to kill you. I was just so angry I couldn't stop myself! I had to kill the priest. I had to kill the priest. I don't know why! How could I have done it! I couldn't kill you, Gabrielle! I would rather kill myself than hurt you!! It was just like when I got Lycias killed!" Deep, racking sobs shook Xena. The Thracian's beautiful face worked and tears poured out of her blue eyes.
To Gabrielle's absolute horror, Demodocus had been right. The Xena she knew and cared about was no longer there. "Its all right Xena. Please don't torture yourself. You weren't responsible for yesterday."
Demodocus must have been listening, for the priest slowly came around the screen, He had a big smile on his face. Gabrielle looked at the priest, her frightened eyes searching the man's craggy features for an answer. She saw none. Turning back to Xena the Bard saw that Xena could no longer look anyone in the eye. When Xena tried she just closed her eyes and buried her head in her pillow. The Bard reached down and touched her friend on the shoulder straining mightily not to cry herself. She rose, turned to Demodocus, and grabbed him by the upper arm very strongly: "Please help her!" Gabrielle hissed, her voice choked with emotion.
Demodocus put his hand on Gabrielle's shoulder, squeezed and gazed deeply into the Bard's eyes. "I'll do what I can, but don't worry, her heart is monumentally strong! Take a look in on Lyla will you? I need to be alone with Xena." The Bard wiped a tear from her face---nodded, and went upstairs.
"Demodocus! I didn't hurt you did I?" Xena asked with a terrified look on her face. "You never did anything to me! All you were trying to do was to find out what was going on. I feel so awful about it! Why did I do such a silly thing!"
"Xena, I'm fine; and Gabrielle was right. You were not responsible for your actions. There is no need to feel any shame." Demodocus said in a sweet soothing tone.
"OF COURSE I WAS RESPONSIBLE! I decided I had to kill you and I went about doing it!! It was criminal and I deserve to die for it!" Xena's eyes flashed in anger, but that anger was directed towards herself. I deserve to die for that act just like I deserve to die for all those poor people I killed for nothing but my own stupid lust for glory!" Xena pushed her head back into the pillow and yoweled in pain; she squirmed with the overpowering emotion she was feeling.
Demodocus grabbed her by the shoulders and with surprising strength he pushed her down into the bed and yelled: "LOOK AT ME! YOU LOOK AT ME XENA!" Xena reluctantly complied, her eyes still burned with self hatred. "I'm a physician so you listen now, and answer me when I want you to. You were not responsible for the attack on me! The God Eros took away the control of your emotions! Then he overloaded you with anger! Nobody could have resisted that! As for most of the others you killed, you were doing what you thought was best for your village at first and your men later. It was hubris that made you kill when you didn't have to, and you have stopped that. Greece is a lawless nation! People live out of the protection of cities at their own risk! Where there is no law there is no culpability! Life IMPROVED for most in the areas that you conquered! Death would not be anywhere near as great a punishment for these actions than what you have meted out to yourself already! So quit feeling sorry for yourself; you've got work to do!"
Xena's eyes widened in shock. Toughness in a priest was the last thing she expected. Demodocus' tactic had worked. Xena's mind was diverted from her shame. She stopped crying and calmed down. "Eros did you say? Eros made me go mad?" She said.
"That's BETTER! Yes Xena, he played on all the anger you have because of your past and then added to it. He also knew that you take responsibility for nearly everything, as well as your need to prove that you are the best so that you can get attention---especially from Atrius."
"I do not! I can delegate! I wouldn't have been a successful warrior without it!" Xena exclaimed defensively.
"Then why are you killing yourself by trying to save everybody in trouble and why do you treat Gabrielle like a five year old so much?"
Xena looked hurt and tears came to her eyes again.
"Nononono! Xena, your life experience did that to you. You've had so many important losses in your life that you're afraid you can't take any more. Again you are not responsible for it. Its Eros again! Xena you can stand up to him. Give me time to show you how!" Demodocus touched Xena on the head and a tear came to his eye. He prayed that the Maiden would help the Warrior Princess learn to accept and start to love in herself what she hated. When Xena calmed again he asked her about the day she saw Oechalia. It took awhile, because Xena was very brittle but finally Demodocus got the information that he needed.
"Xena the little man that flew around you was the god Eros. He is the only god that can force people to act the way he wants them to act. He does it by manipulating a person's feelings. He found your unresolved grief over all your losses and the anger you hold against your family. He also exploited the shame you feel over your past conduct. This was cruel abuse and you need not have tolerated it. You were ignorant of the way to deal with those unresolved issues."
"But I thought the dream that the Mystic Elkton placed me in and the battle against my bad self that I had while under its influence had ended that problem!"
"Xena, that was commendable on Elkton's part, but you only did part of the job you had to do. You acknowledged the part of yourself you don't like but then used your will to control it. That won't work now. Gabrielle told me that before that incident you were having repeated nightmares and painful incidents from your past would flash before your eyes while you were awake. Did they stop? Are you sleeping well now?"
"No! They've started again!" Xena tried to hide her pain, but it was impossible.
"That's evidence that you cannot cope with your bad side. Xena, what is done is done. You cannot go back to your past, but there are two ways you can bring those visions, and the things you hate about yourself under control."
Xena wiped away a tear and looked at the physician skeptically. She was convinced that these terrible visions were her lot and that she deserved them.
"Xena, Gabrielle said to me that you were the bravest mortal that ever lived. Xena, humanity needs you. I must get you ready to help me face Eros, or he could drive all of the people of the world mad! I implore you to muster that courage to the most important cause you will ever have in your life, you're own redemption. And I guarantee you one thing. You WILL be terrified! You will need all that courage to do two things: Talk about what you felt during all of the worst incidents in your life, and use the gods to help you forgive yourself for every misdeed that you think you have committed. That means you must learn to LOVE the parts of you you most hate! We don't have time to go into depth---that might take years, so how did you feel when your father abandoned your family?"
Xena's eyes went wide and then they softened in pain. Demodocus watched and prayed that the big Thracian would not quail from her task, for what he had asked her to do was superhuman. He closed his eyes and turned his face upwards, then he opened his eyes and looked back down at Xena's face. To his enormous relief, he saw the woman's jaw was set; her cheek were muscles working and her eyes burning with resolve.
"It hurt Demodocus! IT HURT SO MUCH!!" she exclaimed her voice cracking with the pain. I wish I could have killed him!"
For hours, and hours straight Demodocus talked to Xena. Gabrielle took what time she could from her tending of Lyla and her child to listen in. What she heard was detailed discussion about Xena's family and how she felt about it. From time to time Xena screamed awful, wrenching screams that sounded like she was buried deep in the bowels of Tartarus. These awful sounds were followed immediately by the voice of the priest, gently comforting her. Gabrielle once heard him say: "Xena, the war took your life away! You couldn't do anything about it and your dad wasn't there to love you! Your mother wasn't much more loving. Is it any wonder why you stopped feeling? It was the only thing you could do!" Then Gabrielle heard Xena softly sobbing. It was the first time she had ever heard Xena cry. The Bard tried to go on with her chores but she had to continue with tears in her eyes as well.
Gabrielle overheard early the next day that Xena was really hung up over the maniac Callisto and the responsibility Xena was claiming about her. "Do you think that you see yourself in Callisto?" The priest asked.
"Yes!" Xena yelled angrily
"Crap! that is just self hatred and laziness, Xena!
"I am not lazy!
"Quit lying to yourself. Yes you are lazy, or you would have looked into yourself to see that Callisto is an adult and responsible for your own actions and let yourself off the hook! You're too powerful for that kind of evasion! That's taking the easy way out!"
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" Xena bellowed! The yell was followed by a grunt of exertion and the whoosh of something flying through the air rapidly. There was a wet sounding thwack and a cry of pain and Demodocus came flying on his back head first through the screen. He landed on the back of his shoulders and slid all the way across the room!
Gabrielle saw it and dropped her bowl of oranges and ran over to the now supine priest.
DEMODOCUS! Gabrielle yelled looking for her staff. "Are you all right?"
When the Bard arrived, Demodocus was already rising to his elbows. To Gabrielle's amazement, he was laughing!?
Reaching up to rub his chin and rolling his eyes Demodocus looked up at the Bard saying: "Maiden! What a right hand! It came so fast I never saw it! Don't worry Gabrielle, I was expecting that! I know my Warrior Princess; she'll be feeling just awful now. I just hit another sore spot that's all. She had to get rid of that anger somehow and I was the closest thing to her. Better she take a crack at me than start marauding again."
"Is she getting better?" Gabrielle's amazement if anything increased.
"Oh yeah she is! Like I said, Xena is already incredibly emotionally tough. But she needs work and I got an idea. I want to borrow your staff. Take a couple of those small flour bags in the kitchen and put them over each end of the staff then tie it on. Tack the bag onto the staff as well, then find another pole that could be used as a staff and do the same thing. Then bring them out front will you?"
The Priest stood and, well, swaggered back to the screen and picked it up. When he brought it back to Xena's bed she was still standing there in her shift panting. When the priest came in she looked up with a look of great regret on her face. "I'm sorry Demodocus. You didn't deserve that!"
"And you deserved that of yourself?" Demodocus snapped. "Get dressed! He bent and took Xena's dress off a chair and threw it at her. He followed the dress with her armor. You need some exercise. Meet me outside, and snap it up!"
Xena and Gabrielle arrived on the front lawn of the road house at the same time. Gabrielle was carrying the staffs with the flour bags attached. Xena looked at her friend and raised and eyebrow. "Don't look at me Xena! I have no idea what he's up to!"
Gabrielle replied and put down the staffs.
When Demodocus came out, both women were shocked to see that he was wearing leather armor and a small skull cap helmet. "Demodocus?" Gabrielle asked. One of Xena's eyebrows crawled up her forehead up into her hairline.
"Gabrielle, what's the second half of The Maiden's job description?"
"She's the Goddess of Wisdom---" Gabrielle's face lit up in awareness. She laughed "AND WAR!!!"
"Correct! Just because I'm a physician and a priest that doesn't mean that I've been just sitting on my duff saving souls, stitching cuts and running rituals! We Priests of the Maiden undergo significant military training and I was a company commander in the Athenian Army before I received my calling. Athena hates war but demands preparedness to defend what's right. I intend to do that right now!"
"No wonder you handled yourself so well the day before yesterday!" Gabrielle marveled.
Xena looked down, with an expression that Gabrielle had not seen on her friend's face before---shame.
The priest bent and picked up one of the staffs and threw it at Xena, who looked up and snatched it out of the air just before it hit her in the face. "What are you doing?" She asked. There was a look of concern and a touch of regret on her face. "You really don't want to do this!"
Demodocus stood at En Garde. "No? Buried under that armor, spiritual or other wise there is a wonderful woman who has been victimized. Your enemies taught you how to be a warlord. I told you earlier today that I would rather die than let you surrender to baser instincts they built into you. If it means beating some self love into you then so be it. So when I hit you, I'm not doing it. Atrius is doing it. Ares's doing it! CALLISTO's doing it! YOU ARE DOING IT!" With that, he made a quick, hard jab at Xena's stomach and let the blow come up and hit her on the chin. The blow was hard enough to pick her off the ground. Xena looked stunned but didn't defend herself.
"Bitch!" The priest yelled, then he slugged her on the right ear with the other end of the staff. Xena still did nothing but the look of regret was off of her face.
"Whore!" The priest yelled again. He brought his stick in hard behind Xena's left leg sweeping it up off the ground and causing her to fall. Xena dropped her stick. It landed on the ground beside her. Xena lay there, but her eyes were shooting lightning bolts now.
MURDERER!!! The priest now had the staff up over his head and started to bring the padded end down onto Xena's face, when Xena's eyes spit fire and she let out tortured scream of NOOO!!! Xena pulled her legs over her head with such force that she completed a backward roll onto her feet. Now from a crouch, she exploded into the air over Demodocus's head with a trick called a punch front; she did a front somersault with a half twist and landed on her feet behind the priest. She had picked up the fallen staff and got in a powerful blow to the right side of the priest's body.
Gabrielle watched entranced and horrified. Of all the fights she had seen, this one was the most important, for the stakes were far higher than any battle she had witnessed Xena fight before. Xena could kill this man easily, or so Gabrielle thought.
The priest had somehow anticipated the coming of Xena's blow to his side and he rolled with it. Demodocus pushed himself farther sideways into a cartwheel and came up grinning; turning he yelled at Xena: "SO YOU THINK YOU'RE NOT SO BAD AFTER ALL!!" Callisto thinks you're a baby murdering HARLOT!" He charged.
Xena was taken aback and had let her guard slip a bit. Barely, she parried a blow that the priest had intended for her head, but Demodocus followed by pushing out on the bottom end of the stick and the flour bag came up and struck Xena on the chest. The concussion knocked Xena backwards but she took the momentum and turned it into a whipback, a back flip with straight legs. Back on her feet, the big Thracian brought her stick up between the priest's legs. The priest doubled over, but he was feigning.
When Xena tried to bring her staff down on his back he took is stick and swept her feet out from under her again. Demodocus began once again to bring his stick down on Xena's head but this time she blocked the blow with her stick and kicked the priest with both feet onto his chest. Demodocus landed on his back but he kicked both feet up into the air and returned to his feet. It was a mistake! In the time he had taken to regain his feet, Xena had rushed in and caught him on the jaw with her stick. He absorbed the blow and counterattacked, but Xena barely held him off.
Gabrielle was amazed. The priest was highly skilled at staff fighting, and he was a tactical master. Gabrielle could see however, that Xena was more talented, quicker and stronger. The priest could take a blow and come back quickly and effectively, and
he also seemed to have unlimited wind, but the priest's skills could not save him forever. Demodocus mistepped and Xena got in 5 unanswered blows. On the first blow Xena yelled "I"---AM" on the second blow, "---NOT " on the third, "---A" on the fourth, '---MURDERER!!" on the final strike. The effect on Xena of this sequence was incredible. At the first blow she was desperate, grim, hurt and determined to do her tormentor damage, but after her final awful shout, she clearly began enjoying herself!
A huge smile came to her face. She even started to chuckle!
Demodocus was rocked but came back quickly. Gabrielle shook her head. The priest was incredibly tough! He feinted low, spun and got in a shot to the side of Xena's head. "But you were a lousy daughter! You could never please Atrius!" he yelled.
"I DON'T CARE!" Xena bellowed Demodocus was still out of position from his strike, so Xena kicked him in the head. As the priest staggered, Xena leapfrogged over him, spun and clobbered him on the back of the neck driving the priest to the ground. The Warrior Princess kicked the priest onto his back and then held her staff to his face.
"Damn woman you are SOO good!" The supine priest cried while holding his head and wiping a trickle of blood from his nose. Then he smiled "If only you felt about yourself the way you can fight!"
Xena tipped her head back and roared with laughter! "You're right! YOU'RE RIGHT! I have been too hard on myself!! She put down the staff and bent down and picked up the priest by an arm, then she backed off a couple of paces. "I was piling on myself.
What happened to me was painful enough. I don't need to add any more pain. I feel much better! Demodocus, don't you dare get modest on me now! You're a bloody genius with that staff!"
Suddenly, it was Demodocus' turn to be sheepish. He looked down while rubbing the back of his head and said: "Well...I. " When Xena saw this reaction she got a look on her face that Gabrielle had never seen from her before. It was a hooded look, but under the drooping eyelids Xena's eyes were glittering. Xena's body language changed as well. The forbidding Warrior Princess was gone. In her place a softer, completely different woman appeared. Gabrielle couldn't believe the change in her friend. It was if a new kind of beauty emerged from the armor and draped itself on the big woman's shoulders. On Xena's mouth was a sly, crooked, little smile. Xena pulled herself to her full height and took a long, slow, slinky step towards the priest who was still rubbing the back of his head. Demodocus looked up and saw her approach, then his face opened into utter surprise as Xena slapped the helmet off of his head, grabbed him by his striped hair, and kissed him hard on the mouth.
After that kiss the atmosphere changed. The pall of worry that pervaded the inn lifted. Demodocus had gently pushed himself away from Xena and told the Warrior Princess to get something to eat and relax for a bit. Xena had no look of regret on her face from her spontaneous advance, but Demodocus seemed to shut down slightly. He remained his witty, upbeat self though. He had then gone over to Gabrielle and told her to take Xena for a walk alone and just be with her for a while. "She needs to rest for a bit." He said. "She's a lot better, but she still needs work. Get her a meal and talk to her for a while. She needs to talk to you, Gabrielle because you are the closest person in the world to her. She also needs to talk to a woman. Don't forget Gabrielle, she still has much to do to heal and that will take years. I hope that I have just gotten her on the path. A few hours more work with me, and she'll be ready for Eros. I hope we can beat him to his next target." He concluded his talk with:
"OK, I have to go tend to Lyla and her daughter then celebrate the Maiden, and oh! Take a shot of willow bark for these bruises!" He gave the Bard a wry, modest grin, and hobbled off with a stiff, bowlegged gate.
Xena went to the stable, got Argo out and gave her a run. Xena hadn't enjoyed herself on horseback so much in many years. I was as if a great darkness in her heart had become a little lighter. Xena felt new purpose in life. Her crusading from now on would be less a way of dealing with the pain she had always felt than an expression of what she really was, a gifted human being. After she rode Argo very fast for several miles, Xena stopped and dismounted. She looked around and discovered to her shock that it was really, really beautiful. All of the doubts that she had about her own value seemed less supportable. Maybe Demodocus and Hercules were right.
And Demodocus? All Xena knew was that she had never felt the way that she felt when she was with that priest. He had saved her life as surely as she had saved the lives of hundreds of others. Of that she was absolutely sure. She felt deeply drawn to that amazing man with the stripe in his hair.
"Athena! Mighty Maiden!" Began the Priest in a small grove of trees where he had set up his altar. He was on his knees---eyes closed. His hands were over his head imploring his patron to harken to his call. "Hear me, hear me! Why have you given me this gift? You make me see everything in a persons soul, and then you ask me to move on and leave the beauty I see in all I have touched behind! The heart of Xena is so beautiful and so powerful! She has beauty inside and out that in my experience rivals only you! I love you with all my being, Oh Maiden, but you are a Goddess on Olympus! She is here, on Earth NOW! You have been here, you have felt what's in her heart! If you demand that I leave her alone, I will do so, but please give me the wisdom to accept that choice, or do not make me take that decision at all!"
At the same instant, Xena rode Argo as hard as she could in a bracing gallop, and she finally concluded the run by riding up to the stables as fast as the palomino could be pushed. Xena needed the run as much as the horse because she had gone through an amazing experience in the last two days. Now she had a short time to sort things out in her head. Xena had never really thought herself an emotional person. She had thought that all of the bitter experience of her life had taken away all the time she had to feel. Now because of that odd little god Eros she was flooded full of strange feelings, Demodocus had told her that they were always there but the had taken her means of suppressing them. The god had put her in a position of being helpless and she hated that! Demodocus had helped her restore her power over herself What did that mean?
"XE-NA!" Gabrielle's calling voice came from her left.
The big Thracian woman slued her horse towards the voice. She gently touched her with a spur mindful of the stitches and the bandages that the Priest had placed there for the cuts Xena had inflicted during her madness. "C'mon lady!" Xena urged and with a familiar nasal grunt the cavalry horse bolted forward towards the Bard, who was waving at them vigorously. When horse and rider arrived, Xena hauled in the reins skidding them to a halt. Gabrielle grabbed Argo by the halter and petted the animal on the blaze.
"You wanna tell me about what happened with Demodocus?" Gabrielle inquired with a smile.
"You know how you're complaining all the time about me not wanting to talk girl talk?" Xena asked with a little smirk on her face. "Ye-ah?"
"C'mon then!" and the Warrior Princess jumped lightly from Argo's back and tied the mare off.
The pair went over to a nearby shady tree and sat down. Gabrielle had watched her friend carefully and was relieved. It was still Xena! Maybe not as intense, maybe not as wary, but Gabrielle could see the power behind the blue eyes again The Lioness was BACK!
"I won't mess around Gabrielle. I want him." Xena looked at Gabrielle with the same hooded look she had when she had kissed the priest. "I did notice him on the boat, y'know, but I had taken him for just another bastard wanting to cop a feel.
"He isn't that is he?!" Gabrielle grinned looking down. "He's pretty amazing, just as amazing as you maybe---different but amazing!"
"Oh he's far more than amazing Gabrielle." Xena said with a wistful look in her eye. "You didn't go through what he did with me. It's just like he's known me from childhood. There's another thing, he is very tough. He refused to let me weasel away from responsibility for anything that I had done, but he refused to let me take responsibility for anything that was done to me. The man has guts! He risked his life when he was with me. I could have killed him ten times in there, but he knew instinctively how to stop me before things got out of control When I was becoming really violent, all he needed to do was touch me and I calmed down! He only let me hit him once, and he just did that to prove a point. He's incredibly sensitive and emotional. I, well, never met a man like him before in my entire life!"
"Tell me about it, he had you really working hard with the staffs Xena. He's a great fighter!"
"Don't I know it!" Xena acknowledged with a look of admiration, and a bit of pain, on her face.
Did you learn anything about him?" the Bard asked. "He told me a lot, but I could tell he wasn't interested in me." Gabrielle let out a small sigh. Her soul would have to keep looking for its other half.
"Oh yes he did. He is the first man I've met in many years that I can trust implicitly and completely. I read him as well as I could and I could just tell he was absolutely dead honest with me. Don't worry! He's absolutely not like Petrocles. You know me. I didn't even trust Hercules for a long time, but then when I met Herc I was a very different woman. We're both holding something back though. I don't know Gabrielle, we are so very, very different!"
Gabrielle nodded, but let Xena talk.
"Another thing, I feel SAFE with him!" Xena said with a slightly astonished look on her face.
"Safe? YOU feel safe? Do you mean like he's protecting you? You've never let anyone protect you in your life! You certainly don't let me protect you! As if I could protect you anyway!" Gabrielle humphed.
"Not that way Gabrielle. Lets see---You're a lot better at words than I am. Well, suppose my life were a cyclone..."
"Suppose!? Hah! It is a cyclone!" Gabrielle needled. Xena, with a smile on her face elbowed her friend in the ribs.
"I'm sure you know that its quiet in the center of a cyclone. Well that's how I feel when I'm with him. Even when I was with Marcos I never felt so quiet and warm!"
"What do you think Xena? You gonna ask him to be with you?"
"I don't know. I still need to do what I have to do. Besides I don't know what he feels about me."
"Xena, I can tell that he cares about you, he's told me as much, but he's torn between you and his purpose in life. I don't know whether or not he knows what to do. "
Xena looked at Gabrielle earnestly. "Demodocus showed me that I had problems that I never knew I had. Well, I know my problem with Demodocus, and you already know what I do with my problems."
Gabrielle nodded. "You confront them!"
Demodocus was now prostrate on the ground, his arms over his head pointing towards his altar to the Maiden. His body was shaking with emotion. His breaths were coming in long, hard rasps. After a few moments, he gracefully rose to his knees and looked at the altar with a tear in his cheek, a crooked smile on his face, and his eyes afire.
Unexpectedly behind him Demodocus heard an obscene cackle followed by a high, boyish voice. "So you want that big bitch Xena don't you priest?" The Priest, shocked turned and saw a small form hovering in the air several feet away from him.
"Does her presence flood you with desire?" The apparition asked.
"I'm too old for that kind of play Eros!" Demodocus exclaimed "But I do admire your persistence!" The priest then yelled for Xena as loud as he could.
"Thank you for calling her priest! You'll just double my fun!" The god flitted around giggling uncontrollably. "Where is that big bastard whore of Zeus's anyway? Why isn't she here with her favorite customer? Busy having too much fun with dad?" Gabrielle heard the priest's voice. "Xena?" the Bard asked turning to her friend.
"I heard him Gabrielle! C'mon!" The Warrior Woman quickly drew her sword and ran like hell towards the shout, Gabrielle right behind.
Eros was taunting Demodocus. It was a baldface attempt to get the priest to act out his anger. The priest was getting mad, but Eros demands action to be worshipped.
"You wanted to get me mad Eros? Well you succeeded! But you really underestimate me to think that I'd actually do something that you wanted me to do!" Demodocus smirked but his eyes flared with anger. "I KNOW what you need, and you're not going to get it from me or Xena!"
There was a shuffle behind the hovering god followed by the pounding of footfalls. Xena and Gabrielle had arrived. When Xena saw the figure hovering in the air in front of Demodocus, her eyebrows went up in recognition. Gabrielle's mouth opened wide in shock and wonder. She felt oddly compelled to the little figure. This was a feeling with which she was not familiar. The little god cackled then turned towards the women. He had felt them arrive.
"AHHH! Priest! I see that your friends have arrived." Eros flitted over to the women, Gabrielle gained his attention first.
"A VIRGIN! You've brought me a virgin to deflower!" Eros blurted, a lascivious look on his face.
Xena became alarmed at the blatantly sexual innuendo and began to interpose herself between the god and her best friend, but Demodocus called. "Hold it Xena! WATCH!"
The little god reached towards Gabrielle's face. At first the Bard looked very interested, perhaps a little aroused. Her eyes even became hooded, but then they opened wide and a look of indignation came to her. She knocked the god's hand away with her own hand.
"Hey!" Gabrielle said indignantly, "I'm nobody's quickie! Just because you are a bit interesting that doesn't mean that I'll do something that's not good for me! I resent you blurting my virginity all over creation! And forget about trying to make me have a temper tantrum. I know all about you Eros!" Try somebody else! Or even better, go back home to your guardian Aphrodite!"
Eros became enraged! "NO NO NO NO! I can't even get to a little virgin girl!!"
"Ah WOMAN?" Gabrielle corrected.
Eros got even madder. He whirled around in an attempt to get to Xena, someone he had dominated before, but he couldn't find her at first. She had gone over to Demodocus who now had a big smile on his face. Xena stood next to him and tapped him on the shoulder, then she offered him her hand. With surprise and pleasure the priest took it. Xena turned to him and said: "You know, Gabrielle never ceases to amaze me!"
"I knew that the minute I met you two!"
Xena smiled at the priest. "When did you find out that you were available?"
"Talked to the Maiden this morning. She said it was a good idea for us to get together. She doesn't necessarily consider imitation to be worship!"
Eros came back over to the Priest and Xena "OOOOH You DO want to do it! C'mon let me help! Xena you were soo good to me before! Don't you want to help me again?!" "Forget it!" Xena said in a low voice dripping with contempt. "You're not going to get to me again! You're such a baby! PA-THETIC!"
Now the god was thoroughly enraged. His face showing intense fear of Xena, Eros pointed at the priest and screeched. "You'll pay! You'll forget something and then you will hurt real bad!" You too Xena! I'll get you back!" Then with a theatrical flash of light and a loud pop, Eros disappeared.
"Xena c'mon! I'm sure he's going to take another crack at weak hearts. Fortunately we have time. Eros has got to stew for a bit. He's pure emotion, so he can't calculate. He has to calm down before he decides on something. It can't be too long but we needn't hurry unnecessarily. I do hope that the King's troops have arrived though."
Xena chuckled. "You're a cool customer. I like that!"
The priest shrugged, and smiled widely.
Demodocus looked for Gabrielle smiling. "Gabrielle! he called. "See what I told you? You don't have any weaknesses! Eros had to pass you by! Wonderful performance!" Gabrielle blushed but warmed to the praise. She smiled but said nothing, which surprised Xena a bit.
Xena looked at her new friend and physician and told him "You've got a plan and I think I know what it is!"
When the three arrived at the road house, the King's troops had indeed come. They found a captain there who told the party that he had 25 men in Oechalia and another 35 in Hypata to bury the dead. Demodocus told him to take at least ten of his mounted men in pairs and send them to all of the nearest towns and check for trouble. These details were to send a man back to Hypata to report anything. Shortly Demodocus had Lyla packed up and on her way back to Chalsis and the clinic in Athens.
After several hours of hard work Xena and Demodocus had completed their preparations Gabrielle saw that the Priest had his apothecary open and he was mixing a powder from the drug bottles along with another substance that he had taken from the scientific kit the priest had told her about previously. Xena watched him avidly, asking questions from time to time. The big warrior woman and the elegant priest were so engrossed in what they were doing together that the Bard felt that she might be intruding, but she did ask some questions and she did receive some answers. When they were finished all the three could do further was wait for news, eat and maybe get a little tense sleep.
The army detachment had bivouacked not far away from the road house, and as was always true at an army camp, someone was a musician. This trooper was a Thracian for his instrument was a guida. Xena couldn't resist hearing this touch of home so she went out on the roadhouse porch, took off her armor and sat back on a handy couch and tried to relax. From inside, Xena heard Gabrielle say to Demodocus that it was time to go to sleep. Xena thought that Gabrielle sounded a little too loud, as if Gabrielle was really talking to her. Demodocus acknowledged Gabrielle and came out onto the porch, torch in hand, and took in a big breath. He was, as usual, relaxed and appeared to Xena to be very aware of his surroundings. He let the breath out, hung up the torch, and sat on the porch next to Xena's seat.
Xena's nostalgic mood deepened. Her eyes far a way she began to sing in her rich contralto:
Far away from home and love, The soldier looks to the keening dove In hopes that it'll carry to her The note that says I remember her. Warrior, Warrior you wanted to fight And leave behind all that you had To see the enemy burn in the night 'Cause you believed you had to do what's right! On the long and muddy road A soldier feels the mourning ode For friends he's lost in desperate fights And lovers buried on cold, cold nights. Warrior, Warrior you wanted to fight and leave behind all that you had to see the enemy burn in the night 'cause you believed you had to do what's right!
Demodocus looked at the distant stars and put his hand on Xena's and squeezed. "I wish that you didn't have to go through all you have. The gods have been very brutal to you. You had to bury who you really were to survive, and then the rage did you in.
It could have happened to anyone. The real tragedy is that you had an incredible talent that some god gave to you and that talent fed into the disorder in your heart. Your faith in your ability clouded your faith in your own goodness. As you said you didn't have time to feel When you stopped acknowledging your feelings it was inevitable you would be lost in the game that war sometimes appears to be." The priest shook his head. "I don't think you had any choice in the matter."
Xena looked softly down on her friend. "I had some choice, I could have run! I did run from the way I once was."
"I don't think so Xena. You were given incredible courage, more courage than any hero in history and not only were you granted this courage but you were granted compassion also. You KNEW that Cortiz would either kill or sell off all of your family and friends. It was your compassion that made it impossible for you to stand by and do nothing. Thank the gods for that baby, Hercules and Gabrielle! Especially Gabrielle. Without her you might have slipped back. Her love for you saved you from yourself!"
"I understand that now." Xena replied. "When Gabrielle told me in Lyceus' tomb that I wasn't alone anymore, I really couldn't believe it. I was very unfair to her at first; she was so green and naive. But she saw something in me. Now she is my rock.
I can trust her with anything. She can still be annoying, but I always listen to her now. She's my family."
Demodocus nodded, but Xena continued.
"You're in love with me aren't you Demodocus?"
"It's that obvious?" the priest said self consciously. "Well, I guess you are good at reading people." "Oh yeah, its that obvious. It won't work you know."
"I know Xena, we have two different missions in life. It wouldn't be realistic for either of us to give up what we have to do."
"You're right, but we don't have to live together to be friends, even more than friends. I just don't want you to go out of my life. I've never had a friend that knew me better than I knew myself before, especially one who looks like you do" "I don't want you out of my life either. You have such a great heart." Then Demodocus replied simply. "Thank you for the compliment! That's high praise coming from you! You're not bad looking yourself you know."
Xena smiled and rubbed Demodocus's head. "Don't get modest on me now. Doesn't become you!"
Demodocus rose and gently put his hand under Xena's chin and tilted her face towards his own. The priest said "You're lightning in a bottle!" and he kissed her very passionately.
Xena responded to the kiss with intense ardor. She rose, her mouth opening and her tongue reaching deeply. Demodocus responded by taking his fingers and following every line of Xena's face as if he were trying to draw out all the poison that remained in her soul. Xena, the warrior in her now lost, reached up with both hands to caress her new lover's head and moved it to and fro while watching the priest's reaction with every movement. Demodocus pulled back and before Xena could complain, he swept her into his arms. Xena is a big woman, but the priest's wiry strength was great and he handled her weight easily.
Both were now staring deeply into each other's glittering eyes. The priest turned and kicked open the door and carried Xena, still stroking his hair and caressing his face, into one of the inn's rooms on the first floor. The priest gently set his wonderful burden gently down onto the floor, where he again encased her in another powerful embrace. Their tongues flitted against each other's. Xena chuckled deeply which seemed to excite Demodocus even more. The priest had deftly untied the leather lacing of Xena dress and then he did the same with the linen shift underneath. Xena untied the lacing on Demodocus' shirt and then pulled it down until his arms were free. Demodocus stood back and looked at Xena with almost a look of wonder and awe, but his clouded brown eyes once again fixed on her brilliant blues. In an instant the brass fittings holding the dress' straps fell away and Xena shrugged both the dress and the shift to the floor.
Demodocus sat back on the bed staring at Xena utterly stunned. Xena took her long black hair and draped it in front of her, and let the priest look. Xena's beauty rivaled all the greatest of the statues that Demodocus had ever seen. She was lean but not overly so, and perfectly proportioned. Her muscles, gained from long years of very hard work, were clearly seen and elegant in shape. Every inch of her seemed as if her body had been planned by some unseen sculptor, each sinew had a reason, each limb was an invitation.
Xena bent and pulled off her boots, then pushed the priest onto his back and roughly removed his boots and trousers, somehow both at once. Demodocus again sat up. Kneeling in front of him, but not allowing her gaze to leave the priest's chiseled face, Xena felt Demodocus' arms and chest slowly and carefully. The man's body was lean and very hard. His muscles were long, as befits someone who runs. His chest was covered with chestnut hair sprinkled with a smattering of gray. On Demodocus' belly there was a scar, a scar that Xena knew immediately was caused by a sword. She ran her finger along it, her bond to her fellow veteran growing deeper with every inch the scar traveled.
"You weren't thinking that my stripe went all the way down there did you Xena?" The priest mocked gently.
Xena shrugged and smiled while letting out her low chuckle. Putting her finger to his mouth to shush him, she bent over Demodocus and pulled him onto the bed; then she joined him astride his waist.
The lovemaking went on in silence except for the muted sounds of pleasure and excitement. At first their passion was intense and very focused then, gentle and languorous thereafter. Each partner trying things and exploring each other as if they were continents yet unknown. Each had contrasting styles, but both seemed to know when to become aggressive or passive. And both seemed to have unlimited endurance---the ecstasy went on hour after hour.
Finally, the evening reached a prolonged yet explosive conclusion; finished, they both fell into a tender embrace, eyes still locked in wonder and affection.
"I can see why Eros was after you!" Xena opined a crooked grin of utter satisfaction on her face.
"Shhh, My Princess, you glorious Lioness! Lay back and sleep, for tomorrow may be hard and deadly. The Maiden has given me the greatest gift that she can bestow, and I intend to keep her alive!"
Xena looked at her new lover and knew immediately that Demodocus would do exactly that. She rolled towards him, wrapped herself around him, kissed him long and hard, and then fell immediately to sleep.
The next morning Gabrielle awakened before her two friends. This was unusual for it was always true that Xena was up and about before the sun rose, and she always let Gabrielle sleep for a while. Gabrielle was ecstatic for this change in routine because she thought that it was high time that Xena received the kind of attention that she deserved. It was clear that before Xena had saved the baby, she had been a woman of experience who never lacked for male company, but afterwards she seemed to be looking for ways to deprive herself of her emotional needs so that she could make up for her past. Perhaps she had used the men in the past much as Petrocles had used her at one time. Now that Xena was gone, replaced by a woman who while retaining every bit of her power, was more human and accessible.
The reason why Demodocus had denied himself was very different. His gift gave him a great responsibility. He could be emotionally intimate with anyone he chose merely by touching them. This intimacy could not be reciprocated. He thought of himself as the guardian of his patient's feelings and would normally never allow himself to become involved emotionally with them for fear of losing his compassion and objectivity as a physician and spiritual counselor. With Xena it was very different. He had finally found a person who rivaled his own power, and who had great reserves of compassion within her. Equally intelligent, they had totally contrasting and complimentary styles. To Gabrielle's mind their relationship was right and inevitable. She thanked the gods that she was there to celebrate it.
When Xena came out of her room the next morning, Gabrielle made sure that there was plenty of food available. When Xena came into the great hall, dressed in Demodocus' ceremonial robe, the Bard gave her a hug and told her how happy she was for her. Xena herself looked as soft and as happy as the bard had ever seen her.
"Thank you Gabrielle, that means a lot coming from you!"
"Well?" Gabrielle inquired with a sly look on her face.
"Well what?" Xena replied with an equally sly look on her face.
"Well, You know! Well?" Gabrielle beamed.
Xena chuckled. "I'll tell you later."
Both looked up for Demodocus had arrived ready to go. "Ladies!" he said and he grabbed two oranges and headed to the door but he was stopped short. Outside the pounding of hoofbeats could be heard which concluded in the sound of the horse skidding to a halt. Within seconds came a pounding on the front door. Demodocus opened it and in the doorway stood a very young soldier in Catreous' army.
"Sir! Demodocus Sir?"
"Go ahead son."
"There is a major riot going on in Achelous, about ten miles west of here sir! Orders?" barked the soldier. "Demodocus, May I?" It was Xena.
"You're the General Xena." Demodocus said.
"Get fifteen men, well mounted and armed with lances. Issue three days rations and saddle two more horses. Bring them here in five minutes. MOVE!" Xena told the soldier.
Demodocus stepped aside to allow the trooper to see his new commander. The young man's eyes grew very wide at what he saw. He wasn't used to being commanded by a goddess in a translucent blue robe. Xena looked at him with a glare, but the trooper was sharp. He recovered his wits, then bellowed: "Yes Ma'am!" and turned on his heel and left.
"Gabrielle you're riding." Xena barked. "Demodocus load up your mule. Gabrielle help Demodocus. I have to get dressed." Xena raced into her room Demodocus' robe fluttering behind her has she discarded it. The priest caught it before it hit the ground. "This happen often?" Demodocus asked Gabrielle with a smile on his face.
Gabrielle nodded. She had turned a little green when she heard the news about her riding. She turned her head towards the priest who said:
"I can handle my stuff Gabrielle, you pack up what food you can. Maude can carry it easily." Gabrielle turned and was gone too.
Demodocus had gotten both his mule and Argo saddled and out of the stable in quick time. Gabrielle came tearing out of the back door laden with the rations. Demodocus had already mounted and had one of the covers on the panniers on Maude open.
Gabrielle dumped her load into the open box and shut the lid. She turned and confronted the horse that the troopers had brought. It was a big. very big, gray gelding. She turned and stuck her foot in the stirrup and mounted. The big horse providentially proved to be as placid as a water buffalo. Behind them they heard a crash, and both people swiveled their heads to see what had happened.
It was Xena kicking open the roadhouse's side door. She came tearing out of the roadhouse at the dead run. Demodocus was holding Argo by the reins. The moment Xena came into view she blew two quick whistles and Argo reared pulling the reins out of Demodocus' hands. The priest at first looked alarmed as the horse broke free, but watched marveling as the palomino trotted over to about ten feet from, and perpendicular to the nearest hitching rail. The horse's head was away from the rail. Xena took a flying hurdle and her left foot hit the hitching rail. Ululating, she pushed off into a front flip, her hair and her saddlebag fluttering. She landed perfectly on the saddle and dropped the bag over Argo's withers. Xena reined the palomino in, pointed at the troopers who watched this performance with eyes wide, and yelled: "FOLLOW ME!" while sweeping her open hand towards the west. Argo then bolted into a gallop with the fifteen troopers falling in behind her.
Demodocus watched open mouthed. "Doe she do that often?" He said with a stupefied look on his face.
Gabrielle looked at the priest, still swaying on the back of the gelding and answered grinning: "Only when a fight's coming, or she feels really good!"
Demodocus shook his head laughing. "Who have I gotten myself involved with!" Demodocus exclaimed. He then urged his brown colt into a resolute trot with Maude and Gabrielle swaying right behind him.
The trip seemed to take forever. Gabrielle thought that it was really something to watch Xena at work. She had never seen her friend command troops before. For the first time she saw that Xena really loved what she had done in the past for so long. Xena was strong and observant, but she took the time to talk to each of the fourteen men and the sergeant that commanded them. Gabrielle saw that she talked to each of the men differently. Xena used her skill at reading people masterfully, she was sharp with some, maternal with others, seductive with still others. Gabrielle could see the confidence of the men climb by watching their body language. The men sat their horses straighter, their eyes seemed brighter, and they laughed more easily. Gabrielle
then saw Xena order one man to gallop ahead as the point and two more, one to each flank, to screen for any suspicious movements.
Demodocus watched carefully as well, and a face of wistful sadness came to his face. He saw that the big Thracian threw all of herself into leading. He thought that no wonder her armies were the juggernauts they once were. Demodocus was sad for he now knew the depth of the tragedy of Xena. The one thing in her life that she loved above all else was what nearly killed her soul. As a result of this conclusion the priest muttered a prayer to the Maiden to give Xena the wisdom she needed to keep using her love of the military life responsibly.
About mid-morning the man Xena had sent ahead to ride point came galloping back to the column with a report:
"Ma'am! There's a header of smoke around that bend. I investigated. The town is on fire. All of it!" The trooper barked.
"Any more?" Xena commanded.
"Yes! There is a large group of people, several hundred I think, that are having some kind of party on the other side of town. People were being ritually killed and I saw all kinds of disgusting perversions Ma'am. It was disgusting!" The young man shook with rage.
"Calm down Iohippus!" Xena snapped. "That is the god Eros messing with your head! He wants you to act on your anger. You will not do that! That is an order! Either I or king Catreous will have your head if you act on one feeling! Now that was a good report! Good work. Get back to the column." Xena reined Argo around to face the column as Demodocus trotted up.
"What do you need the men to do?" The Warrior Princess asked the priest.
"Xena you need to keep the people off of my back long enough for our little surprise to work, and to invoke the Maiden so that she can draw off their rage. Please don't kill any more people than you have to." Demodocus asked.
Xena spurred ahead to the column and ordered: "Take the heads off of your lances! Tie your bedrolls around the head." The troops did so. "Now break ranks and gather around me." The men did what they were ordered. "The people we are attacking are innocent dupes of the god Eros. Do not kill anyone unless you are in dire risk of your own life. Break legs if you must but do not kill! Do you understand me? Remember these are your countrymen." The troops all nodded. "Next, do not allow yourself to lose control. You will be subjected to extreme feelings; all right feel them, BUT DO NOT GIVE IN! If you do, the god will have you and you may end up dead. Obey your orders to the letter. Fall back on your professionalism. I have been impressed with you men in the day we have known each other. You are well trained and disciplined. I can trust you will not let humanity down."
"Yes Ma'am!" the men yelled.
Xena turned to Demodocus with a raised eyebrow.
"Right Xena! C'mon Gabrielle!" The priest and the Bard rode up the road by themselves. "Section! Column of twos!" Xena the Warrior Princess barked and the men and horses formed up.
"By the right flank FORWAAARD---YOOOOO!!!" and with a grand sweeping gesture of her free hand, Xena led the cavalrymen off the road and out of sight.
The little town had been destroyed already. Both Demodocus and Gabrielle tried to accept their anger over the carnage that they had seen. "Gabrielle, just allow yourself to get mad; let it go through you." Anticipating Gabrielle's question the priest said "No Gabrielle don't get used to it. You see, Xena did!"
The Bard looked at the priest with a tear in her eye and nodded. In a few minutes both of them had passed thorough town and began to climb a small rise. They could hear the sounds of screams of terror, revelry, arousal and rage. The two looked at each other. Gabrielle was scared and told the priest so.
"Its OK Gabrielle, just let it be so. Fight it and Eros will have you. You beat him before and you can beat him again. Just don't get carried away by what you see. Just do what we discussed and you will be fine." The priest put his hand on the Bard's head and felt immediately that Gabrielle was doing just fine.
Gabrielle turned to the priest and muttered: "Ohh I hope so!"
They tied their horses and Maude to a tree and unloaded the mule. Gabrielle carried the Priest's small altar while the priest slung a very heavy bag over his shoulder. When they were done they crept up the small rise and looked over. What they saw revolted them both. Gabrielle was especially affected by what she saw. The emotion she felt was revulsion.
Eros had clearly not gotten what he wanted from mere violence. Xena had stumbled on some kind of a sex orgy earlier, now Eros had combined the two. Hundreds of people were milling around a central point near the road in a grove of trees. Many of them were engaged in raw animal sex. Many others were in the process of torturing the remainder. Some were even mixing the sex and violence. What Demodocus and Gabrielle were seeing were people who had totally lost control over their feelings and had surrendered to their baser instincts. Gabrielle wondered what had happened to their humanity.
"Demodocus, there must be three hundred people down there! There are only eighteen of us! Granted one of them is Xena, but how are we to stop this?" Gabrielle asked very worried.
"Just follow my lead and do what I tell you Gabrielle. Remember what we discussed last night. Just don't act on any feelings OK?" The priest reached out and patted the Bard on her back. "All right?" Demodocus asked and Gabrielle nodded. "Right!" the priest exclaimed and he stood and walked towards the clearing with Gabrielle close behind.
After a few minutes the pair arrived at the clearing, where the horrendous activity was at a fever pitch. In the center of this human maelstrom sat the little god who was involved in unspeakable acts with at least five people. He was so distracted by his pursuit of pleasure that he failed to notice the approach if his greatest mortal foe.
Demodocus put down the bag he was carrying and Gabrielle quickly set up the priest's portable altar. Demodocus unloaded the bag which contained many small terra-cotta jars, all of which had been gathered from the road house they had left earlier. When the priest was finished, he stood and faced the god.
"Eros!" he called. "EROS! You lascivious child! Stop what you are doing and pay attention!"
Eros started. He swept away the women who were servicing him and he looked towards the offending voice. Seeing Demodocus he immediately flew into a temper tantrum and floated up into the air.
"You stinking Priest! How dare you block me from my purpose!" Eros screeched. He was bobbing up and down in the air as if he were on a spring. He started whining and crying uncontrollably. Finally mastering himself, Eros pointed at the priest and bellowed: "You get that bloodless whore Athena to leave me alone or you will rot in Tartarus for an eternity! I have too many servants here for you to do anything against me!"
"Eros, you are wrong! Without us you cannot exist! Humans are not the animals you can control at your silly whim! We can think! We can act rationally! We need you true, but we are not your slaves! YOU CANNOT HURT US!" The Priest exclaimed in an earnest tone. "Get ready Gabrielle!" the priest whispered out of the side of his mouth. She quickly tied a slip of fine silk cloth over her nose and mouth. The priest did the same. Then Gabrielle leaned her staff against the altar table and picked up several of the many terra-cotta jars that lay stacked at her feet. "You are powerless over us if we do not require you!" Demodocus yelled pointing. "YOU CANNOT BE ALL THINGS!"
This sent the little god totally over the edge. Giggling uncontrollably, the little god slowly spun on his axis and screamed: "SERVANTS STOP!" The torture and perversions stopped and all the people, most in varying stages of undress, turned their faces towards the god. Eros turned and pointed at Demodocus. "This meddlesome bastard is stopping your fun! How dare a mere mortal interfere with your worship of me! DESTROY HIM!" The people, even the badly wounded, stood and started walking towards Demodocus and Gabrielle, with bloody murder on their minds.
"Now Gabrielle!" Demodocus yelled. Gabrielle started throwing the jars into the mob as quickly as she could. When the jars hit the ground they exploded with a brilliant flash and a huge gout of gray brown smoke emerged from each explosion. Again and again the pops went off and the berserk crowd jolted in surprise but continued in their advance. Suddenly, behind the ridge that lay east of the clearing there was heard a high, nasal, and bizarre keening sound. Immediately thereafter came the awful tearing noise: "YIYIYIYIYIYIYIYIYI!!" This horrifying din was accompanied by the thunder of many horse's hooves. The advancing crowd stopped and turned, and almost as one their jaws dropped in shock.
Xena and her cavalry came roaring over the ridge as if they were landslide. Xena, her sword swinging over her head like a banner, rode Argo on the right flank of a single line of troopers all of whom, their padded lances presented in front of them, rode side by side. All, including Xena, wore silk cloths over their mouths and noses like Demodocus and Gabrielle. One of the men had no lance. It was the guida player from the camp the night before. He played the Thracian bagpipe as loudly as he could which added to the terror by its frightening screech. "C'MON BOYS! HIT'EM!" The Warrior Princess yelled.
Xena had used the ground brilliantly. She had found a covered approach to the grove of trees. Using the dead area behind the ridge as a refuge, she had deployed the troopers stealthily and prepared them for the charge. Demodocus had told her to attack as soon as she heard the first explosions of the extemporized grenades the priest and she had made the night before. On the charging troopers came. A lot of the berserk crowd ignored the cavalry and continued their rush against the priest, but with over half of them Eros' destruction of their emotional control had been too successful for they broke and fled in uncontrollable panic.
The troopers hit the crowd of berserkers like a sledgehammer. The padded ends of their lances knocked many to the ground and many of those who remained upright found themselves on the wrong end of a trained cavalry horse's kick. The formation rode through the mob scattering many. The troopers had been told by their commander to avoid injuring the unfortunate dupes but some people were inevitably injured. On the other side of the mob, the disordered troopers retired to reform but without Xena. Xena had ridden towards Demodocus and Gabrielle where on her arrival, she dismounted with her usual flipping flourish and joined her friends in defending the Priest's vulnerable position. Without their leader, the troopers reformed and charged again.
Inevitably some of the berserkers filtered through to the Priest's altar but Xena handled them one by one. Gabrielle threw the grenades until they were expended then picked up her staff and joined Xena in the fight. Xena had replaced her sword in her scabbard and fought hand to hand. Gabrielle's now frightening skill with her staff added to the scattered bodies. Many of the berserk attackers flew over the head of the priest, either thrown by the Warrior Princess or hammered by the Bard.
Demodocus was now deeply enmeshed in his ritual of manifestation. "Mighty Maiden! Mistress of Wisdom! Daughter of Thunder! Teacher of Right in War! come to me and claim your errant brother! The Humanity you love begs you to add your mighty hand to this battle for the right! Help me bring peace to these broken and disturbed souls! Banish Eros to your control! Come to me and take the imp into your custody!"
"NONONONONONONONO!!!" Eros wailed. The little god was now beside himself in impotent rage. All of his attempts to dominate the hearts of his attackers had failed. The troopers, whom he had thought to be weak turned out to be devastatingly strong and
Xena had proven the strongest of all. Her power was so immense he felt that she was even beginning to affect him, A GOD! Unable to do any more, his pleasure thwarted, his desire to control all defeated, Eros slipped to the ground crying and beating the ground in frustration.
Xena was enjoying herself. She was chuckling and laughing loudly. Many of the people that had rushed the priest had become dazed and unfocussed. The smoke bombs they had made, which contained valarian powder, had worked. The tranquilizing herb had burned in the explosions and the inhaled smoke had calmed and confused the people who had charged. The fumes had exacerbated their rational failure making them even more vulnerable to hers, and Gabrielle's, martial skills. Most of the affected had either fled or were down injured or unconscious. Gabrielle herself had been caught up in Xena's mood for she reveled in the fight as much as her friend did.
At last Demodocus' chanting ritual had reached its climax. Turning to the maelstrom around him, suddenly his eyes opened wide and he yelled "ATHENA COMES!!" and pointed upward to the west. There appeared a globe of translucent blue light that flew silently towards the priest. All who looked stopped what they were doing for the light was in their minds as much as it was in the air.
Xena took a final swipe at a charging man and knocked him back on his behind and saw that the charge of the others had stopped. Turning she saw the light and an incredible warm feeling came to her mind and body. It was the same feeling that had suffused
her when the Goddess had relieved her of Eros's planted rage and she watched with joy and relief. Gabrielle looked and felt as if a friend had come. Gabrielle knew that Athena was really here.
The globe of light stopped in front of Demodocus and it changed into the familiar shape of the goddess that they had seen before, tall straight and clothed in a translucent blue robe. Her hair blonde hair cascaded down her back, while her gray-blue eyes glittered.
"You call me again my eyes!" She said simply. Demodocus simply raised his hand and pointed at the prostrate Eros who was still rolling on the ground in his infantile tantrum. The Goddess turned and said questioningly "EROS!?"
The little god had again flitted into the air and spun to face his accoster. "NO ATHENA, NO! You can't take me back to Olympus! I'll die there! I won't let you do it!"
"Oh you irresponsible imp! I will not allow you to reign unchecked to destroy my people any longer!" With that Athena began to grow larger and ever larger! Her robe evaporated. A golden Mycenean helmet appeared on her head and a great spear appeared in her right hand. A scarlet cloak flew in the wind attached to a golden chain around her neck. In a trice the apparition grew to a height of at least 50 feet. Magnificent in her nudity, the Goddess of Wisdom and War became the exemplar of the warrior woman in the flesh. She bent and picked up the little god gently between her thumb and forefinger as if the God were some kind of insect. She held Eros up to her eye and exclaimed: "I shall take you home to Father Zeus so that he might punish you for disturbing my modesty." The little god kicked and fussed as if he were an infant baby. Then the Goddess simply disappeared.
Xena had watched all that had occurred with amazement. She had seen the Titans, worked with Hades, and was friends with Hercules and nothing she had seen could top what had just happened. Never had she expected in her life that she would see a god capture another god. Also she also never expected to see a god act so clearly in a responsible manner for the interests of humanity rather than her own whim. Xena was deeply impressed. She turned and looked at Demodocus who now lay prostrate on the ground arms outstretched in supplication to his patroness. In a moment he finished his prayer and stood. Xena ran over and gave him a hug followed by Gabrielle who did the same.
Before anyone could say anything what appeared to be a gust of wind hit them. Turning, all were shocked to see that the Goddess had returned. Once more she had come in her modest attire and size. Quietly she pointed at Xena and said "Mighty One Harken to me if you will!" Demodocus and Gabrielle looked at the Goddess in surprise and awe.
Xena walked over quietly to the goddess. Gabrielle had seen her friend confront other gods. Xena had always been defiant but careful. She acted very different with Athena. Gabrielle tried to figure out why, perhaps it was because she had helped her when she was mad with rage.
"Treat me as an equal, Xena!" The goddess said simply. Xena's mouth opened wide; surely no god could possibly mean that!
Athena continued. "Xena, the moment you saved that baby from the evil Darfus you began to serve me. From that instant, my you broke the hold of my rival brother Ares. My Eyes showed to me the wound that slashes across your soul that Ares and the fates have inflicted upon you. It has made your life difficult and painful. Yet you have borne that pain with courage that equals every god. Although you have been serving me for a long time, you have yet to acknowledge that fact.
I tell you now, Xena, that you are fated to serve me. I have been with you since your birth, but other gods have deemed it necessary that you suffer. I can help you end that suffering. I wish to help you for you now represent everything that I do, but until you acknowledge me as your patron by your own volition, you will still suffer and Ares will still hound you until your death. If you acknowledge me your life will become more magnificent than you can imagine. Indeed, you will reside upon Olympus itself when you pass over to the other side. Xena as your friend, I ask you to trust me to protect you so that you can surrender to your fate and reach the heights of which you are capable of reaching."
"Athena I..." Xena tried to say but emotion filled her until she could no longer speak. Athena though held up her hand to silence her.
"Xena, my beloved sister in arms! I will return home now for you and my Eyes have much work ahead to repair the spirits of these unfortunate mortals that my cruel brother Eros has broken. You need not say anything now, but if in future you merely ask for me to come, I will be there with you arrayed for battle. I leave then you to make your decision. Adieu!" Athena reached out and put her hand on Xena's shoulder and her magnificent gray-blue eyes peered deeply into Xena's electric blue eyes. Xena swelled with admiration and nodded, and Athena evaporated.
Demodocus walked up to Xena and swept her hair from her eyes. "Xena that decision is only the beginning! The Maiden is patient. Take whatever time you need. Do not worry about my opinion of you however. Whatever your decision may be it will not alter my opinion of you. I will care about your fate forever!" Xena looked at her lover and a tear came to her eyes and she kissed the priest very long and hard.
The Maiden had been right. There was a lot of work to do. Many people had been injured physically as well as emotionally. Xena treated the physical wounds while Demodocus handled the spiritual wounds. Several of the fifteen troopers, who had all emerged from the melee unharmed were dispatched as runners to bring wagons and assistance to help bring the people to Chalsis on to Athens if Demodocus deemed it necessary. It took days but the job was done.
Back in Chalsis Xena, Gabrielle and Demodocus stood on the dock waiting for the final call for the boat to Athens to board. Xena walked over to the Priest and began to speak, but she looked down towards the ground, her words refusing to come.
"You don't have to say Xena, it was my intense pleasure to help. You already know what I feel about you." Demodocus picked his friend's chin up and looked into Xena's eyes. Its a shame that our missions take us apart, but fear not, I think of you every second that I am awake!"
"Demodocus," Xena said at length, "I cannot thank you enough! I now can see my future if I choose to do so. Without you Athena would have not come to me. I now need time to take stock and think about what the Maiden told me. I cannot forget you, and I trust you and I will cross paths and spend time together again. If you need me I will be there, and you can be sure that I will be in Athens again soon. We still have a lot of fun to share with each other. Demodocus, I love you!"
"I know Xena!" Demodocus exclaimed and the lovers embraced and kissed. "Until we meet again my Lioness!" Demodocus said and he boarded the boat home.
When Demodocus boarded Xena turned and joined Gabrielle who also stood on the dock. As the ship was pushed away from the quayside and the great square sail was sheeted home, both Xena and Gabrielle waved at the retreating form of the remarkable priest with the stripe in his hair.
"Xena, of all the events I have been through with you, this last adventure was the most incredible. What can I say about Demodocus? He is an incredible, wonderful man! You are doubly blessed to meet him and to know that if you decide correctly your fate is assured."
Xena nodded. "My mother was right all those years ago. A goddess was looking over my shoulder. That is quite a thing to come to terms with. What do you say we go off on a trip to rest and think, Gabrielle?" The Bard shrugged "Sure!" she said, but her answer was interrupted by a horse sliding to a stop behind them.
The rider jumped down and asked: "Which one of you is the Warrior Princess?"
"I am!" Xena replied with a grave look on her face. The rider handed her a piece of parchment and Xena read it.
"Its from Melosa!" Xena interjected, "An unknown army is raiding Amazon land near Larisa. She needs our help!"
Gabrielle shook her head. "It never ends does it?"
"Nope!" Xena said, and both friends went to get Argo.