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About a week ago, Xena jumped me and said, "Write this or else." I
didn't want the circulation cut off to my brain, so here goes.
Gabrielle dragged Xena into yet another inn--crowded, nasty--smelling
like a mixture of men needing to bathe; the stew of the day, slightly
charred, and mold. Xena's eyes swept the room looking for trouble and
there it was, surrounded by rowdys. She was a taller, darker version of
Gabrielle, but with a cruel set to her mouth and eyes as hard as a
Gabrielle went stiff. She shot the woman a look, and didn't even
turn around before she was halfway back out the door. The woman took off
after her, and Xena stood in her way.
The woman gave her a look that made her skin crawl. The door shut
with Gabrielle probably on the other side and this hard-bitten someone
Gabrielle most definately did not want to see, on this side.
"Just what in Hades do you think you are doing?", asked the woman."I
haven't seen my cousin in years."
Xena lifted an eyebrow.
"Gabrielle. I don't know who you think you are, but I'm not giving
The woman pushed almost past Xena, when Xena's arm shot out and
caught the woman. She turned and raked her long fingernails across Xena's
neck. Xena grabbed her hand and pounded her fist into her face. Instead of
falling, like most people did, the woman narrowed her eyes like a cat and
stomped her foot at an angle to Xena's knee--not at all like a cat. If
Xena hadn't twisted out of the way, she might have lost a kneecap.
Then she heard Gabrielle's voice behind her.
"Jacosta, leave her alone."
So now Gabrielle was protecting her. The woman gave her another
shove and went over to Gabrielle. There was no smile or hug, just that
circling dance like two curs planning a fight.
"Hello cousin.", said Jacosta, and her voice dripped venom.
"Jacosta.", said Gabrielle.
"Who is your overly protective friend?"
"Do you think I'm going to introduce *you* to a friend?"
"Still trying to be the white sheep of the family, huh?" Well I have
news. You're no better than the rest of us. Don't try to be so high and
moral. I know who you are. Just watch this."
And Jacosta raised her voice to address the whole inn.
Hey everybody, I want to introduce my cousin, Gabrielle, granddaugter
of Eccarius and great-granddaughter of Celefacles."
Somehow the room emptied within seconds. Gabrielle looked at Xena,
apologetic, then back to Jacosta.
"You know, I really hate you sometimes."
Jacosta threw an arm around Gabrielle with a wicked smile.
"I knew you had it in you."
Xena was beginning to really dislike this Jacosta woman. She
usually didn't let her emotions cloud her thinking, but this woman was
playing mind games with Gabrielle--trying to make her part of that
detestable family. Xena knew Gabrielle's heart. She put a hand on
Gabrielle's shoulder. She could feel her stop shivering. Xena turned to
Jacosta and asked the question that wouldn't leave her mind.
"What do you want?"
"I'm renewing old family ties. Getting to know my cousin..."
"Yeah, right. I repeat, What do you want?"
Jacosta moved with easy grace to the table she had been standing at,
and picked up her wooden and leather mug. She swung a leg over the bench
and sat, swinging her other leg up and over, showing her calf as she did.
She smiled insolently at Xena.
"Name your poison. I'm buying.", she said, waving her hand over the
Gabrielle winced. She sat where she could see Jacosta's hands. Xena
did the same.
"Hey, innkeeper--some wine, aw why not, some ouzo over here."
The innkeeper ducked behind the bar. He bobbed up with an open
bottle. Gabrielle frowned.
"No. Make sure the bottle is opened by me, with my own hands."
The innkeeper got another bottle, well covered with dust. Gabrielle
smiled. He had obviously heard of her family. Gabrielle and Xena got out
their mugs. Gabrielle opened the bottle, sniffed the contents and poured a
tiny bit into her mug. She tasted it, then passed it to Xena.
It smelled okay. She tasted. It was Ouzo alright. Nice and strong.
She nodded to Gabrielle, who poured them each a mug full, then some for
Jacosta. Xena noticed how careful Gabrielle was to keep the bottle out of
Jacosta leaned forward, treating Xena to a view of her breasts.
"Gabrielle, did you know grandfather left an inheritance when he
"So what? He killed my father. I don't want anything of his."
"Think what you could do with your half of it. Ten thousand dinars.
Your mother and step-father could live in comfort the rest of their lives.
Your sister could stay single forever and you could help so many
struggling young bards..."
Xena could see Gavrielle waver. This was the sort of thing that was
Gabrielle's weakness. Xena knew there was a trap in there somewhere. She
also wondered why Jacosta had made such a point of introducing Gabrielle
to the whole inn. Probably had somebody planted. She'd have to watch
Gabrielle nodded slowly.
"Five thousand dinars would do a lot of good. What do I have to do?"
"Ten thousand, Gabrielle. He left twenty thousand dinars. He knew our
family well. Two of us have to claim the inheritance. That way we have to
work together. We can't kill each other before we get the money."
"Why is it I don't feel comforted by what you said?"
"Hey, at least I can't kill you just for sport--and you know I would.
It's just that we have other cousins."
"How many?", asked Xena.
"At last count? Five.
"I wonder how many, really.", thought Xena. "I'm not sleeping
"Where is your room?", asked Gabrielle.
"The end of the hall, next to yours."
Xena glared at Jacosta. "How did you know that?"
"It was the only one empty. Relax. The place we are going is just a
couple of days away. It's grandfather's old lair--a series of caves and
traps. You'll love how clever he was."
Jacosta got up, waved goodbye and sauntered to her room, moving her
Xena looked Gabrielle straight in the eye.
"Why are you doing this? You know you can't trust her."
Gabrielle flushed, then frowned.
"I want to help people, and with that kind of money..."
"You can't spend it if you're dead." And why is it important for
your sister to stay single? Does she like women?"
Gabrielle dropped her voice.
"She can't stand for anyone to touch her that way--men or women.
She's always been like that. My parents don't understand and Daddy wants
her to get married. She just wants to be left alone. I can't see her
somebody's housewife/servant for the rest of her life, having children
against her will. She'd rather kill herself."
Xena tried to imagine hating sex. She couldn't. But she did
understand being different. She also knew Gabrielle really loved her
sister. And Jacosta? She knew Gabrielle's weaknesses all too well.
"Xena, I'm starved. Let's get something to eat and then get to bed."
"I don't think we want to eat anything we haven't prepared ourselves.
We have plenty of food. Let's just eat in our room."
Gabrielle looked grave. The danger was finally beginning to sink in.
After a quick dinner from the food in Xena's saddlebags, Gabrielle
sat down on the bed. Xena went over to the bed. She shed her
armor and gambeson, and then sat down to take off her boots. She changed
her mind. Xena kissed Gabrielle deeply, knowing distractions needed to be
kept to a minimum, then laid down across the door way, sword at the ready.
She looked back at Gabrielle, who was sitting on the bed.
"Go to sleep. One of us needs to be alert in the morning."
"Gods, I get so tense watching her all the time. But you never know
if she's going to slip something into the drinks or food, or stab you with
a cleverly hidden dagger. The funny thing is, she says she's considered
the soft one in my family."
"Gabrielle, I thought you didn't know your father's family." Xena
sighed. She knew Gabrielle wanted to talk. Gabrielle got out of bed,
draped a blanket around herself and sat next to Xena.
"She came to my betrothal celebration--uninvited. Momma just figured
she was there either to kill us or poison the guests. I caught her trying
to seduce Peridcus. And she laced the wine with henbane. Everybody had a
*very* good time, but I learned not to trust her. We can't let her near
food and we have to watch her hands constantly."
"Sounds like a few warlords I've known. Are you sure you want to do
"Wev'e gone over this. Hold me, at least, since you want to watch the
door so bad."
Xena put an arm around Gabrielle and held her close. There were times
Xena felt so contented--then immediately guilty because she felt she
didn't deserve such contentment. She booted the ugly thought out of her
mind and kissed Gabrielle. They touched their cheeks together.
Soon Gabrielle was dozing. Xena gently laid her on the floor and
wrapped the blanket to cover her. She gave Gabrielle another kiss and let
a light sleep settle around her.
The sound that woke her was the door being eased open. Xena tensed
her hand on the hilt of her sword. The man emerging from the door held a
sword at the ready. He made the mistake of holding it in front of him at
an angle. Xena lunged, knocking his sword from his hand. She put his head
in a half-Nelson and pulled him further into the room. As she spun him, he
fell heavily, like a sack of turnips, only with a satisfying, "oof!"
When Xena turned him over, she could see the family resemblence. She
felt Gabrielle behind her.
"Was he trying to kill me?"
"Are you going to cut off the circulation to his brain?"
Gabrielle walked over to the man sprawled on the bed.
"I saw you try to do it to that merchant last month. Stiffen your
fingers--yeah, like that. Okay, now *this* is the spot Poke hard, yeah,
And Gabrielle grinned as she said "I've just cut off the circulation
to your brain you'll be dead in thirty seconds unless you tell me what I
want to know. Who are you?"
"I'm your cousin, Phillip.", he said, his face turning purple.
Who are you working with?"
"My brother, Lucas. Release me, please.", he choked.
Gabrielle looked at Xena, who showed her where to twist his pressure
point free. Gabrielle freed him, then her grin turned to anquish as she
"Xena, what about Jacosta?"
"You watch him, I'll check on her."
Xena ran to the room next door, and when she pulled the door open,
saw Jacosta standing over a dead man with a bloody dagger in her hand.
"Lucas, I presume."
"You're dead right. You didn't leave Gabrielle alone, did you?", she
said in a tone which implyed that Xena was stupid. As Xena backed out of
the room a terrific crash came from the room she shared with Gabrielle.
She raced inside to see a broken window, the laticework gaping open in the
middle and the cold air blowing through. Gabrielle stood looking outside.
"Gods, What happened?"
Gabrielle turned, her face unreadable.
"He jumped. He thought he could get away, but he didn't know there
was a ravine just below our window. I think he's dead."
Xena felt Jacosta behind her.
"Good job, cousin. I'll go bribe the innkeeper. It wouldn't do to
leave two dead bodies out in the open."
And Jacosta sauntered over to the innkeeper's rooms and knocked.
While she talked with him, Xena looked into Gabrielle's eyes.
"You didn't push him."
"No, but Jacosta wanted you to think so. Please, Xena, just have
faith in me. I'm not like the rest of my family."
And Xena closed the distance between them, taking Gabrielle into her
arms. "I know you aren't like *that* part of your family. And I trust
you--I've trusted you with my life."
"It's so cold in here."
Xena took her blanket and draped it over the broken window.
"I think the drama is over for the night. Let's keep each other
"How warm?" and Gabrielle took Xena's hand, leading her to their bed.
They got in and held each other under Gabrielle's blanket. After a few
kisses, Xena placed one big hand over both of Gabrielle's.
"I want to be alert. I love you too much to let anybody hurt you.
"So that's why we're sleeping with your sword, huh?
Then they held each other closer yet, drifting into a light sleep.
In the morning, as the light hit the blanket over the window, Xena
was already up, dressed and armed. Gabrielle stirred, then slowly opened
"Jacosta?", she asked.
"She came by a few minutes ago. She wants to get moving. Probably has
an ambush she doesn't want us to miss."
"There's good in her--I can feel it.", said Gabrielle.
"Are you sure your judgement isn't clouded. She's family after all,
and you are very big on family."
Gabrielle took Xena by the hand, touching her face with her
"When are you going to trust my feelings? I found you, didn't I?
Xena, she's never known anything else. You and I had mothers who loved us,
family we loved. She grew up where hate was honored and love laughed at.
She learned that life was cheap. She needs to unlearn it now."
"We thought that about Callisto, remember?"
"She was insane. Jacosta knows what she's doing."
"That's what worries me."
Jacosta rapped on the door, and when Gabrielle opened it, she
"You aren't even ready yet. We need to get going."
"Why?" Xena knew the word held all her suspicions.
"After last night? I'd think it would be obvious. I want to be there
first so that Gabrielle and I can get our inheritance. I perfer that we
make it in one piece."
Gabrielle combed her hair quickly. Xena winced as she looked at that
top. It brought back memories--one funny by now, the other sad.
Xena had been eleven years old when her mother was still trying to
domesticate her wild daughter. They had gathered onion skins, madder root
and a huge pile of nettles. Cyrene had shown Xena how to use gloves to
pick up the stinging leaves, and how to boil them in water to make a dye.
They fished the nettles out and died the familie's new chitons, shirts and
bracches. Then they rinsed over and over until the water finally ran
The madder root had produced a bright red, and Xena had hoped that
something of hers would be dyed, but Cyrene and Taurus's clothes got the
bit of red dye. The onion skins had surprised Xena. They made a bright
yellow. Xena had begged for something in yellow, and was rewarded with a
blouse that looked like a bit of sunshine. Now most of the dye was gone. A
skirt remained, just Xena's size. She watched as Cyrene had mixed the
last bits of dye together to get the single ugliest color Xena had ever
seen in her life. She knew better than to ask that the skirt remain white.
Xena had an exceptional talent for finding dirt. They put the skirt into
the dye, and sure enough, it had come out the exact color as Gabrielle's
When Gabrielle had been wounded, the bloodstains had ruined her
blouse. She had alread cut down and re-dyed her original clothing, but the
blood had hardened the cloth and it chaffed, so the bard had carefully cut
off the offending spot, and was left with a much smalled top, still
sprinkled with her own blood. Xena had gathered all the dye plants she
could find, but it was the wrong time a year for many of them, and so all
they could do was to mix them together. So, here was Gabrielle in that
AWFUL color. Xena again wished she had enough dinars to buy something
decent for her love.
Xena shook herself out of her reverie and inventoried her
weapons--chakrum, sword, breast dagger and throwing knives. She hoped it
would be enough. Xena picked up the saddlebags and waited for Gabrielle to
get her big pouch and staff.
They got on the road promptly. Argo shied away from Jacosta, as if to
say, "Beware this human." Xena patted her and rode on, her eyes sweeping
the area for danger.She frowned as she noticed Jacosta and Gabrielle
talking like old friends. Gabrielle wasn't paying enough attention to the
sides of the road and they were thickly wooded. It was then that Xena hear
something. She tensed. So did Argo. Xena felt a spear headed for her. She
closed her eyes, zeroed in on the feelong and plucked the spear out of the
air. Her adrenalin was pumping now. She felt alive and alert and only
slightly embarrassed to hear herself laugh out loud.
The problem with attacking someone with a spear is, if you miss,
there is nothing more to fight with. The young man who threw the spear at
Xena suddenly realised this, and took to his heels. Argo was right behind
him. What happened next was not Xena's fault, as one of those narrow, very
deep canyons opened up just ahead of the spear thrower. He didn't see it
in time, and fell in. Xena could hear his cry, but it was too late, and
she and Argo barely stopped in time to keep from joining him.
Xena wheeled Argo around to check on Gabrielle, for if Jacosta had
planned this ambush, Gabrielle was is great danger. When Xena bust into
the clearing, there was the other thug, lying dead at Jacosta's feet. Her
blade was covered with blood, and her face with a smile. Xena looked at
Gabrielle, and knew that she was at the end of her patience. Even
Gabrielle had her limits.
Gabrielle glared at Jacosta.
"Quit grinning and put that thing away. I think we should bury this
one, no time for a funeral pyre. Let's cover him with rocks and get out of
So they gathered rocks, and covered his body, then Gabrielle led them
down the road, watching for an ambush. She chose the place to camp, set up
the watches, and told Jacosta not to bother, She and Xena were used to
this sort of thing. So they took turns guarding the camp--partly from
intruders, mostly from Jacosta. Xena was very proud of Gabrielle.
The next day, they set off down the road again, and the countryside
changed. Limestone boulders, then cliffs rose above them. They could hear
water far below, and trees hugged what barren ground they could find to
Then they turned a corner and towering over them was a cyclops. He
watched them placidly as they approached.
"Hello Pirro, how are you?", said Jacosta.
"I am well. Who is this with you?"
"This is my cousin, Gabrielle, and Xena Warrior Princess."
Xena couldn't help squirming at the hated nickname. It had been given
to her by peasants she had attacked to show how ignoble her behavior had
been in their village. The name had stuck, and she winced every time she
"Why is she with you? She is not family. Only the living descendants
of Celefaleus may enter his lair."
"Only the living?" asked Gabrielle.
"Yes. That is to keep them from killing a cousin and dragging the
dead body in to bypass the rule that two must enter."
"If someone has been to the underworld, are they living or dead?"
"The living have been there Orpheus has, as has Heracles."
"What is their body has been in Tartarus for a week?"
"Then they are dead."
"Okay, then Xena is dead." And Gabrielle smiled her prettiest smile.
Soon the cyclops smiled too.
"Alright, I'll let your friend in."
And he stepped back to reveal the entrance to the cave. Jacosta lead
them. About twenty steps into the cave, she stopped and lit a torch. Then
motioned everyone to stop. She pointed out a trip wire. They all stepped
"What was that?", asked Xena.
"It sets off about ten arrows.", said Jacosta.
They continued cautiously, Jacosta obviously looking for something.
Finally they came to a hole in the wall. Light shown from the cave roof
onto a curious set of markings. Jacosta looked at then, and as the ray of
light was about to hit a mark, she shouted,
They backed up fast as a blast of steam jumped out of a hidden
geyser. It whooshed out of the ground so hot they could feel the steam on
their hands and faces. Then it was gone.
"Run.", said Jacosta. And they ran to another crook in the passage.
Jacosta stopped then and got out a mirror. Xena was beginning to wonder
how Jacosta knew all the traps so well. She aimed the mirror around the
corner, then smiled.
"The trap ahead is very creative. Grandfather somehow aquirred the
head of Medusa."
"The one that turns you to stone if you look at it?", asked
Gabrielle, her voice rising to a squeek."
"Yes. I know that Perseus' shield is on the wall above the head, and
if I hold the mirror just right, I can guide us around the head to the
other side, where we can't see it. You'll have to close your eyes, though.
I can't have you turning to stone on me."
And if there was anything Xena did not want to do, was to close her
eyes and trust Jacosta to guide her and Gabrielle past Medusa's head.
Xena glanced at Gabrielle, who didn't look too thrilled at the
"Come on. It's a small mirror, and we can't all guide us. I know
where to look."
"Just how is it that you know where to look?", asked Gabrielle.
"I'll tell you later. Let's go."
So Xena took a deep breath and put her hand on Jacosta's shoulder.
She felt Gabrielle's hand in hers as they followed Jacosta around a bend.
They were lead slowly, as if Jacosta was having trouble. Then they rounded
another bend. Suddenly Xena's foot stepped on something that felt too much
like a human hand. The passage stunk, as if something dead was in there
with them. Xena couldn't stand it anymore. She remembered her experience
with Gabrielle in her world, so she kept her eyes shut.
"What's taking so long?"
"You can look now.", said Jacosta.
Xena gave Gabrielle's hand a squeeze, to warn her to delay opening
her eyes until Xena saw if they were really safe. Then Xena slowly opened
her eyes. No Medusa head assaulted her eyes, but her nose was definately
under attack. She looked down, and she was standing on a dead man's hand.
Xena moved her foot, and looked at the poor, bloated remains. Gabrielle
opened her eyes too.
"Who is--I mean, was he?", asked Xena.
"My brother, Creon.", said Jacosta.
"So that's how you knew all the traps and things. Then why did you
need us?", ask Gabrielle.
"I'll show you.", and they followed Jacosta as she entered the
chamber with the money in a chest and the biggest, scaliest dragon Xena
had ever seen.
"I see your problem. Gabrielle, do you still want to do this?"
"We need Jacosta to get out. She has the mirror."
"Oh, yeah. Then I guess I fight the dragon.", and Xena drew her
The dragon glared at Xena with huge, yellow eyes. She felt like a
mouse stalking a cat. The dragon drew its head back as she approached,
then thrust its head forward and fire poured out of its mouth. Xena jumped
and backflipped out of the way, but she could see singe marks on her arm
guard. This was going to be a real challenge. She tried sneaking up from
behind the beast, but its enormous tail sent her flying. As she thudded
into a cave wall, she stood, and tried to shake her brains back into
order. She remembered talking to Heracles about his fights with monsters.
She had an idea.
"Gabrielle, give me your staff."
Gabrielle threw the staff to her, and Xena caught it handily.
"Somehow, both ends of this thing need to be attacked at once. Any
Gabrielle looked around the room and saw a glaive hanging on the cave
wall. It still looked sharp and the weight would add to her strength. She
got it down and swung it up, over her shoulder. Xena have her warcry, and
as the startled beast opened its mouth, Xena stuck the staff inside, so
that the mouth was propped open. At the same time, Gabrielle swung down on
its tail. The glieve chopped halfway through the tail, causing a roar of
pain from the dragon, and a spattering of blood on Gabrielle. She pulled
the blade out of the tail, and chopped again. Dragon's blood spurted up
and covered her as she chopped through the tail. As the great beast lifted
up its body, Xena plunged her sword through its heart. She winced as blood
flowed over her from her shoulders down, covering her left side.
"Yuck! This is sticky."
"Tell me about it. My old Gepid granny used to say that dragon's
blood makes you impervious to arrows and swords. I hope she's right. I'm
red all over."
The Xena noticed what was missing in all this.
"The money is missing too. You were right, I shouldn't have trusted
her. By the way, how are we going to get out of here?"
Xena had a sixth sense about caves. Going back seemed dangerous and
foolish. Xena felt another opening somewhere.
"Let's see if there is another way out."
Gabrielle, still holding her weapon, nodded.
They took the torch from the wall and looked for a passageway leading
away from Medusa's head. Gabrielle found it first.
"Here. It's small, you'll have to duck down."
They eased through the opening, and followed the passage until it
opened into a huge room. Water dripped into a pool, and both Xena and
Gabrielle gasped as they saw the beautiful animals painted on the cave
roof. Horned beasts, and antelopes, graceful horses...all looking alive
"These are wonderful. I wonder who painted them? The muses sure
inspired whoever it was.", said Gabrielle.
And Xena laughed at herself because as lovely as the paintings were,
she was more interested in the pool of water and cleaning the blood off.
She picked up a pebble and dropped in in the pool. It hit bottom really
quickly. Xena touched the water, and then tasted it. It had a calcium
taste, but no trace of poison. Xena also noticed that the water was faily
cold. She set the torch between a convenient stalagmite and the cave wall,
and washed the blood off her hands, arms and body. Gabrielle would need
far more than this quick dip into the pool.
"Is it cold?", she asked.
"Not very cold, but not warm."
Gabrielle climbed in, fully clothed. She began to shiver.
"Not very cold, she said. Ha!"
"I'm sorry. Let me help you."
And Xena helped Gabrielle wash the blood off. It was kind of nice,
finding the beautiful bard under the red. She helped Gabrielle lean back
as she washed her hair clean. Xena was tempted to warm the bard another
way, but they had to find a way out of the cave. So she indulged in a kiss
to the lucious lips, then pulled back. Gabrielle wrung her hair out, then
arose out of the pool, dripping.
"Brrr! I wish I had a blanket."
Xena grabbed the torch and held it close enough to Gabrielle to warm
her. She could see her relax as her muscles felt the heat. They used the
torch to get Gabrielle partly dried, then sought a passage out of the
huge room. Xena found it, part way up a wall. she pushed Gabrielle up to
the opening, then followed. The passageway immediatly opened up into two.
Now Xena and Gabrielle had to figure out which one to take. Xena stuck her
head into each one. The one on the left had a breeze blowing through.
"This one.", she said.
Gabrielle followed as they eased their way along a very narrow
pathway. The ground began to drop away at an alarming rate, as the path
rose upwards. They had gone a good long distance, when the inky black of
the chasm below opened as if to swallow them. Remembering the fate of the
Assassin, Xena held Gabrielle back as she searched for another side to the
path they were standing on. It was above them, a stalagmite guarding the
way. And it was too far for Gabrielle to jump. Xena knew she was afraid of
heights, even the warrior's stomach was queasy about this one.
Xena pulled out her whip, flicked it out to the stalagmite and
watched as it wrapped around the stone. She tugged on it, making sure it
would hold Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle, I know you won't like this but,..."
"We have no other choice. I know. What do I do?"
"Pull yourself up there with my whip. I'll help you ar much as I
She could feel Gabrielle shaking. If it had been in her power, she
would have given Gabrielle wings so she could fly up to safety. Gabrielle
grabbed the whip, and pulled herself up, hand over hand. Xena held her,
gently easing her up as far as she could reach without losing her own
balance. Xena held her breath, as Gabrielle climbed up to the stalagmite,
then crawled over it, to the path on the other side. Now it was Xena's
turn. She lept, using the whip for leverage, and grabbed the stalagmite in
her hands. The rough rock felt good and solid. She scrambled over it to
the path, and jerked her whip free, returning it to her belt. Then she
realized that she had left the torch behind.
"Son of a great stinking Griffin! I can't believe I did that. What
was I thinking?", said Xena.
Gabrielle just smiled and pointed to a big pile of dry reeds set on a
shelf in the cave.
"Someone has been here before, and probably did the same thing."
Xena picked up the bunch of reeds. She handed most to Gabrielle, then
holding them tight, she got her flint and iron pyrite out of her pouch and
struck a light. The reeds burned brightly. They went on down the widening
path, and entered another big room. The bones of a bear were laid out.
They were arranged as if the bear was an honored friend. They went around
it, then started looking for a way out. There appeared to be nothing ahead
but blank wall.
Xena was about to scream with frustration, but that would be breaking
the Big Warrior code, so she just swore under her breath.
"Sweet Hera and all her sisters."
Xena sat down to think, then felt a breeze against her hip. She
looked again, and the narrow slit in the wall could just be squeezed
through if they were careful when they breathed.
"This is it, Gabrielle."
"This little space?", and again Gabrielle's voice ended in a squeek.
Poor Gabrielle. Xena would have to treat her to something special
after all this--if they made it--no they *would* make it. Xena eased
herself down and pushed her feet through the opening. She twisted and
turned as she worked her way through, all the time thinking of another
crawl space in a cave she and the other children of Amphipolus knew, and
dubbed by Taurus, "Fat man's misery." This opening was smaller even then
the other. Her breastplate scraped on the rock, then she was through.
Gabrielle handed Xena the reed torch, then her feet appeared, slowly, she
was working her way through. Her hips twitched, then Xena heard her sob.
"I'm stuck. Oh Gods, what will I do."
Now Gabrielle began to laugh. Xena's chest constricted as she thought
Gabrielle was hysterical now.
"Xena, do you know where your sword is?", asked the Bard.
Xena reached back into her scabbard and clutched empty air. Her heart
began to beat wildly. First Gabrielle was stuck in a cave wall, and now
her 500 dinar sword was gone.
"No. I just had it in my scabard."
"I found it. That's why I'm stuck. Just a minute."
Xena winced as she heard the sound of metal scraping rock. She was
afraid Gabrielle would get cut.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine. There just wasn't room for both the hilt and pommel of
your sword, and my--er, breasts. I'll bring it through."
Then the flame burned Xena's hand, as she dropped the reeds and they
burned out. The dark was so deep, she felt as if she could run her fingers
"Don't forget the dry reeds. The light just burned out."
"Swell. I hope we aren't right above another drop off."
Xena heard Gabrielle grunt, and strain, then felt her foot bang into
her leg. She grabbed Gabrielle's foot.
"Well, I found you. Where are the reeds?"
"Let me find your hand."
They both fumbled at each other, then their hands connected. Xena
felt the reeds in her hand. She held them tight as she felt for her flint
and iron pyrite, She struck them together, and saw that she was nowhere
near the reeds. She moved her hand and tried again. She felt as if she
needed three hands. The spark landed on the reeds, and Xena blew them into
a flame. Now she could see a dirty and disheveled Gabrielle. She expected
she didn't look any better. She looked around at the new passageway. It
lead upwards again. Xena stood, her leg throbbing a bit from where
Gabrielle had kicked her. Gabrielle stood too, handing Xena her sword and
they began to follow the passageway. The flame flickered, an indication of
air moving. They traveled on, wordlessly, tired, and half afraid that
there was no way out. The passageway opened up more and more, then they
entered a dome shaped room. From the top of the roof, a single beam of
sunlight shown through.
But, the roof was out of reach. No handly stalagtite was nearby. Xena
knew she could jump it, but Gabrielle could not. Rather like the cave she
and Solon had been in.
"I'll have to boost you. Let's see if you can reach the hole."
Xena watched Gabrielle swallow her fear. She lifted Gabrielle in her arms,
and up, so that Gabrielle could stand on her shoulders.
"I can reach. But, how will you get out?"
"No problem, I can jump it."
And again the bard grunted with the exertion. Finally she was out.
Xena put out the reed torch and got a running start, then lept, catching
the rim of the hole. She pulled herself up and came face to face with the
single, huge eye of the cyclops.
Xena pulled her self out and rolled along the ground, then stood. If
this cyclops had hurt Gabrielle...!
Then Gabrielle appeared next to her. Xena wanted to hug her, but what
did the cyclops want?
"What are you doing here?", she asked, more bravely than her stomach
"I didn't see you leave from the front of the cave, so I suspected
you would try the back way. Did you even know there was a back way?"
"No, but we found it."
"And you killed the dragon."
"How do you know", asked Gabrielle.
"In the first place, you have blood on your clothes. And in the
Then the air began to waver and shine, as the cyclops turned into an
astonishingly beautiful woman with full breasts and hips.
"Gaia.", said Xena and Gabrielle together.
"Who else would know everything that happened both on and under the
earth? You did well. The dragon slipped out often and terrorized people
for miles around. And you were very clever to find this other entrance. I
have something for each of you."
Xena looked at Gabrielle. She was suspicious of the Gods, after her
experiences with Ares. Gaia gave Gabrielle a glaive, with a stout leather
scabbard. To Xena, she gave a heavy leather bag. Then she motioned, and
Argo appeared. Xena's heart lept. She had been worried about how to find
Argo. Gabrielle was thanking Gaia. Xena knew she should too. She shifted from
one foot to the other. She didn't like to be in debt to the Gods.
"This was your father's weapon, before he gave up fighting. It is
your legacy. Take good care of it.", said Gaia.
"Thank you so much. I always wanted something of his.", said
Xena swallowed hard, and spoke before she lost courage.
"Thank you for the gift.", she said.
Gaia laughed, and the sound was like a brook running over stones.
"Still the suspicious one. You wanted to buy something for Gabrielle.
And, from the look of her, she could use some new clothes."