A Web of Spun Crystal
by Cecily Hawkins
Disclaimer: This is an uber-story, but it draws very strongly on Xena,
Gabrielle, and other related characters, who do not belong to me. Likewise,
the characters and situations of _The Labyrinth_ are not mine, but are
simply being borrowed. Violence - not really, Disney-level if any. Subtext -
yes, there is the possibility of same-sex romantic attraction in this story.
(But that would be telling!) Comments welcome at email@example.com
The Hunter in the Dark
Nobody saw the horned figure, bright in the moonlight, dark in the
shadows; nobody heard the passing of hooves that did not touch the ground.
But the figure heard and saw everything. Masked by the branches, the
Hunter stood among the trees, outside the glade, watching the girl with
piercing blue eyes.
The wind moaned, shifting the leaves, blowing back the hair of the girl.
She was walking purposefully, step by slow step towards a marble fountain
in the middle of the glade. Her hands, held in front of her, were open,
offering peace, perhaps asking for something in return. The wind sighed
again, rustling her cloak and red-gold hair around her wide-eyed face.
"Give me the child," Gabrielle said, in a voice that was low, but firm.
She halted, raising her hands. "Give me the child," she repeated. "Through
dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the
castle beyond the Goblin City, to take back the child that you have
stolen..." She paused. "For... for I am princess of all the Amazons, and
my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great, and you cannot..."
She closed her eyes, her fingers twitching nervously. Thunder rumbled.
Blue eyes narrowed.
"My will is as strong as yours," Gabrielle mumbled. "You cannot control
me... no, you have no power over me... you must submit to me..." She
frowned, and her shoulders dropped. "Drat."
She flopped to the ground in a heap, unable to sit cross-legged because of
the short skirt she wore, and planted a thoughtful chin on a hand. "How
should that scene go?" she mused aloud. "I don't want the princess to
sound like she's bragging or bratty, but she's got to say something."
Another clap of thunder made her jump, and she pulled the cloak close, as
the wind, cooler now, swirled again around her. The cloak wasn't very
warm, being just an old curtain fastened at the neck by a cheap brooch,
and her Amazon Princess costume was low-cut over her breasts and high
over her stomach, leaving her midriff bare. "You have no power over me,"
she murmured. "For I can spellbind millions with my voice..."
In the distance, a clock began to chime. When the count reached seven, her
chin fell from her hand. "Oh no..." She scrambled to her feet, gathering
her cloak around her, and began to run. The first drops of rain followed her.
Blue eyes remained in the shadows.
A light sprinkling quickly turned into a downpour, and Gabrielle's soaked
clothes and hair clung to her body as she ran, her boots splashing through
puddles. "It's not *fair*," she muttered. Life in general was not fair,
most of the time, but especially when it came to her, and even more so
when it came to her and her stepmother. The woman in question was standing
in the front doorway of the house, all dressed up in that horrid sparkly
evening gown and vulgar fur coat, staring pointedly at her watch, just in
case Gabrielle hadn't yet remembered that she was supposed to feel guilty
and miserable. As usual.
As she got closer to the house, she could hear her baby sister Lily
howling inside. Half-sister, technically, but her father had acted all
hurt when Gabrielle had called her that, and insisted that they were
*family*, and she'd been careful never to use the term again. And besides,
she really did love Lily. Sometimes. Sometimes she was just an adorable,
precious, helpless little girl, and she wanted to give her the best of
everything, a world where nothing could hurt her and dreams could come
true. The other times, she hated her, because she had twice as many
parents as Gabrielle, and it just wasn't fair... and then she hated
herself for thinking such wicked thoughts. It wasn't Lily's fault, after
all. But there was no one she could talk to about it. Everyone would think
she was a terrible person for thinking anything unkind about such a little
Gabrielle stepped onto the porch, trailing water. "I'm sorry," she said,
not looking her stepmother in the eyes, and began to wring out her cloak.
The woman sighed. "Well, don't just stand out there in the rain." She slid
out of the way so Gabrielle could get by her, and looked again at her
watch, then closed the door behind them and launched into one of her
speeches. "Gabby, you're an hour late..."
Gabrielle opened her mouth, but the woman cut her off. "Let me finish.
Your father and I go out very rarely..."
"You go out every weekend!" Gabrielle burst out, then bit her lip, aware
that the words had sounded rather whiny. She began unfastening her cloak.
Her stepmother continued as if she had not spoken. "And we ask you to
baby-sit only if it won't interfere with your plans."
"How would you know?" Injured pride snuck into her voice as Gabrielle
slung the wet cloak into the open hall closet. "You don't know what my
plans are. You don't even ask!" She caught her reflection in the hall
mirror out of the corner of her eye and took a moment to adjust her
stance. Think princess, she reminded herself. Princess. Bard. Amazon. In
Her stepmother was not impressed. "I assume that you would tell me if you
had a date. I would *like* it if you had a date. You should have dates, at
your age. A nice boy..."
Oh, sure, that's what you want, isn't it? Gabrielle thought to herself.
Follow the formula. Meet some boy and go to the movies and let him stick
his tongue in my mouth and go to college and get married and get a
'normal' job and be just like everyone else. And have babies and bring
them to you and tell them to call you Grandma. Well, guess what. I have
thoughts of my own. And I'm going to be a writer and I'm never coming back
Her father came down the stairs, the pink-and-white-lace-clad Lily in his
arms. He bounced the baby lightly. "Hello, Gabby," he said mildly. "We
were worried about you.
"Oh, leave me alone!" She stomped up the stairs towards her room. "And
don't call me Gabby!" she yelled, before slamming the door behind her.
In the hallway, her stepmother reached into the closet to pick up the
sodden cloak and hang it to dry. "I don't know what to do anymore," she
sighed. "She treats me like the wicked stepmother in a fairy tale, no
matter what I try to say or do."
Gabrielle's father shifted Lily over to one arm. "Losing her mother was
very hard on her. I think she has trouble dealing with women..."
Thunder rumbled again, and sheets of water washed over the windows.
Gabrielle was in her room. *Her* room. She had made it clear that no one
was to enter without permission, not even to clean. She had the right to
live in a mess if she wanted it that way. And she knew how to take care of
everything. Anything that broke could be mended without anyone else's
help. She had two bookshelves crammed with books, many getting battered
from multiple readings, and two dressers covered with knickknacks. The
taller one held her jewelry box, some figurines, a music box with a girl
in an evening gown who danced round and round while the tinkly music
played, some rocks and coins she had collected, and a few dried flowers
in a tiny vase. The other one held some painted masks she'd never gotten
around to hanging on the wall, and a little Christmas tree filled with
ornaments that she kept up year-round. Her walls were unfortunately
painted pink, but she had hung posters of wild faeries to try and cut
down on their blank, prepackaged cuteness.
At the moment, Gabrielle was sprawled on her bed, head supported by a pile
of pillows, arms around a stuffed dog. She had a large assortment of
stuffed animals, which were usually found on her bed or heaped on the old
couch in the corner. Snuggling the dog close, she tried to forget about
her stepmother and concentrate on the ending scene of the story. "Through
dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the
castle beyond the Goblin City, to take back the child that you have stolen..."
A quiet knock on the door, and her father's voice from outside. "Gabby?
Can I talk to you?"
The hated nickname again. Didn't anyone listen? She sighed. "There's
nothing to talk about." She waited. He couldn't enter without an
invitation. "You'd better hurry if you want to make the show."
"Lily's had her supper," her father's voice said, "and she's in bed now.
Just make sure she goes to sleep all right, and we'll be back around
midnight." A pause, and then slow footsteps moving away.
"Really wanted to talk to me, didn't you?" Gabrielle murmured to herself,
and sighed. She flipped over on the bed to reach for one of her favorite
stuffed toys, a lamb she'd gotten for Christmas long ago.
It wasn't there. Someone had been in her room.
Outside, the taxi was pulling away. Gabrielle flew to the window and
yelled, "Can't you just leave me alone?" at her departing stepmother, who,
as usual, couldn't hear.
She stomped into the nursery, where the lamb lay on the floor, tossed away
like so much garbage. She snatched it up and glared at Lily in her crib.
"Brat." A clap of thunder rattled the windows. The baby, disturbed by the
noise, began to fuss and cry.
"Stupid baby," Gabrielle muttered, burying her nose in the lamb's soft
fuzz. "Oh, be quiet, be quiet!" she begged, as the baby's cries grew
louder. Lightning flashed, blanketing the room in white light. "What do
you want? Do you want a story? Huh?" And the words of the story she was
working on returned swiftly to her lips. "Once upon a time there was a
beautiful young woman in the Amazon kingdom. She was destined for
greatness, for the power of her heart was strong. But her wicked
stepmother, Queen Hera, hated her and made her do all the work and tend to
a demon-baby. But what no one knew was that the ruler of the Goblin
Kingdom was in love with the girl and had given her special magical powers."
The thunder rumbled, but Lily was quieter, as if listening. "One night,"
Gabrielle continued, "when the baby had been very nasty, the girl called
on the goblins for help. And they said to her, 'Say the right words, my
lady, and we'll take the baby far away, and you will be free.'" Lily's
eyes fluttered shut. "But the girl knew that the ruler of the goblins
would keep the baby forever and ever, and turn it into a goblin. And so
she slaved without complaint. But finally, one night, when she was worn
out by a long day of housework, and hurt by the cruel words of her
stepmother, she could take it no longer."
Suddenly Lily's eyes flew open. She stared up at Gabrielle for a moment,
and then began to howl again. "Great," Gabrielle muttered. Thunder rolled.
Gabrielle scooped the baby into her arms, bouncing her like she'd seen her
father do. "Come on, come on, it's all right. Knock it off." Lily showed
no signs of knocking it off. "Lily," her sister commanded sternly, "be
quiet. Or I'll say the words."
Lily's screaming grew louder. Her eyes were squeezed tightly shut, her
eyes open wide, as her whole body shook with the effort of the noise she
was producing. The lamb slipped to the floor. "I can't take this anymore!"
Gabrielle cried out, holding the baby up like a sacrificial offering. The
baby's volume increased again, something which Gabrielle had not even
thought possible. She lowered Lily and snuggled her a little, which
brought the sound back to just over tolerable. Exhausted, she placed the
wailing baby back into the crib. "I'm sick of this. You're not my
responsibility. Just stop it!" She pressed her hands over her ears. "I
wish I did know how to make the goblins take you away!"
And Lily, worn out, quieted again. Gabrielle bent down and picked up the
lamb, then walked carefully out the door and began to pull it shut. And
then, once again, Lily shrieked. Gabrielle groaned helplessly. "I wish the
goblins *would* come and take you away," she muttered, "right now."
Lightning flared. Thunder boomed. Lily's screams cut off as abruptly as if
a switch had been flipped.
What's Said is Done
The storm was still raging outside. Leaves were ripped from their branches
and beaten against the sides of the house. Thunder followed lightning in
its usual cacophony. But within the room, all was still.
Gabrielle stood just outside the door. "Lily?" No response. She looked
back inside. The nursery light had gone out. "Lily? Are you all right?"
She stepped nervously into the quiet room, approaching the crib.
Something was twisting under Lily's sheet, something dark and nothing like
the pink-and-white baby, but there wasn't enough light to see. And then
the blanket sagged, floating gently to the crib's mattress, and was still.
Gabrielle reached out a trembling hand and flipped the blanket back. The
crib was empty.
Something thudded against the window. She whirled to look, and caught a
glimpse of a horned silhouette as lightning flared behind it. Then tiny
rustlings in the room drew her attention elswhere. Drawers slammed,
objects rolled, the crib rattled, and something stepped on her foot. She
stepped backwards, looking around, at the dancing shadows. Rats? She
grabbed a broom that was leaning in the corner, and its bristles fell off
at her touch, leaving her holding nothing but a stick. "Go away!" she
cried out at the unseen monsters.
The wind outside rose to a higher pitch, and the windows blew open,
fluttering curtains. Gabrielle covered her face and screamed.
A footstep. Another. Too heavy for the tiny scuttling things.
Gabrielle brushed her hair away from her eyes and stared. There was a
woman standing in front of her. She was tall and dark haired, wearing a
long cloak that swirled in the wind. Something glittered at her neck, but
no more could be seen in the dim light.
Gabrielle cleared her throat. "Who are you?"
"Don't you know?" The voice was low and rich, but calm, almost kind.
Lightning lit up the stranger's face. She was neither smiling nor
scowling. She might have been a statue, impassive. Her cheekbones were
high and her eyes a piercing blue that stared directly into Gabrielle's
own green. If they were not enough to command attention, the sparkling
crystal at her neck would have been. Her shirt was white and ruffled, her
pants were legging-tight and gray, and her boots and gloves were black.
"I..." Gabrielle stammered. The stranger smiled. She's beautiful,
Gabrielle thought. Her voice became a whisper. "You're the Goblin Queen."
The woman bowed. "Xena." Gabrielle resisted the urge to curtsey. "And I
have saved you from the burdens placed upon you. You are now free."
"Thank you very much, but, if you please, I want my little sister back."
She risked a smile. "If it's all the same to you?"
"And if it isn't? What's said is said... and done." Xena folded her arms.
"But I didn't mean it."
The woman's face took on a half-smile. "Didn't you?"
"Where is she?"
Her voice lowered to a dangerous purr. "You know very well where she is."
"Please.." Gabrielle's voice felt tiny and high, childish and alone,
compared to the woman before her. "Please, bring her back."
"She'll never bother you again. Go back to your room. Work on your
stories. Forget about the baby."
Thunder rumbled softly. Xena raised her arms and gestured. Gabrielle
looked around, thinking she was signalling to someone. When she looked
back, there was a glowing crystal spinning in the air between Xena's
palms. "I've brought you a gift, Gabrielle," she said, holding out her
hands, and now she could see the inscribed metal disk holding the crystal,
and it was the edges of this round thing that were pressed into the
"What is it?" Gabrielle asked.
"It's a crystal, nothing more. But if you look into it, it will show you
Gabrielle's breath caught involuntarily. Xena smiled a teasing smile, and
with a flip of her wrist sent the metal ring spinning on top of her palm,
and the crystal within spinning in another direction, creating a weaving
pattern of light. And then her fingers curled up and arrested the object's
motion. "This is not a gift for an ordinary girl. This is for someone
special, who would hold the world in her hands." Her voice was husky. "Do
you want it, Gabrielle?"
The girl hesitated. To see her dreams... what wouldn't she give?
"Then forget the baby," Xena whispered.
Thunder whispered in the distance, but Gabrielle knew the answer she had
to give. "I can't."
The blue eyes narrowed. The fingers curled tighter, and the crystal
vanished, leaving only the ring. "Don't defy me," Xena said warningly,
and tossed the disc at Gabrielle, who yelped and raised the broomstick to
block it. The sharp-edged metal notched into the wood and stuck there,
until another wave of Xena's hand transformed it into harmless dust. "You
can't defeat me," she said, her voice calm again. "Take my gift."
"No," Gabrielle whispered. "I have to have my sister back."
This time, both sides of Xena's mouth quirked into a little smile. "Suit
yourself..." And with a grand flourish, she gestured out the window.
Gabrielle stepped past her and stared. Far in the distance, she could see
a castle, complete with towers and spires and a moat and a drawbridge,
standing on a hill. Xena's breath was hot on her ear as she whispered,
"Still want to look for her?"
Gabrielle stepped away, turning to meet the Goblin Queen's eyes, and
suddenly they were standing on dusty ground. "Is that..." She remembered
the words, "...the castle beyond the Goblin City?"
Xena did not answer, and Gabrielle turned again, looking down into the
dark valley that separated her from the castle. She took a hesitant step
"Turn back, Gabrielle," Xena's voice came from behind her. "Turn back, before
it is too late."
"I can't," said Gabrielle. "I can't."
"What a pity." The Goblin Queen's voice was low and gentle, as if she
really meant it.
Gabrielle discovered she was still holding the old broomstick in her hand.
Using it like a walking stick, she began to move forward again. And then,
floating in front of her, was the face of an antique clock. "You have
thirteen hours to unriddle the Labyrinth," spoke Xena's voice, "before
your baby sister becomes one of us forever." And indeed, the clock was
marked up to the number thirteen. It hovered a moment longer, then faded away.
Gabrielle looked around, but the dark woman was nowhere to be found.
"Where do I start?" she asked, but there was no answer. She waited a
moment, then shrugged. "Start at the beginning, I guess, and wherever I am
must be the beginning. So."
With her staff to guide her, she stepped down into the blackness. Faintly,
behind her, a woman's voice echoed, "A pity..."
The hillside was steep and crumbling, and Gabrielle's feet kept trying to
slide out from under her, but with the help of the staff she managed the
descent. Light was steadily growing around her as she progressed, and when
she finally reached the bottom, the Goblin Castle was sparkling before her
in the early morning sunlight.
She pondered the distance between it and herself. Not too bad, she
thought. I could run that in a couple of hours. It's just a few miles.
Xena just didn't think I was strong enough to handle myself on foot. I can
And then, as the fog burned away, she realized the true nature of the
beast ahead of her. The valley ahead was a vast maze of walls and hedges.
"The Labyrinth," she murmured. "Oh, goody." She stared at the loops and
connections, trying to see how it worked, figure out some procedure for
getting to the center. But it was simply too large to make sense of.
Gabrielle sighed. "Well, I'm not going to get anywhere just standing here.
This is my story, after all. I have to be able to find the center."
She found a path zigzagging its way in the direction of the labyrinth
walls, and began to follow it. As the walls loomed larger, she realized
that she couldn't see an entrance, just a blank wall stretching as far as
she could see to both left and right. But since there was nothing to do but
keep going, she did so.
It was the clinking noise that first drew her attention to the little man
sitting in front of the walls. His back was to her, so she couldn't see
what he was doing. "Excuse me," Gabrielle said.
The little man jumped, startled, and whirled around to look at her. He
was short and round, nearly bald, with a scraggly little beard on his
chin, wearing some sort of dingy purple and brown robes. He scowled
fiercely at her, but the expression was really more comical than anything
else. "You can't have any," he said, and turned around again.
"Fifty-seven," he counted to himself.
"Any what?" she asked, stepping closer.
"Any of my gold, of course," he said, shaking his head. "Fifty-eight.
Standing over his shoulder now, she could see the heaps of gold coins in
front of him. He was moving them one at a time from one pile to the
other, counting them off. "Please, sir, I don't want any of your gold. I
just need to get into the Labyrinth. Do you know the way?"
"Labyrinth," the little man snorted. "Now what do you want to go and do a
fool thing like that for? Find yourself a nice garden and some gold, do
something useful. But not my gold, you hear?" He reached for the coins
again. "Fifty... oh, drat." He shoved the two piles together and started
"I'm sure your gold is very important," Gabrielle said politely, "but I
really do need to get inside the Labyrinth. If you could just tell me
how, I'd be on my way."
"I can't go anywhere until I get this gold counted," he replied. "Two.
"Maybe I could help," Gabrielle offered.
"Don't touch my gold!" He covered the coins protectively.
"Well, you see, if you put it in stacks, and each stack was the same
height, you could count it a lot faster that way."
"Shows what you know," he harrumphed. "Watch." He picked up two of the
coins and set them on top of each other. Then he placed a third on the
stack. The middle coin promptly slid out from between, and the top two
coins landed on the ground beside the first.
Gabrielle blinked. "May I see one of those? I'll give it right back." He
warily handed her a coin, staring at her as if he expected her to
swallow it. She ran her fingers over it. "It's rounded!" she exclaimed,
surprised. "No wonder you can't stack them."
He snatched it back from her. "So now you know." He shoved the coins into
place again. "One. Two. Three. Four. Five."
"What's your name?" Gabrielle asked, trying to get the conversation going
"Salmone. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine."
He paused in his counting to look at her again. "If I let you into the
labyrinth, will you leave me alone?"
"Fine." He pointed at the wall.
She looked, and discovered a large gate that she was certain hadn't been
there before. It was closed, and as she walked over to it, she saw a
giant keyhole. "Where's the key?" she called back.
"Key. Hrmph!" she heard him mutter. "Ten. Eleven. Twelve."
Well, if he wants me out of his way, he wouldn't make it hard for me to
get in, she reasoned. She reached out and pushed on the gate. It swung
open. Inside were dark stones and the smell of something rotting.
Gathering her courage, she stepped through the gate. Her staff slapped
wetly against the stones at her feet. The passageway was gloomy and
narrow and the walls were too high to see over. The faint drip of water
echoed through. She touched the wall hesitantly, then wiped her hand on
her skirt. Slimy.
A jingling sound alerted her to Salmone's approach. "Cozy, isn't it?" She
shivered. He looked at her with - concern? - in his eyes. "Do you really
want to go in there?"
"I have to," she said.
"All right," Salmone said, in a tone that implied that he couldn't prevent
someone from jumping off a cliff if they really wanted to. He adjusted
the coin pouches hanging from his belt. "Now, which way will you go,
right or left?"
She looked one way, and then the other. There was nothing to set them
apart. Both seemed to stretch on endlessly. "They look the same," she
"Well, you're not going to get very far that way, are you?" Salmone said.
"Which way would you go?" she asked, hoping for some help.
"Me?" He laughed. "I wouldn't go either way. Wouldn't catch me in a dark
nasty labyrinth, no indeed."
She sighed. "Fine. I'll do it myself." And she set off to the right. She
had only taken a few steps when a *clang* warned her that the gate had
closed behind her. Salmone was gone. The only sounds in the Labyrinth were
the drip of water and her own breathing.
Well Enough Alone
Gabrielle took a deep breath and set off along the passageway. Little
eyes peeked out of clumps of lichen to watch her pass, and blinked
disapprovingly after she was gone. When she had been walking for a good
while between the towering walls of the apparently endless passageway and
gotten nowhere that looked any different from where she'd started, she
began counting steps.
One, two... ninety-eight, ninety-nine. No change. Just the same bleak walls.
"Is this what a labyrinth is?" she said aloud, for the company of hearing
her own voice. "There's no turns or corners or anything! It just goes on
She stared at the far wall, hoping another gate would magically appear.
Then she tapped on it with her staff, trying to trigger a secret door.
Nothing. She flopped to the ground in frustration, ignoring the slime
that was getting all over her. "I must be doing something wrong," she
muttered, and banged her hand against the stone behind her. "Ow."
"Up against a pylon is not up against the wall," said a tiny voice from
She craned her head to look up. There was a little worm - or maybe a
caterpillar - with large eyes and a tuft of bright blue hair blinking
down at her. "Excuse me?" she asked.
"I said, up against a pylon is not up against the wall. But it's a wall
you're leaning against."
Not just a talking worm, but a talking worm that didn't make much sense.
But then, what did? No harm in asking. "Do you know how to get through
"Who, me?" It smiled. "I'm just a caterpillar."
Gabrielle nodded. Figured.
"Pre-meditated applied physics with a murderously destructive outcome
implicit to the act seems pretty evil to me, labyrinth or no," the
"I'm sure that's very meaningful, but I have to get through this
labyrinth, you see..." She bit her lip, refusing to cry and look pitiful.
"And there's no turns or openings or anything. It just goes on and on."
"Ooh," the caterpillar said, "you're not looking right. It's full of
openings. You're just not seeing them."
Gabrielle looked around in disbelief. The walls were there, as solid as ever.
"There's an opening right across from you," the caterpillar went on.
Gabrielle raised her staff and prodded at the stones. Solid. "No, there's
"My color is a sublime blue that appears only in dreams after one too
many theory classes," mused the caterpillar.
"But there's not an opening! It's just a wall, with no way through it."
The caterpillar sighed, in as much as caterpillarss can sigh. "Look at it
this way," the caterpillar said. "Someone built the wall, yes? So before
that, it wasn't there. And eventually the stones are going to wear away
or fall apart, and it won't be there then either. Overall, in the big
scheme of things, there's no wall there at all."
She frowned. That almost made sense.
"So there's really no reason why you can't walk through it," the caterpillar
"If the walls don't exist, what are you sitting on?" she couldn't resist
"It wouldn't do me much good not to believe in what I'm sitting on, now,
would it?" asked the caterpillar.
Gabrielle nodded and got to her feet. Very slowly, she walked towards the
wall... and into it. "Ow."
The caterpillar tsked. "You still believe in it too much. Take a step back."
She did. "Now close your eyes and try it again."
Blind, she stepped forward. And again. And again. Where was the wall? She
grinned. It must be working!
She opened her eyes and found herself standing in front of... a wall. She
was about to whine in frustration when she noticed that this was a
*different* wall. Drier, lighter-colored. Looking around her, she
could see branchings and turnings and no sign of the little caterpillar.
"Well, at least I'm getting somewhere," she reasoned.
And proceeded to bruise herself several times before giving up on the
In the castle of the Goblin Queen, Lily, still dressed in her perfect
pink-and-white, had her eyes tight shut and her mouth wide open and was
howling up a storm, a sound that would have made Gabrielle bury her head
under her pillows.
Xena, on the other hand, was watching the baby with an amused little smile
on her face. It was not often that something amused her, these days, and the
other occupants of the castle were taking pains not to disturb her good
mood. Faerie folk large and small flitted by on their errands, keeping
stones clean and mirrors polished, making sure that nothing would upset
their ruler. The queen was lounging in a draped throne. A golden sylph
stood quietly beside her, holding a plate of grapes. Over her head, tiny
winged sprites were dusting the horned crown of the throne. At her feet, a
big-nosed goblin turned somersaults and made faces at the baby, trying to
cheer her up. Lily, of course, continued to scream.
Xena's eyes flicked up to the large clock on the wall. Half past three, the
sword-shaped hands indicated. Another nine and a half hours to wait. She
raised the pendant at her neck to her eyes and gazed at it thoughtfully.
Gabrielle was wandering along brick corridors. They were still high and
confusing, but not as blankly depressing as the initial stretch had been.
Occasional flights of steps or potted plants kept the scenery from being too
unbearably monotonous. Still, it was impossible to keep track of where she
was going and where she had been. She wished that she had a ball of string
or even - nasty stuff - some lipstick or other makeup to draw her path with.
However, with the strange things that had happened already, it wouldn't be
too surprising if a string just cut itself off instead of tracing the path.
She turns a corner and stopped. Aha! A door! A large stone door in an
archway with no knob or other visible means of opening it. Gabrielle walked
up and shoved at it experimentally. No luck. It remained in place.
She looked around more closely. The arch surrounding the door had two
alcoves cut into it, one on either side. Inside each alcove was a metal
pail. She picked up the one from the left. It was empty, but it had the
number four drawn on it. She set it on the ground and took the one from the
right. This one was also empty, but seemed a bit larger, and was marked with
the number five. Gabrielle peeked into the darkened alcoves. Each had the
number two drawn where the pails had been sitting.
Then Gabrielle noticed the rounded stone fixtures by each wall. They
reminded her of pillars that had been chopped off just above knee-height.
The exteriors were fluted and the bases decorated with little stone leaves
and flowers, and two faces, one for each pillar. Both of the faces had their
eyes closed, and each of the pillars was marked with the number forty.
"What do all of these numbers mean?" she wondered aloud.
"What do numbers usually mean?" asked a scratchy female voice (rather like
someone who'd done too much smoking) from the ground.
Gabrielle blinked and looked down. The face on the right pillar had opened
its eyes and was looking at her curiously. "Um... I don't know?"
A yawning sound came from the other pillar, as its face opened its eyes as
well. "You don't know what numbers are?" it asked, in a lazy tenor. "Don't
you know anything?"
The first face clucked her tongue at the second, then looked back up at
Gabrielle. "They represent amounts, of course."
"Amounts of what?"
"Well, well, well," said the left face. "Look who hasn't looked in the well."
Gabrielle stepped closer and peered into the left pillar. Sure enough, it
was hollow, and there was water inside. But not going up all the way to the
top. Instead, there was a clear line marked a little ways down, and the
water rose only to that level. She peeked inside the right pillar and saw
the same thing. Each seemed to hold about the same amount.
She stepped back so she could look down at the right face comfortably. "Do
you know how to get through that door?" she asked, pointing.
"You've just got to put the proper amounts in the proper places," said the
right face. "Then the door will open."
"Of course, if you have the wrong amounts," said the left face, "the door
will still open, but it will lead to certain death."
Gabrielle leaned on her staff. "Certain death. Great." She looked at the
alcoves. "Two." Then down at the pails she had set on the ground. "Four and
five. Four and five *whats*? Pints? Quarts? Liters? How do I know?"
"Does it really matter?" yawned the left face. "It's all the same."
She paused. "I guess it doesn't, then." She picked up the four-pail and
looked inside of it, hoping to find a halfway mark, but no such luck. "Hold
on," she said softly. "I've heard this puzzle somewhere."
She leaned her staff against a wall and dunked the pail into the left
noticing that the extra room at the top kept any water from spilling as she
did so, and the new water level was now noticeably below the full line. "So
it must matter where full is," she mused aloud.
The left face yawned again. "If you've got the hang of it now, I'll just be
going back to sleep." His eyes snapped shut. The right face watched a moment
longer before closing her eyes as well.
But Gabrielle did not notice. She poured the four-pail back into the pillar
and stood, pondering, her lips moving silently as she tried to work out the
math. Finally reaching a conclusion, she picked up the five-pail and filled
it from the left pillar, then filled the four-pail from the five-pail. Then
she poured the four-pail back into the left pillar, "..leaving only one,"
she mumbled, "in the five-pail." She poured that into the four-pail. Then
she refilled the five-pail from the left pillar and poured as much as she
could into the four-pail, "...which should be three," she mumbled, "leaving
two in this pail."
She set the five-pail in the left alcove by the door and paused for breath.
Then she looked down at the full pail sitting on the ground. "If there's
four in there and two in the one I put away, then that leaves... thirty-four
in the left pillar." Gabrielle poured the four-pail into the pillar.
"Thirty-eight." Then she refilled the pail, this time from the right pillar,
and poured it into the left pillar up until the fill line. "Forty there
means two here," she said, and put the pail into the right alcove.
There was a grinding noise, and the door swung open.
Gabrielle grinned and grabbed her staff. "I think I'm getting smarter!"
She stepped through the doorway and fell straight down a deep, dark hole.
Persistence of Memory
The initial experience of finding nothing under one's feet where a nice
tame floor ought to be is generally rather disorienting. Having this
experience in unfamiliar surroundings, in the dark, with no idea how far
down the bottom is, is acceptable grounds for screaming. Gabrielle took
advantage of this opportunity.
As she fell helplessly down the shaft, Gabrielle felt things brushing
against her arms, like cloths or leaves, slowing her passage just slightly.
She stopped wasting her energy in the scream and began trying to grab
hold of whatever might be there, but she was falling too fast.
And then, something caught her wrist, halting her downward motion with a
jerk that threatened to pull her arm from its socket and caused her to
lose her grip on her staff. The wooden clatter that eventually reached
her ears was very faint. She looked up and could just make out the
glimmer of light from the hole that she'd fallen through.
As her eyes slowly adjusted to the gloom, she saw what it was that was
holding her. A hand. All around her, growing from the sides of the shaft,
hands were waving like seaweed fronds, with no apparent direction.
"Disembodied hands," Gabrielle muttered. "This is not reassuring."
And now there were more hands on her legs and ankles, which on the one
hand (so to speak) was taking some of the painful stress off of the one
supported arm, but on the other was trapping her in place, not to mention
getting close to areas that didn't usually receive that sort of attention.
She looked down, afraid that there might be skeletons supported there of
other hapless travelers who had starved to death in this hole, but saw
nothing. She tried to pry the fingers off of her wrist, but couldn't
budge them, and soon her other hand was caught as well. Gabrielle
twisted a bit in place, but couldn't get free. "Help?" she finally tried.
She felt a tap on her shoulder, and twisted her head to see what it was.
Some of the hands were waving at her in patterns that were decidedly less
random than the others groping. To her surprise, she recognized the sign
language. Good thing I took that communication class, she thought to herself.
The hands signed, Which way would you like to go?
"Which way?" she repeated, after a pause to check her translation.
Up or down? signed the hands.
"Oh." She looked both directions. Up was not going to be easy, and was
probably going to involve those hands having more contact with her body
than she wanted. Her staff was down, and because of it, she knew that at
least there was a bottom to this pit. "Down, I guess."
And immediately, the hands released her. "Hey!" she cried out.
A new set of hands caught her a little further down. You said down, the
hands pointed out.
"Yeah, but not so *fast*, okay?" Gabrielle protested.
OK, signed the hands. They began to pass her down from one to another,
not roughly, but with occasional lingerings over rounded bits of her anatomy.
"I hope you're having fun," Gabrielle mumbled.
Loving every minute of it, signed the hands.
Down she went, far down, until suddenly she realised that nothing was
holding her feet anymore, and then the hands on her arms let go, and she
was falling again. She looked up and saw the hands waving goodbye, and
then landed with a thud on the stone floor of a dark, small cell.
The picture of her sprawled body was clearly displayed in the crystal
that Xena was gazing into. "She's in the oubliette," the Queen observed
The goblin on the floor laughed uproariously and turned a cartwheel.
"Oubliette, oubliette!" it jabbered.
"Shut up," Xena said.
It immediately dropped to its knees and groveled before the Queen. "So
sorry, so sorry..."
She kicked it away, still staring at the image of the girl. Then reaching
a decision, she spun the crystal. "Salmone!" she called out. The dwarf's
face appeared before her. "There's a girl trapped in the oubliette. Help
her find her way back outside of the labyrinth."
"Me?" Salmone started to protest.
She cut him off. "DO IT."
"Yes, your majesty," he responded quickly.
The dwarf's face vanished, leaving the Goblin Queen once more watching
the soft spilling of red-gold hair.
Gabrielle pushed herself up and felt around in the dark for her staff.
Maybe I should have chosen up, she thought.
Shuffle. A sound in the darkness. Gabrielle tensed. "Who's there?"
"Me," said a low voice.
A stratching noise and a glare of light as a match ignited and a torch
was set aflame. Salmone was sitting there on a wooden bench, holding up
the torch so he and Gabrielle could see each other.
"You!" she said, relieved.
"You!" he said, apparently surprised.
"I'm so glad to see you," she gushed. "What are you doing here? How did
you get here?"
"I've come to help you get out of..."
"Out of this nasty prison? Thanks."
"It's an oubliette," he corrected. "It's a place you put people to forget
Gabrielle was momentarily stung. Was that what Xena had done? Forgotten
about her? And then she wondered, why do I care? She's the enemy, she
stole my sister...
"And I'm here to help you get out of the Labyrinth," Salmone concluded.
She blinked at him. "But I don't want to get out of the Labyrinth. I have
to reach the castle."
"Yes, I know," he said gruffly. "But I didn't know it was *you* when she
Gabrielle scowled. So that was it. Xena was trying to trick her into
having to start all over. Well, it wasn't going to work.
Salmone got up from the bench and wandered over into a corner. The
torchlight exposed a skeleton lying there. "See, this is what happens to
people who wander around in the Labyrinth. You'd be better off giving it up."
"I have to find my baby sister."
"Forget about her. Now, I know a shortcut out of the whole Labyrinth from
here, and we can find you a nice garden..."
"I'm not giving up," said Gabrielle. "I've come too far."
He shook his head. "This is only the edge of the Labyrinth. It gets much
worse further in. Terrible danger."
She frowned. "What do you care?"
"Of course I care!" the little man said. "Nice young girl, terrible black
She thumped her staff on the ground. "I refuse to give up. Now help me
out of here so I can be on my way!"
"I can't do that," he whispered.
"Why not?" she said in a normal voice.
"It's Xena," he whispered. "She ordered me to take you out of here, and
you *don't* disobey the Queen. She'd boil me in oil!"
Gabrielle thought for a moment. "You like money, right?"
Salmone straightened. "Of course!"
She fished in the pocket of her skirt for some change. "If you help me,
I'll give you this." She pulled out her hand and opened it. To her
dismay, it contained only a few pennies. But she was careful not to let
it show on her face.
The little man peered at the coins curiously. "That's not gold," he said.
"Nope," said Gabrielle, in a voice that implied that what she held was
far more valuable than gold.
"What is it, then?" he asked.
"Copper-plated zinc," she said boldly, although she wasn't entirely sure
what pennies were made out of.
His eyes widened appreciatively, and his hand shot out to claim the
treasures from her. "I'll take you as far as I can," he whispered.
She nodded. "Let's go," she prompted, not wanting to sound pushy but
aware that she was working with a deadline.
Salmone sprang into action. He picked up the wooden bench with a strength
she wouldn't have expected in such a little fellow - I guess it's true
what they say about dwarves, she thought - and upended it so that the
seat was flat against the wall. There was now a doorknob on the
underside of the bench. Gabrielle wondered if it had always been there
or if he had made it appear by magic.
He turned the knob and the seat became a door, opening out of the stone
wall. He pulled it open, to reveal a large, tawny beast, which was
opening its mouth and growling... and slammed the door quickly shut.
"Happens sometimes," he said without further explanation, and opened the
This time there was no lion, only a dimly lit corridor with walls of
carved rock. "After you," he said politely.
They were working their way along when a little sign, about the size and
shape of the local political advertisements that were planted in so many
yards during that season, popped up from the ground. DON'T GO ON, it read
in large letters.
Gabrielle approached it curiously, but before she could get close enough
to touch, it vanished back into the floor.
A similar series of signs poked out from all directions as they
progressed. Arrêt! Ciò non è il modo! Take heed and go no farther! Nur
Verlierer gehen auf diese Weise! Sua matriz desgasta carregadores do
exército! Go back while you still can!
After a particularly large example bearing the message
Beware, for the bath you take will lead you to certain destruction!
which had made Gabrielle laugh out loud, Salmone glared at the hallway.
"Enough with the messages! We get the point already!"
A much smaller sign popped up reading, It's our job.
"Well, you don't have to do it to us," he complained.
An even smaller sign appeared, reading only, Sorry.
No more signs showed up as they continued their walk. "So," Gabrielle
said. "Tell me about Xena."
Salmone shuddered. "Don't make her mad, that's all you need to know."
"But it's not all I want to know. She's not really a goblin, is she?
She's too tall."
Salmone looked around furtively. "She came from... somewhere else. They
called her the Conqueror. She just took over. No one could stop her."
"Is she a tyrant?" Gabrielle asked. The lighting in the tunnel was
getting worse, and they slowed their walk.
"I would say that she is harsh but fair," he stated carefully. "Do what
she says, and there won't be any trouble."
"And if you don't?" she started to ask, but was distracted by a glitter
in the dimness ahead. It hovered in the air, swinging back and forth,
moving closer to the girl and the dwarf. As it approached, Gabrielle
could just make out a dark hunched figure. Salmone groaned. She turned
to look at him. He was staring into the gloom with wide eyes.
"So, what have we here?" floated the icy whisper of the figure in the dark.
"N-nothing," stammered Salmone.
"Nothing? Nothing?" The figure moved into the light and stood up straight.
Gabrielle gasped. It was Xena.
"Your Majesty!" Salmone bowed, and kept bowing, his head bobbing up and
down like a dunking bird. "What a nice surprise! How wonderful to see
Xena smiled slowly. "I see you two are getting along splendidly."
"Oh, yes, yes," said the dwarf, at first keeping his head lowered, and
then raising it again, perhaps feeling a bit too much like he was
presenting his neck to the executioner. "Just helping the little lady
back to the beginning of the Labyrinth, like you told me to."
"It's always good to know that I can count on you," the Queen purred. "If
I thought you were betraying me, I'd have you dipped in the Boiling
Lake." Salmone gulped.
Gabrielle pretended not to have heard the threat and instead focused on
the glittering object that had caught her eye in the dark. It was the
pendant that Xena had worn earlier. Currently, the Conqueror was holding
the chain in her hand, letting the sparkling thing swing back and forth.
"May I see that?" she asked. Xena raised an elegant eyebrow, but
extended her hand. Gabrielle peered at the item. "It's like you've taken
a spiderweb and turned it into glass..." she murmured appreciatively.
"But how could you do that with the crystal inside?"
"I have a wide variety of talents," said the Goblin Queen dryly.
The girl was still examining it. "But what made the crystal sparkle like
that? It's dark now."
"I did." Xena pulled the necklace back and refastened it around her neck.
"How are you enjoying my Labyrinth?"
Gabrielle met her eyes fearlessly. "It's a piece of cake."
Salmone groaned again.
"Really?" Xena sounded intrigued. "Then how about making it a more
entertaining challenge? And... upping the stakes?"
"What did you have in mind?" Gabrielle's voice was unconcerned.
"If you don't make it through in time," smiled Xena, "you will remain
here, with the baby."
"And if I win?"
The Goblin Queen chuckled. "Then you could name your own reward."
"Done," Gabrielle smiled fiercely.
Xena looked up, and in the air before her eyes appeared the thirteen-hour
clock. She gestured, and the hands began visibly turning faster, skipping
ahead a few hours before resuming their normal course. With a sinking
feeling, Gabrielle wished she'd learned to look before leaping. But she
did not allow any nervousness to show on her face. She would not be
"Piece of cake," repeated the dark woman, and disappeared.
"Now you've done it," Salmone muttered. "Couldn't leave well enough alone."
Gabrielle shrugged. "Well, I have to get there anyway. I can still do it.
I'll just have to hurry a little more..." She broke off and tilted her head.
There was a dull roar echoing through the tunnel. "What's that?"
The dwarf's eyes widened. "The caves are flooding!"
"RUN!" he shrieked, and took off.
Continue On to Part Two
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