The characters Xena, Gabrielle, Iolaus, Autolycus, and Hercules are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this story. All the other characters are mine.
This story contains descriptions of violence and a few suggestions that the two main characters are more than just, ahem, "friends".
Xena turned to face her and smiled, "Gabrielle, you know I want you to go but this summons from King Aron specifically states that I am to come alone."
"Hmph," snorted Gabrielle, "I don't see why I can't stay in the city while you see the king. I mean, suppose it's a trap. Suppose you need me or suppose..."
Xena placed her hand on the bard's shoulder, "Suppose you calm down.
Look, there's no sense in you traveling all that way for nothing." Xena held up the king's note. "The note implies they want me to help make sure some kind of conference goes smoothly"
"You mean like, provide security?"
"Yeah I guess you could call it that," allowed Xena. Evidently these negotiations are very delicate so that means I won't be leaving the castle till it's over. We wouldn't get to see each other it you did go."
"Okay, okay," sighed Gabrielle, "I give."
Then with an impish smile the bard pulled her latest scroll out of Argo's saddlebag and, using her finger, pretended to write on it. "I can see it all now," she giggled.
"I'll call it "The Adventures of Xena:Warrior Nanny."
"Why you..." Before Xena could take a step Gabrielle squealed and tossed the scroll at her warrior. Like a young colt she bolted up the road, howling with laughter.
"That's it, run!" yelled Xena, half grinning. She allowed her to get a good head start before she struck out after her.
"You'd better run faster, Gabrielle, I'm gaining on you." Of course, the Warrior Princess could have easily caught the young girl much sooner but she wanted to enjoy this last precious moment of fun with her bard.
Now she quickened her pace and her long legs began to rapidly eat up the gap between them. Xena let out that loud, menacing laugh that had chilled the spine of many a poor soul but it only made Gabrielle's grin grow wider.
"I've got you, Gabrielle. I've got you! AAAIIIEEEEEYYAA!"
Gabrielle sneaked a peek over her shoulder but Xena was nowhere to be seen. Two steps later she found the Warrior Princess. Without even having a chance to see it coming Gabrielle ran straight into Xena arms. She had vaulted completely over the bard and landed in the road ahead of her.
"Gotcha!" crowed Xena triumphantly.
"Darn it, I keep forgetting that," panted Gabrielle.
Xena broke into an evil smile and drew her near. "Now what are you going to do, wise ass?" she demanded gently.
"This." Still puffing and glistening with perspiration, Gabrielle tiptoed up and kissed her lover.
Xena drew herself up to her full height, raised an eyebrow, and looking down her nose, said, "Hey, that's cheating. What kind of move is that to break a hold with?"
"All's fair in love and horseplay," said Gabrielle sweetly.
"Yeah, yeah." Xena gave her an extra squeeze before releasing her.
"Seriously, Gabrielle, the turnoff to the castle is just up the road. What I want you to do is follow this road to the next village because the timing in this could not be better."
"How so?" asked Gabrielle.
"Well, if I have my moons right, they should be having their annual bazaar right now."
"Bazaar?" Gabrielle's eyes grew wide.
"Yeah. Each year at this time Selonia, that's the name of the village, hosts a big bazaar. Merchants come from all over Greece, from other lands even, to trade and sell their wares. It's really a big event."
"Oh, Xena, it sounds wonderful."
"I thought it might pique your interest," grinned Xena. "Anyway, it will give you something to do while I'm gone. Think of this as a vacation. You know, take it easy for a couple of days, do some shopping, waste some dinars, that sort of thing."
Gabrielle lowered her head. "But Xena, you know I don't... have any dinars."
Xena swept the girl's bangs off her forehead and answered, "Sure you do."
"Inside my bedroll is a pouch with a hundred dinars in it. It's yours."
Gabrielle put her hand to her mouth, "Oh, my. But how...where did..."
Xena lovingly gazed into Gabrielle's eyes. "Remember when we took care of that little problem for that fisherman?"
"Well he gave me that as a sort of token of his appreciation."
This was stunning news to Gabrielle. "But, Xena, I have seen you turn down thousands of dinars since we've been together. Why did you take the fisherman's money this time?"
"If you recall that was the same day I got this summons," reminded Xena. "I knew then that the bazaar was the place for you. And if one goes to a bazaar they need money, don't they?"
"Ohhh, Xena." Gabrielle threw her arms around her warrioress and hugged her tightly. "You are so good to me."
"Uh huuuh. Just have fun, okay?" Xena pointed a long finger at her and continued, "And stay out of trouble."
"Trouble? Who meeee? What could happen at a bazaar?"
"You, do have this ah, 'knack', shall we call it, for finding it, Gabrielle."
"I don't find trouble," protested Gabrielle, "it finds me."
"Well whatever, just watch yourself."
"I will," Gabrielle assured her.
The little bard no sooner turned to start back up the road toward Argo when she felt Xena whack her across her behind.
"That's for cheating," smirked Xena.
A half hour later found them at the turnoff. Xena looked up the road and then back into Gabrielle's eyes. "Well, this is it."
A soft "yeah" was all Gabrielle could manage.
"I shouldn't be gone for more than a couple of days."
Gabrielle only nodded.
"Make sure you keep your money out of sight," cautioned Xena. "Don't let anyone get any ideas."
"I'll be careful." The bard's beautiful green eyes were now glistening.
Gods!, thought Xena, It gets harder every time we do this. She took the girl into her arms and kissed her. The warrior had to force herself to pull away but before she did she gently pushed her tongue up under the girl's upper lip and slowly withdrew it, trailing out to the tip of her nose. Gabrielle always liked that.
"Gabrielle, I do love you so."
The Warrior Princess then swung herself easily upon to Argo's back and beamed the smile that had mesmerized not only men but gods as well.
"I miss you already."
"Just hurry back when it's over, okay? And Xena, please be careful."
"See ya soon," said Xena with a wink. "And stay in the village so I can find you."
She kicked Argo into an easy gallop and soon they were out of sight.
Gabrielle watched her disappear among the trees lining the road and hoisted her bag upon her shoulder. "There's no use feeling sad," Gabrielle thought aloud, "She'll be back soon."
She looked up the road she was about to traverse and forced herself to smile. "Now let's check out this bazaar."
By early afternoon she had covered a league or so on the road. She found the closer she got to the village the more crowded the road became. It wasn't long before the people around her combined with her growing anticipation of seeing the bazaar lifted her spirits considerably.
In a way she found it refreshing to be in a crowd for much of her time with Xena was spent traveling alone. Most took one look at the Warrior Princess and her daunting demeanor and figured this was someone best left alone. Naturally, they applied this to Gabrielle as well. Many was the time she had struck up a conversation with someone only to have them suddenly remember they had something to do or someone to see when Xena joined them. Of course it was nothing intentional on Xena's part (was it?) but her presence was nothing if not commanding and Gabrielle, accustomed to her strength, sometimes forgot its impact on others.
Later Gabrielle's day was made much brighter when she fell in with a young married couple. She learned this would be their first time at the bazaar also and the rest of their journey together was spent enjoying Gabrielle's marvelous stories-even some which did not include Xena.
Phoebus' chariot still had a fair distance to travel when Gabrielle and her companions at last reached Selonia.
"But I don't see anything," said Gabrielle, barely hiding her disappointment.
"Oh, but it's not in the village," said the young wife. "We were told they set it up in a field on the other side of town."
"Oh," replied Gabrielle sheepishly. "Well I guess that does make sense."
"Gabrielle, it's been nice traveling with you," said the young man, extending his hand, "but we are supposed to meet her brother here before dark."
"Your wonderful stories made the trip go so much more quickly," added his wife.
"It was my pleasure," beamed Gabrielle. She loved it when people praised her stories. When she told them to Xena she might only get a grunt or something else as noncommittal even though she knew Xena liked them too. There were those times, however, when Xena would merely say, "Good one," or "I like that," and to the little bard it meant more than if the praise came down from Mount Olympus itself.
The young man took his wife by the hand and melted into now fair sized throng weaving its way through the narrow streets of the town. Gabrielle was once again alone. After a time she joined a rough column marching through the town and, holding her staff close, allowed herself to be swept along by it. She was careful to maintain a firm grip on the bag slung over her shoulder. She had not come all this way only to be a victim of some thief.
Selonia was a good sized town but, even so, before she knew it she and the others were spilling out the other side. Now, for the first time, she saw the spectacle that lay before her.
"Oh my," she gasped.
About two hundred paces from the town lay a field covered with tents. They were all brightly colored and topped with pennants streaming from their center poles. Some of the colors were such as she had never seen before. On the north side of the field were two large pens containing horses of every size and color. From one of her fellow travelers she learned this was actually the very first day of the bazaar and it would take a couple of days for the real crowds to begin showing up. There were enough here already, however, to impress the bard. She could see hundreds, maybe a thousand people milling around the tents.
No longer confined by the narrow streets of the town Gabrielle's companions fanned out in several different directions as they approached the field. Some obviously knew where to go, others were already lost, still others were just idly taking in all the sights.
For her part Gabrielle decided to just start at one end and work her way down the rows of tents. To her delight she found it was more than just a place to buy and sell goods. It was actually more like some kind of carnival. There were jugglers, roaming musicians, acrobats, singers, and all sorts of other performers-each hoping to receive a dinar or two from those stopping to appreciate their talents. Gabrielle, while enjoying their efforts, did not dare part with a single dinar just yet. She wanted to look around first and check out the prices on various things.
The tents stood in two long parallel rows running north to south forming a street about twenty paces wide. Gabrielle decided to visit the tents in a zigzag fashion instead of just walking down one side and back up the other for they stretched out for almost a quarter of a league. Each tent had a large display out in front where the merchants exhibited their various wares.
After visiting several of the displays Gabrielle still had found nothing that suited her fancy. She had observed, however, that the prices were very reasonable. At last she came upon a display that caught her eye. On a large, flat board were several different types of hair brushes. Big, small, plain, or ornate; there was one to fit any need. Gabrielle winced when she remembered how worn her own brush was. After much deliberation she decided on a plain, but very practical, one and handed over the three dinar price. She had almost bought the very fancy six dinar one but, in the end, she decided against it. She did not want Xena to think she was frivolous.
After a while the lengthening shadows and the grumble of her stomach convinced her it would be best to call it a day. Luckily for her there were stands located all around where one could buy food and, after letting her nose lead her around a bit, she bought two pears, a large wedge of cheese, some bread, and a big slice of cooked beef. She wrapped her repast up in a cloth and, after stopping to buy some milk to wash it down with, planted herself under one of the many large trees lining the west end of the field.
Gabrielle opened up her cloth and neatly laid her food out upon it.
"Mmmmm." Her first bite of the tangy cheese sent her taste buds to the Elysian Fields. Gabrielle loved cheese. She could never understand how Xena could be so indifferent about food. To be sure she ate well but, except on rare occasions, she just seemed to view food as a necessity; something to keep her strength up rather than be savored and enjoyed. She sat there in the golden twilight, finished her fine meal, drank the last of her milk, and wondered what her beloved Xena was doing at that very moment. After she was finished she sat with her back up against her tree and let out a small, contented burp. The little bard could definitely pack the food away given the chance.
By now the activity in the bazaar was beginning to wane and Gabrielle's thoughts turned to a place to spend the night. All ideas of obtaining a room at an inn were out. She had heard her traveling companions complain of the lack of inn space.
She wondered if it be okay to just stay right where she was. Her question was soon answered by the sight of dozens of other people making for her stand of trees. They scattered themselves out at respectful distances from one another and began to make preparations for spending the night.
Well, thought Gabrielle, I guess that takes care of that. Already fires were being built all up and down the tree line, some for cooking, and some just for the comfort they provided. Gabrielle sat there watching the others until, finally, her eyelids began to get heavy. Before laying down she positioned her bag next to the tree and, discreetly making sure the open end of it was under her, lay her head down upon it. Her last precautionary act before settling in for the night was to cradle her staff in her right arm...just in case.
That night she slept very well although she did wake up a couple of times and sleepily wonder where Xena was. Unlike Xena Gabrielle had no inner demons to battle with so getting a good night's sleep was almost never a problem for her.
The next morning she awoke to find most of her past night's company already gone. For the most part she was not a morning person. Only grudgingly did Gabrielle break Hypnos' hold on her and, in fact, on most days the toughest battle Xena fought was just getting the little bard up and about. She sat up, rubbed her eyes, and again without thinking, looked about to find Xena. Then she remembered.
After carefully checking her bag she made her way across the field to the long rows of tents. Not feeling very hungry...yet...she decided to skip breakfast. She quickly located the last tent she had visited and resumed her browsing. Over the next couple of hours a small mirror, two bars of soap, two rolls of thread, and three large needles joined the brush in Gabrielle's bag. She had decided to take care of obtaining the practical things first before splurging on something fanciful for herself. Before she did that, however, the next thing she wanted to do was buy something nice for Xena. But what? She was not exactly the easiest person in Greece to buy something for.
As Gabrielle stood at a table laden with Egyptian cloth by chance she glanced to her left and caught just the briefest glimpse of what she thought were the familiar golden locks of someone. "Nah, it couldn't be," she said, under her breath, "What would he be doing here?"
By midday she had covered about two thirds of the bazaar and the crowds were now noticeably larger than yesterday. Feeling a little tired and hungry besides, she decided to take a break. But first... mother nature was calling. Fortunately, there was a place provided for that too. She next purchased some fishcakes and sat down beside one of the larger tents to take advantage of the shade it offered. As she sat there munching on her lunch she became aware of a presence behind her. Her mouth still full of fish, she whirled to face the apparition, staff at the ready. Instantly the golden locks and that impish grin happily registered themselves.
"Iol-" Gabrielle held up her hand and gulped down her fish. "Iolaus!"
The two old friends embraced warmly and pulled back to get a good look at one another.
"I thought that was you I saw a while ago," said Iolaus.
"What in the name of Apollo are you doing here?" asked Gabrielle, laughing.
"I'm here to visit an old friend. He lives in the village there. How about you?"
"Ahhh, Xena got some kind of summons to..."
"Come to the castle of King Aron?" Iolaus interrupted.
"Yeah. How did you know?" asked Gabrielle.
"Hercules got the very same request," said Iolaus. "Funny about all the secrecy though."
"Wow, it must be really something big if the king feels he needs both Xena and Hercules," observed Gabrielle. "Wonder what it is."
"Aww, who knows?" Most of these royals make a big deal out of keeping anything and everything secret. I don't think they even want anyone to know when they use the...well, you know," grinned Iolaus. "So, uh, what were you planning on doing the rest of the day?"
"Oh, just shopping mostly," said Gabrielle. "I want to buy a gift for Xena but you have no idea how hard that is."
Iolaus raised his eyebrows. "She's not exactly the jewelry and perfume type is she?" He turned to look across the field toward the village. "How would you like to go into the village with me? We'll look up my friend and," Iolaus gave her a sly grin and nudged her with his elbow, "maybe get a free meal out of it."
"C'mon," urged Iolaus, "we'll come back here this evening to look around some more."
"Sure, why not?"
"Then shall we?" Iolaus locked his arm in hers and together they started off across the field.
"So, who's the friend?" asked Gabrielle.
"His name is Maris," replied Iolaus. "He and I used to soldier together. He saved my life once."
In no time at all they were across the field and making their way down the main street of the town. Iolaus was surprised to find that he didn't remember where Maris lived. It soon became apparent he was not going to find his friend's home without some help.
"Uh, Gabrielle, I think we're going to ask for some directions," said Iolaus somewhat sheepishly. "I don't seem to recall just where it is he lives."
"Aahhhh, getting senile, huh?" teased Gabrielle.
Iolaus immediately crouched over into a remarkable imitation of an old man. With a cackling voice he replied, "That's right, dearie. When you get to be my age you are lucky if you can remember how to put your pants on."
"Oh, you!" Gabrielle playfully jabbed him in the ribs.
"Oww. Careful, you young whippersnapper. Do you want to break an old man's rib?"
Their fun was cut short by the sound of angry voices off in the distance. Iolaus stood erect and instinctively placed himself between the voices and Gabrielle. The street was not very crowded and it was easy to see for a fair distance along its length. It was plain there were several individuals coming their way and they did not seem too happy about something.
"Wonder what all the commotion's about?" asked Gabrielle.
"Beats me." As Iolaus spoke a man, seemingly running for his life, burst into view. "It's Maris!" he gasped.
He took a quick glance around and went over his options. There weren't many. Maris was now not more than fifty paces away and from the terror stricken look on his face it was obvious his life was in danger.
"C'mon!" Iolaus took Gabrielle's hand and pulled her into an alley between two of the shops lining the street. This is perfect, he thought. The alley was dark and narrow with two large barrels at the far end.
Iolaus peeked around the corner and saw Maris was now just a few steps away. To Iolaus' relief he saw Maris' pursuers were not yet in sight. He stepped back into the alley and waited. As Maris tore by him he reached out and grabbed him by the arm.
For a moment Maris thought his time had come. "No, please," he begged.
"Maris, it's me, Iolaus."
Iolaus jerked him back into the shadows of the alley and pushed him toward the far end. Thinking quickly, Gabrielle lifted off the lid of one of the barrels and jerked her thumb toward it. "Inside," she commanded.
Maris did not have to be told twice. He scrambled into the barrel and Gabrielle at once replaced its cover.
"Good work. Let's go," said Iolaus, nodding to the bard.
They hurried back toward the street only to find four huge men armed with swords milling around in front of the buildings forming the alley.
"Where in Tartarus did he go?" growled one of them. "He must have come this way."
"Spread out and find him," ordered another, obviously the one in charge. "We must find that stone."
"By the gods, I'll find it or my name is not Orthis," said another.
"What are they talking about, a stone?" whispered Gabrielle.
Iolaus put a finger to his lips. "Shhh." Carefully he peeked around the corner and found one of the men coming straight for the alley. Realizing how suspicious it would look to be found in there, Iolaus did the only thing he knew to do to allay the man's misgivings.
Seizing Gabrielle by the waist, he gave her a long, lingering kiss. Obviously not expecting to find two lovers in an alley in the middle of the day, the man was somewhat taken aback for a moment and he didn't know whether to continue searching the alley or beat an embarrassed retreat. He finally decided to compromise.
"Hey, you two, you didn't see a man about this tall pass this way, did you? He was wearing a blue tunic with brown pants."
Iolaus put his finger to his temple, "As a matter of fact we did. He ran down the street and cut in between the stable and that other building there, didn't he darling?"
Gabrielle, still stunned by the kiss, could only nod her assent.
"Are you sure? I think we would have seen him before he got as far as the stable."
Gabrielle cut Iolaus short by putting her arm around his neck and cooing,
"Oh, sweetheart, don't waste time with this ruffian. After all, you have more important things to attend to." Gabrielle gave Iolaus a very suggestive smile and snuggled closer to him. "If you know what I mean."
"I really would like to chat with you," gasped Iolaus, "but as you can see I-I'm kind of busy. All I can say is a man in a blue tunic ran by here and made for that stable."
"Okay, okay," the man could not take his eyes off the very pretty little blonde clinging to that lucky bastard with her. Reluctantly he turned away and went off down the street toward the stable.
Iolaus waited several tense seconds before daring to sneak a peek out of the alley.
"They've gone, for now," he whispered.
Gabrielle at last allowed herself to breathe and exhaled, "Whew. You know, that was quick thinking on your part."
"Well, you did all right yourself. I had no idea what I was going to say to that guy before you jumped in and saved us."
The two old friends looked into each others eyes and, for a moment, shared the warm glow of a job well done.
Gabrielle nodded toward the barrel, "What are we going to do about him?"
"Maris? Gosh, I don't know. Those guys are still around here, somewhere. "Any ideas?"
"We can't just leave him in that barrel," reminded Gabrielle.
"I know, I know." He began racking his brain for some sort of scheme to move Maris to safety.
"Hmm. Gabrielle, keep an eye out, I'm going to speak to him for a moment."
Iolaus trotted down the alley and partially raised the lid on the barrel.
"Maris, where do you live?"
"Two streets back this way," said Maris, pointing to his left. "Next to a tavern with a sign that has a griffin painted on it over the door."
"These men, do any of them know where you live?"
"I...I don't think so," said Maris.
Iolaus reached down and patted Maris on the shoulder, "Don't worry, we'll get you out of this."
Quietly he replaced the lid and made his way back up to Gabrielle. Maybe we can find some way to transport barrel and all, he thought.
"He lives two streets that way," said Iolaus.
"Hmph, might as well be two leagues right now" snorted Gabrielle. "Look."
He followed her outstretched arm and there were Maris' pursuers, standing down by the stable. They seemed to be arguing amongst themselves. Finally, the one who seemed to be in charge stretched his arm toward the direction of the bazaar and the others nodded their heads and started off in that direction.
"Looks like we caught a break," observed Iolaus.
They waited until the men had disappeared past the stable and them waited a few tense moments more, just to be sure.
"Let's go," said Iolaus, tapping Gabrielle on the arm.
In a heartbeat they were down the alley and pulling Maris out of his hiding place.
"Follow me," said Maris.
A few short minutes later they were sneaking through the back door of Maris' home. He went straight to a wine flask and poured himself a large cupful.
"Maris, what's this all about? Why are those guys after you?" asked Iolaus.
Even in his own home Maris lowered his head and spoke in a conspiratorial manner, "They want my eye," he rasped.
"Your eye?" asked Gabrielle, incredulously.
Maris eyed Gabrielle suspiciously, "Who's your friend, Iolaus?"
"Maris, this is Gabrielle. She is a very good friend of mine. Anything you say to me you can say to her."
Maris noted the barest hint of anger in Iolaus' voice. "Sorry miss. I guess all this excitement has just about been too much for me. I shouldn't be doubting someone that went through all that trouble to help me."
"It's okay, I understand," replied Gabrielle.
"Now what's all this about someone wanting your eye?" asked Iolaus.
"They don't want my eye. They want this."
Out from under his tunic Maris withdrew a pouch suspended by a string around his neck. He opened it up and removed a round, white object with what looked like a red stone of some kind implanted in it.
"It's beautiful," gasped Gabrielle. "Is that a ruby?"
"Yes. This eye is meant for the statue of the Kalimos Dragon," said Maris.
"The Kalimos Dragon?" repeated Gabrielle excitedly. "Legend has it the Kalimos Dragon was the most fearsome creature to ever to roam the earth. It was supposed to be almost invincible and only Zeus himself, by plucking out its eyes after a great battle, was able to subdue it."
"You know your legends, Gabrielle," said Maris admiringly.
"Well, it's kind of what I do," blushed the bard.
"Then I'm sure you know the rest," continued Maris. "It turned out its eyes were the focal point of its power. Once they were out the dragon became helpless. Even then, however, Zeus could not slay the monster-not even with his fearsome lightning bolts."
"So what did he do?" asked Iolaus.
"He turned it into a statue," answered Gabrielle quickly.
"Right again," said Maris.
"But what's that got to do with your...eye?" asked Iolaus.
"Well, after defeating the dragon and turning it to stone, Zeus sealed it up in a cave. One day Hera, during one of her many jealous rages, created these eyes to," Maris paused to let his words take effect, "bring the dragon back to life."
"I have never heard that," said Gabrielle.
"No wonder," said Maris. "Only the priest of this particular temple of Hera is supposed to know of it."
"She must have really been mad at Zeus that time to do something like that," said Gabrielle.
"It seems," continued Maris, "that Zeus found out about the eyes and Hera gave them to Alomas, a priest at one of her oldest temples, for safekeeping. She also gave him the location of the dragon and charged him, if she should find it necessary, to arrange for someone to go to the dragon and replace its eyes."
"This Alomas, he was a priest at this temple?" asked Gabrielle.
Maris nodded. "Anyway, on his way back to temple Alomas was waylaid by bandits who killed him and took the eyes. However, the location of the dragon was not found on his person. Many years passed and the eyes became separated and lost. Over the centuries even Hera and Zeus forgot about them. Everyone, that is, except the succession of priests that followed Alomas."
Iolaus scratched his ear, "Why should they care about something so obviously lost?"
"They were humiliated by the perceived failure of one their own to safeguard something their goddess had entrusted to them," said Maris. "They have spent countless years since in search of the eyes.
"No telling how many generations of priests have spent their entire lives looking for this thing," said Gabrielle.
"They sound like...nuts to me," said Iolaus.
"I think the word you're looking for is fanatics," smiled Gabrielle.
"How do you know all this?" asked Iolaus.
"And," asked Gabrielle, "how did this eye come to be in your possession?"
"This woman came into the tavern with it and wanted to sell it. I didn't know where she had gotten it. It struck me as an unusual item so I bought it," said Maris.
"Bad move," said Iolaus.
"Hindsight has perfect vision, Iolaus," said Maris
"I thought I might be able to make a few dinars off it. Iolaus, I swear I didn't know it was stolen. I thought it was just some kind of curio," said Maris. "Then, of course, a couple of hours later some of the magistrate's men came into the tavern looking for this woman. It turns out she sometimes helped to clean the temple and I guess on this particular occasion she somehow was able to get her hands on the thing."
."Did anyone see you two together?" asked Gabrielle.
"I don't think so. But I knew sooner or later they would locate this woman and find out who she sold it to," said Maris.
"You don't really believe this Pharbus guy is going to try to bring the dragon back to life, do you?" asked Iolaus.
"I know he is," said Maris.
"But no one even knows where the dragon is," reminded Gabrielle.
"They do now," said Maris. "Maybe not its exact location but pretty close."
"How do you know?" asked Iolaus.
"Yesterday I went to the temple during evening prayers and managed to hide in one of the anterooms."
"Oh m'gosh, why did you do that?" asked Gabrielle.
"My original intention was to return the eye, anonymously of course."
"Why didn't you just give it to the priest?"
"You don't know Pharbus," replied Maris. "He's not the type to just forgive and forget. Anyway, I waited until all was quiet and, as I eased my way up to the alter, I overheard footsteps approaching so I ducked into what I thought was an empty room. Well, imagine my consternation when Pharbus and another man entered the very same room through another door!"
Iolaus winced. "Ouch,"
"Luckily for me there was a large partition between them and me and I was able to hide behind a large curtain. I heard someone, his assistant I guess, tell him they had not yet found the woman but were still looking for her. Pharbus then said something about interrogating the woman 'his way.'"
"You mean torture, don't you?" asked Gabrielle.
"Well, I didn't want..."
"Maris, I've been around. You don't have to coddle me," said Gabrielle.
Maris shrugged his shoulders. "Anyway, I knew right then I was in deep dung."
"How come you didn't get out while you had the chance?" asked Iolaus.
"Because I had to stay all night in that temple. They locked all the doors and I couldn't make my escape until this morning. I came home to get some money and I was just going to the stable to buy a horse when those guys began chasing me. In fact, Iolaus, I was going to find Hercules and tell him about all this."
"That still doesn't explain how you know about the dragon coming back to life," persisted Gabrielle.
Without another word Maris stepped to the corner of the room and removed a loose board in the floor. Reaching into the hole, he extracted a small scroll, its handles very ornate. .
"I found that in the room," said Maris. "After the two of them left I was just getting out from behind the curtain when this caught my eye."
He handed the scroll to Gabrielle. On the handles she noted the carved image of a dragon.
"This scroll tells the whole story," said Maris.
Gabrielle began to read the scroll. What she did not know was this particular scroll was not the same one as had been so studiously copied by the priests of this temple over the decades. Within fifty years of the death of Alomas a mistake was made while copying the scroll. Whether someone thought it no longer relevant or it was merely an omission, the location of the dragon was left out of the copy. Subsequently, all ensuing copies carried this omission.
But what Gabrielle held in her hand was the text of the original copy. Workmen had found it while doing some repairs on the temple. While not specifically stating the location of the dragon, it did say where it should be looked for. This made Pharbus the first person in centuries to have a clue as to the location of the Kalimos dragon.
As she read the last part of the scroll Gabrielle could feel the hair on the back of her neck begin to rise. For this scroll plainly spelled out the consequences of replacing the dragon's eyes.
Iolaus peeked over her shoulder at the parchment. "Pretty heavy stuff, Gabrielle," he said.
"That's not the half of it," said Gabrielle ominously. She turned the scroll around to where he could see it. "Look at this."
The last line of the scroll read as follows, "Two leagues east of Kysa, one hundred fifty paces, unbroken, north by east of the pool of tears. Follow Sappho."
"Pool of tears? Hmmm."
"Kysa? That's not far from here," said Iolaus. "I'll bet this Pharbus has found it."
"Maybe, maybe not," countered Gabrielle. "Just because he knows where to look doesn't mean he has found it. And even if he has discovered it he still must have both eyes, right?"
"True enough," said Maris, "But this is too important to assume he doesn't at least have some knowledge of the other eye."
"So what do we do?" asked Gabrielle.
Iolaus turned to face the bard, "We've got to get out of here. It's only a matter of time till they find out where Maris lives."
As if to confirm Iolaus' reasoning a loud banging was heard at the front door.
"It's them!" cried Maris.
"Calm down," said Iolaus. "Stay here, I'll see who it is."
He eased into the front room of the house and crept up to the door.
Unfortunately, there was no peep hole in the door to allow him determine who was on the other side.
BAM! BAM! BAM!
Iolaus heard voices on the other side.
"Maybe he's not here."
"He's in there all right. Break it down."
Iolaus decided to take a gamble and open the door. Maybe there's only the two of them, he thought. I can take care of that many.
Iolaus lost his gamble. He opened the door to find six men armed to the teeth standing in front of him. And to make matters worse one of them was the man he and Gabrielle had tricked in the alley.
"Hello, lover boy," grinned the man, revealing his rotting teeth.
Like a herd of wild boars the men rushed through the door. Iolaus managed to get some good licks in on the first two men but before he could really do damage they pinned him to the floor and pointed a sword to his throat.
"Tie this bastard up."
Iolaus realized he was in a real jam but he help out hope that his skirmish had warned Gabrielle and Maris in time to allow them to escape. This hope lasted but a moment for the two of them were summarily shoved into the room to join him.
"Hey, wait a minute. There's been some kind of mistake here," protested Gabrielle.
"Shut up, blondie, or I'll crack your skull open."
"You hurt her and you're a dead man," snarled Iolaus.
"Friend, I don't think you're in a position to do anyone much harm," retorted Gabrielle's captor.
To prove his point he viciously kicked Iolaus twice in the ribs.
"Stop it!" pleaded Gabrielle.
"I found it, Maleus!"
One of the men ran into the room carrying the dragon's eye. "It was in the girl's bag."
A high pitched voice from outside the door shrieked, "Arrest them!"
Pharbus strode in and immediately took command. To Gabrielle he was one of those whom one meets and instantly dislikes. He was tall, very thin, with a long hooked nose. His eyes were cold and set close together and he carried himself with an air of someone with a much higher station in life.
Pharbus pointed a long finger at Maris. "You! How dare you defile my temple."
Gabrielle could not help but challenge him. "Your temple? I must be missing something. I thought it was Hera's temple."
"Silence, nonbeliever. Speak not of things you have no knowledge of."
Pharbus turned to the magistrate. "Maleus, you must do your duty and see these blasphemers are punished."
"I know my duty, Pharbus," Maleus reminded him. Maris, I hereby place you and your accomplices under arrest for theft of a sacred religious artifact from the temple of Hera."
"But I didn't..."
Pharbus cut Maris off. "Then how came it in your possession it you didn't steal it?" he smirked.
"I bought it from the...woman," said Maris.
"She said you put her up to it," said Maleus.
"That's a lie!" exclaimed Maris.
"Maleus, look what I found." One of his men entered the room holding the scroll.
Gabrielle knew their goose was really cooked now. Pharbus was not only getting the eye back but Maris' already weak story about buying it would surely not hold water with the magistrate now.
"I suppose you 'bought' this as well, hmmm?" smirked Pharbus.
"We know what you're up to," said Iolaus, "and we'll stop you."
Maleus turned to his deputy. "Lock 'em up, Adamus."
Adamus nodded and gestured to his men to follow him and bring the prisoners.
At the magistrate's office the three of them were formally charged with theft and their names were entered into the record. They were marched down a long set of steps that led underneath the building to where the cells were located. The stairs led to a narrow aisle about twenty paces long with three cells located on either side.
The place was dark, damp, and reeked of...human waste. Poor Gabrielle's breath was nearly taken away by the stench.
"Don't worry, blondie, you'll get used to it quick enough."
"Put the girl in this cell and these two in this one," ordered the sergeant.
Iolaus and Maris were untied and shoved into the first cell. Gabrielle was placed in the cell across the aisle.
The sergeant put his face against the bars and glowered at Iolaus. "We don't take too kindly to strangers coming into our town and starting trouble."
He jerked his head to the door. "C'mon boys, it's almost time to go off duty."
The prisoners watched the guards disappear up the steps.
Gabrielle put her hand to her chest. "Iolaus," she gulped, "I don't think I can handle this."
"Try not to think about it, Gabrielle. Concentrate on how we are going to get out of here."
Even though their eyes were now becoming somewhat acclimated to the murk of the place it was still hard to see. The only light was provided by a small candles located at the base of the steps.
Iolaus squinted into the gloom and, as best he could tell, decided they were alone. "Look's like we're the only ones down here," he said.
From out of the darkness at the far end of the room a weak voice disproved the validity of his remark. "Well now, I wouldn't say that."
Gabrielle couldn't believe it. That voice... Naw, it couldn't be.
"Autolycus," she wondered aloud, "is that you?"
A scuffle of feet accompanied by groans drifted through the darkness.
"The one and only," said Autolycus. "So, uh, what are you mugs in for?"
"Autolycus, are you all right?"
"Well, I've...I have had better days, Gabrielle."
"You know this man?" asked Maris.
"Yeah, he's a good friend of ours," said Iolaus.
Gabrielle did not like the way Autolycus sounded at all. He seemed to be fighting for every breath.
"Are you hurt?" she asked.
"Yeah. That double-crossing Pharbus had some goons work me over pretty good. I-I think one of my ribs is broken."
Those bastards!, thought Gabrielle, her anger rising. "Why?"
"I had something he wanted."
At once a feeling of foreboding settled on Gabrielle. "A round, white stone with a ruby in it?"
"How did you know?" wheezed Autolycus.
"It's a long story," replied Gabrielle.
"Autolycus, do you think you can get us out of here?" asked Iolaus.
"Normally a dilapidated rat hole such as this would pose no challenge to the King of Thieves but, ah, I seem to be tied up at the moment," said Autolycus.
"They tied you up?" asked Gabrielle.
"Chained up actually," said Autolycus. To confirm his statement Autolycus rattled the chains. "It seems my reputation has preceded me."
"That's just great" said Iolaus.
"I wish Xena was here," said Gabrielle, more to herself than anyone else.
"Xena?" rasped Maris. "That murderer! What would you want with her?"
"She's not like that anymore, Maris," Iolaus said softly.
"Humph, I wouldn't trust that harlot as far as I could throw her," scoffed Maris.
Uh oh, thought Iolaus.
From out of the gloom a tight lipped Gabrielle's voice pierced the silence.
"Maris, I don't care if you are Iolaus' friend. I'll not have you speak about her that way, understand? So you just watch yourself."
Autolycus would have laughed out loud if his ribs had not hurt so badly.
Maris turned to Iolaus with a wide eyed, quizzical look only to be met with raised eyebrows and a wide grin from his friend.
"Xena's her best friend. They are verrrry close."
"Ohh...I see," sputtered Maris.
"Ah, excuse me, but about our little problem here?" Autolycus reminded them.
"He's right," said Gabrielle, resolutely. "We gotta get out here, now."
"Yeah," agreed Iolaus, "we've got to come up with something-and fast."
Gabrielle's mind began to run through various plots and schemes. What would Xena do? she wondered.
"What about if one of us pretends he's sick and we jump the guards when they come to check it out?" she offered.
"No good," said Autolycus. "You heard the sergeant. Most of these guys are off duty by now. That means most of them are gone. I think they only keep just a couple of men up there during the night because nobody came down here at all after dark last night."
"How long have you been in here?" asked Iolaus.
"This is my second day," replied Autolycus.
"Then if we can only get out of our cells we should not have much trouble making our getaway," said Maris.
"First things first," Gabrielle reminded them. She began a meticulous inspection of her cell. She tested the door, got down on her knees and tried to find out how deeply the bars were implanted into the floor and even tried squeezing herself through the bars. Finally, in disgust, she sat down cross-legged on the floor and stared at the cell door with her chin in her hand.
After a few minutes an idea came to her. "Autolycus?"
The King of Thieves issued a dry cough before answering, "Yeah?"
"You say these cells are very old. How hard do you think it would be to pick the lock on one of these things?"
"Probably not too tough, for me that is," allowed Autolycus. "But you need the right kind of tools and a good touch to do it."
"What kind of tools?"
"Well I have my own specialized tools, of course," said Autolycus, "but on one of these old wrecks all you'd really need is a couple of rounded pieces of metal small enough to fit in the lock."
"You mean...like needles?" asked Gabrielle excitedly.
"I don't know, Gabrielle. Most needles would probably be too small and too weak but I suppose a couple of larger ones would work okay-if they didn't break that is."
With a small grin Gabrielle snatched up her bag and dumped its contents onto the floor. Fortunately for her the guards, after searching her bag and finding the dinars, had become so engrossed in how they would be divided among them they had paid no attention when the bard discreetly picked up the bag again after they had carelessly tossed it onto the floor.
"What are you doing?" asked Iolaus.
"Trying to get us out of here," said Gabrielle. "I bought some needles at the bazaar. One of them is the kind used to pierce leather. You know, for when Xena's stuff needs mended. It just might be big enough to use in the lock."
Carefully the bard placed a hand on her pile of things and began sorting through them.
"Hmmm, there's my old brush, my newww brush, the mirror, thread, my cheese...", without thinking Gabrielle unwrapped the small chunk and popped it into her mouth, "my flint, my sooooap..."
"C'mon, Gabrielle, hurry up," urged Iolaus.
"Iolaus, I can't see a darn thing here. I just have to OWWW!"
Gabrielle's finger found her needles-the hard way.
"Ummm. I hope you're satisfied, Iolaus," said Gabrielle, placing the offending digit in her mouth.
"Sorry, are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'll live."
The needles were stuck through a small piece of leather to keep them together. Pulling out the two largest ones, she made her way to the cell door.
"Okay, Autolycus, what do I do?"
"Well, put your biggest one in first and..."
Twenty minutes later Gabrielle was still laboring over the lock.
"Any luck?" asked Iolaus, for the tenth time.
"That's the ninth time you've asked me that, Iolaus," said Gabrielle testily.
"Tenth," Autolycus corrected her. "Calm down. The more frustrated you become the less capable you will be of doing the job. In this line of work you need patience, Gabrielle."
"Right." Gabrielle stepped back and closed her eyes. Autolycus is right, she thought. C'mon Gabrielle, remember what Xena always says, "Focus. Act, don't react."
The little bard took two deep breaths and started anew.
Oh my gods!, thought Gabrielle.
"Did I hear a click?" asked Iolaus.
"Yeah," answered the bard, under her breath.
She placed her hand on the door, almost afraid to try it, and gently pushed.
The rusty hinges on the swinging door were sweet music to Gabrielle's ears.
"I did it." With a triumphant smile she announced, "Okay boys, we're bustin' out of this joint."
"Good work," said Iolaus.
"I knew you could do it," added Autolycus.
Quickly she raked her things back into her bag and stepped out into the aisle.
"Get Autolycus next," said Iolaus.
"No. Get those guys first," argued Autolycus.
Using her newly found knowledge Gabrielle quickly opened the door to the cell holding Iolaus and Maris.
"Let's get out of here," said Maris, eyeing the steps.
Gabrielle glared at him in disgust. "We're not going anywhere without Autolycus."
"But we don't have time to..."
"Maris, if you want out of here you're on your own. We're not leaving him," whispered Iolaus fiercely.
Gabrielle rushed to Autolycus' cell door. In less than a minute she had it open.
"I wonder how Xena's going to like the idea of you learning the art of breaking and entering," teased Iolaus.
"I prefer to think of it as learning a trade," retorted Gabrielle airily. "You know, like a locksmith?"
Quickly Iolaus and Gabrielle made their way to the side of their friend.
"Don't worry," said Gabrielle, "I'll have you out of here before you can say Xena:Warrior Princess."
"I'm afraid it's going to take a little longer phrase than that," groaned Autolycus.
"What do you mean?"
"These manacles are new. They have the latest locks on them," said Autolycus. He coughed once again and continued, "Gabrielle, leave me here. I'm no good to you like this."
"Never. We're not leaving here without you. Now shut up and let me work," commanded Gabrielle gently.
Although she couldn't see it she could tell Autolycus was moved.
"You know, you've been hanging around Xena too long. You're beginning to sound just like her," he said.
"I'll take that as a compliment," said Gabrielle.
"I meant it as one."
She ran her hand along his arm until she came to the manacle. She cupped her hand around it to determine how tightly it bound his wrist.
"Pretty tight, isn't it?"
"Tight enough for me. Say, Gabrielle, since you're determined to do this would you mind removing my left boot?"
Gabrielle wrinkled her nose. "Huh? Autolycus, you're not getting delirious on me are you?"
"Nah. I keep a spare set of tools in there. You'll stand a better chance of getting these off if you use them."
Gabrielle latched onto the heel of his boot and began to tug. "Unngh. Unngh. Gosh, when was the last time you had these things off?"
"Here, let me help you." He placed the big toe of his right foot behind the heel of his left. "Now, when I push down, you try to work it back and forth a little."
He pushed on his heel while the bard pulled on the boot with all her strength.
The boot popped off and she tumbled over backward almost to the cell door.
"Shhhh! Gabrielle you're making enough racket to wake the dead," warned Iolaus.
"Nag, nag, nag," retorted Gabrielle, rubbing the bump on her head. She was in no mood to be rebuked now.
"Iolaus, I should have left you in that cell. And I would have too-if I didn't like you so much."
"This is a friend?" asked Maris, incredulously.
Iolaus could only smile. Gabrielle's growth was a constant source of amazement to him. It seemed every time he saw the bard her confidence and abilities had reached yet another level. She had come a long way, indeed, from the timid little village girl he had first met on their quest to free Prometheus.
Iolaus nodded with a half grin replied, "Yes, Maris, a friend." He then added under his breath so softly no one but himself could hear, "A friend to die for."
Gabrielle ran her hand into the boot and, finding the tools in a small pocket, retrieved them and set to work. Following Autolycus' instructions carefully, she tried again and again to open the lock. Ten...twenty...thirty minutes passed. The perspiration now began to pour off the bard.
Finally, in exasperation, she turned to Iolaus, "Do you want to give it a shot?"
"Meee? Gabrielle, I'm all thumbs when it comes to stuff like that. No, you're doing great."
"Gabrielle, I'm telling you, leave me and get out of here."
"No! I'm not going to leave you, Autolycus."
"You're wasting time."
In her heart she knew he was right. Pharbus surely had both the dragon's eyes now and, for all she knew, was at this very moment on his way to Kysa. Still, she couldn't bear to leave Autolycus at the mercy of these bastards.
How ironic, she thought. The very destruction of mankind may be at hand and the two most capable of stopping it are off playing nursemaid to some silly king. Gods, oh Xena! I may never get to see you again, or to tell you how much I love...
Her reverie was broken by a hand upon her shoulder. "Huh?"
"You can stop now," said Autolycus. "The lock, it's open. You did it."
Her thoughts of Xena had so overwhelmed the little bard she had not even noticed when the manacle fell from Autolycus' wrist.
"Oh, uh, yeah. Gee, I did, didn't I?"
"Here, let me have those."
Gabrielle gave him the tools and, despite using only one hand, the King of Thieves had the other manacle open in a manner of seconds.
"Wow," gasped Gabrielle.
"Hey, it's my job. It's what I do, remember? Now, let's blow this joint."
Iolaus looked toward the steps and gritted his teeth. "Okay, this is where I come in. Stay here."
Silently he eased his way up the steps. Upon nearing the top he lay flat on the steps and peeked up into the room. One man sat dozing at the magistrate's bench and another sat by the door eating something. I can't let that guy get away and sound the alarm, thought Iolaus.
"What the...?" The man put down his food and cocked his ear. "Did you hear that, Plantius?"
"Hmm." Plantius looked up and yawned, "Hear what?"
"I swear I heard a cat," said the man.
"Aw you must have been dreaming," said Plantius.
"By the gods there is a cat in here," said the man.
He walked to the steps and peeked down. Suddenly a hand grabbed him by the neck and a fist punched him in the stomach. Iolaus put both his hands together into a double fist and planted it right between the man's shoulder blades. Again taking the man by the neck, Iolaus threw him down the steps.
No longer able to contain herself, Gabrielle was halfway up the steps just as Iolaus' victim came tumbling down. Fortunately, she kept her head and managed to avoid getting her legs tangled up with him.
Before Plantius could react Iolaus was upon him. Two good left jabs and a straight right hand to the jaw were all that was need to return Plantius to dreamland. Immediately he set to work tying Plantius up.
Iolaus then ran to the steps and threw down a length of rope. "Maris, tie that other guy up."
Gabrielle bounded up the steps and quickly scanned the room. There! She ran over to the magistrate's bench. picking up her staff she announced, "I believe this belongs to me."
Soon Maris and, finally, Autolycus had joined Iolaus and Gabrielle.
"What do we do now?" asked Maris.
"Do? We try to find this 'pool of tears' and stop that no good Pharbus, if we can," said Gabrielle.
"Uh, guys, I think I know where it is," said Autolycus.
"You do? How?" asked Iolaus.
"Well, uh there's this place. I happened onto it by chance one day. Since then I've ah, kind of used it for a hideout from time to time. There is a small cave there that is almost impossible to find unless one knows where to look. Not far from this cave there's a rock formation that does sort of bear a resemblance to a human face and from out of what you could call one of the eyes there's a trickle of water that flows constantly out onto the ground. This trickle does form a small pool of water at the base of the formation."
"A 'pool of tears'," mused Iolaus.
"This cave," Gabrielle wondered, "could it be where the dragon is located?"
"Nah, it's too small," replied the King of Thieves. "It's not much bigger than one of those jail cells.
"We've got to get there as soon as possible," said Gabrielle.
"And do what? I don't see what we can accomplish." It was plain to see Maris was not anxious to continue his involvement in this little adventure.
Gabrielle took Iolaus by the arm and began to walk him away from the others. "Could I speak with you a minute?" she asked sweetly.
When they were what she thought was a safe distance away she hissed at him, "Iolaus, we've got to dump this guy."
"He's just going to be in our way," the bard insisted.
This display of toughness by Gabrielle took Iolaus aback somewhat. He had not seen her like this before. Well, tough times call for tough people, he thought. It was just one more reason to admire her. When they were together Xena was tough enough for the both of them, and then some. Gabrielle was then more than content to walk in Xena's shadow. But the Warrior Princess was not here and Iolaus could see that his little friend knew she had to step out into the light and use her talents to the utmost. I'm glad you're on my side, Gabrielle, he thought. Besides he knew she was right.
Iolaus bent over and winked at the bard. "You're right. Funny though, he used to be as tough as they come."
Gabrielle's hard countenance softened. "Maybe he's just scared," she offered.
"No, it's not that," said Iolaus. "I'm scared-you're scared, but we both know we are not going to let that stop us from doing what we have to do. No, he's changed."
Gabrielle's mind hit upon a plan. "Play along with me, Iolaus."
"What are you going to do?"
"Kill two birds with one stone."
She walked over to face Maris. "Iolaus and I have a very important job for you."
Maris' eyes grew wide. "Meee?"
"Yep." She walked around behind the magistrate's bench and quickly wrote out a note. "We need you to take this message to Xena and Hercules at the castle of King Aron."
"Yeah. Do you know the place?"
Iolaus picked up where Gabrielle left off. "Now, Maris, this is very important. We need you to bring back Xena and Hercules."
"But they won't believe me," argued Maris.
"The note will take care of everything," Gabrielle assured him. "Xena knows my handwriting. She will know it's real. Just make sure that no one, and I mean no one, reads this but Xena or Hercules."
"But how will I get past the guards?" persisted Maris. "They won't let me just walk in there."
"Use your imagination," said Gabrielle, in exasperation. "Tell them you need to speak to Xena about the king's safety or something. You know, make it up."
"I'll never make in time," said Maris. "King Aron's castle is a good ten leagues from here."
"Do your best, we're counting on you," said Gabrielle.
Just on a hunch Iolaus began searching through the little cubbyholes that lined the magistrate's bench. Before long he let out a grunt of satisfaction.
"What have you got there, Iolaus?" asked Autolycus.
Iolaus extracted a small pouch from the cubbyhole. Tossing the bag to Maris he said, "Walk south to the next village and buy a horse."
"How did you know about that?" asked Gabrielle.
Autolycus felt he was more qualified to answer the bard. "That's money collected from fines," he said. "Usually most magistrates let it accumulate for a month or two before turning it in to their town's general fund."
"So now we add theft of public property to our other charges?" grinned Gabrielle.
"Hey, if we are going to be criminals let's go all the way," said Iolaus.
"Besides," he added, "they took your money didn't they?"
"Why, so they did. That makes us even then," allowed Gabrielle.
"Well, from one criminal to another," said Autolycus, "I suggest we, uh, what do they call it-'take it on the lam'?"
"You should know," said Gabrielle, her eyes rolling.
Iolaus cracked open the front door and peeked out. By now it was well after sunset and, as far as he could tell, not many were stirring.
"Looks like the coast is clear," he said and started out the door.
"Hey, wait a minute," said Autolycus, "I almost forgot."
He walked over to a large box with a hinged lid on it and began rummaging through it.
"What are you doing?" demanded Gabrielle. "We don't have time for this."
"My stuff is in here," replied Autolycus. "Aha!" With a smile of satisfaction he removed his grappling hook and his tools from the box. Grinning at the bard he added, "The tools of the trade. I never leave jail without them."
"Oh brother," sighed Gabrielle.
"Can we go now?" asked Iolaus impatiently.
Once again he carefully opened the door and looked out. "Okay, let's go."
Slowly, cautiously, the four of them slipped out in the night.
"No moon tonight," whispered Iolaus. "Thank the gods for that."
"C'mon," said Maris, "follow me. I can get us out of town without being seen. I know every shortcut and back alley in this town."
"Lead on," said Iolaus.
True to his word, within twenty minutes Maris had led them to the side of town away from the bazaar.
"Good work," said Gabrielle. She placed a hand on Maris' wrist and continued, "Maris, we're counting on you to bring help."
Maris drew himself up to his full height before answering, "I still have enough of the old soldier in me to accomplish an assigned mission, Gabrielle."
"Good. And may the gods go with you," said Gabrielle.
Maris nodded and trotted off up the road, disappearing into the darkness.
Pharbus picked up his precious stones and lovingly cradled them to his chest.
"Just think of it, Milan, with these little stones our honor will be restored."
"Zeus will be destroyed," snapped Pharbus. "The dragon will not be defeated by that lecherous god a second time."
"How can you be so sure?" bleated Milan.
"Zeus is not the all powerful being he once was. These days most of his thoughts are about whom he can bed next. He has gone soft. It is said even his legendary skill with the lightning bolts has eroded."
The priest licked his lips and rubbed his hands together. "No, my faithful assistant, Zeus is ripe for the plucking. We will start for Kysa at first light."
"It was most fortunate for us the thief was able to secure the other eye so quickly," said Milan.
"Yes, the man...what was his name again?"
"Oh yes, Autolycus. The man undoubtedly is very skilled at his profession. To be able to steal something from the Egyptian pirate Kalmar and survive requires great skill indeed."
Pharbus gleefully remembered the look of consternation on the thief's face when the realization he had been double crossed finally dawned on him. The fool! Did he think I was really going to pay him five thousand dinars for the stone?
For a brief time Pharbus thought the Fates had been conspiring against him. It had seemed a cruel blow indeed to receive the eye taken from the thief only to hours after the first one had been stolen.
Oh well, he thought, I am in no hurry. My order has waited centuries for this day. Surely we can wait one more day. The thief and the wench will be taken care of in due course. He placed the stones in a leather pouch and hung it around his neck.
"So how did you get involved in all this, Autolycus?" asked Gabrielle.
"Well, it's a bitter potion for a man of the world such as myself to admit it but I was tricked," said Autolycus.
The three of them were wending their way along the narrow leading road to Kysa. Even without the aid of moonlight Iolaus, being very experienced at night movement, had no trouble leading the little band.
"You said you were double-crossed," said Gabrielle. "What happened?"
"About three weeks ago I got a message from this Pharbus guy. It said he had a job for me," said Autolycus.
"Since when did you start contracting out your uh, 'services', shall we say?"
"Never before" came the reply. "And never again, I can tell you."
"Humph," snorted Gabrielle, "serves you right. So what happened then?"
"I went to meet this guy and he told me he had just learned the whereabouts of a very sacred religious relic that had been stolen from his temple many years ago."
"An eye from the Kalimos Dragon," said Gabrielle.
"Pharbus didn't call it an eye," said Autolycus. "He merely said it was one of a matched set of stones with very special significance to his order. He told me he had heard of me and," Autolycus breathed on his fingernails and rubbed them on his chest, "how good I was with religious items."
"Hey, temple defilements are your specialty, right?" teased Gabrielle.
"Those were my very words, Gabrielle. Anyway, he offered me five thousand big ones to bring it back."
"So where was it?" asked Gabrielle.
"Thaaat was the tricky part. How he discovered where it was he didn't say but he had learned it was in the possession of Kalmar."
"Kalmar? The pirate? I hear he's a tough customer," said Gabrielle.
"You're not kidding," said Autolycus. "Any other time I would have told him he was nuts but uh, ahem, well, I was broke and I needed the money."
"One of these days, Autolycus," warned Gabrielle, "you are going to get in over your head. Look, you're a smart guy, why don't you try doing something honest for a change?"
"You mean like...(gulp)...work?" The King of Thieves gave an involuntary shudder at the very pronunciation of the word.
"Well you're one to talk, Gabrielle," retorted the thief. "I mean you and Xena aren't exactly out there plowing the fields every morning, now are you?"
"Xena and I don't crave dinars like you do either."
"Shhhh. Can you two hold it down a little?" asked Iolaus. "You want every Tomas, Dicharus, and Harey to know where we are?"
"Sorry, Iolaus." whispered the little bard.
"To make a long story short," continued Autolycus, "It took me ten whole days to set it up but I finally managed to steal the stone from Kalmar. Then, when I brought the stone to that rat Pharbus, he sicked the magistrate's men on me-he told them I had stolen the stone and was trying to blackmail him."
"Didn't they realize how stupid it sounded to try to blackmail someone with the particular object on your person?" asked Gabrielle.
"I got the feeling they didn't care, Gabrielle." He put his hand to his ribs and winced. "In fact I still have the feeling with me."
"By the way, how are you feeling?" asked the bard.
"It only hurts when I breathe," said the thief.
"You know, you don't have to go with us, Autolycus, " said Gabrielle.
"She's right," agreed Iolaus. "There's no telling what lies ahead."
Although she could not see his face, Gabrielle nevertheless could sense the indignation in Autolycus' voice. As always, he had to express his true feelings for his friends in the form of a joke.
"What? And have to explain to Xena and Hercules why I abandoned their sidekicks in their hour of need? Nooo, thank you. No sir, a cracked rib is but a trifle compared to what Xena would do to me."
Gabrielle angled close to him and touched his arm. "We like you too, Autolycus," she whispered.
All night long the three of them followed the dark, lonely road. Just after daybreak they reached Kysa and took the road leading eastward.
"Maleus! Maleus! The prisoners, they have escaped!"
The morning watch had found the night duty guards bound, gagged, and sporting several large bruises-courtesy of Iolaus. The sergeant banging on the door knew there would be Hades to pay for this. Well, he thought sadly, there goes our wine ration.
To Maleus these early morning poundings on his door were invariably the harbingers of bad news. If it wasn't someone finding a body murdered during the night it was some merchant wailing his shop had been broken into or two neighbors arguing over something as stupid as an olive tree. Large complaints or small, during his nine years as magistrate Maleus had just about seen everything. But never had anyone broken out of his jail.
"I heard you, damn it! Stop breaking down my door. Get the men assembled, sergeant, and meet me at the jail in twenty minutes."
Maleus sleepily donned his clothes and wrestled on his well worn boots. "This is what you get for nine years of honest public service," he grunted. "Worn boots and little rest."
Although the magistrate had never once personally did anything dishonest he knew his men sometimes had. They were paid so little, however, it was hard for him to punish them as long the offenses were small.
With a sigh he trudged off to tell Pharbus. "He is going to have a fit for sure," said the magistrate, under his breath.
Maleus had been right. Pharbus was completely beside himself with rage.
"How could let that happen?" he bellowed.
"I don't know yet. I haven't inspected the cells," said Maleus.
"Haven't inspec-- Don't you think it's a little late for that? THE PRISONERS HAVE ESCAPED!"
Maleus thought the priest's eyes were going to pop right out of his head.
"Don't worry," said the magistrate, "we'll get them back. They could not have gotten far. That one, the thief, has a bad rib, you know."
For the first time Maleus noticed Pharbus was not dressed in the usual robes of his office but trousers and a tunic. "Why are you dressed like that?"
"I am going to donate a day of my time to the help the good people of Paltros dig their new well," lied the priest.
Maleus knew the priest was lying even before the last words were out of his mouth. Pharbus never "donated" anything to anybody. He had been doing a lot of this sort of thing lately-leaving the temple for a whole day at a time. No, he was up to something.
"Very well," sighed Maleus.
In his twenty years as high priest Pharbus had managed to extend his influence far beyond the walls of the temple. Not only the ordinary folk but the town's leading citizens had come to view him as something of a conservator.
After all, it had been his idea to host the annual bazaar that now pumped tens of thousands of dinars into the local economy. It had also been his idea to take some of the proceeds from the bazaar to establish a magistrate and hire men to keep the peace. Since then the town had, for the most part, become a very safe place to live.
It had also been through his recommendation that Maleus had been named magistrate. For this reason Maleus still felt indebted to Pharbus and Pharbus knew it.
All these outside interests aside, Pharbus had never let himself be distracted from his true purpose; to restore to Hera what was rightfully hers.
"Darn it I still don't see why we didn't pick up something to eat back there in the village," said Iolaus.
He had not eaten since yesterday morning and his stomach was now protesting its neglect rather strenuously. The three of them had stopped in Kysa but for a moment and that was only to take some water from the well in the village square.
"Like I said before, Iolaus, we couldn't risk drawing attention to ourselves. If you had gone around banging on doors to get an inn to open up don't you think people would have noticed? And besides, time is too short," said Gabrielle. "We have got to find that 'pool of tears' before Pharbus does."
Gabrielle, too, was getting hungry but she was not about to let that interfere with the task at hand.
"Well, it's not going to do us any good to find the place if we are too weak from hunger to do anything," protested Iolaus.
"Oh, will you..."
Gabrielle cut short her rebuke and turned to see Autolycus grinning widely and stretching out his arm.
"I think breakfast is served," he said.
"Look over there, Gabrielle. See it?"
Gabrielle's eyes followed the direction of Autolycus' arm and focused on a small stand of what looked to be some kind of fruit trees off in the distance.
"All right!" beamed Iolaus. "Autolycus, you have good eyes."
"Well," replied the thief, modestly, "in my line of work it is an advantage."
Iolaus turned to the little bard, "Quick, give me your bag."
"My bag?" blinked Gabrielle.
"Yeah, hurry up."
In the blink of an eye Iolaus was over the low rail fence and on his way across the field to the orchard.
"I hope he doesn't get caught," remarked Gabrielle.
"I think that's the last of our worries right now, don't you think?" asked Autolycus.
He too, was already relishing the thought of some fresh fruit in his stomach. He looked both up and down the road and, turning to Gabrielle, added, "I think we ought to get off the road. Someone might get suspicious if they saw us just standing here gawking."
Fortunately, Iolaus was not discovered and he soon rejoined his friends.
"Oooooh, pears!" gushed Gabrielle.
"Yep," answered Iolaus, proudly displaying his booty. "Aren't they beauties?"
The huge pear tree had been no more than a very minor hindrance to him. After inspecting the pears he picked out the three best ones and gave them to Gabrielle.
"You don't have to do that," protested Gabrielle mildly. "I..."
Iolaus smiled and placed a finger over her lips. "Just this once, will you allow me to have my way?"
The little bard blushed and replied, "I'm sorry, I guess I have been a little pushy, haven't I?"
Autolycus never missed a beat. "Yeah, what is all this anyway?" he teased. "Is this the new Gabrielle or something? Hmm, no wonder Xena ditched you. I bet you scared her or something."
"Ditched? Ohhh you..." Gabrielle grinned and took the good natured ribbing with feigned indignance.
Their moment of fun over, Autolycus asked the question that was foremost on all their minds. "Suppose we do find this, uh, dragon. What do we do? I don't see how three of us are going to be able to stop that crazy priest. He's sure to have some of that magistrate's men with him."
"We'll just have to play it by ear," allowed Iolaus. "Maybe we can slow them up until Hercules and Xena get here."
"We don't even know if Maris made it," Autolycus reminded them.
"Whether he did or didn't is irrelevant," said Gabrielle. "We have got to stop this guy."
"Well, we don't have to much farther to go," said Autolycus. "Maybe a half league or so."
"What do we do then, I mean, what do we look for?" asked Iolaus.
"Remember what the scroll said," Gabrielle reminded them, '"Follow Sappho."
Pharbus reluctantly decided he had better slow his horse down some before he ran it into the ground. The priest had not eased up since his departure from Kysa and he had spent the entire time chastising himself. You fool, he thought, you should have known they would go there. After all, didn't the little man say they would try to stop me. I should have recognized the significance of that.
His day had not been a good one. First those meddling strangers had escaped, then he had lost precious time convincing that idiot Maleus not to follow him. The magistrate had, for some reason, seemed less pliable than usual. Pharbus, however, could not afford to have the man snooping around while he searched for the dragon. Now he had no choice but to fetch the magistrate.
His scowl reflected his frustration. He had thought today might be the day. But that morning in Kysa he had stopped at the inn to purchase some food and, by chance, had overheard a couple of the locals discussing the three strangers that had been observed drawing water from the well just after dawn. One did not have to have the intellect of Plato to deduce the strangers were the escaped prisoners. Pharbus was not worried they would actually find anything after all, he had searched the area several times and so far had found nothing. However, he did not want to leave anything to chance. If only I knew what that reference to Sappho meant, he thought. I know that must be the key to all. Here is where the omission of the dragon's location from the copied scrolls really came back to haunt Pharbus. The significance of Sappho, being part of the omission, was long since lost and, over time, she was virtually forgotten. Consequently Pharbus had been unable to ascertain who this long dead poetess was or what she had done.
"Well guys, there it is." Autolycus stretched out his arm toward the hillside.
"Oh my goodness," gasped Gabrielle, "it is a face!"
The King of Thieves' description of the place had, indeed, been very accurate.
The configuration of the rocks did form a well defined face on the hillside. There were two distinct indentations (the eyes) flanking a piece of stone (the nose) jutting out from the hillside. There was even a crevice that formed a kind of mouth on it. And, just as Autolycus had said, out of the left "eye" a steady trickle of water gently flowed down the "face" and onto the ground forming a pool at the base of the formation.
"It's remarkable," said Iolalus.
Gabrielle's quick mind began to engage itself. "Iolaus, you're the expert, exactly which way is north by east?"
Her friend had anticipated this question. Since early that morning he had been very careful to maintain his bearings.
He pointed over the little bard's shoulder, "That way."
"Let's get started then," said Gabrielle.
"Ah, I think we've got a problem here," said Autolycus.
"What do you mean? inquired Gabrielle.
"Well, like I said, I've been here before. If you step off one hundred and fifty paces in the direction Iolaus indicated for about the last thirty of them you are going to be needing Daedalus' wings."
"There's a cliff over there, Gabrielle. A sheer drop of about fifty paces," Autolycus continued.
"Hmmm, tell you what. Let's pace if off anyway," suggested Gabrielle.
Autolycus shrugged his shoulders, "Okay."
"One twenty-six, one twenty-seven, and ooone twenty-eight." Autolycus last step placed him at the edge of the precipice. "Okay, Gabrielle, that's it."
Iolaus squinted and peeked over the edge. "Now what? We can't just walk on air."
The little bard stood there turning the problem over and over in her mind. One hundred fifty paces...twenty-two more...but where? Left? Right? Do we backtrack? Like a pesky insect the phrase "follow Sappho" kept buzzing around her. But that's insane, she thought.
Gabrielle got down on her hands and knees and crawled to the edge of the cliff. Being somewhat afraid of heights she felt very uncomfortable to be so near the edge. Lying flat on the ground she forced herself to look over the side.
"I just don't...Oh my!" Quickly she retreated from the brink and sat there looking up at them with a gleam in her eyes.
"Are you all right?" asked Iolaus. Her gasp had startled her friends.
"Follow Sappho! Don't you see? We have to follow Sappho."
Autolycus placed a hand on her shoulder in an attempt to calm her down.
"Okay okay, so we follow this Sappho. Uh, Gabrielle, just who is this Sappho anyway?"
Of course this was right up Gabrielle's alley. "Sappho was a poetess," she began. "Not much of her work survives but by all accounts she was very gifted. Sadly, today she is almost unknown."
Gabrielle eyes twinkled as she placed her hand to her mouth. Iolaus could not remember seeing her this excited.
"C'mon, tell us the rest," urged Autolycus, now genuinely interested.
"Well legend has it that Sappho fell in love with a beautiful youth named Phaon. Alas, the youth did not return her affections so in despair she threw herself off the promontory of Leucadia and into the sea."
Gabrielle decided it would be best to omit the details of Sappho's sexual preferences.
"Yewww," groaned Autolycus.
"But... I still don't get it," said Iolaus.
"Follow Sappho," repeated Gabrielle. That means down.
Iolaus' eyes grew wide. "You mean jump? Are you nuts? I'm not-"
"No no," squealed Gabrielle, barely able to control herself. "It means down the cliff. The side of the cliff."
"C'mon Iolaus, can't you see? It's a hundred twenty-eight paces to the cliff and twenty-two more down the side of the cliff."
Her old friend walked to the edge and looked over. "You mean we have to scale down the side of this and look for some kind of entrance?"
Gabrielle smiled at him and nodded once.
"How do you know it doesn't mean to go to the base of the cliff and pick up the count from there?" asked Autolycus.
"Because the count isn't supposed to be interrupted," replied Gabrielle.
Remember, it said 'one hundred fifty paces, unbroken'."
"Well," sighed Iolaus, "let's get to it."
Autolycus removed his grappling hook and unwound its cord. "You know, of course, this is not going to be long enough," he reminded them. "We need more length."
"Then let's see what we can find," said Gabrielle.
The three of them fanned out and began to look for something, anything, to supplement the cord's length.
About fifteen minutes later Iolaus hit the jackpot. "Hey guys, over here!" he shouted.
Gabrielle and Autolycus ran to where Iolaus stood staring up a large tree.
"See that vine?" he asked.
"It's perfect," said Autolycus.
Gabrielle looked up and wrinkled her nose. "How do we get it down?"
"Looks like it's the King of Thieves to the rescue again," sniffed Autolycus.
He reached into his right boot and removed a small knife.
"Another tool of the trade?" asked Gabrielle slyly.
"Just my fingernail trimmer," he answered innocently.
"Give me that thing," said Iolaus.
He placed the knife between his teeth and began to climb the tree. Gabrielle and Autolycus stood there marveling at his agility and athleticism. The huge tree was no more a challenge to him than water to a duck. In a few short minutes Iolaus was two thirds of the way up the tree.
"This ought to be enough don't you think, Autolycus?"
"Yeah, it should be."
Iolaus began cutting notches into the vine and before long it fell spiraling to the ground. Soon the vine and the cord were tied together and secured to a large rock near the edge of the cliff. Iolalus kicked the coil over the edge and watched it tumble down the side of the cliff.
"Well," he grinned, taking up the vine, "here goes nothing."
"Be careful," cautioned Gabrielle.
"Hey, just call me Prudence," laughed Iolaus. He began to slowly back his way down the cliff.
Maleus was getting tired of this. I ought to quit this damn job, he thought. Yeah, right. And do what? Go back to farming? Not likely. On the whole being magistrate was not all that bad but Pharbus was beginning to aggravate the Tartarus out of him. These constant, snide reminders of his debt to the priest were wearing very thin by now.
Now Pharbus was even telling him how to do his job. First, it was search west of Selonia. Now here he comes running after them wanting them to follow him to some place east of Kysa.
"Are you sure you know where they are?" Maleus asked the priest.
"Of course," snapped the priest. "I figured it out when I learned which direction they were taking." Pharbus' eyes became very hard. "Maleus, these people are very dangerous. I don't believe they will allow you to take them alive a second time so you must be prepared to do your duty."
Now what's that supposed to mean? wondered Maleus. Is that a hint we should kill them? What is he up to?
Autolycus stood watching as Iolaus eased his way down the cliff. "Boy, Gabrielle, look at this. That Iolaus is like a squirrel."
"Ah, no thanks," gulped the bard. "I think I'll stay here." Her previous experience at the edge had been enough for her.
"How far down do you think I am?" yelled Iolaus.
"Just a little more," answered Autolycus. "You see anything?"
"Nah, not yet."
Iolaus dropped down a few more feet, carefully inspecting the face of the
cliff as he did so. Dropping still further, he felt the rock face give as his foot banged against it.
"What the--? Hey, I think I found something."
At first this particular portion of the cliff had seemed as solid as the rest of it but it was merely an illusion. He again placed his foot against the rock and pushed. He was amazed to feel it give easily. This must be it, he thought.
Planting both feet on a solid part of the cliff, he bent his knees and pushed as hard as he could. He swung out away from the cliff and came crashing back into the soft spot. To his surprise he broke right through the rock face.
Autolycus couldn't believe his eyes. "Hey, where'd he go?"
"What happened, Autolycus?" asked Gabrielle, noting the alarm in his voice. Her fear of heights did not keep her from rushing to the edge to see what was happening.
"Iolaus just disappeared," he replied.
"What are you talking about?" The little bard fell flat on the ground and peeped over the brink. "Oh no...you don't think he...fell do you?"
"Nooo, he just...disappeared," repeated Autolycus.
Gabrielle just lay there staring down the face of the cliff. "Ohh, Iolaus."
Then, to her tremendous relief, she saw her friend's head just seem to pop out of the side of the cliff.
"I'm okay!" she heard him yell. He waved and pointed inside. "You were right, Gabrielle, there's a cave in here."
Gabrielle pulled back from the edge and sat upright. "Oh gods, Autolycus, we did it. We beat Pharbus to it."
"But not for long, my friends," a voice called out from behind them. It was Pharbus. "Seize them!" he shouted to Maleus' men.
"Quick, over the side," ordered Autolycus.
Acrophobia or no, Gabrielle knew she had no choice. She took up the vine and dropped over the side. Autolycus waited a few very tense seconds to allow Gabrielle to get clear before, he too, went over the side. Instantly the searing pain in his ribs almost overwhelmed him but he gritted his teeth and held on.
By the time Maleus' men reached the edge Gabrielle and Autolycus were almost down to Iolaus. One of the men picked up the vine and drew his sword to cut it.
"No!" ordered Maleus. "Take them alive."
"Maleus, I'm warning you," said Pharbus.
"Pharbus, I'll do this my way," countered the magistrate.
"What's happening?" Iolaus asked the bard as he pulled her in to him.
"It's Pharbus and that magistrate."
"Great, just great."
Autolycus didn't know how much longer he could hang on. It was becoming very difficult for him to breathe and he was beginning to get dizzy. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it. Don't black out, he thought. Just as he felt his hands loosen on the cord four arms locked themselves around his legs and pulled him down inside the mouth of the cave.
"Thanks guys," the King of Thieves gasped. "I was just about a goner there."
"You okay?" asked Iolaus.
"Yeah," lied Autolycus.
Gabrielle bent over and looked him in the eye. "Don't ever let anyone tell you you're not plenty tough," she told him.
Iolaus looked out and saw the cord shaking violently. "C'mon, they're coming. Let's get out of here."
They helped Autolycus to his feet and scrambled deeper into the cave. The light from the opening streamed into the cave and reflected off the walls with surprising luminosity. Upon falling farther back into the cave the little band came to a huge mound rising up off the cavern floor.
And there it was.
"Oh...my...gods, "Gabrielle gasped. "The dragon."
Perched at the summit of the mound was a huge stone effigy of ferocious looking dragon.
Iolaus stood there gaping at the thing with wide eyed wonderment. The growling of Maleus' onrushing men snapped them out their stupor.
Iolaus grabbed Gabrielle by the arm and pushed her toward the mound.
"Up there," he barked. "Get going."
She cursed the fact that she had been forced to leave her staff up on the edge of the cliff. Desperately, she scanned the floor of the cavern in search of a weapon.
"Get going, I said!" screamed Iolaus.
The little bard began to stumble up the mound.
The first three of Maleus' men were now upon Iolaus and Autolycus. Iolaus ducked under the first assailant's slashing sword and kicked him in the groin. As the man crumbled Iolaus kneed him to the forehead and relieved him of his sword.
Autolycus knew this was do or die. Doing his best to ignore the pain in his ribs he lashed out at his man and caught him under the chin with a good left hook. The man staggered back and Autolycus followed Iolaus' example and planted a knee in the man's groin, finishing him off. By now Iolaus was engaged with the third man and Autolycus was stunned to see him slash Iolaus just above the navel with his sword.
Now Maleus, Pharbus, and the other three of Maleus' men were charging into the cave. Pharbus circled around the fighting and ran straight for the mound. Just before Maleus and his men joined the fight Iolaus managed to ram his foe in the guts.
"Autolycus, over here...with me!" yelled Iolaus.
Autolycus picked up his man's sword and staggered to Iolaus' side. Maleus and his men were upon them.
"Wait!" shouted Maleus. "There's been enough bloodshed here. I call on you to surrender, now!"
"No!" screamed Pharbus, now almost to the top of the mound. "Kill them!"
"He's right," growled one of the men. Iolaus recognized him as the one he had tricked with the meowing last night. "I owe this son of a bitch."
The man rushed at Iolaus. Now there was no holding them back.
Iolaus turned to Autolycus and yelled, "Follow me!"
The two of them fired right past their enemies, rushed to the cavern wall, and turned to face the onslaught. Within a few moments of the fight Autolycus received a wound to his thigh but somehow managed to keep his feet.
Meanwhile Pharbus had now reached the summit. He stood there for a long moment staring at the awesome spectacle before pulling out the bag hanging around his neck. He dumped the stones into his hand and strode toward the dragon.
"Now Hera," he whispered hoarsely, "after four hundred years, yours will be done."
"Noooo!" From the priest's right Gabrielle leaped out of the shadows and belted the priest with a solid right hand to the jaw.
Stunned momentarily, Pharbus dropped one of the stones and Gabrielle deftly snatched it up before he could recover. Pharbus reached to his belt and extracted a dagger.
"Give me the stone, harlot," he demanded.
Pharbus took a clumsy swipe at the bard and she easily dodged him, whacking him hard on the shoulder with her fist as she passed by.
"You slut," he hissed. "You torment will be eternal for this."
Back on the cavern floor Iolaus slashed one of his opponents across the knee, disabling him, but he received a blow to his shoulder for his trouble. He could see Autolycus was weakening considerably and he knew they were just about done for.
Maleus had, by now, noticed Pharbus battling with the girl up on the summit and he did not like what he saw. It seemed he was trying to kill the girl! He bolted up the mound in an attempt to stop him.
Gabrielle saw Maleus coming and she knew this was her chance to prove their innocence to the magistrate.
"Pharbus," she pleaded, please let us go. You know we are innocent of any wrongdoing. If you promise to speak to Maleus on our behalf, I swear I'll give you the stone."
"Your innocence is irrelevant," he snarled. "Maleus believes whatever I tell him. If I say you are guilty-you are guilty. Now give me the stone."
He began to advance on Gabrielle. The bard turned and hurled the stone against the dragon, shattering it.
"You bitch," Pharbus roared, his eyes now filled with blood lust.
"Pharbus, stop," said Maleus.
"It's too late for that, Maleus," said Pharbus. "This one must die"
"Noo, Pharbus!" Maleus was too far away to do anything and he watched helplessly as Pharbus closed on Gabrielle.
The air was filled by a screaming whine and a streaking flash of silver shot across the cave. Pharbus' suddenly halted his advance, his eyes bulging out grotesquely.
He did a half turn to reveal a familiar weapon in his back. Xena's chakram!
"Xena!" shouted the bard but at first she did not see the Warrior Princess.
Xena was busy at the moment making short work of Autolycus' and Iolaus' attackers. Her work finished, she looked up to Gabrielle.
"Are you all right?" she shouted.
"I'm good," called out the bard happily.
Maleus stepped toward Gabrielle.
"You even think about hurting her," warned Xena, "and I'll pound you into mush."
"No, Xena, it's okay," assured the bard.
Xena stood there staring at him just to make sure as Gabrielle passed by him and joyfully made her way down the mound.
"Oh gods, Xena I'm so glad to see you."
Xena, however ignored the bard's greeting and carefully looked her over to satisfy herself that her love was, indeed, all right.
The bard smiled and took Xena's hand. "I told you I'm all right," she repeated.
"Xena, I must say your timing is impeccable," said Autolycus.
"Xena! No wonder."
Xena turned to face Maleus. "These are my friends. Now what's this all about?"
An hour later they were all back up on the cliff. Gabrielle had related the story to Xena and Maleus, learning Pharbus true intentions and satisfied as to the innocence of Xena's friends, loaded up his men and started back for Selonia.
Gabrielle watched them leave and looked up at Xena. "How did you find us so quickly?" she asked.
Xena looked down at her beautiful little bard and smiled. "You friend Maris got to the castle very early this morning. When I read your note and saw the part about the pool of tears I knew exactly where you were. I got here as fast as I could and saw all the horses and the vine extending over the side of the cliff. Aannd..." she stomped her foot down and up popped Gabrielle's staff, "I saw this."
"Well I'm sure glad you got here when you did," said Iolaus.
Xena looked at her friends and said, "You guys did a great thing here. You probably saved the world. I'm proud of you guys."
Iolaus turned to Gabrielle and smiled, "It was mostly Gabrielle here," he said. "She was the one that figured it all out."
"She's really something, Xena," added Autolycus.
The Warrior Princess turned to lovingly gaze into Gabrielle's green eyes.
"Yes, I know," she said softly, more to the bard than to them. Autolycus' subtle cough broke up their reverie.
"So, uh," began Xena, regaining her composure, "are you guys able to travel?"
Autolycus looked down at his leg and grimaced, "I don't know, Xena. This saving the world stuff was pretty hard on me. I gave my all for our..."
"Okay, okay," said Xena, rolling her eyes. "I'll ride into Kysa and bring a cart back for you." Xena walked over to untie Argo.
Gabrielle leaned over and whispered to Autolycus, "That was pretty slick. Especially the part about giving your all."
"Hey," grinned the King of Thieves, "when it comes to getting out of walking..." He raised his eyebrow in a gesture so familiar to the both of them and continued, "I have many skills." He held up the other dragon's eye and added, "Aaand I have this."
Gabrielle jabbed him in the shoulder and smiled, "You're impossible."
By that evening the party was back in Selonia. Xena attended to the guys' wounds and put them up at the inn. She told them that Hercules and Maris were due to join them tomorrow.
About an hour before dark Gabrielle managed to convince Xena to walk over to the bazaar with her. As they passed the stable the two of them stopped in for a moment to check on Argo.
"You know," mused Gabrielle, "I never did get a chance to buy you a gift."
Xena placed her arm around the bard and drew her near. "Gabrielle, every morning when I first see your face, that's a gift. When I hold you on those cool nights and feel your warmth, that's a gift. Every time you tell me one of those stories of yours, that's a gift. Every time you say you love me, that's a gift more precious, more treasured, than anything even all the gods on Mount Olympus could offer up."
The bard melted in her arm and sighed, "Ohhh, Xena, if I could I would tell you a million times a day I love you."
Xena turned to her bard and wrapped her powerful arms around her.
"Just tell me once, Gabrielle," she whispered huskily.
Before Gabrielle could oblige Xena kissed her, her tongue probing lasciviously..
Gabrielle drew back, coughed once, and blinked. "Uh, what do you say let's forget the bazaar," she suggested coyly.
Xena looked around and, seeing the stable empty, walked to the stable door and, with a sly grin, closed and locked it. "Gabrielle," she purred, "You've made me an offer I can't refuse."
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