2003 Bardie Winner!

Critic's Choice Best Show
Best Xena
Best Gabrielle
Honorable Mentions:
Best Line
Best Appearance by Support Male (Salmoneous)


by Nene Adams



Extraordinary crimes against the people must be avenged by agents extraordinary.

Starring Xena Amphipolis and Gabrielle Potadeia

Directed by Alanus Smitheeus

Produced by The International Federation of Thespians

in association with Known World Productions

Adapted from The Avengers, 'You Have Just Been Murdered' 1967 (Patrick

McNee and Diana Rigg)


"You Have Just Been Murdered, Again"

Xena fondles a peach - Gabrielle gets wet


Akamas, the sixth wealthiest merchant in the city of Athens, was

awakened by something in the middle of the night. He lay in bed, eyes

staring into the smothering darkness, for the shutters over the window

admitted no moonlight. He could feel prickly sweat on the back of his

neck, the thrumming of his own heartbeat. His nightshirt was

uncomfortably bunched up around his hips. Akamas listened for a while,

and hearing nothing beyond the faint snores of a servant in the

distance, decided to return to his interrupted slumber.

As he rolled over onto his back, a piece of shadow detached itself from

the rest. It glided to his bed side, silent and sure.

Akamas opened his eyes again, and was dazzled by a shockingly bright

light that blossomed out of the darkness. He blinked and would have

cried out but for the gloved hand clapped across his mouth. A spearpoint

appeared, diamond-glittering. It thrust at him, and Akamas let out a

muffled scream.

Then the hand was gone, the lamp was gone, and the room was plunged into

darkness again. Only the spear remained. Akamas was pinned to the bed

with it, but the point had passed harmlessly through the shoulder seam

of his nightshirt.

He sat up, ripping the garment, and cried loudly for a light, a servant,

the captain of his bodyguard.

When all these things were brought and the bedchamber was filled with

lamp light and a great bustle of people, Akamas' panic subsided a

little. The captain could find no trace of the intruder. A servant

brought a hot posset of wine and spice to soothe the merchant's nerves.

The bowl spilled from Akamas' hand when a servant gave him a scrap of

parchment that had been found on the floor beside the bed. Wine flowed

like blood down his ruined shirt. He turned pale and could not catch his


You have just been murdered was written on the parchment.

Akamas, the sixth wealthiest merchant in the city of Athens, plucked at

his beard as sweat rolled down his face, stinging his eyes to tears.


Gabrielle waded hip-deep in the pool, stalking her prey with a dancer's


She moved slowly, her concentration honed to a fine point. A cloud of

tiny dancing insects rose and fell with every breath. A bird sang a

liquid melody in a nearby tree. Gabrielle ignored them, as she ignored

everything else except her quest. Her brows drew together in a frown,

and her teeth tugged at her bottom lip.

Partially concealed in an overhang of the bank was the biggest trout she

had ever seen.

It was a silver-gleaming monster longer than her forearm, fat freckled

sides pulsating as it moved lazily against the current. Gabrielle

watched the fish intently. She was bent over in a semi-crouch, one hand

trailing in the crystalline water as she had been taught by her partner,

Xena. Her flesh was pebbled with goosebumps. The pool was filled with

icy mountain runoff, but the discomfort was minor compared to the

triumph that was to come. The old trout had survived many encounters

with fishermen in the past, but it had met its match in the bard.

"Come to mama," Gabrielle whispered, drawing nearer.

Her fingertips barely brushed against the fish's side. The trout shifted

slightly, but showed no inclination to bolt. In another moment, she

would grab it by the gills and toss it up on the bank.

Suddenly, something blurred past her face and fell with a mighty splash

into the pool, soaking Gabrielle and causing the fish to disappear in

panicked flight. The bard shook water out of her face and gritted her

teeth against a horrific oath. She glanced down and saw a sparkling

object near her feet. Bending over, she picked it up, and her scowl

turned into a smile.

It was Xena's chakram, wound about with wire and fishhooks in an

artistic yet legible way to form letters spelling: Gabrielle, we're

needed in the center.

The bard looked up to see Xena standing on the bank, grinning.

Gabrielle waded out of the pool, tossing the chakram from hand to hand.


"Let me see that message again," Xena said.

Gabrielle gave her the scroll which had been delivered to their campsite

by a professional (and expensive) horse-relay messenger. "It won't make

any more sense than the last time," she said.

Xena shrugged and unrolled the scroll. The handwriting was jerky and

ink-blotched, as though the author had had difficulty controlling his

quill. The message read: Please help me. I have just been murdered.


"The scroll was picked up in Athens, at the mansion of a merchant named

Akamas," Gabrielle said, securing a bedroll with a leather strap. "The

sixth wealthiest man in the city, so I've heard."

"Oh?" Xena gave her partner an affectionate look. "Since when do you

know so much about exclusive Athens society?"

"Hey, you know I listen to the tavern bards while you're busy swilling

wine and cracking heads," Gabrielle replied with a mischievous twinkle

in her eyes. "They always have the latest gossip."

Xena stuffed the scroll into a saddlebag. "Do you know anything else

about this Akamas character?"

"Not really. He made his fortune elsewhere and lives in Athens in high

style. Big mansion, lots of servants, hedonistic friends and wild

parties. He spends dinars like they grow on trees. No one knows where

he's from or anything about his past."

"Salmoneus must be living with this mystery merchant."

Gabrielle leaned on her staff. "And he's in terrible danger." Sunlight

slanted down through the tree tops, turning her hair into a blaze of


"I don't know, Gabrielle. In my experience, once you've been murdered,

the actual danger part is pretty much over." Xena jumped into Argo's

saddle and turned the horse's head with a tug of the reins. She reached

down to help Gabrielle mount behind her. "But we should probably ride to

Athens and find out what Salmoneus has gotten himself into this time."

The bard's smile grew wider. "It sounds like a grave situation."

"There's definitely a plot in it somewhere," Xena agreed, and winked.

"Let's go."

Xena kneed Argo to a trot as they left their campsite behind and swung

onto the road that led to Athens.


A few days later, at the mansion of Akamas the merchant, Xena and

Gabrielle were stopped at the gate by a tough-looking guard armed with

sword, spear and shield. There was a high wall around the entire

property, and several other sword-bearing men were visible behind the

stoutly secured iron gate.

"No one may enter by the command of Akamas," said the guard gruffly. His

breastplate and helmet were excellent quality, proclaiming his position

as captain of the guards. "Be about your business."

"We're here at the request of a friend, Salmoneus," Gabrielle replied.

She slid down from Argo, causing the captain to tense. "He's staying

here with Akamas."

"My master lives alone except for the women and servants." He eyed Xena

suspiciously, then shifted his gaze back to the bard. "If you don't

leave right now, I'll have my men run you off."

Xena also dismounted, reaching into her saddlebag for the scroll.

Immediately, the captain bawled an order. Five more guards ran to the

gate, weapons naked in their hands.

"No need to be so jumpy, boys," Xena said, her voice a dangerous purr.

Gabrielle, recognizing her partner's tone, made herself ready for


"Look, here's the scroll," the warrior continued, holding out the rolled

parchment. "It came from our friend Salmoneus. The relay-rider said that

it was picked up here. Maybe there's been a misunderstanding. I don't

know. What I do know is that Akamas can come out of his fortress and

clear this up himself, or we're going inside to pay him a visit - with

or without your cooperation."

"Are you threatening me?" The captain's face crumpled into an ugly


"Not at all," Gabrielle said. "It's a declaration of intention. There's

no need for violence... yet," she muttered softly to herself, then

raised her voice to say, "Why don't you tell Akamas that he has

visitors? Xena and Gabrielle would like to see him. Our business won't

take long."

"Xena? The Warrior Princess? The Scourge of Corinth? The Destroyer of

Nations?" The man's eyes were bulging. "The Lion of Amphipolis?"

"Yes, yes, and Gabrielle of Potedia, how do you do, will you please get

over the Warrior Princess worshipping haze and send for Akamas?"

Gabrielle said briskly. She turned to Xena. "At least my reputation

doesn't precede me."

"What reputation?" Xena's lips quirked into a smile.

"Remind me to tickle you later," Gabrielle replied. She faced the

captain again. "Are you going to send for Akamas or not?"

The captain shook his head as though to clear it. His mouth worked but

no sound emerged. At last, he gestured to one of his men, who pelted

through the gate and disappeared into the mansion.

Within a few moments, the guard re-appeared, leading a portly man

dressed in a fine toga. A wreath of trembling gold sprays adorned his

head, and his beard had been lovingly oiled and curled into ringlets.

Jewels glinted on his pudgy fingers. His sandals were gilded leather,

studded with emeralds, and slapped against the stones of the courtyard

as he scurried towards the waiting women.

When he was close enough, he raised his voice and cried, "Xena!

Gabrielle! How good of you to pay a visit to the house of Akamas!

Please, come inside and we'll discuss your business." The last word was

hissed out, and his eyes were filled with a mixture of warning and plea.

Xena's expression was neutral, but Gabrielle frowned. She whispered out

of the side of her mouth, "What in the Hades is going on here?"

"Roll with it," Xena replied, equally softly. She nodded to the still

stunned captain, then gestured for Gabrielle to proceed her through the


Inside the mansion, Akamas dismissed his servants from a lavishly

appointed room and waited until the door was shut before he blurted to

Xena, "Thank the gods! You came! Oh, proud warrioress, I am so glad to

see you!"

"What am I, chopped nutbread?" Gabrielle asked, blowing out an annoyed


"Oh yeah, Gabrielle, good to see you, have you lost weight, love the

'do, yadda yadda," Akamas replied, giving his attention back to Xena.

"But I am really happy to see the leather, the boots, the round killing

thingy, the bloodthirsty glint..."

He came to an abrupt stop when Gabrielle gave him a light whack with her

staff on the side of his head.

"Ow!" Akamas put up his hand to rub the sore spot. "Hey, gold's a soft

metal, you know." He took off the wreath and inspected it for damage.

"Good thing your head is harder," Gabrielle said.

Xena put her hands on her hips and glowered at the man who stood before

her. "All right, Salmoneus," she said, her eyes narrowed into cold blue

slits. Her toe tapped the marble floor. "Playtime's over. It's

confession time now."

Salmoneus - known in Athens as Akamas, the sixth wealthiest merchant in

the city - let his shoulders slump. He dropped the gold wreath on the

floor, a hangdog expression on his face. "I've been murdered three times

in the last week," he said, wringing his hands together. "Oh, gods, what

am I going to do?"

Xena and Gabrielle exchanged a look. The warrior said, "You seem fine to


"You sure look lively for a dead man," Gabrielle added.

"You have no idea," Salmoneus said woefully. "This is really killing


Again, Xena and Gabrielle exchanged a look. This time, there was pity in

that shared glance. Relenting, Xena put an arm around Salmoneus'

shoulders and guided him to a couch. Pushing the man down gently, she

said, "We're here to help."

Gabrielle smiled and sat down on his other side. "We're your friends,

Salmoneus." She leaned her staff against an ebony table and patted his

hand. "Go ahead. Tell us."

Salmoneus let out a gusty sigh. "All right. It all started on a dark and

stormy night..."

Gabrielle groaned, "This story's going to be the death of me."

The man glared at the interruption.

Xena put a finger to her lips to hush the bard and nodded to Salmoneus

to continue.

"As I was saying, it all started on a dark and stormy night," he

repeated. "I was inspecting this sweet little property that I own - it's

right outside Alexandria - when there was a shipwreck. Happened

practically on the doorstep. And if you're at all interested in a

defunct lighthouse that includes a cozy, very chi-chi accomodation for

two, I can give you a fabulous deal. No? Okay, I had to ask. Anyway, it

turned out to be a Phoenician trader - the ship, not the property - and

it was full of gold. None of the crew survived so I had salvage rights.

Talk about your dream coming true! For the first time in my life, I was

filthy rich, not just filthy."

"And you decided to settle down in Athens? Why not Alexandria?"

Gabrielle asked.

"Well, you know how it is when you're a traveling merchant," Salmoneus

replied, shifting uncomfortably on the couch. "You do a little business

here, a little business there, something goes a tiny bit wrong and

people tend to exaggerate. Happens all the time. I mean, that guy's hair

could've fallen out anyway, it didn't necessarily have anything to do

with my patented hair styling cream, and his scalp stopped turning

purple after a couple of weeks, and is it my fault that his near-sighted

wife mistook his head for an eggplant? Long story short..."

"Too late!" Xena and Gabrielle said simultaneously.

"Fine! Let's just say that after the styling cream accident - and a

couple of other minor insignificant things that hardly need an

explanation - I wasn't exactly persona grata in Alexandria." Salmoneus

nervously smoothed out a crease in his toga. "Anyway, I love Athens.

Only a couple of years ago, I had this itty-bitty problem with the

authorities. Just a misunderstanding, no biggie, but you know how hard

it can be to cut through red tape. At least they'd stopped nailing those

terrible "Wanted: Alive for Death by Torture" posters to every tree

within a five-mile radius.

"But I needed to change my identity to avoid a sticky situation - okay,

call it a diplomatic incident and leave it at that. Did I know she was

the Oligarch's wife? She looked like a priestess of Aphrodite to me.

Anyway, I became Akamas, bought myself this mansion, installed some

servants and everything was hunky-dory until a week ago. That's when I

started being murdered."

"Slow down," Xena said. "What do you mean, murdered?"

"I meant what I said! Gods, can't you women speak Greek?" Salmoneus

leaped to his feet and began pacing to and fro. "There's a man - at

least, I think he's a man but I'm not sure because I haven't seen his

face - who breaks into my mansion and pretends to kill me. The first

time, he showed up in the middle of the night and stabbed me with a

spear, only the point didn't break my skin. It just went through my

nightshirt. And he left a piece of parchment that said, You have just

been murdered."

Gabrielle raised her brows. "Go on."

"The next time, he came at the end of one of my dinner parties, just

when we were drinking this lovely little wine from Kos. An excellent

vintage, not pretentious at all, full-bodied and peppery with a bit of

twang. I can get you a great deal if you buy the amphoras in bulk. No?

Okay, so this guy, this mystery assassin, he comes in and give me a

piece of parchment that says, You have just been murdered... again. He

was wearing a cloak, a hood and a mask, by the way. I have no idea who

he is. Then he was gone in the panic. Vanished into thin air like that."

Salmoneus snapped his fingers. "Turns out there was an emetic in my wine

cup, and oh boy, let me tell you, the garden toilet will never be the

same, if you take my meaning. My rosebeds were completely ruined. But

that emetic, inconvenient as it was, could've been poison. He could've

poisoned me! The household servants didn't see a thing. Neither did the


"And the third time?" Xena asked, leaning forward a bit to rest her

elbows on her knees.

Salmoneus grimaced. "That was last night! I hired extra guards but he

still got into my bedchamber. He stabbed me with a fake sword, one of

those gilded things made of thin wood like they use in the theater. And

another message - you have just been murdered... again. I don't know

what to do. It's just so menacing and horrible. At any moment, the

mystery assassin could show up and really kill me! I'm a nervous wreck!"

"We won't let it happen again," Xena assured the portly man. "Is there

anything else you can tell us? Any detail? It could be important."

"There's this." Salmoneus reached inside his toga and removed a scroll,

which he handed to Xena. "One of my guards found it a few candlemarks

ago, attached to an arrow that had been shot over the wall."

Gabrielle scooted closer to the warrior so that she could see the

scroll. It read:

Dear Salmoneus -

Death is a permanent business. We all have to die sometime. And no

matter how wealthy you are, all those dinars won't mean a thing when

you're in Hades' realm.

To most people, death comes as a surprise. You, on the other hand, are

fortunate enough to know the day of your demise. You have been murdered

three times - that was to show you that this is not a game. You can be

killed anytime. Unless you pay me 50,000 dinars in cash, you will be

murdered for real on the fourth visit.

To avoid this fate, place the dinars in five plain leather bags, 10,000

dinars per bag. Take the sacks to the bridge on the east side of the old

agora tomorrow at the twelfth candlemark of the night. Don't be late.

Drop the bags over the edge of the bridge and walk away. Go home. Do not

look back. No tricks. I'll be watching.

Fail to deliver the payment and you will die.

Pay and you will be spared.

Ask yourself - is your life worth 50,000 dinars?

If the answer to this question is "no," you will be murdered.

A Citizen

Gabrielle finished scanning the scroll. "Well, that's a pretty plain


"Thank you for stating the obvious." Salmoneus began plucking at his

beard again. "I'm not the first successful businessman in Athens to

become a target."

"Oh?" Xena sat back, stretching her legs out in front of her. Salmoneus

started pacing again, nearly tripped over her boots, and finally sought

a chair.

"As near as I've been able to find out - the Athenian authorities are

keeping it quiet - this 'you have been murdered' business started six

months ago with Cephalos, the squid magnate who owns half the fish

market. Then there was Enops the wine merchant, Iphicrates the building

contractor, Mentor who owns most of the theaters, and Podalinus the

jeweler," Salmoneus said, counting on his pudgy fingers.

"Did they pay the blackmailer?" Gabrielle asked.

"Yes, they did. And they died anyway." Salmoneus sat down. "Of fatal

accidents. Talk about bad luck!"

Xena drew a small dagger from her breastplate and began to clean her

nails with it. "All of them?" she asked, glancing up from the small


"Cephalos drowned himself in an ornamental pool after he got a rubber

octopus stuck... I mean, he somehow acquired a rubber octopus in a place

where no rubber octopus should be, if you comprehend my delicacy."

"I think so," Gabrielle said, her brows furrowed.

Salmoneus continued, "Enops fell into a wine press and was crushed to

death. Iphicrates also fell, but it was from some scaffolding on a

building site. Mentor was hit by a falling turtle while inspecting one

of his theaters. Podalinus choked on a ruby the size of a baby's fist."

Gabrielle blinked. "A falling turtle?"

"Apparently, an eagle picked up a turtle and flew away with it, then

dropped it on Mentor from a height. Split his skull wide open. Poor guy.

Wrong place, wrong time," Salmoneus said. "I got an idea, though. What

if I manufactured a device for people that would prevent this type of

tragedy? Kind of a tall tripod with wheels so it's mobile, and a shield

mounted on the top. You can stand under the shield and push it around. I

could call 'em Shell-on-Wheels. Eh? Eh? That's good, isn't it?"

"Not really. How many times is an eagle going to be dumb enough to try

and eat a turtle? One in a million." Gabrielle waved a hand through the

air. "It'll never happen again."

"It happened once before," Xena said. "Aeschylus the playwright, the

Father of Tragedy, was killed when an eagle dropped a turtle on his bald

head, mistaking it for a rock."

Gabrielle and Salmoneus stared at the lounging warrior. Xena put away

her little dagger and sat up. "Not accidents," she said. "Those people

were killed by a diabolical mastermind who engineered their deaths to

look like accidents, but with a twist. Don't you find it ironic that a

wine merchant gets pressed to death? A jeweler chokes on a ruby? A

theater owner dies in exactly the same fashion as a famous playwright?

Somebody has a very nasty sense of humor."

"Oh my gods!" Salmoneus screamed. His eyes were practically popping from

their sockets. "That means I'm a dead man whether I pay the 50,000

dinars or not!"

"It would seem so," Xena replied, giving an elegant one-shoulder shrug.

"I'm going to die!" Salmoneus wailed.

"Not necessarily," Xena said. "We're going to set a trap for the


Salmoneus stopped crying. His eyes were fixed on the warrior, hope

warring with terror on his round bearded face. "A trap? Can you do that?

I mean, this guy is like a ghost. Poof, he's gone, remember?" He snapped

his fingers again.

"Don't worry, Salmoneus," Gabrielle said. "You get the dinars and follow

the blackmailer's instructions. Xena and I will stop him."

"You'll do this for me? Risk life and limb, and the possibility of

getting killed by a turtle falling on your head?" Salmoneus asked. "Or

attacked by a rubber octopus?"

Gabrielle smiled reassuringly. "Of course. You're our friend. We're here

to help."

"I wasn't talking to you," Salmoneus said. He looked at Xena. "You'll do

this for me?"

"We'll both help you," Xena said. She stood and flicked back a strand of

her long black hair. "Tonight, you'll take the money to the bridge.

Gabrielle and I will take care of the rest."

"Oh, thank you, proud warrioress! Thank you! I knew I could count on the

leather-clad avenger!" Salmoneus slid out of the chair onto his knees

and clasped Xena's legs. "I knew you wouldn't let me down!"

Gabrielle's eyebrows shot to her hairline. "Leather-clad avenger?" She

looked her partner up and down, and smirked. "I guess that makes me the

blonde with a rod."

"Specializing in nocturnal maneuvers." Xena waggled her brows

flirtatiously at the bard, then pried Salmoneus off her legs and

deposited him back into his chair. She adopted a more business-like

manner and said to him, "You have to act normally. No one can know that

we have a plan. Understand?"

"Yes, yes, whatever you say, O dangerous but compassionate one."

Salmoneus rubbed his hands together. "I don't suppose there's any way to

ensure that I don't lose the 50,000 dinars? Accidents happen, people get

confused, money falls into the wrong hands..."

"Don't worry about it," Xena said.

"But 50,000 dinars is a lot of cash!"

"Don't worry!" Xena and Gabrielle cried simultaneously.

Salmoneus' lips pursed in a pout. "Okay, okay, you don't have to shout."

"You'll have to make arrangements with your banker for the dinars," Xena

said. "In the meantime, Gabrielle and I will see if we can find out

anything in the agora."

"Oh! You have to visit this perfume shop next to the flower market.

Mention my name and they'll give you a discount!" Salmoneus smiled. "And

since they also give me a little reward for referring new customes to

their perfumery, you'll get the benefits of real Egyptian scents for a

great price and the good feeling that comes from helping a friend remain

financially independent!"

Xena rolled her eyes and headed towards the door. Gabrielle snatched up

her staff and joined the tall dark warrior. Behind them, Salmoneus was

still chatting.

"And one of my close personal friends runs this place that does fabulous

sweetmeats," he said as the two women walked out of the room. "Better

than nutbread with henbane!"

He hitched up the long skirt of his toga in order to follow them to the

foyer. "Try the souvlaki! It's delish!"

Gabrielle and Xena went through the courtyard, out of the gate, and

disappeared in the crowd.

Salmoneus shouted after them, "Tell 'em that Mister Pooky-Bear Nummikins

sent you!"

The captain of the guard stared at him.

"What?" Salmoneus turned on him angrily. "The owner and I go way back.

My first orgy, in fact. Wipe that look off your face! Your lover never

gave you an ootsie-foo nickname? Yeah, it sounds cute when you've had a

couple of wineskins, but when you wake up next to a woman and you'd

rather gnaw your own arm off than wake her up... okay, already! Enough

with the gawking! Send for my banker at once! Gods, what does a man have

to do to get some decent service around here?" He went back to the

mansion, muttering to himself.

The guard captain recovered his aplomb, bawled out an order, and a

subordinate ran off to fetch the banker of Akamas, sixth wealthiest

merchant in the city of Athens.



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"You Have Just Been Murdered, Again" - Part Two


It was nearly the twelfth candlemark of the night. Near the bridge on

the east side of the old agora, silence reigned. The market was empty,

the stalls abandoned till morning. A pack of lean stray dogs rummaged

for scraps in the narrow alleys that bordered the agora. Broken shreds

of pottery, rotting vegetables and bits of garbage were smeared on the

streets. Lines of washing flapped in the breeze. Somewhere in the

ramshackle houses nearby, a baby suddenly wailed. A man cursed, a

drunken shout that was cut off in mid-word. A cat drank its fill at the

public well. The full moon's light splashed down, illuminating a lonely

and desolate scene.

Salmoneus, a cloak swirled about his shoulders, appeared and scurried to

the bridge. He was carrying five leather bags, obviously heavy by the

way they dragged down his arm. He stopped in the center of the bridge

and looked over the edge, then glanced left and right. His eyes rolled

nervously. Lifting the bags, he dropped them one by one into the canal

below. Instead of falling into the water, the heavy sacks made dull

thuds as they struck a wooden platform that had been tied up below the


As soon as he was finished with his task, Salmoneus pulled up his hood

and started to walk away. He jumped when the cat streaked across his

path. From below the bridge came the faint sound of ropes creaking,

water being disturbed, as though someone was carefully pulling himself

up on the platform. Salmoneus shuddered and walked faster. He was out of

sight in a few moments, and the agora was empty once again.

Underneath the bridge, a man squatted on the platform. He was cloaked

and masked; water dripped from his clothing, pooled on the rough wooden

planks that formed his makeshift raft. He opened one of the bags.

Moonlight glinted from hundreds of silver dinars, a dazzling glow that

made the eyes behind his mask open wide. A grin wreathed his face and he

scooped up a handful of coins, letting them trickle through his fingers.

"This is the stuff," he said softly to himself. "There's nothing more

satisfying than shearing a fat sheep."

"Unless a shepherd catches you at the fleecing," another voice rang out.

The sound was shocking in the otherwise silent agora.

The man, startled, let out a strangled squawk. "Xena!"

"That's right." Xena leaped down from her position on the bridge,

landing gracefully on the opposite end of the platform. "Looks like I've

got the drop on you."

The sudden shift of weight made the man lose his balance; arms

windmilling, he almost fell into the water. A grappling hook shot out of

his shirt sleeve, caught the edge of the bridge rail, and he swung

himself up with the easy, careless style of an acrobat who is an expert

at his trade.

He put his hands on his hips, threw back his head, and laughed at Xena,

who stared up at him from the platform below. "Now who's got the drop on

whom, eh?"

A staff flickered out and whacked him on the side of the head. The man

turned on his heel, wobbling a little, and sighed, "Et tu, Gabrielle?"

He collapsed in an unconscious sprawl on the cobblestones.


Several hours later, when dawn broke over the horizon, the man awoke in

the mansion of Akamas, sixth wealthiest merchant in Athens. His eyes

rolled all about, searching the room for exits or traps. When he spied

Xena and Gabrielle sitting nearby on a couch, he gave them a black

glare, his mustache bristling.

"Well, well, well," he said, "if it isn't the two nosiest women in the

world! Can't a guy get a little business done without you two

goody-goodies showing up and ruining it?"

"You have some explaining to do, Autolycus," Xena said.

"What's to explain? I had a sweet deal going but now I'll have to think

of some other way to part fools from their money." Autolycus checked the

chains binding his wrists to another chain around his waist. There were

even more chains and locks wrapped around his legs and ankles. He

snorted. "Do you really expect these things to hold me? Ha!" He seemed

to shrug slightly and the chains rattled to the floor in a heap.

Autolycus smirked, inhaled deeply, and got to his feet. "Not even a

minor inconvenience. Let that be a lesson to you - no one can imprison

the King of Thieves! And now I must be going, ladies, so I bid you good


He started to walk towards the window. Xena's sword left the scabbard

with a steely rasp. Autolycus stopped in his tracks when the razor-sharp

tip of the weapon pressed against his throat.

"Hey, there's no need for violence," Autolycus said, raising his hands.

"Whatever it is, I'm sure we can discuss matters like rational human

beings who have no reason to hack other human beings to pieces."

"Five men are dead," Gabrielle said, moving to cut off the thief's

escape route. "We think you know something about it."

"Me?" Autolycus let out a nervous laugh. "I'm a lover, not a killer!"

"Cephalos the squid magnate, Enops the wine merchant, Iphicrates the

building contractor, Mentor the theater owner, and Podalinus the

jeweler. All of them died after being blackmailed by someone who

pretended to murder them," Xena said, lowering her sword.

"Those guys died of accidents. Crazy accidents... right? Right?"

Autolycus looked wildly from Xena to Gabrielle. Their implacable

expressions made him scowl and kick the leg of a chair. "I don't believe


"Autolycus, we know you're not a murderer," Gabrielle said. "Only

someone who's completely insane would use rubber octopi and live turtles

as murder weapons."

"I don't think it was the rubber octupus that killed Cephalos," Xena

said, sheathing her sword. "He might have drowned himself for other


"Well, I think it would depend on the size of the octopus in question,"

Gabrielle replied. "Something very tiny wouldn't be much of a bother,

but if you had one, say, the size of..."

"Ladies!" the King of Thieves interrupted. "Can we speculate about

rubber octopi later? There are more important matters on the table. Like

who is this completely insane person? Not that I would have the faintest

idea. And why is he - or she - murdering people that I have had

absolutely no contact with whatsoever."

"That was a very sweet scheme, Autolycus," Xena said. "Threaten and

frighten your target into a state of complete panic, then demand payment

for the harrassment to cease. Brilliant, as a matter of fact. Minimum

effort, high pay-out."

"Yes, it was a work of genius, wasn't it?" Autolycus smoothed his

mustache with a jaunty gesture. He paused in mid-stroke. "Wait a

minute... have you just used my ego to trap me into a confession?"

"I believe so."

"Damn!" Autolycus grimaced. "I have to work on that."

"Did we really need a confession?" Gabrielle asked. "He was caught


"Ha! A mere coincidence. A friendly Samaritan trying to aid his fellow

man by taking custody of apparantly abandoned dinars in order to

distribute them to the poor. I was attacked by two wild women

vigilantes." Autolycus pointed a finger at the bard. "I could bring

charges against you for harrassment, false arrest, assault and


"But we know you did it, you've already confessed, so drop the act,"

Xena broke in. "Start talking. Give us the details. We're here to stop a


Autolycus snorted. "Who kills people with rubber octopi and falling


"That's what we want to know," Gabrielle said. She crossed to a table

and poured two cups of wine, handing one to Xena. She took a sip before

continuing, "The deaths were engineered by someone with a twisted sense

of humor."

"Oh?" Autolycus raised his brows. "A diabolical mastermind, perhaps?"

"Not necessarily. It must be someone who knows you, though. Otherwise,

why target only your blackmail victims?" Xena drained her cup in a

single gulp. "Who do you know that fits the description?"

"Let's see... someone with a grudge against me, who has no qualms about

murder, has a really inventive style when it comes to assassination..."

Autolycus shook his head. "No idea."

Gabrielle's staff shot out and passed close enough to his head to ruffle

the thief's hair with the wind of its passage. "Think again, Auto. How

do you know our mystery murderer has a grudge against you?"

"I don't. I was just speculating. It was a wild guess." Autolycus began

sidling towards the window. He stopped when Gabrielle's staff whacked

the floor next to his foot. "Hey! Take it easy with that thing! I do a

lot of climbing, my feet are my second most important asset!"

The staff thrust towards the crotch of his leather pants, and he cringed

back. "That's the most important one! Xena, call her off!"

Xena shrugged. "I think you'd better start telling the truth, or

Gabrielle's really going to kick your asset."

"Back to the Bronze Age," Gabrielle said in her toughest tone. The wood

of the staff creaked in her grip. Her eyes glittered, cold as emeralds.

"She wouldn't." Autolycus looked from Xena to Gabrielle. "Nobody's that

cruel." The bard raised her staff in answer, and he slumped in defeat.

"Fine. Fine! The killer's name is probably The Needle."

"Probably?" Xena asked. Gabrielle menaced him again with her upraised


"Okay! His name is The Needle! I met him in Rome." Autolycus stomped to

the table, poured himself a cup of wine, and took a long swallow. "He

was my business partner."

Gabrielle lowered her weapon. "What happened?"

"We had a falling out."

"Details, Autolycus," Xena purred. "Details."

"What do you women want from me?" Autolycus drink some more wine. "It's

very simple. The Needle - gods, what a stupid nickname! - was trying to

work up a reputation in Rome as - get this - the Emperor of Thieves.

Have you ever heard anything so absurd?"

"As absurd as the King of Thieves?" Gabrielle asked with a smile.

Autolycus flopped down in a chair. "Hardy-har-har. You slay me."

Gabrielle idly twirled her staff. "That could be arranged."

"Ha! Anyway," he said, watching the bard nervously, "I decided there was

only room in the Known World for one of us. It was me or The Needle. So

I spent some time schmoozing with him, really buttering him up, and

finally got him to invite me on a theft. Biggest diamond in the world,

the Heart of Isis, blah blah blah. Long story short..."

"Too late!" Xena and Gabrielle cried.

"...The Needle's idea of a cunning plan was to rush into the museum,

kill the guards, and snatch the gem. Amateur stuff, that smash and grab,

not to mention messy and slippery. Emperor of Thieves, indeed! When we

got to the museum, I created a distraction, snatched the Heart of Isis,

and left The Needle in the lurch." Autolycus beamed, proud of himself.

"So this Needle character wants revenge." Xena looked thoughtful. "How

do you know he's in Athens?"

"I spotted him in the agora six months ago. It hasn't been easy avoiding


"You haven't," Gabrielle said flatly. "He obviously knows about you and

your scheme. But why is he killing the blackmail victims instead of

going after you?"

"Never look a gift horse in the mouth." Autolycus stroked his mustache


"And don't stand too close to his ass, either," Xena said sarcastically,

staring down at the seated man. Autolycus squirmed slightly, and she

continued, "Either The Needle is trying to get you arrested for murder,

or these deaths are just the prelude to his real target. You."

"Great! Just great! I'm just trying to get along in a hostile world,

every man's hand turned against me, the Fates tangling up my life-thread

at every opportunity, and now I'm being targeted by an insane killer

with an immature sense of humor!" Autolycus threw up his hands. "If I'm

not being roped into suicide missions by you two ditzy dames, that

muscle-headed son of Zeus is horning in on my plans. Why do I bother? I

should've stayed in the carnival! This is not my problem, ladies. I wish

you luck but I'm out of here!"

"Listen, Your Majesty," Gabrielle said. "You are going to help us catch

The Needle before he kills Salmoneus. It's your fault that he's here in

Athens murdering innocent people."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Autolycus shrugged. "If I don't agree to help

you, Xena will make some grisly threats and you'll whack me with your

staff. What else is new? Been there, done that. Unless you can come up

with a good reason why I shouldn't just skip town and go into immediate

hiding, you can kiss the King of Thieves good-bye." He closed his eyes,

puckered up his mouth and made kissie noises in the bard's direction.

"Because if you shirk your responsibility, more innocents will die,"

Xena said reasonably.

Autolycus opened one eye. "Appealing to my better nature isn't going to


"Aren't you a thief with a heart of gold?" Gabrielle asked.

"I pawned it." Autolycus opened the other eye. "Is that the best you can


"How about this... either you help us catch The Needle, or I'll tell

King Minestes of Thrace that you not only stole the Mermaid's Eye

sapphire from his crown, you also stole the virtue of his six unmarried



"And fourteen of his fifteen wives," Gabrielle concluded.

Autolycus looked stricken. "You wouldn't, would you? Minestes has a

reputation for jealousy..."

"...and for roasting men alive who offend him," Xena continued, a smile

lighting her face. It was not a friendly expression. "And that's after

the full week of torture, leech baths, racking, whipping, emasculation

and a great big spike shoved right up your..."

"Alright!" Autolycus scowled. "Alright, already! I'll help you, Xena.

But if I get killed, so help me I'll come back and possess your body! At

least then, I can grab Gabrielle's butt whenever I please. Small

compensation, I know..."

"Aw, how cute. He said my butt was small," Gabrielle said, pleased.

"Lovely, too. Like ripe peaches," Xena said, a twinkle in her eyes. She

reached into a nearby fruit bowl and removed one of the sweet fuzzy

fruits. "Squeezable but firm. Delectable. Yummy."

"You think my peaches are yummy?"

"Not to mention your melons."

The two shared a significant look that smoldered, nearly drawing flames

from the air itself.

"Will you two lovebirds quit with the eye-gasms before I spontaneously

combust?" Autolycus asked peevishly. "By the gods, take pity on a man

who hasn't had time to avail himself of the local lovelies!"

"Fine." Xena flashed a smile at her partner, then turned to the seated

thief, tossing him the peach. Autolycus caught it automatically and

stared at her with surprise. "If you die, you can haunt us all you want.

When you're able to escape from Tartarus, that is."

"Deal." Autolycus bit into the peach, juice running down his chin,

dripping from the goatee under his lower lip. After he had swallowed, he

leered at Gabrielle and said, "She's right. Your peaches are delicious."

He had just enough time to duck before the bard's staff whizzed through

the space that his head was occupying.

Unrepentent, the King of Thieves grinned. "So what's your plan,

gorgeous?" he asked Xena.

"It's like this..." Xena explained the scheme to trap The Needle in

detail. When she finished, Autolycus nodded.

"A bit complicated but not bad for an amateur," he conceded. "When do we


"Just as soon as somebody holds you down long enough for me to kick you

to death," cried a new voice. It was Salmoneus. The rotund man was

flushed, his beard quivering with indignation. "I heard it all. How

could you do this to me, Autolycus? I thought we were friends."

"Hey, you had dinars to burn," the thief answered boldly, although he

did seem a bit ashamed beneath his bluster. "I figured you wouldn't mind

the loss of fifty thousand. Besides, if I hadn't gone after the sixth

richest man in Athens, somebody might've put two and two together. You'd

have gotten in serious trouble if the authorities linked us together."

"I am in trouble!" Salmoneus wailed. "I've been murdered four times!"

"That was a joke. The Needle will do it for real." Autolycus rose to his

feet and put a hand on the other man's shoulder. "Come on, Sal. You're

now under the protection of the King of Thieves. I swear, you won't get


Salmoneus twisted away. "You've already hurt me." There was a pained

expression on his round face. He glanced away from Autolycus and fixed

his attention on Xena. "Well? Do I need to get my affairs in order or am

I going to survive?" he asked tartly.

"We were just discussing our plan to capture The Needle," Gabrielle

answered. "He's the one responsible for the deaths."

"But we will need some bait," Xena added..

Salmoneus spread his hands apart. "Of course! You've already taken fifty

thousand dinars. Why not take the rest and beggar me while you're at


"Do you want to live?" Xena asked, moving to stand very close to the

man. She used her most intimidating glare, and Salmoneus wilted beneath

that icy regard.

"Yes," he said softly. Salmoneus raised his voice to say, "Just tell me

what to do and I'll do it."

"You'll be fine, I promise." Gabrielle patted his arm. "No more murders.

Once we have The Needle in custody, you can go back to your old life."

Salmoneus shrugged. "I know who my real friends are," he said, shooting

Autolycus a poisonous look. "I'll be in the tepidarium if you need me.

For some reason, I feel very dirty right now." He marched away, chin

held high.

Autolycus watched him go. "I can't believe he's got his codpiece in a

knot over this. It's just money!"

"It's about more than dinars," Gabrielle said. "He trusted you and you

let him down."

"Ha!" Autolycus said, but without his usual flair. He sounded rather

sad. It took only a moment, however, for his shoulders to straighten.

"That's his loss. Trust is a burden that I don't need because a thief

has to stay light on his feet. Let's get on with the plan, ladies. I

have a pressing appointment in Carthage and we have a lot of

arrangements to make."


That afternoon, the citizens of Athens were treated to a spectacle that

would not be soon forgotten.

Three elephants wearing glittering panoply were led through the streets

by a tall man wearing outlandishly bright clothing and a huge green

turban on his head. A veil such as the desert nomads wore concealed his

face, and there was a heavy layer of kohl around his exposed eyes. He

thrust a beribboned staff up and down as he marched.

"Make way for the Grand Poobah of Hottentot!" he bawled. "Make way for

the wealthiest monarch in the Known World!"

Perched atop one of the elephants was a gilded howdah, elaborately

carved and glimmering with colored crystals. Lounging in the howdah on a

pile of cushions was the Grand Poobah herself, draped with silks and

being fed grapes by a dark-haired and buxom slave girl. Every now and

then, the slave dipped into a coffer and flung small coins into the

crowd. A shower of flower petals was expelled with every step from a

basket strapped to the elephant's rump.

The people laughed and cheered when the major domo turned a few

backflips and was hit on the head by the slave girl, who launched a

grape at him with unerring aim. "Make way for the Grand Poobah of

Hottentot!" he shrieked, adjusting the fit of his turban. "The Grand

Poobah, folks! Bigger than life and twice as beautiful!"

In the crowd, a painfully thin man watched the proceedings with burning

eyes. He was bald and his skin was pallid. He drew back his lips from

his teeth and hissed as the elephants passed by. He took note of their

destination - the house of Akamas, sixth wealthiest merchant in the city

of Athens. When he had looked his fill, the man hastened through Athens

and burrowed his way into a pile of hay standing in the stable area of

an inn.

The owner of the inn had contacts among the smugglers, and he had

ingeniously built a secret storage facility covered with bales of hay.

It was normally used to hide contraband, but the man known as The Needle

paid well to utilize the hidden space. He knew that his enemies were

unlikely to find him. "Like a needle in a haystack," he whispered to

himself with a silent laugh.

The Needle knew that the Grand Poobah of Hottentot would be an

irresistable target for Autolycus, the so-called King of Thieves. He

hated the over-confident Autolycus with every fiber of his being. Not

only had The Needle been caught and imprisoned after the humiliating

attempt to steal the Heart of Isis, but Autolycus had taken the diamond

himself, rubbing The Needle's nose in his ineptitude. It wasn't fair,

and the pallid man wanted revenge.

He had taken it by escaping jail and tracing Autolycus to Athens, where

he shadowed the thief's movements. Killing the blackmail victims was all

part of The Needle's ultimate plan. He would eventually cause Autolycus

to be exposed as both blackmailer and murderer. The Needle was certain

that his foe could not escape the public executioner, and he fully

intended to be in the front row when the ax was swung.

I'll look into his eyes, and he'll finally know who's the better man,

The Needle thought.

He wondered how he should dispatch the Grand Poobah. Something suitably

spectacular. The merchant, Akamas, would die as befitting an Epicure -

he would be forcibly stuffed with rich foods until his stomach burst.

But the Poobah... suddenly, The Needle grinned unpleasantly.

How better for the monarch to die than being trampled by one of her own


And afterwards, The Needle would anonymously present the Athenian

authorities with the evidence needed to convict Autolycus for all the


The Needle sighed in pleasure.

Revenge was a dish that he had every intention of savoring, down to the

last steaming drop.


Reclining on a mound of cushions in the mansion's atrium, Gabrielle

opened her mouth to accept another grape.

Autolycus snorted. "We're not in the public eye anymore, ladies. You can

drop the Poobah-and-slave girl act."

"What act?" Xena asked, fluttering her eyelashes at the man, and

offering her reclining partner a tidbit of ice-cooled melon.

Autolycus was still wearing his costume. He stood so abruptly that the

turban slipped over one eye and he pushed it back with an impatient

grunt. "The Needle will probably make his move tonight. A two for the

price of one deal. But will he go for Salmoneus or our beloved Poobah


"I can take care of myself," the bard said. "You and Xena should guard


Xena shook her head. "It might be a better plan for me to guard

Salmoneus, while Autolycus remains with you."

"Don't you trust me?" Gabrielle asked, raising herself up on an elbow.

"Of course I trust you, O Poobah," Xena replied with a sly smile. "It's

him I don't trust." She jerked her head in the thief's direction.

"Oh, riiiight," Gabrielle said, arching an eyebrow.

"Excuse me," Autolycus said sarcastically, "but I'm standing right here

while you insult me."

"You're excused," Xena said. She got to her feet and ran a hand over her

'slave girl' costume. Made of near transparant blue silk, it had

spangles sewn in the right places to cover her more formidable

attributes. On the wide-legged trousers, slits ran from ankle to hip;

her loose blouse had similar slits from wrists to shoulder, where gold

clips held the fabric together. The waist was pulled in by a gilt

leather belt.

Xena inhaled deeply, then let her breath out in a rush. "Not as

practical as a breastplate," she commented mildly.

Gabrielle smirked. "Not much room to hide a sword, either."

"Depends on the kind of sword you have in mind. Besides, remember what

you said once about my breasts being dangerous?" Xena asked pointedly.

Autolycus clapped his hands over his ears. "La, la, la," he sang

off-key, "I am not hearing this!"

"Ah," Gabrielle said, recalling the small but deadly breast dagger that

Xena often had concealed on her person. "Keep your chakram handy, too.

The Needle doesn't strike me as the kind of person who plays fair."

"He's never played the game by my rules." Xena clapped Autolycus on the

shoulder hard enough to make the man stagger. "If you're finished trying

to deafen the neighborhood," she said to him, "I need you to help me

check the outside perimeter."

The captain of the guard came into the room. "Pardon me," he said

politely to Xena, "but master Akamas is... indisposed." He hesitated,

obviously choosing a different word than the one he had originally had

in mind.

He got their immediate attention. "What's wrong with him?" Gabrielle

asked, scrambling off her cushions.

Again, the captain hesitated. "He's... eating lunch."

Xena's face was as expressionless as stone. "And?" she prompted.

"And he can't stop," the captain finished. "He's polished off everything

in the kitchen and the cook had to send to the marketplace for more."

"Oh, gods!" Autolycus groaned. "That's nothing! I once saw Salmo... I

mean, Akamas polish off an entire seafood buffet..."

"Come on," Xena interrupted, motioning the captain to lead them.

Gabrielle was at her heels, and Autolycus, after rolling his eyes and

sneering, followed close behind.

Salmoneus - known as Akamas - was sitting in his ornate dining room.

Murals covered the walls, skillfully rendered paintings of frolicing

nymphs and satyrs. The stout man was reclining on a couch, cramming

bread into his mouth with hardly a pause to chew. Mouth still full, he

snatched at a goblet of wine and sucked the purple liquid down greedily.

Platters on the table in front of him held greasy chicken carcasses,

fish bones and other detrius.

"Gods!" Gabrielle stared, surprised. "He's eaten enough for a full


"You may go," Xena said curtly to the captain of the guard. As soon as

the man fled, she stalked over to Salmoneus. The man's eyes were wide

and disbelieving, but his hands never stopped roaming the table for more

food. He tried to speak, breadcrumbs dribbling down his chin.

"No, don't talk," Xena said. She picked up the wine ewer and sniffed it,

then went to the window and deliberately emptied it outside. "Gabrielle,

go to the kitchen and bring back a cup of fresh goat's milk."


"Yes. I'll explain when you get back. Autolycus, I need my saddlebag."

"Yes, Xena." The tall thief went off with loping strides in the

direction of the women's suite. Gabrielle touched her partner's arm and

left the dining room at a half-trot.

Xena looked down at Salmoneus, who was clearly stricken with terror. A

servant brought in a dish of olives, which he grabbed out of her hands

and began shoveling into his mouth. Xena gently brushed a thin curl of

graying hair off his sweat-streaked face.

"We're going to help you. Trust me, Salmoneus. Try to chew and swallow

as slowly as you can."

Minutes seemed to stretch into eternity before Autolycus returned with

the saddlebags. "Here you go," he said, plopping the leather bags on the

table, and knocking a few platters on the floor in passing.

Xena frowned. "Where's Gabrielle?"

"I haven't seen her," Autolycus said testily. "I was fetching milady's

luggage, remember? By the way, where's my tip?"

"Here's one - never piss off a worried warrior princess," Xena snapped.

"You stay here with Salmoneus. I'll go see what's keeping her."

"What am I supposed to do? Stuff him like a Solstice hen?" Despite this

complaint, Autolycus went to his former friend's side. The deep line

between his brows spoke eloquently of his concern.

"Try to control his eating as best you can," Xena said. "You can't stop

it altogether or he'll starve to death before your eyes. If he eats

enough, though, his stomach will explode."

"You're kidding, right? No, you're not kidding. Is this some kind of


"A rare drug. Poison, actually, but I can counter it, which is why I

need the goat's milk and the herbs in my saddlebags. I'll be right back.

Don't leave him, Autolycus."

"I won't."

Xena swept out of the room, the heels of her jeweled sandals clicking on

the marble floor.

Autolycus awkwardly patted Salmoneus on the back. "It'll be okay,

buddy." His voice was sober and sincere. "For what its worth, I never

meant for things to go this far. I'm sorry I involved you in the whole

mess. When we get The Needle, I'll give him a sharp poke in the vitals

for you."

Salmoneus made some gargling noises, spitting bread and partially chewed

olives in every direction. Autolycus brushed off his shirt and sighed.

"I'm sorry," he repeated. Autolycus glanced left and right, dark eyes

snapping with helpless fury. "Where in the Tartarus is everybody?" he


His question went unanswered, and Salmoneus continued his frantic feast.

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"You Have Just Been Murdered, Again" - Part Three


Gabrielle glanced around, but she was trapped. There was nowhere to run,

nowhere to hide. Thank the gods that her costume was more practical for

battle than Xena's. Beneath her silk robe, she wore a catsuit of thin,

flexible black leather that fitted her body like a second skin. While it

would not protect her from a direct thrust, she could at least move

freely in it.

Her opponent was a skinny man with a fish-belly complexion. Although he

had the look of someone who did not bathe very often, his scent was not

unpleasant, rather like freshly mown hay. He had surprised the bard in

the kitchen, holding a knife to her throat and herding her down to the

courtyard where the three elephants were tethered. There was a pool in

the center, and a fountain surmounted by a magnificently ugly statue of

Triton holding a three-pronged fishing spear.

The man hissed softly. "If you wish to pray to your heathen gods,

Poobah, do so now because you'll soon be meeting them."

"Who are you?" Gabrielle asked, although she was sure that she already

knew the answer.

"They call me The Needle, Emperor of Thieves."

Gabrielle wished she had taken her staff to the kitchen, and regretted

her lack of weapons. However, if there was one thing she had learned

from traveling with Xena, it was to improvise. If you don't like playing

by somebody else's rules, change them, she recalled. I need to stall for


"The Needle? Not The Needle? I've heard of you!" Gabrielle exclaimed.

The man's grip slackened in surprise, and she twisted around to face

him. "By the gods, I can't believe I'm finally meeting you face to


"You... you know me?"

"Of course! Who doesn't know The Needle? Your exploits are legendary!"

"They are?" The man nodded, and the surprise faded into

self-satisfaction. "Yes, they are!"

"So tell me all about it. I'd love to hear the legend from the man

himself," Gabrielle babbled, hideously conscious of the knife blade

still pricking her side. "The excitement, the danger, the passion!"

"Yes, all of those," The Needle agreed. "The rewards that are due the

Emperor of Thieves!"

"Exactly. So? What's the scoop? We've got time. Tell me all about it.

What about the Heart of Isis? Fantastic robbery or what?" As soon as the

words left her lips, Gabrielle knew she had made a mistake.

"What did you say?" The Needle's thin features drew into a scowl. "The

Heart of Isis? He stole it from me, that mustache bandit, that Court

Jester of Thieves, Autolycus! He took my diamond, he humiliated me!" The

Needle grasped Gabrielle's arm painfully, fingers digging into the flesh

hard enough to draw a bruise. "I'll have my revenge, do you hear me?

I'll have my revenge!" Spittle flew from his lips.

Gabrielle backed away as far as she was able. "Cool down, Needle. No

need to get upset."

"You're going to die, Poobah." The Needle seemed calmer, but the intense

insanity in his eyes was blood-chilling. "An appropriate death, I think.

They use elephants as executioners in India, you know. Once the beast

finishes trampling you, there won't be much left but a red stain on the


"You really don't want to do that."

The Needle tilted his head to one side. "Why not?" His voice was

chillingly reasonable. "When you're dead, I'll alert the Athenian

authorities. They'll come here and find both you and Salmoneus, and

Autolycus in the middle of it. He'll be imprisoned, probably executed.

And I'll be rid of him forever!"

He began to drag Gabrielle towards the elephants. The great grey beasts

rocked back and forth on their feet, ears flapping, tiny eyes rolling at

the pair. Despite the bard's efforts to free herself, The Needle

maintained his hold. He threw her down and reached for a spear that was

propped up against the courtyard wall.

"Now you're going to die," The Needle chanted.

Gabrielle flipped to her feet and shrugged the robe off her shoulders.

Sunlight glimmered on her leather catsuit, highlighting her curves. "Not

today, Needle. I think your technique's gotten a little rusty."

Without another word, The Needle rushed at her. An elephant squealed

loudly and jumped sideways as the man went by, spear in one hand and

knife in the other. Gabrielle avoided his first thrust, then found

herself backed up against one of the elephants. They smelled peculiar,

the wrinkled hide dusty, making her sneeze. The Needle thrust at her

with the spear again, she blocked the blow with her arm. The spearhead

slid away and pricked the elephant's skin. It was a mere scratch.

Nevertheless, the animal squealed again - this time in rage - and

reached for Gabrielle with its trunk.

She ducked under the elephant's belly, and the fountain beyond caught

her eye. Gabrielle danced towards it as The Needle followed her, his

face twisted with hate. "Stand still!" he screamed, furious beyond

rational thought.

Gabrielle jumped up on the lip of the pool, then jumped again as The

Needle swept his spear at her legs. She aimed a kick at his face,

feeling a sense of savage satisfaction when the blow crunched into his

nose, crumpling it into a bloody, shapeless mass. The Needle let out an

inarticulate growl and dropped his knife, wielding the spear with both

hands. It was obvious that he was getting tired; the spearhead sagged

and he struggled to keep it level.

The bard fell back into the water. Her leather catsuit was immediately

soaked to the knees. "What's the matter?" she taunted, hoping to goad

him into making a mistake. "Can't get it up?"

"I'll kill you!" The Needle panted, his normally pallid face flushed

with exertion, smeared with blood. "You're dead, Poobah!" He gripped the

spear tightly and slashed at her face.

Gabrielle drew back, slipped, and fell into the pool. The water was not

deep but she was face down in it, her breath bubbling out as The Needle

stepped on her back, pinning her in place. She thrashed, a crawling

horror prickling her skin as she awaited the final thrust of the spear

that would end her life. Somehow, Gabrielle found the strength to roll

to one side.

The movement sent The Needle off-balance. Gabrielle seized his ankle and

wrenched at it, sending him plummeting. She braced herself but the

splash never came. Instead, water began to turn red all around her.

Gabrielle sat up, gasping for air, shaking her hair out of her face. The

sight that greeted her was terrible, but she could not honestly say that

she was sorry.

The Needle's fall had impaled him on the three-pronged fishing spear

held by the Triton statue. His body sagged ungracefully, mouth open,

eyes wide and dull. Slowly, his hands curled into claws. The water

gushing from the fountain was crimson with his blood.

Gabrielle forced herself to her feet, swayed, and found herself steadied

by a hand on her arm. It was Xena. The dark-haired warrior nodded

towards the corpse and said, "Looks like you really stuck it to him.

Good work."

"I had no choice," Gabrielle said. "I wish he would have surrendered,


"He didn't. Are you alright?"

"Fine as harpy hair. How's Salmoneus?"

"Well, I made the cure and he's taken it. The herbs and goat's milk

absorb the poison so he can get it safely out of his system." A faint

smile lingered around Xena's lips as the sounds of someone vomiting

violently floated down to the courtyard from an upper floor of the

mansion. "He'll be sick for a little while, then he'll feel better."

"Poor Salmoneus." Gabrielle shuddered in sympathy. "How long will he be


"A few days."

"I guess we'll have to take turns nursing him."

Xena held up a hand, then turned the gesture into a caress, stroking

Gabrielle's cheek with the backs of her fingers. "Not necessary.

Autolycus will stay with him until he's better."

"How'd you manage that?"

"A few grisly threats. Not backed up by your staff, of course, but

effective nonetheless. We'll stop off at the government building and

have a chat with the Oligarch. He owes me a favor. As long as Autolycus

nurses Salmoneus back to health and returns the dinars he stole, he

shouldn't get into any more trouble."

"All's well that end's well." Gabrielle leaned into the caress, her eyes

half-closed. "Shall we celebrate, Xena? I think I know a tavern that

stocks some very nice bubbly wine from Gaul."

"The kind that tickles your nose and makes you giggly?" Xena teased.


"Should I get changed, or is this a come-as-you-are party?"

Gabrielle glanced at her partner, who was still clad in the slave girl's

outfit. "Oh, if you wear that all evening, I think you'll definitely be

coming," she quipped.

Xena threw back her head and laughed.

From the house, they could hear Autolycus' panicked shout, "That's a new

shirt, Sal! Watch where you're... gods! How can you do that from across

the room? It's not human, man!"

The elephants trumpeted one by one as the citizens of Athens - who had

no idea of the danger that had just been averted - went about their

business, bustling outside the gates of the house of Akamas, sixth

wealthiest merchant in the city.



- Credits -

Xena, Warrior Princess ----- Xena Amphipolis

Gabrielle the Bard ----- Gabrielle Potadeia

Akamas the Merchant and Salmoneus ----- Himself

Autolycus, King of Thieves ----- Himself

The Needle ----- Osteo Ichthys

Captain of the Guard ----- Hunkus Minor

Directed by Alanus Smitheeus

Written by Nomen Clature

Director of Photography Unibrau Cyclops

Music Courtesy of The Titans Orchestra and the Choir of Muses

Special Effects Coordinated by Olympians Industrial Lightning and Magic

Stunt Actors/Extras Provided by The International Federation of


Costumes by The Widow Twanky

Animals Provided by Ars Gratia Anima

An International Federation of Thespians/Known World Production



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