Gumboots For Hire

By Lariel

Lariel_a@Hotmail.com

 

 

General Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Callisto, and Hercules (and everyone else remotely connected to the show) are characters owned by MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit gained by this piece of fanfic. Do you think anybody would actually pay to read this??

Still - I did sneak in a few of my own characters - see if you can spot them!

Violence: Violence? Hmm - nothing too graphic, but this is Xena (tall, dark and grumpy) so there’s bound to be a few eye watering moments.

Love: Okay, Xena is in love with Gabrielle - so who isn’t?? Lots of wishful thinking, but no hot action - sorry dudes! If you’re underage, you can’t legally read or just can’t deal - move on! Go read one of my other stories!

Major warning alert - Perdicus appears in this story - but don’t worry, he is revealed for the snivelling piece of work we all knew he was. Revenge is sweeeet!

Write Me Pleeeeaase: Let me know someone reads this stuff! I don’t bite (unless you want me too) and I might even write back ...... so make a poor girl very happy and gimme some feedback! But be nice - otherwise I’ll set Xena on you. Or if you’re really awful, I’ll send our favourite bard round. Or maybe I’ll inflict the ultimate punishment, and just keep her for myself....

 

**************************************************************

 

 

Part 1 - Of All The Gin Joints In All The World...

I sat in my easy chair, idly flipping a coin in the air and betting with myself. "Heads I win...." The damn coin came down tails every time. What are the odds?? Lady luck sure wasn’t smilin’ my way lately - fact was, the damned broad had packed her saddlebags and hightailed it outta my life months back, on a collision course to the sunset and damn me if she hadn’t taken the last of my dough with her. Even had to hock my chakram, and what’s a girl without her favourite sidearm, I ask ya?

Gods blasted hero business was giving me an ulcer. There were just too many of us to go around. Everywhere you looked, there was some bronzed, muscled guy with curly blonde hair and impressive parentage crawling outta the woodwork. "Hey girls, lookit me - I’m a gods-sired hero! I killed the Hydra/Medusa yadda yadda......." As if life wasn’t tough enough, too many heroic guys had scared all the warlords away and my business was just drying up. The rent was due and the bailiffs’d come knocking yesterday - at least they wouldn’t be back in a hurry, if ya catch my drift.

Should’ve never left the Big Guy. Steady job, reliable income - even if the work had been a little samey. Working for the Hercules Investigation Agency had been kinda fun for a while but you know? - after a while there just wasn’t the challenge. But the Big Guy’s got connections, if ya know what I mean. He aint never gonna go hungry. Unlike yours truly, who aint had no square in three days. Only so long a body can exist in tip-top condition on three day old nutbread and one dodgy apple.

Plan. Gotta get me a plan. Maybe I could advertise - maybe push little pieces of parchment through a few doors ....... nah, that’d never work. I was flipping and thinking when a tentative knock on my door broke through my musing. "Yeah, come on in...." I yelled, not even looking up. It sure as Hades wouldn’t be a client - at least, not one who could pay. If I never see a scruffy village peasant again, I’d die and gladly go to Tartarus.

The door opened and I felt a presence in the room. I caught the coin as it came down again, and damn me if it wasn’t heads! My gaze was fixed beyond the coin - fastened onto a pair of high, reddish-brown boots which were wrapped around the firmest legs I’d ever seen. My eyes travelled slowly upwards and mentally, I let out a long whistle.

Sheesh! This baby was hot! A swell lookin’ tomato with a nice set of gams, if ya catch my drift. Short, compact and lithe, with the blondest hair and greenest eyes I’d ever seen, and the sweetest smile that could steal your heart right out of your chest before you even knew it’d gone. A real class act. Impressed, I acted cool.

"Yeah. What can I do for you?"

"Are you Xena, the Warrior Investigator?" The vision asked, her voice sounding like harp music played by the muses themselves. My ears tingled just from being on the receiving end. Nonchalantly, I stuck my feet up onto the desk, crossed my ankles and chewed on my cigar. I pushed my battered fedora out of my eyes, then realised with a start - these boots don’t work with this hat! I swept my favourite hat off my head and surreptitiously threw it onto the floor.

"Yeah, sweetheart. Who wants ta know?"

"I’m Gabrielle. I need your help......"

"Say, Gabrielle. Is that a stick in your hand or are you just pleased to see me?" I waggled my eyebrows suggestively, impressing her with my charm and wit.

"Actually, it’s a staff......"

Ooh, this baby was gonna be a hard sell - time to flog the wares. I narrowed my eyes dangerously. "So you say!" My voice fairly dripping with menace, my whole body bristling with fearsome power, I gave her one of my best (patented) intimidating looks.

"Uh....are you alright?"

"The question is - are you?" I shot back, a coiled snake just waiting for the strike.

"Well, yes...I’m fine, but you seem a little.......is there something wrong with your eyes?"

Uh-oh! This was one smart cookie! She’d sure figured out my number already and I wasn’t the easiest person to read. I had deep, dark depths that were still to be plumbed, but this blonde slip of a thing had stripped me bare with her blazing green eyes. Whoa! Weird feeling! I choked on my cigar and sat up straight. Impressing this girl with my sheer strength and overwhelming physical presence wasn’t going to cut it. I decided to get down to business.

"Okay Gabrielle. Talk. I’m listening." I motioned her towards the chair facing me, which she accepted with a grateful smile.

"I need you to help me find someone. I hear you’re good at this sort of thing."

"The best. I have many skills." My eyebrow rose, as if to prove it. She looked impressed.

"Okay. Uh.....I don’t...erm....I don’t have very much money I’m afraid...." She faltered, eyes dropping to her hands which were fiddling anxiously with the staff she had placed over her knee. "How much do you usually charge for an assignment like this?"

I steepled my fingers and looked thoughtfully at her. Sure, she was a classy babe but she didn’t look like dough grew on trees for her. Her brown skirt was faded and a little ragged around the edges and as for that top........well, curse me for a fool in Tartarus if that hadn’t seen better days! By the Gods, I wouldn’t even use it to wipe the sweat of my horse. But damn me if I didn’t find her fascinating. Oh yeah, she was a looker who’s shape set my loins tingling - why, you could grate cheese on those stomach muscles and wouldn’t I want to eat that cheese right up! But there was something about those wide, hopeful eyes, cute button nose and soft, full lips that just made me wanna take this baby on. "We can come to some arrangement, I’m sure ..." I heard myself saying. "How about expenses up front, and we’ll negotiate a fee to be paid when I find your person?" Airily, I waved my hand as if to dismiss the distasteful subject of filthy dinars. She looked unsure, but nodded eventually. "Okay, sweetheart. Tell me more." I pulled over a sheet of parchment and began to take notes. The quill fair shot two hands lengths in the air when she said:

"I want you to find my husband."

"Your husband??" I squawked, the erotic vision I was momentarily enjoying exploding behind my eyes, shattering my fantasy into a million tiny pieces of horrendous reality. "Aw! So you’re married?" I added, somewhat lamely, disappointment fair oozing from every pore.

She looked startled and backed the chair away slightly. "Uh, yes. His name’s Perdicus." Her luminescent green eyes shimmered as tears began to pool, then large lustrous drops slowly coursed their way down round, soft cheeks and dripped off the end of her chin. Gathering up all my legendary self control, I fought the urge to catch them and lick them off my fingers. "We were only married two days ago - we’d been childhood sweethearts but had lost touch when he’d moved out of our village, and we bumped into each other again not so long ago. It was my parents’ dying wish that we marry, and we didn’t want to let them down, so we did."

"How nice for you." I ground out, my vivid imagination playing thousands of possible scenarios regarding the disposal of troublesome hubby - grieving widow turns to best friend for sincere comfort and - ta da! Case closed!

"Yes, it was. Thank you." She smiled sweetly whilst wiping the tears from her face and I felt awful. I gave her an encouraging smile and my handkerchief, with which she promptly scrubbed her face and balled into her tiny fist. "Well, it would’ve been anyway. After the ceremony, Perdicus took me to the inn where he’d booked us a room. We were going to spend the night there......you know.....then travel to our home village the next day. I was.....uh....well, a little nervous...." My eyes watered as I watched her torture my handkerchief; I retrieved it and tucked it into my ample cleavage. "..oh, sorry - I guess I’m still a little upset. So Perdicus said he’d go wait in the bar while I got ready. I waited for him, but he never came back. I don’t know what happened to him! I’m so worried, I don’t know what else to do....." She blurted, dissolving into floods of tears again.

Feeling like a useless, worthless piece of centaur’s dung for the thoughts I’d been having, I awkwardly patted her hand and muttered encouraging noises as her wailing turned into hiccoughing sobs, then soft snuffles. "There, there..." I crooned as I smiled soothingly at her, hoping the unusual (for me anyway) gesture came off alright - I don’t think it did, because her eyes grew slightly alarmed and she tugged her hand away quickly. Damn! This was one time I wished for one of them caring, sympathetic faces or at least one that, well, that you could do things with! Apart from inspiring terror, hate and loathing - all essential tricks of the trade of course, but completely useless when dealing with a cute, sniffling woman. Damn me for a doe-eyed harpy!

"Gabrielle, sweetheart. I’ll take the case. Don’t worry, we’ll get your......husband.....back. You’ve hired the best."

"Oh, thank you! You don’t know what this means to me! Uh...there’s just one thing.......Stop calling me sweetheart, okay?"

Wow! This baby had teeth! This was one fine, feisty broad; I think I’m gonna enjoy our - uhh - business association. "Deal." I grinned, spat onto my palm and held out my outstretched hand. She stared dumbly at me for several moments, lips moving soundlessly, then gulped and screwed her eyes shut as she grasped my hand in hers.

Moments later, she was gone, leaving the swinging door and echo of her perfume as the vague reminders that for several candlemarks, an angel had sat in my chair and hired me. Damn, but things were looking up already!

 

 

Part 2 - The Demon Drinker..

Lurking in the pool of shadows cast by the wall, I slouched comfortably against the said wall as I waited for Gabrielle; the only visible sign of my presence was the glowing tip of my cigar and the glint of moonlight as it struck the dinar which (awful habit I know) I casually tossed and caught.

She shuffled up to the doorway and stood uncertainly, peering anxiously around. She’d covered up them marvellous stomach muscles (damn me but you could play tunes with a stick on those muscles if ya had a mind to) with a dark cloak, the voluminous hood hiding the fiery brightness of her hair. I smiled wickedly as I watched her hop from foot to foot uneasily. "Psst! Sweet.....Gabrielle. Over here!" She started as I stepped from the shadows, as softly menacing as a cat with the same supple grace and threat of danger. Tools of the trade babe, I thought, smiling lazily at her.

"By the Gods, don’t do that!" She gasped, still reeling from the powerful effect of my magnetic presence. Gratified that I’d earned such a response, I took her elbow and steered her back into the shadows where I quickly outlined the plan - still keeping hold of that elbow and pulling her unnecessarily close. Damn me for a snake haired gorgon, but the heat of her body was just like meat and drink to my starving Tantalus.

"Okay, sweetheart. Listen up carefully. We’re meeting Sidelius the Snitch; he’s a no good, low down, stinky ol’ pig farmer but damn me if he aint got his ear to the ground......"

"Ear to the ground?" Gabrielle’s eyes were huge pools of darkness as she stared at me with an odd expression on her face.

"Yeah. Literally, actually - he’s only got one so he’s kinda hard not to miss. He tries to disguise it by growing his hair long around it but he’s bald on top so the final result is ...... anyway - that’s not important right now. This is the Sweating Blacksmith: it’s the roughest, dirtiest tavern in town - of course, I don’t come here myself but I’ll be able to blend in no problem. I’m like a chameleon - I can adapt to any environment. It’s one of my many skills. Just let me do the talking, okay? And whatever happens - try to stay out of trouble." I gripped her elbow firmly and propelled her inside the dark, smoky tavern before she could protest.

"Xena! Darlin’ Where ya been all this time?"

"Hey, Princess! How’s it hangin’?"

"Oh, it’s about time you showed up! Ya passed me fake dinars in that last game of hearts and bones, ya worthless....."

"Hey guys! Xena’s here - the party starts now! Woo-hoo!"

Gabrielle’s expression grew stonier as I hacked a path through the almost solid pall of beer fumes and smoke and pulled her towards an empty table in the darkest corner of the rank tavern. I squeezed her in between the sticky table and the mildewed wall, then sat next to her with my thigh brushing against hers. Frequently. "Okay, okay! I might’ve been here once or twice...." I mumbled, wilting under the full force of her accusatory glare. Damn me if this dame didn’t carry Athene’s shield of truth - she’d sure tumbled me for a lying sack of Cerberus’ .....whatever.

I cased the joint quickly; the usual card crowd in the corner - I avoided their eyes as they waved me over - a bit of dodgy dealing going on at the bar, a coupl’a warlords getting sullenly drunk. Same old same old. Anterus limped over to take our order. "Hey, Princess. What’ll it be? Usual? And for your friend?"

"Hey, Ant. Yeah, usual for me - on the rocks. My friend will ...... uh, better make it a cider." He nodded and slowly hobbled away.

"Xena, I don’t usually drink. I’m not very good with fermented things."

My eyebrows fair shot off my face as endless possibilities reeled before my eyes. "Really?" I tried very hard to keep the glee out of my voice. "Oh, don’t worry - cider’s not really anything more than apple juice. Ya like apples, doncha?"

"Uh huh!" Nodding happily, she tossed me a quick relieved smile before she turned her head to survey the room. "So where’s Sidel....mmpf!"

"Sssh! Are you crazy? Do you want to blow our cover?" I gestured frantically.

"We have cover??"

I had to think fast........"Well, we could look like we’re on a date......"

"A date? As in me and you?" She stared at me, her mouth forming a trembling "O" and a flickering expression of - what was it? - in her eyes. Well, it sure wasn’t the most enthusiastic response I’d ever gotten but I was nothing if not hopeful. I smiled winningly; her eyes grew larger and she backed straight into the wall. Time to play tactics.

"Remember the mission!" I reminded her. "What else would someone like you be doing in a place like this with someone like me?"

She closed her eyes and furrowed her brow for several seconds, then nodded dumbly. Just then, Anterus doddered back with the drinks. I looked expectantly at her as he waited patiently. "What?"

I waggled my eyebrows expressively and in the end, had to whisper "Expenses.." out of the corner of my mouth.

"Oh, right!" A gleam of understanding kindled, and she turned slightly to fiddle about in her cleavage for several deliciously agonisingly slow moments until she fumbled out a dinar.

Damn me for a love struck carp, but my temperature soared and my eyes glazed over for several blissful moments. I’d’ve given dinars to be them dinars! I gulped down my drink and yelled to Anterus’ retreating back. "Ant! Same again and make it a double!" Damn me for a conniving, manipulative Sisyphus but right then and there, I resolved to see those fine fingers do their dance many times that night. "Drink up, Gabrielle. Gotta make it look good." I urged, somewhat breathlessly. "For the mission!"

She nodded, downed her drink and promptly collapsed, spluttering and gasping onto the bubbling tabletop. I clapped her back and rubbed it vigorously until she got her breath back. "Thanks ..... <cough>...You can stop doing that now .....And that, too.....I said stop that!"

"How’ja like them apples, sweetcheeks?"

Several mugs of hard stuff and cider later, and both of us were sparkly eyed, sensuously smiling and perilously close to being best friends. It had certainly loosened Gabrielle and we were getting along famously when a waft - a filthy, obnoxious draught of the rankest air settled itself across the table from us and grinned it’s gap toothed smile. Gabrielle’s cheeks flushed vivid scarlet. "By the Gods! That’s the most hideous sight......mmmpf!"

"Barkeep!" I cut her off diplomatically. "Hey, Sidelius. How’s business?"

The newcomer leaned in closer, sending waves of pungent aroma over to attack our eyes and noses. By all the Gods in Tartarus, I’d been a feared warlord and an avenger of justice and had fought many bloody battles, but never an enemy as fearsome and as total as Sidelius’ almost tangible stench. Poor Gabrielle was gulping and coughing; I clapped her on the back and kept my hand there this time. Ready for phase two of the horror that was Sidelius. His voice rasped through my ears, like a thousand coffin lids creaking in a crypt. And surprisingly high, too. "Hey, Princess! Not bad actually. Daisy’s birthed another last month, so I’ve got a good brood around me now. Too many hungry mouths to feed though, so I’m figuring on selling a couple at the summer market...."

Gabrielle sucked in a shocked breath. "You’re planning to sell your children? Why, you cold blooded, unnatural freak of....." She was practically up and over the table; it was only the grip I had on the back of her ugly green top that restrained her. And boy, did I enjoy the fight that she put up!

"No, Gabrielle! Daisy’s his prize pig! He’s talking about selling off another litter!" She quietened down, a contrite look on her face and gulped down her cider, causing the tip of her nose to turn attractively pink - I had to fight the urge to kiss it.

"If ya could use a little extra dough, Sid....." I left the words hanging in the air until I smelt Sidelius’ nod. "Good. I’m looking for some information. Know anything about a guy named Perdicus?"

"Oh, hey! I don’t know nuttin’ about that guy!"

"Uh huh?"

"Hey! I’m just a simple pig farmer! I don’t know nuttin’ about kidnapping bridegrooms on their wedding ni....oh, damn!" I gripped his middle finger and peeled it off the table, bending it backwards until he started wiggling and shifting round in his chair. I don’t know who was tortured worse - him or me. Gods, but I’d have to scrub myself all over after tonight. Oooh - and Gabrielle too! I immediately brightened, and pulled his finger firmly.

"Ow! Ooh, Princess! You know how physical pain don’t have that effect on me!"

"What effect does it have?" Gabrielle was radiating purity and innocence as well as inquisitive curiosity.

"Well it kinda gets ma juices....."

"Ugh!"

I dropped his finger quicker’n a Hestian virgin caught fingering a cucumber. My usual plan of "Kill ‘em all!" obviously not a goer, and my habitual plan Beta - physical torture and violence inflicted in thousands of incredibly inventive ways, building pain to the desired (and usual) results - rapidly losing its appeal......time to change tactics. "You know my reputation, Sidelius. The Warrior Princess. Scourge of Amphipolis. Destroyer of Nations and Chief Cook with the Athenian Army, before I seized command..... You know the things I can do with a loin of pork. You better start talkin’!" My body oozed with terrible menace; my aura leaned over the table and waged a vicious war with Sidelius’ stench. I won. The weak bladdered, shifty eyed son of a bacchae crumbled faster’n a funeral pyre doused with greek fire. He blabbed. Pitifully.

Perdicus had been talked into a card game, had been conned and then manhandled out of the best tavern in town, bundled onto waiting horseback and ridden east. Unable to resist the relentless poking of Sidelius’ odour, one of the card players had admitted that the kidnapping had been to order, but there was no word on who had put the contract out, or why.

Gabrielle had sat sniffling for quite a while after Sidelius had left. His stink had stayed, had a couple of drinks at the bar and won a hand of poker before disappearing upstairs with one of the working girls. I’d plied her with more ciders, rubbed her back and made comforting noises. "Don’t worry Gabrielle, we’ll find him. Even if the trail’s pretty cold now. And he does seem to have disappeared without trace...." her face dropped. "...but hey! I’m an excellent tracker so that won’t be no problem!" She smiled weakly and I beamed back at her momentarily before firing off some of my best investigation questions.

It didn’t get us nowhere. No, he had no family or friends around here and neither did she; nobody bore him a grudge (well, I did but that wasn’t important right now..); no, he wasn’t in debt; he wasn’t wealthy and neither was she (no kidding? When was the last time you shelled out on a new outfit? Now, a nice piece of leather....but that wasn’t important right now either); no, they had no savings (what about my fee? My fee!); no, she didn’t know the capital of Syria; yes, they really had got married and she was sure he hadn’t run out on her; there most certainly wasn’t another woman involved; he hadn’t been in any fights recently (by the Gods, but he sounded like the dullest guy you could ever meet); and yes, she was still a virgin. Yes!! I thanked the Gods, just about managed to stop from pumping my arm in the air and doing the warrior victory dance, and just force fed her another cider. By this time, she was pretty tipsy.

"Do you....do you know, Sheena?" She slurred as she slipped down her chair - I straightened her out and arched my eyebrow enquiringly. "You have the most....y’know, we’ve only jus’ met, bucha feel like - you’s ma best friend Sheena! You will <hic> .....will help me get my Per ...puh ...dic ...dus ... back, woncha?"

"Oh. Yeah. Whatever..........Finish up ya drink, sweetheart." She blinked owlishly, broke into a huge grin and grabbed my arm to stop herself sliding away completely.

"Yeh! My besh friend! Hey everyone - thish m’besh friend!! She’s lovely, doncha think? <hic>" Having caught the attention of the entire bar, she yelled raucously across the packed room. "Hey, barkeep! Sheena - you hungry? You....you know, I could eat something! Barkeep, ya got any nutbread going? And .....and more of this apple juice and ...... whatever my fr..friend is drinking!" Nodding happily, she mumbled, "Ooh, better get them dinars ready.." fumbled and fished around glassy eyed for a while with no success. My eyes gleamed with a crafty thought.

"Here, sweetheart, let me help you with that!" I moved on in, and she turned the sweetest, most trusting pair of fresh green eyes up to me that dammit! I just couldn’t do it, so I tossed my last, best flipping dinar over to Anterus.

Chewing on the nutbread with pure delight, she clasped my hand briefly, leaving it all sticky and covered with crumbs. I didn’t mind - it felt kinda nice, her warm little hand tucked in mine like that. But when she started feeding me bits of soggy bread, I drew the line - got my warrior rep to maintain. "C’mon sweetheart, we better turn in. Got an early start tomorrow. Sure you still wanna come? Things could get pretty dangerous out there." I sorta hoped she’d say no - I didn’t want her getting hurt, and I sorta hoped she’d say yes - I didn’t want her not to be around.

She just gave me a kinda goofy squint, raised herself up to her full height - it didn’t take long - and slurred grandly "Don’t even think about leaving me behind! I’m not a child - I can take care of myself and I might even be of use to you!" I was impressed - such fiery determination, even if it was a little doused under five cups of strong cider.

"Okay..... okay, we go together then."

"Fine. Good."

I rose to my feet as she nodded merrily, grabbed her and held her steady as she swayed and tottered her way through the coarsely shouting crowd. She was shouting louder and coarser’n any of ‘em. "Hey! What in Tartrus’re y’all lookin’ at? Aincha never seen two women in a alehouse before? Yeah? Well we’re on a mission! Yeah? Why ya scurvy four foot daughter of mmmpf!!!" I tugged her out of there quickly before she blew our admittedly tattered cover completely to Hades, steered her to my place and poured her into bed. In a brisk and businesslike way and taking absolutely no pleasure from it whatsoever - none, got me? - I stripped her bare and tucked her in. She wrapped short arms around my neck, planted a huge, sloppy kiss on my lips, slurred a "Thanks Sheena......bes’ frien’. Love you, Sheena......" and promptly passed out. Blushing furiously - damn but it was a hot night - I tossed a blanket to the floor and was soon lulled to sleep by the rhythm of her tiny, snuffling snores.

 

 

Part 3 - We’re On The Road Again..

I sat next to the window, fedora slung low over my face and happily chewing on a cigar with my best boots propped up on the bed. And smiling wickedly at the various groans, whimpers and "By the Gods!" that was Gabrielle waking up. Slowly and apparently painfully. I greeted the wan vision as she crept gingerly upright. "Hello sleepyhead. Rise and shine!"

"Shine? Are you crazy?" She stared blankly at me for several long seconds, muttering words like "..what...how...what??..." under her breath, then realised she was naked and with a horrified squeak, pulled the blanket up to her chin. I grinned ruefully, my memory burning with the tantalising glimpse of soft, young flesh still rosy and warm from sleep peaking up through crumpled covers. By the Gods, but that was a fine sight to be remembering on dark, lonely nights. My grin grew broader.

"Well sweetheart. Are you ready?"

"Ready?"

I sighed, and explained patiently to the blinking woman in my bed. "To leave. The mission, remember?"

"Oh, yeah....yeah. Why does my head feel like Monday morning in Tartarus? What did you put in my apple juice last night?" She glared suspiciously at me. "And why am I - how am I naked in your bed?"

I waved my hand airily. "Oh, don’t worry sweetheart. I’m a gentleman - I hardly looked." Ignoring the embarrassed, furious glare she flung at me, I tossed her clothes at her and sauntered out. "Times a’wastin’ Gabrielle and we’ve got a trail to hit. Hurry up and get dressed - I’ve been up for hours already." I just about managed to tug the door shut behind me before the heavy pottery jug took off the top of my skull. I could still hear spluttering and - oddly enough - the ripest curses I’d ever heard. Damme, but that classy girl could cut rough with the best of ‘em. Yeah - we sure did have a lot in common.

We plodded along slowly through gently undulating fields stretching into the distance as we headed towards the coast. She wouldn’t ride - said Argo was too tall - and she wouldn’t get up beside me - gave me the filthiest look when I suggested it - so we were making poor time. Moving way too slow; it was late afternoon already and she looked tired, with her face drawn and pale. As she stumbled more and more, my patience - unusually for me - grew increasingly thinner and eventually I lost my temper. "Dammit woman! Just get up here!" Roughly I hoisted her up into the saddle and gripped her round the waist tightly as she tried to squirm her way off. "Relax, Argo won’t hurt you. We need to move quicker if we’re to make camp before nightfall, and it’s not safe to do that round here. I won’t camp in open country like this. The only chance we’ve got of reaching the cliffs along the coast is if we BOTH ride.....No, don’t even think of arguing with me....I said don’t argue with me! Unless you want me to leave you behind?" She stopped wriggling and hung her head; moments later, she fell asleep in my arms, soothed by the gentle rocking of horse and my humming. So what? I always hum when I’m riding. I was famous for it in my warlord days.....

I’d chosen a nice little site on the beach with the cliffs to our back, scrubby brush to our side and the glinting water ahead. She’d never seen the sea before and was paddling barefoot in it, running up and down the lapping water’s edge and splashing in the waves like some excited child on solstice eve. Leaving me to do all the work - including the cooking, but I didn’t mind. It felt kinda good to have her need me do that sorta stuff. No one ever had before, and besides, I was just real pleased to see that heart wrenching smile back on her face and to have her eyes shining their joy and thanks to me. I always loved the seaside.

"Sweetheart, grub’s up." I dolloped a hefty portion into a bowl. She sniffed it, poked it and finally, gingerly, tasted it.

"I’ll cook tomorrow." Was her only comment after she’d polished off the lot.

Later that evening, as we lay side by side swaddled in our bedrolls next to the crackling fire, watching the smoke tendrils curl lazily up towards the flickering stars, she asked me "Why do you keep calling me sweetheart?"

"Huh? I dunno. Just a habit, I guess. Kinda easier than learning people’s names." I shrugged off the question easily - I always was good with words.

"Really?" She looked sceptical, but didn’t push. "What’s the plan for tomorrow?" she questioned as she snuggled deeper into her bedroll - and boy, didn’t I wanna be that bedroll right about now!

"The tracks we’re following led down here but they’ve been washed away as the tide’s come in. Looked like tracks of a light wagon - maybe a war chariot. Sidelius mentioned he’d heard a warlord’d set up camp just up the coast here. Could be worth checking."

"What? Do you think Perdicus has been kidnapped by a warlord? But why?.....We don’t - I mean, he doesn’t have any money or..."

"Calm down! I only said it’s worth checking out! Frankly, Gabrielle, it’s the only thing we have to go on right now." She looked so unhappy and I felt rotten that I couldn’t give her any better news. Her face was turned away, cast into shadow by the dying firelight so I couldn’t really see her expression.

"I want to make sure he’s alright." A very small voice drifted into my ears.

"You said you’d known him a long time?"

"Yeah - our parents betrothed us when we were small. We grew up together." Her face was now wearing a tiny, sad smile. I didn’t want to hear her reply, but I pressed on.

"So when did you fall in love with him?"

"Love? Oh I .......I dunno." She turned away again and curled up under her blanket.

Suspicion gnawed at my vitals. "You do love him, don’t you?"

"Well, I am his wife."

Well, you don’t get to be the best private investigator in the business without being able to read people like open scrolls and believe me, the alarm bells were jangling alright here. Of course, she was a tight lipped broad who had too much class to blab it out loud, but I could tell that something wasn’t right. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

She shifted in her blanket to face me, her tousled blond hair and impish eyes just peering out from her blanket. "How about you? You haven’t told me a thing about yourself. How long have you been an investigator?"

"‘Bout ten winters now."

"What did you do before?"

"You don’t want to know about me sweetheart." Damn, but she was trying to plumb my dark, hidden past and a girl’s gotta have some mystery about her.

"Sure I do! I think it must be a really exciting line of work. Bet you have lots of adventure, huh? Living life on the edge....danger lurking round every corner......never knowing who’s friend or foe. Huh?" Her eyes glowed with excitement as she pushed herself onto her elbow and beamed at me.

"Well, it’s a job. Pays the bills."

"Mmm. Not much for girl talk, are you? Do you like it?"

"What?"

Two greeny-blue eyes narrowed in frustration. "Being a private investigator?" Getting a casual shrug for an answer, she sighed deeply, yet persevered. Unfortunately - Gods, but this chit of a girl was talkier’n a bar full of mariners after a five year voyage. "What made you do it?"

"Career change. I needed a new focus, a new purpose. So I dedicated myself to doing good."

"Wow!......A personal crusade against evil, sort of thing??....Why?" I shrugged again, but she wouldn’t let it go. She was persistent, like a tick stuck fast on a dog. "Okay, let’s try a different line of questioning. Have you always been an investigator?"

"<Sigh> No."

"Okay, let’s cut with the mystery, alright? What did you do before?"

"I was a warlord." Well, that certainly shut her up. For about five minutes.

"You were a warlord? But you seem so.....I mean.....were you, uhh - were you good at it?"

"I was the best. I was ruthless and very focussed. And I really, really enjoyed it." She paled and pulled the blanket tighter round her head. "I’m a verrry dangerous person to be around, Gabrielle" I purred, an evil smirk on my face as I flashed my eyes at her. "Get some sleep. I’ll keep watch."

She gulped loudly, muttered and turned over and I settled back to enjoy some much needed peace and quiet. There was silence for - ooh, at least a quarter of a second and then she was back again. "Why?"

I stopped in mid stroke as I tried unsuccessfully to finish sharpening my sword. "Why what?"

"Why did you do it? It doesn’t seem like you."

"You don’t know me, sweetheart. I aint a nice person to know."

"That doesn’t answer my question."

Well, she had me there. I was squirming more’n a worm on a fishhook, dammit. I didn’t want her to know just how bad I’d been - I mean, I didn’t wear black leather for nothing in those days, and how do you think I got my nickname? Evil Xena, Warrior Princess, Destroyer of Nations? Okay, so technically I wasn’t a princess and if you really want to nitpick, I never actually destroyed a nation either. Ravished a few willing virgins and accidentally burned down a few haybarns one time, but heck - image is everything in the warlord game. I gave the illusion of evil and illusion is reality, after all.

"Strong, silent type aren’t you? Okay, what made you become a warlord?"

"Circumstances. Beyond my control."

"What were you before that?"

"Pirate."

Two excited eyes beamed up at me, rapidly followed by their owner as she heaved herself upright and chattered animatedly down my ear. "You were a pirate? As in sailing the high seas? The mystery and romance of a life on the ocean wave and all that? Wow! I’ve never even been on a boat before! You must have sea legs?"

"My legs are quite shapely, actually. Don’t be so personal!"

"Yes, I know...err, I mean.....oh never mind." Ooh - so she’d clocked my lithe, long legs, huh? Suddenly, the evening started to take an infinitely more interesting turn. But she was still talking.. "So how long ago did you start pirating?"

"Ten winters ago."

"Really? That long ago? So what turned you into a pirate then?"

"Circumstances...."

"Yeah, beyond your control. I got it. Gods, Xena - did you do anything normal in your life?"

"I was born a normal village girl, in Amphipolis."

"Ooh, that’s in Thrace, isn’t it? How does a simple village girl from Thrace become a pirate, warlord and one of the best investigators in the business?"

"She defends her home village from danger, falls in with the wrong crowd, gets betrayed and nearly killed by a former lover, and swears allegiance to Ares. I was led astray, Gabrielle. I’m a victim of circumstance!"

"Oh." She was silent for a very long time, obviously digesting all I’d said. Then: "So what changed you?"

"I woke up one day and saw how empty my life had become. Then I met Hercules..."

"Hercules? You know Hercules? The son of Zeus? The famous, impossibly handsome, incredibly strong...."

"Yes! For Zeus sake! Gods, he aint that special! Sure, he’s got charm and charisma and he’s got the most amazing body and the things he can do in the sack, well - let me tell ya....uhhh - or so I hear......anyways, why doesn’t anyone react like that when they hear MY name? All I ever get is - Evil Xena and her army, sacked a village....trashed a town, yadda yadda. Do you have any idea how demoralising that can be? My self confidence is shot to pieces!"

During my little tirade, she’d snuck closer and wrapped her arm around my shoulder and was patting my arm comfortingly. I wondered if I could get away with another outburst; her eyes were screwed up slightly so I thought I’d better not push it too much so I just stuck out my bottom lip and leant my head against her neck. I was in Elysia.

We were sitting tightly pressed against each other and I was gradually squeezing closer - I was lying halfway on top of her after a quarter candlemark’s weeping, wailing and sneaky movements and she, bless her big heart, was cuddling me closer and crooning comforting words into my ear - oh yeah, the evening sure was hotting up if ya catch my drift when all of a sudden - and I curse the Gods to all eternity for this! Some son-of-a-bacchae filthy rotten scummy gods-damned idiot stirred in the bushes behind us and I had to drag myself from my soft, warm soon-to-be bed and kill him!

Well, okay - I didn’t kill him - not in real life anyway although in my book he bloody deserved it! So I put the pinch on him instead, and watched as he turned my favourite shade of purple. Goes real well with my smart brown leathers (freshly oiled that morning as I peeped under the covers at Gabrielle’s naked, sleeping form. Yeah.)

"What?? By the Gods - what have you done to him?" Gabrielle was on her knees, slapping the lout’s face in an attempt to restore his circulation.

"Huh? Oh, I put the pinch on him."

"The pinch?" She flicked me a brief, very confused glance before grabbing the thug below his ribs and squeezing tightly, making soft and very fetching grunting sounds as she did so.

"What are you doing?" I stared at her, completely bemused and more than a little turned on.

"I saw someone do this at my village once. I’m trying to help his breathing...." she panted, as the guy in her arms started shaking and stuttering even worse.

"Oh. Is it working?" I was genuinely interested - I’d never seen anyone try to counteract the pinch before.

She glared at me incredulously, the purple man wilting in her arms. "No, not really. Can’t you tell? His face has turned scarlet! What in Tartarus did you do this for?"

"He was spying on us!"

"You don’t know that! You haven’t even asked him!"

"Ah, well that’s the beauty of the pinch, see. Put it on and nobody can resist. I usually get loads of information this way."

The guy gasped and managed to burble (in a very small and damp voice) "I’ll tell you anything you want! Please....<gasp>....please just take it off!"

"Do you mind? I’m trying to explain the intricacies of a good interrogation here!"

Gabrielle stood, hands planted firmly on slim, breathtakingly curved hips and toe to toe with me. "Go on then. Ask him what he was doing in those bushes!" She glared at me, for all the world like some beautiful, angry goddess. Always one to rise to a challenge, I sulked. It sent her crazy. "Fine! I’ll do it then! What were you doing in those bushes?"

"Take...<gasp, splutter>...taking a leak..." he managed to say, before being reduced to ashes by the withering force of my contemptuous glare.

"Ha! A likely story! What were you really doing?"

"Really! Call of nature!" He sounded somewhat desperate now. Time to move in for the kill.

"Okay, Plato. Here’s the deal. I’ve just cut off the flow of blood to your brain and you’ve got thirty...no, wait - not thirty now. Gabrielle, how long ago did I put this on?"

"I dunno. Is it important?"

"Uh-huh! It’s fatally important, ya could say!" The guy blanched under his puce skin - quite a feat, let me tell you. "Okay, not to worry. You have a very short time to tell us all you know." He was nodding frantically before I’d even finished speaking, so with a flourish, I jabbed his neck. He heaved great gulping breaths, trying to drag huge chunks of air into vacuumed lungs. I preened myself; Gabrielle looked unimpressed. "Now that’s what I call a good interrogation technique. Watch and learn, Gabrielle. Watch and learn!"

The guy had crumbled, reduced to a quivering pile of little sobs and desperately pleading eyes which were mostly turned to Gabrielle. He obviously had her down as a soft touch. "C’mon!" I barked, "Talk!" A strange smell wafted up with the words.

"Oh Gods! He’s wet himself! Look what you made him do!"

I narrowed my eyes again and bored two ice blue fires straight into his as I taunted him. "So much for your taking a leak sorry excuse for a story!" He crumpled to about half his size (and he was quite a big, flabby man actually) and started to blubber, grabbing Gabrielle’s hand as he did so.

"I was taking a leak! You grabbed me before I could...y’know... start!"

"Oh, he’s - erm, well he’s hanging loose. It’s not something I want to see right now. I think he’s telling the truth." Gabrielle patted the frantic man whilst looking everywhere but at him. Her eyes had gone as round as dinner bowls and she had a distinct flush over her cheeks. My eyes were drawn inevitably to his....whoa! What do you do for a living? I just about managed to pull myself together.

"How dare you come into our camp and ....well, flash us! Two defenceless women! And my friend here is a vir....."

"Xena!!!" A cute little finger pointed threateningly at my nose.

"Ah! Sorry Gabrielle!"

The guy gasped and nearly keeled over in shock. "Xena? You’re Xena, as in Evil Xena, Destroyer of Nations? Oh please.....don’t kill me! I have a wife and child in the farm back there - kill them instead!"

Well, do you know - it sickened me to my stomach. Just one teensy-weensy mistake involving an inadvertently upward thrusting sword, ten villagers - I mean, mistakes can happen! What an unforgiving world we live in! Still, all that was behind me now....I turned to Gabrielle and whined "See sweetheart? I’m on this quest for redemption but I’m haunted by my past! I try to be good...."

"...I know you do, love....."

"....I really do!" She was back with her arms around me again, stroking my hair and squeezing me tightly. In a stage whisper, I hissed "Psst! Farm boy. Go milk something."

He grovelled pitifully. "Thank you Xena! Oh, thank you! You’re really not as bad as they say...." He bolted and in a cloud of sand, was gone. I boo-hood even more at his words, which caused her to settle us both onto our blankets and press my face into her shoulder. Not as bad as they say? Oh yeah, I’m bad to the bone, baby! Finally, carried on the wind, I heard faint traces from the farmer..." ‘Course, that other guy....now he was spying on you!"

"You *!!?$$ son of a half breed harpy!!*$*?"

The rest of the night, unfortunately, passed without incident. No incidents, of any sort. I tried all my best lines, my best tricks - but nothing. The girl was more virtuous than Hestia and more tantalising than Aphrodite and it was an intoxicating combination. And innocent - well, I hadn’t believed such innocence and purity still existed in the world. Obviously, whatever was left had been distilled, caressed and moulded into the sublime form of the purest, most sweetest person I’d ever met. Do you know, I half thought I might’ve been falling in love with her! Ha! As if.

 

 

Part 4 - Blondes Really Do Have More Fun..

Morning found us alert and raring to go. Well, it found me like that - it didn’t want to find Gabrielle and I could understand why. Anyway, eventually we found ourselves hiding behind a huge outcrop of rock giving us marvellous views of the coastal cliffs, the aquamarine sea and the warlord’s camp which lay ahead. I’d disarmed - shall we say - the lookouts. "Not a bad camp. Well laid out, usual number of guards." I appraised it with a practised eye. "This warlord knows what they’re doing. Can you see any sign of your husband?"

"No. Oh, wait....no."

Companionable silence rang out for a while; I was busy counting soldiers and searching entry and exit points until she broke my concentration. "You seem to know army camps. I ....uh, I take it you had a lot of experience?"

"I’ve had many experiences. They’re how I acquired my many skills."

"Like the pinch thingy? Did you learn that in your army?"

"No, I learned that when I was a pirate, then refined the techniques in Chin."

"You were in Chin? The mysterious land to the East? Which is as different to us as day is to night? Wow! When were you in Chin?"

"Ten winters ago."

"Ten....wait a minute! Did everything in your life happen ten winters ago?"

The faraway, inscrutable expression on my face shattered as the stone of truth was hurled at it by the unerring right arm of Gabrielle the all-seeing. Gods, but she was good with figures and had a memory for inconsequential details! I’d been caught in my own web of ineluctable and slightly errant fact - I wriggled and squirmed like a fly waiting for the spider’s final strike. "Huh?" was all I could manage.

"Are you telling me that you were a simple village girl, a pirate, learned the pinch, became a warlord and swore yourself to Ares all ten winters ago? How old are you, anyway?"

"Uhh...I .... I’m a fast learner!" I could see storm clouds gathering on her brow - she waggled a finger at me and prepared to launch into full on rant, and just as I was considering how to cut off the flow of blood to her mouth, I spotted something happening in the camp.

I clamped my hand over her mouth and pulled her down out of sight; she bit my finger and slapped me hard. "I’m not that kind of girl!" she snapped.

"I know...." I mused, ruefully rubbing my stinging cheek. "I was just trying to shut you up. There’s..."

"Well, of all the nerve - how dare you?" She was furious - I was in deeeeep trouble now, and I still had hands on her which seemed to make her even more irate.

"No, that’s not what I meant! If you’ll just...... no, don’t ....ow! That’s my sword arm!....." We were tussling and wrestling on the ground and I was quite enjoying it actually (nothing like having a soft, firm young woman writhing underneath you to liven up the day! Better than an ambush, anytime of the week..) When we both realised that we were surrounded by upraised swords and lascivious eyes. Two guys at the back were taking bets and I wouldn’t like to guess what the guy to the right was doing but he wasn’t polishing his sword, let’s just leave it at that! We froze, staring stunned at each other before we were dragged apart, hauled to our feet and marched into the camp.

 

"Xena, how nice of you to visit. It’s been so long - you really ought to write more. You can write, can’t you? It’s so difficult to keep up to date with your latest adventures otherwise. Or perhaps that’s because you’re not having any?" A cream filled voice purred across the camp, closely followed by its owner.

"Callisto! Thanks for the nice warm welcome - it’s so you." The sword at my back prodded viciously. "I see your recruitment technique has improved; some of your men can even walk upright." I counteracted smoothly, pleased with my ready wit and steady nerves.

"Xena, how terribly caustic of you. I can see life as an impoverished and frankly mediocre investigator has improved your mood considerably. So tell me ....." She leaned in close, conspiratorially. "....what’s it like adjusting to life as an abject failure?"

Gods damn but that woman always managed to rattle my smooth composure. My arch enemy Callisto; mad, bad and extremely dangerous to know. Nearly as bad as me. And of course, resplendent in her trademark blonde ringlets, long leather overcoat (with just a hint of cleavage/legs/midriff) and - a new addition to the ensemble - chainmail. Very heavy chainmail. She purred in contentment as she sauntered casually around me, fingering my chakram as she did so. It tickled. I was still wearing it.

"Xena, dear. You will be staying for tea, won’t you? I’ve baked a cake especially." An evil, maniacal smirk spread across her beautiful face (hey! I ain’t blind. She was a looker, no doubt about that!), a wicked gleam in her eye as she slowly caressed my cheek. Half of me wanted to lean into the touch like I had all those years ago. We’d both been young, impressionable and eager to break away from the narrow confines of village life. A wistful look must’ve crept into my eyes, because she smiled ; "Ahh - I see you remember the good old days, Xena my pretty one. Tell me dear, now that you’re on your personal crusade for good - are you really having more fun?

"That depends on your definition of fun." I replied coldly, stung because - dammit, no - I wasn’t having more fun! Or at least, I hadn’t been until Gabrielle had shown up. I’d been as near as dammit ready to jack in the business and go back to warlording.

"Yes, dearie. And I know yours isn’t running round the countryside with prissy do-gooders saving peasants." The last spat between tightly clenched teeth. Cally never had no time for the dinarily challenged, as she’d always put it. Quite literally spat, actually, which Gabrielle only managed to avoid with a squeal and a hop - unfortunately bringing her to Callisto’s attention for the first time. "Oooh, I say......Xena, who’s this darling little girl you’ve gotten yourself?" She sauntered around the dumbstruck girl, open admiration plastered across her wicked face. My alarm bells jangled - again. I knew that look. Cally had spotted something she liked. Gods. "Has she put out yet? She looks like she might be a virgin - oh, how cute! She’s blushing! Oh Xena, wherever did you find such a sweet little thing?" She ran her hand along the full length of Gabrielle’s back and the poor girl nearly jumped out of her skin with shock and fright. Her eyes caught mine and the helpless pleading in them caused anger to bubble up; nobody touches my Gabrielle except me, and even I hadn’t gotten as far as Callisto had!

"Leave her alone, Callisto! What do you want?"

"Xena my dear, you know what I want. It’s what I’ve always wanted - you and me to have afternoon tea together. Is that too much for a girl to ask?" Her face a picture of wide eyed innocence, Callisto slapped her leather bound thigh as she stepped closer. "She really is rather nice. Seriously. Would you consider selling her?"

"What you offering?" Callisto squealed in delight; Gabrielle sqwawked in horror.

"Xena!" She at last managed to stammer anxiously, sidling up to me with two guards hanging onto her arms. "What are you doing?"

I gave her my best reassuring smile - it didn’t work, again. I really have to do something about my face. "Don’t worry, Gabrielle. It’s all part of The Plan!" I smiled confidently, almost cockily. It didn’t fool her.

"We have a plan?" Dubiousness dripped from her voice like honey from a warm knife.

"We will when I think of one......" I muttered as I turned to the patiently waiting and amused as anything Callisto. "Still on the tea party gig, huh Callisto? Oh, get over it!"

A maniac mask fell over her pleasant but strangely vacant features and she emitted a piercing scream which made Gabrielle jump and gave me an excellent close up of her tonsils. I noticed she’d had them out. Interesting, but of course that wasn’t important right now. I snapped back to attention as Callisto had launched into full rant and it seemed rude not to listen.

"......a little girl.......tea party ..... with her best friend ............... evil incarnate ............ the soul wrenching screams of my family coming from my BURNING HOME!!!!!!" The blonde dervish whirled and ranted for a not inconsiderable time along similar lines, before a pause in the screaming and curse filled tirade occurred; I jumped in, feet first.

"Oh, please! It wasn’t your home - it was your tree house! Don’t be so dramatic! I accidentally burned down your tree house. Don’t tell me that’s scarred you psychologically for life!"

Silence for a beat. "Okay, Xena, it might’ve been my tree house - but you still burned my family!"

"Your family were in Thessaly at the time! I saw your mom last week, by the way - she says hi, and would you pick up that last load of washing you left there?"

"Okay.....not my actual family then if you want to be so precise.....really Xena!"

"They were your dolls, Callisto."

"Yes! And they were a family to me Xena! And you killed them all, you.....you evil thing, you!"

"A woman of 20 shouldn’t still be playing with dolls like that, Callisto. It’s not natural" I smirked as Callisto crumpled; she seemed to shrink as she herself felt the full force of Gabrielle’s sceptical glare.

"Dolls. A tree house." In an even, slightly flat tone and with a steady, unrelenting gaze. "When was this, exactly?"

In a small, girly voice Callisto replied "Oh, about ten winters ago."

"Figures." She shot me another look. I smiled innocently, winningly. Her mouth moved in resignation, then she turned back to Callisto. "So, let me get this straight. All you want is for Xena to take tea with you, right?" Nod. "No funny business?" A vigorous shake. "You promise?" A vigorous nod and a hopeful smile. "Xena, why won’t you take tea with her?"

"Apart from the fact that she’s a raving madwoman and has tried to kill me more times than I’ve had really good......uhh......a lot of times....."

"Yes, apart from that." Flatter tone and even steadier gaze.

"Oh. Well, I don’t......like tea."

A small explosion. "That’s it?? You were going to let us be killed because you don’t like tea? I don’t believe you - you have GOT to be THE most stubborn, pig headed, thick skinned.......short sighted......dummest gods blasted warrior I’ve ever met!" She was off, stomping round the camp and muttering to herself, only the occasional word intelligible. We watched in amazement - she really was a sight. Her eyes blazed fire and her abs rippled..... I fell in lust all over again.

"Ooh, Xena - I think she likes you!" Callisto was tugging at my armour - I turned to her, a great big soppy grin on my face.

"Ya think?"

".....absolutely HAS to be one of THE most......"

She winked at me and nodded, waggling her eyebrows at Gabrielle, who was now sitting in the middle of the camp and burying her feet under little piles of dirt as she fumed; ".....what? Is the length of your sword in direct inverse proportion to the size of your brain???......." I dunno what she was saying, but any reference to the size of my weapons had to be an encouraging sign, right? I gave Callisto the thumbs up.

"Have you.......y’know ...... yet?" She asked, staring as Gabrielle’s toes shot through the little mountain that surrounded them. My face fell.

"No. She’s a bit .... well, y’know.... shy, I guess. Y’know what I mean.......innocent."

".......and as for your - ha! MANY SKILLS! Ha!...... Don’t ....just DON’T make me laugh! Why, I’ve seen lice infested harpy’s with......"

Cally patted my shoulder in understanding. "Ah. Virgins. Who’d have ‘em? Still, if anyone can crack a nut, Xena, it’s you. After all, ya did me!" She thumped my shoulder with glee.

"Ya think?"

"Oh sure! Try flowers. Woo her. With a classy babe like that......"

"......... scurvy, maggoty half witted daughter of a half assed ......."

".....you gotta take it slow. Remember when you was breaking in Argo?"

"Ah!" The candles in my brain were suddenly lit, and Cally and I were soon in deep discussion of tactics and techniques when we were interrupted unceremoniously by a sharp, very loud cough in both of our ears. Which were moments later grabbed in a vice like grip between tiny fingers. "C’mon girls! We’ve got a tea party to organise!" We were dragged away, cursing roundly.

 

 

Part 5 - If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Rub It Against Me?

Another day later, and we were back on the road, saddle bags bursting with the provisions Callisto had given us. My ears were still ringing with all the wooing advice I’d been given, and Gabrielle was still blushing after the lip smacking kiss and thorough feel-up she’d just experienced. Okay, so Callisto and I had made up - reconciled enemies and all that - but dammit! And damn her for a horny rabbit - she had no right to go laying hands on my girl! Aint nobody gonna put a blush like that on my Gabrielle’s cheeks but me! She was on my list again.

Of course, we were still no nearer finding Perdicus. Callisto hadn’t known anything about him, hadn’t heard any rumours and had cleared out a local slavetrader several months ago - she’d been thinking of going into the hero business once she’d heard about me. I was stumped - times like this, a girl needed her best flipping dinar. Dammit.

We headed back home. I was hoping there may be more clues there, so I marched straight to the inn where they were supposed to’ve spent their honeymoon. It was the classiest inn in town - the Golden Fleece, and it lived up to it’s reputation. The honeymoon suite was luxury; it even had it’s own window, and it’s own bed. All the other rooms had to share.

She’d started blubbing as we’d entered the room, seeing all the reminders of that aborted night. I patted her arm awkwardly, uncomfortable with yet another emotional outburst from her; by the Gods, but she was one dame who sure was in touch with her feminine side. I wished I was in touch with it too.

The bedsheets were still rumpled where she’d waited for him - filthy rotten innkeeper hadn’t cleaned up - and her flouncy pink nighty still lay tossed half off the bed. I picked it up, marvelled at its frothiness and, as surreptitiously as I could, sniffed it. The scent of her nearly blew my head off! She sure packs one Hades of a kick - I am so off cigars now..

"Did you just smell my nightshift?" Tear washed eyes perused me thoughtfully. I struck a casual pose.

"No."

"Give me that!" She snatched it and stuffed it into a sack, then began packing up their things.

"Wait! Don’t touch a thing! There may be clues...." She froze, anguish all over her lovely expressive face at the thought that she may’ve messed up a vital part of the investigation. I busied myself with a thorough search of the premises, lingering for an inordinately long time over her underwear drawer.

"Xena, Perdicus never went anywhere near my underwear."

"Good......err, I mean....just checking Gabrielle. The smallest detail could be of vital importance. Like this, perhaps!" Triumphantly, I waved around a tiny scrap of black cotton trimmed with red lace, and soon found its companion piece. It was a rather racy set of matching (and verrrry sexy) undergarments. She turned scarlet and her eyes nearly popped. Stuttering and hyperventilating, she managed at last to string a sentence together.

"Uh....oh......err....I didn’t.....I mean, I haven’t..... Mother said I had to......I haven’t worn them! Oh Gods!...."

"Ah! Unworn, huh? That could be important!"

"You think?"

"Significant importance, I’d day." To me, anyway.....

"Really? What should we do with them?" Perfect! I’m so good - and sooo bad!

"There’s only one thing for it. You have to put these on. It could be the only way to find Perdicus!"

"Huh? But how.....?"

I thrust the miniscule pieces of material into her unwilling hands and tried not to drool too much as I waited eagerly. She just stood with a really strange look on her face, so I nodded encouragement at her and flopped on the bed. Her hands fluttered up to the laces in her awful green top - at last! Thank Aphrodite, I was going to see the last of that diabolical fashion item - and I nodded furiously at her, wiggling slightly on the bed. Gods, but this was better than the dinar peep show down at the Hog and Strumpet of a Saturday night.

"C’mon, baby!" I moaned. She was fumbling with her laces and my eyes were starting to smart (what with not blinking and all) but she hesitated when she heard me. "For the mission!" I hastily added.

"Xena, how is this going to help us find Perdicus? I don’t understand."

"Gabrielle, it would take too long to explain. Just trust me. I need you to put these on, quick. Oh, but do it slow." My eyes lit up like solstice trees - you could’ve used them for searchlights.

She’d undone her top and was starting to peel it off when I mumbled "Yeah, baby!"

"Wait a minute!" She wrapped the green cloth around her almost liberated bosom, and there was a definite air of finality about the gesture. "This has nothing to do with the mission, does it?" She thrust the lacy underwear into my chest, nearly knocking me backwards onto the bed. I opened my mouth... "No, don’t bother! I know what you were up to. Gods, Xena - is sex the only thing on your mind?"

"At least it’s on one of ours..." I muttered - the strip show was obviously over and I’d worked myself into a lather. Nothing more dangerous than a Warrior Princess drowning in unfulfilled sexual tension.

"What did you just say?" Gods, but she was one angry woman now and I started to shift around on the bed. I’d never met anyone before who could make me feel so guilty about wanting them, but she had it down to a fine art. All that wriggling on the bed (and her heaving breasts being at eye level) didn’t do much for my unfulfilled sexual tension, though.

"Fine!" She lost it completely and just stood there, shouting, with her arms outstretched. I winced. "If it’s what you want, then go ahead! Go on! Take what you want - I won’t stop you!" She was crying now. I’d had people offer themselves to me before - boy, had I - but not one of them had made me feel like a louse on a tick on a rat before. I jumped up, and approached her warily. She must’ve thought I was following through, because her face crumpled and tears streamed down her cheeks as she sobbed her heart out.

"Ssh...oh please, don’t.....Gabrielle, please don’t cry like this."

" Xena! Don’t you understand? I’m worried sick about my husband and Gods help me, but I need you to find him. You’re my only hope and I need you to focus on that but you’re not - you’re too busy hatching ways to get me into bed....." she sobbed brokenly. I protested, somewhat sheepishly. "Yes you are! So let’s get this out of the way and then maybe we can concentrate on finding my husband! I ..... I need you, Xena!"

"Oh, baby! I need you too, but not like this...." And it was true! I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her close, careful to keep my hands in all the proper places as I stroked her and tried to calm her down. Eventually, she quietened and she stilled in my arms with her snuffling face pressed into my chest as I gently stroked her hair. And do you know? It felt like heaven. I had felt like I’d die if I didn’t make love to her, but right then, I realised that wasn’t important anymore because I knew I’d die if I couldn’t just hold her like this.

Was I in love with her? I didn’t know; I didn’t really care. I just knew that I wanted to make her crying stop and I felt so bad - so bad - that I’d caused it. She was so deep under my skin and I didn’t know how she’d got there. It worried me a little, because she’d made me care about her and that was dangerous - made you weak and vulnerable. In my business, you couldn’t have people around that you cared about because they became targets - tools that would be used against you. I’d been the best because there hadn’t been anyone, but holding her in my arms like that and kissing the top of her head; well, I realised that I’d never been as good as I could’ve been. She made me a better person. I’d done decent, honourable things since I’d met her - things which were so unlike me. I was a dark person slowly trying to crawl into the light and she was showing me the way. And I was scared, but I liked seeing the light; feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin and the breeze lifting my hair, and the solid heat of the woman I loved in my arms. For the first time in those peaceful moments, I understood that it was better to feel something - anything - than be endlessly numb and dead to the world. I hugged her closer and smiled into her hair; she didn’t even know it, but she’d found my life, picked it up off the floor, dusted it down and given it back to me.

"Are you done?" I held her at arms length and wiped her tear streaked face with my handkerchief. "Blow." I commanded.

She did. "Thanks." she said in a small, sniffly voice. "I’m sorry."

"No, I’m sorry. I’m a rotten, worthless louse for making you cry....by the Gods, you should just throw me over and go find somebody else to do the job for you. I’d understand."

"No. I want you to do it."

I felt tears prick the back of my eyes. "Thanks for giving me a second chance. I won’t let you down."

"I know you won’t. I believe in you."

I was stuck for words and to make matters worse, I got a damn speck of dirt in my eye or something...... "Aw Hades!" I shot out, grabbed her and held her tight as the dirt (oddly enough it’d got into both my eyes) caused tears to spill.

 

 

Part 6 - Innkeepers, Goons and Wigs - Oh My..

I was slowly examining the room and she was sitting on the bed when my attention was caught by the creak of a floorboard....then another. I froze, held up a finger for silence, then pulled her into the small curtained alcove which held the chamber pot and wash bowl. The doorknob rattled and we could hear the scrape of wood along dusty floorboard; through the gap in the curtain, I could see two men creep into the room. One, burly and gap toothed and wearing badly fitting leathers barely covering a wide expanse of grubby chest - his buddy was small and slightly weaselly looking with sharp pointed features. And an eyepatch. He was the first to speak.

"You find it yet?" Obviously getting a negative. "Keep looking! He said he musta left it behind."

"I am lookin’! What say you get offa yer butt and help me out here? Ya got one good eye, doncha?"

"Hey! I told you never to refer to my.....situation!"

"Yer a one eyed man!"

"I’m not! I’m.....I’m orbally challenged!"

"Yeah? Well, you’ll be fatally challenged if ya don’t get yer maggoty butt offa that bed and help me look for it!"

The exchange was followed by several long minutes of silence, accompanied by various opening, closing, ripping and shuffling sounds. I held on tightly to Gabrielle, who was burning at the sight of her possessions being so thoroughly rifled. The rather racy set of underwear had drawn some choice comments and even I’d blushed at some of the stuff they’d said. Blushed, but filed them away for future reference. A girl’s never too old to learn. Or indeed experiment.

Weaselly man spoke up. "It’s not here. The Boss aint gonna be happy."

"As long as he don’t shoot the messengers." Their voices and footsteps faded, and we emerged from our little hiding place. The room looked like a chariot wreck - it took us ages to find and pack up Gabrielle’s gear and even then we couldn’t find everything. The rather racy set of underwear, much to my regret, had disappeared and oddly enough, so had her flouncy pink nighty.

"Xena, what do you think they were after?" She’d bounced out of the alcove and ricoched round the room like a little indiarubber ball.

"I dunno, sweetheart. I was sorta hoping you might tell me. Is there anyone who might have it in for you or Perdicus?"

"No."

"They said *he’d* said he left it behind. Gabrielle, did Perdicus have anything unusual about his person?"

"No - well, he did have a slight problem ....... uh, he told me that’s why we couldn’t.......y’know?" She blushed.

"Ahh, Gabrielle. That’s not what I meant. Did he have any possessions he seemed particularly attached to, or were unusual in any way?"

"Oh....oh, I see!" She coloured vividly, her eyes skitting round the room. She was so cute. "No, he was just your typical poor farmer. Usual clothes...." She pulled out a couple of pairs of trousers, shirts and well washed and darned underthings, "......umm, men’s things...." she handed me a small pack containing a bone comb and various gels and unguents. "He liked to take care of his hair....." she added in sheepish explanation. "Apart from our wedding bracelets, we have nothing of value."

"It’s too dangerous here - pack up your stuff, we’re leaving. You can stay with me tonight." She looked a bit doubtful, and I guess I couldn’t blame her but I cut her off before she could start arguing with a finger to the lips. "Don’t argue with me. You’ll be much safer where I can keep an eye on you." Her lips pursed in annoyance and I could feel their soft, moist heat burning through my fingertip and up my arm, straight into my heart. "C’mon, let’s get outta here. I’ve got some business to take care of on the way out."

We crept silently down the stairs. The inn was quiet, in that lull between afternoon and evening trade - a pall of old smoke hung over the drenched tables, mixing with the odour of stale ale and rancid stew. The innkeeper was standing behind the bar, trying to scrub his counter clean with his own homebrewed ale - it was stripping the outer layers of the wood quite nicely, and sanding it down as it did so.

I pounced; in an instant, the guy was dragged over the counter and found himself dangling mysteriously a foot in the air, suspended only by his precariously attached toupe. Ooh, that’s gotta hurt.

"What’s your name?" I hissed in his face.

"T....Telemacus." He stuttered, eyes bugging as his scalp screamed in agony. "What....let me go!!"

"Hi, Telemacus! Nice place you got here. Homey like."

"Thu...aaah....Thanks! Glad you .... ow! Glad you like it - now willya let me down?"

"Ah-ah! Do you recognise this lady?" I bent my head towards Gabrielle.

"Yeah, let me down! My hair’s coming off!"

"You knew we were in her room. Why did you let those goons up?"

"I didn’t! Let me down, please....nobody knows I wear a wig!"

"Riiight!" The wig was jet black, and his natural hair colour was chestnut. "Wow - is that a wig? Good craftsmanship - d’you know, if ya hadn’t said, I would never have known. I know you let those goons up. They had a key. I notice things like that." The wig and his scalp finally parted company reluctantly with a slow, peeling motion and ripping sound. I beat him around the face with it for a while until I spotted Gabrielle winking and grinning at me. What?? I asked, with my eyes.

"Don’t hurt him Xena! Too much.." The guy’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when he heard my name.

"Xena? You’re Xena, Destroyer of Nations....?"

"Yeah, yeah. Can it, short, fat and baldy."

Gabrielle winked again as she leant close to his ear. "Ooh, now you’ve done it. She hates it when people call her that." Casually patting the jerking shoulder of the gibbering man. "Xena, don’t put the pinch on him! That’d be too cruel!" More frantic winking.

"I wasn’t....ah! Yes, the pinch!" I raised my fingers dramatically and wore my feralest grin. "My trusty pinch interrogations. Rarely fails and only occasionally results in slight death."

Gabrielle was really into it now, pantomiming in front of the petrified innkeeper. "But Xena! The pinch? Do we really have to resort to that - y’know? After the last time?" Whispering once more into his ear, "I didn’t really know it was possible to sneeze out your own eyeballs....." I rolled my own as she took off; she should’ve been a bard with the show she put on. Soon enough, the collapsing guy spilt his guts.

"No, please - I’ll tell you everything you wanna know! Please don’t make me cough up my ........ I might need it again one day!"

"Unlikely. But a wise move, wiggy. Now talk."

 

 

Part 7 - Curse You Pesky Kids!

We were back in the Sweating Blacksmith, at our customary table in the corner, waiting for Sidelius the Snitch and nursing a couple of mugs of water. Gabrielle had put us both on a strict temperance kick - she had the temperance, and I’d had the kick - as we were there on official business. Sidelius shuffled in eventually, looking remarkably pink and well scrubbed about the face and hands, and he wore his hair slicked over his scalp. It was market day, and he’d just sold his pigs. A faint aroma of - well, pig - still clung to him though, and Gabrielle wrinkled her nose and tried to see how long she could survive without breathing.

"How’s business, Sidelius?"

"Great, Princess! Just sold my last litter."

"Yeah. For two hundred dinars to a big guy, money to be delivered here, ooh - round about now. No?"

"Zeus! You’re good, Princess! How’ja know?"

"Funny you should mention Zeus. Meet my buddy, Hercules...." I smirked with satisfaction as Herc clamped his big paw onto the bony shoulder of the smelly little man. Son of a God or no son of a God, he’d sure regret that physical contact later on. My attention was momentarily distracted as Gabrielle launched into the standard, simpering, adoring hero worship.

"Hercules! By the Gods - I’ve always wanted to.....ooof!" I elbowed her sharply. She tossed me a sorry look and whispered so close into my ear that I could feel her breath swirling around the inside of it. "Don’t worry baby - you’re still my biggest hero!"

Well, you know, some water musta gone down the wrong way because I choked and gasped and completely lost the plot, just sitting there with a big, kinda goofy grin on my face until Herc nudged me out of it. Gabrielle was giggling into her own water, an impish expression on her face. Herc just stared from me to her, a quizzical look on his big, dumb kisser. By the Gods, I was so gonna get her back for that!

"Slight change of plan, Sidelius." Eventually, I managed to pull myself together enough to remember where we were and what we were doing. "Herc’s left the dough over in his room. He’s staying at the Golden Fleece. I think you know the innkeeper?"

Sidelius immediately turned shifty and musta felt nervous because - believe it or not, and I certainly didn’t - he suddenly got whiffier. "No.....dunno him. Never go there."

"Really? That’s funny because he’s the one who gave you that cock and bull story about Perdicus being kidnapped. So what’s the deal?"

"Wh...what? I told you, I got it off one of the card sharps! Say, you - what about my money, or I want my pigs back!"

Hercules smiled a devastating smile, and his cheeks dimpled charmingly. I could feel Gabrielle swooning next to me - I pinched her thigh, just to keep her conscious, then pinched my own as memories came washing rather wonderfully over me. Boy, the things that guy could do in the sack..... and I usually walked on the other side of the street, if ya get my meaning. Even Sidelius looked charmed, as Herc spoke in his deep, rich bass. "Oh, I’ve already sold the pigs on. To Xena. Right, honey?"

"That’s right, sweetie!" I simpered, then cackled gleefully as horror washed the colour right out of Sidelius’ cheeks. "I hate pigs!" I finished, in my most menacing tone.

Gabrielle piped up as her stomach chose that exact moment to rumble loudly; Herc glanced up, alarmed - he thought it was his dad. "Mmm. Bacon! I love bacon! And dripping spread on fresh crusty bread. Hey, Sidelius, you know what dripping’s made of?" The most evil, angelic smile I’d ever seen wrapped itself round her lips as she leaned in as close as she dared, to murmur "Baby piggies!"

Sidelius high tailed it outta that inn faster’n an Amazon at an all male party - I was on him, and we dragged him squealing and writhing over to the Golden Fleece, where we locked him in the cellar with the innkeeper. I cracked my knuckles and prepared to go to work on them. Gabrielle too was pretty worked up by this stage, and was shaking a tiny fist between the two men. "Where’s my godsdam husband, you worthless sons of........."

"Gabrielle, calm down." I grabbed her shoulders and pushed her into Hercules strong arms, then immediately cursed myself as she sank, sighing blissfully, into them. "Let me handle this. It takes patience and finesse. Hey, big guy - don’t get too comfortable there......" I shot Herc one of my best looks, and was satisfied to see him blanch and relax his grip on my girl; in fact, his arms were like spaghetti strings as he draped them loosely about the safe portions of her person.

"So, Sidelius. Mr innkeeper here paid you to come in and feed us some sorry excuse for a story, sending us off on a wild pigeon chase, leaving the coast free here. But of course, what he didn’t reckon on, was my amazing deductive powers and my very many skills. What was in it for you, Sid?"

"I don’t have to answer to you..."

Gabrielle started singing softly. "This little piggy went to market,......this little piggy stayed at home, this little piggy’s nicer’n roast beef, and well, as for this little piggy....." She stroked her stomach meaningfully and everyone in that room took several deep breaths as we watched, entranced by those delicate fingers lightly brushing over satin soft skin and firm young muscles. Apart from Sidelius, of course, who started to hyperventilate for slightly different reasons.

"Okay, okay! Money, what else! And a guaranteed market for my latest business venture. I’m thinking of going into the fertiliser trade."

"Eww!" Gabrielle and Hercules were frantically scrubbing at their hands with any old bits of cloth they could find. I coughed sharply - it just so happened, the bits of cloth were each others clothes.

"Sidelius, you low down, stinking son of a bacchae!" The innkeeper started to struggle furiously against his ropes; Gabrielle paused in her frantic scrubbing, confusion all over her face.

"Wait a minute! That voice......"

"Yes, that voice indeed Gabrielle. You should recognise it - it’s the voice of........" I whipped the man’s restored toupe off his head, then with a flourish, peeled off the clever mask that disguised his true features.

"Perdicus! Oh my Gods!" Stunned, she gaped wordlessly at him (it made a change, let me tell you), then stormed over and whacked him one right across the kisser. Brought tears to my eyes - remind me never to get her that pissed at me. "What in Hades have you been up to? Where have you been? I’ve been worried sick! Wait a minute - what’s going on?"

He narrowed his eyes and spewed venom from his filthy mouth. "You.....you no good stinkin’ louse, Sidelius. Just wait’ll I get hold of you. And as for you, ya big, butch - what the hell kinda woman are you anyway? I’ll kill you with my bare hands, ya piece of scabby centaur’s dung....." Well, he was off - he questioned my parentage, he offered to do various physical activities with me.....boy, he was inventive linguistically. Made me blush to even realise I understood what he was talking about.

"Nice talk. You were gonna kiss Gabrielle with that mouth?"

"Ha! And that aint all - if she wasn’t such a frigid lump of ice in the sack and frankly such a bloody turnoff......" Herc and I looked from him to her in amazement - how could any red blooded male or female not find her the sexiest, most alluring thing to ever walk the earth? That hair, those eyes - oh my, those abs, formed by Aphrodite herself, and that shining innocence only served to heighten perfection. Herc and I shrugged, then I clocked him with a sound backhand - it shut up his sewer mouth nicely.

"Gabrielle, what in Hades you ever see in this.....this....guy??"

"Beats the hell out of me, Xena. Say, you wanna rough him up a little more? I kinda like to see my warrior work out....." I blushed. Damn, but it was hot in that damp, chilly cellar!

Perdicus looked up, his lip bloody but his eyes bright. "Now she gets interesting! If I’d known that’d get yer juices going, Gabby...."

She stalked over, and whacked him with her staff. "Don’t call me Gabby - you know I don’t like it." She decked him one again. "And that’s for leaving me on our wedding night......<thump> and that’s for even wanting to get married.....<whack> and that’s for saying those things about me.....<crack> and that’s for always making feel guilty and inadequate about not loving you or wanting you......<crunch> and that’s for what you said about Xena just now too! Nobody talks like that about my best friend! <thwack>"

He was spitting blood and molars out now, and I was worried she’d leave him a gummy old man - besides, she was pretty cut up herself by this stage, so I grabbed hold of her and held her tightly while Hercules dusted off Perdicus and set him back on his wobbly feet. Finally, she calmed down enough to grind out, "So why’d you do it?"

"Why else, farmgirl? Money!"

"But I don’t have any money."

"Ask your warrior - she’s full of many skills! Got all the answers, have you?"

I smirked; yes, I did as it happens, and more than that - I had an armful of Amazon too. More than he’d ever had. "Wedding bracelets." I said, somewhat cryptically. Her face creased in confusion, his gaped. I added, in explanation: "Hercules here has been investigating a robbery which took place about a month ago - several very valuable jewels were taken from the royal household. No-one knew the culprits, although many suspected Autolycus. But it’s not his style and besides, he’s retired now. Works for Herc, actually."

"What does this have to do with me?" Gabrielle turned doe eyes up to me as she twisted in my embrace.

"The jewels were sapphires and rubies. Pretty red and blue stones - just like the ones in your wedding bracelets. Perdicus is in fact better known as Apolonius, the master jewel thief. And the stolen jewels were set into your wedding bracelets. He needed a safe place to hide them until he could make his escape, and where better to hide them than in plain sight? Where their beauty would be overshadowed by the brilliance of glistening green emeralds......" I smiled a sappy smile into the aforementioned glistening emeralds, ".....and what safer way to make your escape than under the guise of a newlywed husband?"

"And it would’ve worked too, if it hadn’t been for you pesky meddling kids.......!"

"Ah, can it ugly!" I backhanded him again, taking much satisfaction from it and preening myself in Gabrielle’s admiring look. "The game’s up! Take him away, Herc!"

"With pleasure, Xena! Oh, come round to dinner at the weekend? Ioalus can’t wait to catch up on the latest gossip. Say, why don’t you bring Gabrielle?"

"Love to, Herc! I’ll bring a bottle."

Part 8 - All’s Well That Ends Well..

I sat in my poky little office, feet up on the battered wooden desk, idly flipping a dinar. Heads or tails? Tails, I think.....Damn thing was coming down tails every time. What are the odds? Gotta get me a game tonight - ride lady luck while I had the chance. I opened my top drawer and once again stared at the pile of dinars that lay in there - reward money for the capture of the notorious Apolonius, which Herc, Gabrielle and myself had decided to split between us. Fantastic.

The door slid open, and there she stood. A classy lookin’ dame, with milk white skin that smelled of peaches, honey and cream and hair the colour of fresh cut corn tumbling wildly round her shoulders. "Hey, sweetheart." Mentally, I let out a long, slow whistle.

"Xena! I ... err, I wanted to thank you for - well, for everything, I guess."

"No problem sweetheart."

"Good. Good. Well then....."

"All packed and ready to go?" I bent my head carefully to inspect the coin I’d been flipping.

"Uh, yeah."

"Where will you go?" Idly, I turned the coin over; it fumbled out of my fingers and rolled onto the floor.

"I don’t really know. Haven’t really got anywhere to go. Thought I might try Athens, maybe. See if I could get into the Bards’ Academy there." She blushed shyly. "Always wanted to be a bard, but Per....he said I had no talent, and it wasn’t a woman’s place anyway."

I dropped my legs and stood quickly. "Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you can be, Gabrielle. If you wanna be a bard, then go for it. I wish you luck." Holding out my hand, I tried not to pull her in my arms and beg her not to go.

"Thanks. That means a lot to me."

"Anytime, baby. Well, it sure has been fun, huh?" I couldn’t let go of her hand.

"Yeah. It’ll make a great story. I’m glad.....I’m glad you’ll be in it."

I dropped her hand like it was burning wood. "Well, I guess I’ll say so long then. Oh, I got something for ya!" I rummaged around on the desk for a while, pulled out all the drawers. "Can’t find a damn thing! Now where in Hades....ah!" I pulled up a little packet and pressed it into her hand, embarrassed. "Here ya go."

She poured the wedding bracelet out. "Oh my Gods! How .....?"

"I had a copy made for you - they aint the real jewels, and I had the mount made in the design of my chakram. Just wanted to give ya something to remember me by."

"As if I could ever forget you." Her eyes brimmed. "Thank you." Impulsively, she hugged me and kissed my cheek wetly.

"Hey! Cut that out!" I jolted back, bumped into the desk, fell onto the floor, hit my head and knocked off all the papers off the desk. "Now look what ya made me do! Gods, it’s gonna take me ages to sort all this lot out - and I’ve still got all that to do!" I gestured over to the other side of the room, where piles of paper and bags full of clues from old cases lay gathering dust in the corner.

"Hmm. Now that you’re back on the scene, I guess business is going to pick up?"

"Yeah, I guess. Herc wants to use me as a sleeping partner - on undercover cases and all. And I’ve already had three new cases today. Paying ones, too!"

"Hmm. Going to be quite busy then?"

"Yup."

"Could you use a business partner?"

"Huh?"

"We make a pretty good team...." A shy smile hesitantly appeared on her face as she gazed wistfully up at me. "I could be very valuable to you."

"But what about Athens? The Bard’s Academy?"

"I’d rather be living the adventures. With you."

Well, I had to think this over. I mean, it was a big step.

I thought. "Welcome aboard...... partner!"

Do you know, the goofiest grins spread wider’n the river styx across both our mugs as we shook hands in the traditional warrior’s handclasp.

 

 

The End - Or Is It?

 

Whadda y’all think? Constructive feedback, round the world air tickets and a free lifetimes supply of chocolate all gratefully received. Homophobic twittering, however, will be trashed immediately.

Lariel_a@Hotmail.com

 


Return to The Academy