Additionally, the story below contains references, explicit or implied, of a sexual relationship between two consenting adults of the same sex. If you are not of legal age to read this story, or such material is illegal where you live, or you do not feel comfortable with such content, please refrain from reading this story.
Timeline Notes: None
Old Silk Hat
(c) February 1999
E-Mail LZClotho at firstname.lastname@example.org
Gabrielle kicked through the thin layer of white lining the road as they entered the small mountain town. "Are you sure he's here?" She looked around at the quiet shops and the empty streets.
"Yeah. My source was very reliable. We'll find him," Xena slid off Argo's back, grabbing the mare's reins and looking around. She put her hand on Gabrielle's cloaked shoulder. "You warm enough?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Gabrielle thoughtfully fingered the inner lining of rabbit fur. The cold weather gear, in Xena's usual matter of fact fashion, had been the warrior's Solstice gift to her. But functionality had nothing to do with the soft golden color choice, or the choice of expensive rabbit pelts. over something easier to come by like wolf or deer. She smiled again, fingering the scarf she'd bought Xena, to ward off the chill since she couldn't wear quite as cumbersome a cloak. Xena's tawny skin and blue eyes were complemented by the purple scarf wrapped around her throat, hugging the top of the lighter weight cloak the warrior wore. The purple dyed fabric had taken her some time to do, but the final effect had been worth it.
Xena's hands closed over hers. "Come on. Let's find Autolycus. Then we can make camp." Her blue eyes sparkled with her uninhibited smile, an expression she reserved only for Gabrielle.
"All right. Where are we supposed to look?"
"He's after something called the lodestone. A blue gemstone that's said to glow in the presence of mineral deposits." Xena grasped the bard's hand and led her deeper into town.
Brushing her blonde hair smooth beneath the cloak hood with her free hand, Gabrielle followed the warrior. Xena had been furious when she heard from the messenger that Autolycus was out to steal something else. Since she had shared the King of Thieves' body she'd appointed herself to the job of keeping the charming rogue out of trouble.
The two women drew to a stop outside a small enclave near the center of town. Xena swatted Argo's rump, sending the horse out of sight behind the building. They studied the building top to bottom, the warrior making her decision what to do next.
"Looks like a temple," Gabrielle commented, studying the carved markings on the exterior. Xena was already walking up the steps. "You think he's in there?"
"I plan to be in there when he gets here," the warrior explained quietly, easing the door open slowly.
"Gonna surprise him? All right." Gabrielle looked around at the empty street before tugging off the hood of her cloak. "I'm right behind you."
Xena smiled, patted her shoulder and let the bard enter first, while she held the door. "Come on then."
Situating themselves near the altar room, concealed behind the thick curtains, Xena and Gabrielle didn't have long to wait. Within a candlemark after they settled, the doors to the temple opened and closed quickly, the sound reaching them as a squeak. The shadows moved, and Gabrielle could see Xena tracking Auto as the man crossed to the altar with his characteristic swagger.
At the altar, he rubbed his hands together and reached for the small altar statue. The belly was the lodestone gem.
"I wouldn't," Xena's voice broke the silence and Autolycus spun in place, unraveling the claw and rope coiled at his belt.
Xena and Gabrielle stepped from their hiding places and Autolycus sighed, dropped his shoulders and said, in an exasperated tone, "Come on, Xena. I've got someone willing to pay me for this job."
"That lodestone is important to these people, Autolycus. I'm not going to let you take--" She got no further. Autolycus threw aside a tray of offerings, directly into the warrior's path, running in the other direction, taking the lodestone statue with him.
Xena and Gabrielle pursued him, trailing him into the street. He ran down the middle of the road before dashing toward a small dark space between buildings.
"I'll go around back." Xena pointed after the thief. "You follow him."
"Got it," Gabrielle ran through the thin layer of snow, following the thief's tracks.
She caught sight of him after one quick turn around a pile of stockpiled wood, and managed to keep him in sight though he was literally jumping everywhere in that small area... up onto the wall, down over the woodpiles outside the various homes and diving through clotheslines.
Xena scaled the building roofs quietly, moving quickly ahead of Autolycus' position. With a yell, drawing his attention up, and watching Gabrielle launch herself at his legs, Xena flipped heels over head and landed straddling the now down thief. "That's it, Auto." She bent over to help him up. "Now get to your feet."
Autolycus rolled over, looking for something to throw. He came up with a ball of snow caught in his hand. With a fierce throw he tossed it into the warrior's face.
Dripping with cold snow, Xena's demeanor chilled. Gabrielle started to reposition herself for a better hold on Autolycus, but he squirmed free and bolted to his feet.
Xena picked up a ball of snow herself and chucked it at his fleeing form. The hard packed missile slammed squarely into his back. "Yow!" He yelled, rolling and then picking himself up again. Another ball of the cold wet stuff, certainly a lot harder than he'd expected, pelted him in the back of the leg, buckling his knee.
"I give," he said, as she stood over him, another ball of the white stuff poised in her hands and she worked on packing it. "Here." He handed her the statue. She smiled, and snatched it from his hand.
"Glad to hear it," Xena said, as Gabrielle came alongside her, looking down at the cowed thief.
"Hello, Gabrielle," Autolycus said, coming to his feet and brushing his familiar forest green tunic and pants free of the white fluffy flakes. "So," he asked, trying to sound casual. "What brings you two to Bicktus?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "Heard of the great exercise program," she laughed, flexing her shoulders.
He nodded and accepted the jibe. "You have gotten stronger there, kiddo."
The blonde grinned. "Thanks." She turned to the warrior. "So. Are we gonna set up camp now?" She rubbed her stomach. "I'm hungry."
"Yeah, you worked up an appetite," the warrior replied. "Let's go." The two women flanked Autolycus as they walked back to the center of town. Xena returned the statue to the altar while Auto and Gabrielle waited out on the steps.
At the campfire as they watched Autolycus sleeping, Xena watched Gabrielle with her pen poised. "Having trouble?"
"Well, no, not really. Just can't concentrate."
"Troubled about something?"
"Just was thinking about the snow. And watching you and Auto throw snowballs."
Xena shrugged. "He's a friend, so I wanted to stop him, but not hurt him."
"No. Well, that's not what I meant. Not really. It just brought back memories that's all."
"Did you have snowball fights in Poteidaia too?"
"How did--. Yeah." Gabrielle's smile widened considerably. "It didn't always snow," the bard admitted. "We're a little warmer." She brushed her fingers into the white stuff they'd pushed aside in order to build the firepit. "Sometimes we'd play in what did fall, though, yeah."
Xena rubbed the bard's shoulder from where she sat, a blanket tucked around her legs. She reached down and picked up a bit of the snow in her fingers. "We don't have anyplace to be right away. Want to stick around for a few days?"
Gabrielle chuckled. "To play in the snow?" She brushed the warrior's cheek. "You're kidding right?"
Shaking her head, Xena shrugged. "Nope. Let's have some fun tomorrow. Maybe even Auto will join us."
Xena tugged Gabrielle down onto the blanket beside her and then wrapped the overblanket around them both. The blonde's head slipped down and rested against her bicep. "Get some sleep," she whispered, kissing the bard's hair.
More snow fell during the night. The two women and Autolycus were blanketed in a thin layer of the white powder when they awakened.
"Oh, great," Autolycus groaned, sitting up. "If it's like this here, I bet the pass is completely blocked."
Xena shook her hair free of the white stuff and brushed Gabrielle's hair free of the snow as well. "Auto, relax. You don't have to be anywhere."
Autolycus sat up and shook out his clothes and blanket. "You don't know that. I'm a busy man. A very important fellow. People need me all the time." Xena shot him a sideways glance. "Oh all right." He stood. "So what'd you have in mind for today, Miss Social Calendar?"
"Gabrielle wants to have some fun in the snow."
The thief just stared at her for a long minute. She raised an eyebrow. He correctly interpreted that as "You got a problem with that" and finally sat down. "Great, so we're going to let the kid have some fun."
"Gabrielle is not a kid, Autolycus."
"Yeah, yeah. And playing in the snow is a thing all adults do, huh? Come on, Xena."
Xena stroked the young woman's hair while she slept on oblivious to her conversation with the brunette thief. "I want to do this," she told him quietly. "I want your help."
Autolycus surrendered. "So you want to play today. Okay. Fine. I'm in."
"Some of the drifts are deep enough, we should be able to build forts and stuff like when I was a kid," the warrior said, studying the piled drifts against the surrounding trees. When she looked down again, she found Gabrielle's green eyes twinkling as the bard studied her. "Good morning," she said. "So you built forts even as a kid, huh?"
"Yep," the warrior's blue eyes twinkled as she allowed herself to forget Auto was even present, and brushed the back of her hand against the bard's soft cheeks.
But he hadn't. "I think I'll go clean up," he said, clearing his throat. Without another word he picked up his small pouch and ducked into the woods.
Gabrielle couldn't help it. She laughed. "Oh, Xena, you didn't have to do that to him."
The warrior shrugged. "I tell him we're going to have some fun today and you'd think I sentenced him to Skull Island." She made an exaggerated sigh. "I tell you...."
Gabrielle sat up and tugged her fingers through her hair bringing it a modicum of order. "Okay, so what did you have in mind?"
"Ever build a snow soldier?"
"A snow soldier?"
"Yeah. We used to make these men out of the snow drifts and run 'em through with our swords and stuff," Xena explained, her gaze drifting back in time.
Gabrielle smiled. "All right, then you'll show me how."
They ate breakfast when Autolycus returned. And then Gabrielle searched around for a good clearing full of high drifts and declared, "This is the place!" before diving head first into one of the drifts and splaying her arms and legs.
"What are you doing, Gabrielle?" Autolycus asked as the bard stood up and jumped clear of the drift. "Hey it's a Cupid outline. Look at the wings."
"Yeah. We always tried to make our outlines touch, just at the wingtips. It was a game the boys and girls who were sweet on each other used to play."
"Ours just attacked each other with play swords," Xena interjected, studying the bard's handiwork.
Gabrielle shook her head. "Amazing. Didn't you ever just play 'nice', Xena?"
"Nah, not me." She started rolling a ball in her hand, hard packing it, then laying it back in the snow. She packed more snow around it, and rolled it over collecting layers. The ball was soon knee high.
Gabrielle studied it. "Wow. All right. Want me to make another one that size?" Xena nodded.
Autolycus worked on a third ball. When they were all roughly the same size and tightly packed, they set them on top of one another. By lunchtime the three balls were stacked, and Auto had contributed sticks for arms. Gabrielle set a series of small stones in a curve for a mouth. Xena tucked her sword polish cloth in a textured bulb and pressed it in for a nose. They found big frozen berries for the eyes.
"He needs a hat," the bard said definitively. "He looks too bald."
"A hat?" Autolycus looked at the squat snowman where it's head came just up to his shoulder. "Are you kidding me? This is silly."
"He needs a hat," she repeated.
"All right. Who's got a hat?"
Xena shrugged. "Not me."
"Guess that means it's up to me huh?" He looked from Gabrielle to Xena. "All right." He fished around his pouch and came up with a soft, multicolored striped cap. "Got it for a disguise a while back." He frowned, but stretched it lightly and set it partly askew on the round head. "There, fashion model of the year."
Gabrielle grinned and picked up a snowball, throwing it at Auto. "Great, Mr. King of Thieves. Thanks."
He sighed, wiping the wetness from his face. "Yeah. He's got a certain amount of charm. I'll give him that."
Gabrielle hugged Xena, and the warrior gently smushed a snowball on her head. "Hey!" So the bard smushed back. The play got rambunctious and the trio backed into a small circle and started pelting each other with little balls of the cold innocently white stuff.
Before long laughter was bubbling up from all three. They started running around chasing each other, dusting trees and each other with the cold balls.
Hunger drove them away from play however and they made a quick dinner of warmed jerky stew before retiring for the night. "Thanks for taking a break with us today, Autolycus," the bard said, kissing his cheek before he rolled into his blankets.
"Yeah," he didn't try to hide the grin. "It was fun." The warrior's eyebrow raised in question and he answered it,"So shoot me. Yes, Xena, I had fun."
The brunette laughed and patted him on the back. "You can go your own way in the morning, Auto. Thanks for sticking around." She saw his eyes light up. "But I don't want to hear of you going after anything again."
The thief shrugged and sighed. "You make it tough for me to keep my reputation, Warrior Princess."
"Yes, well we all have our problems. Yours is me." She grinned unrepentantly.
He pshawed, allowed a fleeting grin to cross his face and then rolled over, snugging his big body into the blankets. "Good night, ladies."
Gabrielle rolled into the blankets and looked at Xena still sitting up watching the fire crackling. "You going to sleep soon?"
"In a little bit," the warrior replied, pulling out her sharpening stone and sword. "Did you have fun today?"
"Yes, I did." Gabrielle pushed herself onto her elbows. "Thank you for suggesting it."
"My pleasure. So where do you want to go next?" The soothing rhythm of the stone against the metal peacefully filled the quiet in the glade.
"It's been a while since we've seen Ephiny and the others. Want to stop in at the Amazons?"
"Think we can put in an appearance in Amphipolis?"
"I just remembered it'll be Mother's birthday soon."
Gabrielle grinned from ear to ear. "Oh, she'll love having you home for that."
"I hope so."
"Xena, I know so."
Xena heard something and it startled her awake. The shadows had grown deep as the fire burned down during the night. She scanned the clearing and her gaze drifted over to where the snowman stood.
Or rather had stood.
At first she thought, oh well, it simply melted, but the complete disappearance didn't really fit that theory. "All right," she thought, getting to her feet, just as she was hit from behind.
She spun, blocking the next hit... from hard packed snow. Xena stared into the frozen smiling expression of their snowman come to life. She blocked another swing from stick arms and tried to shove her own fist through the snow chest. Instead she hit a solid surface.
Great. Now what?
"Gabrielle! Gabrielle!" The bard awoke, as did Autolycus.
"What?! Xena!" Auto jumped to his feet and stared at the moving pile of snow. "What is it with you two and trouble?" he shouted sounding exasperated. "All right! What d'you want me to do?"
"Get the fire pan," she suggested. "Maybe we can threaten it."
Auto and Gabrielle scrambled together and got a few of the glowing bits of wood together in a pan. Meanwhile, Xena circled the creature, keeping just out of reach of its spindly wooden arms. She had tried to break one, only to find it wouldn't snap like the twig it was supposed to be. "Damn enchantments," she groaned, jumping out of the way of another swing.
"Here!" Gabrielle tossed the pan toward Xena, who leapt up and caught it carefully. She tossed the hot pieces on the snowman. They all heard it make a noise that sounded remarkably like a yelp of pain and turn and run away. Toward the village.
Xena leapt after it. "Come on! We've got to find a way to stop it before it reaches town!"
The bard and thief grabbed their things and dashed after the fleeing snowman and the pursuing warrior. Xena launched herself through the air, reaching out to grab the snowman. She missed, landing hard in a snow drift instead. As Gabrielle and Autolycus reached her side, she was getting to her feet.
"I'm all right, Gabrielle. Come on."
"What are we going to do?"
"First things first. We've got to get it to stop running. Then we can figure out something." The trio followed, alternately gaining and falling behind the lumbering white creature. "I'm going to try and get in front of it... Turn it or something."
Xena took another step and then leapt straight up into the trees, landing unsteadily on a branch. Scaling her way through the trees she was able to get in front of the big thing, which was moving surprisingly fast for its size. She muttered just before leaping, "I hope this works!"
"Ai-yi-yi-yi!" Tumbling heels over head, she slammed boots first into it's upper torso, finally knocking it off balance. It fell over and separated into piles of snow. The stones and other decorative additions tumbled free. It didn't move. Xena stood panting slightly, her booted feet half buried in what used to be the snowman's head.
Autolycus picked up the hat which had been buried in the scattering of the snow. "What in the name of everything was that all about?!" He slapped the hat against his hip and then stuffed it in his pocket.
Gabrielle retrieved the warrior's sword polishing cloth, and handed it to Xena as the warrior stepped free of the snow pile. "Well, it's over now." She looked up and found a splash of snow against the warrior's hair. "Hold on," she dusted her fingers through the ebony locks, clearing the wetness.
Autolycus busied himself clearing the snow from his own pants and tunic, while Xena walked around and through the disarrayed snowpile which they had been chasing. She was shaking her head. "Some fun, huh?"
"Oh yeah, I wake up most snowy mornings to chase down a snowman," the thief interjected caustically. "I said it before. What is it with you two and trouble?" Gabrielle chuckled. Xena's laugh soon joined hers, and finally even Autolycus snickered. "Well, all right. I'd better get moving again." He bowed low to each woman. "It's been... fun." He cleared his throat. "See ya."
The women watched as he turned his back and left, walking back through the woods toward their campsite, and then presumably onto the road to continue his personal journey.
"Hungry?" Xena asked when the thief was out of sight.
The warrior threw her arm around the bard's shoulders. "Come on then, I'll make something to eat."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes and shook her head. "No." The warrior looked at her in surprise. "I cook. You cream large snowmonsters. Remember?"
Their laughter filled the morning quiet with a pleasant feeling.
Return to Main Page