by Nene Adams ©1999 - All rights reserved.
Xena strode into the throneroom as if she not only owned it, but paid the mortgage on the castle, brushed the royal ermine robes every morning, and occasionally ordered a bad jester's head separated from his body whenever she was in the mood for a little light comedy.
"You sent for me?" the warrior asked shortly, hands on hips and a genteel sneer on her lips.
King Capillus looked down from his perch on the royal dais. Tears stained his wrinkled cheeks; his floor-length, silvery beard was sopping wet and dripping into his lap. As he blew his nose vigorously into a handkerchief, the Royal Beard Barber grasped the king's copious facial fungus and wrung it into a silver bucket.
"Ah, yes, Xena!'' the King sniffled. "Thank goodness you have come!"
Xena waved a hand. "What can I do for you, Your Majesty?"
The warrior was champing at the bit; she'd left her partner Gabrielle in a wooded region just outside Capillus' kingdom and was impatient to return. The bard had recently received a new copy of the Victorix's Secrets cataloge and both women had dinars to burn.
"Warlord threatening to rape, reive and rob? Monster on the rampage?" Her pale eyes flashed. "Pissy priests? Usurping barons? Wedding bell blues?"
The King shook his head, nearly dislodging the royal crown. "No, no, nothing like that! It's about my daughter, Princess Fascia..."
"Let me guess." Xena sighed and rolled her eyes. "She's fallen in love with the wrong boy, some jumped-up petty Earl with pretentions to the throne who's planning a traitorous assassination in order to take the throne for himself, with help, of course, from some warlord or another whose evil schemes I'll be able to thwart due to the fact that I knew them when I was in my Destroyer-of-Nations phase ten winters ago..."
The King shook his head again, sending the royal crown flying across the room. As the Royal Crown Catcher neatly snagged it in mid-flight, the King said, "Nothing like that, Xena!"
"Oh." The warrior was nonplussed for a moment, but rallied. "Well, what's the emergency, then?"
The King heaved a great sigh and blew his nose once more. "You see... my daughter, Princess Fascia, has recently turned eighteen winters of age. When her mother, Queen Longina, was pregnant, she developed a strange craving for certain herbs which can only be found in a never-explored forest region just outside my kingdom. I went there myself to gather them... and was confronted by a witch who threatened my life..."
Xena waved her hand again. "There is, I hope, a point to this story? A point that will explain just why you found it so necessary to send me an emergency message that's made me travel more than a hundred leagues across hostile country, leave my bard alone in the woods with an incindiary catalog of skimpy silk lingerie and - worst of all - caused me to make several wrong guesses that will forever tarnish my perfect warrior instincts reputation?"
"Of course, of course!" The King mopped his face with the sleeve of his robe. "I explained to the witch that my wife was with child and swore she would die without those herbs. The witch allowed me to take them... but with a proviso. I would have to pay for those plants with the life of my first born daughter."
"I see." Xena glanced around; the throneroom was bare except for uniform-clad personnel and the royal throne. She shifted her weight from foot to foot as she continued, "Let me see if I can fill in the blanks. You reneged on your part of the deal because you couldn't give up Fascia when the time came. So when the Princess turned eighteen and you held the customary royal coming-out/birthday party, the witch turned up and kidnapped Fascia."
She smiled smugly.
The King nodded, clapping his hands together with a soggy squish. "Absolutely perfect, Xena!"
"So you want me to rescue your daughter and return her to the bosom of her family, safe and unharmed?"
The King clapped again. "Two for two, warrior!,'' he crowed.
Xena's smile broadened. "So where's the witch keeping her?''
"In a tower in the middle of the woods," King Capillus said, allowing the Royal Digit Dunker to wash his hands clean of sticky substances.
"Do you have a portrait of the Princess handy? Just so I can recognize her."
"Oh, you'll have no trouble there! Princess Fascia has the longest, finest head of hair in the world! Incredible length, truly. Got it from her late mother," he said proudly.
"Anything else I should know?"
"No, no, nothing at all!,'' the King said, ignoring the frantic whispers of the Royal Advisor.
"But Your Majesty!," the Advisor finally said out loud. "Shouldn't you tell her about the others?!"
"What others?," Xena asked, eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"Well, you see, several months ago we sent out summons to all the heroes in the world,'' the Advisor said, ignoring the King's frantic harrumphing. "Quite a number of them have dropped by..." His voice faltered as he received a fiery glare from Xena.
"You were on the list...," he added lamely.
"Apparently somewhere near the bottom," Xena replied pointedly.
"Heroes! Highly overrated in my opinion," King Capillus said. "Do you know, one poor chap actually tried to fight a rose brush near the tower! Thought it was cursed or some such nonsense. Nearly got his eyes scratched out..."
Xena inhaled deeply, counting to ten in Macedonian, then for good measure in Phoenician, Bactrian and Babylonian before she could trust herself to speak without emitting a piercing warcry that would have deafened everyone within ten leagues. "Okay. I take it these previous heroes had no luck rescuing the Princess, correct?"
"Right." The King shook his head sadly; the royal Crown Catcher tensed but the golden circlet remained in place. "You're...you're..." He snapped his fingers, groping for a phrase.
"The final scraping from the bottom of the barrel?," the Advisor said helpfully.
"No! Our last hope!,'' the King said loudly, trying to fill up the sudden silence.
Xena's stony facial expression might have been copied from Medusa - after she'd been decapitated by a hairy chested hero in a too-tight chiton.
The King continued, "The last, best hope of my poor, kidnapped daughter who's certainly not used to being locked up in a tower with an evil witch who's doing gods-know-what to the blue-blooded, gently reared girl!"
The servants clapped politely at this diplomatic save of a sticky situation.
Xena's fierce blue gaze froze everyone in mid-clap. She said with excruciating politeness, "I see. Well, I won't hold your bad taste in heroes against you, although..."
She paused and fixed the King with such a glare that his crown trembled, before continuing. "...although next time I suggest you call in an expert immediately instead of just relying on the first muscle-bound, lion-skin loinclothed heroic wanna-be who comes along."
The King nodded, blowing his nose on a fresh hanky offered by the Royal Cleanser of Facial Orifices.
"I'm sorry we didn't call on you sooner, Xena," Capillus said contritely. "Will you help my daughter? Will you rescue her from the clutches of that horrible, evil old witch and restore her to her adoring father? She's all I have in the world, my precious Fascia," he sniffled.
Xena sighed. "I'll do it," she said. "You can rely on me."
The King - forgetting about the loaded hanky he held - clapped with such enthusiasm that innocent bystanders were splattered from head to toe.
Xena wrung out her hair and swept from the throneroom with style, grace and what few shreds of dignity she still possessed, riding back to the forest to reunite with the bard Gabrielle - and the never forgotten, all important, completely consuming catalog of scintillating silken naughtiness.
But first, she'd seek a quiet stream and scrub. Hard. With soap. Pumice stone optional.
Having explained to Gabrielle the necessity of delaying their perusal of the Victorix's Secrets catalog - and enduring the bard's wrath and disappointment - Xena led her companion through the woods, seeking the witch's stone tower, there to rescue the fair Princess Fascia.
That nonsense over, the warrior and bard planned on a semi-quiet evening of playing imaginary dress-up and making their shopping lists.
They rode through the quiet forest, Gabrielle sitting behind Xena and clutching the warrior; the only sound they could hear was the muffled thumping of Argo's hooves. It was positively eerie.
"Ooooh, Xena!" Gabrielle said, rolling her eyes all about, "Is this place spooky or what?"
"No spookier than an abandoned temple full of giant spiderwebs and screaming skeletons where rusty-red bloodstains tell of unspeakable sacrifices to some long-forgotten antedeluvian god-like squid thingy," Xena replied with admirable calm.
"Oooooh!,'' the bard breathed, scooting even closer to Xena and squeezing the warrior's midsection until the woman's eyes bulged. "We're not going there, are we?"
"Not until next Tuesday," Xena said.
They rode on in silence until they came to a clearing. In the midst of the grassy glen stood a tall stone tower; so tall a giant could have rested one buttock against it while playing a quick game of craps with his buddies.
Xena and Gabrielle dismounted and walked all around the tower. The place appeared to be deserted, and there was no door, only a window high up near the roof.
"Do you really think Princess Fascia is here?" Gabrielle asked. "Doesn't look like anybody's home to me."
"Maybe..." Xena squinted fiercely at the tower. "Well, there's the rosebush the King was telling me about."
Suddenly, they heard a male voice coming from the forest. "Here I come, my little poopsie-whoopsie!"
After a quick significant glance at one another, the two women dived behind a nearby bush.
A heroic figure burst out of the underbrush. His skin gleamed like oiled copper; his hair was a cluster of golden curls that perfectly framed a square-jawed, dimple-chinned face. The lion-skin loincloth wrapped strategically around his narrow loins only served to emphasize his overly muscular physique.
"I am here to rescue you, my little snuggly-wuggly,'' he cooed. "Oh, Fascia, Fascia, let down your hair!"
A girl poked her head out of the window. "'Ere, 'oo are you?,'' she called.
"I am Longstaffius the Mighty!'' he hollered, puffing out his chest. "Hero extraordinaire!"
The girl sighed. "Bloody 'ell... another one." She rolled her gorgeous blue eyes. "You been spyin' on the witch, roight?"
"Aye, my sweet little bunny-wunnykins! Thus did I, Longstaffius the Mighty, learn of the mystical incantation that will grant me entrance into your dungeon dire for to rescue you from the nefarious clutches of the evil and most abhorrèd sorceress, Fricatrice!"
"Oh gawds..." Princess Fascia hefted a flowerpot from the ledge. "Clear off, you bloody ass!"
"But my precious little oogum-woogums!" Longstaffius struck several manly poses, showing his muscles off to their best advantage. "I'm here to rescue you so we can live happily ever after!"
"Oi said, clear off!" Fascia hurled the flowerpot with deadly accuracy, striking Longstaffius down in mid-flex. "Oi don't needs rescuin' from the loikes o' you! Bloody stoopid fertilizer-fer-brains 'eroes! Gawds!"
Xena and Gabrielle waited until the hero regained consciousness and slunk away, lion's tail draggling piteously in the dust.
"I guess she's under a spell," Gabrielle whispered.
The two women exchanged another glance... and by mutual, silent consent, decided to wait until full dark before implementing Xena's plan.
Fool the probably-under-the-influence-of-an-evil-spell Princess into unrolling her hair ladder, climb up, grab said Princess, absquatulate like a bat outta Hades back to the King's castle, present rescued daughter, poo-poo any praise or reward, ride off into sunset with bard and precious Victorix's Secrets catalog, find abandoned-but-still-quite-nice-warm-and-dry cave, and indulge in some select censored naughtiness with Gabrielle.
Xena was confident her plan would work.
The moon was obscured by trees that grew in thick clusters around the tower.
Xena crept up to the tower, her booted feet skimming through last year's leaves making less noise than a family of mice in the midst of a baked-bean orgy.
Reaching the tower wall, she called, "Oh, Fascia! Fascia! Let down your hair!"
A light snapped on in the window. "'Ere, what took so bloody long?,'' the princess called, leaning out with a candle in her hand. "You said you was only goin' out fer pickled 'erring and them fruit ices what you knows Oi loikes."
"Sorry!," Xena replied, thinking quickly. "They were out of ices. I got you expensive sweetmeats from Gaul instead."
"Oh! Well, ain't that a treat! Half a tick, luv... Oi just put up me 'air fer the night."
Xena waited until the incredible lengths of Fascia's golden hair tumbled out of the window, spilling down to the ground. Taking a firm hold, the warrior nodded to Gabrielle, who had been waiting in the nearby bushes for Xena's signal.
Together, they climbed up Fascia's hair, ignoring the Princess' cries of, "'Ere now! What the bloody 'ell you been eatin', woman? Feels loike you've gained more'n a bit o' roly-poly around them 'ips... ugh! I'd swear there was two o' you! Them bloody chocolates better be worth all this pullin' on me 'air."
Reaching the window, Xena slithered over the ledge first. While Princess Fascia still had her back turned, busily gathering up her hair and muttering to herself, the warrior helped Gabrielle into the room.
Princess Fascia, finally getting her masses of hair under control, turned around. Her eyes widened and she gasped. "Bloody 'ell! 'Oo are you two? Whaddya want?"
Xena smiled. "I'm Xena. This is my friend, Gabrielle. We're here to rescue you from..."
"Oi know, Oi know." Fascia sighed. "Lemme guess. From the evil clutches o' the notorious wicked sorceress, Fricatrice, roight?"
"That's right." Gabrielle glanced around; the room was surprisingly spacious and filled with luxurious furnishings. "Um... you are okay, aren't you? I mean, she didn't hurt you or anything...?"
"Roight." Fascia took a deep breath. "Look, you can tell me da that Oi ain't goin' back to that stuffy old palace. Oi'm a grown woman, Oi am, and I can make me own decisions. I don't appreciates all these bloody 'eroes clutterin' up the place, disturbin' our peace at all hours o' the bloody night - you know some bloody idgit parked his bloody arse roight beneath the bloody window and wailed bloody awful love songs for two weeks? Nailed him with me second-best shoes, Oi did."
"Ah... you don't want to be rescued?" Xena frowned.
"Rescued from what?" Fascia waved her hands around. "Oi gots invisible servants 'oo wait upon me every whim - wardrobes burstin' with bee-yoo-tee-ful gowns - all kinds o' loverly things, includin' joowels - me da never gave me joowels, not even bloody pearls to wear to me comin' out party! - all the noice things a girl o' me delicate upbringin' can possibly want or need - and you want me to go back to that ruddy boring castle with those ruddy boring people? Are you mad?"
Before Xena or Gabrielle could reply, Fascia added demurely, "B'sides, me an' Fricatrice is in luv. We're plannin' on a spring weddin'. Wanna come? I was thinkin' puce fer the bridesmaid dresses an' all..."
As it turned out, Princess Fascia hadn't been kidnapped at all; she'd run away with the fascinating Fricatrice after meeting her at a wine-and-goat-cheese mixer at the castle.
"Isn't she old enough to be your grand-mother?,'' Gabrielle asked, pretending not to feel Xena's sharp elbow poking her side. "I mean, the King told Xena she was basically an old hag."
"Oh, no!" Fascia replied. "'Er mum used to be the wicked witch 'ereabouts. Went stark ravin' bonkers; kept insistin' she were changin' inter a gourd or some such nonsense loike that. Been collectin' bee-yoo-tee-ful princesses fer years... 'ad quite a noice 'ouseful, she did. We sent 'em all 'ome when Fricky put 'er mum inter a loverly 'ospital fer senior senile sorceresses over in Thrace. We go visit 'er every Wednesday afternoon."
"Exactly what do you want us to tell your father?," Xena asked. "He misses you terribly, you know. Can't stop crying..."
"Bollocks!" Fascia said forcefully, a hank of golden hair falling across a wonderously blue eye. "Me da can't stop cryin' ever since he were cursed with ingrown toenails by a wanderin' wizard what he cheated out o' 'is fee. Me da's as tight as a mouse's arse'ole, 'e is, 'angs onter a dinar till the bloody minotaur squeals! Gets what 'e deserves, in me opinion, and that's a fact!"
"Oh." Xena blinked rapidly; this wasn't turning out at all the way she'd imagined and for a moment, her infallible warrior instincts were doing a quicktime jig as they struggled to catch up with events.
Foremost among the warrior's thoughts was the complete waste of time this entire affair was turning out to be, time that could have been better spent with a certain bard and a certain catalog of satiny sinfullness. Xena was torn between cold-cocking the chattering Fascia, grabbing Gabrielle, vaulting out of the tower and racing off into the quiet woods... or just beating her head against the nearest wall.
Gabrielle grinned at the Princess as an idea occured to her. "Why don't you write a note to your father, Fascia? Tell him all about Fricatrice and the upcoming wedding. Xena and I will deliver it to him; maybe when he realizes how happy you are, he'll stop sending heroes after you."
"Oi'll give it a go," Fascia sighed. "But the man's a roight stubborn sunnuva serpent, no mistake! Still... if your Xena 'ere'll put a bit o' the old menacin'-warrior-glare thingy behind it, maybe 'e'll settle down and quit bein' such a bloody idgit."
"Right." Gabrielle glanced up at the semi-sullen Xena and smiled sunnily.
Xena rolled her eyes and replied, "Roight."
All's well that ends well.
After spending an hour or so explaining to the sobbing King Capillus about his daughter's lifestyle choice and determination to remain with Fricatrice, Xena was at last able to convince him that Fascia's happiness was all that mattered.
While the Royal Beard Wringer went into double-overtime, the King - his new tears those of mingled joy and the throbbing pain in his royal tootsies - commanded an informal cocktail party to celebrate Princess Fascia's betrothal.
Xena and Gabrielle were asked to deliver Fascia and Fricatrice's invitation themselves, much to the warrior's annoyance.
That chore completed, the two were then asked to attend the party as guests of honor, and Xena's head-banging option seemed assured.
Afterwards, while a beaming-but-still-weeping King conferred several royal awards, medals and titles upon the stunning Fricatrice - who looked nothing like an evil witch but instead bore a strong resemblance to a cross between an Amazonian Olympic athlete and a sculpture model for one of those decadent Roman artists - and Princess Fascia made the halls ring with her bleats and squeals of complete joy, Xena and Gabrielle were finally able to slip off into the back garden.
Except for a copy of that catalog of concupiscent carnality and libidinous luxuriousness...
And a couple of quill pens, some parchment, raving imaginations and each other.
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