About a week ago, Xena jumped
me and said, "Write this or else." I didn't want the circulation cut off to
my brain, so here goes.
Gabrielle dragged Xena into
yet another inn--crowded, nasty--smelling like a mixture of men needing to bathe;
the stew of the day, slightly charred, and mold. Xena's eyes swept the room
looking for trouble and there it was, surrounded by rowdys. She was a taller,
darker version of Gabrielle, but with a cruel set to her mouth and eyes as hard
as a slaver's heart.
Gabrielle went stiff. She shot
the woman a look, and didn't even turn around before she was halfway back out
the door. The woman took off after her, and Xena stood in her way.
The woman gave her a look that
made her skin crawl. The door shut with Gabrielle probably on the other side
and this hard-bitten someone Gabrielle most definately did not want to see,
on this side.
"Just what in Hades do you think
you are doing?", asked the woman."I haven't seen my cousin in years."
Xena lifted an eyebrow.
"Gabrielle. I don't know who
you think you are, but I'm not giving up. Move."
The woman pushed almost past
Xena, when Xena's arm shot out and caught the woman. She turned and raked her
long fingernails across Xena's neck. Xena grabbed her hand and pounded her fist
into her face. Instead of falling, like most people did, the woman narrowed
her eyes like a cat and stomped her foot at an angle to Xena's knee--not at
all like a cat. If Xena hadn't twisted out of the way, she might have lost a
kneecap. Then she heard Gabrielle's voice behind her.
"Jacosta, leave her alone."
So now Gabrielle was protecting
her. The woman gave her another shove and went over to Gabrielle. There was
no smile or hug, just that circling dance like two curs planning a fight.
"Hello cousin.", said Jacosta,
and her voice dripped venom.
"Jacosta.", said Gabrielle.
"Who is your overly protective
"Do you think I'm going to introduce
*you* to a friend?"
"Still trying to be the white
sheep of the family, huh?" Well I have news. You're no better than the rest
of us. Don't try to be so high and moral. I know who you are. Just watch this."
And Jacosta raised her voice to address the whole inn.
Hey everybody, I want to introduce
my cousin, Gabrielle, granddaugter of Eccarius and great-granddaughter of Celefacles."
Somehow the room emptied within
seconds. Gabrielle looked at Xena, apologetic, then back to Jacosta.
"You know, I really hate you
Jacosta threw an arm around
Gabrielle with a wicked smile.
"I knew you had it in you."
Xena was beginning to really
dislike this Jacosta woman. She usually didn't let her emotions cloud her thinking,
but this woman was playing mind games with Gabrielle--trying to make her part
of that detestable family. Xena knew Gabrielle's heart. She put a hand on Gabrielle's
shoulder. She could feel her stop shivering. Xena turned to Jacosta and asked
the question that wouldn't leave her mind.
"What do you want?"
"I'm renewing old family ties.
Getting to know my cousin..."
"Yeah, right. I repeat, What
do you want?"
Jacosta moved with easy grace
to the table she had been standing at, and picked up her wooden and leather
mug. She swung a leg over the bench and sat, swinging her other leg up and over,
showing her calf as she did. She smiled insolently at Xena.
"Name your poison. I'm buying.",
she said, waving her hand over the table.
Gabrielle winced. She sat where
she could see Jacosta's hands. Xena did the same.
"Hey, innkeeper--some wine,
aw why not, some ouzo over here."
The innkeeper ducked behind
the bar. He bobbed up with an open bottle. Gabrielle frowned.
"No. Make sure the bottle is
opened by me, with my own hands."
The innkeeper got another bottle,
well covered with dust. Gabrielle smiled. He had obviously heard of her family.
Gabrielle and Xena got out their mugs. Gabrielle opened the bottle, sniffed
the contents and poured a tiny bit into her mug. She tasted it, then passed
it to Xena.
It smelled okay. She tasted.
It was Ouzo alright. Nice and strong. She nodded to Gabrielle, who poured them
each a mug full, then some for Jacosta. Xena noticed how careful Gabrielle was
to keep the bottle out of Jacosta's reach.
Jacosta leaned forward, treating
Xena to a view of her breasts.
"Gabrielle, did you know grandfather
left an inheritance when he died?"
"So what? He killed my father.
I don't want anything of his."
"Think what you could do with
your half of it. Ten thousand dinars. Your mother and step-father could live
in comfort the rest of their lives. Your sister could stay single forever and
you could help so many struggling young bards..."
Xena could see Gavrielle waver.
This was the sort of thing that was Gabrielle's weakness. Xena knew there was
a trap in there somewhere. She also wondered why Jacosta had made such a point
of introducing Gabrielle to the whole inn. Probably had somebody planted. She'd
have to watch Gabrielle's back.
Gabrielle nodded slowly.
"Five thousand dinars would
do a lot of good. What do I have to do?"
"Ten thousand, Gabrielle. He
left twenty thousand dinars. He knew our family well. Two of us have to claim
the inheritance. That way we have to work together. We can't kill each other
before we get the money."
"Why is it I don't feel comforted
by what you said?"
"Hey, at least I can't kill
you just for sport--and you know I would. It's just that we have other cousins."
"How many?", asked Xena.
"At last count? Five.
"I wonder how many, really.",
thought Xena. "I'm not sleeping tonight."
"Where is your room?", asked
"The end of the hall, next to
Xena glared at Jacosta. "How
did you know that?"
"It was the only one empty.
Relax. The place we are going is just a couple of days away. It's grandfather's
old lair--a series of caves and traps. You'll love how clever he was."
Jacosta got up, waved goodbye
and sauntered to her room, moving her hips seductively.
Xena looked Gabrielle straight
in the eye.
"Why are you doing this? You
know you can't trust her."
Gabrielle flushed, then frowned.
"I want to help people, and
with that kind of money..."
"You can't spend it if you're
dead." And why is it important for your sister to stay single? Does she like
Gabrielle dropped her voice.
"She can't stand for anyone
to touch her that way--men or women. She's always been like that. My parents
don't understand and Daddy wants her to get married. She just wants to be left
alone. I can't see her somebody's housewife/servant for the rest of her life,
having children against her will. She'd rather kill herself."
Xena tried to imagine hating
sex. She couldn't. But she did understand being different. She also knew Gabrielle
really loved her sister. And Jacosta? She knew Gabrielle's weaknesses all too
"Xena, I'm starved. Let's get
something to eat and then get to bed."
"I don't think we want to eat
anything we haven't prepared ourselves. We have plenty of food. Let's just eat
in our room."
Gabrielle looked grave. The
danger was finally beginning to sink in.
After a quick dinner from the
food in Xena's saddlebags, Gabrielle sat down on the bed. Xena went over to
the bed. She shed her armor and gambeson, and then sat down to take off her
boots. She changed her mind. Xena kissed Gabrielle deeply, knowing distractions
needed to be kept to a minimum, then laid down across the door way, sword at
the ready. She looked back at Gabrielle, who was sitting on the bed.
"Go to sleep. One of us needs
to be alert in the morning."
"Gods, I get so tense watching
her all the time. But you never know if she's going to slip something into the
drinks or food, or stab you with a cleverly hidden dagger. The funny thing is,
she says she's considered the soft one in my family."
"Gabrielle, I thought you didn't
know your father's family." Xena sighed. She knew Gabrielle wanted to talk.
Gabrielle got out of bed, draped a blanket around herself and sat next to Xena.
"She came to my betrothal celebration--uninvited.
Momma just figured she was there either to kill us or poison the guests. I caught
her trying to seduce Peridcus. And she laced the wine with henbane. Everybody
had a *very* good time, but I learned not to trust her. We can't let her near
food and we have to watch her hands constantly."
"Sounds like a few warlords
I've known. Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Wev'e gone over this. Hold
me, at least, since you want to watch the door so bad."
Xena put an arm around Gabrielle
and held her close. There were times Xena felt so contented--then immediately
guilty because she felt she didn't deserve such contentment. She booted the
ugly thought out of her mind and kissed Gabrielle. They touched their cheeks
Soon Gabrielle was dozing. Xena
gently laid her on the floor and wrapped the blanket to cover her. She gave
Gabrielle another kiss and let a light sleep settle around her.
The sound that woke her was
the door being eased open. Xena tensed her hand on the hilt of her sword. The
man emerging from the door held a sword at the ready. He made the mistake of
holding it in front of him at an angle. Xena lunged, knocking his sword from
his hand. She put his head in a half-Nelson and pulled him further into the
room. As she spun him, he fell heavily, like a sack of turnips, only with a
When Xena turned him over, she
could see the family resemblence. She felt Gabrielle behind her.
"Was he trying to kill me?"
"Are you going to cut off the
circulation to his brain?"
Gabrielle walked over to the
man sprawled on the bed.
"I saw you try to do it to that
merchant last month. Stiffen your fingers--yeah, like that. Okay, now *this*
is the spot Poke hard, yeah, like that."
And Gabrielle grinned as she
said "I've just cut off the circulation to your brain you'll be dead in thirty
seconds unless you tell me what I want to know. Who are you?"
"I'm your cousin, Phillip.",
he said, his face turning purple.
Who are you working with?"
"My brother, Lucas. Release
me, please.", he choked.
Gabrielle looked at Xena, who
showed her where to twist his pressure point free. Gabrielle freed him, then
her grin turned to anquish as she remembered.
"Xena, what about Jacosta?"
"You watch him, I'll check on
Xena ran to the room next door,
and when she pulled the door open, saw Jacosta standing over a dead man with
a bloody dagger in her hand.
"Lucas, I presume."
"You're dead right. You didn't
leave Gabrielle alone, did you?", she said in a tone which implyed that Xena
was stupid. As Xena backed out of the room a terrific crash came from the room
she shared with Gabrielle. She raced inside to see a broken window, the laticework
gaping open in the middle and the cold air blowing through. Gabrielle stood
"Gods, What happened?"
Gabrielle turned, her face unreadable.
"He jumped. He thought he could
get away, but he didn't know there was a ravine just below our window. I think
Xena felt Jacosta behind her.
"Good job, cousin. I'll go bribe
the innkeeper. It wouldn't do to leave two dead bodies out in the open."
And Jacosta sauntered over to
the innkeeper's rooms and knocked. While she talked with him, Xena looked into
"You didn't push him."
"No, but Jacosta wanted you
to think so. Please, Xena, just have faith in me. I'm not like the rest of my
And Xena closed the distance
between them, taking Gabrielle into her arms. "I know you aren't like *that*
part of your family. And I trust you--I've trusted you with my life."
"It's so cold in here."
Xena took her blanket and draped
it over the broken window.
"I think the drama is over for
the night. Let's keep each other warm."
"How warm?" and Gabrielle took
Xena's hand, leading her to their bed. They got in and held each other under
Gabrielle's blanket. After a few kisses, Xena placed one big hand over both
"I want to be alert. I love
you too much to let anybody hurt you. Understand?"
"So that's why we're sleeping
with your sword, huh?
Then they held each other closer
yet, drifting into a light sleep.
In the morning, as the light
hit the blanket over the window, Xena was already up, dressed and armed. Gabrielle
stirred, then slowly opened her eyes.
"Jacosta?", she asked.
"She came by a few minutes ago.
She wants to get moving. Probably has an ambush she doesn't want us to miss."
"There's good in her--I can
feel it.", said Gabrielle.
"Are you sure your judgement
isn't clouded. She's family after all, and you are very big on family."
Gabrielle took Xena by the hand,
touching her face with her fingertips.
"When are you going to trust
my feelings? I found you, didn't I? Xena, she's never known anything else. You
and I had mothers who loved us, family we loved. She grew up where hate was
honored and love laughed at. She learned that life was cheap. She needs to unlearn
"We thought that about Callisto,
"She was insane. Jacosta knows
what she's doing."
"That's what worries me."
Jacosta rapped on the door,
and when Gabrielle opened it, she frowned.
"You aren't even ready yet.
We need to get going."
"Why?" Xena knew the word held
all her suspicions.
"After last night? I'd think
it would be obvious. I want to be there first so that Gabrielle and I can get
our inheritance. I perfer that we make it in one piece."
Gabrielle combed her hair quickly.
Xena winced as she looked at that top. It brought back memories--one funny by
now, the other sad.
Xena had been eleven years old
when her mother was still trying to domesticate her wild daughter. They had
gathered onion skins, madder root and a huge pile of nettles. Cyrene had shown
Xena how to use gloves to pick up the stinging leaves, and how to boil them
in water to make a dye. They fished the nettles out and died the familie's new
chitons, shirts and bracches. Then they rinsed over and over until the water
finally ran clear.
The madder root had produced
a bright red, and Xena had hoped that something of hers would be dyed, but Cyrene
and Taurus's clothes got the bit of red dye. The onion skins had surprised Xena.
They made a bright yellow. Xena had begged for something in yellow, and was
rewarded with a blouse that looked like a bit of sunshine. Now most of the dye
was gone. A skirt remained, just Xena's size. She watched as Cyrene had mixed
the last bits of dye together to get the single ugliest color Xena had ever
seen in her life. She knew better than to ask that the skirt remain white. Xena
had an exceptional talent for finding dirt. They put the skirt into the dye,
and sure enough, it had come out the exact color as Gabrielle's top.
When Gabrielle had been wounded,
the bloodstains had ruined her blouse. She had alread cut down and re-dyed her
original clothing, but the blood had hardened the cloth and it chaffed, so the
bard had carefully cut off the offending spot, and was left with a much smalled
top, still sprinkled with her own blood. Xena had gathered all the dye plants
she could find, but it was the wrong time a year for many of them, and so all
they could do was to mix them together. So, here was Gabrielle in that AWFUL
color. Xena again wished she had enough dinars to buy something decent for her
Xena shook herself out of her
reverie and inventoried her weapons--chakrum, sword, breast dagger and throwing
knives. She hoped it would be enough. Xena picked up the saddlebags and waited
for Gabrielle to get her big pouch and staff.
They got on the road promptly.
Argo shied away from Jacosta, as if to say, "Beware this human." Xena patted
her and rode on, her eyes sweeping the area for danger.She frowned as she noticed
Jacosta and Gabrielle talking like old friends. Gabrielle wasn't paying enough
attention to the sides of the road and they were thickly wooded. It was then
that Xena hear something. She tensed. So did Argo. Xena felt a spear headed
for her. She closed her eyes, zeroed in on the feelong and plucked the spear
out of the air. Her adrenalin was pumping now. She felt alive and alert and
only slightly embarrassed to hear herself laugh out loud.
The problem with attacking someone
with a spear is, if you miss, there is nothing more to fight with. The young
man who threw the spear at Xena suddenly realised this, and took to his heels.
Argo was right behind him. What happened next was not Xena's fault, as one of
those narrow, very deep canyons opened up just ahead of the spear thrower. He
didn't see it in time, and fell in. Xena could hear his cry, but it was too
late, and she and Argo barely stopped in time to keep from joining him.
Xena wheeled Argo around to
check on Gabrielle, for if Jacosta had planned this ambush, Gabrielle was is
great danger. When Xena bust into the clearing, there was the other thug, lying
dead at Jacosta's feet. Her blade was covered with blood, and her face with
a smile. Xena looked at Gabrielle, and knew that she was at the end of her patience.
Even Gabrielle had her limits.
Gabrielle glared at Jacosta.
"Quit grinning and put that
thing away. I think we should bury this one, no time for a funeral pyre. Let's
cover him with rocks and get out of here."
So they gathered rocks, and
covered his body, then Gabrielle led them down the road, watching for an ambush.
She chose the place to camp, set up the watches, and told Jacosta not to bother,
She and Xena were used to this sort of thing. So they took turns guarding the
camp--partly from intruders, mostly from Jacosta. Xena was very proud of Gabrielle.
The next day, they set off down
the road again, and the countryside changed. Limestone boulders, then cliffs
rose above them. They could hear water far below, and trees hugged what barren
ground they could find to grow in.
Then they turned a corner and
towering over them was a cyclops. He watched them placidly as they approached.
"Hello Pirro, how are you?",
"I am well. Who is this with
"This is my cousin, Gabrielle,
and Xena Warrior Princess."
Xena couldn't help squirming
at the hated nickname. It had been given to her by peasants she had attacked
to show how ignoble her behavior had been in their village. The name had stuck,
and she winced every time she heard it.
"Why is she with you? She is
not family. Only the living descendants of Celefaleus may enter his lair."
"Only the living?" asked Gabrielle.
"Yes. That is to keep them from
killing a cousin and dragging the dead body in to bypass the rule that two must
"If someone has been to the
underworld, are they living or dead?"
"The living have been there
Orpheus has, as has Heracles."
"What is their body has been
in Tartarus for a week?"
"Then they are dead."
"Okay, then Xena is dead." And
Gabrielle smiled her prettiest smile.
Soon the cyclops smiled too.
"Alright, I'll let your friend
And he stepped back to reveal
the entrance to the cave. Jacosta lead them. About twenty steps into the cave,
she stopped and lit a torch. Then motioned everyone to stop. She pointed out
a trip wire. They all stepped over it.
"What was that?", asked Xena.
"It sets off about ten arrows.",
They continued cautiously, Jacosta
obviously looking for something. Finally they came to a hole in the wall. Light
shown from the cave roof onto a curious set of markings. Jacosta looked at then,
and as the ray of light was about to hit a mark, she shouted,
They backed up fast as a blast
of steam jumped out of a hidden geyser. It whooshed out of the ground so hot
they could feel the steam on their hands and faces. Then it was gone.
"Run.", said Jacosta. And they
ran to another crook in the passage. Jacosta stopped then and got out a mirror.
Xena was beginning to wonder how Jacosta knew all the traps so well. She aimed
the mirror around the corner, then smiled.
"The trap ahead is very creative.
Grandfather somehow aquirred the head of Medusa."
"The one that turns you to stone
if you look at it?", asked Gabrielle, her voice rising to a squeek."
"Yes. I know that Perseus' shield
is on the wall above the head, and if I hold the mirror just right, I can guide
us around the head to the other side, where we can't see it. You'll have to
close your eyes, though. I can't have you turning to stone on me."
And if there was anything Xena
did not want to do, was to close her eyes and trust Jacosta to guide her and
Gabrielle past Medusa's head.
Xena glanced at Gabrielle, who
didn't look too thrilled at the idea either.
"Come on. It's a small mirror,
and we can't all guide us. I know where to look."
"Just how is it that you know
where to look?", asked Gabrielle.
"I'll tell you later. Let's
So Xena took a deep breath and
put her hand on Jacosta's shoulder. She felt Gabrielle's hand in hers as they
followed Jacosta around a bend. They were lead slowly, as if Jacosta was having
trouble. Then they rounded another bend. Suddenly Xena's foot stepped on something
that felt too much like a human hand. The passage stunk, as if something dead
was in there with them. Xena couldn't stand it anymore. She remembered her experience
with Gabrielle in her world, so she kept her eyes shut.
"What's taking so long?"
"You can look now.", said Jacosta.
Xena gave Gabrielle's hand a
squeeze, to warn her to delay opening her eyes until Xena saw if they were really
safe. Then Xena slowly opened her eyes. No Medusa head assaulted her eyes, but
her nose was definately under attack. She looked down, and she was standing
on a dead man's hand. Xena moved her foot, and looked at the poor, bloated remains.
Gabrielle opened her eyes too.
"Who is--I mean, was he?", asked
"My brother, Creon.", said Jacosta.
"So that's how you knew all
the traps and things. Then why did you need us?", ask Gabrielle.
"I'll show you.", and they followed
Jacosta as she entered the chamber with the money in a chest and the biggest,
scaliest dragon Xena had ever seen.
"I see your problem. Gabrielle,
do you still want to do this?"
"We need Jacosta to get out.
She has the mirror."
"Oh, yeah. Then I guess I fight
the dragon.", and Xena drew her sword.
The dragon glared at Xena with
huge, yellow eyes. She felt like a mouse stalking a cat. The dragon drew its
head back as she approached, then thrust its head forward and fire poured out
of its mouth. Xena jumped and backflipped out of the way, but she could see
singe marks on her arm guard. This was going to be a real challenge. She tried
sneaking up from behind the beast, but its enormous tail sent her flying. As
she thudded into a cave wall, she stood, and tried to shake her brains back
into order. She remembered talking to Heracles about his fights with monsters.
She had an idea.
"Gabrielle, give me your staff."
Gabrielle threw the staff to
her, and Xena caught it handily.
"Somehow, both ends of this
thing need to be attacked at once. Any ideas?"
Gabrielle looked around the
room and saw a glaive hanging on the cave wall. It still looked sharp and the
weight would add to her strength. She got it down and swung it up, over her
shoulder. Xena have her warcry, and as the startled beast opened its mouth,
Xena stuck the staff inside, so that the mouth was propped open. At the same
time, Gabrielle swung down on its tail. The glieve chopped halfway through the
tail, causing a roar of pain from the dragon, and a spattering of blood on Gabrielle.
She pulled the blade out of the tail, and chopped again. Dragon's blood spurted
up and covered her as she chopped through the tail. As the great beast lifted
up its body, Xena plunged her sword through its heart. She winced as blood flowed
over her from her shoulders down, covering her left side.
"Yuck! This is sticky."
"Tell me about it. My old Gepid
granny used to say that dragon's blood makes you impervious to arrows and swords.
I hope she's right. I'm red all over."
The Xena noticed what was missing
in all this.
"The money is missing too. You
were right, I shouldn't have trusted her. By the way, how are we going to get
out of here?"
Xena had a sixth sense about
caves. Going back seemed dangerous and foolish. Xena felt another opening somewhere.
"Let's see if there is another
Gabrielle, still holding her
weapon, nodded. They took the torch from the wall and looked for a passageway
leading away from Medusa's head. Gabrielle found it first.
"Here. It's small, you'll have
to duck down."
They eased through the opening,
and followed the passage until it opened into a huge room. Water dripped into
a pool, and both Xena and Gabrielle gasped as they saw the beautiful animals
painted on the cave roof. Horned beasts, and antelopes, graceful horses...all
looking alive and real.
"These are wonderful. I wonder
who painted them? The muses sure inspired whoever it was.", said Gabrielle.
And Xena laughed at herself
because as lovely as the paintings were, she was more interested in the pool
of water and cleaning the blood off. She picked up a pebble and dropped in in
the pool. It hit bottom really quickly. Xena touched the water, and then tasted
it. It had a calcium taste, but no trace of poison. Xena also noticed that the
water was faily cold. She set the torch between a convenient stalagmite and
the cave wall, and washed the blood off her hands, arms and body. Gabrielle
would need far more than this quick dip into the pool.
"Is it cold?", she asked.
"Not very cold, but not warm."
Gabrielle climbed in, fully
clothed. She began to shiver.
"Not very cold, she said. Ha!"
"I'm sorry. Let me help you."
And Xena helped Gabrielle wash
the blood off. It was kind of nice, finding the beautiful bard under the red.
She helped Gabrielle lean back as she washed her hair clean. Xena was tempted
to warm the bard another way, but they had to find a way out of the cave. So
she indulged in a kiss to the lucious lips, then pulled back. Gabrielle wrung
her hair out, then arose out of the pool, dripping.
"Brrr! I wish I had a blanket."
Xena grabbed the torch and held
it close enough to Gabrielle to warm her. She could see her relax as her muscles
felt the heat. They used the torch to get Gabrielle partly dried, then sought
a passage out of the huge room. Xena found it, part way up a wall. she pushed
Gabrielle up to the opening, then followed. The passageway immediatly opened
up into two. Now Xena and Gabrielle had to figure out which one to take. Xena
stuck her head into each one. The one on the left had a breeze blowing through.
"This one.", she said.
Gabrielle followed as they eased
their way along a very narrow pathway. The ground began to drop away at an alarming
rate, as the path rose upwards. They had gone a good long distance, when the
inky black of the chasm below opened as if to swallow them. Remembering the
fate of the Assassin, Xena held Gabrielle back as she searched for another side
to the path they were standing on. It was above them, a stalagmite guarding
the way. And it was too far for Gabrielle to jump. Xena knew she was afraid
of heights, even the warrior's stomach was queasy about this one.
Xena pulled out her whip, flicked
it out to the stalagmite and watched as it wrapped around the stone. She tugged
on it, making sure it would hold Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle, I know you won't
like this but,..."
"We have no other choice. I
know. What do I do?"
"Pull yourself up there with
my whip. I'll help you ar much as I can."
She could feel Gabrielle shaking.
If it had been in her power, she would have given Gabrielle wings so she could
fly up to safety. Gabrielle grabbed the whip, and pulled herself up, hand over
hand. Xena held her, gently easing her up as far as she could reach without
losing her own balance. Xena held her breath, as Gabrielle climbed up to the
stalagmite, then crawled over it, to the path on the other side. Now it was
Xena's turn. She lept, using the whip for leverage, and grabbed the stalagmite
in her hands. The rough rock felt good and solid. She scrambled over it to the
path, and jerked her whip free, returning it to her belt. Then she realized
that she had left the torch behind.
"Son of a great stinking Griffin!
I can't believe I did that. What was I thinking?", said Xena.
Gabrielle just smiled and pointed
to a big pile of dry reeds set on a shelf in the cave.
"Someone has been here before,
and probably did the same thing."
Xena picked up the bunch of
reeds. She handed most to Gabrielle, then holding them tight, she got her flint
and iron pyrite out of her pouch and struck a light. The reeds burned brightly.
They went on down the widening path, and entered another big room. The bones
of a bear were laid out. They were arranged as if the bear was an honored friend.
They went around it, then started looking for a way out. There appeared to be
nothing ahead but blank wall.
Xena was about to scream with
frustration, but that would be breaking the Big Warrior code, so she just swore
under her breath.
"Sweet Hera and all her sisters."
Xena sat down to think, then
felt a breeze against her hip. She looked again, and the narrow slit in the
wall could just be squeezed through if they were careful when they breathed.
"This is it, Gabrielle."
"This little space?", and again
Gabrielle's voice ended in a squeek.
Poor Gabrielle. Xena would have
to treat her to something special after all this--if they made it--no they *would*
make it. Xena eased herself down and pushed her feet through the opening. She
twisted and turned as she worked her way through, all the time thinking of another
crawl space in a cave she and the other children of Amphipolus knew, and dubbed
by Taurus, "Fat man's misery." This opening was smaller even then the other.
Her breastplate scraped on the rock, then she was through. Gabrielle handed
Xena the reed torch, then her feet appeared, slowly, she was working her way
through. Her hips twitched, then Xena heard her sob.
"I'm stuck. Oh Gods, what will
Now Gabrielle began to laugh.
Xena's chest constricted as she thought Gabrielle was hysterical now.
"Xena, do you know where your
sword is?", asked the Bard.
Xena reached back into her scabbard
and clutched empty air. Her heart began to beat wildly. First Gabrielle was
stuck in a cave wall, and now her 500 dinar sword was gone.
"No. I just had it in my scabard."
"I found it. That's why I'm
stuck. Just a minute."
Xena winced as she heard the
sound of metal scraping rock. She was afraid Gabrielle would get cut.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine. There just wasn't
room for both the hilt and pommel of your sword, and my--er, breasts. I'll bring
Then the flame burned Xena's
hand, as she dropped the reeds and they burned out. The dark was so deep, she
felt as if she could run her fingers along it.
"Don't forget the dry reeds.
The light just burned out."
"Swell. I hope we aren't right
above another drop off."
Xena heard Gabrielle grunt,
and strain, then felt her foot bang into her leg. She grabbed Gabrielle's foot.
"Well, I found you. Where are
"Let me find your hand."
They both fumbled at each other,
then their hands connected. Xena felt the reeds in her hand. She held them tight
as she felt for her flint and iron pyrite, She struck them together, and saw
that she was nowhere near the reeds. She moved her hand and tried again. She
felt as if she needed three hands. The spark landed on the reeds, and Xena blew
them into a flame. Now she could see a dirty and disheveled Gabrielle. She expected
she didn't look any better. She looked around at the new passageway. It lead
upwards again. Xena stood, her leg throbbing a bit from where Gabrielle had
kicked her. Gabrielle stood too, handing Xena her sword and they began to follow
the passageway. The flame flickered, an indication of air moving. They traveled
on, wordlessly, tired, and half afraid that there was no way out. The passageway
opened up more and more, then they entered a dome shaped room. From the top
of the roof, a single beam of sunlight shown through.
But, the roof was out of reach.
No handly stalagtite was nearby. Xena knew she could jump it, but Gabrielle
could not. Rather like the cave she and Solon had been in.
"I'll have to boost you. Let's
see if you can reach the hole." Xena watched Gabrielle swallow her fear. She
lifted Gabrielle in her arms, and up, so that Gabrielle could stand on her shoulders.
"I can reach. But, how will
you get out?"
"No problem, I can jump it."
And again the bard grunted with
the exertion. Finally she was out. Xena put out the reed torch and got a running
start, then lept, catching the rim of the hole. She pulled herself up and came
face to face with the single, huge eye of the cyclops.
Xena pulled her self out and
rolled along the ground, then stood. If this cyclops had hurt Gabrielle...!
Then Gabrielle appeared next
to her. Xena wanted to hug her, but what did the cyclops want?
"What are you doing here?",
she asked, more bravely than her stomach felt.
"I didn't see you leave from
the front of the cave, so I suspected you would try the back way. Did you even
know there was a back way?"
"No, but we found it."
"And you killed the dragon."
"How do you know", asked Gabrielle.
"In the first place, you have
blood on your clothes. And in the second..."
Then the air began to waver
and shine, as the cyclops turned into an astonishingly beautiful woman with
full breasts and hips.
"Gaia.", said Xena and Gabrielle
"Who else would know everything
that happened both on and under the earth? You did well. The dragon slipped
out often and terrorized people for miles around. And you were very clever to
find this other entrance. I have something for each of you."
Xena looked at Gabrielle. She
was suspicious of the Gods, after her experiences with Ares. Gaia gave Gabrielle
a glaive, with a stout leather scabbard. To Xena, she gave a heavy leather bag.
Then she motioned, and Argo appeared. Xena's heart lept. She had been worried
about how to find Argo. Gabrielle was thanking Gaia. Xena knew she should too.
She shifted from one foot to the other. She didn't like to be in debt to the
"This was your father's weapon,
before he gave up fighting. It is your legacy. Take good care of it.", said
"Thank you so much. I always
wanted something of his.", said Gabrielle.
Xena swallowed hard, and spoke
before she lost courage.
"Thank you for the gift.", she
Gaia laughed, and the sound
was like a brook running over stones.