Xena and Gabrielle do not belong to me. They belong to MCA/Universal/Renaissance.

The Sauna

Exl, Xena and Gabrielle had traveled to Finlandia by request of Exl's cousin Queen Nali. She had invited them to her village to see how the village was blooming and doing well after the last time they had visited.

They also wanted to do their part of the work , so Exl and Xena went to help in the woodcutting and Gabrielle went to help with the cooking.

After a hard day's work Xena said being all sweaty and having sawdust nearly everywhere:

"I could use a hot, relaxing bath right now." Gabrielle disagreed:

"No, I think a nice cool bath would do wonders." Exl had a brilliant idea.

"I know just the perfect thing we need." She went to Nali and asked in their own language:

"Nali, is grandfather's sauna cabin still in good condition?" Nali smiled and nodded:

"Yes, I had a feeling you might want to use it, so I had it cleaned before you arrived. Everything is ready for you."

"Perfect", Exl said and winked to her cousin. Xena and Gabrielle had no idea what the cousins were talking about, they knew only a few words of Exl's native language but they could tell from Exl's expression that she had something in mind.

About a candle mark later they arrived at a small cabin by a beautiful lake. There was smoke coming out of the chimney and Exl asked Xena and Gabrielle to wait outside while she went to check if everything was ready inside. After she returned, she told them to follow her inside to a room which was nice and cool.

Exl advised them to undress and then wrap a towel around themselves. Gabrielle found this very strange.

"Exl, why are we just standing here with nothing else to wear but our towels?", she asked. Exl smiled slightly and said:

"Well you wanted to have a nice bath didn't you?" Her Couple nodded in unison.

"We don't have that many places where to take a real bath, but what we have is much better", Exl continued.

"What we have is called the SAUNA, it's a way how we bathe. We have these log cabins and inside there's something similar to an ordinary woodstove. But instead of using it for cooking, we have stones on it which are heated to a high temperature with the fire burning below. This is what we call a kiuas."

Xena and Gabrielle couldn't quite understand what Exl was trying to explain.

"Come on in, I'll show you", she said and led them to a big room. It was extremely warm inside. Exl pointed at the kiuas and that's when Gabrielle and Xena understood what this contraption was.

"So what does it do?", Xena asked.

Exl signaled them to sit on the highest of three long wooden benches which were placed against the back wall. Exl took some water into a scoop from a pail of water.

"After the stones are hot enough, we throw water over the stones to produce steam. The steam vapor gives a sensation of increased heat and it is called löyly." Then she threw a tiny splash of water to the stones which sizzled as the water vaporized into steam and it felt suddenly hotter than a moment ago.

As the heat felt a bit uncomfortable at first, Gabrielle and Xena crouched their backs and lowered their heads. To Exl it didn't feel hot at all, the temperature was very mild for her (~135°F = 60°C).

"How did it feel?", she asked her Couple after the heat wave had passed.

"Pretty good actually", Xena said. Exl continued:

"Water is thrown every once in a while and not that much. If you throw too much of it or too often, it won't feel as nice." She took a small bottle and dropped a few drops of very dark brown, nearly black liquid into the water scoop.

"What is that?", Gabrielle asked. Exl winked:

"You'll see, or actually you'll smell it." She threw another splash of water onto the stones and a wonderful scent of wood tar filled the room.

"Mmmm… it smells so good", Xena said inhaling the beautiful scent.

"We often mix a bit of tar water into the löyly water to give the löyly a beautiful scent. It's an old trick to cure the cold, inhaling the warm steam. Our people have always believed that the sauna has healing properties."

"Well I sure feel very relaxed, but it's getting a bit too warm for me", Gabrielle said and wiped her forehead. Exl nodded and said:

"I thought it might, since this is your first time in the sauna, I thought it was best if we started with a milder temperature. Follow me."

Gabrielle and Xena followed Exl outside to the dock.

"It's so nice and cool out here", Xena said breathing the fresh summer air.

"There's something even better", Exl said, dropped her towel and jumped in the lake. She swam around and said to her Couple:

"Jump in, the water's lovely." Xena smiled and dove into the water. Gabrielle wouldn't jump in even though how Exl and Xena tried to persuade her.

"It's so cold", she said tipping her toe in the lake.

"Don't be silly Gabrielle, after the hot sauna this feels so good", Xena said.

"This is an important part of the whole idea of sauna. Please Gabrielle, you have to try this", Exl said and splashed some water to Gabrielle's direction. Gabrielle just shook her head and crossed her arms in front of her. Xena and Exl looked at each other and winked. They dove under water and disappeared from sight. Gabrielle got worried when they hadn't come back up after a while. She tried to look for them but couldn't see them anywhere despite the clear water.

"Xena, Exl?", she tried to call for them. She kneeled at the end of the dock and was scared that something had happened to them underneath the surface. She didn't know what was about to happen, until both warriors quickly emerged and grabbed her by the wrists pulling her with them into the water.

Nearly immediately Gabrielle rose to the surface gasping for air and looked at Xena and Exl who both had a smiling grin on their faces. Gabrielle said furiously:

"Why you, you…" Exl interrupted her:

"Lovely sweethearts?"

"Sneaky warrior rascals is more like it", Gabrielle answered. She wasn't at all amused by the trick her wife and Guardian had just pulled on her.

"This isn't so bad is it my love?", Xena asked. Gabrielle realized that the water wasn't cold at all, it felt so nice and smooth.

"You were right, the water is lovely", she admitted.

"This is the best way of cooling down after the hot löyly. The temperature change from hot to cool feels very refreshing. In the winter we either roll around in the snow or cut a hole in the ice and take a dip in the cold water", Exl explained. Gabrielle and Xena felt a bit chilly even thinking about how cold the winter could possibly be in this northern land. Exl asked them if they were ready for another go in the sauna.

They agreed and returned to the sauna, on the way Exl took along three whisks made of birch boughs which she had made earlier. She gave one to Gabrielle and one to Xena. They just looked at the whisks Exl had handed them with amazement. Exl knew that look and began:

"This is what we call a vasta or a vihta in some places. It's made from the fresh boughs of silver birch and we use it to bathe ourselves. Like this."

She gently started slapping herself with the birch whisk. Gabrielle and Xena copied her and the wonderful scent of birch filled the entire sauna.

"If you slap a bit harder, it will feel much better." She increased her pace and so did her friends. But they had to stop soon, the heat was too much for them. They just sat there wondering how Exl could just go on with her bathing. She was really in her element. She told them it was a polite custom to bathe the backs of others while in the sauna, just like washing someone's back in the bath. So they did, they were careful when they slapped each other's backs. Exl saw that the heat was getting to them, so she tried to encourage them with the thought that when she and her cousins used to go to the sauna when they were younger, the temperature was nearly twice as high (212-230°F = 100-110°C). Gabrielle and Xena thought these people had to be crazy, how could they stand the extreme heat of the sauna and the freezing cold of the winter? After finishing, they all went back outside to take one last swim. Getting up from the water, they wrapped themselves in new, clean bathrobes which Nali had provided them with.

They sat by the sauna, looking at the beautiful sunset. Exl went to fetch them something to drink and brought each of them a big mug of fresh water.

"Exl, you were telling the truth. The sauna is a wonderful place. The Amazon sweat huts are nothing compared to this and I thought they were nice", Gabrielle said.

"I agree, the temperature is lower but the humidity is much higher in the sweat huts. I would choose the sauna over the sweat huts an day", Xena continued. Exl smiled and said:

"I'm glad to hear that. I wanted to show you this because this is an important thing to and amongst our people and because we're family, I wanted you to experience something new and extraordinary."

After a while, Exl stood up and said:

"There is one more thing I think you'd like to know." She took a step closer to her friends and said quietly, nearly whispering:

"It's said that after the sauna cools down somewhat, the atmosphere in there is very intimate and romantic, nearly magical." She winked and smiled after saying this.

Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other and when Exl left to return to the cabin they were staying in, they followed her.

They turned in for the night even though the sun didn't completely set in the northern land during the summer. Exl was woken by a quiet whispering, then she heard footsteps leading out of the cabin. She carefully rose and saw that Xena's and Gabrielle's bed was empty. She walked to the window and saw the door of the sauna close. She had lit a candle earlier and placed it on the windowsill, she saw how the flame was blown out and it was now completely dark in the sauna.

She smiled and went back to bed, being happy that her Couple had really loved what she had shown them.

The only thing going through her mind right before she fell back to sleep, was how was she ever going to get them to stay away from the sauna after that night.

End of "The Sauna"

The series will continue in: "The Goddess' Wrath"

Please let me know what you honestly thought about the story. I am happy for every feedback I receive, it will give me a chance to know what you think about my writing. Thank you all the feedback so far.

To send feedback, write to: exl.theguardian@gmail.com

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