Disclaimer: Xena Warrior Princess and that world of hers, including Gabrielle and all of the others, do not belong to me. They are RENPIC's. I guess, though I don't really know. I won't make any dollars, dinars, drachmas, lira, (or insert your monetary unit) on this story. I didn't write this for money. I'm just telling a story about a little dragon that came to me needing help. So, I suggested he go to the Warrior Princess, cuz I knew she'd help the little fella. And she did, he told me this is what happened·.
I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know what you think. firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to Kam for beta reading for me. I hope I can find someway to repay you.
And a big thanks to the ex-guards for their encouragement and riotous discussions.
Violence: Just like any episode. Still PG anyway.
Spoilers: Sins of the Past
"What's for breakfast Gabrielle?" Xena asked twirling her chakram on her index finger. Lying back on a log that she had fashioned into a recliner, she lazily smiled and looked at Gabrielle expectantly. Birds chirped and crickets screeched, the campsite came alive with nature, but Xena was unimpressed. She sucked in a deep breath and yawned, her chakram rolled side-to-side down her arm as she stretched. "Well?"
"We have two choices, we could have reheated rabbit stew, or we could have rabbit stew that is not reheated." Gabrielle said motioning on one side and then the other. "I think there's a little goat's milk still chilling in the stream."
Xena smiled at her friend. A chirping sound drew her attention to a pheasant scolding a large bird of prey. "How about fresh fowl?" Xena asked, preparing her chakram. "If I do this right, it'll fall into my hands and I won't have to clean it much." Xena said, watching the bird's movements carefully.
A light breeze was blowing and she waited for the fowl to come into view. Xena pulled back her arm and brought it forward. A·choo! Whoosh! Her sudden sneeze sent the chakram reeling out of her hand much quicker than she had anticipated. It flew true but missed the bird and slammed into a rocky outcrop, then off a jutting boulder and finally landing in a thick clump of thorny, leafless shrubs. The bird screeched and disappeared from view.
"Aw, Zeus," Xena said shaking her head. "Well, at least I'm dressed for a climb," she said as she got to her feet. She dreaded going after the weapon.
Xena stretched and bent over lazily. She warmed her muscles by twisting, turning, and standing on her toes, flipping forward and backwards. She pulled her ebony hair back and tied it with a small strip of leather. Xena's cotton shift was loose, stretchable, and easy to climb in.
"Here we go," Xena said to herself. She looked at Gabrielle and smiled. "How about some rabbit stew?"
Gabrielle said, "yeah."
Xena climbed the rocky face of the hill. She found toe and finger holds to be very scarce. She used her whip to secure a firm grasp on a root that had long ago finished its job. Xena climbed hand over hand and stopped to rest for a bit. She felt a give in the leather as she started to climb again. She pulled up to the last five feet. She thrust her right foot into a solid foundation and flipped turning twice mid-air before landing on her feet. Gabrielle smiled and felt relieved that the climb was over. Getting down would be much easier.
"Wow Gabrielle! You should see the valley below!" Xena marveled. "It's truly amazing!"
"I think I'll take your word for it," Gabrielle said. She wasn't fond of high places, nor did she like shear rocky-faced hillsides.
"Hey! You still hungry?" Xena said with her hands behind her back. "How about·" Xena thrust her arms out and held two large: "Eggs!" Xena laughed.
"You're asking me?" Gabrielle laughed with her.
"How about fresh eggs for breakfast?"
"Yes, fresh eggs," Xena said as she juggled them.
"Wow! You're serious. What kind of eggs are they Xena?"
"They're eggs Gabrielle. Eggs are eggs."
"There's a difference Xena."
"Not to me there isn't. Here catch!" Xena leaned over the ledge. Gabrielle's tender feet hindered her a bit so she pulled up the hem of her brown Amazon skirt and waited. Xena dropped one of the eggs, after Gabrielle caught it and put it gently on the ground and Xena dropped the other one.
"They're huge Xena!" Gabrielle crowed picking them up. "I can barely hold them both!"
Xena took her time wading through the thorny bushes. She retrieved her chakram, and she took another long look at the valley. Giving her war cry Xena flipped twice and landed with a soft thud in the tall grass next to Gabrielle.
She ran behind Gabrielle and stayed behind her as Gabrielle tried to get face to face. Xena laughed and grabbed Gabrielle's green shirt and twirled her hard. She spun about ten times and when she stopped she walked sideways. Xena fell on her butt cackling.
"Xena, do you have a wineskin hidden somewhere?" Gabrielle asked in jest.
"Noooo. I just feel good today. It's beautiful today. I'm taking it all in."
Gabrielle smiled. She liked it when Xena was happy like that. She held the eggs and eyed them in confusion. "Xena? How should we prepare these?
"I like mine scrambled," a male voice said loudly.
Gabrielle turned abruptly and dropped the eggs in the grass.
"Like your brain?" Xena said sword drawn and head slightly cocked. She motioned for Gabrielle to get behind her.
"What?" The man snarled.
"Well, I figured you liked your eggs like your brain. Scrambled," Xena gave him and evil grin.
The three men watched the women. One of them was wearing a leather vest. He carried a large club and had a dagger tucked in his suede boots. The talker was grinning through blackened teeth. He wore a thick red and gray beard on his leather like face. Dark black eyes twinkled and stayed peeled on Xena. He held with both hands a large sword with intricate designs. His boots were black with metal trimmings. He also had a dagger in the boots. The third was a smaller and younger version of the talker. His sword had the same designs but was much smaller. He looked like the man doing all of the talking.
"What do you want?" Xena asked.
"Well, breakfast first, and we'll go from there," The talker said and laughed threateningly.
"You look like a capable fellow, get your own. I think you should go, now!" Xena laughed mocking the talker's laugh. She stole a quick glance at Gabrielle; she had slowly retrieved her staff.
"You're not very nice, y'know. We are going to get our own, though. We're starting with breakfast, your breakfast!" The man grinned; he leaned his head toward the boy on his right and motioned for him to step up.
"You could have had breakfast with us if you had been nice about it. I don't feel like sharing now," Xena said sarcastically.
The man leaned to the left and made the same motions as he did with the boy. The three of them started toward Xena. Gabrielle stepped in front of her and rammed her staff tip in the chest of the talker.
"Look, we've enough for a small breakfast. You don't have to do this!" Gabrielle said angrily. Xena looked surprised and then smiled at the men.
"Yea, but we want a big breakfast!" The man said as he brought his sword at an arc at Gabrielle. Xena rolled in front of her and blocked the swipe. She parried the sword and the blade caught the man on the left. He yelped and the talker yanked the sword towards Xena and she blocked the blow sending the blade to the man's right. It caught the boy. Shocked, the talker turned to look at the boy. Enraged he went full force at Xena and she twirled to the side and hit him in the back with the flat of her sword, knocking the air out of him. Gasping, he went after Gabrielle and she blocked him with her staff. Xena quickly disarmed his companions. The man raised his sword and Gabrielle thumped him under his chin, causing him to bite his tongue. Blood spewed from his mouth as Gabrielle landed the tip of her staff in his gut. He dropped to his knees sick at his stomach. He threw his sword to the ground.
"Stop," he screamed. "Stop." He spit blood and rolled on his side.
Gabrielle caught her staff before it landed and pulled it back. Xena held her sword on the other two. She turned her blade to the talker.
"Who are you?" she demanded.
"A traveler down on his luck," he said slowly, not looking at Xena.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and moved her head in Argo's direction. Gabrielle started gathering their gear. Xena kept her sword on the men. She checked their injuries; they were minor. Xena walked over to the fire and picked up the kettle with the rabbit stew.
She poured it onto three large leaves. Gabrielle handed her the bread and Xena broke it into three small portions. Gabrielle gathered all of their gear and prepared to leave. Gabrielle picked up the eggs and put them in the saddlebags she had thrown over Argo. The men did not look at them. They were clearly embarrassed. Gabrielle tapped Xena on the arm and told her through the eyes, everything was ready to go.
"Here's some stew we had from last night on this rock. There's some bread with it," Xena waved Gabrielle out of camp. Xena picked up Argo's saddle and backed out of camp too. She kept her sword and sight trained on the men. They never looked up. When they did finally look at each other. Xena and Gabrielle were long gone.
Seems Like Old Times
Gabrielle kept looking back. "Xena, those men·."
"Pride, Gabrielle, pride. It makes even great men stupid sometimes," Xena said. Remembering that even she had succumbed to it before.
"I feel so sad for them," Gabrielle sighed. "It is really awful. Xena?"
"You think you should get dressed?" Gabrielle grinned.
"There's a river up ahead. I'll get dressed there," Xena said. "Besides, I think the shift is a fashion statement," Xena said looking at Gabrielle with the brow in its usual position and a smile curving the corner of her mouth.
The noise and mist hinted at the height of the waterfall. Xena and Gabrielle traveled the path beside rocks artfully etched by falling water. The midday sun colored the water with rich hues of reds to greens. Growling stomachs demanded attention. Almost as if ordered a large trout rose to the surface of the already rushing water. Another followed, and then another. Xena quickly stepped into the water; its icy coldness caused Xena to shiver and suck in her breath. She almost started hiccupping. A bit later the water settled in its rapid pace. Xena drew a large trout from the stream as Gabrielle watched in amazed wonder. Xena always got her fish.
After the fresh breakfast Xena cleaned and oiled her leathers. She dressed and began the cleaning and polishing of her armor. She took pride in maintaining her protective gear. The armor's shine blinded unseen attackers on more than one occasion and saved Xena from Charon's tales. She oiled and pulled one of her boots on. She scrubbed the other.
"Xena, I think the damp weather has been shrinking my boots," Gabrielle said.
"It definitely plays a role. Here is some saddle soap, coat them good," Xena said tossing the bar towards her friend.
Gabrielle's hand went up and she caught the soap without raising her head. Xena smiled at the sight. Gabrielle kept working. She suddenly stopped mid-scrub and looked at the soap in her hand. She looked up and saw a smiling Xena shaking her head.
"You're good," Xena said.
"Yeah, I meant to do that," Gabrielle answered trying to remove the shocked look on her face that she knew she had.
Xena put her other boot on and gathered her sword and began the drill she started each day with; especially when she didn't have to actually do the moves she practiced. Gabrielle liked the focus Xena used during her exercises. Gabrielle joined her and they began a ballet of movement. Xena with her sword; Gabrielle with her staff. Their fluid moves looked choreographed, both intense, both delighted.
Later, they prepared to leave the site, Gabrielle filled their waterskins and wrapped the remaining fish in a large green leaf. She packed the leaf and bread in a leather pouch that held a surprise for Xena she was getting anxious about.
Xena, sensing her giddiness, tried to get Gabrielle to ride so they could talk easier. Gabrielle smiled and declined, which did not surprise Xena. She shrugged and they set out. They were nearing the bridge where Gabrielle talked herself out of being a roadside snack. She wondered if Xena remembered their second anniversary.
"Gabrielle," Xena poked Gabrielle with the toe of her boot. "Stay alert."
I wonder where one-eye-blind is? Xena thought. Her danger alarm sounding Xena proceeded with caution. She could hear his heavy ragged breathing. The Cyclops was near, but Xena couldn't tell exactly where he was. She motioned for Gabrielle to stop. She clucked her tongue and Argo sped up. As the horse neared the bridge she danced back and forth. De ja vu. Xena plopped off and drew her sword. She waved Gabrielle toward the jumpy horse.
Xena carefully crossed the bridge. When she stepped off the structure she flipped into a mass of bushes and rocks. She crouched and listened intently.
Sniff. Sniff? SNIFF!
"I smell you! Xena!" The Cyclops jumped in front of her and reached down to grab her. Xena jumped to her left and let her chakram fly. The Cyclops pants fell around his legs and pitched him to the ground hard. Again. Just like the first time!
"You did this the last time! Waa!" He cried like a famished infant. "You always make me look so stupid!" He sobbed. Gabrielle led Argo over the bridge and joined Xena. She looked at the Cyclops and smiled.
Sniff. Sniff? SNIFF! "Hey! You! You told me you were gonna kill that she-devil! You owe me her eyes and legs! Waa," the Cyclops said to Gabrielle. "You lied! Waa! Waa! Waaaa!"
Xena looked at Gabrielle, she shrugged and started walking ahead of the Warrior Princess. Xena followed. The Cyclops sobbed until Xena and Gabrielle lost earshot of him. And probably even more after that. They had traveled a mile or so without talking. Xena, deep in thought, kept looking at her young friend. Her stomach growled and she suggested they stop for a rest near a familiar campsite. A stream gurgled by and offered cold water. Xena took Argo's saddle off the horse and draped it over a rock. She then combed the horse's golden body and had her shining. Gabrielle set up camp and reused a small fire-pit.
Xena walked to the stream and sat on a large rock and removed her boots. She dangled her feet in the water and sighed with contentment. She was still in a good mood.
"Gabrielle?" Xena said.
"Hmm," Gabrielle didn't look at Xena.
"Eyes and legs? Wanna fill me in?"
Gabrielle giggled. "I told you about that didn't I?" She still did not look at Xena.
Xena cleared her throat. "Hey you."
Gabrielle brought her head up and when she saw the "Cyclop's wanted" blue eyes she cracked up. Xena gave her the smirk and she doubled over laughing. Catching her breath she looked at Xena with happy tears. "How long has it been?" Xena smiled. Gabrielle pulled out the leather pouch she had packed earlier. "I have something for you if you know the answer," Gabrielle said pulling the wineskin out.
Xena grinned a large, wide, white grin. "Two seasons exactly, right about this time of day," She said to Gabrielle whose gaping mouth betrayed her shock. "I know," Xena laughed.
Gabrielle walked over to the rock and handed Xena a mug. "Exactly! You never cease amazing me," Gabrielle said as she filled Xena's mug and then filled one for herself.
"I have many skills," Xena said after taking a long drink of the cool red wine.
"I know it's early, but I'd like to make camp and just enjoy the day. What do you think?"
Xena pointed to Argo and the camp she had already prepared.
"Gotcha," Gabrielle said.
Two travelers had used the same campsite, two seasons ago. Less than two candle marks later Xena and Gabrielle had settled for the evening and were drinking to their joining together. The evening was comfortable with a soothing breeze that added to the joy of comfort and friendship. They had finished two mugs of wine and Gabrielle filled the mugs again. Both were feeling the warm glow of intoxication.
"Xena, when I decided to follow you I knew I had to do it. I was quiet and quick about it too. I wasn't going to let you run off on me." Gabrielle said her face blushed.
"I didn't think you had your parent's blessings. Not your dad's especially," Xena smiled sadly.
Gabrielle thought for a moment and said, "He probably didn't miss me much. Except for my chores that is. I did a lot of chores."
Xena fingered her mug and grinned. "You didn't leave to get out of chores did you? Cause, if you did, I think you ended up working more than ever."
"No, I liked chores. Chasing the cow, milking the cow, feeding the cow, watering the cow, helping birth the cow·. I hated that cow," Gabrielle laughed, scrunching her nose.
"Gabrielle, I was thinking, we could have fresh milk everyday if we had a cow," Xena laughed out loud.
"Funny! They eat grass don't they!" Gabrielle said as she threw a handful of grass at Xena.
"Seriously though. I think your parents love you," Xena said searching Gabrielle's face. She wasn't sure if she should approach the painful subject.
"Yeah, I guess. I just wasn't the daughter he expected. I saw beyond Poteidaia. I don't know how I knew it, but I knew I wouldn't live my adult life there." She looked at Xena and sighed.
"I didn't expect to stay in Amphipolis all my life either. Hey, we're supposed to be celebrating, right?" Xena wanted to drop the subject; it wasn't the time to deal with heavy thoughts.
"Right!" Gabrielle said raising her mug. "Here's to: Nothing less than, the best!"
"Hey! I take exception from that! Here's to" Nothing less than, not even close to the best!"
"Here's to: Nothing less than, THE BEST AT NOTHING! I think," Gabrielle said tapping her mug into Xena's and sloshing the contents. They both nodded and brought the mugs to their mouths.
The evening sky was a canvas. The sun left its brilliant red light to mingle with the skies bright blues. Together they formed a wondrous sight.
"Wow. Incredible." Xena said. She couldn't remember seeing such a sunset. Maybe because she had only been enjoying them since a certain younger person pointed them out. She marveled at Gabrielle's appreciation of nature's beauty.
Gabrielle marveled at Xena's newfound appreciation of natural beauty. She couldn't help but feel lucky. Lucky she was living the life she dreamed about, and lucky she found a best friend like Xena. Xena added many aspects to Gabrielle's life, excitement, the unexpected, and the very scary at times. She was happy. Very happy.
Her stomach butted in, growling with an opinion of its own. Gabrielle placed her hand over her belly and shushed it.
Xena jumped, she had nodded off there for a second, "What?"
"I didn't mean to wake you. My stomach is complaining again," Gabrielle smiled. "Would you like some of the left over fish and bread?"
"Wine?" Xena chirped.
The fish had been very dry so Xena and Gabrielle had more wine. Gabrielle had purchased three wineskins for their anniversary and they had finished two of them. The warm glow they had had was now a raging feeling of silliness. Gabrielle stood and fell on her rear. She stood again and landed again. The scenery was beginning to trick her with its constant spinning.
"You know somethin' Sheena? Those bushes think they're funny. I aim not buyin' the jokes they're a playin'. Spinnin' like at. Nope." Gabrielle was amazed with the thickness of the words as she spoke them. They seemed to tumble and fall out of her numb mouth. "Do you see me spinnin'?"
Xena looked at Gabrielle with red eyes. She seemed a bit fuzzy around the edges, but she didn't seem to be spinning. Right? Xena asked herself. "Nope. You ain't spinnin'."
"Didn't thank so. I cud unt walk if I'se spinnin'." Gabrielle said as she stood. When she got to her feet she wobbled for a moment, but she didn't fall.
"Wow! Incredibble!" Xena said. Gabrielle took about forty steps into the woods. Normally, it would have been four steps to the woods from where she was. Xena laughed and fell on her backside; she then laughed harder.
Gabrielle screamed. Xena's heart thumped to a grinding halt. Gabrielle giggled.
"What!?" Xena said rising off her back.
"If you bend over and look upshide-down, things stop spinnin' so fast!"
Xena laughed, relieved; then laughed again and considered trying it. "How do you know?" Xena asked knowing the answer.
Gabrielle backed into the campsite bent over and laughing very hard. "I shwear. Don' knock till ya try ta do it!" Gabrielle said in mock anger. "For some reshon I can't walk rite. This ain't real bad if'n you don' look at the groun'."
Xena fell back again laughing. She snorted and coughed and tears were flowing. Her sides hurt; her chest hurt. "Grabrielle you look so funny! If I cud stand up I wud show ya. I can't do it!"
Gabrielle eyed Xena fiercely; a few minutes later she didn't know if she was asking Xena something or, if Xena had asked her something. She decided to wait to see. Xena cocked her head at the way Gabrielle was looking at her. Did she just ask Gabrielle something? Or, did Gabrielle ask her something. She decided to wait and see.
They both sat there studying each other. Gabrielle lost her gaze. "Sheena, why doesh wine make people say things funny? I mean I'm thinkin' the right way ta say somethin' and then I get confueds and sometimes I·. I·. Huh. Uh. Cud ya repeat that?"
Xena said, "What? Did I say somethin'? Did I?" She thought hard for a moment. "Hey, you were talkin' ta me. Not me talkin' ta me."
"Sheena, you confueds me. I forgot what I wash tryin' ta say now. I thin'," Gabrielle said, she was still bent.
"Grabrielle if ya keep standin' like at, you might tip on ya head," Xena said as Gabrielle tried to stand. She bent back down.
"Sheena, if'n I don' stan like thish. I will fall on my butt!" Gabrielle tipped forward. She was leaning on her head and her legs were straight, and she seemed to be stuck like that. "Sheena, do ya thin' ya might be a little bit of help ta me here?"
Xena rolled onto her stomach and arched her back to get in the same position as her friend.
"Why are ya doin' that? Sheena?"
"I need ta figure out how ta help you," Xena said; she was serious. "I never been stuck like that before. I first thought ya really cudn't get stuck like that. But ya know what?"
"Don' tell me," Gabrielle said.
"I was right," Xena said and slipped onto her side. She poked Gabrielle in the ribs and the bard plopped on her side.
"Than's Sheena, if you don' mind, I thin' I will shleep here tonight," Gabrielle almost immediately started snoring.
Xena sat and watched her, after a bit she stood and went to the saddlebags. She tried to open them but had no luck. She dragged them over to Gabrielle's side and started yanking everything out. She kept pulling until she found one of their blankets. She sat down hard and pulled off her boots. She tugged Gabrielle's boots off too.
"You alright Grabrille?"
"Yesh, just shleepy," Gabrielle said and then started snoring again.
"Me too," Xena said sleepily. "We shleep here tonight." Xena pulled the blanket over them both and soon joined Gabrielle in snoring.
The warmth of the morning sun felt good to Gabrielle's bare skin. She rolled over and pulled the blanket around her body and left no covers for Xena. Xena opened one eye, the light slammed into her brain. OW! She thought. Without moving her aching head she looked for and found the corner of the blanket that Gabrielle had stolen. She felt something warm resting next to her ear and neck. She could hear a heartbeat. Whatever it was its skin was very warm. Trying to stay calm Xena slid her hand between the form and her face. She gently started to push it away. A loud screech stopped her. The sound bore into her brain. Gabrielle jumped to her feet and looked hard at Xena, and then at it.
"By the gods," she said quietly.
"What is it Gabrielle?" Xena asked not moving.
"It's a· a baby·."
"You're kidding!" Xena said as she moved quickly away from the infant. She looked at the baby and sucked in her breath. Gabrielle looked wide-eyed at Xena and then at the baby.
"Xena, what kind of baby is that?"
The baby crawled toward Xena. Each inch it crawled, it made a mournful sound and finally laid down when it came in contact with Xena's bare feet. Xena stooped down and looked the baby over thoroughly. "I think it's a baby dragon." A plume of smoke escaped the baby's nostril. "A fire breather to be exact."
"I didn't think there were any real-live fire-breathing dragons Xena!" Gabrielle said dropping down to see the little one.
"Well, This is a real-live baby fire-breathing dragon," Xena said as she examined it head to toe.
"Where did it come from?" Gabrielle asked nervously while looking around the campsite for large dragon tracks.
Xena picked the baby up and walked in the direction the baby had crawled from. She found her saddlebags next to where she had been sleeping. Inside the bag she found eggshells and a complete egg. Xena picked up the whole egg and held it near the baby. The size of the egg and the baby was a near perfect match.
"The eggs you found. They were dragon eggs!" Gabrielle laughed and jumped up and down. Her expression changed as quickly as her color. She went from a light shade of red to an olive green. "Gods, if I had cracked those eggs in a skillet!" Gabrielle ran to the edge of camp and emptied her stomach.
Xena watched in amusement. "Don't take it personally, little guy. She had a lot of wine last night; add that to a vivid imagination. Poor girl."
Gabrielle found her staff and leaned on it as she walked back into camp. She looked at Xena and sat down. "Xena?"
"Gabrielle would you like some wine with your eggs?" Xena said evilly.
Gabrielle jumped up and ran back to her favorite up-chuck spot.
Xena shrugged her shoulders like a child who had just been caught with honey on their fingers. Gabrielle spewed a string of expletives ranging between last nights wine and this mornings bile. She was not happy. Somewhere in Gabrielle's soliloquy Xena heard her name. She decided to play it cool when the bard came back.
Xena smiled at Gabrielle. Gabrielle turned her head quick. "Xena please, that sweet look is disgusting!"
"I'm sorry," Xena said peeping at Gabrielle.
"Sure. Yea, I believe that," Gabrielle said in mock anger. She couldn't stay mad at Xena long.
"Gabrielle, I'm not trying to make you sick again, but this egg hasn't hatched and we haven't had break·"
Gabrielle was gone in a flash. She didn't come back and Xena went to find her with baby dragon still in her arms. Gabrielle was lying in the stream and making little circles in the water with her index fingers. She looked up when Xena came near and grinned a not so nice grin.
"I'm sorry," Xena said. "You didn't give me time to finish."
Gabrielle mentally talked her stomach into seeing the peaceful swirls in the water. She held her hand up to Xena and motioned her away. Xena didn't budge. She sat on the creek bank and waited. A little bit later she felt better enough to say Xena's name without offending her own ears. "Okay Xena. You can talk now."
"Gabrielle, I was wondering what we would feed the baby dragon. I've never been around one and since you've had some experience with baby animals, I was wondering what you thought," Xena said a bit annoyed.
Gabrielle climbed out of the stream and sloshed over to Xena. She removed the baby dragon, gently placed it on the ground, and hugged Xena, soaking her thoroughly. "I just wanted to say I'm sorry." Gabrielle said with a sweet look on her face.
"Uh hmm. Well, about the baby," Xena said. "Do we have any goats milk left?"
"We left it with the stew, remember? Xena, do snakes and lizards give milk? I mean do they nurse their babies?" Gabrielle asked as she patted the dragon's head and rubbed her hand down its face.
"Oh yea, I don't think they do. Hmm, maybe some big squishy bugs or fresh fish would be good for the little fellow." The dragon burrowed into Xena's armpit. "Ya think it's cold?"
"Maybe," Gabrielle said getting some wool material from the spilled saddlebag. Xena wrapped the dragon tightly, and it made a sound like a cat's purr. Xena and Gabrielle smiled.
Xena fished and caught several trout. She cleaned them and Gabrielle cooked them for breakfast. After they ate and got dressed Xena sat and cut several uncooked strips of fish and began making a mush. She mashed the filets and kneaded them with her fingers to make sure there were no bones. She then fixed a dragon spoon by carving an indentation in a wide, dry branch. Gabrielle checked on the dragon and brought it to Xena. She had made a loose paste and had it ready for the dragon. Xena lifted the spoon and smiled at Gabrielle, "Here we go," she said.
Xena pried open its mouth and placed the fish paste on its tongue. At first the dragon pushed the fish out, but then it seemed to have decided the fish was good and chomped and swallowed very quickly. It rooted for more food and Xena fed it and smiled; Gabrielle was amazed as she watched Xena's tender care of the infant. After it ate three spoonfulls the dragon refused to eat any further. Gabrielle picked it up and Xena gathered the rest of its food and packaged it to be saved. She cleaned up the spoon and got herself a drink from the waterskin.
"I wonder if it needs to be patted?" Xena asked her friend. She shrugged her shoulders and checked the mouth.
"I don't know how you would do that." Gabrielle said as Xena walked around her looking at the baby's body.
She scratched behind its ears and the baby slept like a, well, baby. "I guess we're doing something right," Xena said.
"What are we going to do with the little fellow?" Gabrielle asked.
"We'll take him to Phillipos, he is an animal healer friend of mine. He has a small place in Mt. Nestes," Xena said as she prepared a dragon-nest for the small one. She rigged a small round structure and feathered it with soft pine boughs and remnants of the wool material that Gabrielle had purchased. (Just because it was cheap and might someday be needed. Xena never could grasp the logic of that and it didn't occur to her that Gabrielle had not been wrong about the material coming in handy.)
The dragon screeched and clawed at Gabrielle. She wrestled with it and it kept crying. Xena went to her friend and looked the creature over.
"Do you think the food wasn't what it is supposed to eat?" Xena asked a shrugging Gabrielle. Xena took the baby and held it to her chest. Immediately it began to settle and pushed its head under Xena's arm. Gabrielle caught her looking at the creature and sensed Xena's uncertainty about its future.
"Hey! You're the mother of a cute little dragon!" Gabrielle said laughing at an astonished Xena.
The day's travel had gone well; a crackling fire capped off the evening. Xena had fed her child no less than ten times. There was no denying the dragon had imprinted Xena as its mother. She watched it sleep and absently stroked its wool covering. Gabrielle had walked all day and rapidly embraced Morpheus. Xena had entered the between realm of sleep and awake when her attention was grabbed by a slight noise in the woods behind Argo. The horse had not stirred and Xena wondered if she had just awakened for no reason; then she heard the sound again. She knew then she needed to prepare herself.
Gabrielle's easy breathing timed Xena's step. She took one step on inhale and two on exhale. The person who had entered the camp crept up on the Xena's staged bedroll. They checked on Gabrielle and then crawled over to where the dragon was sleeping. Xena's face grew taught and her eyes drew to slits. She had caught up with the intruder and in an instant she had captured the guest and had him pinned. A quick stab to the neck.
"I've cut off the flow of blood to your brain, you have thirty seconds to live. Who are you and what do you want?" Xena said quietly. "And don't wake Gabrielle up."
The guest had gray hair and a slight frame. He could have been called slim without raising a brow. His grey-blue eyes were large and round. He breathed in quick gasps. "I·am Melosh. I ·can't talk too good like this·" He said and Xena could tell he would soon panic. She released the pinch and he coughed and sputtered. Gabrielle was undisturbed.
"Sorry, I don't usually react like that. I'm just tired." Xena found herself apologizing and she didn't know why. She shook her head and held out her arm to the small man. He took it and pulled a flask from his tunic. He took a long drink and offered it to Xena. She refused and studied his face and eyes. The dragon could have taken him she chuckled to herself.
"I'm here about the dragon," He said. "I'm from Thasos."
Xena looked the man over; he would be at least fifty-five to sixty seasons. His pants hung loosely at the crotch and gathered at his ankles. His padded sandals had leather laces that snaked up his ankles and met the snug hem. His tunic covered a bright blue shirt stitched with gold thread and fine embroideries. His clothing looked like royal servants garb. He seemed to be a wise man, but perhaps much to aged to even attempt to tackle her and the bard. Intrigued, she smiled and arched her brow, "Dragon?"
"Yes, I'm here to ask for your help as well," Melosh said.
"Okay, you've got my attention," Xena said and settled herself into a comfortable position.
"I'm keeper of the dragon. I know you have the babe, its mother is with me," said Melosh. He watched Xena, and she didn't react in fear. "You're not frightened?"
"Should I be?"
"No," Melosh said and he smiled. "No, I know you're Xena, the Warrior Princess. I know of you. And she," he motioned toward Gabrielle, "is an Amazon Princess. You're both very famous; I've seen you work as a warlord, and as a person fighting for the greater good."
"Uh huh?" Xena said.
"I need your help Xena, the dragon needs your help," he said.
"Okay, what's the problem?"
"Poseidon allowed our castle to be discovered, and already we've lost the little one's father because of his anger, and without help we could lose more than just the dragon. We could lose a large part of Greece, and thousands of innocent lives too," Melosh said as he took another drink. He waited for Xena to respond. He knew of her bravery and ability to go against the gods and survive. He hoped she would want to help.
"Poseidon became infatuated with the daughter of the fire-keeper in the cavern on my island. She rebuked him and he didn't want to be refused by a mortal. He thought that the reason the young woman refused him was because she was betrothed to a young man whose father kept the fire balanced in the castle built near the volcano. Poseidon had his followers take the young man and demanded that the girl be with him. She agreed, but when her love was freed, he stole her away from Poseidon. The god became enraged and killed the boy. His father was so depressed he failed to keep the fire burning, and the flame has since extinguished. If it is not re-ignited in four days the center of balance will shift and then the volcano will become stronger and active. All of the lives on the island and many on the mainland will perish."
A noise brought his attention to Gabrielle. She slowly opened her eyes, looked around and went back to sleep. Xena watched her friend and thought about the problems that they might face helping Melosh. She had faced Poseidon before. She was not afraid to do it again. She wanted more information and smiled at Melosh and said, "I'm sure there's a lot more to tell."
"Only the infant dragon of the alpha mother can light the fire. The dragons of Thasos Island were given the duty of maintaining the fire. It can be lit only with the breath of a babe. Their innocence is the key to a pure flame which evil can't corrupt or destroy. The mother must pass the fire to the son. Poseidon knows this. He wants the island to die, and he doesn't care how many innocents are killed. He is a vengeful god; a terrible hateful being that enjoys playing with the lives of mortals at his leisure. He wants me to fail and he will attack anyone who helps me. If you decide to assist me you will certainly be his target.
"The dragon's mother brought me to Greece. She's resting and if we don't get the little one back to Thasos before four days then we're in a great deal of danger," Melosh said. He shivered and scooted closer to the fire. Xena waited. "Poseidon's actions cost the dragons a great price. Almost all have been slaughtered. There remain two dragons in the known world, including the little one. Its mother is the only mother left. The father was butchered for trophies by area kings. It is rumoured Caesar has the head of the father. Xena, we have no time to waste. We must return and we must start now."
Xena sucked in a long slow breath. The gods and their meddling always caused needless suffering. "Melosh, do you travel with the dragon with some degree on invisibility?"
Melosh smiled and his eyes seemed to lighten up. "You're very perceptive."
"Yes, we travel in the early morning light, before the sun rises, and after sunset. Sunlight causes Neo's skin to overheat. She is very fast too, so we cover a lot of ground," Melosh said.
"Yes, the baby dragon's mother."
"His name is Ignatius, I mean that is what we call him," Xena said sheepishly. "We, I mean, Gabrielle felt he needed a name."
"Ignatius, very well. I think it fits. His mother will be pleased," Melosh sat back away from the fire and stretched a bit.
"How did you lose the eggs?"
"One of the hunters discovered the nesting chamber a few days ago. He took them to Greece when he left. By the time we found they were missing he had a day on us. We, Neo and I, went after him. We caught up with him and discovered he had traded the eggs to a traveling vendor. We followed her, but she didn't have the eggs anymore. I asked her and she said they'd been in a basket on her wagon when a large bird of prey swooped down and took the whole thing. She chased it, and the bird dropped the basket on an inaccessible, shear, rock-faced cliff. I went to the cliff and saw you and your friend with the hatched baby dragon, and, I have been following you since·."
"This morning," Xena finished for him. "I thought if given enough time, you'd show yourself."
"I'm not a great tracker."
"I wouldn't say that. I didn't catch on until you nearly had the jump on us. Luckily you weren't trying to harm us," Xena smiled. Melosh grinned and shook his head.
"Neo is the tracker. For such a large creature, she can do amazingly difficult things very easily and she is quiet too. Anyway, I saw you had the dragon and he didn't appear to be injured. Did you find both eggs?"
"Yes. But, Melosh, only one egg hatched."
"I know," he said yawning. "Usually the strongest and fittest egg hatches. I just didn't know which egg would hatch, so, I watched both."
Xena noticed he was getting very tired. She suggested that they sleep and start fresh on the journey in the morning. Gabrielle will be amazed, Xena thought, and then settled to rest beside her.
Gabrielle was finally and reluctantly convinced about what happened while she slept, and of last night's conversation between Melosh and Xena. The group had started in the early morning light and had covered quite a bit of ground. They stopped at a stream to eat when a man ran to the water and fell. He took several gulps and turned to face Xena.
"Xena?! Please be Xena!"
"Yes. I'm Xena."
"Please, help me. We're being attacked by some kind of· sea creatures," the man said. He was sweating profusely and had a few cuts that needed attention.
Xena told Melosh to watch the package, meaning Ignatius, and she and Gabrielle followed the man to the sounds.
As they neared the scene of the confrontation, Xena stopped, and the man ran in front of her. She pulled him out of the way, and threw her chakram at a fish-like creature trying to kill a young woman. She then went after two others who were attacking an older woman. She ran one of the things through and back flipped to block another's sword that sought her back. Xena side kicked two and then rolled out of the way of a spear whooshing past her head. She turned to find Gabrielle and threw her chakram blocking another spear flying at her best friend.
Gabrielle fought with her staff and took out three creatures, but they recovered and went at her. She held one and was slammed across her shoulder blade with a large pitchfork like weapon. With an oomph, she landed hard on her rump. She pushed her staff in front of the weapon and blocked its descent as the creature tried to impale her. She rolled to her left and swept the leg-like appendages from under it, then landed her staff in its chest, and knocked the breath out of it. She jumped to her feet and drove her staff into the stomach, and then shattered the jaw of one of the scaly beings coming at her. She had counted fifteen of the creatures and noticed with horror that the beings were not being killed. She searched for Xena with panic gripping her heart.
Xena brought her sword at an arc swinging back and forth and throwing punches with her left hand. Gabrielle ran to join her.
"Xena! We aren't stopping those things! We're not even coming close!"
"I know, we'll just have to keep trying until we do, or·," Xena said breathily. She parried her sword and grabbed her chakram. The things were advancing. At least the people who had been attacked had made it to safety, Xena thought. But, her and Gabrielle's situation looked grim, and Xena wondered if the dragon would make it to its homeland. As she was about to take on the entire bunch, a huge roar startled her into standing still. She and Gabrielle looked over their shoulders to see the biggest dragon that they had ever imagined.
A wall of flame enveloped the advancing creatures and as the flame reached the group they exploded into steam, making hissing noises, and then they just misted away. Xena threw her arm protectively toward Gabrielle and waited. The creatures disappeared. Xena looked and saw Gabrielle watching her.
"Are you okay?" They asked simultaneously.
"Yes," Xena said. "Are you?"
"Yes, I'm fine."
Xena motioned toward Melosh and the baby dragon. They approached the larger dragon and it made a soft cooing like sound. The baby's eyes lit up and Melosh held it up for its mother to get a closer look.
"Xena," Gabrielle whispered. "It's beautiful."
"I know," Xena said watching the mother and child reunited. She knew the feeling, and she knew helping the dragon was right.
The mother dragon nuzzled its child. Melosh smiled and had tears threatening his eyes. He walked over to Xena and reached out his arm. Xena clasped it and Melosh nodded his head. He was finding it hard to speak.
"Thank you," he said and wiped a tear as it started to slide.
"You're welcome," Xena said. "I take it we just had a welcoming from Poseidon?"
"Yes, I'm sure it won't be the last either," Melosh said sadly. "It won't be easy."
"It never is, but, I know what Poseidon is capable of and that gives us the advantage," Xena said as she looked around the wagon wreck site. "I think I'd like to take a look around."
"Sure, thanks again. Until you're paid better, that is," the man said as he hugged Gabrielle.
Xena couldn't find any thing usual about the wagon wreck. Usual as in gear the families used to travel, food, or clothing. The fight was a set up. But by whom? Xena walked around the wagon and she sensed a visitor, he had been following her, and she was going to find out why.
"Ares," Xena snapped and her eyes narrowed.
"Yup, it's me." Ares said as his blue lights announced his appearance.
"What do you want?"
"Ah· What do I always want? Hmm. You!" he said as he stood behind Xena. Putting his hands on her shoulders he said, "Such delicate shoulders, they do carry much too much weight on 'em."
"Ares," Gabrielle said as she caught up with Xena. "What do you want?"
"Umm, not you," he sneered. "Girl, you always butt in. Give us some privacy."
"Don't listen to him Gabrielle, he's thinking wishfully again. We'll be going now," Xena said as she passed the God of War.
Ares grabbed Xena's arm, "I need to talk to you. Alone."
Xena looked at Gabrielle, and she nodded. "I know. I'll go find a butterfly in distress or something." She left.
"Xena, you know I'm always watching out for you," Ares said. Xena crossed her arms. "If you take Gabrielle to Thasos she will die."
"Yes, the bard is the price you'll pay if you take her to the island," Ares seemed to be pleading.
"Why tell me this now, Ares? You've no love for her, and you always want me to be rid of her. This is just another trick. Just like the victims in the wagon. Your doings too?"
"What ever do you mean?" Ares feigned ignorance, but he knew what she was getting at. "Okay, okay, to show you I'm serious about you taking a chance on the bard's life I'll tell ya this. The people of the town are on the way. The wagon was a ploy to make the dragon appear, and now the people in the village are enraged and are coming for it."
Xena heard angry voices coming her way. Ares held his arms toward as if presenting them for her to view. She ran to Melosh and Gabrielle. She figured they had about a quarter of a candle mark to prepare. Melosh held the baby dragon while Neo nuzzled it. They all looked up when Xena ran toward them.
"Get ready to fight, the people in the wagon weren't what they seemed. Protect yourself," Xena said as she stood in front of them. She turned to face the crowd coming at her and waved for Gabrielle and Melosh to stand behind her. "We can't harm them, they're just stupid and scared. This reeks of Ares. Melosh, get the baby and go on, Gabrielle help me stack this wood in a circle." Gabrielle ran to help and before long they had the piles ready. Xena then told the dragon about her plan.
They had the circle finished when the people got to them. Xena looked at Neo and she nodded her head. The dragon's exhaled a large hot breath that incinerated the stacks of wood they had set up and formed a flaming a barrier between them. Xena, the dragon and Gabrielle ran after Melosh and Ignatius. Ares laughter was heard over the roaring flames. No one had been injured and the fire died down safely. They'd made it.
Xena took Melosh, Neo and son to a cave where she played when she was little. The cave was large and had enough room for the large dragon. Xena and Gabrielle made their way into Amphipolis using a secret pathway Xena and her brothers had built. It took just a little under a quarter-candlemark to travel to the tavern, and they arrived undetected. Xena filled her mother in on the events, and Cyrene helped Xena and Gabrielle keep their arrival quiet. Cyrene arranged for a ship, gathered food, and packed various other necessary items in empty meade barrels. She had the barrels loaded on the ship as Toris drove Xena and Gabrielle to the cave. Xena promised she would return home as soon as she completed the quest. They clasped arms and Toris hugged her and left.
Xena knew they had to get going; they were exiting the cave when a crowd of villagers gathered around them. Xena walked out to meet them. The dragon stood behind her. She looked at Neo and then the crowd. "What do you want?" she asked devoid of emotion.
The leader moved to face her. "We're here to stop you Xena."
"Why? What have I done?" she said looking the group over closely.
"You're helping a demon spawn whose mother killed an entire family of peasants near here. We can't let that thing live," the man said. He studied her eyes; he couldn't tell by her face what she was thinking. He raised his sword and pointed it at her. "We don't want to hurt you."
Gabrielle joined Xena and got into a fighting stance. Xena put her arm on Gabrielle's shoulder and smiled. She then turned to the people and addressed them. "You have no reason to be here. You've been lied to," she said anger tinting her words. "Now, we're leaving and you'd better not get in my way."
"No, I'm afraid you're wrong Xena. There are far too many of us, you'll be killed if you fight us," he said, with anger rising as well.
The dragon walked toward the people, and raised her large head. She swept her eyes sideways and growled a low guttural noise. Xena saw the spears as they left the hands of the villagers. She stopped them with her chakram and ran in front of the dragon and held her hands in front of her chest. "Wait Neo! Don't hurt them!"
The villagers stepped back as if choreographed. The dragon raised her head and set her jaw. Wisps of blue flame and dark smoke spewed from flared nostrils with every quick breath. She studied Xena and after a moment she snorted and cleared her throat. Her eyes opened a bit wider and she lowered her head.
Xena turned to the villagers, "I suggest you go back to your homes! Your ignorance may have caused the loss of their island! If I don't return this dragon you'll be consumed by volcanic dust and lava! Is that what you want? Is it!"
The speaker searched Xena's eyes and then the dragon's, he turned to the people and asked them: "Where's the man who reported the dragon? Show yourself and tell me why I shouldn't believe her." He waited; no one responded; he turned back to Xena.
"Once again you've been falsely accused, and we went against you. We wanted to believe you were evil. All I can say· is I'm ·sorry. I'll see you to the ship. No one will harm you or the dragon."
"Thank you," Xena said annoyed. "I think we can make it without you."
"Or in spite of you," Gabrielle said under her breath.
The villagers left. Xena joined Melosh and the baby dragon.
"Melosh, I know Neo flew here, but she's not healthy enough for the trip back. I believe we can get her into the cargo hold, but it'll be a tight fit," Xena racked her brain. The ship would be harder to control but leaving Neo on the mainland wouldn't work either.
A blue flash and Ares appeared. He looked at Xena with a pained look on his face. "If you put the dragon on the ship you're writing your own death warrant," he said to Xena.
"What's it to you?"
"I can help. I could transport it to the island. You've really no choice in this Xena," Ares said with his jaw tight. But Xena, I'll only transport the large dragon. I won't touch the little one. I owe my uncle that much." He watched her.
She knew that the only way they could make it with her is through Ares. Still, Xena worried and considered it. "How can I trust you?"
"You'll have to take my word for it," he said. "I guarantee it will be safely delivered."
"Why?" Xena looked for a reason to believe he was lying. She knew that her decision to allow Ares to take the dragon might be deadly for the creature.
"To say," he hesitated. "I'm sorry for the ambush?" Ares said sincerely. Xena knew he was the only hope the dragon had. She accepted the offer.
Boarding the ship was the easiest part of the journey, and they were leaving at dawn. Two men walked up to the group they wait a second and then one of them motioned for Xena. He offered his forearm. Xena took it, and he shook her arm quickly. "Hello, my name is Ethan, and this is my friend Standish. We were told you needed some hands on the ship to Thasos."
"Yes," Xena said checking out the two men.
"We're good sailors, and we can't get home on another for several more days," Ethan said.
Standish smiled and reached out his arm. Xena took it too. "I'm Standish, we've been at the tavern and the woman there, Cyrene, said you needed help."
Xena's face lightened up and she smiled. "My mom. Figures."
"She said for us to tell you something that will prove we're the good guys," Standish grinned and looked at Ethan.
"Oh really? What was that?" Xena smirked.
"She said, Ares ain't your daddy." Both men watched Xena's reaction and they didn't want to laugh out of turn. She was a legend in swordplay. She smiled and they laughed quietly.
"First, you should know that this wouldn't be a pleasure cruise. Poseidon has a score to settle and he'll be coming at us full force. We might not even make it there at all, although I believe we will. I just want you to know that, and waiting a week might be the safest way home," Xena said. The men looked at each other and Ethan asked when they would be leaving, and Standish nodded in agreement.
The ship was strong and Xena had enough help when two young men agreed to help sail the vessel in turn for passage to their home on Thasos. The sea was calm and Xena knew that was not a good thing. Poseidon knew she would be taking the dragon back to the island, and she wondered what he had in mind for them. It would take two days to get to the island. Xena was surprised when the first day came and went without incidence. After checking the rigging and the overall condition of the ship she retired for the night leaving Ethan at the helm.
On the second morning Xena was awakened by the sound of huge thunderclaps. She jumped to her feet and ran topside. Large black clouds surrounded the vessel and Xena was relieved. Anticipating the coming assault had her nearly unnerved. Nearly. She called out for Gabrielle and she joined her.
"We're headed for some chops, how are you doing?"
Gabrielle held out her blue and deep purple mottled wrist and had her other hand on her stomach. "I'm making it. What do you need me to do?"
A large bolt of lightning slinked across the sky, and its thunderclap shook the ship. Xena searched the skies, grabbed Gabrielle's wrist and headed below. They secured Melosh and the baby.
"We're going to have a tough time for the remainder of the trip. Poseidon's gonna hit us with some major weather. The ship suddenly pitched forward and Xena landed in Gabrielle's arms. Amazingly enough she held her friend and balanced their weight. Afterwards, Xena ran topside with Gabrielle in tow, the rain stung their skin and blinded them for an instant. Xena got to the helm and wrestled with the wheel. Standish dropped the sails and secured them. A boom swung and he ducked catching it as it swept backwards. Gabrielle helped him tie it tightly.
Wave after wave drenched the ship and the rocking pitched the ship from one large swell to another. Gabrielle shut the door to the cargo hold and ran to Xena's side. Talking was futile and Gabrielle motioned to Xena she was going to the cabin. Xena nodded and waved.
Ethan was below with Melosh. He put a large table on its side and had the baby dragon and his keeper sit down there. He covered them with several thick blankets. Gabrielle entered the room and helped Ethan batten down all he could. White crested waves crashed against the hull, lightning cracked and lit up the ship. Thunderclaps deafened them. Xena would tell the best way to fight the storm was to sail directly into it. She had done the maneuver before and hoped she could succeed at it again.
The ship topped each large wave and slammed against the surface. The ship was pushed to its limit and was holding together well. The deluge lasted for hours and Xena's arms were extremely tired. She found herself battling fatigue after being pummeled by debris. She hoped it was going better below.
Gabrielle and Standish were working their way topside when they were thrown against the sides, They pushed open the cabin door and emerged into the swirling mass of water, ropes, and slivers of splintered wood ripped from the deck. A huge wave washed them overboard. Xena caught a glimpse of them as they disappeared over the side. Her heart skipped a beat.
Then like her heart, the sea, the rain, and wind froze. Xena was deafened by the quietness. Poseidon rose from the depths. His right hand was loosely closed and he laughed at Xena's reaction. "Xena, this is not your concern. I want to give you the chance to survive. To give you some incentive I want to show you something," he said opening his right hand. He held Gabrielle and Standish. They weren't moving. Xena's eyes narrowed.
"What do you want?" she said angrily.
"You know what I want. I want the dragon tossed into the ocean for my sharks; they're hungry and they love dragon meat," he laughed.
"What do I get for that?"
"Nothing. You have interfered much to often. You took Ulysses, and Cecrops, and now I'm taking these two. A good trade yes?"
"Go to Tartarus." Xena screamed. She had a large rope tied just below the wheel. She tried to think of everything, and hoped her plan would succeed.
Poseidon sneered and growled at her. "You lose Xena, you have no way out of watching your little side-kick kick the bucket." He guffawed. "Watch, and I hope you suffer." He began closing his fist. Xena untied the rope and swung to the top of the mast. She then grabbed another rope and swung across Poseidon's hand and knocked Gabrielle and Standish onto the ship. Poseidon was stunned and blinked at her speed. A door from the hull opened and Ethan lit a large cannon; a ball of Greek fire ignited immediately as it went straight through Poseidon's gut. The flames shot into his face and he dropped into the water. Xena landed on the deck next to her friend.
The weather died as quickly as Poseidon disappeared. Ethan ran to join Xena. She was beside Gabrielle frantically checking for her pulse.
"Gabrielle! Hey!" Xena said as she gently slapped her best friends face. Ethan checked Standish and he nodded at Xena. Standish started to awaken. Gabrielle still didn't respond. Xena checked her arms and legs, and then as she rubbed Gabrielle's head she felt a large knot on the base of her skull. Xena opened Gabrielle's eyelid and her eye moved in reaction to the light. Xena picked her up and carried her below. Ethan followed her with Standish on his arm.
"How is she?" Melosh asked.
"I don't know," Xena said sadly. "She took a big blow to her head." Xena rolled Gabrielle onto her side and checked on the knot. She rubbed around it with her flattened fingers and as she got near its center Gabrielle moaned. Xena gently turned her over and spoke quietly. "Gabrielle?"
"Ow! Headache!" she said, and Xena grinned and looked up at the men with her and nodded.
"You bumped your head, but I think you'll be alright," Xena told her. "You lie back, rest, I've got to get back topside and get us to the island. I think we bought enough time to make it to the island." Xena looked Standish over he was uninjured, "I think you should rest too."
"Yea, Xena and I can handle it, you rest now," Ethan said to Standish, backing Xena up.
Melosh chuckled relieved that they were okay. He told Xena he would nurse the patients. Xena and Ethan went to the wheel and headed for the island. They traveled for rest if the trip with nothing but clear skies and calm seas. Poseidon didn't reappear.
Melosh directed them to a dock in a hidden cave. Xena helped Gabrielle to the castle and then thanked the two men, and they left. Melosh showed Xena and Gabrielle to a large room located at the end of a lavishly decorated corridor. Melosh had food and wine brought to them and they ate privately. Afterwards, Xena treated Gabrielle's head wound with a poultice, and for first time in several days, they slept contentedly.
A Caving Experience
Melosh patted the baby dragon and its mother watched with glassy eyes. She was dying, Xena and Gabrielle waited with Melosh. The mother opened her mouth and Melosh gave her liquid medication to dull any pain she might have experienced. She didn't get much of it. Her baby nestled next to her body. He gave off a mournful noise and he tried to get his mother to react to him. Gabrielle sighed and tears brimmed her eyes. Xena swallowed hard, the scene was too much for her, and she left the room. She walked down the aisle and went outside to the balcony, and leaned with her head down on her arms. Suddenly she jerked her head up and looked around.
"Ares," she sneered. Xena crossed her arms and stilled herself against a red velvet drape.
"Yes," he said as he quietly appeared. His chest barely covered with a black vest, and his waist surrounded by a thick belt. He rested his arm on the pommel of his elaborate sword.
"Is that your doing?" Xena asked with reddened eyes.
"No. I told you I wouldn't harm the dragon. I delivered it safe and sound," Ares said angrily. "I deliver what I promise; unlike someone else, whose promise is delivered with sneaky maneuvers and cleverly chosen words."
Xena shrugged her shoulders, and didn't take her eyes off Ares. "You've nothing to do with the dragon's condition?"
"No Xena, he doesn't," Melosh said. "She's been waiting, it was her time to pass to her son his destiny."
Gabrielle was behind him. She sobbed quietly; Xena went to her and hugged her. Ares harrumphed and disappeared. Melosh touched Xena's arm and motioned for her to follow him.
"You'll see a big change in the little fellow. He's been given the fire of innocence and he'll deliver the flame. His destiny is in the middle of the cavern. There's a table with the wick of equality, and Ignatius must relight it," Melosh explained as he walked. "The task is to be carried out by the dragon. But, since Poseidon's against the relighting of the fire, he wants him stopped. Ignatius only hope for success is you. The ocean encounter was just a mild step in the long trip."
Melosh opened the door to the dragon chamber. The mother dragon was gone, and Xena heard the quiet sounds of a baby's cries. She looked for the baby dragon and was soon standing in front of him. He had grown five times the size he had been just candlemarks ago.
Xena felt the floor under her vibrate. The castle walls creaked and shook too.
Melosh placed his hand on the wall to balance himself. "It's begun," he yelled. "Are you ready?" Melosh asked the dragon. It made a small roaring sound. He turned to Xena, "You must travel down that corridor," he pointed straight in front of them. "And then down the steps. Ignatius and I will meet you there. He has an entrance of his own. There'll be three doors, two of them are wrong; if you enter them you will be transported to a point of time in your own life.
"A time in which a traumatic event occurred and you've wished you could've done something to stop it. What you choose decides the fate of the island. Your choice must be the right choice. If you've chosen correctly, then you won't have to fight four beings," Melosh hesitated a moment. "There's only one way to destroy each of them, and you won't know what that is until the moment just before it kills you. You've a millisecond to decide. Those are the only options you'll have. It isn't going to be easy. So, consider the outcome of each decision carefully."
Melosh talked to Gabrielle and handed her the staff. "Gabrielle's job is to follow you. She'll be two steps behind you Xena, and what ever you leave behind, she'll face. You've only one day to complete the task. I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to leave and allow the events to just happen. No one would blame you for walking away."
Xena shook her head. "I'll get Ignatius to the middle of the cavern. I don't want Gabrielle involved; I can take care of myself."
Gabrielle started to protest but Melosh stopped her. "Xena, that's the only way. If Gabrielle isn't here to follow you then the whole mission will fail. I don't like it either, but it's pre-ordained."
"As always," Xena said angrily. "Who makes up these rules and riddles anyway? It's like someone sits and chooses to risk our lives."
Melosh watched Gabrielle's reaction, she shook her head, "Xena, we can do this. We can."
"I know, I just·. Let's get to it," Xena said and withdrew her sword.
The cavern walls were coated with slimy green moss. Stairs bent and broken for years led a steep path to the bowels of the castle. The dragon entered through a larger entrance, which was built for it, on the other side of the chamber. The group ended up in the chamber with two doors in and three doors out. Xena wanted to check the doors and tried to see if there were any clues as to what waited on the other side. There weren't any.
Xena examined the doors, one had a large heart in its center, the next had a star and the third had a sword. They were large oak doors with knockers in the shape of a lion's head. Xena wondered if the rusted doorknobs still worked and if she'd be able to open any of them. Large hinges held the doors in place. Xena looked at Gabrielle and shrugged her shoulders. She then turned to Melosh and Ignatius, "Let's go."
She went to the second door, the door with the star and she pulled it open. The door squeaked and cracked but came open very easily. Xena cast one last look at Melosh and Gabrielle and she stepped inside. The dragon was right behind her. She shut the door.
She took slow careful steps. The air in the room was hot and stuffy she labored getting used to it but eventually she adjusted. The dragon's breathing was labored too and he stayed close to Xena. The corridor opened to a large room with two huge windows. Xena went to the wall on the left side of the room and inched her way toward the windows. She hoped Ignatius would wait for her to check out the room and the dragon stilled as if he'd read Xena's mind.
Xena approached a window area; it opened up to a view of a courtyard. Several children were playing and Xena heard her name being called. She watched a little black haired girl; at about the age of nine seasons, go toward her very young mother, Cyrene. Wrong door Xena thought, damn. Xena turned to go back and tripped over her mother's foot. The room, the dragon and the way back were gone
Xena disappeared. Inside the chamber the dragon waited. A strange whirring sound began slowly and then faster, the dragon began to lose his balance. An opening appeared, and Ignatius crawled through the passage. It was a dungeon, he'd been captured.
You can go home again·
Gabrielle cautiously walked through the second door. The room was empty and had two large windows. With her back to the wall she carefully stepped to the window. She saw children playing and her name being called. Gabrielle blinked and faced Lila as she ran up to her and laughed after she threw a bug on Gabrielle's dress.
"By the gods," Gabrielle murmured. She was looking at her sister when she was about five seasons. They appeared to be at a birthday party. Several other girls squealed and ran back and forth across the courtyard.
"Come on girls, your father awaits us," Hecuba said as she grabbed Gabrielle and Lila's arms. They ran to keep up and Gabrielle was stunned to see the young face her father.
The wagon jumped and jolted and it was hard for her to stay seated. She saw her sister and marveled the feelings she was having. Watching Lila playing with a rag doll Gabrielle wondered where they were going. She looked at the road ahead and she saw the sun was setting and her heart pounded with fear. Being a child again brought back the childish fears of the unknown. What would happen now?
"Xena honey, you need to watch where you're going, you're getting to be a big girl now," Cyrene gently scolded her only daughter.
Xena felt a hand tap her back and she turned quickly and saw Lyceus. Her heart screamed with happiness. She grabbed him and hugged him tightly.
"Yuck! Xena!" He yelled. "What's wrong with you?"
Xena pulled back and Lyceus stared at her with confused disdain. She punched him in the gut and he bent over emanating a sound like the noise of water hitting a hot skillet. He regained himself and ran after Xena shouting, "You're dead!"
Xena ran straight to her room and plopped on her bed. Everything was the same, the same simple times of untarnished childhood. A time that could be used to get her life right, before she killed, before she became the warrior princess, before she couldn't sleep because of horrible nightmares, and especially, before she ruined Gabrielle's life. Gabrielle.
Xena felt the softness of the mattress swallow her. It felt good. All of it was good, but was it really? Melosh told her she could keep the world the way she found it if it was what she wanted, and this world was what she wanted. It was too good to change. Until·.
Gabrielle pulled the door open and Lila ran inside. Her parents followed her and she took in her home. It was unchanged except it for a crisp newness.
"What do you think?" Herodotus asked his wife.
Hecuba threw her arms around her husband, "I love it! It's beautiful!"
Herodotus smiled wide, "It's all ours, and I don't owe dinar on it! I paid for it today, in full!" Gabrielle watched her father and his actions. He was so young and healthy, her mother showed happiness she'd never seen, or at least she'd never remembered, and Lila was ecstatic. She didn't remember much about her family when she was a child. Later, family members and friends showed up with food and gifts. Gabrielle delighted in seeing her older family members when they were young. Her uncle Morose didn't have his famous jiggling belly. Her aunts lavished her with attention and she was pleased to have them dote on her.
A man Gabrielle didn't know kept patting her father's back and hugging her mother. She had an uneasy feeling about him, and she figured it was just because she'd never met him before. He helped Herodotus and his brother strung the clothesline in the back yard. The children played tug o war and the grownups joined in. The housewarming pleased Herodotus and Hecuba. They hadn't expected it, but appreciated it very much. The evening progressed quickly and the celebration slowed down. Gabrielle and Lila were sent to bed.
Herodotus had to tend to the animals at the old home site. He hadn't had the time to move them, and now he had to trek to the old homestead. Promising Hecuba he would return in a candle mark, he left.
Gabrielle loved the feeling of her new home. It was an odd feeling though, because she knew every inch of the house. She'd lived in it for twelve seasons. It was too good to change. Until·.
Horses reared and pawed, the people in the village scurried to hiding places. Fear gripped all. Shutters slammed, and doors were bolted. The attackers laughed, they had planned on taking the village, and the people ran and hid, but it was a matter of time until they would need food and water. The well had been secured and it was the only water in the village. Except for the tavern.
"Go to the tavern and secure it!" the leader barked. He stood in the middle of the courtyard screaming orders. "Kill anyone that gets in your way. I don't have time for begging." He turned in a circle as he yelled. "You people should just give up! Do that and your deaths will be quick and humane. Fight me and you'll be lucky if you die before I finish skinning you!"
He grasped the hilt of his longsword; he pulled it up a bit, and then shoved it back. He carried a shield, and wore heavy custom-made armour, but for a man his size it had to be. He had long black greasy hair and sported a thick nasty beard. His skin was pockmarked with scars and scabs. He lived to fight, every minute of every hour of everyday.
Cyrene grabbed her children and took them to the basement. She had enough food and water stored to last weeks. She had a secret room in the basement and she wanted her children to stay there. Lyceus, a lad of eight seasons, and Xena spit with anger. Even at their tender ages they wanted to stand firm. Toris, a small boy, cowered behind his mother.
"Mama we can't just wait. We can help defeat those thieves!" Lyceus begged.
Cyrene cupped his face she was proud of his bravado but she was realistic too. "Oh son, I wish that were so, we have to wait. There'll be a day when we can stand, but not today," she smiled and hugged him. Xena watched the man from a hole in the door from the basement. She could hear the men in the tavern destroying and taking what they wanted. She heard them search the house and crept quietly along side of the wall. She followed their voices. The leader joined them.
"I know there's a woman that runs this place. Find her and bring her to me. Now!" Several feet took off.
Cyrene shushed the children at he sounds of bottle breaking. Xena watched her mother, she was deep in thought and Xena didn't like the look on her face. She saw Xena looking at her and reached for her. She tentatively walked to her mother. Cyrene smoothed Xena hair and caressed her face. "Xena, I think you know what mother is thinking. I believe that I have to go talk to the man to get him to leave us alone. I'm leaving you in charge, and you need to watch your brothers, keep them quiet. Okay?"
Xena's heart shuttered. She knew what kind of man that her mother was going to face. Cyrene hugged her and Xena tried to smile. Cyrene went to the wine rack and turned the button blocking the secret door. Lyceus and Toris waited in the corner and Xena waited for her mother to leave before she went to her brothers.
"I'm going to help mother, you both stay here·."
"No! I'm the man here! I'll go," Lyceus shouted in a whisper. Xena put her finger on his lips.
"No, you're the man and that is why you must stay in case they come here, I'm following to get help. I'm to scared to wait here, only a brave man would wait in the dark and protect his little brother. You see?" Xena's adult mind hoped her child's voice could convince her favorite brother.
Several emotions flashed across Lyceus' tender face. He thought for another second. Toris whimpered and clutched his brother's arm; patting his brother's hand, Lyceus smiled sadly at Xena and said, "I see. Xena?"
"Don't be mad at yourself cause you're scared. Okay?" He said mustering a brave face.
Xena smiled and hugged her brothers. She inched to the door and a tear slipped down her young face. She went to face the warlord. Before she left, Xena quickly glanced toward her brothers one last time, with a heavy heart she pushed open the door and was gone.
Gabrielle tried to sleep, she had slept well the last night in the campsite, but now she was uncomfortable. Tired of fighting her mattress, she crawled to the floor. Her mother nearly tripped over her. She checked on Lila covering her, and did the same for Gabrielle. Then she headed to the outbuilding. Feigning sleep, Gabrielle dreaded the night. She remembered the moment, and she remembered how she wished she'd followed her mother, Hecuba to help her defeat the man who nearly killed her. This time she was going to do just that. She would stop her mother from being savagely raped and being beaten nearly to death. This was the test. She was ready.
Xena became the shadow, she moved quietly and surely. Her mother was ahead of her and she ran sucking in quiet breaths. Cyrene pulled her cloak over her head and slipped into her home. She stopped in the kitchen and got her largest butchers knife. She hid it and walked into the room where the warlord waited. His back was to her, so she took slow steps. He slurped her best red wine and wiped his mouth with a fat grubby fist. She stopped and waited until he made more noise to begin her approach.
Xena also went into the kitchen and got a knife. She entered behind her mother and tiptoed to the bar. She bent her knees and walked duck like behind the bar. The man belched and scratched his behind.
Cyrene stopped in her tracks and waited. Xena waited too. She expected the warlord's lieutenant to walk in at any second. The warlord suddenly stood and leaned on the bar, Cyrene let a small gasp escape. The second in command opened the door as she raised her knife. As he was about to yell Xena threw a knife at him hitting him in the throat. He crumpled to the floor. The leader turned on hearing the sound and his eyes widened in shock just as Cyrene brought down her knife. Her victim dropped too. Xena sighed and terror gripped her she waited for the other men to come running. But at least her mother would never know of the rape and beating she would have endured were it not for her only daughter.
Gabrielle hid in the darkness behind her new home. Her mother was still in the out-building. Her young heart pounded to the beat of the cicadas. She waited. Her mother never knew that Gabrielle had witnessed her rape. She would not have been able to take it if she did. Gabrielle never told her she'd seen the whole event and she hoped she never would.
The man came around the corner of the house and went to the building and peered inside. Gabrielle took an inadvertent breath and held it. Her mother exited the building and started for the house. Gabrielle slowly exhaled as she watched the man duck behind the building. Hecuba opened the door and listened. Something had caught her attention, and she waited. The man, still as a cat, waited too.
Gabrielle swallowed hard, what would she need to stop the beast? Hecuba went inside and started getting undressed for the night. The man slinked up to the window and leered at Gabrielle's mother. She, in the child's body, tried to raise the hatchet her father kept for kitchen kindling. She had a very hard time lifting it above her head. She knew she couldn't wield it against the man intent on injuring her mother. She lowered it and carried it in her arms. She saw the man check and open the door to her home. He slid into the house. Gabrielle waited a moment and did the same. She still carried the hatchet and followed her mother's attacker. She knew the layout of the house better than he did. She went to the door between her parents bedroom and her own. She pulled a length of twine she had played with earlier and tied it around the hatchet handle.
She threw the twine over the door and tugged the hatchet off the floor. The man still watched her mother and was unaware of Gabrielle's presence. Hecuba hummed as she sat on her bed. The intruder waited. Gabrielle threw the other end of the twine over the door and caught it and waited. She then tied the loose end around the door's latch and listened for his heavy footfall. Hecuba left her bedroom and headed for the kitchen. The man lunged at Hecuba. With her mouth clamped by a large hand, Hecuba couldn't scream, so she pulled and tried to get away. They struggled into the kitchen and Gabrielle's trap. She saw them fighting and Gabrielle threw her weight and momentum into the hatchet. It spun and miraculously flew straight into the back of the man's head. THWACK! Hecuba shrieked and moved away from the falling attacker's arms. Gabrielle ran to her mother and Hecuba scooped her up and ran into Lila's bedroom. She closed the door and pushed a chair in front of it. They heard the heavy footsteps coming after them. Someone was at the door and slowly they got it opened. Herodotus ran into the room and hugged his family. Gabrielle heaved a sigh of relief.
Gabrielle and Xena suddenly found themselves together. They took in their surroundings. Xena discovered she had no sword, no chakram, no armour, and Gabrielle had no staff. Xena surveyed the place, three torches, two on one wall and one near a huge, thick, wooden door lit the chamber. It appeared to be built inside a cave, the walls were mossy and damp. The air reeked of mildew and mold. Slave shackles adorned one wall; about ten slaves could have been detained there.
"Xena?" Gabrielle whispered. "Where are we?"
"I'm not sure," Xena answered in a whisper also. "Stay close."
"Don't worry," Gabrielle said as she placed her hand on Xena's shoulder, startling the warrior.
"It's okay, I think this is the part where we fight the beings," Xena said.
"At least we're together," they said in quiet unison.
Xena's heart thumped and she could feel it in her neck. She hated the idea of going into the unknown with no weapons. She narrowed her eyes to get as much light as she could from the dark room. She spotted a loose chain on the floor. She reached for it and Gabrielle let her shoulder go. Xena felt the weight of it and checked the length; it was about the half the length of Gabrielle's staff. It would be better than nothing.
Gabrielle waited. Xena walked to the door and looked back at Gabrielle. She reached for her best friend and Gabrielle took her hand; Xena squeezed and let go. She then felt for the door handle, finding it she pulled. It opened smoothly. "Here we go."
Bright light from the sun blinded them for a second. Both crouched as they exited the room. To Xena's surprise they were on an aqueduct like bridge. It spanned a long distance to the next entrance of the castle, and no one was there. White marbled floors and speckled walls gave a rich appearance. At the end of the bridge was a small balcony. Marble benches lined the walk, and the only way off the bridge was at the other end or turning back. So, they walked across it.
Xena kept looking over her shoulders and the surrounding area. Gabrielle followed in step behind her. Confusion decorated their features; Melosh didn't mention a bridge. Xena's internal alarm blasted, and she listened intently. When they reached the door Xena searched it like she had done the door in the chamber and found pretty much the same result. She pulled the handle and it opened smoothly too. Gabrielle joined her and entered the room. A large velvet drape hung over an arched doorway, and standing under it was Melosh, Ethan, Standish and Ignatius. Xena put the length of chain behind her back. The men didn't seem to notice her movement.
"We heard you might need some help?" Ethan said grinning.
"We also thought you might need these," Melosh said as he offered Xena her sheathed sword and chakram. Standish had Gabrielle's staff.
"What happened?" Xena asked as she wrapped the chain around her waist and then took her weapons.
"Happened?" Melosh asked.
"Yeah, I thought we'd have to fight all of the way to the cavern," Gabrielle asked, she was very unsure of what was happening. Standish gave her the staff.
"Not if you chose the right door, remember?" Melosh said nodding enthusiastically. But his eyes said something else to Xena, as he looked back and forth at the friends.
Gabrielle looked at Xena, and Xena reluctantly nodded. She put her sword on her back, clipped the chakram and said, "I thought we'd messed up there for a moment. Guess I was wrong. Where's this wick I've heard so much about?"
Gabrielle detected a forced calm in Xena's voice; she used it to let Gabrielle know to stay on guard. She watched Xena and Melosh. Ignatius stayed in the background.
"Let's go boy," Xena called for Ignatius. The dragon hesitated and then walked to her, she patted the dragon's nose, and it was cold. She motioned for Melosh to lead the way.
"The center is in the next room. The wick is in the middle of the room. It is on a raised platform and around the bottom layer a fire-filled moat will appear very quickly after the wick is ignited. So, I would suggest that the dragon and Xena be the only one near the wick. The rest of us should wait near the doorway. That way no one will fall into the moat." Melosh waited for a response.
Standish moved in front of Melosh. "Xena since you and Gabrielle have worked so hard to relight the wick, you both should be the first to enter the room, don't you think?"
Xena detected a trace of smoke in the air, she searched the dragon and he was not the source. She saw no evidence of fire anywhere. "What's below us Melosh?"
The old man abruptly turned and looked wide-eyed at Xena. "Why?"
"Never mind. Here we go!" Xena put her hand on the handle. At first it wouldn't budge and she wrapped her hand around the handle completely. The lock fell away after a few moments. "Stay back until the door is opened." Xena pushed the door open.
The room had a large moat around the platform. A bridge led to it, and the wick was located dead center. Two tables in front of the platform and each table held torches. The group entered the room behind Xena and made her way to the platform.
A rumbling sound traveled through the building and items began to fall to the floor. Severe vibrations made it hard to stay on their feet. The dragon padded heavily on the floor and the bridge and the platform moved when he stepped on it.
"Wait! Melosh, you need to keep the dragon back! He's way too heavy with all of us here. Those torches, do they have to be lighted by the dragon and then used to light the wick?" Xena asked staring at Melosh, a mixture of emotions raged in her thoughts.
"I don't know, I didn't know anything about torches," the man said and cast an unknowing glance at Ethan. Xena saw the act, and worked her way to Gabrielle.
"I think we have to light one of the torches and then light the wick. Do you have any idea on which torch it should be, Gabrielle?" Xena said and then raised her brow ever so slightly, but enough to convey her message.
Gabrielle went to the tables and found that each table had a parchment. "Let me see, these are in code."
"Can you figure it out?" Melosh asked watching Gabrielle closely.
Gabrielle studied the parchment intently; she put it back and picked up the other one. "Yes, these are in the old style, this one says the key is the given word, they are to 'begin with: reason and evil, and continue: love and ignorance.'" She went to the other table. "These words are to be connected with the others: goodness and hatred follow, and end with, twilight'." She looked at Xena with a puzzled expression.
"Thank you Gabrielle, we could never have deciphered the parchment," Standish said with an odd tone in his voice, "You've actually figured it out, and the old man's right, you're the chosen ones: the dragon, the bard and her dark protector." He laughed an odd laugh, a laugh that sounded like he might be choking.
Xena drew her sword and grabbed her chakram, but not before Standish pressed a dagger into Gabrielle's ribcage just below her heart.
Xena stood firm. She noticed a trickle of blood on Gabrielle although she made no sound. "What's this about?"
"It's about over, you've delivered the dragon to its destiny, and tipped it in my favor. You see the dragon here is a wick-ed one, and he will destroy the baby and Greece's hope. Rome appreciates your commitment to detail, Xena."
"Caesar!" Xena spat through clenched teeth.
"Yes well, we've stopped the lighting of flame. Greece'll be destroyed along with this island and Gabrielle. But you, Caesar wants Rome to enjoy the death of warrior princess." Standish said.
"You haven't done it yet!" Gabrielle yelled. "Ow!" said as he pushed the dagger into her ribs.
"Gabrielle!" Xena went at them with her sword and Ethan threw a bucket of water on Xena. Stunned she stared in shock as her sword and chakram dissolved in her hands. She said in a breathy voice, "talcamite."
"We're ready for ya! Xena. Now!" Xena turned in time to see the pommel of Ethan's sword slam into her head. Gabrielle screamed her name as she fell, in what seemed to her, like slow motion. Her head rolled in the direction of Gabrielle's voice and then darkness.
Xena's head pounded. She could feel a cold cloth against her left eye and a hand over her right. She reached to pull it away.
"Hey, I've got you," Gabrielle said softly, reassuring her.
"Where are we?" Xena said and tried to get up.
"Xena, please, you've taken a bad blow. Your left eye is swollen shut. You've been out for a candlemark. You need to take it easy," Gabrielle said as she rubbed Xena's temples. "We're in a dungeon. There's a lava pit near us too. That's why it's so hot."
"How's your ribs, I saw the knife go into you?" Xena asked sadly.
"Sore, but there was no permanent damage. You're worse than I am."
"I should've recognized the talcamite," Xena said frustrated with her oversight. "I'm sorry." She sat up and removed the compress. The room had very little light, but enough for Xena to check on Gabrielle and then the door.
"Xena, you need to rest," Gabrielle pleaded.
"Gabrielle, if I don't do something, we'll rest for a very long time." Xena said. She felt the latch and then around the edges of the door. "We sure could use Auto right now."
She noticed the door closed inward and told Gabrielle to stay to the side. Xena ran and dropkicked the door. The lock held, but the hinges, rusted and loose, snapped easily. The door sprang open and to Xena's delight she found there were no guards. Maybe they didn't study me hard enough she thought. Gabrielle joined her. Xena pulled the chain from her waist, glad for another oversight on their part.
"Xena, they had me blindfolded but I counted. We went five paces from the stairs to the cell, twenty five paces down the stairs, and twenty paces from the wick room," Gabrielle said, her heart aching at seeing Xena push back pain.
"Good girl!" Xena smiled. "We can stop them. Let's go."
They tried to run back up the stairs, but their pain slowed them. They took a slower pace and entered the room. Flattened against the wall, Xena heard the men talking; she peeked around the corner and saw Ethan and Standish trying to pull the wick from the platform. She wrapped the chain around her hand and stepped out to confront them. Ethan was the first to see her. He slapped Standish's arm and he turned.
"Well, well," Standish said.
"Where's Melosh?" Xena asked in her most severe warlord voice.
"Dead, yup and the dragon too," Standish drew his sword. "I'll send you to them." He ran at Xena.
He brought the sword down and Xena blocked it with the chain. Ethan didn't fight them. Gabrielle watched him and waited. Standish attacked and tried to get to Xena's blind side. She kept turning and blocking him. He angrily parried and kicked her when she blocked his sword. Standish adjusted his footing and swung at her. Dropping to her knees, Xena grabbed his leg and pulled. His body thumped loudly. He rolled and got to his feet and dropkicked Xena. She sidestepped him, and he flew past her; Standish cursed and hit the wall feet first. On impact to the floor he yelped and grabbed his legs.
Ethan went at Gabrielle; she ducked and got past him. She saw her staff propped against the platform along with Xena's weapons. She moved around Ethan to get to them. He cut her off and hit her in the stomach. Doubling over she swung her left foot out and connected with his ankle. Off balance he swung at her face and missed. Gabrielle grabbed Ethan's collar and pulled him toward her; she fell on her back and propelled him into the wall with her legs. He didn't get back up.
Standish, sensing defeat, tried to run. Xena would have none of that, giving the war cry she flipped twice and stabbed his neck with her fingers.
"You'll be dead in seconds if you don't tell me what I want to know! Where's the dragon?" Xena seethed. She lifted him off the floor, kicked his dangling feet and let him drop on his backside. She wanted answers.
He still resisted; blood trickled from his nose. "Never!"
"Okay," Xena said picking him up and dropped him again.
Landing flat on his back, his chest deflated rather quickly. He'd had enough, "Nnnn·NO! Wait!"
"There in the alcove behind the panel. It's open, see it?" he said pointing to an open passage.
"Yeah," she released the pinch and knocked him out.
Gabrielle tied the men while Xena removed their weapons. She headed after the baby dragon.
After traveling a short distance Xena heard a man's screaming demands, and then Melosh's weakened voice. She looked at Gabrielle and headed into the room unnoticed. A large dragon slept near a huge fireplace. A man in silver armour stood over Melosh's slumped body. The old man, tied to a large oak chair, offered little resistance. The baby dragon's absence troubled Xena.
"Where'd you put the demon spawn?" the man asked evilly, back-handing Melosh. The old man kept quiet. "I'm going to kill you, it's up to you if it's a peaceful death. Talk you old fool! This island is about to blow, you tell me where it is, I'll kill it and put you out of your misery. Talk!" he drew back to strike him again. His stunned expression relayed his surprise at having a chain wrapping around his wrist. "What the·."
He looked at Xena. She studied him. Realizing who he was, she greeted him. "A long way from Rome, eh Brutus?"
"Xena," Brutus breathed her name. He drew his sword partway.
"You're lucky today, ya get to live," Xena said to the shocked statesman.
"Why?" Brutus asked. He dropped the sword into its sheath.
"I want you to give Caesar a message. Tell him, Xena's gonna drop his line," Xena said sweetly.
"You mean drop him a line?" Brutus asked.
"I mean what I said, now scat!" Xena drawled. She sensed his hesitancy and waited. A rumble rolled across the floor.
"Now!" Xena yelled. Brutus secured his sword and ran out the door without looking back.
Melosh wept when he saw Xena. She quickly untied him.
"Thank the gods, we must hurry," Melosh said. "Follow me!" Xena ran after him. The large dragon stayed asleep. Inside the wick room Melosh called Ignatius name. The little dragon didn't appear. "Ignatius, please come to us now." He waited. A shimmer in the corner materialized and a plume of smoke escaped as if the little fellow held his breath. "Good boy." Melosh said and hugged him.
"Get him to the wick," Xena said.
"I'm sorry Xena, this isn't it."
"You see that leaver? Pull it out." Xena pulled it. It turned and an eight sided block sat tied near a hole that was also eight sided. "You've got to put the block inside the hole. But wait! It has to be the right way the first time, or it'll do something we might regret."
"Melosh," Xena sighed loudly. "Okay, how do we know the right way?"
"The clue's in the parchments. Does Gabrielle have them?"
"I do now," Gabrielle said. "I found them in the other room. What order are they to be put?"
"I don't know," Melosh said sadly.
"Okay Gabrielle, we can figure this out." Xena said and a huge rumble jolted the castle. "Hurry!" Xena arranged the parchments. "Let's see: begin with: 'reason and evil, and continue: love and ignorance to be joined by: goodness and hatred follow and ended with: twilight."
The answer struck Gabrielle like an asp. "Xena! Look at the first letters: r, e, l, i, g, h, t, that's it, they spell relight!"
"The letters on the block and the hole; look," Xena examined the block and the platform. Tiny letters etched the wood. Xena's eyes flitted back and forth. "R on the block, R in the hole, e on the block e in the hole, they match. Line them up and drop the block in aligned. Here goes," Xena carefully set the block, it snapped into place and the hole sealed.
The floor started shaking, the platform rocked, Xena's heart thundered. An explosion in the center of the block threw them backwards. Xena jumped to her feet and watch as a thick wick slowly rose from the block. Melosh absently patted dragon. The dragon eyes locked on the wick, and he stilled himself and determinedly crawled to the platform. He tore away from watching the wick and scanned the room. His eyes focused on Xena, then Gabrielle, and finally at Melosh.
Xena went to the platform and rubbed the dragon's warm nose, "you can do it little one."
The dragon coughed and snorted. He violently shook his head and breathed in through his nose. Ignatius spewed sparkling dust into the air. His head moved a bit back and forth. He began to shake and blasted a sneeze. A huge flame shot from his mouth and blasted the wick with a deep blue blaze. Rumbling and shaking floors came to a halt. The dragon let out a long mournful cry. Xena and Gabrielle pulled Melosh to the side. The dragon's head began to shake; He floated into the air and began to spin, faster and faster until suddenly he emerged, stronger and twice as tall. He had fulfilled his destiny and saved the island. A huge flash blinded them all and then they found themselves on the beach.
Poseidon rose from the Aegean.
"Xena," Poseidon voice boomed. "You've saved the island from a conquering evil. The Romans wanted this island to be destroyed, and I, insanely infatuated, almost stopped you. Now I realize what a fool I was. Mount Olympus would've been assaulted along with countless cities and the loss of the lives of our followers. We owe you a great debt. I give you a safe passage to Greece. The volcano's evil will never threaten the island or Greece again. What way can I repay you?" Poseidon asked.
Gabrielle leaned over listening to Xena, and then Xena yelled out to Poseidon. "Restore the young life you destroyed!"
Poseidon roared in anger, and a large bolt of lightning shot past him. He raised a clenched fist to the sky. "So be it!" Poseidon said and dropped into the water.
A flash appeared and the young man sloshed out of the sea. Melosh gasped and ran to the boy; they hugged each other and cried with joy.
"Xena," Gabrielle whispered.
"Yeah," Xena answered watching the reunion. "The boy Poseidon killed was Melosh's son."
"How'd you know?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena smiled and put her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "He told me he was keeper of the dragon, and he said the boy Poseidon killed was the son of the keeper of the fire. The dragon is the fire."
Melosh walked with a new energy. With his arm draped over his son's shoulder Melosh joined them. "It's true. I couldn't interfere by making the task simple. Nothing in life is simple. Except maybe for the love you share for each other and the good you do for others. You make that look easy. That's the gift you offer, and I'm glad I was a part of it. Thank you for giving my son back. I didn't expect that. Thank you." Melosh hugged them and then walked away with his son. Xena and Gabrielle watched until they disappeared over a hill.
Xena looked at Gabrielle, pointed to a ship near the shore and said, "Our ship awaits."
Gabrielle groaned. "Oh, Xena."
"We don't have to leave until we eat. What's for breakfast, Gabrielle?"
"I don't know, what do you want?"
Xena pointed down the beach. "There's a turtle. How 'bout turtle eggs?"
Gabrielle smacked her arm. "You're awful." She laughed, reached for Xena's sword, ran down the beach, dropped to her knees and started digging.
Return to Main Page