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In Olden Days
Xena and Gabrielle walk among the blossoming apple trees. Argo stops to graze on the dark and long green grass. The hero and her friend sit down under a large apple tree, with blossom shadows dancing like leopard spots on their skin.
Xena leans back against the tree trunk and looks between the burgeoning branches at the sky. Gabrielle reaches out her hand to catch a single blossom, broken loose by the breeze and floating on the soft air to the ground. It drifts into her palm, and with a puff she blows it away. She looks at Xena and smiles.
"Thank the Gods for such a day and such a place," Gabrielle says, "it's a balm to the spirit."
Xena leans her head back and closes her eyes. The rough bark of the tree against her skin feels strong, solid and eternal.
Persephone smiles. She has been admiring the orchard herself. Many mortals credit her with such wonders of fertility and beauty. To hear such praise, if only from the Great Hero's friend, is pleasing. She waits behind a tree to hear more.
Gabrielle scoots back against the tree by Xena. She too closes her eyes and does not see the orange, blue, yellow, red, extremely furry caterpillar making its innocent way down the trunk of the tree on a direct course with the top of Gabrielle's head. When it reaches the red-headed obstacle, it moves forward determinedly and unperturbed, down the center of the red field, the middle of the forehead, between the eyes, and stops when it reaches the tip of the nose, apparently choosing this precipice to gain a vantage point of its multi-shaped surroundings, dissimilar in the extreme to the straight tree trunk it had just navigated.
In a state of doze, Gabrielle wrinkles her nose. The caterpillar clings. Gabrielle slowly opens her eyes, which immediately and involuntarily meet in the middle to stare in astonishment at their new neighbor.
"Uh! Great Zeus and Pluto!" Gabrielle jumps to her feet brushing frantically at her face. "Oh yuck!" The rainbow caterpillar is sent flying and inches away nonchalantly in the cover of the orchard grass.
Gabrielle looks up to see Xena, sword at the ready, eyes opened wide. Gabrielle puts up her hand. "It's okay, just a bug, sorry."
Xena puts her sword away in the back scabbard. "Don't do that!"
Gabrielle gives her a crooked, sheepish smile.
Persephone's temperament has taken an immediate and plunging turn, from kindly affection toward appreciative mortals to Olympian anger at their careless attitude toward their gods, speaking their names in vain, particularly about a bug! And, to add further insult, the vixen had used the name of Persephone's own father!!! Ingratitude!. She cared little of what was said of Pluto, but Daddy!.
Of course, Persephone did not consider herself a petty goddess, she was far above such mortal peevishness. But it was her duty to teach mortals valuable lessons when such opportunities arose. As the pair walk back to the road, Persephone sets off on a course to meet them..
Xena, Gabrielle and Argo walk down the road. Xena hums softly and Gabrielle smiles to hear it.
A young, beautiful woman steps from the side of the road to follow behind them.
"Red Hair!" Persephone calls to Gabrielle.
Xena and Gabrielle twirl around to face her.
"Hello," Gabrielle says, "me?"
"You know who I am talking to, Mortal!"
Xena's eyes narrow.
"Mortal?" Gabrielle asks, "what do you mean?"
"You know what I mean! And if you don't know, you will!"
"Who are you," Xena asks in a low, dark tone.
"Xena, Great Hero, don't you know Persephone? I am Persephone." She pauses for a reaction that she doesn't get from Xena. However, Gabrielle's jaw has dropped in a satisfying fashion. "We all know you, Xena."
"The daughter of Zeus and Demeter!" Gabrielle exclaims.
"Persephone, you have a problem?" Xena asks.
Persephone has moved to within inches of Gabrielle's face. "Yes the daughter of Zeus, whom you must know very well since you fling his name around so freely at the slightest provocation." She starts to jab Gabrielle in the chest with her index for emphasis. And if YOU think that YOU have the right to use MY FATHER's name for your petty pathetic attempt at coping with your piddling mortal trials, you have SOMETHING COMING to you MISS STICK!" She grabs Gabrielle's staff and tosses it a league away.
Xena is standing, legs flexed, hands clenched. Gods are not usually opponents that she has the fighting skills to deal with.
Gabrielle watches her staff fly over a nearby hill and disappear. "No!" She turns and looks at Xena. "Xena?"
Xena cocks her head, "I'm sorry Gabrielle, let's move on."
"But Ephany gave me that staff, first I lose the head and now I lose the whole thing!"
"Couldn't be helped," says Xena, "let's GO." Gabrielle looks back toward where her staff last flew and then she and Xena turn to leave.
"Oh, Little Miss Stick," Persephone calls out mockingly. The pair keep on walking. "One more thing."
Gabrielle keeps walking, Xena turns around. "When you use our names, our attention is pulled to your sad humdrum world from whatever we're doing, wherever we're doing it. I think you should have a taste of what that's like." Gabrielle turns around to listen.
Persephone looks upwards, pondering. "When anybody uses the name of any of us around you, you will no longer be in this world.. Oh no, Xena," she says as she sees the Warrior Princess involuntarily start toward her, "she won't be dead. I could never do that to the Great Hero's companion, you're so popular 'up there.' She'll just be temporarily indisposed. And if anyone uses my father's name, her time Apart will be very great indeed."
Persephone disappears. Xena and Gabrielle are standing in the road, staring at nothing.
"Persephone!?" Xena calls menacingly out to the sky.
Gabrielle's eyelids drop, her muscles relax and she crumbles to the road, sound asleep.
Xena stares at the sleeping woman in surprise, then she looks back to where Persephone disappeared. "This is going to be a delight.."
In just a minute, Gabrielle is awake. Xena is crouched beside her and helps her up.
"What happened where'd Persephone go?" Xena flinches. Gabrielle drops.
In just another minute, Gabrielle awakens again. Xena, crouched beside her clamps a hand over her mouth. "Shush!"
"Per . . .oh henbane, the goddess has cursed you. When anyone says the name of any of the gods, you fall asleep."
"What?!" Gabrielle gets to her feet.
"Don't ask. They just love that kind of thing."
"What are we going to do?"
"Beats me. I guess we'll move on to Arphus and talk to a priest."
Xena and Gabrielle arrive at the outskirts of Arphus. Xena walks over to a tree and pulls moss of f the bark. She starts stuffing it in Gabrielle's ears. Gabrielle looks suprised for a second, then disgusted and resigned.
Xena steps back and reviews her solution. Bits of moss stick lopsidedly out of Gabrielle's ears. Xena tries, ineffectually to tuck them in, then gives Gabrielle's mossy ears an encouraging pat. "There you go!" she says cheerfully.
"What? Gabrieelle begins to yell. "Oh, never mind! I was feeling like I needed to lose what little dignity I had left! IT'S A GOOD IDEA!"
Xena clamps a hand on the top of Gabrielle's head to keep it looking at her. She puts her finger to her lips and mouths "Too Loud." Gabrielle nods and shrugs..
Xena and Gabrielle enter a tavern. They sit down at a table on a couple of stools. When the barmaid comes over Xena asks her for a chair with a back on it for her friend. The barmaid and the tavern owner bring back the chair. Gabrielle looks at it, puzzled. Xena gestures that she should sit herself down in it. Suddenly, Gabrielle gets the picture and plunks down, with an appearance of long-suffering .
The barmaid looks strangely at Gabrielle's moss antennae. Gabrielle smiles brightly at her. "HOW ARE YOU!!?" Xena puts a finger over Gabrielle's lips and shakes her head No. Gabrielle mouths Sorry.
Xena orders food and wine. When the barmaid leaves, a man at the table sitting next to them points at Gabrielle who is smiling with no clue as to what is transpiring. He says to Xena, "I think your friend has already had a few too many sips from Bacchus's goblet."
Gabrielle head falls backwards against the chair, her hands drop to her sides and her mouth falls open. Xena grabs her and makes sure she's steady in the chair. The man at the next table nods knowingly at Xena who gives him a grim smile and grants him a nod back. She pulls the moss out of Gabrielle's ears.
Xena is finishing off her lunch. Gabrielle's food is untouched, she's still sitting, head back, mouth open, asleep in her chair. Xena stands up to leave. She grabs the edge of the cloth table covering and whooshes it out from under the tableware, none of which dare to move an inch. She takes the cloth, wipes drool from the corner of Gabrielle's mouth, gets a couple of dinars out of Gab's bag to pay for lunch, puts Gabrielle's food in the bag, then crouches down and lifts Gabrielle over her shoulder. Out the door they go, Gabrielle's arms dangling, her head bouncing against Xena's back.
Xena walks toward the outskirts of town, where the priest lives.
Gabrielle's face is pressed up against the small of Xena's leather-clad back. "I'm awake, Xena," comes a muffled proclamation. Xena puts her down. Gabrielle adjusts her clothes, shakes her head. She gives up, dignity will not be had till this particular predicament is solved.
The Hero and the Bard arrive at the priest's humble hut. As they near the door, it opens and a thin, serious-looking man steps out, beckons them with an arm outreached.
"I knew you were coming. I've been waiting. May the servant of Z.. mmmmfp!" Xena has muffled him with great speed and an accurate hand.
"Apparently you do NOT know why we are here." She takes her hand away.
"You are right child, I don't. Come in and tell me"
Before Xena follows him inside, she turns to Gabrielle. "You stay out here."
"Well, I couldn't say for sure, but it's possible that a priest of the gods might have a tendency to MENTION them occasionally. I don't know, what do YOU think?"
"All right, Xena. You don't have to be like that. I'll stay out here and talk to Argo. I hope SHE hasn't developed religious tendencies."
Xena kneels on a mat inside the priest's hut. He is looking out the small window at Gabrielle. He turns back to Xena.
This is a very large matter. A direct spell from a goddess in her presence. You only have two real recourses.
"What are they?"
That Persephone (Xena's head snaps to look out at Gabrielle who is fully awake and talking animatedly to Argo, hand gestures and all) . The priest draws her attention back. ". . . Ahem . .. as I was saying . . .that Persephone spontaneously decides to revoke the spell, she isn't a bad sort really. The problem with that is the time continuum . To her a short bout of petty revenge could be a year to your friend.."
"That alternative is unacceptable," Xena says. "What else have you got?"
"My child, I am not a street merchant."
"There is another course that you yourself can take." The priest pauses for dramatic effect.
"Let's have it . . .Oh Wise One."
"You must petition the gods in person."
Xena looks out at Gabrielle.
"I was afraid of that."
Xena and Gabrielle walk away from the priest's hut. "Goodbye, my children, good luck," he calls out to them. They turn, wave back and return to their path.
"May Iris be there to greet you."
Xena grimaces. Gabrielle plops to the ground.
It's dusk. Xena walks along, leading Argo, with Gabrielle across the horse's back. The bard snores sotly, snorts out some horse hair, flails, coughs and falls to the ground.
Xena pulls her up by one arm. "Be careful!"
"You should talk!"
"You sleep longer every time.."
They settle into camp for the night.
(Gabrielle, of course, can't sleep and stays up all night staring at the stars and retelling her stories, silently to herself.)
After traveling many days and many miles and meeting no one (thankfully) they reach an open plain.
"Xena," Gabrielle says dismayed, "where are we? We're in the middle of nowhere!"
Xena stands at the edge of the plain. The wind blows back her hair. She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes.
"It's the wind, Xena."
Gabrielle closes her eyes. She takes a deep breath. She hears the wind, then she hears . ..
A voice, it's singing, no talking, there's more than one, they're singing, no it's instruments, is it the ocean? Are they at the ocean? The wind feels colder.
Gabrielle opens her eyes. Before her rises a mountain blocking out the sky. A purple, looming mountain with cascades of snow. White clouds gallop like flying wild horses around its shoulders. Xena has already started forward with Argo.
"Where are you going?" Gabrielle asks her, struggling to make her voice louder than a frightened whisper.
"Straight to the top," says Xena without turning around.
They climb a switch-back trail, up and up and up. They wear their sleeping blankets to protect against the cold wind. Xena is in front, leadinng Argo. Gabrielle is behind, wishing she had her staff. She is freezing cold.
"Xena, we'll never make it to the top before sunset, and we'll freeze to death in the night."
"Keep walking, Gabrielle, we'll make it."
They walk for hours. Gabrielle notices she isn't cold anymore, she isn't tired, and sunset has never come. Xena has taken off her blanket and put it in Argo's pack, Gabrielle does the same. She hears the sound of rocks falling and turns to see a herd of small goats climbing quickly up the mountain. Their hair is long and the color of pearls, glinting in the sun. They scrabble around the human travelers to continue up the hill. Argo whinnies and shakes her head. Xena smiles at her, ties her lead to the saddle horn and pats her. "You go play." Argo gallops up the path ahead of them, following the goats.
Gabrielle is beginning to feel like her mind isn't anchored to her body. These switchbacks aren't as sharp and steep as she thought. The rocks are multi-colored and beautiful and the plant life . . .The Plant Life?!
Gabrielle looks up, They are not on a mountain, they are walking through a tended garden with shrubs, flowers, trees and winding paths. A man walks toward them. He calls out a friendly "Hello!" He wears loose-fitting trousers and shirt, the shirt has a hood that is over his head.. Gabrielle can't look away from his brown eyes that are drinking in Xena. Xena smiles like a little girl.
"Xena, you are one of my favorite mortals." He turns to Gabrielle, she looks into those eyes and feels like swimming. "How are you, young woman?"
"I . . I . . we . .. I"
Xena is getting nervous, how can she keep the leader of man and gods from speaking his name. But he appears to be aware of the predicament. "I'll let your friend introduce me at a . . .more appropriate time. Come."
They follow him down a path and are almost immediately at the door of a beautiful marble palace with scores of towering pillars. On the portico their are a group of 100 in robes, watching the host's every move. As he crosses the threshold into the palace they sing in ringing harmonies:
"Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh. Oh-oh-oh-oh. Oh-oh-oh-oh, Migh-ty ZEUS!"
Xena is just in time to catch Gabrielle from falling to the ground
At the door of a large bedroom Xena, on Zeus's direction, hands Gabrielle over to a towering eunuch. He lays Gabrielle down on the bed and walks to stand by Zeus and Xena. Handmaidens surround Gabrielle. They change her traveling clothes for a blue silk gown that looks like it was woven from the sky. They open the window and let the clean breeze into the room, rustling the bed curtains. A handmaiden sits at a spinning wheel in the corner.
Athena steps in behind Zeus and Xena. "Xena, I am pleased to see you here. Zeus, I don't think we should let Aphrodite see THIS one, we'd be in for a hissy fit. And your friend . ." Athena walks over to the bed and looks down at the sleeping Gabrielle, "Persephone told us about this." She pushes Gabrielle's hair back. "She looks like a cherub, doesn't she. Of course, they're always different when they're awake, mortals I mean."
Xena walks to the foot of the bed and sits down on it. She rests her hand on Gabrielle's form under the cover. "This mortal is a cherub when she's awake."
Zeus and Athena look at each other. "Xena," Zeus says, :"We have ways of doing things, we have to get along up here, I hope you understand, mortals themselves would suffer terribly if we didn't abide by the Edicts of Olympia. I can't undo what my daughter has done. I think you can do something, however."
"What do I have to do? Don't tell me . . .kiss her?"
"That's entirely up to you, but not what I meant. I mean, you can leave her up here. Persephone will weary of all this, release the spell, and then Gabrielle can rejoin you. We would keep her safe, as your companion she would be treated with great care."
"Why do you care about me? I used to curse all of you."
"Becaue of who you are now."
"Well . ." Xena says uncertainly, "if she would be safe . . . Blast!! If Persephone were a mortal I could . . "
"Xena," Zeus has a touch of thunder warning in his voice, "Persephone is my daughter."
"Shame she didn't turn out more like her half-brother." Xena stands up to leave. "I will leave her here, thank you. Wait!" She picks up a silver water basin and dumps the fruit off a silver platter, walks over to the bed and clangs the two together as hard as she can in front of Gabrielle's face. Not the slightest stir. "Oh well, worth a try."
Xena hands the makeshift gong to a handmaiden. She bends down, kisses Gabrielle on the forehead and smooths her hair. She turns and looks at Athena. "Please take good care of her. Please."
"As you would, Xena."
Xena is satisfied with this and leaves her friend behind to walk back down Mt. Olympus, alone with Argo.
As Xena walks out from the now-empty plain where the god's mountain stood. She sees a man walking toward her and prepares herself for whatever encounter this is.
It is Hercules. He hands her Gabrielle's staff. "Zeus told me to find this for you." She looks at the staff, drops it to the ground and throws her arms around his neck. He holds her close to him. In a moment they separate and Hercules leads her to sit with him on a stump by the side of the road. Argo nudges the staff with her nose. Xena gets up to put the staff in the sheath on Argo's saddle. She returns to sit by Hercules.
"I'm sorry about Persephone," Hercules says.
"Your family," Xena says wryly. They sit silently.Clouds begin to gather overhead.
"We better find cover, weather's turning," Hercules gets up and takes Argo's lead.
They're too late. Great dark thunderous clouds are piling up in the sky as if they were released in an avalanche, lighting begins to streak from cloud to cloud, from cloud to ground, thunder booms so loudly that the heroic friends flinch. They take off at a run as hail begins to fall, then a skyopen washout of rain.
Xena stops and looks around for an overhanging rock or cave. She thinks she hears something. What is that?
It's a distant voice. Xena turns back to look a the plain behind, no one there, but she could swear . .
"Wait for me!" In the empty plain Gabrielle appears from nowhere, running toward them as fast as she can, slipping in the mud and water, lightning bolts flashing all around her.
Xena begins walking toward her friend, not quite believing her senses. When they're within armslength from each other they stop. Rain drips off their faces. Xena's face breaks into a shining smile, the rain diminishes and the clouds lighten and move away from each other, and the sun comes out.
"Gabrielle, what happened?"
I got sent back down here! One of the goddesses told me the spell is lifted. I guess there was a father and daughter brouhaha.. When I left the palace I heard someone saying ". . .when you live in MY house you live by MY rules."
Hercules smiles, "Oh, that one!" He puts a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder and one on Xena's. "I'll be going now."
Gabrielle really notices Hercules for the first time. "How did you come to be here, Hercules?"
"He found your staff for you,." Xena says.
Gabrielle literally jumps into Hercules' arms and hugs his neck. She gives him a great big kiss on the cheek. "Oh, thank you."
Hercules puts her down, "My pleasure. Well goodbye, Xena, Gabrielle. I'd like to visit but I left Iolaus in something of a pickle." He takes off to the south at a jog, and soon disappears over a hill.
"Are you really cured?" Xena asks Gabrielle.
"I suppose so, better test I guess. Wait a minute," she lies down on her back on the road staring up at the sky, "Ready!"
"A . a. . .a . . .Ares!."
Gabrielle jumps up. "I'm awake, great! Oh guess what, Zeus gave Persephone a punishment."
"That's good," Xena said, "I hope it was a good one."
Gabrielle smiled. "I think so. Till the next full moon, whenever anyone on earth says YOUR name she's compelled to do a little dance and curtsy. The way things usually go she should wear out her floorboards in a week."
"That's a good one, alright."
Xena and Gabrielle continue walking on their Journey. Gabrielle stops under an olive tree and picks up a rainbow-colored caterpillar from a branch. She holds it on one finger and stroking it's soft, furry back with the other. She gets a smile on her face that's much more like an imp than a cherub. "Xena, Xena, Xena, Xena, Xena, Xena, Xena, Xena." She giggles, looks out of the corner of her eye at the sky and puts the caterpillar back on the tree.
Xena and Gabrielle walk down the road.