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by D. M. Dragos
One springtide, on Easter day, King Arthur held a most magnificent court at Camelot in Britain. There was a grand feast full of splendor. There were many nobles in attendance, and many beautiful courtly ladies. The queen was there, and so was Sir Kay, and Sir Gawain as well. All were engaged in pleasant conversation. Fine minstrels filled the hall with music.
Into this revelry burst a mounted knight, fully arrayed with arms and armor. His horse pranced and snorted menacingly. "King Arthur!" shouted the knight, "Know that I have many of your subjects held in captivity at my stronghold! Do not think you can free them, because you cannot! You do not have the strength nor the resources to help them, and I shall not release them!"
The king was deeply grieved to hear of this. "If there is nothing I can do, than I must put up with this. It is not very noble of you to come here and boast of this."
The knight turned to leave, but when he reached the door, he stopped and said, "King, if there is a single knight here whom you believe is noble enough to defeat me, you may entrust to him your queen and send him after me to the woods where I am heading. If he can overcome me, your people shall be released. If he is not, then both shall become my prisoners." With that, he spurred his horse and charged out of the hall.
The court was quiet after that, then Sir Kay stood. "My king, I can no longer serve you. I do not want to stay an instant longer. I ask for nothing from you, just that I have your leave to depart from here at once."
The king became even more grief-stricken upon hearing this. "Seneschal, is there anything I can do or say that would change your mind?"
"No amount of gold, nor any other reward would sway me from my course."
"I would promise you anything, if only you will stay."
"There is only one thing that would persuade me."
"Name it, and you will have it."
"I accept your offer. I desire that you hand over my lady Guinevere so that I may ride after that knight and face his challenge."
The king was not joyful at this, but was instead deeply grieved and sorrowful. Yet he would not break his word and so granted Sir Kay's request. The court was very somber and quiet as Kay left with the queen, for not one of them believed they would ever see either of them again.
As they were leaving, the queen said quietly to herself, "Alas, if only Sir Lancelot were here, I would not be doomed to this fate."
The court waited anxiously for some time, awaiting some word. Finally, Sir Gawain suggested following after Kay. The king agreed instantly and the horses were made ready. After a short delay waiting for Sir Gawain to come down from his bedchamber fully prepared, they left.
As they approached the woods, they saw Sir Kay's riderless horse galloping towards them. The saddle was speckled with droplets of blood. They backtracked along its path, but found no tracks leading away in any other direction. But they did find a most curious thing. There stood a large stone in the center of the clearing that had a sword buried deeply into it, and an inscription in glowing letters written along the side. The last few words were tiny and scrunched up towards the bottom, as though whoever had written it had begun to run out of room. The letters read: "The Knight Who Pulls The Sword From The Stone Shall Be One Like No Other. And That Warrior Shall Be The Only One Who Can Free The Queen."
All marveled at this wondrous sight, and were amazed at the sword, which was of an antiquated style with small green gems set into the crosspiece. Each of those present attempted to pull the sword free, but not one succeeded.
It was a bright morning that dawned over the road to Corinth. The air was warm and scented with the smell of flowers. The two travelers walked beside their horse, leading the mare by her reins.
"Xena, how much further is it to Corinth?" asked the smaller of the two.
"We should be there by nightfall, if we're lucky, Gabrielle," answered Xena.
"Tell me again why we're going there"
"How should I know? Is it really important? You know the way these things work, either something will come up once we get there, or we'll stumble onto something on the road."
"Oh, yeah. Of course."
Suddenly, all three of them collapsed, overcome with vertigo for a moment. It passed and they each got up. Argo whinnied unhappily. Around them everything had changed. They were no longer on the dirt path, but were instead in the middle of a forest trail with unfamiliar trees on both sides
Gabrielle said, "What happened? What caused that dizziness?"
"I don't know, but something tells me we're not in Corinth anymore," replied Xena calmly.
"You're right, Xena, you're not," said an unfamiliar voice. They turned and saw an old man in ratty gray robes reclining against a tree, with a staff across his lap.
"Who are you?" asked Gabrielle.
"They call me . . . Marlimas. I am a great and powerful wizard. You have heard of me, right?"
"No, as a matter of fact, I haven't," answered Gabrielle.
"Aw drat. That's what everybody says. But I'm famous. I really am."
"That's just wonderful," said Xena, "but what I want to know is, was it you who brought us here?"
"And where is here?" chimed in Gabrielle.
"Yes, I brought you here. You're in Britain, an island kingdom north of Gaul, roughly two thousand years into your future, give or take a few centuries." A quizzical look came over Marlimas' face, "Or, considering that Winter Solstice, could it be as little as five hundred or so? Ah, well, it doesn't really matter anyway."
"Two thousand years in the future? You're joking, right?" asked Gabrielle, incredulous.
"No I'm not joking. It's the early sixth century."
"Sixth century? I thought you said-"
"They reset the calendar."
"Reset it? Why?"
"Never mind. It was a real big religious event, at least for most of the people in this part of the world. But that's neither here nor there."
"Why have you brought us here?" asked Xena.
"I need you to do something for me."
"You could have asked first. That would have been more polite," said Gabrielle.
"That wouldn't have been practical. Besides, it's not like I'm threatening you with a fireball or something. Now that's a great spell! I'd just love to level this forest with one right now! That would be a whole lotta fun!"
Xena spoke, using the voice she reserved for those occasions someone thought they could buy her services like she was a common mercenary, "I don't take kindly to being kidnapped by people who feel they have the right to use people like pawns on a chessboard. Send us back, or you'll be wishing you were a thousand years in the future right now."
"I'm afraid I can't do that right now. Not even if I wanted to. It takes a lot out of me to cast so powerful an enchantment. Besides, this land, this time, needs you right now," he paused for a moment, "Wow, that sounded really dramatic! Now did I just make that up, or did I steal that line from somewhere? I can't remember. No matter, it's not important, what is important is that the good queen of this land has been taken by a wicked knight."
"Isn't there anyone here who could rescue her?" asked Gabrielle.
"Well, there is one, but he's not around right now."
"Where is he?"
"Oh, he's off being penitent for his sins, probably wearing a hairshirt and living like a hermit just about now. Really inconvenient timing if you ask me. In other literary periods Arthur could do it himself, but right now he's more of a stay at home type. You might say he is the once and future warrior king!" Marlimas snickered at this, apparently finding it very funny for some reason.
"Couldn't you have found that knight?" Gabrielle asked, confused. "Was it really necessary to reach back in time to take people from the past? That sounds as if it must have been much harder to me. And what do you mean, 'literary period'?"
"A little bit more difficult, but I like to do things in style. It's too late to find him now, though, so you're the only alternative. As for the second thing, I really don't want to get into it."
"What is your interest in this? Surely a wizard such as yourself would not be concerned with such worldly matters?" asked Xena.
"Me? Actually I'm filling in for my cousin Merlin. He's gone and gotten himself trapped in a tree after a tryst with Nimue - hey, wasn't that a great tongue twister? Trapped in a tree after a tryst? Anyway, the kingdom's falling apart without him. Damn irresponsible if you ask me. He raises a boy up to be the greatest king the world has ever known, and then he abandons him when he's most needed."
Xena let out a great sigh. "Fine. You got us. Now where is the queen being held?"
Marlimas clapped in glee then leaped to his feet and began to dance.
Gabrielle said, "This guy's not working with a full team of horses, is he?"
Xena snatched the old man's staff out of his hands and swung it at the back of his legs before he knew what was happening. He fell backwards and hit the ground hard. He gave Xena an injured look.
Xena rubbed her head. She felt a terrible headache coming on. "I asked you a question. Where is the queen now?"
Marlimas grumbled a little, then said, "Just go in that direction over yonder," he said pointing. "Ask people as you go, they'll be able to direct you. Oh, and don't forget to pick up your sword on the way. You'll probably need it."
"My sword?" repeated Xena, puzzled. She reached back over her shoulder for it, but her hand closed over empty air. "What have you done with my sword?!"
Marlimas guffawed in amusement, then began to fade to transparency. "Like I said, I like to do things in style," he said, just as he disappeared.
"Come on Gabrielle, let's get this over with."
The two companions went in the direction the mage had indicated and traveled for the better part of an hour. Their journey was interrupted at that point by the loud approach of a rider from behind. The rider was mounted on one of the largest horses either of them had seen. The man himself, and they could only suppose he was a man, was encased from head to toe in shining metal armor.
Gabrielle said, "By the gods, how does he move with all that weight?"
"Not very well, I would guess," answered Xena dryly.
"Armor like that won't be developed for many hundreds of years from this time," came the voice of Marlimas, sounding like a whisper in their ears. "Not that you two are in a position to cast chakrams at anachronisms."
The man pulled up to a halt just short of them. He called out in a voice that seemed strangely familiar to the pair, "Well met my ladies. It is fortunate for you that I have come upon you. These are dangerous lands, filled with many churls who would harass such noble women as yourselves if they were to come upon you, strangely dressed though you may be."
"What makes you think we are nobles?" asked Gabrielle.
"No matter what rags they wear, one can always recognize a lady of breeding by her beauty, whether she be dressed in rags, or the highest quality finery. No one could mistake either of you for peasants. Peasant women are always homely and plain."
"Hey! I-" started Gabrielle, thinking of her own humble background. Xena stomped on her foot before she could finish.
"I am Sir Bedevere, and I would be glad to extend my protection."
"We don't need-" began Gabrielle hotly.
"We accept," interrupted Xena.
"Yes, we do." Gabrielle gave Xena a questioning look. Xena mouthed, "We can use a native guide."
"Splendid! Let us be off then!"
"Isn't it great that they're still speaking the same language that we do?" said Gabrielle quietly to Xena. Then they both heard a whispery chuckle in their ears. "What was that about?" she asked, but received no response.
The group traveled for a while in silence. Gabrielle gazed at the verdant northern forest that surrounded them, so very different from the forests of her home. She glanced over at Xena, who walked seemingly unconcerned about the alieness of the terrain.
Abruptly, she was distracted from her thoughts by a shout ahead. Their "protector" had taken a good lead, and had come upon a dwarf bearing a many tongued scourge in his hand. Behind him stood another armored knight on horseback, looking on. Sir Bedevere reined in his horse in front of the dwarf.
"Make way, knave!" he cried to the stout figure.
"Not for the likes of you!" shouted the dwarf back. He lashed out with his weapon, striking Bedevere's horse. The steed bucked, tossing the metal-clad warrior to the ground.
"Ow!" cried Bedevere, as he fell on his head. His helmet came loose, and rolled several feet away. He bounded quickly to his feet, his gray hair matted to his balding head. He had a neatly trimmed beard that was a several shades darker than the rest of his hair. And his face was very familiar to the two women.
"Salmoneus?!" exclaimed Gabrielle. "But how?"
The dwarf made to lash out again with his scourge, this time at the unprotected face of his opponent, but instead looked on in wonder as a spinning metal ring severed the strands of the weapon before they could reach their target.
"By God!" exclaimed the dwarf as he watched the chakram fly off into the woods. "You could end up killing somebody with that round thing, woman!"
"Then stay out of my way," said Xena menacingly.
"Because a woman tells me to? Hah! Besides, your toy's lost in the woo-" suddenly the dwarf broke off as the chakram returned and was effortlessly caught in Xena's bare hand. "Uh, on second thought," he said, looking back down the path at his companion knight, who was already nudging his horse off the road, "we'll just move off to the side of the road here while you go on by. That is of course what we were about to do anyway, it being the courteous thing, and all that."
Bedevere put his helmet on again and hopped back onto his horse, not saying a word. The small group continued down the path unchallenged, Xena smiling pleasantly at the two strangers as they passed them by, all the while caressing the chakram in its loop at her side with a finger.
Gabrielle whispered to Xena, "Did you see Bedevere when his helmet came off? He looks just like Salmoneus!"
Xena responded, "We've seen stranger things in our own time, after all, we've run into several people who are the spitting image of me."
Gabrielle said glumly, "But not one who looks like me."
"Maybe in another fourteen hundred years," Xena said, smiling. "Who knows, maybe she'll be a real adventurous type, too.
They traveled a little longer. Bedevere was silent the whole time, perhaps embarrassed about being assisted by one of the women he had promised to protect, Gabrielle supposed. After a while, they came upon a clearing filled with the brightest and most colorful tents she had ever seen. Over the largest tent was a pennant of a gold dragon. Or was it an AmberDragon? Gabrielle wasn't quite sure. An area was cleared off, and two men on horseback were charging at each other, leveling long poles at one another in an attempt to unseat their opponent.
"Welcome," said Bedevere, "to the court of King Arthur Pendragon. Behold, the sport of princes . . . the joust! The newest and greatest of sports to be developed." Gabrielle wondered at this, since she seemed to remember Xena and Callisto doing something similar at their first meeting. She quickly dropped that train of thought, since it would lead to other, darker memories, which she didn't want to dredge up right now.
Bedevere continued, "Right now, you see Sir Scauwen jousting Sir Visitor. Behind them, watching, is King Arthur and his nephew Sir Gawain. Ladies Lasha, Deanlu and Arianna are over there as well. Oh, and there are Ladies Ogra Bard and Oklahoma. Doing the scoring for the joust is Pterodactyl."
Nearby in the crowd was a man singing "I'm so pretty" to himself over and over. "That's Belial," said Bedevere, "A real strange sort, I must say." Two women broke from the group and approached the newcomers.
"Hello Sir Bedevere!" said one, grinning a wickedly evil grin. She was wearing a beautiful blue dress with nine stars running down the side of each sleeve. She also wore a coronet of nine colorful flowers. In fact, nearly everything she wore had something to do with the number nine.
Bedevere took off his helmet, revealing the fact that he was blushing deeply. "Hello Lady Harmonia," he said, seeming uncomfortable.
"Have you seen Sir Toxic?" she asked.
"Uh, I'm afraid not," he answered.
"Oh, okay, well then, I'm going to go look for him, and he's going to be real sorry when I find him!" Harm flashed one last wicked grin and walked away.
Bedevere sighed in relief. A stablehand took the horses from the group, and said to Xena and Gabrielle, "Harmonia has a wicked sense of humor and a fiery temper. She's nearly burned down a pub playing with a torch and some ale. Luckily, only Sir Bedevere here was singed in the incident."
"Thank you, Azran, but not everybody needs to know about that. And don't forget, you were the one who handed her the ale," he said, unconsciously rubbing his backside.
Azran looked over to Sir Scauwen on his horse, "It was for a good cause."
Sir Bedevere glowered at Azran.
The second woman said, "Oh, lighten up Sir Bedevere. You shouldn't be so afraid to poke fun at yourself. Take Azran here as your example. He is but a lowly stablehand, when he could have been so much more."
"Thank you, Lady Boobookitty," said Azran, "I think."
"You're welcome." Boo grinned.
"What an odd group of people," said Gabrielle. "They seem like a bunch of nutballs."
"That we are," said Azran.
Xena walked forward, seeing something that caught her interest. "Gabrielle, come here. Look at this."
Gabrielle left the crowd of nutballs and went over to Xena's side. In a clearing on the other side of the large tent from the tourney was a large stone in the middle of the field of grass. Projecting from the middle of the stone was a sword that was very familiar to the two of them. Together they groaned as they read the inscription on the stone.
"Gabrielle, try to think of a reason for me not to kill Marlimas next time I see him, and tell it to me after I've had my hands wrapped around his neck for a few minutes, okay?"
Gabrielle gave a short, sharp laugh, "A reason? I don't think I could. Don't let that stop you though."
Xena sighed and started walking towards the stone. By the time she had made it halfway, somebody in the crowd had noticed and called the attention of the assembled masses to her. The crowd shifted its focus away from the jousting and looked to the lone woman approaching the sword that no man present had been able to free from the stone.
A few jeers came from the crowd, as some people called out to her, asking what she thought she was doing. The nutballs in the crowd just watched, expectantly. Arthur, as always, sat in his throne, awaiting the outcome of the event, whatever it might be.
Xena leaped up onto the stone easily. Feeling a sense of deja-vu, remembering the Hephaestus-forged sword she'd once pulled from a stone, she closed her hands over the familiar hilt of her own sword. She pulled, and the blade slid smoothly out of the stone sheath it was encased within. As she did so, she could have sworn that she heard the voices of a celestial chorus singing out in joyfulness. Just then as well, the sun emerged from behind the clouds and bathed her with golden radiance.
A whispery voice reached her ears, "I told you I like to do things with style."
She growled softly, "You're going to pay for this."
That familiar chuckle came to her on the wind.
The crowd cheered, none louder than the nutballs.
"All right, let's get this over with," she grumbled, springing down lightly to the ground.
Azran brought over her horse, patting Argo affectionately. Xena took the reins from him, asking, "Which way was the Queen taken?"
Azran pointed to the west. "They went that'a'way."
Xena sheathed her sword and leaped onto Argo. Gabrielle walked over to her side. They set off, looking back one last time to see the assembled court waving farewell.
"This certainly has been one of our strangest adventures yet," said Gabrielle a while later. "It would make a great story, but nobody would believe it."
"I'm sure with your storytelling ability, Gabrielle, people will be too busy enjoying listening to you to question the likelihood of it," answered Xena. "Of course, if anyone else tried to tell it, they'd probably be pelted with rotten fruit."
Gabrielle started to say something in reply, but then something on the path ahead caught her attention. "Xena, look at that!" Ahead of them a mighty river barred their way. The waters flowed strongly, clearly making it impossible to ford or swim across. What caught Gabrielle's attention, however, was the strangest bridge that she had ever seen. It was a sword as long in length as Hyperion the Titan's height. Each end was secured to a tree, and thankfully, the flat of the blade was parallel to the ground, yet the surface was sloped down from the middle, and slick with river-water. "This could be a problem," she said.
Xena approached the bridge, examining it. "We'll have to leave Argo here for sure," she said. Turning to Gabrielle, she asked, "Do you think you can make it across?"
Gabrielle looked at it doubtfully, "I don't know, but I can try."
Quickly, Xena fastened a length of rope around her waist and secured it around Gabrielle's as well. Then she stepped lightly up onto the Sword Bridge and gave Gabrielle a hand up.
Xena led the way across, going cautiously and leaving plenty of slack in the line, ready to brace in case Gabrielle slipped. Gabrielle followed behind, using her staff to help balance herself. Xena made it to the opposite shore, with her companion ten feet behind. Just as she stepped off the bridge, she was alerted to an approaching horseman by loud hoof-beats. Looking, she saw an armored knight leveling a lance at her. "Gabrielle, hurry!" she called urgently.
"I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying!" came the frantic response.
Xena dove and rolled to avoid the charge, but had to be careful since she was still tethered by the rope. The knight rode past, missing her, then wheeled about for another pass. Xena yelled, "Gabrielle, hold on to the rope!"
Gabrielle looked at her, puzzled, but threw her staff to the shore and grabbed onto the line. The knight charged again, but this time Xena stood unmoving as he bore down upon her. Then, at the last moment, she cried, "Ayiyiyiyiyiyi!" and leaped high into the air away from Gabrielle's position, the rope trailing in the air behind her. The knight rode into the rope full speed, caught squarely on the chest. Gabrielle's eyes widened as the slack ran out. A moment later, she was catapulted into the air and pulled clear across the water to the shore. She tucked her body at the last moment and managed to roll to avoid being hurt. The knight, however was not so fortunate. He was pulled off his horse and landed on the ground with a tremendous clang. Before he could try to rise, Xena leaped onto his chest.
He squeaked in an all-too-familiar voice, "Get off of me! I am Sir Kay the Mighty! I am on a mission to free the Queen!"
"Oh no . . . no . . . it can't be . . . not here!" moaned Gabrielle.
Xena sighed. She stepped off the knight's chest and nodded to Gabrielle. "It is."
"Why can't we ever get away from Joxer?" Gabrielle complained.
Kay dragged himself to his feet. "You two are in deep trouble for interfering with me! Why, Arthur is right behind me, with the ENTIRE CAMELOT ARMY!!!" he finished off, shouting at the top of his lungs.
"Funny," said Gabrielle, "but we just left his camp a little while ago, and it didn't seem like he was going anywhere. And it was you who attacked us, by the way."
"Oh . . . well, um, sorry about that. I thought you were with Meleagant."
"We're here to rescue the Queen, same as you," said Xena.
"Well, I of course don't need any such help, but since you two are all alone, it's my duty as a warrior to escort you and keep you safe."
"How noble of you," said Xena.
A soft neighing interrupted the conversation. They turned to see Argo standing right beside them, whinnying impatiently. "How did you get over here, girl?" asked Gabrielle in amazement.
That irritating whispery voice of Marlimas answered, "I did that. I would've only had to have gone back to pick her up later anyway, so it was easier to keep you all together."
"Enough talking! Let's be off, I have a Queen to save!" proclaimed Kay. Xena rolled her eyes, but didn't bother to say a word.
They set off together, but before they lost sight of the Sword Bridge, Gabrielle asked aloud, "Just how did the kidnappers get across the river?"
Xena shrugged, not really having an answer, and not really caring very much at this point. She didn't like the contrived chain of events set up for them by the mage, and just wanted to get the whole thing over with so she could return to the familiar world of the meddling gods of Mount Olympus.
They came upon a majestic castle, far more splendid than any they had ever seen before. The main gates of it were wide open, and the massive iron portcullis was raised. They entered unchallenged and found themselves in a large courtyard overlooked by the castle's keep.
Out of the doors to the keep strode a large armored knight who stopped and gazed at them for a moment. Then he burst out laughing. "So, the mighty Sir Kay has returned with two more ladies. Did you think that I'd allow you another opportunity to prove your worth by bringing them?"
"I will vanquish you this time Sir Meleagant! You got off lucky the last time!" retorted Kay hotly. He leaped down from his horse and unsheathed his sword, stalking towards the wicked knight. Meleagant closed the distance, and the two knights stopped only a few paces from one another.
Sighing, Xena dismounted, taking her time.
Meleagant said, "Hah! I'm going to send you running same as before, you sniveling cur!" He brandished his gleaming sword threateningly.
Kay twirled his sword in a surprisingly impressive fashion. "You won't defeat me again. Last time I took it easy on you, to give you a false sense of confidence."
Kay swung at Sir Meleagant, but his wild blow was deflected by his adversary's armor. Chuckling, Meleagant slammed his sword down on Kay's helmet. Kay spun in a half-circle and rocked back and forth, then slumped to the ground unconscious. Gabrielle moved to check on him.
Meleagant laughed, then stopped as Xena stepped in front of him with her sword drawn. "What ho! The lady has teeth!" he exclaimed. Xena delivered a powerful side-kick that caught Meleagant square in the chest and propelled him backwards to land unceremoniously on the flagstones of the courtyard. He rose to his feet and said menacingly, "You shouldn't have done that. By rights you are mine since I have defeated your champion, and I can treat you however I wish. But since I already possess the Queen, I don't really want you."
"Too bad, you've already got me," said Xena, smiling.
With a bellow, Meleagant came at her with a powerful swing. Xena ducked easily and slashed him across his chest with her sword, but failed to cut through his breastplate. She frowned slightly, realizing her job was slightly more complicated than she'd thought.
Meleagant brought his sword up over his head and then downward again in a vicious attempt to cleave Xena in two. She sidestepped, and as the blade smashed into the stone ground, she connected with his head using a spinning kick that knocked his helmet clear across the courtyard. Stunned, he could only watch in astonishment as Xena knocked the sword out of his hands and leveled the point of her sword between his eyes.
"I yield! I yield!" he cried.
"Lancelot! I knew you'd co-" Xena turned and saw a woman wearing an ornately embroidered silk gown with a jeweled diadem on her brow standing at the entrance to the keep. "Wait a minute," the woman said, "you're not Lancelot!"
"You got that right," said Xena. "You're the Queen, I take it?"
"Yes, I am Guinevere," said the puzzled Queen. "How did you defeat Meleagant? I've never met a female knight before."
"I have many skills," came Xena's reply. Noticing Meleagant edging away towards his sword she turned back to him and chided, "Oh no, you're not going anywhere, not unless it's in a dress with Sir Kay as your knightly protector."
Meleagant paled, saying, "Okay, okay!"
The sound of clapping came from off to the side. "You truly are amazing, Xena," said Marlimas. He paused, looking towards the gate as a new knight rode in, "Oh look, there's Lancelot now!" Guinevere went to meet him and immediately started yelling at him for being late. "Looks like your work here is done," said Marlimas. "I wonder what we should do next. King Hrothgar could certainly use some help against Grendel. Oh, wait! Roland could definitely benefit from your assistance at Roncevalles! Then maybe we could get into some of the Icelandic sagas, you know, with Siegfried and the Nibelungs! And then we could go to Middle-earth and all the other worlds that could use your help, like Kry-" he broke off as he saw Xena narrow her eyes and give him a deadly look. A moment later, she lashed out and struck him in his throat with stiffened fingers.
"I've just cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You'll be dead in seconds unless I release you," said Xena. "And the only way that's going to happen is if you return Gabrielle, Argo, and myself back to our own time and land right now."
Marlimas' eyes bulged and he nodded his head frantically. None too gently, Xena slammed the edges of her hands into his neck, freeing the circulation. Clearing his throat, the mage had the three of them gather around him, then raised his robes revealing dainty ruby red slippers on his feet. He chanted, "I wish we were home . . . I wish we were home . . . I wish we were home," and then a moment later, they were all overcome with that same feeling of vertigo as when they'd arrived.
When their senses cleared, Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo found themselves alone on the same road that they'd vanished from, with the sun in exactly the same position as it had been when they departed. They felt physically and mentally refreshed.
Gabrielle said, "Did we just. . . ?"
"If we both remember it, I guess we did," said Xena.
"Until next time, Xena . . . until next time," echoed Marlimas' disembodied voice.
"Hey! That's my line!" came Ares' voice. "Get your own!"
(Note - most of the plot is derived from Chretien's Lancelot, although Merlin wasn't mentioned in his works, having been present in earlier sources and picked up again in later versions. The version in which he is trapped in a tree by Nimue is from Tennyson, with Nimue commonly being replaced by Morgan Le Fay in the more well-known versions. The sword in the stone legend was grafted onto the story after Chretien, probably from Norse sources. Marlimas, sadly, is of my own creation. No Nutballs from the Pub were harmed during the writing of this story, although Azran (me) may soon find himself pelted with rotten fruit for the damages inflicted on the Arthurian Court.)
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