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Xena The Conqueror
To the Reader -
I hope that you enjoy reading this story as much as Iíve enjoyed writing it. Itís been quite an experience, to say the least. Itís not yet finished - and how long itís ultimately going to be is hard to say - but what youíll find below stands on its own (no cliffhanger!).
If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact me at:
The tiny girl wiggled and fidgeted, impatiently trying to see something in the distance as she sat on the womanís shoulders.
"Settle down, child, youíre going to tumble right off!" cried the woman - a little crossly, but with a slight smile.
The girl obeyed this directive to a certain extent. But she continued to stare into the distance, and suddenly began to bob up and down with even more violent motions.
"Theyíre coming! Theyíre coming! I see dem!"
And indeed, on a distant rise between the hills, could now be seen the glitter of many points of metal.
The woman glanced at the little hands waving so excitedly in front of her face, then down at the other little ones. Toris, the oldest, standing dutifully at her side while he held the baby Lyceus - who now slumbered peacefully in his swaddling. And there on the ground was Philos, seemingly oblivious to the excitement, all of his attention on the strange little figures he was drawing in the dirt with a stick. How completely unlike his twin he was, she thought for the thousandth time...
"I hear dem! I hear dem!" came the shriek from the girl, displacing any existing train of thought. After which came the slow boom ... boom ... boom of a distant drum, followed a few minutes later by little jingling sounds and the faint tramp of a host of marching feet.
Itís been so long now, thought the woman. More than a year. She had been alone when she had the last baby ... very, very lonely. But now it would all be different.
Suddenly, from behind the rise in the road it came: the sight of waving plume, quickly followed by the rest of the horseman who rode beneath it. And then more and more horsemen, some carrying bright banners that rippled softly in the breeze, their tall horses walking with heads held high.
Finally came the marchers on foot, or at least the beginning of them. They were outfitted in gleaming metal cuirasses and helmets, the sun glancing off the points of their shouldered spears in a thousand bright flashes of light. There seemed to be no end of them, their ordered ranks stretching back into the unseen distance as they came on and on and on, the boom of the drums and the regular tramp of their feet now almost deafening.
"Mommy, mommy!" cried the little girl, bouncing up and down with uncontrollable excitement. "Thatís the best! Thatís what! What I want!"
"What, Xena?" asked the woman patiently.
The girl was pointing at one of the lead horsemen, who was now drawing abreast of them. "Like that. Wid a sword ... and a big horse ... and at the front ... and everything!"
The woman laughed. "Now Xena - Iím not too sure about that. Youíre such a little girl, you know." How fierce she could sometimes seem; it was actually funny. But of course sheíd grow out of it before long.
The line of troops continued past them, some of the soldiers laughing and pointing at the tiny girl who waved so energetically, delivering her stream of enthusiastic little shouts and cries.
Finally, a lone horseman who ambled beside the infantry came to a halt. Seeing the woman and children, he turned his horse, and began to move directly toward them.
"Whoís that?" called out the little girl in awed tones as the horseman advanced.
"Thatís ... thatís your father, dear," came the answer.
And in the next moment little Xena frantically scrambled down from her motherís shoulders, running toward the man as fast as her little legs would carry her. As she came up he bent to scoop her in his arms, swinging her high before him as she shrieked with delight.
"My Princess!" he declared with mock formality in his booming voice. Then he smiled at the woman as he walked his horse on toward her.
Home at last, she thought. Home to stay.
The reader may (or may not) find it interesting to learn that the previous words were largely inspired by a piece of music - namely, the final section of Respighiís "Pines of Rome", titled "The Pines of the Appian Way". A work that suggests a memory of the Empireís mighty Legions, marching in triumph along that most ancient of roads.
Anyway ... thatís how I first "saw" it...
Deeds of Night and Day
The woman glanced out of the rear window of the inn, watching the two children as they went back behind the hay rick. The first with hair as black as midnight, eyes flashing the color of ice; the second with burnished locks of reddish gold that framed eyes of softest brown.
As unlikely a pair of twins as anyone had ever seen.
Night and Day, the villagers had nicknamed them - her little Xena and Philos. And even to her it seemed a bit strange. How had she come to bear two such different ones; how could both have come from the same womb? Perhaps she really ought to visit that Wise Woman some day, she told herself yet again. Some day soon...
Something then roused her from her reverie. Or rather nothing. For it suddenly struck her that it was quiet. Much too quiet. Where was the sound of Philos? That constant stream of babbling that never seemed to stop for more than a few minutes at a time?
Now what could those children be up to...
She walked around to the back of the hay rick, where she found the two of them - sitting quietly, occupied with their little concerns. And at first all seemed the picture of peaceful normality. Until she saw it lying there, over to the side.
A dark shape. An animal, perhaps. Unmoving.
She carefully walked over to take a closer look. And as she got a better view of it, her heart suddenly seemed to stop. In fact she could scarcely breathe.
For it was a wolf. A black wolf. Somewhat old and a little mangy looking, but a wolf nonetheless.
Fortunately, however, this was a wolf that obviously would never rise again. For lodged in its eye socket was a straight wooden stick about three feet long. In a way the creature was still terrifying; its lips, drawn back from its sharp fangs in the rictus of death, seemed to snarl even more violently than they might have in life.
She stared at this scene, frozen in place. That stick, the one in its eye - it almost looked like ... like one of those little spears. Those toy spears that Xena was always carrying. That she sometimes begged and cajoled the men of the village to sharpen to a fine point with their knives, even though her mother had forbidden it.
After all, it was dangerous, a sharp stick like that. Someone could easily be hurt by it.
She whirled to face the children.
"What happened here?" she asked sharply, her voice strangely unsteady. They both looked up.
For Philos the floodgates seemed to be loosed again by this rare (since usually unnecessary) command to speak. "Bad doggy!" he cried out forcefully. "The bad doggy bited me! It came and bited me!"
Now she could see that tied around his upper arm was an old piece of cloth, resembling a crude bandage. It was stained a little with red.
"The doggy bited me and I cried. So Xena hit it with a stick. She hit it hard, and it laid down. Now itís a good doggy. See!"
What she saw was Xena, who had gone back to the little task she had been occupied with. Making something out of a stick and a cord, while she hummed a tune. The current discussion did not seem to hold much interest for her.
"Philos, your arm!" she quavered, as she quickly walked over to him. "Let me see it!"
He proudly held up his arm. "It hurted, but Xena made it better. She put on a ban-dij thing. Now itís all good again!"
When she came up to Philos she quickly undid the bandage. And yes, there beneath it were a few wounds. Puncture wounds. Where teeth might have broken the skin. As when a wolf - an old, sick wolf, looking for easy prey - might have begun to bite down on the arm of a small child. To drag it away...
"Whereíd the bad doggy come from, mommy?" continued Philos. "I think maybe from the army. The army of bad doggies and people. I heared them once, they howled and howled. And there was all kinds, white ones and blacks ones, and red ones, and...
"Now Philos," said the woman, "what really happened? Tell me the truth!" The little boy certainly had a huge imagination; he could spin tales for hours. He didnít mean to lie, he just had a hard time telling the difference between what was real and what wasnít. "Who was it that really did it? Who really ... "hit" the doggy?"
"Xena did! Xena hit it! Thatís what I said."
Oh no, she thought to herself. Heís already done it - his imagination has already begun to make it into a story, one that included his twin sister. But who could it really have been? Who could have killed the wolf? Some passerby? Where they still close by? She had to know.
"Xena - you heard what your brother said. What happened?"
The little girl shrugged. "Bad doggy," was all she had to say.
Wonderful, thought the woman with exasperation. Xena didnít want to talk. And when she was in mood like this, it was impossible to get more than two words out of her. Completely impossible; for whenever something bad or unusually troubling happened - Xena wouldnít talk.
In fact, these days she seemed to talk even less, she suddenly realized. Now that heíd left again.
Well, what a pair. What a pair indeed. One who came up with more words than youíd ever care to hear, certainly more than were required by the strict limits of the truth. And another that you could hardly get to utter two sentences in a row.
Yet they were also inseparable, these two. Strange to say, as different as they were - they were completely inseparable. The woman shook her head.
"Come on, Philos. Weíd better do something more with your arm to make it better." She began to feel as if she could hardly keep from crying; this was all too much. Her poor little oneís arm, bitten that way! And the strange mystery of the whole thing ... who knows what could have happened if ... if...
But no, she musnít upset the children that way. She would have to be strong. Somehow.
Yet by the Goddess - how hard it was. How terribly, terribly hard. Now that her husband had gone away again, leaving her to raise the children by herself. And run the inn. And do a thousand other things, all on her own.
She looked down at the two little children again, trotting along behind her as they returned to the inn.
"And there were all kind of other animals in the army too," went on Philos. "Big ones!
And they knew how to talk to the others..."
"Ha ha ha!" laughed Xena happily, her eyes shining.
But at least they were safe now. They were safe, and all together.
For this one fine moment.
Well, itís commonly known that heroes always perform some fearful prodigy in their infancy - is it not? Hercules, for example, strangled a menacing serpent while still in his crib. Itís just that Xena never seemed to be too interested in public relations...
Just ask Salmoneus.
Xenaís soft voice floated down with another of her little songs, down from among the green boughs above. While below his brows were knit in concentration, gaze now lost ... in the distance...
"Okay. There was a princess," began Philos. "She was a tall, beautiful princess. And she had this..."
"Sword!!!" cried Xena. She grinned at him crazily, all upside down as she hung by her knees from the tree limb.
"Xena! I told you!" came the exasperated protest. Xena suddenly swung herself upright onto the limb, getting pullable locks of hair out of harmís way. But her grin of glee only continued.
"I told you, theyíre MY stories when I make them up," went on Philos. "Just mine!"
"But they should be about something good!" laughed his sister brightly.
"Hmphf! Well then - I wonít!" Philos sat down heavily at the base of the tree, arms around knees drawn up to his chest. Then fell uncharacteristically silent.
"Oh, come on, Philos!"
Xena dropped to the ground and approached to stand beside him.
"Come on." She nudged the inert form gently with her foot, while giving forth little giggles. "I want to hear it. I really do." Still no response. "I want to hear your story..."
"Yeah - she wants to her your story, Goldilocks!"
They both turned to see the newcomer. It was Doros, one of the big boys. A couple of years older than them. He had just approached from around the bushes across the way.
"What, no story?" continued Doros, when the others said nothing. "Well, thatís okay, because Iíve got one of my own. I just heard it!" But his tone was mocking.
"Once upon a time there were these two kids. Their names were Xena and Philos. And their mother ran the inn. But it was strange - because, you see..."
He sneered triumphantly.
"...they didnít have a father."
Philos looked a little puzzled. But a dark cloud had suddenly gathered on Xenaís brow.
"A mother and no father. Maybe because ... they werenít even married."
Philos could see his sisterís body start to tremble, just ever so very slightly. He began to feel upset, even a little afraid. What could this be about? He didnít understand.
"Which was a big shame. Because that made Xena and Philos ... little..."
Xenaís fists were now clenched.
Hey - that was a Bad Word, thought Philos!
"But maybe their mother was even worse. Because their mother ... was a whó"
However, this last declaration was broken off in mid-sentence. For his sister had suddenly exploded into motion.
In a split second, he saw Xena charge down at Doros. Strangely, almost like a wolf ... charging down its prey...
A horrible yell, almost a scream. It was only a little later that he realized it had come from his sister.
Then came the impact, as Xena was upon him. Doros hadnít moved so much as a fraction of an inch, so stunningly quick had it been. Fists flew - they were down, rolling on the ground - Xena, on her knees above him - cries of pain and terror...
Philos moved to step forward, almost shaking.
... and suddenly the older boy was on his feet and running. To disappear rapidly behind the surrounding foliage, wailing all the while.
Philos stared, once again rooted to the spot. It was over. So quickly.
Then he saw his sister, and felt very strange again.
Her face was dirty and scratched, her hair dishevelled. Behind her ear still hung, incongruously, a little flower that had been carefully placed there.
But on her lips ... was a smile. Of hot triumph.
And as cold as the ice in her eyes.
She had washed her face in the stream, and he had helped her repair her clothes and put her hair back in order as best they could. Still ...
Torisís eagle eye had caught them immediately. Just as soon as theyíd set foot in the kitchen.
"Mom! Itís Xena! Xenaís been fighting again!"
All their efforts at subterfuge had been in vain. And indeed, as Philos looked at Xenaís face, he thought he could see the onset of a black eye.
Her features twisting into a mask of complete disdain, his sister had only one thing to say in reply.
Their older brother now became outraged in turn, his body stiffening with the intensity of his anger. But well did he know the inadvisability of an attempt at physical retaliation - smaller and younger though his sister was.
"Just because ... someone tries to help mother," he choked. "Tries to help look after someone ... who doesnít even know how to behave ..." He could scarcely continue.
Their mother rushed into the room.
"What ... oh, no. Xena, no!" She bent down to look at her daughter, hurriedly examining her. "Are you all right? Are you hurt? Look whatís happened to your clothes!"
It soon became apparent that no serious harm had been done, however. Whereupon the woman suddenly rose.
"Well. That does it," she announced. Her voice now carried the tones of a dreadful authority. "You know what I told you. About what would happen if you did something like this again."
There was no reply; which only seemed to upset her more.
"Why - why canít you behave like a normal girl? Like a nice girl? Why do you have to do things like this? Xena? Xena?"
The little girlís face remained a strangely impassive mask.
She shook her head and sighed to herself. She really should take a switch to her bottom, according to every point of common sense. But once, when she had tried that before ... it had been almost, well ... frightening.
For when the switch had fallen - there had come no sound. No screams or tears or pleading. Only silence. Except, perhaps, the faintest of groans. So that finally, it was the mother who had ended up with a little more of the fear of the gods.
"Very well, then. Youíre to go to your room now. Without supper."
Off marched Xena, still without a word. As behind followed her twin.
She started to say something, but stopped. She knew it would be useless, that Philos would somehow be with her, endure what she endured, no matter what. He would only suffer more if he was separated from her.
But no, by the gods. Not strange. Crazy! Thatís what it was, crazy! Why did she have to up put up with this? On top of everything else? As hard as it already was? Why did she ...
"Itís a good thing your fatherís not here. To see you. To see such a thing as this!"
Xena had almost reached the door - but now stopped. And whirled.
"It was you!"
"YOU DID IT!"
Her little face was red, contorted with a sudden overwhelming rage.
"You made him GO AWAY! Heíd be here, except for YOU! You ... yó"
Tears now streamed down her cheeks, flowing in unchecked torrents.
She whirled again and ran through the door. Loud, wracking sobs followed in her wake.
Philos looked at his mother, very grave and quiet; now he was the silent one. Then he turned, and left to follow the steps of his sister.
"Xena?" There was no reply.
He lay there on his bed, listening, in the dark. Yet though nothing could be heard, he knew his sister was still awake.
"Well, hereís a story. A new one. I just made it up."
Still nothing; her stifled sobs had long since ended.
"Once, a long time ago, there a great king. And he had a little daughter, his princess. For a long time they were very happy together.
"But because he was such a great and wonderful king ... one day he had to leave. To do great deeds. Though truly, it broke his heart - because he loved his princess so much...
And so passed the turning of the night.
Okay, okay. Here it is! Monomachy: "a duel; a single combat"; taken from the Greek. A word I first encountered (along with many other very singular ones) in Gene Wolfeís "Book of the New Sun". A series I would highly recommend.
Field of Gold
They sat on a low rise in the middle of the field, the flowers stretching around them in all directions, as far as the eye could see. A field of yellow daisies, draped round them like cloth of gold.
Little Lyceus was trying to catch a butterfly, furiously darting this way and that. All the while Philos explained to him about the markings and habits of a fantastic variety of butterflies - some of which might actually be true. In a way.
Meanwhile, Xena sat making a circlet out of daisies, carefully weaving them all together in one unending whole. Accomplishing this to the accompaniment of a song of the Festival, sung in her soft, clear voice.
"There. Iím done!" she suddenly declared. And placed it on her head - a crown of daisies. A crown of gold.
"Some day itíll be a real one," she added. "Then theyíll see. Theyíll all do what I say."
At this point Lyceus, who had been continuing his chase at high speed, suddenly tripped, and fell to the ground.
At first he almost started to cry - perhaps reflexively, even though he had scarcely been hurt. But then he made a little noise of surprise, and held something up in his hand, which he had found there in the field.
Philos had now arrived beside him, and bent down to examine the thing too.
"Look, Xena! Come look at this!"
And so she did, still wearing her crown.
"What is it?" she asked, looking at the thing in Philosí hand. It resembled a handle, with a knob at one end, and a bar at the other. Some shards of iron, rusting away, stuck out from the end with the bar.
"I - I think itís a hilt," said Philos. "Of a sword."
"A Sword! A SWORD!" cried Xena, with wide eyes. She immediately fell to the ground and started searching it. "Maybe itís here! The rest of it! Letís find it!" Lyceus quickly fell to helping her, at least as best he could. Her twin, however, merely looked on thoughtfully.
"No - I donít think thereís any more," said Philos after a few moments. "See here?" he asked, pointing at the rusty shards that stuck out from the hilt. "The rest of it rusted away. Itís gone."
"Hmphf!" answered Xena. But then Lyceus gave a little cry - and came up with a streak of red on one finger. A small cut.
Xena pounced at the place where her little brother had been searching. Philos came to look at the cut on Lyceus finger, and tried to comfort the tiny child; though a few tears fell nonetheless.
Oblivious, Xena was now digging in the ground, trying to get something out of it. And after a short while came a shout of triumph - as she held an object high for all to see.
"What is it?" asked Philos, his voice full of wonder. Even Lyceus stopped his snuffling and stared.
"I donít know," answered Xena. "But isnít it beautiful?"
As indeed it was. A circle of metal, inlaid with patterns of silver and gold. She held it even higher, gleaming brilliantly in the sunshine, the light glancing off its sharp edges in bright flashes of fire.
"Maybe itís dangerous," observed Philos. "Be careful Xena - itís sharp!" But his sister didnít seem to be paying any attention, staring awestruck at her find.
"Swords and things," mused Philos. Then something suddenly seemed to occur to him.
"Hey, this field. I think - maybe I know what it is. What kind of field it was, a long time ago."
His sister continued to stare at the bright circle.
While those who lay there, beneath the field, continued their sleep.
They fed the daisies, and slept on.
This somehow turned out to be a tribute to Lord Dunsany. First came the field of golden flowers; then the Chakram, for some reason; and where would one be likely to find such a thing - but a battlefield? Which in turn called to mind the story of Lord Dunsany, about his own Battlefield.
The Big Battalions
Xena and Philos trudged down the lane, each carrying a big basket of berries. On orders from their mother, they had collected them that morning in the woods next to the south field.
Philos, feeling a little mischievous, had spun a tale about a band of marauding bears while they went about their picking in the forest. But in the end he actually managed to frighten himself more than Xena. So he had discretely left off with his story, only now resuming it.
"... and then, when they found the body of the old woodsman, they knew they were in great danger. Because they could see..."
Then he broke off again. For before them, in the middle of the lane, had suddenly appeared a newcomer. The village boy Doros.
Doros seemed to be in a strange mood - truculent and swaggering. Strange, considering that Xena had thrashed him so thoroughly once before.
In fact, Xena had thrashed a great number of the boys in the neighborhood, at one time or another. Philos couldnít quite understand it; there seemed to be something ... odd ... in his sister. Something wound up, for some reason. Something painful, almost guilty, out of contact with everything around her. That could explode into red fury if nudged the wrong way.
"Hello, Xena. Glad to see you." These words were not really a greeting, however, but rather a signal. For now, from the bushes at the side of the lane, came several boys.
Philos whirled - and there, coming up behind, were even more of them. They were quickly surrounded on all sides.
He stared at the tight ring of faces that had gathered about them. "What ... what do you ... want?" he stammered, haltingly. But Xena said nothing. And neither did any of the others. For they already seemed to know what this was about.
Then, without warning, his sister suddenly charged. Howling like a Fury.
And all pandemonium broke loose.
A press of bodies was instantly around him. He felt himself seized and borne to the ground by many pairs of hands. "Donít bother with him," he heard faintly from above. "He doesnít matter." A great weight held him down roughly to the dirt.
Twisting his head to the side, he saw a violent commotion where Xena had been. There was an interval of flailing limbs and savage cries; but then they seemed to have brought her down as well. After which he saw one of the boys bring out something.
A rusty little knife.
He screamed and struggled, felt fists pummeling his body.
He raised his head, blinking in the sunlight. It took him a few moments to regain his bearings - and then he saw her.
His sister. Xena. Sitting motionless in the lane.
There was a huge ugly red welt under her left eye. A glistening river of blood streamed steadily from her nose, all down her face. But she did nothing to stop it; simply sitting there, gazing blankly, making not a sound.
But ... he couldnít stop staring...
It was her hair. Or rather, what had been her hair. Those shining, raven locks - all gone. Hacked off. Leaving a weird, misshapen stubble of tufts and odd patches.
Then he looked away ... to catch sight of their baskets of berries. Lying on the ground where they had fallen, overturned.
Oh no, he thought; all those berries. The ones they had taken so long to pick. That was all he could think of, for some reason, how sad it was to see them lying there ... all wasted ... on the ground...
His sister walked morosely along a byway in the village, sunk into gloomy dejection. It wasnít really because of her hair; their mother had trimmed its remains into some kind of symmetrical condition as best she could - but Xena hardly seemed to care anyway, one way or the other. Even the taunts that the other children now hurled hardly seemed to affect her.
Rather, it seemed to be something else that bothered her. Perhaps the simple fact that she had suffered a defeat, thought Philos. But how could she have ever hoped to win against so many?
As they continued along, they began to hear some jeers and shouts. Not directed at them, though, surprisingly enough. The target soon came into sight.
It was Faddy - or rather, Fat Addy, before the further contraction of her nickname by the village children. For Adaria was indeed a very big girl, arms and legs projecting like tree trunks from her ambling mountain of flesh.
She stood red and sweating in the hot sun, her tormentors swarming around her like flies. She could never hope to run them down, of course - but they took care to stay out of reach of her huge hands. One boy darted in to poke her with a long stick before swiftly prancing away.
"Ha ha ha - well, sheís not done yet. Broil her some more out here, then into the oven - sheíd feed a whole city!"
The others took up the refrain. "Into the oven! Into the oven!"
She stood like a beast at bay, scowling and sweating, trying to be ready for any sudden approach.
Philos noticed that his sister was watching this scene with a brooding intensity. "The whole bunch - theyíve all ganged up on her," he observed. "But maybe she canít help being fat. And thereís so many of them."
Xena turned to look at her brother. "Many," she said slowly. She was staring at him.
"Thatís who wins - Ďmanyí."
She actually seemed lost for a few moments, as if some astonishing new thing had just entered into her awareness. Which very much startled Philos - his sister normally had an almost over-developed alertness to everything around her, always existing in the moment at hand. Not exactly a day-dreamer.
That was his department.
Then she suddenly gave a little laugh, and shook him by the shoulder. "Thatís it! Youíve got the best advice!" She started to stalk away rapidly, her whole appearance and bearing now transformed into energetic enthusiasm. Philos could only stand and watch with confused wonder.
"Oh, come on! Weíve got lots to do!" She had come back to take hold of his sleeve, and now dragged him along. "Youíre my advisor. You canít leave me!
He did turn to look back at Addy, though. And wondered if anything or anyone would ever come to help her. Somehow.
They picked their way along the overgrown path, where it wandered at the farthest outskirts of the village. Even now they could begin to smell it - the domain of the Pigkeeper.
At last they arrived at the little clearing around the Pigkeeperís ramshackle hut. And there they found him, carrying a bucket to an outbuilding. Arvin, the Pigkeeperís son.
"Hello, Pig Boy!" called out Xena loudly. Philos had some idea that she intended to have a discussion with the fellow - but these words hardly seemed very diplomatic. Perhaps he should advise her on such subjects...
Xena, however, was already marching right up to the "Pig Boy". He simply stood there quietly, watching her.
"My name is Arvin," he declared solemnly.
He was a huge fellow, unbelievably tall and strong for his age. But unfortunately also quite halting and clumsy, not quick with words - and, of course, a Pigkeeperís son. The net result was the profound - and freely demonstrated - contempt of all the village children.
"Okay," answered Xena. "But maybe youíll have to teach me your name."
Arvin only stared.
"They pick on you all the time, donít they?" continued Xena. "They all gang up on you.
Itís not a fair fight."
"So?" shrugged Arvin. "Thatís how it always is. Now get out of here." He turned to continue on to his original destination for his slop bucket.
But Xena immediately ran ahead to block his path. "Well then, how about this. Instead of them all ganging up on you - Iíll fight you. Alone. A fair fight."
Now Philos, too, stared at his sister.
"Weíll fight, and if I win - then youíve got to do what I say. Youíll follow me. And maybe weíll teach them all your name."
"Youíre crazy," observed Arvin blandly. Then he began to move forward once more.
Or rather he tried to move forward. At this point Xena suddenly darted forward to deliver a hit-and-run attack, a tremendous kick to his shin. Philos winced in sympathy, but Arvin scarcely seemed to notice it.
"Come on, you big oaf!" yelled Xena. "Letís go!" She darted forward again - but this time Arvin moved. With a swiftness that certainly astonished Philos, and possibly his sister even more, he suddenly caught her - actually caught her twisting, dodging form - taking hold of her with both hands. And then, in an amazing display of strength, lifted her bodily from the ground.
A strangled cry started to issue from Philosís open mouth.
The huge fellow lifted Xena high up, scowling horribly, something like a low animal growl issuing from his throat. While his victim struggled in grim silence, all the while staring straight into his face.
This horrible scene seemed frozen in time, though it lasted for perhaps only a heartbeat, the two combatants regarding one another with hard, unwavering gazes. After which, in the next moment, he started to lower her. And finally set her quite gently on the ground.
"Okay," he announced calmly. "You win."
Philos could hardly believe it. If his sister was equally surprised, though, it wasnít obvious.
"Iíll do what you tell me too," he then added. Incredible!
Xena took her late opponentís hand. "Okay ... Arvin," she announced quietly. "Weíre friends, now. And hereís what weíre going to do...
He really didnít know how it always happened. But it seemed to Philos that somehow, his sister actually surprised him more with each passing day.
They were all crouched behind the undergrowth, waiting for Xenaís signal. The whole lot of them - Arvin, the two Philistine kids, the boy with the falling sickness, that crazy tomboy Derissa, the "tree man" - even Addy. Plus a host more. All recruited by Xena from their own village and all the villages within walking distance in the district.
It had been an amazing effort; he had never seen his sister like this before. She had collected all of them, all these misfits, outcasts, and rejects - the ones who never fit in, who for whatever reason could never be what was expected of them. And somehow had taken command and assembled them into a functioning whole. His sister Xena, who at times had been known to utter no more than a couple of words in a whole day.
They all crouched there quietly, no one speaking a single word, perfectly disciplined. Even Philos, who had begun to feel as if he must surely explode. Though of course Xena had given him, in particular, some very special instructions, along with a detailed description of what would transpire if he failed to comply...
Then, all at once, they saw them - ambling down the lane below. Doros and all his friends, laughing and joking, on just another lazy outing on a summer afternoon.
And when they came to the turn in the lane, where it skirted the bog ... Xena gave the signal.
Doros and company halted at that instant, frozen by the strange, unnerving shout.
After which followed the deluge.
>From the direction they had intended to go, from the side, from the rear it came - a >hail of rotten fruit, bad eggs, manure, even the odd dead animal or two. Ammunition >heaved by Xenaís cohorts with a highly trained speed and accuracy. (While Philos felt >sure that Arvin had brought some pig farm specialties of his own.)
Mercilessly pelted from three sides by this horrific barrage, there was now only one way open for Doros and his friends. The bog. And if they had any hesitation about this matter, it was soon removed.
For Xena now gave a second signal, and they all came charging down from their hiding places. All the misfits and outcasts and rejects, yelling and screaming at the top of their lungs. After getting one look at this horde, which greatly outnumbered them, the opposition instantly bolted for the comparative safety of the bog.
They piled into the filthy water, sinking to their waists in the muck. And then onward they floundered, desperately trying to get away, quickly becoming covered in stinking black mud. After a few minutes the last of them managed to reach the bank of dry land on the far side, to take to their heels and finally disappear from sight.
Meanwhile, Xena and her cohorts watched all this - strangely, without making a sound. They simply stood, and watched, each perhaps filled with something that Philos could not even begin to guess at.
The two old villagers sat in their chairs, watching the children at play.
"That one, do you see her? That Xena," remarked the first rhetorically.
"Surely," answered the other.
"Well, you know, itís strange. Passing strange."
"You donít say."
"No, I do say. Because havenít you noticed? How the others all seem to listen to her - like she was in charge or somethiní?"
"Now that you mention it..."
"In fact, Iíve also noticed how the kids are a little bit better behaved now. Thereís not so many fights - and theyíre more respectful to their elders."
Philos now came up with a bowl of fruit for each of the old folks.
"Ah - just as I was sayiní..."
And also, Philos thought with some satisfaction - no one called him Goldilocks.
"Apres moi, le deluge" - Louis XV (attributed)
"It is said that God is always for the big battalions" - Francois Marie Arouet (Voltaire)
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