Convert this page to Pilot DOC FormatWith Good Intentions - part 2 of 6
Chapter 12 - Warhorses and Warriors
While Xena checked the stables for warhorses and warriors, Gabrielle hid behind a
wagon, watching for suspicious activity in town. There were a few people conversing
by a water troth in front of a store . . . a pair of men walking into the tavern . . . a
mother chasing after her son to get him to come inside for the evening. Not exactly
suspicious activity, she considered. Unless, they are all TRYING to act normal. . . .
The bard's keen eyes narrowed, darting back and forth along the street, looking for
seemingly normal activity. Gods, it was everywhere. . . .
"Aghhh . . . " She blurted and jumped, feeling a hand on her shoulder.
"Don't DO that!" She whispered angrily, ducking back behind the wagon and refocused
on the incredibly suspicious street.
"You were SUPPOSED to be paying attention to your surroundings!" Xena scolded,
with hands on hips, looking down at the bard.
"I was! Can I help it if you are so QUIET?" She turned and whispered angrily, then
refocused on the incredibly suspicious people in the incredibly suspicious street.
"Gabrielle, you HAVE to watch your back. What if it wasn't me?"
"But it WAS . . . ," Gabrielle quietly countered. "And . . . you got lucky," Gabrielle
added with annoyance, knowing full well there was no luck involved.
"It only takes one lucky blow to ruin your day," Xena relayed coolly with a raised
The bard opened her mouth to respond but instead paused a moment to stare at the
tall warrior towering over her, then eyed the wagon she was crouched down next to.
"Xena," Gabrielle said coolly, looking up with a thin smile. "Is there some reason why
you are lecturing me about being careful while standing UP, visible to ALL who pass by
and talking so LOUDLY your family in Amphipolis can hear???" Gabrielle snapped.
"Gabrielle, you'd tell me if you were exaggerating . . . wouldn't you?" Xena asked dryly.
Gabrielle stood up with a thin smile, then glanced around, choosing to ignore her
warrior. "I gather you didn't find Bayentes or his men."
"No," Xena relayed coolly. Her eyes darted to the street and narrowed. ". . . until now."
Staveros trotted into town, exhausted from his disturbing meeting with Bayentes. He
looked up to the sky, praying this all would be over soon and he could just go back to
being a family-man and merchant. His eyes returned to the street when he noted a
dark blur pass in front of him. Before he could register what was happening, he felt two
powerful hands grab his tunic and yank him off his horse.
He tumbled to the ground. Looking up, he found a dark figure towering over him. He
"Xena . . . "
"You were in such a rush, we didn't get a chance to say good-bye," she said with a
glaring smile which faded. "Where is Bayentes?" The Warrior Princess asked coolly,
swiftly unsheathing her sword.
"He . . . He's on his way . . . You've got to help us," Staveros blurted out, looking up at
the blade pointing at him.
The scene in the street was drawing a nervous crowd. Xena threw sharp stares of
warning at the people starting to line the street.
"Why should I trust you?" Xena growled as Gabrielle caught up to the two.
"He has my family," Staveros whimpered nervously.
"And why should I believe that??" Xena barked. "Gabrielle!" The warrior snapped
angrily, as the bard went to Staveros and helped him up.
"Xena . . . " Gabrielle responded with a sigh, eyeing the sword then the warrior.
While Xena sat at the kitchen table, glaring at Staveros, Gabrielle stood, casually
looking around the small Zemalian home. From the embroidered curtains and other
nick-knacks carefully displayed, Gabrielle could tell there was a strong woman's
influence, though the home was unkempt at the moment.
"We were out by the river three days ago . . . having a quiet picnic," Staveros poured
the tea into two mugs, struggling to not let the warrior's glaring get to him. "Sylvia, my
wife, finally got me to finally take a day off from work," the man said sadly.
Xena glanced at the two mugs then the man, unmoved by his tale of woe.
Gabrielle sat quietly, next to her tense partner.
"Riders came and took us to Bayentes' camp. I was separated from my wife and child and brought to his tent. Bayentes told me I could free my family if I helped him. If I refused . . . he'd torture them and kill them in front of me," Staveros looked down at the table.
"Why should I believe anything you say?" Xena asked, pushing the still-full mug away
from her. She knew Bayentes was more than capable of that kind of recruitment, as
was she. She also knew, Bayentes routinely used spies . . . as did she.
"For GODS sake, he has my FAMILY," Staveros snapped, then felt two sharp jabs to
his neck. The tea kettle dropped onto the floor, followed by the merchant.
"You know, I'm still not quite there yet . . . but I'll give you 30 more seconds to try and
convince me." Xena stood over him.
"XENA!" Gabrielle blurted, knocking her mug over as she stood abruptly. "What are
"Chatting with Staveros." The warrior responded casually, still eyeing the so-called
"XENA!" Gabrielle grabbed her arm. "Just look at his home, the curtains, the child's
bedroom . . ." Gabrielle relayed testily. Xena yanked her arm from the bard and eyed
her with annoyance.
"Gabrielle, DON'T underestimate Bayentes. I wouldn't put it past him to set ALL this
up," Xena countered angrily.
"Please! I'm telling the truth . . . oh GOD's!" Staveros cried fearfully. Xena glanced at
the man, sure he was holding something back.
"Xena, PLEASE!" Gabrielle pleaded.
"Gabrielle . . . " Xena tried to explain.
"You're scaring me," Gabrielle interjected forcefully, locking eyes with her warrior.
Xena froze, letting the words and fearful look sink in.
"Bayentes is capable of doing much worse than scaring you, Gabrielle," the warrior
responded coolly before inflicting two more jabs to Staveros' neck.
"Yes sir, but. . . . " The man hesitated, looking at Bayentes slice another piece of lamb,
then the servants who looked at each other uneasily.
"Yes BUT?" Bayentes sat back in his chair, nibbing at the meat on his knife. "Oh, I
don't like the sound of THAT," he said with a slight frown. "Are they or are they not
ready?" Bayentes asked calmly.
"Yes sir, the platoon IS ready. But I just was wondering, since we have our whole army
ready, why only one platoon? You've said we shouldn't underestimate Xena." Seeing
the thoughtful look on Bayentes face helped eased the lieutenant's nervousness.
"So, you were curious?" Bayentes asked, getting up from his seat with an
understanding smile which was interrupted with a sip of wine.
"Well, yes sir. If she is as good as you say . . . " the young man explained to the
"Oh, trust me, she IS . . ." Bayentes interjected helpfully, leaning against the table and
finished devouring the lamb chunk on his knife.
"So you were just questioning . . . why only one platoon, huh?" Bayentes asked,
emptying his goblet. He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his forearm and placed the
goblet on the table behind him.
"Yes sir," the lieutenant nodded, watching the servant promptly refill the warlord's
"You really want to know why?" Bayentes spoke softly, waving him closer to let him in
on a secret. The lieutenant nodded and walked over to the warlord.
The young man noticed Bayentes' eyes darting conspiratorially around the tent just
before a dull sensation filled his chest.
The lieutenant's jaw dropped as he looked down at the knife handle protruding from his
breast. His initial shock was replaced with an odd curiosity as his fingers absently
touched the knife handle. 'Why didn't it feel sharp?' he wondered as his fingers fell to
his side and he collapsed to the ground. A few gurgling breaths escaped past the
bloody knife as his body shuddered, then became still. The gurgling stopped.
Bayentes looked down at the body thoughtfully then glanced up at his shocked
servants with a smirk.
"Why, why, why," Bayentes blurted wearily. "Kids these days and their darn
questions." Bayentes shook his head with a chuckle as he anchored his foot on the
young man's chest and withdrew his knife.
Bayentes sighed as he sat back down at his dinner table. Eyeing the bloody knife, he
shrugged and sliced another piece of lamb.
Staveros nodded, rubbing his throat and trying to ignore the dark presence in the
"Why?" Gabrielle asked softly.
"I told you, he has my family. He said if I help him, he'll return them to me," Staveros
said with irritation.
"I wouldn't count on it," Xena replied coldly, drawing a glare from Gabrielle.
"You don't know that Xena," Gabrielle countered, for Staveros' sake.
Xena sighed and shook her head as Gabrielle continued with her questioning.
"What did he want?"
"He wanted to know about Xena. What she is doing, who she is with . . ." Staveros
looked at her sadly then dropped his eyes to the floor.
"And you told him. . . ." Gabrielle stated softly.
"Yes. But he already knew. He said. . . ." Staveros stopped, his eyes dropped to the
ground as he moaned with a grimace.
"What did he say?!" Xena bolted out of her chair, startling both Gabrielle and
"He said . . . he heard she had lovely ears."
Mel groaned with frustration and put the receiver down. The phone at the Rits Karlton
was still busy. She hoped to get Janice to start looking for her watch before it got dark.
She just had to get her watch back. Picking up the receiver, she dialed again, this time
for a taxi.
The cab screeched to a stop at the now familiar Athenian street, lunging Mel forward.
The cabby looked at the low-rent neighborhood then at the high-class lady in the back
seat. "You sure this . . . ?"
"Yes Yes, this is the right street, thank you," Mel blurted impatiently as she handed him
the fare and pushed up her glasses.
Stepping out of the cab, she glanced up to the sky. Still cloudy and rainy, she sighed
as she opened her umbrella, grateful she thought to bring it this time.
With quick, determined steps, she arrived at Janice's hotel. Shaking the water droplets
from the collapsed umbrella before entering the front door, Mel overheard Octavia
chatting on the phone. Without a pause in her conversation, the old woman waved at
Mel when she appeared in the lobby.
"I don't CARE how much you hate hospital food . . . I'm not brining you any baklava or
any OTHER food, you ol' fool!" Octavia snapped. "And I'm certainly NOT going to
bring you any Ouzo!"
Mel could hear the faint sound of the man's voice on the other end of the phone and
"You are LUCKY to still be around to complain about the bad food and lumpy beds, ol'
Mel heard the man grumble then ask when they were going to visit next.
"Janice and I will be by tomorrow morning early, Janice has to . . . " Octavia stopped at
something else he said which Mel couldn't make out. "WHAT?!?" Octavia blurted then
slammed the receiver down.
"What did he say?" Mel asked with concern.
"He said we shouldn't come by too early, cause HE wanted to sleep in . . . that ol' fool"
Octavia shook her head.
"Is Janice here?" Mel asked glancing up at the ceiling expecting that after an
exhausting day like today, she was probably sleeping. Though feeling a bit guilty she
was about to interrupt Janice's well-earned break, she just had to find her watch.
"Just missed her," Octavia relayed. A look of surprise, disappointment, then worry covered the pretty southerner's face. "What's wrong?" Octavia asked.
"I lost my watch . . . My grandmother gave it to me," Mel explained, absently touching
her bare wrist.
Octavia nodded in understanding. "WE'LL find it," Octavia said confidently.
cards. . . . which happened to be kings.
Georg grinned as he entered the bar, hearing the moans from her fellow poker players.
Finished with his errand for Dr. Covington, he sat on a stool, ordered a drink and eyed
the sizable jackpot. His grin grew. The poor fellows at the table were learning a costly
lesson he learned long ago . . . don't ever play poker with Dr. Covington.
Janice sat back in her chair and puffed on her cigar. She enjoyed the disgruntled looks
from the four other players, especially from the boastful Greek soldier, who spent the
past hour telling of his irritating exploits with the army and the ladies. He downed his
sixth drink, and cursed when he spilled some on his ceremonial dress uniform.
"That's four hands in a row!" The cocktail waitress laughed with amusement as she set
down another round of drinks in front of the players. "About time someone showed
these guys how it's done. This one's on the house, honey," she squeezed the
archeologist's shoulder and winked.
"Thanks sweetheart." Janice downed her whiskey and grinned with satisfaction, for
the free drink and even more for the fact the attention from the waitress was annoying
the army braggart.
"Four hands . . . either you are a great player or . . . " the soldier observed, leaving his
accusation hanging dangerously in the smoky barroom.
Janice's grin disappeared.
"Uh, my wife is probably wondering where I am . . . " the thin man in glasses blurted,
unheard by the soldier and archeologist. The thin man quickly collected the remains of
his fortune, nervously glancing between the two, and left the table.
"What are you saying?" Janice asked coolly as she placed her empty glass down on
the table and straightened up in her chair as she eyed the soldier.
"Well, seems to me . . . no one is THAT lucky, Dr. Covington," the soldier leered
accusingly at the redhead.
"Whoa . . . look at the time," another poker player blurted, quickly glancing at the watch
without reading it as he stumbled out of his chair and left the table.
"You better be careful of what you say . . . Sergeant Tomas," Janice warned him
crisply, her body tensing.
"Or what?" The soldier glared at her.
"All out of money . . . been a pleasure losing to you . . . " the third man got up and
nodded to Janice, who was too busy glaring at the soldier to acknowledge his
"Or I'll teach you some manners," Janice informed him casually, drawing a long, slow
puff on her cigar. Her eyes narrowed.
The waitress sighed and nodded to the bar tender who rolled his eyes and started to stow away some glasses below the bar.
"Tough talk . . . from a woman," the soldier tried to stare her down. "How could a little
thing like YOU be able to teach ME any manners." The man laughed at Janice, who
Georg quickly moved behind the bar, smiling at the waitress who shook her head at his
"Don't sell yourself short," Janice smirked. "I've taught manners to bigger and
DUMBER jack-asses than you," Janice snarled.
"Sounds like I need to teach YOU a lesson in manners," the angry soldier clenched the
"Tough talk . . . from a guy in a SKIRT!" Janice blurted through her cigar, successfully
provoking the Greek soldier out of his chair, which he knocked over. Janice also stood,
dodging his large hands lunging at her.
With a swiftness that surprised the soldier, Janice grabbed his arm and the back of his
ceremonial dress uniform and tossed his bulky frame to the ground. When he looked
up from the floor stunned, Janice eyed him and took her cigar out of her mouth.
"I don't cheat," she informed him through clenched teeth. "And you owe me an
apology," she relayed, puffing the last drag out of her cigar before tossing it to the floor.
"Ahhhh . . . shit," she blurted with annoyance as he scrambled to his feet and lunged at
"It could have fallen off around. . . ." Mel informed Octavia. "Ugh." Mel blurted,
struggling with her umbrella which got stuck between the narrow space between the
crate and building. With a sharp yank, she successfully freed it . . . and bent it
completely out of shape.
"I don't see it." Octavia squinted as she inspected the ground, ignoring the southerner,
which she considered best.
With a heavy sigh of defeat, Mel neatly folded up the mangled umbrella as best she
could and tossed it on top of the crate.
"I don't either," Mel said sadly.
"Well, we haven't looked upstairs," Octavia offered hopefully. Mel nodded and
followed the older woman.
"I know it's silly to get so upset about a watch but . . . ," Mel explained with a little
embarrassment, shaking her head. "I can just imagine what Janice would say." Mel
sighed and pushed her glasses up her nose.
"You'd be surprised Melinda," Octavia responded with a knowing grin. "Though she'd
rather shoot herself than admit it, Janice can be very sentimental," Octavia offered with
a shrug. "You know that compass her father gave her?" Octavia asked as they started
to climb the fire escape stairs.
"The small burgundy one she carries around?" Mel asked curiously, then rolled her
eyes at the fire escape. She knew should have worn slacks.
"Yeah. He told her if she ever got lost, it would help her find her way. When she
thought she lost it," Octavia explained, pausing a moment to shake her head at the
memory. "I never saw anything get Janice so upset," Octavia informed her.
"I know how she must have felt," Mel said sadly touching her bare wrist.
Except for the prostitute, who was snoring soundly on the cot in their cell, she was
separated from the rest of the dregs of humanity because she was a woman. This was
the one occasion where she didn't mind that distinction, considering the large collection
of drunken and thieving male dregs packing in the cell across from them.
Janice eyed the soldier, in his now not-so-pristine ceremonial uniform, sulking and
tending to his wounds in the dark corner. He shouldn't have called her a cheat, Janice
considered, eyeing the knuckles on her right fist, trying not to feel guilty about the
broken nose she gave him just before the police arrived. She sighed heavily and
applied more pressure to her aching eyebrow. If only she hadn't slipped on that spot
on the floor, she silently moaned, looking around the familiar cell.
The jingling of the jail keeper's keys as he opened up the main door got everyone's
hopeful attention, except for Janice who glanced over to the snoring prostitute, who just
shifted with a snort.
"Covington," he announced, slowly walking over to her cell as he sorted through his
large collection of keys. Finally selecting one, he placed it in the door. "Come with
me," he ordered and twisted the key, getting a loud metallic clunk before he rolled open
the heavy door.
Janice stood up, withholding a pained groan as she glanced over to the soldier. His
black and blue eyes bitterly followed her every step as he continued to sulk in his
"Dr. Covington! Are you ok?" Georg asked with concern as she was lead to the
"Yeah, just great," Janice answered, pulling the handkerchief from her head and eyeing
the blood on it.
"Hey Janice!" A tall patrolman blurted as he paused on his way out of the station for his
rounds. "I saw that soldier's nose . . . he'll have a good time trying to explain THAT to
his captain!" He chuckled, waving to her as he left.
Janice waved back unenthusiastically with the bloody handkerchief and replaced it on
"Janice, you ought to go to the hospital and get that stitched up," the sergeant at the
front desk told her, handing her personal effects back to her in an envelope.
Janice grunted as she opened the envelope. Sighing with relief nothing was missing,
she placed the various contents back in her pockets.
"You know, it's been a few months since you've visited us. We were beginning to
worry about you . . . " the policeman smirked.
"Thanks for your concern, Victor," Janice responded dryly, feeling her head throb.
"Well, we have also been missing the bail money . . . " the policeman admitted with a
shrug, finishing some paper work.
"How much money is left Georg?" Janice questioned him curiously, glancing back at
"Well, after your bail, you won enough for new tires for your truck like you wanted,"
Georg said happily, then eyed Janice suspiciously. "Why?"
"What does he want you to do now?" Gabrielle continued her questioning of Staveros,
who found Xena's pacing unnerving. The bard was used to it.
"Make sure Xena stays in Zemal. He is coming for you, Xena. He will kill everyone in
Zemal if you aren't here . . . you CAN'T let that happen!"
"So he wants me to just sit and wait for him . . . AND his army," Xena laughed sharply.
"Well, I don't LIKE waiting. Why don't I just drop in on Ol' Bay and say 'hi' right now
and save him the trip?" She suggested with a sneer.
"You can't DO that!" Staveros blurted. "He'll kill my family."
Xena sighed and looked at Gabrielle, who knew the warrior didn't believe his family
was still alive. The bard glanced sadly to the ground, beginning to believe that as well.
Xena returned her gazed back to Staveros. "How well armed is Zemal?"
"Uh . . . we're not fighters, Xena, like I said before, and . . . uh . . . " Staveros paused
"And WHAT?" Xena blurted with annoyance, finding it difficult discussing anything
with this man.
"They're idiots," Xena said bluntly, also eyeing the people giving them a wide berth as
they walked through town. "If they think Bayentes will let them just sit back and watch
without getting their hands dirty. . . ." She paused, shaking her head. "Whether they
like it or not, Gabrielle, Bayentes has involved them," the warrior added, her anger
Before Gabrielle could think of a response to help ease her warrior's escalating
anxiety, they watched a couple quickly exit the Inn where Staveros was motioning them
to enter. The innkeeper moaned at the lost income.
"Well, I guess we won't have trouble finding a room," Gabrielle mentioned with forced
optimism as they approached the front desk.
"This is not a good idea, Gabrielle." Xena eyed the surroundings and scattering
"I'm not happy about it either," the old woman muttered then plastered on a large smile
when she felt the Warrior Princess' glare. "You can have any room you want, free of
charge . . . of course," she informed Xena, glaring at Staveros, who nodded.
"Xena, we need to talk. We might as well do it in a comfortable room," Gabrielle
informed her softly, squeezing her warrior's forearm, and headed up the stairs to the
first vacant room.
"Xena," Staveros blurted uneasily, causing the warrior to turn and silently eye him.
"You know nobody wants to fight, but I do have some men who'll be looking out for
Bayentes and his army. We'll let you know as soon as we know," Staveros informed
A thin smile crossed the warrior's face. "Great," Xena responded flatly.
"If there is anything you want Xena, let me know. I'll get it," he offered nervously.
"Like a last meal?" Xena asked with a raised eyebrow. Her unnerving gaze sent a chill
"Uh . . . I . . . Uh . . ."
"For your information . . . I'm not hungry," Xena responded coolly, turned and
ascended the stairs.
Gabrielle sat quietly in their room waiting for her warrior, who was busy inspecting the
hallway and adjacent rooms. Finally, Xena entered their room. The bard watched the
focused warrior walk straight to the window and peer out into the street. Then the
warrior went to the walls and tapped them for what the bard believed had to be a very
good reason, even if she didn't know why. After tapping on the walls, Xena inspected
the closet and then under the bed. Finding nothing out of the ordinary, the warrior
returned to center of the room and finally settled in to pace.
"Xena . . . " Gabrielle called softly as she got up from her chair.
"Gabrielle, they expect me to surrender. If . . . "
"Surrendering is NOT an option!" Gabrielle snapped, interrupting the warrior.
Xena stopped in her tracks, finding fire, not just in the bard's words, but blazing in her
green eyes. She knew the bard would stick by her no matter what. It made the warrior
both thankful and fearful.
"I wasn't planning on it," the warrior relayed, with a smirk.
"Good," Gabrielle said firmly, but with great relief.
"What I was trying to say is surrendering isn't an option with Bayentes. He would keep
me alive just so I could see him continue to hurt the people I love." Xena sighed. "Part
of me wishes surrendering WAS an option," Xena admitted wearily. Seeing the bard
start to protest, Xena placed her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder.
"Gabrielle, I want you to go to Amphipolis and wait for me there," Xena quickly relayed,
looking deeply into the bard's surprised eyes.
"You said he likes to play mind games." The bard responded, ignoring her warrior's
discussion about leaving. "So we may have . . . "
"Gabrielle, Amphipolis??" Xena interrupted the bard, determined to get her to agree to
go. "Or Amazonia, but that is further away. I think Amphipolis is a better choice . . .
less time on the . . . " Xena relayed, then noticed the bard's eye roll.
"Gabrielle, he would harm you in an instant, if he had the chance," Xena informed the
bard with annoyance that she wasn't taking this seriously.
"Because it would hurt you, Xena. I know. But why Zemal? Why make a stand here?"
Gabrielle asked and started to pace herself, contemplating that question.
"Zemal isn't different from any other town. They are full of innocent people who
Bayentes has involved in this mess," Xena relayed impatiently. "Gabrielle, I would feel
better if you went to Amphipolis and waited for me there . . . please." Xena hoped her
pleading look would convince the bard.
"Amphipolis . . . it's about a three-day walk from here," Gabrielle stopped and
considered that fact thoughtfully. "It's really not that far . . . "
"Yes! And you could easily get there in about a day on Argo," Xena said with
enthusiasm. "You could wait for me with mo . . . " Xena paused, realizing what
Gabrielle was getting at. ". . .ther."
"You're right, I SHOULD go." Gabrielle said with concern.
"NO!" Xena countered, feeling so helpless. Damn him, she silently cursed.
Amphipolis, of course, she silently scolded herself for overlooking that.
"Someone will have to warn them, Xena. Amphipolis is a target, your family is a
"You Gabrielle, YOU are a target. I'll send someone else . . . Staveros . . . what am I
thinking," Xena blurted, rubbing her temples. "I'll send somebody else . . . " the warrior
"We've got a problem then," Gabrielle said flatly. "You don't want me here with you,
yet you don't want me in Amphipolis with your family, and those are the ONLY two
places I am willing to be."
"The Amazons?" The warrior suggested, already knowing the answer from the bard's
"No Xena," Gabrielle responded firmly. Xena moaned with frustration and started to
pace again not liking her choices one bit.
"You are the most stubborn, aggravating, single-minded . . . " Xena paused, searching
for the right word. "Stubborn . . ."
"You said stubborn," Gabrielle informed her helpfully, making the warrior's eyes roll.
"ANNOYING, disagreeable, argumentative, vexing . . . " Xena continued.
"Oooh, Vexing! GOOD one," Gabrielle interjected.
"Ugh! Why do I put up with this?" Xena spoke to the room, shaking her head.
"For the opportunity to work on your vocabulary?"
"You know I'm right and it annoys you. It was bound to happen," Gabrielle stated with
a confident smirk. Xena sighed.
"So what do you want to do?" Xena asked and exhaled heavily, rubbing the back of
"I think you're stuck here . . . at least until you find out what Bayentes' next move is."
Gabrielle relayed, moving behind the warrior to rub her knotted neck for her.
"It does seem he has all the cards. I leave Zemal, the town gets attacked, I stay here,
the town gets attacked, I go to after him, Staveros' family dies, if they are not dead
already," the warrior relayed, shaking her head, and looked to the ground. "AND he
knows I hate waiting," Xena added with annoyance.
"That could be an advantage." Gabrielle noted. "The longer he makes you wait, the
more time we have to plan." She responded thoughtfully, making the warrior look at
"You don't happen to have a plan do you?" Xena asked, making the bard smile
broadly. But the smile quickly faded.
"Not yet. But I should go to Amphipolis and warn them, Xena," Gabrielle informed the
unhappy warrior. "Hey." Gabrielle reached and caressed Xena's face. "They are my
family too, or did you forget that?"
"I'm sorry," Xena relayed, pulling her bard into a tight embrace.
"This isn't your fault." Gabrielle blurted automatically, then stiffened. The Warrior
Princess' arms fell away from the embrace.
"Xena . . . "
"There's no need to say anything," Xena said coolly. "We both know it IS my fault. All
of this. And I'll figure out how to deal with it."
"WE'LL figure it out." Gabrielle relayed with annoyance. "Together." She added
firmly, poking the warrior in the stomach then sighing with great exasperation.
"I guess I've answered my own question." Xena gazed at the annoyed bard.
"WHAT question?" Gabrielle snapped.
"Why I put up with this," Xena answered. "I'd be a fool not to."
In the Athens General Emergency Room, a gray-haired doctor finished stitching the
corner of Janice's eyebrow. He sighed heavily as he put a small bandage over the
stitches. That was the third heavy sigh from the older man since she arrived.
"Having trouble breathing, doc?" Janice asked coolly.
"Frankly, I'm disappointed, Janice. I thought you were finally through with this
carousing nonsense. I guess not." He sighed again as he shook his head.
"Would you believe I missed you?" Janice responded as she pulled a cigar out of her
"I'd prefer a visit where I wasn't sewing you up or setting your bones, Janice," the
doctor countered, eyeing the cigar the archeologist placed in her mouth as she
searched her pockets for a lighter.
"You KNOW there's no smoking in the hospital," he scolded her.
With an annoyed grunt, Janice reluctantly returned the cigar to her pocket.
Georg returned to the emergency room. Janice noticed his normally smiling face was
blank. He looked ill.
"What is it? Another nurse turn you down?" Janice smirked as she hopped off the
examining table. "Thanks doc," she relayed to the old man, who nodded quietly then
shook his head.
Georg was still quiet.
"Georg, what's wrong?" She repeated as they left the emergency room.
"Aristotle is dead," Georg blurted, blinking back tears forming in his eyes.
"Dead?" Janice blurted with a disbelieving laugh. Georg looked at the ground. "He
was fine," Janice added with annoyance.
Seeing Georg shake his head no, she pushed past him and marched through the
hospital hallways. Arriving at the door to Aristotle's room, Janice found Octavia sitting
alone and weeping softly. Aristotle's bed was empty.
"Janice." Octavia looked up from her chair and wiped her nose with a handkerchief.
"They just took him away," she said with an uneasy voice, tears still flowing from her
"He was FINE," Janice countered angrily, staring at the empty bed.
"The doctors say the smoke and stress from the fire was too much for him. His heart
finally gave out, Janice," Octavia spoke softly as she stood and put her hand on
Janice's shoulder. "That ol' fool left without saying good-bye," the old woman
complained through choked sobs.
"Yeah . . . he did," Janice said numbly. She stared a long silent moment at the empty
bed. "What about . . . arrangements?" Janice asked, looking at the floor by Octavia's
"He . . . left his body to the medical school," Octavia answered with a couple sniffs.
"Old fool, why would they ever want HIS pickled body . . . probably thought he'd save
money on funeral expenses," she added, dabbing the tears from her eyes.
"I'm going home . . . it's been a long day," Janice relayed vacantly, took a deep breath
and left the hospital.
Hearing someone climb the fire escape, Mel froze. It had to be Janice, she thought and
anxiously waited for the archeologist to open the door. Curiously, the door didn't open
when she expected. She bit a nail and continued to wait, until she heard a canvas
sheet fall to the floor, followed by hammering.
Mel followed the sound of hammering to Aristotle's room. At the doorway, she looked
up to find Janice, up on a roof beam, pounding away in the moonlight. Stepping into
the room, Mel focused on the shadowy figure busy with the roof repair . . . instead of
the sawhorse directly in front of her. Toppling it over, along with the box of nails
resting on it, Mel became an unwitting liberator to the metal prisoners eagerly
scattering far from their cardboard confines.
The hammering stopped.
"Do you want to be alone?" Mel asked softly.
"Yes," Janice said automatically.
Mel nodded sadly and started to leave when she heard a weak 'no,' from the
archeologist, who wasn't really unsure what the right answer was.
The southerner looked back uncertainly. "Do you want another board?" Mel asked,
picking up a two-by-four.
Mel heard the archeologist's pained breath and ragged exhale. Without a word, Mel
offered the board to the dark form above her. With a sluggish nod, Janice took the
offering. The southerner retrieved another board.
The hammering resumed.
Stretching her long arm out towards the night stand, she grabbed for her alarm clock to
find out the time. Grabbing only air, her hand blindly searched over what seemed like
an unusually large number of papers and books before she felt something cold, metallic
and certainly not her alarm clock. She abruptly sat up, knocking that something off the
night stand, along with the pile of papers that something was resting on.
"Oh my," Mel blurted, a bit disoriented as she looked around Janice's room. Glancing
down at her very wrinkled outfit, she groaned. Looking to the floor, she confirmed that
something she knocked off was Janice's revolver. With a sigh, she leaned over the
edge of the bed and very carefully picked the gun up with her fingertips.
Janice emerged from the bathroom dressed in a fresh shirt and pair of khaki trousers.
She stopped in her tracks when she saw the southerner sitting up with a stunned look
on her face and a revolver dangling from her fingers.
"I promise, I won't tell you how you look . . . just don't shoot," Janice blurted, quickly
raising her hands up with a cringe on her face.
Mel rolled her eyes. "It fell," she explained curtly as she motioned to the floor.
Janice grinned as she approached the southerner. "You surprise me, I thought you
didn't like guns."
"I don't!" Mel blurted with frustration. "I was reaching for my alarm clock, which of
course, wasn't there and . . . " Mel stopped her explanation, realizing the archeologist
was teasing her. Her eyes narrowed slightly. "Please take this . . . thing . . . now."
Mel released the revolver from her finger tips into the capable hands of Janice, who
quickly slipped it in the holster hanging on her chair.
"You sleep well?" Janice asked, pushing a pile of clothes out of her way to sit on the
sofa and put her boots on.
"Yes," she responded with surprise. "I never imagined I could be comfortable sleeping
in this," Mel glanced down at her wrinkled suit.
"I don't think comfort had anything to do with it . . . you were exhausted." Janice
relayed. Seeing the southern squinting at her, Janice got up and retrieved Mel's
glasses from the table.
"Me? I'm surprised you are up, let alone . . . "
"Here," Janice interrupted and handed the glasses to the southerner.
"Oh, thank you." Mel gratefully put on her glasses. "Good Lord Janice, your face!"
She blurted, seeing the stitches and bruising over her left eyebrow.
"Yeah, one only a mother could love . . . well, maybe not." Janice chuckled as she
grabbed her holster, greatly disturbing Mel. "Feel free to sleep in. It's only eight-thirty
now and you could probably use a few more hours."
"What about you? You must be . . . ," Mel blurted to the archeologist heading for the
door. "Janice Covington! Would you PLEASE slow down for one moment!" Mel
blurted with frustration as she pushed the covers aside and scrambled out of bed.
"Mel, I can't," Janice snapped back, turning to the southerner. "I can't," Janice
repeated softly then broke her gaze from the disturbingly blue eyes.
"I've got a meeting with DICK today and a few more errands to run before our trip to
Zemal tomorrow," Janice quickly offered.
"You should start thinking about packing, yourself, if you haven't already. We'll be
leaving tomorrow morning, early. A day later than I hoped but . . . things happen."
Janice blurted, quickly leaving.
Once again the worried southerner was left alone, staring at a door.
"Things happen?" Mel spoke with amazement to the empty doorway. "Things
happen?!?" Mel repeated testily, marching to the bed. "Things like a fire!?!" She
snapped at the bed as she tucked the sheets neatly under the mattress.
"Or perhaps a friend's death," she blurted as she angrily fluffed the pillows, threw the
bed spread over the bed, and tucked and straightened it until there were no wrinkles
"Or perhaps, bumping into an 'old friend' who seems to bother you for some reason,
which I'm sure you are not about to tell me because it is NONE of my business," She
continued, picking up the papers and books she knocked off the night stand and
placing them back in neat piles.
Georg entered the room with a smile which faded as he watched the brunette, who
marched to the sofa and sat down and picked up a shirt.
"Or perhaps, the things like whatever your face happened to run into???" She blurted
as she folded the clothes on the sofa into neat piles. Finished, she sighed heavily and
turned to find Georg staring at her.
"Ah, I can come back when you're done . . . with the room," he relayed with an uneasy
smile and started to retreat.
"Georg? What is it?" Melinda asked firmly, standing up. He was surprised at how
uncomfortable he was with her blue eyes demanding an answer from him.
"Well, Janice wanted me to tell you Octavia has breakfast ready, if you're interested."
Georg smiled and shrugged.
"Did SHE have any breakfast?" Mel asked crisply.
"Uh . . . "
"Of course not," Mel blurted with annoyance, grabbed her purse and walked briskly
"I guess not." Georg shrugged as he sat at the table. "She actually straightened up Dr.
Covington's room." He informed the old woman with an amazed chuckle and sipped
"God knows, it's about time someone did . . ." Octavia put a plate of toast in front of
"I think she's crazy," he blurted, eagerly biting into a piece of toast.
"Well, the room WAS messy," Octavia noted as she served the eggs.
"No, I mean . . . she was talking to herself. Well, more like talking to the room. I
should tell Dr. Covington to watch out for . . . "
"Georg! Don't stick your nose in where it doesn't belong!" The old woman scolded
him. "Besides, anyone who would put up with Janice would have to be a bit crazy,"
Octavia informed Georg, who nodded.
For hours, Mel sat patiently in the passenger's seat, staring between the map in her lap
and the road ahead of them, quietly debating the pros and cons of asking her any or all
of those questions. Staring at the map some more, she sighed and looked over to the
"How did you get those stitches, Janice?" Mel finally asked what she considered the
"I went to the emergency room with a gash and they gave them to me, pretty straight
forward," Janice responded, evoking an irritated sigh from the southerner.
"Dr. Covington . . . you KNOW what I mean!"
"Why didn't you say what you mean?" Janice countered. Mel's eyes narrowed.
"All right . . . " Mel said slowly, then plastered on a thin smile. "Janice, how DID you
get that gash that required those stitches?"
"There you go! Now I know exactly what you mean without having to guess," Janice
relayed with a broad smile and abruptly stopped the truck, causing the southerner to
crumple the map as she lunged forward.
"Well, here it is," Janice announced to the southerner, who sat up slowly and glared at
the evasive archeologist. Lord, grant me the strength, Mel silently prayed, sighing
heavily as she pushed her glasses up on her nose.
Shaking her head in defeat, she glanced between the site and the large map in her lap
"Janice, are you sure? The river should be on the left and it's clearly on the right," the
southerner questioned. "See?" Mel pointed to the map.
Janice leaned towards the southerner, glancing at the map then the southerner. "Do
you mind?" Janice asked, reaching for the map. Getting a sigh and shrug from the
southerner, Janice took the map, rotated it upside down and placed it back on Mel's
"Mystery solved," Janice smirked.
"But. . . ." Mel's eyebrows furrowed.
"North is behind us." Janice motioned to the back of the truck. "You had the North
arrow facing South, which is in front of us."
"Oh Janice, I don't know why you insisted on me being the navigator. You of all people
certainly don't need one and I've never been any good with maps," the southerner
blurted with frustration, shaking her head at the stupid mistake.
"You will be," Janice said confidently, surprising the southerner. "Besides, you already
fold them better than I do . . . and that's half the battle," the archeologist added with a
shrug and hopped out of the truck.
"Remember, don't go on the main roads," Xena quietly reminded a yawning Gabrielle
as she checked the saddle for a third time.
Finished with the saddle, Xena stepped back and quickly glanced around the alley
behind the inn, content there was no one who would see Gabrielle's predawn
"No main roads, check," Gabrielle softly responded and started to mount Argo but the
warrior's gentle hand over her forearm stopped her. The bard turned back to the
warrior with a patient smile, which was interrupted by another yawn.
"And don't forget to watch for ambushes from the trees," Xena added helpfully, for what
Gabrielle counted as the fourth time.
"Look up, check," Gabrielle repeated with a firm nod, trying to ignore her growing
irritation with the warrior's help. Perhaps her irritation was just lack of sleep, the bard
considered as she attempted to mount Argo. She was once again stopped by the
warrior, whose hand held her elbow.
"And don't forget . . . no camp fires, just blankets," Xena added, looking into her bard's
eyes to ensure she understood. A thin smile crossed the bard's face.
"Freeze my butt off, check," Gabrielle relayed and started to mount Argo.
"Gabrielle . . . " Xena moaned with annoyance, which stopped the bard's ascent into
"Xena, you've told me all this . . . the next thing you know, you are going to tell me not
to talk to strangers,"
"Wouldn't be wise," Xena added helpfully.
"Would you just have a LITTLE faith in me?" Gabrielle snapped, trying desperately to
keep her voice down.
"Gabrielle, I do! It's just . . . It's . . . . " Xena paused then looked at the ground with a
sigh. "I'm sorry," the warrior said softly.
"I'm scared too, Xena." Gabrielle whispered firmly. "And the fact that he scares you,
TERRIFIES me. But as a certain wise, and occasionally redundant warrior told me, we
can't let our fear get in the way." Gabrielle reached out and caressed her warrior's
"I've never had so much to lose, Gabrielle." Xena received a strong hug from her bard,
who fit perfectly in her arms. "And Bayentes knows it. . . ."
Gabrielle sighed heavily as she stepped back from her warrior. "Gotta go," the bard
said through a yawn.
After a quick peck on the warrior's cheek, Gabrielle attempted to mount Argo but felt
the warrior's hand on her elbow once again. Gabrielle's eyes rolled. "XENA! Would
you PLEASE let me . . . " Gabrielle's angry plea was interrupted when the warrior
swiftly pulled her into a fierce kiss.
After the grinning Warrior Princess was finished helping, a wide-awake Gabrielle
cleared her throat and reluctantly mounted Argo. As Gabrielle pulled the reigns, Argo
snorted and stopped. Gabrielle rolled her eyes.
"What?" She asked the horse.
With the unwelcome sound of thunderous hooves growing louder, Gabrielle's heart
"Xena, they're coming!" A Zemalian lookout came running into the alley to warn the
Warrior Princess whose sword was already drawn.
"I can already HEAR them!" Xena snapped and growled with frustration at the lookout
as she rushed passed him. Gabrielle dismounted and grabbed and assembled her
"But I couldn't FIND . . . ," the lookout blurted defensively as Gabrielle also rushed
passed him. ". . . you."
Xena entered the main street, ready for a battle. She quickly assessed the size of the
offensive force to be a platoon of riders and foot soldiers. Her attention was
immediately drawn to the soldier riding rapidly towards her with his sword drawn. She
whirled her sword, readying herself for a strong blow.
At the last minute, the rider sharply turned and rode after a man, who made the grave mistake of being up so early this day. Grabbing her chakrum, she hurled it towards the rider.
The round metal weapon swiftly sailed through the air, hitting its target. The soldier
slumped over and fell off his horse . . . after his blade sliced through the man's neck,
releasing a violent gush of blood, killing the man instantly. The nearly decapitated
body collapsed to the blood-soaked dirt, followed by the rider's body.
Catching up to her warrior, the bard gasped, witnessing the gruesome kill. Fighting
against the nausea that threatened to distract her, she loosened her nervously tight
grip on her staff and breathed deeply to gain control. Glancing over to her warrior,
Gabrielle could see the silent anger surface through the tightly clenched jaw and twitch
in her eye.
Catching the chakrum, the warrior quickly focused on a rider with a torch, setting fire to
some buildings, prompting the previously sleeping inhabitants to flee screaming into
the street. Her eyes narrowed, spotting a man rush into the street and stumble, directly
in the path of a large grinning rider. Her eyes then darted to two other horsemen
cornering a screaming woman and child against a building wall and taunting them with
torches. Within two long strides, the Warrior Princess somersaulted onto a wagon cart.
Glancing over the four targets, Xena let her chakrum fly with a shrill war cry.
Launched from the confident hand, the chakrum sailed on its intended course, felling
rider after rider. Finished with the bloody assignment, the circular blade swiftly
returned to the skillful hand of its satisfied owner, resting for only a briefest of moments.
The chakrum once again returned to the air, enlisted for more deadly accurate work.
Gabrielle readied herself for the attack of a rider who galloped towards her. Squinting
at her, the rider slowed his charge, turned and chased after another woman who luckily
found shelter in a building.
Gabrielle looked around, confused. Seeing two laughing foot soldiers approaching a
man armed with a water pitcher, Gabrielle ran towards them. "Hey!" She called out,
making the two men stop laughing and turn. The Zemalian and his water pitcher took
advantage of the break in the attack to run away.
The soldiers took a long look at the redheaded bard before they retreated, without a
fight. Gabrielle's eyebrows furrowed in confusion as she looked around and noted the
absence of threats.
A squad of torch-bearing foot soldiers became the grinning Warrior Princess' next
target. She drew back her arm but abruptly stopped her throw with an annoyed exhale.
Staveros and the reluctant local militia finally arrived with their pitch forks, clubs and
staves, blocking an easy, clear shot.
Xena's eyes rolled.
Adapt and overcome, the warrior reminded herself as she quickly lined up the shot and
threw the chakrum around the green Zemalian group. Ricocheting off a roof beam with
a large puff of dust, clanging off a metal wagon wheel with a bright spark, and bouncing
off a marble statue, chipping a wing off its helmet, the chakrum finally sailed towards
the squad of four foot soldiers and fell them, as originally planned.
Catching her chakrum with a satisfied grin, Xena glanced over to her bard, who looked
at her with confusion. Since the start of the attack, not one soldier attacked her.
"She still has it," Bayentes laughed approvingly.
Unexpectedly, a lone foot soldier came running up the hill and stood by the warlord's
foot, gasping. "Sir!" He blurted between heavy breaths. "We need reinforcements!
She has this disc . . . thing . . . and. . . ." The man didn't complete his voluntary report,
suddenly wheezing from the new hole his chest.
"Why can't anyone just follow orders?" Bayentes complained wearily, looking down at
the skewered soldier on his sword.
He sighed as he moved his foot from its stirrup. Stepping on the soldier's chest, he
twisted and pulled his sword free. The dead soldier slumped to the ground as the
warlord returned his foot to its stirrup.
"Is that too much to ask?" He asked his lieutenants, sheathing his sword and
His lieutenants nervously shook their heads no.
"It was only one platoon, Gabrielle," Xena snarled as she sheathed her sword.
"Why only one? And why didn't they attack you . . . or me?" Gabrielle asked.
"He's toying with me. He wanted me to see innocents killed, " Xena answered calmly,
eyeing the bard then scanning the area. "He wanted me to know . . . he knows who
"Great," Gabrielle relayed with a weak smile, joining the warrior in scanning the area.
"I'm going to check to see if he has any of his men hiding in town . . . " Xena relayed.
"Xena, why would he bother hiding a few men in town? You just defeated a platoon.
He couldn't possibly think a couple soldiers could do anything to you," Gabrielle
"Gabrielle, he would do it just to prove he could. He would do it because, just maybe,
one of them might get that lucky blow. He would do it just to irritate me . . . He would
do it because that's exactly what I would do," Xena snapped.
Gabrielle sighed heavily.
"Gabrielle. . . ." The warrior's tone softened considerably.
Staveros approached the two women with a stunned look. "He attacked us . . . with
you here," Staveros relayed in amazement, looking around at the damage then back to
the Warrior Princess. "He said . . . "
"Staveros," Xena interrupted him curtly. "Bayentes is ruthless. That is the ONLY thing
you can count on," Xena informed him coldly.
"But, my family . . . If he attacked us after I got you here . . . Gods, what about my
family??" Staveros asked fearfully, looking between the stoic warrior and
Xena sighed and looked the worried man in the eye.
"I don't know about your family, Staveros. But I do know you have a town in desperate need of training. Get your men and women assembled, we'll start as soon as I'm done my inspection of the area," Xena said calmly, bringing a needed sense of purpose to the man. Staveros nodded and jogged off to carry out her orders.
Turning to her bard, Xena continued in her commanding tone. "It's too late for your
departure. Leaving in daylight is too dangerous. Tend to the wounded while I check
the town." Xena ordered.
"Be careful," the bard said simply, making the warrior's cold face melt into one of
apology and concern.
"You too," the warrior responded softly, her eyes automatically glancing over the area
"We'll get through this Xena and when we do," Gabrielle informed her confidently.
"You and I have a LOT of wedding planning to do," Gabrielle scolded her, sounding
scarily like her mother Hecuba.
"In case you're wondering, I didn't plan this," the warrior relayed with a small smile.
"Uh huh," Gabrielle responded and turned to follow the Warrior Princess' orders - tend
to the wounded.
Unloading the truck, the archeologist watched the tall southern lady lug around heavy
boxes with amazing ease. Though considering herself in good shape, Janice
concluded with a slight grin she would be wise to never challenge the southerner to an
arm wrestling match.
As she anchored down her side of their large tent, which also served as their office,
Janice was impressed at how quickly the southerner had taken to camping and its
chores. Like building fires and pitching this tent, the archeologist considered, noticing
the enthusiastic southerner had already finished anchoring down her side of the tent
and was now busy with another task. She's not only beautiful and intelligent, she's a
hard worker, the archeologist noted with great appreciation as she drove her last stake
in the ground.
A tall shadow on the tent made the archeologist look up to find Mel with the large
collapsible table in one hand, pushing up her glasses with the other. Janice was
amazed with the southerner's incredible patience with those spectacles, considering
she would have gone insane if she had to wear glasses.
"Do you want the table inside the tent this time?" Mel asked with an easy smile for her
"Yeah, it might rain and this wind is kicking up too much dust," Janice responded as
she grabbed the cots and followed the southerner into the tent.
Diligently opening up the table legs, Mel hummed, prompting the archeologist steal a
glance at the southerner. As Janice had come to expect, a look of contentment
covered the southerner's face. Mel got up and smiled warmly at Janice before leaving
the tent to retrieve the chairs.
How is it that a woman like that could possibly derive such pleasure from such menial
tasks, the archeologist wondered, shaking her head as she finished setting up one cot.
"This should be it," Mel blurted happily as she brought two folding chairs into the tent.
A strong gust of wind blew the tent flap in her way, causing one of the chairs to catch in
the flap's brass eyelets.
"Mel, let me . . . " Janice quickly stood, but not quickly enough. The southerner
abruptly yanked on the chair. ". . . get that." Janice finished, covered in canvass.
The two stood quietly inside the collapsed tent for a moment.
"Mel?" Janice asked calmly, breaking the silence.
"Yes Janice?" Mel answered, wondering how furrowed the archeologist's brow was.
Perhaps it was a good thing she couldn't see Janice at the moment, the southerner
thought with a cringe.
"Did you use the stakes in the bag to anchor down the tent?" Janice asked calmly.
"Uh . . . no," Mel answered meekly, biting her lip.
"You need to use the stakes," Janice informed her.
With the tent finally pitched and anchored by the southerner, such that a tornado would
have a hard time toppling it, and their personal supplies unloaded from the truck,
Janice found herself watching the sunset on a grassy hill overlooking a tree-lined river
. . . and waiting. It was a very beautiful sight, the archeologist admitted, though she'd
rather be busy working.
"Where are they?" Janice wondered with an impatient sigh.
"Isn't it beautiful?" Mel asked uneasily, as she stepped next to her uptight friend and
glanced between the landscape and archeologist.
She really as NO concept of personal space, the archeologist considered, staring at the
sunset and feeling the tall presence so close to her. However, the archeologist elected
not to mention it to Mel this time, considering she was probably still feeling horrible
about the tent. After all, Janice didn't want to make the southerner feel any worse.
"They should be here by now," Janice blurted.
"I'm sure they'll be here any . . . " Mel relayed optimistically then smiled broadly,
seeing the dust cloud on the distant road. "Look! There they are!" Mel blurted with
excitement, placing a hand on the archeologist's shoulder and pointing to the road.
Janice's surprised eyes darted to the hand on her shoulder, causing the southerner to
retract it quickly. With a sigh, Janice looked to the road as a truck came closer. She
"There's only one truck," Janice said with surprise. "There is only one GOD DAMN
truck!" Janice erupted, startling the southerner. Janice stormed towards the supply
truck as it pulled in behind hers.
"Where the hell are all the men?!?" The archeologist yelled angrily at Georg as he
emerged from the driver's side.
"They're on strike," Georg relayed, cringing for the tirade he expected and got.
"WHAT?!? I spoke with Eduardo yesterday . . . He didn't mention anything about a
GOD DAMN strike!"
Mel stood by uneasily, wishing she could do something.
"Janice, they wanted to be payed before the dig," Richard Wright informed her as he
got out of the passenger side of the truck.
"Jesus H. Christ!! Eduardo and his men all KNEW the University only pays AFTER the
work is done." Janice rubbed her throbbing temples, amazed that after the past few
days, things would continue to be so bad. Covington luck holding up as usual, she
"With the Nazis plague spreading, workers are not so sure about tomorrow, or whether
they'll get payed," Richard explained, making the archeologist furrow her brows. She
hated it when he sounded so all-knowing.
"Don't worry Janice . . . " Richard added calmly.
"Don't worry?!? How the hell, DICK, can four people excavate ONE building, let alone
the whole god damn CITY!!" Janice barked, making Mel cringe.
"Dr. Covington," George interjected with cautious enthusiasm. "Dr. Wright was able to
hire replacement workers who don't mind being payed later," George quickly offered,
standing uneasily at Dr. Wright's side.
"Unfortunately, they won't be here until tomorrow," Richard added.
Janice's anger drained away to everyone's relief.
"Pretty impressive, Dick. Getting a group together on such short notice. I suppose I
should thank you," Janice offered with a cool smile.
"No thanks necessary, Janice. Your reputation isn't the only one on the line with this
dig," Richard added, smiling easily with a shrug.
Mel sat alone in the tent, tapping her fingers on the table as she waited. It seemed an
awfully long time since the archeologist left for her walk.
From the snoring in the next tent, Mel could tell the men were sleeping soundly which
made Mel wonder why she and Janice weren't doing the same. Well, she knew very
well why SHE wasn't sleeping. Janice was outside somewhere, alone. For some
reason it bothered her, even thought she knew Janice was more than capable of
taking care of herself. And she did have her revolver with her, the southerner
considered, which didn't help ease her mind. 'Guns,' Mel sighed and shivered slightly.
With a deep breath, Mel rose from her chair and started pacing. Despite being from a
family of avid hunters, Mel never got comfortable with guns. And she never understood
those who liked to be around them. They were just plain scary. Anyone could pull a
trigger and cause horrible damage, Mel considered.
Stopping in front of Janice's cot, Mel eyed the whip coiled up on top of it. Without any
reservation, she picked up the braided leather object, admiring it for what it was. A
dangerous weapon? Sure, but only in the in the right, skillful hands, Mel reflected.
Janice had demonstrated that to her a number of times. She smiled, remembering on
the last dig how Janice rolled over, grabbed the whip, and in a single stroke, killed a
particularly annoying fly that invaded the tent, then rolled back over on her cot and fell
Janice made it look so easy, the southerner mused. Mel uncoiled the lengthy whip,
spilling the end of it onto the floor. Giving in to her curiosity and having an opportunity
a southern lady wasn't usually afforded, Mel grinned and enthusiastically drew her arm
The end of the whip caught around the chair leg and table, causing the southerner roll
her eyes with frustration at her complete lack of coordination. With a sigh, she knelt
down to untangle the whip. Standing up, she took a deep breath and pushed her
glasses up on her nose. Abruptly, she cocked her arm back. The crisp crack on the
back stroke surprised and just might have delighted her, had she not heard a loud
"OW!" along with it.
Mel gasped and turned to find Janice with a stunned look on her face, holding her hand
on the top of her left breast.
"Oh MY! Janice!!" Mel blurted, quickly tossing the whip on the table as if it was too hot
to handle. "Oh My. . . ." The southerner repeated, rushing over to her friend. "Are you
ok?!?" Mel asked nervously, trying to move Janice's hand to see if she did any real
damage. An annoyed Janice pushed her hands away.
"FINE, Mel, Just FINE," Janice blurted, tossing her hat down on the table and sitting
down in a chair. Glancing at the whip then the southerner, she shook her head,
thanking GOD the southerner didn't like guns as she rubbed her tender spot.
"I'm SO sorry, Janice. I'll never touch it again," Mel blurted guiltily, glancing at
"Jesus Christ, Mel, you can touch it. . . just be more careful," Janice sighed, surprising
"Uh . . .of course, Janice," Mel relayed uncertainly.
"And practice OUTSIDE . . . OK?" Janice added.
"Outside," Mel repeated with a hesitant nod, amazed the archeologist didn't tell her to
keep her hands off her whip.
An exhausted Janice groaned as she stood back up.
"I did hurt you!" Mel blurted anxiously.
"I'm fine Mel, really," Janice responded softly, then looked at the southerner curiously.
"Why are you still up?"
"Why are YOU still up?" Mel countered firmly, surprising the archeologist.
"I have trouble sleeping when I'm not sure what's going on," Janice admitted with a
"Richard hired replacement workers, Janice," Mel offered. "It will all work out, you'll
see," she added warmly.
"Yeah," Janice responded, unconvinced anything Dick was involved in would ever turn
out OK. "You should get some sleep, Mel. We have an early day tomorrow. Even
without the workers, there is some excavating we can do on a building I found," Janice
relayed with mild enthusiasm, sitting at the table. "Its main door is partially exposed.
Shouldn't take much to get inside,"
"You've already planned tomorrow's work?" Mel asked with amazement as she sat on
her cot and took her boots off.
"Yeah," Janice said, pulling out a map and a journal.
"Janice, aren't you going to get some rest?" Mel pulled off her second boot. "You've been going nonstop for the past few days," Mel observed with concern.
"I just have a few observations to log. Go try to get some shut-eye, I'll get some sleep
in a minute."
"You sure? You need your rest too, Dr. Covington," Melinda scolded her.
Janice looked at her blankly. Melinda raised an eyebrow. Janice rolled her eyes and
looked back at her journal.
"Well, just as long as we understand each other," Mel relayed sternly and laid down on
her cot. Within minutes, the southerner was sound asleep.
Xena's eyes darted from building to building, face to face, as she walked through
Zemal. Only a few buildings were affected by fire, she noted thankfully. If Bayentes
wanted to destroy the town by fire, she knew he could have done so easily. And if it
happened along the way, she also knew it wouldn't bother him in the least. But
destruction of Zemal wasn't really what he was after, the Warrior Princess sighed.
Smiling warmly at a bearded man with large belly, the bard knelt down by him and
looked over the shallow sword wound on his arm.
"You know, I think a drink would help speed up my recovery. . . " He suggested
helpfully to the bard, pointing to the bar.
"Nice try," Gabrielle responded with a smirk, handing him a water bottle instead.
The injured man shrugged with a sheepish smile and took a long sip.
The bard gathered her medical supplies. They were hardly used, she noted thankfully
as she inventoried them. However, she also knew they were not out of the woods yet.
Her thoughts drifted to the man none of her herbs or bandages would have helped, the
first man to be brutally cut down in the street. Remembering his life violently gush from
his body as he collapsed to the ground like a rag doll, the bard shivered.
In front of a charred home, Xena paused as she passed a mother comforting her crying
child. Both were still in their night clothes after being abruptly driven from their home
by the flames from the early morning attack.
They didn't deserve to be the battlefield for Bayentes' revenge, the warrior thought as
a guilty ache grew in her heart. The mother looked up to find the warrior looking at her.
"Go AWAY!" The mother spat, clutching her frightened son. "Haven't you brought
enough pain already!!"
Xena took in a quick, sharp breath and shook off the comment. "If you need help . . . "
Xena offered with forced detachment, starting to point towards the makeshift hospital.
"Help!?!" The woman gave a pained laugh. "My husband was MURDERED and my
home was BURNED!!" She kept her arms protectively around her crying son. "I think
we've had enough of your HELP already! GO AWAY!!" The mother blurted and
started to cry, hugging her son tightly. "Just go . . . away . . . " She repeated between
Xena nodded once and turned from the angry mother. Squaring her shoulders and
taking a deep breath, Xena continued her search for Bayentes' men.
"Hey, you ok?" The large bearded man asked Gabrielle, who looked at him a moment.
She nodded with a warm smile, giving his forearm a squeeze. When she got up to
check on another injured Zemalian, she noticed out of the corner of her eye an
argument between Staveros and a couple of women.
"You are crazy to think I am hanging around here," the stocky innkeeper snapped at the
merchant. Another woman nodded in agreement.
"But we need everyone! Xena said . . . " Staveros countered.
"I don't give a rat's ass what Xena said. We are in danger being around her! If she is
right and another attack is coming, I'm not interested in sticking around HERE for it,"
the woman blurted.
"It's not safe here," the quieter woman added, looking around uneasily at the room of
"It's not safe on the road either," Gabrielle interjected firmly, causing the three to turn to
the bard. "Bayentes will have soldiers looking out for people trying to leave."
"Listen to Gabrielle," Staveros pleaded to the women, then turned to the bard. "Please
talk some sense into them, Gabrielle. Tell them they need to stay here," Staveros
The two women silently looked at each other then the bard.
"I can't," the bard responded, surprising the three. "They are right, Staveros, it isn't
safe here either."
The stocky innkeeper eyed Staveros with a raised eyebrow, not needing to say 'I told
"But if you are determined to go, we need to talk," Gabrielle relayed with concern for
the two women.
Quietly unsheathing her sword, the Warrior Princess paused at the entrance, listening.
Hearing a pair of shuffling feet, Xena slipped into the shadows of the torch lit temple.
She waited in those shadows until she saw the pair, a terrified woman held by one of
Bayentes men with a knife to her throat. He was waiting for her, Xena concluded,
seeing him glance around the temple.
"Let her go," Xena spoke calmly, emerging from the darkness. The startled soldier,
gripped the woman tighter. He pressed his dagger firmly against her throat.
"Let her go, and I'll spare your life," Xena added coolly, staring him directly in the eyes.
He smirked. "Not worth much, all in all . . . thanks to you," he relayed coolly, surprising
the Warrior Princess, who tried to place him. She couldn't.
"What else do you have to offer?" The soldier asked with a smirk, then felt the woman
in his grip squirm. "Settle DOWN wench, or I'll slit your throat!" The soldier barked at
the shaking woman, who whimpered.
The woman's eyes sought and found Xena's. Finding comfort in the confident blue
gaze, she calmed down.
"What is Bayentes offering you?" Xena asked, returning her sword to its sheath, and
waited for an opening.
"Something you couldn't possibly give me," he laughed.
"Oh? And what would that be?" Xena asked with a silky voice and raised eyebrow.
"Revenge for your crimes against us," he added with an eager look in his eyes.
"Us?" Xena asked as her stomach dropped. He laughed with amusement.
"You've left a long line of destruction in your wake, Warrior Princess. Bayentes isn't
the only one who wants revenge. It's incredible how many people. . . an army's worth,"
he grinned with satisfaction at the stunned, albeit brief, look he brought to Xena's face.
Without another word, the soldier viciously ripped open the woman's small neck with
his jagged blade. Her life's liquid spewed out, splattering the Warrior Princess on the
face and chest, before the dead woman slumped to the ground.
Xena's wide eyes of surprise angrily narrowed as her hand lashed out and clamped
tightly around his throat. The dagger was immediately knocked to the floor as the
Warrior Princess erupted with a loud angry growl and lifted his murderous body by the
neck. Stepping over the dead woman, she slammed him against the temple wall.
Already resigned to the fact he would die today, the soldier only smiled as he gasped to
regain the breath knocked out of him.
"You BASTARD," Xena exploded, seething with anger as the woman's blood trickled
down her face. "She was an innocent!"
"We were all innocents . . . once. . . but you destroyed that. And we'll see you pay for
your past . ., " he blurted with difficulty, yet with a smile firmly planted on his face. "We
are many . . . we . . ."
Interrupting his propaganda, her hand clamped down harder on his throat. Their eyes
locked as she continued to squeeze the life out of him. His body twitched a few times
before it finally went limp. Letting go, she watched his lifeless shell slide down the wall
and slump over onto the floor, where now there were two dead bodies.
Two more to add to the long list. . . .
"Mel?" Janice eyed the southerner, who was sleeping soundly on her cot. The
archeologist glanced back at the tent flaps, where the morning light peaked through.
"Mmmmmm," Mel responded as she shifted and clenched her pillow tighter. Janice
rolled her eyes.
"Mel, wake up," Janice tried again with some annoyance, glancing at the tent flaps then
back to the southerner, who pulled up her blanket to her neck and sighed contentedly.
"Mel! Wake UP!" Janice tried again, shaking her shoulder.
"AH!" A startled Mel blurted, sitting up rapidly. "Janice! There is NO need to shout!"
Mel snapped. She looked at the small night stand next to her cot for her glasses. Mel
smiled sheepishly, seeing the archeologist already holding them out for her.
"Oh . . . thank you," she responded softly, taking them and putting them on.
"Mel, we need to talk," Janice said gravely, sitting down on the adjacent cot.
"Janice, how long have you been up?" Mel asked with concern, eyeing the
archeologist's already dusty and sweaty clothes. The southerner quickly pinned up a
stray piece of hair that fell down in her still-sleepy face.
"Mel," Janice responded impatiently.
"Knock, knock!!" Richard announced brightly, standing just outside the tent door.
"Come in," Mel instinctively answered, rubbing her eyes under her glasses. Janice
moaned and shook her head.
"You ladies ready?" He asked happily as he entered the tent. "Oh. . . I guess you're
not," he added with amusement, seeing Mel just waking up.
"What do you want, DICK?" Janice asked coldly as she stood, eyeing the intruder.
"Whoa Janice, I guess we got up on the wrong side of the cot this morning!" He joked
then cleared his throat seeing Janice's eyes narrow into dangerous slits.
"Uh, just wondering what you want for breakfast. I'm the cook this morning. Luckily,
you'll only have to put up with my cooking for one day," Richard informed them with a
Seeing Janice still eye him, the grin dissolved. "Well, why don't I make . . .uh. . .
something . . . ," he relayed uneasily then tried to smile. "I'll let you know when it is
ready," he added and left.
"Janice, what is with you two?" Mel asked curiously, finally getting up from her cot.
Janice turned to her with an unnerving gaze. "Don't EVER turn your back on him, Mel,"
she warned her friend. "We've got . . . ," Janice gravely added, but was interrupted
with the second visitor that morning.
"Dr. Covington!" Georg excitedly burst into the tent. "I freed the door up on that
building. . . ," Georg paused, seeing the familiar look on Dr. Covington's face. " . . . you
showed me," he peeped, knowing Janice wanted to strangle him.
"I guess I should have. . . knocked?" He said sheepishly, looking back at the tent flap.
Janice sighed heavily.
"Did you go inside??" Mel gushed with excitement. Not yet jaded by the business,
Janice considered with mild envy, remembering when she was just as enthusiastic.
"Yes I did!" He answered happily. Janice couldn't blame Georg for that stupid smile on
his face. Although he had seen the seedier side of the business, the southerner's
genuine enthusiasm was contagious, Janice considered.
"How exciting! What a way to start the day," Mel relayed with a huge smile, glancing
at the archeologist, who took a deep breath and quietly listened.
"Well, unfortunately, it's rather . . . uninteresting," Georg revealed with a slight frown.
"But perhaps there is more to it than I've seen so far," Georg relayed optimistically with
a hopeful smile.
"Well, I've just GOT to go see it!" Mel added, bubbling with enthusiasm. "I'm glad you
woke me, Janice. If I slept any longer, I wonder what ELSE I would have missed out
on," she relayed as she eagerly followed Georg out the tent.
Pausing, a smiling Mel turned back curiously to her friend. "Aren't you coming?" Mel
asked Janice, who wasn't moving.
"In a minute," Janice responded, scratching the back of her neck. Mel eyed her. "Go
on, have fun, I'll catch up . . . ," Janice added with a small smile. Mel smiled broadly
With her friends off to explore the Zemalian structure, Janice sighed and pulled her
revolver from the holster on her hip and inspected it. Confirming each chamber in the
cylinder was loaded, she glanced at her weapon a moment and returned it to her
Mel followed Georg, sporting a big smile as she looked appreciatively around the site. The diverse collection of plant life made the area beautiful. A beauty she would never have known about if she wasn't on a dig with Janice, she thought, thankful for all the new experiences the archeologist shared with her.
"What kind of building is it?" She asked trailing behind Georg as they descended a
grassy path to the building, still partially buried under hundreds of years of earth and
"A temple of some sort, the altar kinda gives it away," he said with a smile, enjoying
Mel's refreshing sense of wonder and awe.
"A TEMPLE?" Mel blurted uneasily, stopping in her tracks.
"Yep," Georg answered as he climbed over a pile of rocks, pushed back some dangling
ivy, and entered the temple.
Since nothing bad apparently happened to him, Mel's curiosity won out over fear and
Pulling out a lighter from his shirt pocket, Georg lit some torches and took one from its
receptacle on the wall. "As you can see, it is not the ornate kind of temple you usually
see for the gods. . . like Aphrodite or Ares," Georg remarked, looking around the inside
of the torch-lit temple. "I'd say a minor god." Georg stroked his chin thoughtfully.
He looked up with a weak smile.
Pulling a folding chair out from the table, Janice's thin smile remained in place as she
"Yeah, Zemal," he relayed nervously as he stood up. He didn't expect Janice would
want to chat with him. God, he silently moaned.
Janice grinned and pulled out a cigar, silently offering it to him.
"Uh. . . no thanks," he declined the unusually polite offer with a small wave. Janice
nodded and lit her cigar up. She took her first puff and let out a long sigh.
"You know . . . " Janice broke the awkward silence, then paused a long, uncomfortable
moment to puff on her cigar. "I'm still not really clear on why you are here, Dick,"
Janice relayed, leaning back in her chair and crossing her legs. Her eyes locked on his
for a moment and she saw panic.
A strained smile emerged on his face. "I told you Janice, I really need the money . . .
and truthfully, I did want to get my foot back in the archeological door, as it were."
Richard forced a chuckle. Janice joined in and chuckled. The chuckling quickly died.
"Uh huh. I can see that," Janice relayed thoughtfully and took another puff on her
cigar. "It's tough getting work these days . . . tough supporting a family," she offered
with a bitter smile.
Richard cleared his throat.
"I want you to know, I appreciate you giving me work. After everything, I wasn't sure
you would," Richard relayed as he pulled out the cast iron skillet from a cardboard box
of kitchen supplies, keeping his eyes on his chore.
Janice nodded and puffed on her cigar. "So, DICK, was it tough packing the supply
truck?" She asked nonchalantly with a raised eyebrow. Dick swallowed hard, glancing
to the truck then back to the skillet in his hands.
"You don't look so well Dick, maybe we should go back to Athens and see a doctor or
something," she offered helpfully, sitting up in her chair.
"Uh, that won't be necessary," he replied with a cough.
"Dick, you're coughing now and look at that sweating! I can't have my people work
when they are ill . . . and as you know, people are the most important thing to a dig,"
Janice smiled. ". . .worth their weight in gold."
Richard dropped the skillet.
"Yeah, Dr. Covington is already THRILLED about this dig," Georg responded
sarcastically, shaking his head.
"Well, she mentioned Dr. Maveros was interested in the site," Mel relayed, earning a
disgusted grunt at the name. "I take it you've met her," Mel responded dryly.
"Yes. Once. And that was enough. It's a crime Dr. Covington was forced to deal with
HER and the University of Athens. We never had to before and I liked that just fine."
"Well, Dr. Covington had one . . . backer. . . he was a private collector," Georg said
uneasily. Amazed the southerner didn't say anything, he continued. "He financed her
digs and she provided him pieces for his collection. It was working out just fine until
the last dig. He got really upset when she didn't recover the artifacts he wanted on the
"What artifacts?" Mel asked, amazed that she didn't know anything about this. But she reminded herself, she didn't even know Janice's favorite color was. . .