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UNDER WESTERN SKIES by Eva Allen
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The characters Xena and Gabrielle, along with others who have appeared in the TV series XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, are the sole property of Universal/Studios USA and Renaissance Pictures. All other characters are the clever invention of the author. The use of Universal's characters in this story does not constitute the author's intent to make a profit or otherwise infringe on the existing copyright. The interpretation of the characters in this story is purely the author's own. Copyright for this fanfiction held by Eva Allen, September, 1999.
A short time later, they mounted Argo and started along the road in the same direction the men had taken. Once out of the trees, they were able to get a much better look at the landscape. On the other side of the road, a plain of tawny grasses stretched some five hundred paces to where the foothills began. And beyond the hills, there were occasional glimpses of mountains, their rounded peaks standing rocky and bare against the sky.
"Stop for a minute," Gabrielle said, and Xena pulled the mare to a halt. "Isn't it beautiful?" the bard asked.
"It's nice enough," Xena said, "but we haven't got time to gawk at the scenery. We need to catch up with those men." She touched her heels to Argo's flanks and they started forward again. The road was dusty and full of tracks, but Xena watched closely for any indication that three horses had recently left it to go in one direction or the other.
"There's a wagon coming this way," Xena said after a few minutes.
Gabrielle leaned out for a better view. "Looks like a family in it," she said. "Maybe they're on their way to market."
A man and woman sat on the seat of the open, wooden wagon, which was pulled by two horses. The woman held a young boy in her lap.
"Excuse me," Xena called as they came close.
"Whoa!" the man said, pulling back on the reins and looking in amazement at Xena and Gabrielle. He was hatless and wore a faded blue tunic tucked into trousers which seemed to be held up by means of two straps which ran over his shoulders.
"Don't talk to those hussies, John," the woman said, putting her hand over the little boy's eyes.
Xena decided to ignore her and addressed herself to the man. "Have you seen three men riding this way?" she asked. "One of them had a spotted horse."
"Sure, we saw them," the man said, nodding slowly. "Seemed like they were in a big hurry to get wherever they were going."
"What's the nearest town?" asked Gabrielle.
"Well, that would be Corinth, of course. It's about five, six miles down the road," he said, gesturing back over his shoulder.
"Corinth!" Gabrielle said in surprise.
"Don't you two be thinking about stopping there," said the woman. "That town's already got more than enough of your type."
"And what type is that?" Xena asked mildly.
"Why, women of ill repute. Women with nothing better to do than primp and paint themselves up and try to lure good, honest men away from their wives and families."
"We're not--" Gabrielle began.
"Forget it, Gabrielle," Xena muttered, elbowing her companion. "You're never going to convince them." Then she gave the couple her best whore-like smile. "Thanks so much," she said sweetly, and kicked Argo into a canter.
After a few minutes, she slowed the mare to a walk and resumed her study of tracks leading off the road.
"That man said we were near Corinth," Gabrielle said, "but this doesn't look much like the country around Corinth."
"No, it doesn't."
"Do you think there could be another Corinth someplace?"
"I suppose it's possible," Xena said, "but it seems like people could think up new and different names for their towns instead of using the same old ones."
"Seems like it," Gabrielle agreed. She was silent for a time, but then she suddenly leaned out and pointed. "Look! There's smoke up ahead!" she exclaimed. "Maybe someone's house is on fire!"
Xena raised her eyes and saw what Gabrielle had seen -- a plume of black smoke rising from a line of trees at the far end of the plain. Then, to her surprise, she saw that the smoke did not remain in one place, but appeared to move slowly toward them. She was about to comment on this fact when she heard a low, mournful sound coming from the direction of the smoke.
"What in the name of the gods is that?" Gabrielle asked.
"I don't know. It sounds a little like a sick cow."
"No, I don't think it sounds like a cow. It sounds like the wind does when it howls through the chimney on a cold winter's night."
"Well, that would be the poetic description, I suppose," Xena said. "But it's not winter and it's not windy and I don't see any chimneys around, do you?"
"No," Gabrielle admitted.
Xena reined Argo to a halt and the two women watched the line of smoke advancing. The strange whistling sound came again, and as it faded away, Xena began to hear a puffing, chugging noise of some sort. Then, from out of the trees, she saw a black thing emerge -- a weird, fearsome creature spewing smoke and fire out of the top of its head, while its segmented body slithered along behind it.
"What is it?" breathed Gabrielle, tightening her grip around the warrior's waist.
"I don't know."
"Is it a dragon? I've heard they breathe fire. Have you ever seen one?"
"Do you think it's a dragon?"
"Maybe. All I know is I've never seen anything like it before."
The puffing noise was growing louder, and now Xena could see the creature's one white eye and its mouth full of long, sharp teeth, sweeping along the ground in front of it. Argo snorted and began to prance nervously.
"Xena, do you think it's seen us? Will it come after us? Maybe we should run or hide."
The warrior didn't answer. She knew Gabrielle was right. There was danger here, and they should flee, but she could not take her eyes off the dragon. It advanced steadily, moving smoothly through the dry grass of the plain at about the same speed as a galloping horse. It never seemed to tire, but came relentlessly onward. And while it did not appear to be headed directly toward them, such a monster could surely change its course at any moment. Xena tightened her grip on the reins, preparing to turn Argo. Then, suddenly, she saw three men on horseback streaking across the plain toward the dragon.
"It's those men!" exclaimed Gabrielle. "Do you think they're going to fight the dragon?"
"I don't know, but we're going after them to get the Cronus Stone back!"
"No, Xena! It's too dangerous with that monster there!"
But Xena was already whooping and kicking at the reluctant Argo, and after a moment's hesitation, the mare gave in to the warrior's urgings and set off at a gallop across the grassy expanse. The wind blew bits of froth back from the horse's mouth, and the mane whipped Xena's face as she bent low over Argo's neck. She could feel Gabrielle clinging tightly to her waist with one hand while her staff thumped hard against their thighs.
Xena kept her eyes on George -- the one with the Cronus Stone tucked into his saddlebag. His chestnut mount galloped full speed toward the dragon's head, followed closely by the spotted horse. The two men were yelling as they went and waving weapons in the air. And now the warrior saw, to her surprise, that there were people inside the dragon -- some in its head and others peering out of square holes in two of its segments. Had the people been eaten by the dragon? And if so, why were the three thugs running to do battle with the creature? She found it had to believe that such men had other than evil motives in mind.
Just then a tall man appeared at an opening in the side of the dragon's head. He wore dark clothing and a white hat. He, too, had one of the silver-gray weapons, and he pointed it at the approaching men. Xena saw a puff of smoke and heard a popping noise, but neither of the thugs seemed to be wounded. Instead, they aimed their own weapons and shot back at the tall man while they galloped alongside the dragon. The third man, the one called Bill, hung further back, apparently pursuing a segment near the rear of the creature. As Xena watched, she saw a door slide open, and a short man wearing a tan-colored hat appeared there. He and Bill began pointing their weapons at each other and firing.
Xena pulled back on the reins, slowing Argo to a nervous walk. The battle, she realized, was moving steadily towards them, and it might be wiser just to watch and wait.
"Are you sure the dragon won't eat us?" Gabrielle exclaimed, somewhat out of breath.
"Look," said Xena, pointing. "See those two silver trails? The dragon seems to be following them. I think it only goes where the trails are."
"Are you sure?"
"No, not absolutely."
"Oh. Well, why are those men attacking the dragon? And why are those other men defending it?"
"I'm not sure, but I think the men defending it are the good guys."
The two were silent for a moment, then Gabrielle said, "It's not really a dragon, is it? It's something you can ride on."
Xena didn't answer. She had her hands full trying to control an increasingly panicky Argo. The dragon was quite close now, and Xena estimated it would pass about fifty paces from them, assuming it followed the silver trails. From this closer vantage point, she could see that Gabrielle was right -- the dragon was not real. It was some sort of man-made monster, built of metal and wood, with wheels instead of legs. Still, its presence was fearsome. The acrid smell of its smoke filled the air, and the ground vibrated with its chugging and clacking and with the pounding hooves of the three horsemen. Over it all, rang out the sharp cracks and whining sounds of the weapons, so that Xena found herself fighting the same urge as Argo to turn tail and run.
Suddenly, the mare reared straight up, and Xena clutched at the saddle horn in an effort to stay on. She heard a small cry from Gabrielle as the younger woman lost her grip and slid off. It took all of the warrior's strength to bring the plunging horse back under control and keep the sharp hooves away from the fallen bard. By the time the mare had settled down a little, though, Xena was relieved to see Gabrielle picking herself up and signaling that she was not hurt.
The dragon's head was just passing by them, and turning to watch, Xena saw the man on the spotted horse, Isaiah, grab the iron rungs on the side of the monster and pull himself up inside it. George still galloped alongside, exchanging shots with the man in the white hat. Further inside the dragon, she could now see two other men frantically throwing wood onto a fire. Pulling her chakram from its hook, Xena quickly aimed and threw it, knocking the weapon from Isaiah's hand just as he pointed it at the tall man. The disk continued on its course, ricocheting off of two or three surfaces inside the dragon and then striking Isaiah again on the way out. With a startled cry, he lost his balance and plunged to the ground while Xena snatched the returning chakram from the air.
The tall man threw her a surprised look and a salute-like gesture. Then, with a loud yell, he leapt out of the dragon and onto George, knocking him off his horse. The two men landed in the tawny grass, rolling over several times before scrambling up to begin slugging it out. Isaiah, meanwhile, staggered to his feet and was promptly met by Gabrielle and her staff. It only took a few blows to convince him to retreat in pursuit of his already-escaping horse.
Xena reined Argo around, preparing to go after George's chestnut stallion, but the sound of weapons made her look up. The last part of the dragon was passing by, with the thugs' leader still in pursuit. She saw the short man clutch at his throat, then collapse to his knees and tumble to the ground. Then she saw Bill grab one of the rungs with both hands. Reaching for her chakram, she launched it, at an angle this time, and watched as it sliced the rung neatly off the dragon's side. Still astride his slowing horse, Bill was left with only a metal bar in his hand as the tail end of the monster roared past him. Turning, he stared in disbelief at Xena as she caught and re-hooked her weapon. She grinned at the dark look of rage on his face.
"I'll get you for this, you bitch!" he shouted. "And your little blonde friend, too!" Then he threw down the metal bar in disgust and headed for the spot where his comrade lay, semi-conscious in the grass.
* * *
Xena looked for the tall man and saw him with Gabrielle, bending over the wounded man. She headed Argo in their direction. "I'm going after them," she called, nodding toward the two thugs.
"No, Xena, wait!" Gabrielle exclaimed, looking up from the blood-soaked cloth she was holding pressed against the wound. "You've got to come help this man. He can't breathe!"
Xena hesitated. She had to get the Cronus Stone back, and this was her chance to do it. All she needed to do was catch George's horse and get the crystal out of his saddlebag. She glanced over and saw Bill helping George mount behind him on the bay. She could go faster than they could riding double. Surely it would be an easy matter to capture the stray horse before they got to it, but-- She looked at the man lying on the ground. He had already lost consciousness but it was probably not too late to save him. The tall man was staring at her with a mixture of uncertainty and pleading in his eyes.
Sighing as she dismounted, she pulled her bag of medical supplies and a small knife out of one of the saddlebags. She knelt beside Gabrielle, checked the man's pulse and then examined the wound.
"Who are you?" the tall man asked. "And what makes you think you can help my friend?"
"My name is Xena," she said, straightening up and looking at him. "I've done a lot of healing on the battlefield, and I've dealt with neck wounds like this before."
"Just help me get him to town so the doctor can work on him."
"Doctor? Is that like a healer?" she asked.
"Well, yes, I guess so," he said, giving her a puzzled look. "Doctors heal people."
"We haven't got time for that," she said. "I can help him breathe, if you'll let me. Otherwise, he'll die before we can get him to town."
He was silent for a moment, studying her, then said, "All right. See what you can do."
Xena picked up the knife and ran the fingers of her other hand carefully along the lower part of the man's windpipe, below the wound. "Gabrielle," she said, "I'm going to need--"
"A hollow reed?"
"Exactly!" Xena said, then quickly thrust the knifepoint in and cut a small hole. "Hand me a rag," she said, and wiped the blood away as air began to burble in and out through the opening.
There was an audible sigh of relief from the tall man, and Xena glanced at him, noting for the first time the shaggy brown hair under the white hat, the rugged handsomeness of his features, and the odd metal star he wore on his chest.
"Let me use the knife, and I'll go find a reed," Gabrielle said.
"What's the reed for?" the man asked.
"It's to keep the hole open, so your friend can continue to breathe until his windpipe heals."
"I think some of these grasses might be hollow," he said. Then, reaching into a slit in the side of his trousers, he pulled out something that looked like the handle of a knife and, to Xena's surprise, unfolded a blade from inside it. "Let me see if I can find you something," he said, getting up and moving a few paces away.
Xena looked at Gabrielle. "Who is this guy?" she whispered in Greek.
"He didn't introduce himself," Gabrielle whispered back, "but don't worry -- I have my ways of finding out." She grinned.
"Going to put the pinch on him, are you?" Xena said, returning the grin.
"No, I'll just try asking the regular way first."
Xena pulled a clean cloth out of her bag and handed it to Gabrielle. "Keep the pressure on that wound," she said.
"You know I could have got that Cronus Stone back if I had gone after that thug's horse," Xena said, still speaking in Greek.
"I know, but we couldn't just let this man die, could we?"
"No," Xena said softly, "we couldn't, but if we don't get that stone back, we can't get home."
"Will this work?" the man asked as he came back toward them. Squatting down next to Xena, he held out a section of grass stem.
"That should do it," she said, switching languages and nodding. "At least it will work until we get to the healer-- uh, doctor." She leaned down and carefully inserted the reed, then checked the wounded man's pulse again.
"You know," Gabrielle said to the tall man, "we haven't really had a chance for proper introductions. My name is Gabrielle and this, as you know by now, is Xena." She wiped most of the blood off of one hand and held it out to him. He took it and smiled.
"Forgive my lack of manners, Miss Gabrielle," he said. "My name is Herbert Lees. I'm the sheriff of Corinth. And this," he said, nodding to the other man, "is my deputy, Ellis Johnson."
"What's a sheriff?" asked Xena.
He looked at her in surprise. "You've never heard of a sheriff?" he said.
"No, they don't have them where we come from."
"Oh. Well, the sheriff is responsible for making sure everyone obeys the town's laws."
"And what happens when they don't?" asked Gabrielle.
"Then I usually put them in jail for a little while, if it's a minor offense. Or if it's something major, a judge comes and there's a trial."
The young woman nodded, apparently satisfied with this answer.
"Gabrielle," said Xena, "come hold this reed in place, and I'll stitch up that wound." The two women traded places, and Xena lifted the cloth from Ellis' neck. "The bleeding has slowed down quite a bit," she said. "He was lucky. If an artery had been hit, he would probably have bled to death before we could help him."
"I really owe you two a debt of gratitude," the sheriff said. "And to you, especially," he went on, looking at Xena. "Not only did you save Ellis' life, but you probably saved mine as well, back there during the fight."
"Guess we just happened to come along at the right time," Xena said as she pulled a needle and thread out of her bag.
"You most certainly did! I've never seen women with such unusual skills -- fighting, nursing -- and that disk thing," he said, glancing at the chakram, "you'll definitely have to show me how that works. Whereabouts are you two from?"
"Xena's from Amphipolis and I'm from Poteidaia," Gabrielle responded.
"Well, I can't say I've heard of either of those towns. What state are they in?"
"State? Uh, they're in Macedonia, actually."
"Macedonia," he mused. "There's no state by that name. Seems like I've heard it someplace, though. Guess I should have paid more attention to my geography lessons." He grinned.
"Well, Macedonia is--" Gabrielle began.
"Let's just say we're from Greece," Xena cut in, then she began stitching the wound.
"Greece!" he exclaimed. "Do you mean the country of Greece? In Europe?"
Europe? Where in Tartarus was that? Xena glanced at Gabrielle, who looked equally confused. "Yes, that's the one," Xena said.
"Gosh! This is really amazing!" Herbert exclaimed. "I've never met anyone from Greece before! I guess that explains why you're dressed so . . . strangely."
"What's strange about it?" Gabrielle asked. "We always dress like this. It's comfortable and nobody in our country seems to have a problem with it."
"Oh, I didn't mean to say that you-- Of course you have your own customs and all--" he stopped and Xena glanced up to see his face reddening. She smiled and returned her attention to the wound.
"So you must have come over on the boat," Herbert said after a couple of moments of embarrassed silence.
"Well, actually, we--" Gabrielle began, but Xena gave her a warning nudge. This sheriff man seemed nice enough, but it was better not to trust anyone too soon -- a principle Gabrielle had never seemed to grasp.
Xena looked at Herbert. "Do you know any other way to get here?" she asked.
"No, I guess I don't," he said, laughing. "How long did the trip take?"
"Oh, about the usual length of time," Xena said casually.
"And how long is that?" he persisted.
Xena stared down at the wound, trying to think of a reasonable answer. Then Gabrielle came to her rescue.
"You know," the bard said, "any time I'm on a boat I get seasick, so it always seems like an eternity."
Herbert laughed and Xena threw her lover a grateful look.
"So you must have landed in New York," he said, "and then how did you get here?"
"We walked and rode the horse," Xena said.
"All the way from New York?"
"How long did that take you?"
"Uh, well, I wasn't really keeping track of the time. You know how it flies when you're having fun." Xena grinned at him, but the look she got back seemed to harbor some suspicions.
"How did you learn English?" he asked.
Xena looked at Gabrielle. The name of the mystery language was revealed at last. "We just sort of picked it up along the way," Xena said.
"But you don't even have an accent. That hardly seems possible, if you just 'picked up' the language."
"Oh, we're very good at languages," Gabrielle said brightly.
"Yes, indeed," Xena agreed. "We can practically learn them in our sleep." She tied off the last stitch and checked Ellis' pulse again. It was beginning to worry her that he was still unconscious.
"Did you get the bullet out of there?" the sheriff asked, gesturing toward the wound.
"The bullet?" Xena said uncertainly.
"Yes, you got it out, didn't you?"
"Well, no, I was just trying to stop the bleeding. I thought the doctor could take it out."
He looked at her for a moment and then nodded. "Yes, I think that's a good plan. It will be much easier for Doc Spencer to do it in his surgery. Good thinking."
Xena breathed a sigh of relief. The bullet must be the thing that made the wound, but she had no idea what one looked like. She was beginning to feel as if she were in water way over her head.
"We need to figure out how to get Ellis safely into town," Herbert said, but first I just want to admit to you ladies that I'm having a lot of trouble believing your story. Are you sure you're telling me the truth here?"
"Yes, of course we are," said Xena.
There was a moment of silence and then Gabrielle said, "No, we're not."
Xena stared at her in surprise.
Gabrielle smiled apologetically and then turned to the sheriff. "The truth is," she said, "Xena doesn't always trust people until she's known them for a while, and that's very wise of her. It's something that's probablysaved our lives more than once. But I have a good feeling about you," she went on, "and I really believe we can trust you. So I'm going to tell you how we really got here. Just be aware that it's a very strange story, so it may be even harder to believe than what you've already heard."
Xena sighed and rolled her eyes, but she said nothing. There was no going back now -- she would have to trust Gabrielle on this one.
"It's true that we're from Greece," the bard began. "In fact, we were just there yesterday."
"Yesterday!" Herbert exclaimed. "But that's not possible!"
"I told you this would be hard for you to believe," Gabrielle said with a smile. "Have you ever heard of the Cronus Stone?"
He shook his head.
"Well, it's this kind of pointed crystal thing and it allows you to travel through time. We got ahold of it and I wanted to use it to go back into our past and change a couple of things that happened, but Xena thought it wasn't a good idea. So after she went to sleep, I rubbed the stone and when we woke up, we were here. Except that we don't know where 'here' is. And we didn't know until just now what language we were speaking. We just woke up speaking it."
The sheriff stared at her for a long moment and then at Xena, after which, he took off his white hat and scratched his head. "Now, let me see if I got this right," he said. "Last night you two were in Greece, and then you rubbed some stone thing and this morning you woke up in Colorado."
"Colorado?" Gabrielle said eagerly. "Is that the country we're in?"
"Colorado's not a country," he said. "It's a state. It's part of the United States of America."
"Never heard of it," Xena muttered. "What's it close to?"
"Well, it's close to Canada," he said, "and Mexico. Does that help?"
She stared at him blankly and then shook her head.
"I'll show you on a map when we get to town," he said. "But this stone-- What did you call it?"
"The Cronus Stone," said Gabrielle.
"The Cronus Stone," he repeated. "I'd like to see it."
"That's just the problem," Gabrielle said. "When we realized this morning that we weren't where we thought the stone would take us, we were going to use it to get back home, but then those three men came and stole it."
"What three men?"
"The same ones you were fighting," Xena said. "That's why we were trying to help you."
"Yes," Gabrielle said, "and Xena might have been able to go after them and get the stone back, but instead she stayed here and saved your friend's life. So now we need you to help us find those guys again."
"That was Bill Garrison's gang we were fighting," Herbert said, shaking his head. "They're pretty slippery characters. I've been trying to catch up with them for months."
"Well, you had one of them, anyway," said Xena, "that one you knocked off his horse. Why didn't you tie him up while you were at it?"
"I should have -- you're right," he admitted. "But we had already foiled the robbery attempt, and mainly I was worried about Ellis." He laid his hand on the wounded man's arm, then looked Xena. "Why are we sitting here talking?" he said. "We've got to get him to the doctor!" He scrambled to his feet and looked around. "Maybe we can put him on your horse," he said, glancing back at the warrior.
"No, that won't work," she said. "He needs to be lying flat so that he can breathe through the reed."
"Look! There's a wagon coming!" exclaimed Gabrielle, pointing at the road.
"Wonderful!" Herbert cried. "I'll go stop whoever it is and get them to help us!" Then he set out running across the field.
Xena leaned over Ellis and checked his breathing and pulse.
"Is he going to be all right?" Gabrielle asked, gently brushing the blond hair off his forehead.
"I think he has a good chance."
"Are you mad at me?"
"For telling Herbert Lees about the Cronus Stone."
"I don't know," Xena said. "I'm just not quite as sure as you seem to be that we can trust him."
"Does he remind you of anybody?" Gabrielle asked.
She nodded. "Even his name is similar, did you notice that? And what about this one?" she asked, touching Ellis' face again.
"Good. You felt it, too," Gabrielle said. "I thought maybe I was crazy or something."
"We've been through enough today to make anybody crazy," Xena said with a grin. "And it's not even midday," she added, glancing up at the sun.
"Xena, I've been thinking about something."
Gabrielle looked at her, then said, "Do you think it's possible that the Cronus Stone, instead of taking us back into the past, took us--"
"To the future?"
"I've been thinking that, too. It certainly would explain a lot of things," Xena said.
"'The future leads to the past,'" Gabrielle said softly.
"'The future leads to the past.' That was the inscription on the base of the Cronus Stone."
"But what does it mean?" Xena asked.
"I'm hoping it means that after we've been to the future, we can go back home to the past."
Xena reached out and squeezed her lover's hand. "I hope so, too," she said. "With all my heart."
There was a groan and Ellis stirred.
"Ellis," Xena said, leaning over him.
He groaned again and opened his eyes.
"You were wounded in the throat," Xena said, "but I've fixed it so you can breathe. You're going to be all right."
He made a strange sort of croaking sound and looked at her with eyes full of confusion.
"My name is Xena," she told him, "and this is Gabrielle. Your friend Herbert Lees has gone to get help."
"In fact," said Gabrielle, "he's coming this way right now with a wagon."
Xena looked up and saw the wagon jolting slowing towards them.
"Xena?" Ellis croaked, and she thought she saw something like recognition in his eyes, followed by a look of fear.
"Shh," she said softly. "Don't try to talk. I'm just here to help you. I know I hurt you once, a long time ago, but I would never do that again." She took his hand and clasped it firmly in her own. He stared at her for a few moments, then relaxed and closed his eyes.
"What are you doing?" whispered Gabrielle in Greek. "You're talking to him as if he really were Iolaus."
"He looked at me as if he really was Iolaus and he recognized me," Xena whispered back. "It's strange, but that's how it felt."
Gabrielle stood up to face the approaching wagon. "He's awake!" she called to the sheriff.
Herbert jumped down from the wooden seat and ran to kneel beside Ellis. "How're you doing, old buddy?" he asked.
Ellis opened his eyes and smiled weakly.
"You're going to be all right, you know," Herbert said. "Doc Spencer will have you fixed up in no time. Frank Brown is here with his wagon and he's going to give us a ride into town."
* * *
The wagon creaked to a halt and Herbert got up and walked over to it. Xena stood, meanwhile keeping an eye on Ellis' breathing. The man on the wagon seat wore a rumpled-looking white tunic, stained trousers, and sported a stubble of beard on his face. He appeared to be chewing on something which he periodically shifted from one side of his mouth to the other. Looking first at Gabrielle and then at Xena, he grinned, showing some crooked yellow teeth, and said, "Well, Sheriff, it looks like you found yourself a couple of little harlots to play with."
"They are not harlots, and I'll thank you to mind your manners, Frank," Herbert said sternly. "These two ladies have just saved Deputy Johnson's life."
"Ladies!" Frank scoffed and then spat a stream of brown saliva into the grass. "I never seen any ladies dressed like that before!"
The sheriff cleared his throat a little nervously. "Well," he said, "they're from a country called Greece, and they tell me that's the way ladies dress over there."
"Whooee!" exclaimed Frank. "I think I might want to move there myself!"
"Just get down and help me carry Ellis over to the wagon," Herbert said.
"I'll help you carry him," Xena said quickly.
"No, no, a woman couldn't lift a grown man -- even with help."
"Xena could," Gabrielle said. "She could carry him all by herself. You wouldn't believe how strong she is."
He stared at the warrior in surprise for a moment, then said, "All right, let's get him in the wagon. Frank, can you rearrange those grain sacks to kind of make a bed?"
They carried the wounded man carefully to the wagon and lifted him over the side.
"Gabrielle," Xena called, when she had checked the reed. "Could you come watch him for a minute?"
"Sure," Gabrielle said, picking up her staff. Then she climbed up over the wheel and sat down next to Ellis.
"Thanks," Xena said, then turned and looked for Argo. The mare was grazing a short distance away, and as Xena headed in that direction, she noticed Ellis' hat lying in the grass. She changed her course slightly, but just as she bent down to pick up the hat, she saw the deputy's weapon on the ground nearby. Crouching beside it, she studied it briefly, then cautiously reached out and picked it up. She turned it over slowly in her hands, noting its smooth, cold weight. How did it work, she wondered. Apparently not by sorcery, as she had first imagined, but by throwing something called a bullet. But how? She still couldn't understand it. Then, hearing a sound behind her, she jumped to her feet and turned to see Herbert approaching.
"Oh, good, you found his gun," he said.
"Gun," she repeated. "Is that what it's called?"
"You didn't know the word for 'gun'?" he asked, taking it from her.
"No. It seems that we only know the English words for things that have Greek equivalents."
"But surely there are guns in Greece," he said.
"No, there aren't. I've never seen one before today."
"Hmm. Well, that surprises me," he said. Then he shrugged and tucked the gun into his belt. Stooping down to pick up Ellis' hat, he brushed it off and walked back toward the wagon.
Xena whistled for Argo, tied her to the back of the wagon, and then vaulted over the side. "How's he doing?" she asked as she sat down across from Gabrielle.
"He seems to be breathing all right, and his pulse is steady."
"Good," Xena said, noting that Gabrielle was holding the man's hand.
"Is everybody ready?" asked the sheriff as he climbed up and sat next to Frank.
Xena nodded to him.
"All right. Let's go then," he said.
* * *
Frank slapped the reins across the horses' backs, and the wagon lurched slowly forward, heading back across the grassy plain toward the road.
Xena kept one hand on Ellis' throat, holding the reed in place. The wounded man closed his eyes and moaned a time or two as the wagon jolted him.
"Just hang on," Gabrielle said, leaning over him. "We'll be to town in no time."
Xena bent forward and brought her mouth close to Gabrielle's ear. "Those weapons are called guns," she said quietly. "I want to find out how they work," she went on. "I want to learn to use one."
Gabrielle frowned. "I don't think that's a good idea, Xena," she said. "Those weapons are horrible. It's too easy to kill people with them."
"I don't want to kill anybody," Xena said. "I just want to be able to defend myself. And protect you. I can't get the Cronus Stone back from those thugs unless I can fight them on their own terms."
"You did all right with your chakram earlier."
"Yes, but only because they didn't see me throwing it. Next time they'll shoot me dead before I can even get it unhooked."
The wagon lurched suddenly as one of the wheels struck a rock. Xena and Gabrielle grabbed each other's arms to maintain their balance, and Ellis groaned sharply, then began to wheeze and choke. Xena turned her attention quickly back to the reed in his throat, readjusting it so that he could breathe again.
"We're almost to the road," Herbert said, turning to look back at them. "It should be a little smoother than this open field."
"Let's hope so," said Gabrielle with a grim smile.
A few minutes later, they gave a collective sigh of relief as they rolled up onto the dusty road. Frank cracked his whip over the team's backs and they picked up the pace. "How'd Deputy Johnson come to get shot?" he asked the sheriff.
"Oh, well, the mining company was sending a big payroll up to the mines, so they asked us to ride up there, just in case Garrison's gang got wind of it and decided to rob the train."
"Train!" whispered Gabrielle.
Xena gave her a puzzled look.
"Now we know what a train is -- it's the dragon!"
"Oh! You're right!" Xena whispered back.
"Looks to me like you fellas both fell off the train," Frank said. "Who's guarding that payroll now?"
"Nobody, I guess," Herbert admitted. "But we kept Garrison and his gang from getting on board and taking the money. I don't think there'll be any more trouble."
"Well, you better hope not," Frank said and spat into the dust of the road.
Xena checked Ellis' pulse and found it a little weak, but still steady. Then she noticed that Gabrielle seemed to be poking around the wagon bed under one of the grain sacks. "What are you doing? Did you lose something?" she whispered.
"No, I found something!" Gabrielle responded. She opened her palm to reveal a bright yellow kernel about the size of a fingernail. "This is what's in these bags," she said.
Xena picked up the kernel and sniffed it, then placed it between her teeth. It seemed to have no flavor and was too hard to bite into. Holding it up in the sunlight, she studied it for a moment, then shrugged and handed it back to the younger woman.
"What kind of grain is this in the bags?" Gabrielle asked, addressing herself to the men on the wagon seat.
Frank turned to give her a surprised look. "That's corn. Ain't you ever seen corn before?"
"No. We don't have it in Greece," Gabrielle said. "What do you do with it?"
"Well, you can grind it up and make meal out of it for cornbread or cornmeal mush. That's what I'm doing now, is taking this corn to the mill to be ground."
"You can also eat it fresh, right off the cob," Herbert said. "You just boil it or roast it in the coals and then put a little butter on it."
"But it's so hard," Xena said. "How do you chew it?"
"Oh, it's not hard when it's fresh out of the garden," Frank said. "That corn there in the bags is from last year's crop. You can feed it to your livestock, too, if you can afford it," he added. "Otherwise, you just feed them grass and hay."
"I hope we get to try some of your food here," Gabrielle said. "I'll bet it's different from what we're used to."
"I'll make sure that you get some," Herbert said, turning around to grin at them. Then he said to Frank, "How's your family doing? Are the kids all right?"
"They're fine. James is getting big enough to do a good share of the work, as long as he don't take the notion to go fishing."
"Well, boys will be boys," Herbert said. "Don't be too hard on him."
Frank shook his head. "It's about time he learned some responsibility. Can't have him running off to play every whipstitch. There's too much work to be done for that."
The sheriff was silent for a few moments, then said, "How's Mrs. Brown? Didn't she take kind of a nasty fall here a few weeks back?"
"She's all right," Frank said, shifting uncomfortably on the wagon seat. "Pretty much all healed up by now."
"Well, I sure am glad to hear that," Herbert said. "You tell her I asked after her, will you?"
Frank nodded and leaned over the side of the wagon to spit again.
They were beginning to pass some houses now, most of them small and built of logs or sawed boards. Xena gazed all around with interest, feeling curious to know what the town would look like, when they finally got to it.
"Over there's the church," Herbert said, pointing to the left. The building he indicated was made of wood, with a peaked roof and tall, narrow windows in the sides. On the front, there was a tower-like structure with a bell hanging in the top.
"Church?" whispered Gabrielle, giving Xena a questioning look.
"Maybe it's a temple to one of their gods," she whispered back in Greek.
"During the week, of course, we use it for a schoolhouse," Herbert went on. They rode for a few minutes in silence, and then he said, "We're going to be turning down the main street now. Doc Spencer is at the other end of town, near the train station. Fortunately, it's not a very big town, so it shouldn't take us much longer to get there."
"Look at those funny buildings!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "The fronts stick up taller than the roofs! It's almost like they're trying to look bigger than they really are."
Xena nodded. "They're all made of wood, too," she said, suddenly feeling a little homesick for the sun-baked brick and stone structures of her native land.
The town was not exactly crowded, but it was busy enough, with other wagons and horse-drawn conveyances stirring up the dust of the street. In front of the shops were railings for hitching horses and wooden platforms where the people walked. The women wore garments which fit closely above the waist and then fell in full cascades of fabric all the way to the ground. Several wore cloth hats that seemed designed to hide their faces from the sun.
"No wonder they thought our clothes looked strange," murmured Gabrielle, as she turned her gaze eagerly from side to side.
Xena didn't answer. She was reading the names on the buildings -- odd names like "Bank," "Hotel," "Assay Office," "Barber," and "General Store." What could all these places be? And why were so many of them named "Saloon"?
"Howdy, Sheriff Lees!" called a boy, grinning and waving from in front of the building called General Store.
"Willie!" Herbert called. "Come here! Can you do a favor for me?"
"Sure thing, Sheriff!"
"Run on up the street to Doc Spencer's and tell him Deputy Johnson got shot. We've got him in the wagon here."
"Really? He got shot? How'd it happen? Is he gonna die?"
"No, he's not going to die. We got in a fight with the Garrison gang. They were trying to rob the train. Now run on up there and tell the doctor we're coming."
The boy took off running, and people who had overheard the exchange began to call out the news to each other. "Ellis Johnson got shot!" "The Garrison gang!" "Trying to rob the train!" And then they stood around staring and pointing at the wagon and its occupants.
"Slow up for a second," Herbert said, laying a hand on Frank's arm. Then he jumped down off the wagon seat. "I'm just going to run in here and tell Lizzie her brother got wounded. It's better if she hears it from me. You keep on going. I'll catch up with you." He turned and ran in through the door of a building labeled "Boarding House."
Frank slapped the reins and the horses resumed their pace. A couple of minutes later, they turned onto a street running parallel to what Xena now recognized as the trails used by the train. On the corner was a building bearing a large sign that read "Corinth."
"Look! There are bars on that window!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "Is that the jail?"
"Naw, that's the train station," Frank told them in a disgusted tone of voice. "The jail's at the other end of town."
"But why are there bars on the window?" asked Gabrielle.
"That's the ticket window. I don't know why they put bars on it. Maybe to keep people from robbing the station master." Then he spat another stream of brown juice into the street.
"What is that you're eating?" Xena asked.
"I'm not eating anything. I'm chewing tobacco. I suppose you never heard of that, either."
"No, I never did," said Xena.
"You mean you just chew it without actually eating it?" Gabrielle asked. "Why would you do that? Seems like it just makes you keep having to spit."
"Yes, that's the beauty of it, I reckon," he said, then pulled back on the reins with a loud "Whoa!" to his team.
They had stopped in front of a small white house. The sign over the door said "Nicholas Spencer, MD."
The boy, Willie, burst out the door, followed by a man of medium height and build. He had curly brown hair mingled with gray and thinning on top, and a short, curly beard. On his face, he wore a strange wire frame which held two pieces of glass in front of his eyes.
Herbert came running up to them. "Nicholas!" he panted. "Thank God you're here!"
"What happened?" asked the doctor, moving toward the wagon. "Is Ellis badly hurt?"
"He got shot in the throat," Herbert said as he reached up a hand to help Gabrielle climb down. "He couldn't breathe and I think he would have died if these two ladies hadn't come along." Then, turning to the bard, he said, "Miss Gabrielle, this is Doctor Spencer."
"Pleased to meet you," Gabrielle said, offering him her hand.
The doctor didn't respond for a moment, apparently taken aback by the sight of her bare midriff and thighs. Then, recovering, he clasped her hand and murmured, "Likewise."
"And this," Herbert went on, taking his elbow and steering him to the wagon, "is Miss Xena. She cut a hole in Ellis' windpipe so he could breathe."
Nicholas stepped up on the wagon spoke to get a better look at Xena and Ellis. Then he held out his hand. "Miss Xena," he said, nodding to her.
"Just call me Xena," she said giving him her own blood-stained hand. "I'm not really the 'Miss' type."
"All right, Xena," he said, regarding her curiously as he climbed into the wagon. The deputy looked up at him, and he laid a gentle hand on the wounded man's forehead. "How are you doing, Ellis?" he asked.
Ellis nodded slightly and then gestured toward Xena.
"This lady helped you out, did she?" the doctor asked. He leaned down to study the wound and the reed arrangement. Then he looked at Xena.
"You did the right thing," he said. "The tracheotomy definitely saved his life. Where did you learn the procedure?"
"From a healer," Xena said. "I've used the technique many times on the battlefield to save men with neck wounds."
"She didn't get the bullet out," Herbert said, leaning over the side of the wagon to watch the doctor. "She said she would leave it for you to do."
"All right, then," said Nicholas. "Let's get him inside."
Xena helped lift Ellis out of the wagon, then let the men carry him inside. Climbing down, she untied Argo and led her to a hitching post.
Gabrielle meanwhile walked up to the side of the wagon. "I think the sheriff may have forgotten to thank you," she said to Frank. "He was pretty worried about his friend. Anyway, we really appreciate your help."
There was no answer, and Xena turned to see the driver staring at Gabrielle with a strange look on his face. "You may have pulled the wool over the sheriff's eyes," he said, looking first at Gabrielle and then at Xena, "but I know a couple of common whores when I see them." Then he spat one last time, picked up the reins, and drove off.
Gabrielle turned, and seeing Xena watching her, came to stand beside her. "I don't like that man much," she said.
"Me either," Xena said, "but with any luck, we won't ever see him again."
Gabrielle leaned against her and Xena put an arm around her shoulders. "Are you all right?" she asked softly.
"Yes, I'm just--"
Gabrielle looked up at her. "I'm just so sorry I brought us here," she said. "I never meant for it to turn out like this. If I had known the Cronus Stone would take us to the future instead of the past--"
"You had no way of knowing," Xena said, pulling her closer. "No one could have guessed it."
"I'm just so scared," Gabrielle whispered. "What if we can't get the Cronus Stone back?"
"We'll get it back," Xena said, feigning a confidence she didn't really feel. "We'll make Herbert Lees help us. We'll get it back." She kissed the top of Gabrielle's head. "I love you," she said.
"I love you, too."
"Come on," Xena said with a smile, "we need to go inside."
They went to the doctor's door and Xena reached out to open it, but stopped when she heard footsteps pounding the wooden walkway. Looking up, she saw a woman running toward them, holding her skirt up with one hand. Clearly unused to running, she was breathing hard and perspiring, while wisps of gray hair escaped from a bun on the back of her head and blew about her face. Coming to an abrupt halt in front of Xena, she stared up at the warrior in surprise.
Xena found herself staring back with an unexpected shock of recognition. She knew this woman; she was certain of it. The face was different, and the hair -- even the color of the eyes. But there was only one person who could look through to her soul in that way. "Lydia?" she said.
"No," the woman answered, with a puzzled smile. "I'm Lizzie. Lizzie MacDonald." She held out her hand. "And you are . . . ?"
"Yes, of course," Lizzie responded as they shook hands.
"And this is Gabrielle," Xena added.
"I'm so glad to meet you both," Lizzie said, taking Gabrielle's hand. "I hope you'll forgive me. I'm not usually this flustered, but I heard that my brother, Ellis, got wounded--"
"They just carried him in here," said Xena as she opened the door for Lizzie. "Go on. I know he'll want to see you."
She smiled apologetically and hurried in. Xena and Gabrielle followed, then stood just inside the door looking around. The room was not terribly large, but the white walls and sunny window made it seem clean and bright. The wall opposite the window was lined with shelves. Some of these were full of bottles and vials, while others contained tall, rectangular objects which appeared to have writing on them. There was a desk in one corner, and a tall wooden chest with drawers.
Ellis lay on a narrow table near the center of the room. His tunic had been removed, but he still wore his trousers and boots. Lizzie stood beside him, holding his hand and watching as Nicholas examined the neck wound. On the other side of the doctor, Herbert was telling the story of the attempted train robbery. And gazing on the whole scene with wide-eyed wonder was the boy, Willie.
"All right," Nicholas said, straightening up and looking around. "I need some space to work here. Willie, I'm afraid you'll have to leave, Son." He put a hand on the boy's shoulder and steered him toward the door.
"Ah, Doc, can't I stay and watch?"
"Maybe one of these days, when you're a little older," he said with a smile. "You can go visit Deputy Johnson after he's feeling better. I'm sure he'd like that."
"Okay," Willie said with a grin, and left, closing the door behind him.
"Do you want the rest of us out of here, too, Nick?" asked Herbert.
"No, you can stay, if you want to, but I need you to sit over there, out of the way." He gestured toward the chairs by the wall near the window. "And I'll need one person to assist me."
"I'll do it," Xena said promptly, "if you'll tell me how."
He seemed surprised by her offer, and studied her for a few moments in silence. Then he nodded and said, "All right. There's a basin over there where you can wash up. You'll need to take off those . . . arm things," he added, looking pointedly at her bracers, "so you can get good and clean."
"Okay, sure," Xena said. She slipped off the bracers and laid them on the floor beside the chair Gabrielle had sat down in. Then, as an afterthought, she unhooked her sword and chakram and laid them on the floor, too. Gabrielle smiled at her and she smiled back, touching the bard lightly on the knee.
She crossed the room to the basin, scrubbed her hands and arms thoroughly with the bar of soap there, then dried herself on a small white towel. She wasn't sure what the point was, since it was likely she would just get blood on her hands again, but she wanted to please the healer and, she hoped, learn something useful from him.
Nicholas was bending over Ellis with what appeared to be tubes stuck in his ears. The tubes were attached to a metal object which he held first against Ellis' bare chest in several places, and then against his throat near the wound. Xena could only surmise that the tubes somehow helped him hear what was inside the body. And maybe those pieces of glass in front of his eyes gave him some special type of vision. She stood watching him with interest until he straightened up and beckoned to her.
"I'm going to have you hold this for me," he said, handing her a shiny brass lamp with a flame burning inside a glass column. "And once we get started, I'd like you to keep an eye on his breathing. I'm going to have to administer the chloroform a little differently, due to the nature of his wound."
"Chloroform?" Xena said.
"To put him to sleep," he said, looking at her curiously.
"Yes, of course," she said, nodding. There were so many questions she wanted to ask, but she was afraid that if she showed her ignorance, he might reject her help.
Picking up a bottle, he opened it, then poured a little of the clear liquid on a cloth. "Now Ellis," he said, "I'm just going to put you to sleep for a little while so I can get your throat fixed up. You won't feel a thing." He laid the cloth over the opening Xena had cut in the wounded man's windpipe. "Try to take a few deep breaths for me," Nicholas went on. "I know it's hard to breathe through that hole, but do the best you can."
Ellis looked first at Nicholas and then at Xena as he struggled to breathe deeply. Seeing the uncertainty in his eyes, Xena smiled at him and laid a hand on his shoulder. "You'll be all right," she said softly. He smiled back at her, then closed his eyes, and she felt the muscles under her hand slowly relax.
She looked up to see Nicholas watching her. "He trusts you," he said. "But then, I guess he has good reason to. You saved his life." He glanced over at Herbert and Lizzie, who were talking quietly near the window. "I know there are at least three of us right here in this room who are very grateful for that."
"I'm just glad I could help," Xena said.
Nicholas stuck the tubes back in his ears and listened to Ellis' chest again. Then he checked the pulse. "Hold that lamp over here closer, please," he said, and began to clip the stitches and pull them out. "I'm really puzzled about this wound," he admitted. "It seems as if a bullet fired at close range into the neck would have passed on through, but there is no exit wound."
"Yes, that's strange," Xena agreed, thinking of the arrows she had seen shot through men's necks.
"Did you see him get shot?" Nicholas asked.
"Not exactly. I saw him holding his throat, and then he fell off the train."
"But you saw Garrison riding alongside the train, pretty close there, shooting at Ellis?"
"Yes. It was Bill Garrison who shot him, if that's what you mean."
Nicholas nodded and gestured for Xena to bring the lamp closer again. Then, using a small, sharp knife, he opened up the wound and carefully began to probe the windpipe. The room had grown quiet except for the sound of Ellis' labored breathing. Xena glanced behind her and saw Gabrielle, Lizzie, and Herbert sitting in a row, watching in anxious silence.
"Well, there it is," Nicholas said as he pulled a small, bloody object out and held it up. Then he dropped it into Xena's outstretched palm.
"This is the bullet?" she said, staring at the misshapen ball.
"That's it, all right. Haven't you ever seen a bullet?" He gave her the same curious look he had given her earlier.
"Uh, sure. Plenty of times," she said hastily.
"Good, then you can put it down and apply this compress for a minute," he said, handing her a folded bandage.
She followed his instructions while he lifted the cloth from Ellis' breathing hole and applied more chloroform.
"Did the bullet go through his windpipe?" asked Herbert.
"No, I don't think it did," the doctor said. "I'm just about to take a better look, but strangely enough, it appears that the bullet simply lodged against the trachea and caused it to close up."
"Can you fix it?" Lizzie asked.
"Yes, I think it will be fairly easy to fix," he replied, turning his attention back to the wound. Xena lifted the compress and watched as he manipulated the windpipe for a few moments.
"He's breathing normally again," she said with relief, and Nicholas nodded. Then he moved the chloroform cloth to Ellis' nose and mouth.
"I've never seen anything quite like this," he said to the three sitting near the window, "and I can't say I know how to explain it. That bullet should have gone clear through his neck."
"Maybe it ricocheted off something," Herbert suggested, "and was pretty much spent by the time it hit him."
"Maybe," Nicholas said. "At least, that's the best explanation I've heard yet."
"Or maybe the good Lord was just watching out for him," Lizzie said.
"Well, it's one of the closest things to a miracle I've ever seen," he said and smiled warmly at her. Then he opened another bottle and began using its contents to swab out the wound. Xena watched in fascination, longing to ask what the liquid was, but not quite daring to.
"Will he be able to talk?" Lizzie asked.
"Yes, that's another part of this little miracle. The bullet missed the larynx, so he shouldn't have any problems, except maybe some soreness." Nicholas finished cleaning the wound and then looked at Xena. "You said you had performed tracheotomies on the battlefield," he said. "Were you a nurse during the War?"
"No, I'm not a nurse. I'm a warrior."
"A warrior?" he said, staring at her in surprise. "Are you an Indian?"
"No, I'm a Greek."
"Hey, Nick," Herbert broke in, "I guess I forgot to mention that Miss Xena and Miss Gabrielle are from Greece."
"Please!" exclaimed Gabrielle. "You don't have to call us 'Miss.' Just use our names."
"But 'Miss' is the proper way to address a young lady you don't know very well."
"Maybe so, but we're not used to it and it just sounds so weird," said Gabrielle.
"So you're from Greece, are you?" Nicholas asked, but there was a note of skepticism in his voice. "How long have you been in this country?"
"Not very long," said Xena.
"But you speak English so well," he said. "And without an accent."
"Tell him how you got here," Herbert said, looking at Gabrielle. "Now that's a strange story, if I ever heard one!"
"Should I tell him, Xena?" asked Gabrielle.
Xena looked at the younger woman and then at Lizzie and Nicholas. Could these people be trusted? Would they ever believe such a bizarre story? Probably not, but somehow it seemed safer to tell the truth than to try to lie, as she had done before. "Go ahead," she said.
"Well," Gabrielle began hesitantly, "there's this thing called the Cronus Stone, and it--"
"Cronus?" Nicholas broke in. "You mean like the titan?"
"Yes, exactly!" the bard said, brightening. "The titans Cronus and Rhea gave birth to six of the gods, and Cronus swallowed them all except the youngest one, Zeus."
"Gabrielle, stick to the original story," Xena warned.
"Oh! Right! So anyway, Xena and I got ahold of this crystal, this Cronus Stone, and it has the power to let you travel through time. We thought we were going to go back into our past so that we could change a couple of things, but instead, we ended up here in . . . Colorado," she said, pronouncing the name very carefully.
No one spoke for several moments, and Xena saw them exchanging glances. Then Lizzie said, "Do you mean to say that this stone, this-- What did you call it?"
"The Cronus Stone."
"That this Cronus Stone brought you here, as if by magic, all the way from Greece?"
"Yes," said Gabrielle.
"When did you get here?" Lizzie asked.
"We woke up here this morning," Gabrielle said.
"And we were speaking your language when we woke up," Xena added.
Lizzie frowned. "So, last night you were in Greece," she said slowly, "and this morning you were here?"
"I told you it was a strange story," Herbert said, chuckling.
Nicholas shook his head as he began stitching up Ellis' throat. "I'm having a little trouble swallowing it, myself," he said. "And I don't even have a throat wound."
Herbert and Lizzie laughed.
"Well, you can take it or leave it," Xena said, shrugging, "but it's the truth."
"Oh, come on, Xena," Nicholas returned. "You seem like a reasonable and intelligent person. Do you really expect us to believe that this time yesterday you were roaming around in the land of Aristotle and Homer, and now--"
"Homer!" exclaimed Gabrielle. "Do you know Homer?"
"Well, most people know Homer," he said, giving her a puzzled look.
"Really? Then we have something in common, because I met him at the Athens Academy for Performing Bards. He's just the sweetest man, don't you think?"
Nicholas stared at her without answering.
"Gabrielle," said Lizzie, laying a hand on the young woman's arm, "are you saying you know Homer personally?"
"Well, yes. Of course."
"But that's not possible," Lizzie went on. "Homer lived hundreds of years ago. Nicholas, when did Homer live?"
"No one knows for sure," he said, snipping off the thread from the last stitch. "But I think the best guess is around the year 800 BC."
"What year is it now?" Xena asked.
"You don't know what year it is?" Herbert said.
"No, I don't. We think we ended up in the future, but we don't know when."
"Oh. Well, it's 1880."
"Eighteen eighty," said Gabrielle. "Does that mean one thousand eight hundred eighty?"
"Yes," said Herbert.
"Counting from what?" asked Xena.
"From the birth of Christ," Lizzie said, and when the two women looked at her blankly, she added, "Jesus Christ. He's the son of God."
"The son of which god?" said Gabrielle.
"Just God," Lizzie said. "We believe there's only one god."
Xena considered this for a moment as she watched Nicholas sewing up the hole she had cut in Ellis' throat. Then she asked, "Is this the one god of the Israelites?"
"You know of the Israelites?" Nicholas asked, glancing up at her.
"A group of them saved my life once," she said. "I know they only worship one god."
He nodded. "It's the same one," he said.
"So you see, Gabrielle," Lizzie said, "if Homer lived eight hundred years before Christ, and now it's almost two thousand years after Christ, then it hardly seems possible that you could have known him."
"But I did! I mean, I do!" she asserted. "And Nicholas said that you know him, too."
"Nicholas meant that we know Homer through his writings."
"His writings? Did he write his stories down?"
"Oh, yes," said Herbert. "He wrote wonderful stories about the Trojan War and about Odysseus' journey home from the war."
"He did? Homer wrote about Troy? And about Odysseus?"
"All right," Nicholas broke in. "Let me see if I understand this. You two ladies are telling us that not only are you from Greece, but you are from ancient Greece. And that Xena here is some kind of female warrior who just happens to know how to do tracheotomies." He looked at Xena, and she met his gaze levelly, but without answering. "Can you see how this just might strain a person's credulity?" he finished.
"Maybe there's some way they can prove they're from Greece," Herbert said. "Let's have them speak a little Greek for us."
He looked at Gabrielle and she, in turn, looked at Xena. Then she said in Greek, "How are we ever going to get them to believe us?"
"I don't know, but we've got to keep trying," Xena said, in the same language.
"Nicholas, you've studied Greek," said Herbert. "What did they say?"
"Uh, well, I haven't really studied conversational Greek. I mostly just learned to read it." He hesitated, then said, "But I think I recognized the word 'believe' -- like maybe Gabrielle said 'They don't believe us' or something like that."
He looked at Xena and she nodded. "It was something like that," she agreed.
Nicholas turned his attention back to Ellis, removing the chloroform cloth from his face and then listening again with the tube apparatus. When he seemed satisfied that everything was all right, he took the lamp from Xena's hand and set it aside. "There's a blanket in that corner cupboard," he said, why don't you get it and cover Ellis with it."
"How long will it take him to wake up?" she asked.
"I'm not sure," he said. "It varies with the individual, but it shouldn't take more than half an hour."
She nodded and went to the cupboard. Nicholas, meanwhile, brought a basin of water over and began washing the blood off of the deputy's neck and chest.
"Maybe we could have Gabrielle read us something in Greek," Herbert said, apparently still preoccupied with the previous discussion. "Have you got some Homer here?"
"In the bookcase over there," Nicholas said, nodding toward the wall. "Second shelf. It's bound in red leather."
Herbert got up and went to the shelf. He studied the items there for a few moments and then pulled one out. "Here it is," he said. "The Iliad. It's a good thing they have the title in English as well as in Greek," he added as he crossed the room and handed the object to Gabrielle.
Xena watched as the bard examined what appeared to be a thick, red rectangle, running her fingers over the surface and then holding the gold lettering in the sunlight. "It's beautiful," she said.
"Open it up and read something," Herbert urged.
"Open it?" Gabrielle said uncertainly, and turned the thing over in her hands.
"I don't think she's ever seen a book before," Lizzie said, then leaned over to help. "Here," she said, "hold it like this. Then the cover opens and you can turn the pages to see all the writing."
"Oh!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "Homer wrote this?"
"It's wonderful! The script is so small, yet it's clear and legible. I had no idea Homer could write like this!"
Lizzie laughed. "That's not Homer's handwriting," she said. "This book has been printed on a printing press. Do you know what that is?"
Gabrielle shook her head.
"It's this big thing," she explained, "and, well, you have these metal letters, and you put them in a form so that they spell out what you want to say. Then you put ink on them and you press a piece of paper down over them, and the ink comes off on the paper. You can make as many copies as you want, and they all look the same."
"Really? That's amazing!" Gabrielle said. Her eyes were wide with excitement.
"Yes, it is, when you come to think about it," Lizzie agreed. "We've got a press here in town, down at the newspaper office. I'll have to take you and let you see it."
"Oh, yes! I'd like that very much! Xena, you've got to see this!" Gabrielle exclaimed, getting up and carrying the book over to the warrior. "Just look at how much writing they can get on each piece of parchment!"
Xena looked over Gabrielle's shoulder as the bard eagerly turned the pages. "It's amazing," she said softly.
"Isn't it?" the young woman agreed.
"Read us something," Herbert said.
"Okay," Gabrielle said. "Let me just find where it starts."
After a few moments, she found the place, glanced over the words, and then, holding the book up, began to read the Greek in her best bardic tones. "Sing, O goddess, of the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus," she intoned. "Sing of that terrible wrath which brought so many woes upon the Achaeans, and sent so many valiant warriors' souls to Hades, making them spoil for dogs and all manner of birds. For thus was the will of Zeus brought to fulfillment. Sing thou of these things, beginning with the time when Atreus' son, king of men, and goodly Achilles parted in strife."
She stopped, and looking at Xena, said in English, "See, I told you Homer would turn out to be a great bard."
"You were right," said the warrior, smiling. She had watched the other three while Gabrielle was reading, surprised to see that they all listened with rapt attention, even though two of them probably didn't understand a word the bard had spoken.
"Well, Nick," said Herbert. "What did you think of that little reading?"
The doctor shrugged. "It really doesn't prove anything," he said. "A lot of people learn to read enough Greek in school to be able to do that."
"So you still don't believe their story," said the sheriff.
"Well, I believe them," Lizzie said firmly. "And I would believe them even if they said they came from the moon, because I have a very good feeling about these two. I think they're here to be our friends and they've already proved that by saving Ellis' life."
"You believe them," Nicholas said quietly, looking at Lizzie with what Xena could only describe as respect.
"Yes," Lizzie said. "And you know as well as I do, Nicholas Spencer, that there are some things in this world that simply can't be explained by logic and science. Ellis' wound is one good example, and maybe the fact that Gabrielle and Xena are here is another one." Then, without waiting for him to answer, she turned to the bard and said, "I hope you'll be staying with us for a while."
"I guess we have no choice," Gabrielle said. "At least until we get the Cronus Stone back."
"Get it back?" Nicholas said. "Did you lose it?"
"Oh, that's the other part of the story," Herbert said. "It seems that Bill Garrison and his cohorts visited the ladies' camp this morning and stole the stone from them."
"Yes, and they shot Xena in the arm," Gabrielle said.
The doctor looked at the warrior's bandage. "I noticed that earlier, but I never got around to asking about it," he said. "Why don't you let me take a look at it?"
"It's all right," Xena said. "Gabrielle sewed it up for me and, to be honest, I had pretty much forgotten it was even there."
"I still think I should look at it."
Xena hesitated, then said, "All right."
"Here, have a seat," Nicholas said, grabbing an empty chair and setting it near Xena.
She sat down and he cut the bandage off, then studied the stitched-up gash. "It looks pretty good," he said, "but why don't I just put a little carbolic acid on it."
"What will that do?" asked Xena.
"It will help prevent infection."
She nodded. "Go ahead," she said.
He went and got some bandages and the bottle of liquid he had used to clean Ellis' wound. "Of course, the best way would be to open up the wound and flush it out good and then stitch it up again," he said. "Or I can just try to clean it as it is."
"Just leave it the way it is," Xena said. "I've had much worse wounds in my time."
He poured some of the solution onto a cloth and pressed it against her arm. She drew in a sharp breath and gritted her teeth.
"Stings, doesn't it?" he said with a grin.
"Yes, it does," she agreed.
"Xena," said Lizzie, "I want you and Gabrielle to come to my boarding house. You can stay as long as you want. No charge."
"That's very kind of you," Xena said.
"Lizzie, we have money," Gabrielle said quickly. "We'll be glad to pay for our room."
"Gabrielle," Xena said, "they probably use different money here."
"Oh. I didn't think of that."
Nicholas looked up with sudden interest. "Let me see that money of yours," he said. Then, while Gabrielle was getting out her coin purse, he tied a clean bandage on Xena's arm. "Keep an eye on that," he said to the warrior. "If there's any sign of infection, let me know."
Gabrielle walked over to him and held out a handful of coins. He picked one up and turned it over, examining both sides closely, then he did the same with a second one. "This is amazing!" he said. He beckoned to Herbert and Lizzie. "Come look at these! I've never seen ancient coins in such good condition!"
"Do you think they're real?" Herbert asked. He held one between his teeth and bit down experimentally.
"Well, if Gabrielle and Xena are telling us the truth about where they came from and how they got here, then I guess the coins must be real."
"Oh, so now you believe us?" Xena asked a bit skeptically.
He smiled. "Well, although I admit that your story strikes me as being totally preposterous, I still somehow find myself wanting to believe it. And I've learned to trust Lizzie's instincts about things like this. If she says she has a good feeling about you, then I respect that."
Xena smiled back at him and then exchanged a relieved look with Gabrielle.
"But getting back to the coins," Nicholas said. "I have an old college friend who is the curator of a museum in Washington. Last time I was there, he showed me their collection of Greek and Roman coins, none of which were in as good a condition as these are. I'll bet he'd be willing to pay quite a bit of money for your coins, if you're willing to sell them."
"Uh, sure, why not?" Gabrielle said.
"Good," Nicholas said. "I'll wire my friend this afternoon. I should have an answer by sometime tomorrow."
"Wire him? What does that mean?" asked Gabrielle.
"Send a wire. A telegram." He stopped and looked at their blank faces, then tried to explain. "It's a way of sending messages by means of electrical impulses that travel through wires. It's very fast. I can get a message all the way to the East Coast and receive a reply in a matter of hours."
"So it's sort of like using messenger pigeons," Xena said.
"Well, sort of. But it's faster and more reliable than pigeons."
"You know," said Herbert, "I hate to change the subject, but it's past lunchtime, and I, for one, am getting pretty hungry."
"Oh, heavens! I forgot all about lunch!" exclaimed Lizzie. "I just ran off and left Mary to do all the cooking and serving. Herb, why don't you and I go over to the boarding house and see if there's any food left. We can bring it back here and have kind of a picnic."
"Sounds good to me," Nicholas said.
"What about Ellis?" asked Lizzie. "Should I bring some food for him?"
The doctor glanced at the man on the table. "No, I doubt that he'll be very hungry for a while yet. And when he does eat, he'll need something that's pretty easy to swallow. Maybe you could make him some soup later on."
"Yes, of course. I'll be glad to," Lizzie said. Then she and Herbert headed out the door in the direction of the boarding house.
"What do you call these coins?" Nicholas asked Gabrielle. "Drachmas?"
"Dinars. Okay, I'll see if I can't get you some good American money for them."
"What does your money look like?" Gabrielle asked.
Nicholas reached into a slit in his trousers and pulled out a leather wallet. Opening it, he removed a couple of pieces of greenish parchment and handed them to the two women.
"This is money?" Xena asked in surprise. "These flimsy pieces of parchment?"
He laughed. "Yes, we use this paper as money," he said. "It represents gold that's supposedly stored someplace safe. And we also have coins." He reached into his trousers again and produced several coins.
The two women turned the pieces of paper over, examining the designs with interest, then did the same with the coins.
"Why don't you just keep some of this?" he suggested, and counted out a few coins and bills for them. "Even if my friend doesn't want to buy your dinars, I'd like to have a few for myself. And this way, you'll have money to spend, if you need it."
"I need a comb," Gabrielle said. "Do you have combs here?"
"Oh, yes. You can get yourself a fine rubber comb down at the general store for a few pennies. Have Lizzie take you there."
"Okay, thanks," Gabrielle said as she put the new money in her coin purse.
"Nicholas," said Xena, "do you have a map? Could you show us where Colorado is? We still don't really know where we are."
"A map? Sure! I'll show you in just a second. Let me check on Ellis again first." He moved to the table where the wounded man lay. Xena and Gabrielle went and stood beside him.
"Is he going to be all right?" Gabrielle asked, touching Ellis' hair softly.
"Yes, Ellis is tough. He'll be fine," Nicholas said. "I think he's just decided to take a nice long nap." The doctor smiled and then, beckoning them to follow, walked to one of the bookshelves. He took down a large volume and laid it on the desk. "This is called an atlas," he said. "It's a whole book of maps."
Opening the cover, he consulted a list in the front of the book and then turned to another page. "This is Greece," he said, stepping back so they could get a better view.
Xena studied the familiar shapes of land and islands for a moment, then nodded. Gabrielle leaned over the map and pointed to a spot. "Here's Amphipolis," she said. "That's where Xena's from. And my village, Poteidaia, should be right here," she added, running her finger along a narrow isthmus, "but it doesn't seem to be marked on the map."
Nicholas leaned closer to take a look. "Maybe it doesn't exist anymore," he said.
"Doesn't exist! That can't be!" Gabrielle said. "My family is there, and a lot of my friends."
"A lot can change in two thousand years," Xena said quietly, putting a hand on the young woman's shoulder.
Gabrielle didn't answer.
Nicholas glanced at her and then turned over a few more pages of the atlas. "This is the continent of Europe," he told them. "See? Here's Greece, and here are all the countries around it."
"Where's Colorado?" asked Xena.
"Just wait. We're getting there," Nicholas said, and flipped the pages until he came to a large map that covered two pages. "This is the whole world," he said.
Xena stared at the map in surprise. There were more lands and seas than she had ever seen on any chart before.
"Here's Europe," Nicholas said, pointing, "and Greece."
"It looks so tiny," Gabrielle said.
"Yes, Greece is pretty small, compared with some other countries." Then he pointed to a large, open area. "This is the Atlantic Ocean. It takes several weeks to cross it, even in the fastest sailing ships. And this continent here is North America. The country we're in is called The United States of America. Colorado is one of the newest states, and it's right about here. See? The Rocky Mountains run right down through the middle of it. Corinth is just on the east side of the mountains."
The two women looked at the map in silence for several long moments. Then Gabrielle reached out to touch the place he had shown them. "Right here?" she said. "We're right here?"
She left her finger there and placed a finger of the other hand on Greece. Then she looked back and forth, from one hand to the other. "We're so far from home," she whispered. "I can't believe we're so far from home." She looked up at Xena and the warrior saw tears pooling in her lover's eyes.
"We'll get back," Xena said softly, as she slipped an arm around Gabrielle's waist. "I promise you. We'll get back."
Gabrielle nodded and quickly wiped a hand across her eyes. Xena glanced over at Nicholas and saw that he was watching them, but she could not read the expression on his face. Leaning forward, she looked at the map again for several moments and then ran her fingers along the left edge of it.
"So this must be the end of the earth," she said, with a note of awe. "What happens when you get there? Do you fall off?"
To her surprise, Nicholas laughed. "No, Xena," he said, "there is no end of the earth. That side of the map connects with this side over here. The earth is round, not flat."
"Round!" exclaimed Xena and Gabrielle, almost simultaneously.
"Do you mean round like a dinner plate?" Xena asked.
"No, round like a ball."
"Like a ball!" said Gabrielle, frowning. "But how can that be? If it were round, then we would be standing on the side of it and we'd fall off."
"That's exactly what we're doing," Nicholas said, "standing on the side of it. But we don't fall off because of gravity."
"Gravity?" said Xena.
"It's an invisible force from inside the earth, and it pulls everything toward itself. When you drop something, where does it go? Down, right? And why is that?"
"Well, that's just the way it's supposed to happen," Xena said. She had actually never thought about the matter before.
He smiled. "Yes, it's supposed to happen that way because of the force of gravity. Every time you climb or jump or even lift one foot to take a step, you're fighting against gravity."
"Wow," said Gabrielle, grinning, "then Xena must fight gravity a lot. And she wins, too. You should see her do flips!"
"You do flips?" asked Nicholas, looking at the warrior.
But hearing a sound behind her, she had turned away and was walking toward the table where Ellis lay. "He's waking up, " she said, looking down at him.
The doctor hurried over. "Ellis," he said, laying a hand on the deputy's forehead, "are you awake? Can you hear me?"
Ellis opened his eyes.
"How do you feel?" Nicholas asked.
"I can breathe," Ellis said, with some effort.
"Yes, you're a lucky man, Ellis Johnson," the doctor said. "It seems like that bullet would have severed your windpipe, but all it did was push up against it and close it off. So we got that all taken care of and stitched you up, and you're almost as good as new. How's the pain?"
"It's not too bad."
"Hmm," Nicholas said, checking the wounded man's pulse and listening with the ear tubes again. "I think it probably hurts more than you're willing to admit. Xena, would you mind giving him a drink of water? There's a glass over there by the pitcher."
"I'd be glad to," Xena said, and went to get the water. Nicholas walked over to a cabinet near where Gabrielle stood, still looking at the atlas.
When Xena returned with the water, she lifted Ellis' head as carefully as possible, trying not to hurt his throat. He took several long swallows and afterwards smiled at her. "Thanks," he said, "and thanks for saving my life."
"No thanks needed," she said, returning the smile.
Nicholas came back, holding a slender glass cylinder with what looked like a needle in one end. He held it up to the light for a moment, and Xena saw that it contained some type of liquid.
"What's that?" she asked.
"This is called a syringe," he said. "I'm going to use it to give Ellis a little morphine."
"It's a pain reliever that's made from opium."
Her eyebrows went up. "Opium!" she said. "That's powerful stuff."
"You're familiar with opium?"
"Yes, we use it in Greece, too."
He nodded. "Well then, perhaps you know that opium can be addictive."
She thought about this for a moment. "I've noticed that sometimes people keep asking for it, even after their pain should have gone away."
"That's because they've become addicted to it," he said. "And there's some evidence that the same thing can happen with morphine, so I try to be careful how much I give to people."
"But it makes you feel so good," said Ellis with a little smile.
"Yes, and that's why it's both a blessing and a curse," responded Nicholas. Then he bent over Ellis and, to Xena's surprise, stuck the needle part of the syringe into the deputy's arm.
"Why do you put the medicine in his arm instead of in his mouth?" she asked.
"Well, for one thing, because the effects are faster this way. Also, it's generally thought that if the drug goes directly into the bloodstream without passing through the stomach, a person won't develop a hunger for it. But I'm not totally convinced that's true."
Xena pondered this information for a few moments, but before she could ask more questions, the door opened, and Lizzie and Herbert came in, carrying big baskets with handles and lids.
"Is he awake?" Lizzie asked, setting her basket on the floor and hurrying over to see Ellis.
Xena stepped back to make room for her. Something smelled really good, and she looked at the baskets, wondering what was in them. It seemed like a long time since she and Gabrielle had wolfed down a few pieces of bread and cheese while packing up that morning. No wonder she was so hungry. Glancing up, she saw that Gabrielle was also eyeing the baskets with interest, and smiling, Xena crossed the room to stand near her lover.
They ate a lunch of fried chicken, soft white bread with butter, peaches, and something that Lizzie called German potato salad. And there was also a delicious cherry-filled pastry called "pie." Gabrielle asked many eager questions about the food and how it was prepared, but Xena said little, content merely to enjoy the unusual meal.
After a time, the discussion turned to Ellis' recovery, and where that should take place. Although Ellis himself had fallen asleep, his sister and friends apparently felt free to debate the matter without his input. Lizzie was of the opinion that her brother should stay at the boarding house for a few days, but Herbert thought Ellis would prefer to go back to the room the two of them shared behind the jail. Eventually, Nicholas weighed in on Herbert's side, so it was agreed that the doctor would bring Ellis around in his buggy later that afternoon.
"Okay," Lizzie said as she began to gather up the dirty plates and eating utensils, "why don't I take Gabrielle and Xena over and get them settled in a room, and see if I can find some different clothes for them to wear."
"What's wrong with our clothes, Lizzie?" asked Gabrielle. "Why does everybody seem to think we're prostitutes?"
"Well, it's just that in this country a lady doesn't generally expose so much, uh, flesh."
"Do you mean up here?" Xena asked, indicating the low cut of her leathers.
"No, actually, a lot of dresses are made to show off a woman's shoulders and chest -- although those are worn mostly for special occasions. The problem is, we ll, a lady would never reveal her thighs, and especially not--" she stopped, looking at Gabrielle's midriff. "It just isn't done," she finished, and then quickly turning her attention back to the basket she was packing.
Xena grinned and winked at Gabrielle, then got up and went to where Herbert was standing near the door. "Is there someplace I can stable my horse?" she asked.
"Yes, of course. The livery is at the other end of town, right across from the jail. I'll walk down there with you and arrange things with the stable owner, if you like."
"Thanks," Xena said. "And Herbert?"
"Could you teach me to use a gun?"
He looked surprised. "You want to learn to shoot a gun? Most women don't have much interest in that kind of thing."
"I'm not most women."
He laughed. "No, I suppose you're not," he said. "When do you want to start lessons?"
"How about this afternoon?"
"You don't waste any time, do you?"
"No. I figure I need to know how to use a gun in order to go after Garrison's gang and get the Cronus Stone back, so the sooner I learn, the better."
"All right," he said, smiling. "But I think you'll have to put in an appearance at the boarding house first and let Lizzie find you some clothes she considers decent."
"These clothes are fine," Xena said, glancing down at her leathers.
"Well, good luck convincing Lizzie of that," he said. "Shall we go on over to the stable?"
Xena nodded and went to tell Gabrielle and Lizzie where they were going. Then she and Herbert headed out the door.
"That's an interesting saddle you've got there," the sheriff said as Xena untied Argo. "And that saddle horn -- do you do a lot of roping?"
"You know, roping livestock -- cattle and such."
"No, I don't usually rope cattle," Xena said, "but I've been known to rope and drag a bad guy now and then," she added with a sly grin.
"Oh," he said, giving her a strange look.
They turned onto the main street and began to attract quite a bit of attention from people they met. There were no rude comments, though -- only greetings for the sheriff and stares for the warrior. Xena decided to ignore the people and turned her attention instead to the buildings. "What's that place?" she asked, pointing to one of the shops.
"Which one? Oh, the barber? That's where the menfolk go to get a haircut and a shave."
"How about that one?"
"That's one of the four saloons in town. It's where people gamble and drink."
"Drink? You mean like wine or mead?" Xena asked.
"Well, it's more likely to be beer or whiskey," Herbert said with a grin. "And most of those places also have prostitutes, either in a back room or upstairs."
Xena nodded. "What about that place on the corner? The one called 'Bank'?"
"The bank is where people keep their money."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, if you have a little extra money, you can put it in the bank instead of just hiding it in your mattress or something. And it earns interest."
"Yes, it's like a certain percentage that they pay you because while your money's there, the bank can use it to invest in stocks or real estate or--" He looked at her. "You're not understanding this, are you?"
"Actually, it's kind of complicated. You should ask Charles Shipley to explain it. He owns the bank and he lives at the boarding house."
Xena frowned. "So, if people bring all their money here to this bank place, what's to keep someone from going in there and stealing it?"
"Well, that happens sometimes, of course," Herbert said, grinning. "But if a town has a good sheriff, then it doesn't happen very often."
They had reached the street that had first brought them into town, but now they turned the opposite direction, passing the bank building on the corner.
"Has this bank ever been robbed?" Xena asked.
"Yes, but not recently -- not since I've been the sheriff. But that's only been a couple of years. I look for Garrison and his crew to try robbing it one of these days."
"Are you going to help me get the Cronus Stone back?" Xena asked.
"Sure, I'll help you, if you want me to."
"Good. When can we go after them?"
"We can go tomorrow morning, if you like," he said. "The gang's apparently got a little hideaway in the foothills near here, but it's hard to find. Ellis and I have spent some time looking for it, but without any luck so far."
"Do they stay there all the time, in this hideaway?"
"No, they'll stay around a few weeks while they rob some trains and banks, and sometimes ranchers and travelers, too. Then they disappear for months."
"We have to get that Cronus Stone back before they take off again," Xena said.
"We'll give it our best shot," Herbert said. "But what if we can't find them? Is there a chance those guys could use the stone to travel through time like you and Gabrielle did?"
"Well, there's no way they could know that the stone has that function," Xena said, "so if it happened, it would only be by accident. I worry more that they might end up breaking it. They think it's a ruby, but it's really just a glass crystal kind of thing, and if it got dropped--" She stopped, not wanting to contemplate that possibility.
"I can see why you're in such a hurry to get it back," Herbert said. "And I want you to know I'll do everything I can to help you. Now, here's the livery stable."
It didn't take long to get Argo settled into a stall with clean straw, and sweet-smelling hay to munch on. Xena took the saddlebags, but left all the other gear in the liveryman's care. Then she and Herbert walked back out into the street.
"There's my place," he said, pointing to a low building across the way. A sign hanging out in front read "Sheriff," and a smaller one nailed over the door said "Jail."
"Do you want me to walk you back to the boarding house?" Herbert asked.
"No, I know where it is."
"Well, yes, but you might get some attention you don't want," he said, looking at her attire.
"Don't worry. I can take care of myself," she assured him. "See you later." Then she crossed to the boardwalk, stepped up on it, and strode along confidently in the direction of the boarding house.
She rounded the corner by the bank and, for a time, was able to ignore the gasps, whispers and crude remarks of curious observers. But just as she was passing the saloon, a greasy-looking man stepped in front of her, blocking her path.
"Hiya, Sweetie! How about a little sugar?" he cooed, leaning toward her suggestively.
In one swift movement, she reached out and clamped a hand around his throat, then lifted him until his feet were off the ground and his eyes bugged out. "Here's all the sugar you're going to get from me!" she said and tossed him against the wall of the building. He hit the clapboards with a resounding thud and then slid down to the boardwalk, where he sat rubbing his throat and staring at her in disbelief.
A crowd was gathering, and Xena drew her sword, flourished it, and then held it out menacingly as she turned in a slow circle. The spectators gasped and quickly fell back a step or two. "My name is Xena," she announced, "and I am a Greek warrior. I am not a whore, and anyone who says I am one can eat my sword. Now, have I made myself clear?"
"Good," Xena said, then sheathed her weapon. The crowd parted silently to make a path for her, and she continued on her way, completely unmolested.
* * *
The door to the boarding house had panels of glass which were etched with designs and set together with strips of dull gray metal. Xena paused for a moment to study them, then opened the door and stepped inside. She was standing in a hallway which ran back about twenty paces, and through a doorway at the end of it, she could see a long table with chairs around it. To her immediate left was another doorway, and peeking inside, she saw a small, but comfortable-looking room with upholstered furniture, drapes, and a floral-design carpet. On the right, there appeared to be a room which was similarly furnished. And just in front of her, a staircase climbed somewhat steeply up the left wall of the hallway to the floor above.
Hearing a footstep, Xena looked up and caught her breath. Gabrielle stood at the top of the stairs, wearing a green dress with long sleeves and a full, floor-length skirt.
"Xena, come on upstairs!" she called.
The warrior took the steps two at a time, and when she got to the top, Gabrielle twirled around, holding her skirt out with both hands.
"What do you think?" she asked, smiling.
"I think you're absolutely beautiful," Xena said softly.
"Yes, but what do you think of the dress?"
Xena shifted her gaze reluctantly from Gabrielle's face to her apparel. She could see now that the fabric had a pattern of tiny flowers all over it, and moving closer, she fingered one of the sleeves. "Is this cotton?" she asked. "It must be very expensive."
"That's what I thought, too, but Lizzie said cotton is cheap here because they grow it in the south part of the country. And look at this," Gabrielle went on, lifting up her skirt to reveal a second, cream-colored skirt beneath it. "This is called a petticoat. It's what makes the outer skirt stand out."
Xena squatted down to examine the petticoat. It was frayed in a couple of places, but nicely decorated with ribbons and lace. "Are these Lizzie's clothes?" she asked, standing up again.
"Yes. They fit me pretty well, don't you think?"
Xena opened her mouth to answer, but before she could do so, Lizzie came out of a room just beyond where they were standing.
"Doesn't she look lovely?" Lizzie asked Xena, smiling.
"Yes, I've always thought so," the warrior agreed.
"Come and see our room," Gabrielle said, taking Xena's hand and leading her to the doorway Lizzie had just come out of.
The room was definitely fancier than the one they had stayed in at Lydia's tavern. The bed, which stood in the left corner, was wider, for one thing, and covered with a red, ruffly spread. Next to it was a small nightstand with a lamp somewhat like the one Xena had held for Nicholas during the surgery. There were curtains at the window and braided rugs on the wood floor. A washstand stood against the right wall, and in the near right corner, there was a small table with two straight-backed chairs.
"What's that black thing?" Xena asked, crossing the room to examine a cylindrical metal object with a wide tube running all the way up to the ceiling.
"That's a heating stove," Lizzie said, coming over to stand beside the warrior. "Of course, you don't need it this time of year, but in the winter, you can build a small fire in here," she pulled open a door in the side of the stove, "and it keeps the room warm."
"Does it get very cold here?" Gabrielle asked.
"Oh yes, and we have a lot of snow. Sometimes the snow's so deep we can't get out for several days."
"That's amazing," Xena said, then noticing that the upper half of the walls were covered with pictures of roses, she moved to get a closer look. "Did someone paint these?" she asked, reaching out a finger to touch one of the designs.
"No, that's called wallpaper," Lizzie said. "The designs are printed on it in kind of the same way words are printed in a book. Then the paper is glued to the wall."
"This room is beautiful, Lizzie," said Gabrielle. "You must let us pay you for it."
"Absolutely not," she responded promptly. "I won't hear of it. Providing you with a place to stay is the least I can do to repay you for saving Ellis' life."
"Is Ellis your only brother?" Gabrielle asked.
"Oh, heavens no! I'm the oldest in a family of ten, and Ellis is the youngest. There are fifteen years between us."
"Did you grow up here?" asked Xena.
"No, we grew up back east in Illinois. Ellis came out here for the gold rush in '59. He was only 19 at the time. After that, he just kind of roamed around the West for several years. I don't know that he'll ever get married and settle down. He's just a wanderer at heart, I guess."
"Do they mine a lot of gold around here?" Xena asked.
"Not anymore. The gold mines all played out. Silver's the big thing nowadays -- especially on the other side of the mountains, in Aspen and Leadville."
Xena nodded. She tossed the saddlebags onto the bed and then sat down, hearing the familiar rustle of a straw mattress beneath her.
"I don't know where to find you some clothes, Xena," Lizzie said. "I'm afraid my dresses wouldn't fit you."
"That's all right. I'd rather wear these, anyway."
"No, that's not a good idea," Lizzie said, frowning. "There are just too many people who will think it scandalous for a woman to show her thighs."
"I can take care of those people," Xena said. "On my way over here, I convinced quite a little group of them not to call me a whore."
"Just how did you convince them?" Gabrielle asked, giving the warrior a knowing look.
"I have my ways," Xena said with a grin. She looked at Lizzie, noting that the woman did not appear to be amused. "Look, Lizzie," she said. "I appreciate your concern, but I don't really want to wear one of those dresses like Gabrielle has on. I have to be able to kick and run and ride my horse. I can't be getting tangled up in all those skirts."
"Some women who ride horses a lot wear a divided skirt," Lizzie said, "but I don't know of anyone your size who could lend you one. There's a seamstress in town. We could have one made, I suppose."
"No, that's too much trouble. We're not going to be here that long anyway, I hope. I'll just wear this."
"What are these little stick things for?" asked Gabrielle, who was examining the contents of a box on the nightstand.
"Those are called matches," Lizzie said, going over to her. "You can use them to light your lamp."
Gabrielle held one of the little sticks up for Xena to see. Then she fingered the lump at one end of it. "How does it work?" she asked.
"Like this," Lizzie said, taking the match from her. "You rub the head of it across something rough--" she glanced around for a moment and then turned the sole of her shoe up and rubbed the match across it.
Xena and Gabrielle both gasped to see the tip of the little stick burst into flame. Lizzie grinned at them, then blew out the match.
"You can make fire that easily?" Xena said in awe.
"Yes, it's that easy," Lizzie replied.
"How did you do that?" asked Gabrielle. "Was it sorcery?"
"No, no, it's just some kind of chemical that burns easily -- phosphorus or something. I don't know much about chemistry, but Nicholas could probably tell you. Anyway the friction causes it to ignite. Anyone can do it. Do you want to try?"
Gabrielle nodded and selected a matchstick from the box.
"Hold it like this," Lizzie said, "so the stick won't be so likely to break."
It took three tries, but on the third one, Gabrielle's match lit. "I did it!" she exclaimed. "I made fire by rubbing a stick and a boot together!"
Xena laughed. "And all this time, we thought it had to be two sticks," she said.
"Do you want to try it, Xena?" asked Lizzie.
"I'd like to know how to light the lamp," Xena said.
"Okay, come here," Lizzie said.
Xena stood up and moved closer.
"First, you take off the chimney, and then use this little knob on the side to adjust the height of the wick," Lizzie said, demonstrating. "You want it to be about like this when you light it. Go ahead and try it," she said and handed a match to Xena.
The warrior examined the slender piece of wood for a moment and then, holding it carefully, rubbed it briskly across her sole. When the flame appeared, she smiled, still awed by the miracle. Then she lit the wick.
"Good," Lizzie said. "Now blow out the match before your fingers get burned, and put the chimney back on."
"What's that liquid in the lamp?" Gabrielle asked. "Is it oil?"
"Some of the lamps downstairs have whale oil, but this is something called kerosene. It's very flammable, so be careful not to drop the lamp or knock it over. If you did, you could set the whole building on fire."
Xena nodded and studied the lamp for a few moments. "It smells funny," she said, "but it makes a better light than a candle."
"Yes, and it will burn much longer than a candle, too," Lizzie said, then added, "You put it out by turning the wick down, like this." She smiled at them, then said to Xena, "You know, I've been thinking. My husband was about your size, and I've still got a few of his things here. If you wouldn't mind wearing men's clothes, you're welcome to use them. It's not the best answer, but at least it wouldn't be as bad as going around with bare thighs."
Xena shrugged. "All right," she said and sat down again on the bed.
"I'll go get them," Lizzie said and quickly left the room.
There was a moment of silence and then Gabrielle went to stand in front of Xena. "Are you tired?" she asked.
"A little. There's so much to see and learn here. It kind of wears a person out."
"I know what you mean. I feel like a child, having to learn about life all over again."
Xena nodded and put her hands on Gabrielle's waist to pull her closer.
"Do you have a headache?" Gabrielle asked, gently running her hands over the top of the warrior's head.
"No, not so far, anyway." She looked up and smiled into her lover's green eyes. "When we finish here, I'm going over to Herbert's office. He said he'd teach me to shoot a gun."
Gabrielle bit her lower lip and looked at Xena without answering.
"You can come with me, if you want," Xena went on. "Maybe Ellis will be there by then. He'd probably like to have some company while Herbert and I are out shooting."
"All right," Gabrielle said. "I'll go to see Ellis, but I have a bad feeling about this gun thing. Are you sure you need to use one?"
"Yes!" Xena said fiercely. "It's the only way I can fight those bastards and get the Cronus Stone back. Herbert said we could go out looking for them tomorrow morning."
Gabrielle nodded. "I want to go home, Xena," she said, touching the warrior's cheek softly. "The people here are nice enough, but something about this place really frightens me."
"We'll go home soon," Xena said. "Just as soon as--" She stopped when she heard Lizzie returning, and Gabrielle moved away.
"Well, I found a shirt and a vest and some pants that I think will fit," Lizzie said. "And here's a belt in case the pants are too big in the waist." She crossed the room and handed the pile of folded clothes to Xena. "I'll just wait outside while you change," she added.
"You don't have to do that," Xena said. "I'm not much on modesty."
"Oh. Well, all right, if you don't mind . . ." Lizzie said uncertainly, and then sat down in one of the chairs by the table.
Xena laid the clothes on the bed. Then she stood up, unhooked her chakram and sword, and began unfastening her armor.
"You said these were your husband's clothes," Gabrielle said to Lizzie. "Are you a widow?"
"Yes, Jake died about three years ago, during an outbreak of diphtheria. We had a good life together, though. We were married thirty-two years and raised two sons."
"Where are your boys now?" asked Gabrielle.
"They both died in the War," Lizzie said. "The older one was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg and the younger one died from dysentery about a month after he enlisted."
Xena closed her eyes for a moment, thinking of the many young men she herself had led to their deaths on the battlefield. Then she looked at the older woman. "I'm so sorry," she said softly.
Lizzie shrugged and smiled a bit sadly. "Well, that was sixteen years ago -- no, seventeen, now, I suppose. When the war ended, Jake and I just decided to pull up stakes and move to Colorado. There were too many sad memories for us back in Illinois."
"So you came here to Corinth?" asked Gabrielle as she unlaced Xena's leathers.
"Yes. It wasn't much of a town then -- we didn't even have the railroad yet -- but it seemed to be growing, so we built this boarding house, and it's done pretty well for us. Jake made all the furniture himself. He was a cabinetmaker by trade."
"He did a good job," Xena said, glancing around at the room's furnishings. Then she slid the unlaced leathers down her body and stepped out of them.
"Well, the pieces in here are kind of plain, but they're sturdy," Lizzie said, and averted her eyes politely from the warrior who now stood clothed only in her boots and black undergarment. "I'll have to show you the furniture in my room," she added. "That's some of his best work."
Xena picked up the faded blue tunic and slipped her arms into the sleeves, wincing a little when she felt a stab of pain from her wound. Then she studied the fastenings with a puzzled frown.
"Here," Gabrielle said, moving to stand in front of her, "there are some of these on my dress, so Lizzie showed me how to do them. You just push the flat, round things through the holes. They're called buttons."
"I've seen them before," Xena said, "but I never had to fasten them. What do you call this tunic garment?" she asked Lizzie.
"A shirt. And the little black one that goes over it is a vest."
Gabrielle reached for the trousers, unfolded them, and handed them to Xena.
"You'll probably have to take your boots off," Lizzie said just as Xena's foot got stuck inside the pants leg.
"I think you're right," the warrior said with a grin and sat down on the bed.
She bent over to unlace one boot while Gabrielle unlaced the other one. Glancing up, she saw Lizzie looking at her with the same penetrating look that Lydia had sometimes used. Xena pulled off the boot and straightened up. "Can you see the future, Lizzie?" she asked.
The older woman started slightly, apparently surprised by the question. "No, not exactly," she said carefully. "Why do you ask?"
"You just-- Well, you remind me of a friend back in Greece."
"And this friend can see the future?"
"Sometimes. She sort of gets a feeling about what will happen."
Lizzie nodded. "I've done that sometimes, too. But I wasn't thinking about the future just then. I was thinking about the past."
There was a pause, and then Gabrielle said, "Were you thinking about your husband?"
"No. I was remembering a dream I had."
Xena waited for Lizzie to go on, but when she didn't, she stood up, pulled on the trousers, and buttoned the front flap.
"How do they fit?" asked Lizzie.
"The length seems about right, but they're a little big around the waist," Xena said.
Lizzie got up and walked over to take a closer look. "Try using the belt," she said, picking it up and handing it to Xena. "You have to thread it through the loops -- like this."
"That's better," Xena said, as she buckled the leather strap. Then she put on the vest.
"You look like a regular cowgirl," Lizzie said with a grin.
"What's a cowgirl?" asked Gabrielle. "Someone who milks cows?"
"No, that would be a milkmaid," Lizzie said, laughing. "A man who herds cattle is called a cowboy, so the female equivalent would be a cowgirl, but I don't know that there are many women who do that kind of work."
Xena sat down again, relaced her boots, and pulled the pants legs down over them. Then she picked up her chakram and held it for a moment, considering.
"What is that thing?" Lizzie asked.
"It's a weapon called a chakram," Xena said, handing the disk to Lizzie. "You throw it."
"Does everybody use these in Greece?"
"No. Actually, I don't know of anyone else who has one."
Lizzie turned the disk over, studying the design with interest. "It's kind of pretty . . . for a weapon," she said, handing it back. "Have you killed people with it?"
"Yes. More than I want to remember," Xena said with a grim smile. Then she opened one of the saddlebags and scrounged around in it for a few moments. Pulling out a short piece of twine, she used it to tie the chakram to her belt.
"How about your sword?" asked Gabrielle.
"I'll leave it here for now," Xena said. She stood up and looked at Lizzie. "Well, do we look decent enough to appear in public?" she asked.
"Yes, I think you'll do nicely," Lizzie said with a grin.
* * *
"I'm not sure what you two want to do this afternoon," Lizzie went on. "I'd really like to spend some time with you, but I need to make soup for Ellis and get dinner started, so I just don't see how--"
"That's all right," Xena said. "We're going to Herbert's office. He's going to teach me to shoot a gun."
"Oh, well, all right then," Lizzie said. "Was it your idea or his to learn to shoot?"
"Always the warrior, huh?" she said in a knowing way that Xena found a bit surprising.
"Yes, I suppose so," Xena answered.
Lizzie smiled. "Would you like a quick tour before you go?"
"Oh, yes, if you've got time," Gabrielle said.
"Of course. It won't take long. There's not that much to see," Lizzie said and walked out into the hallway, followed by the other two. "First of all, the outhouse is behind the building," she began. "You can go out that door at the end of the hall and down the steps."
Xena and Gabrielle nodded. The corridor was fairly wide, with a strip of carpeting running down the middle of it, and lamps in brackets on the walls. Just beyond the doorway to their room was a short sofa, and across from that, a comfortable-looking upholstered chair.
"My rooms are up here in front," Lizzie said, leading the way around the stairwell. She opened a door and then stood aside to let the other two enter. "This is my sitting room," she said, "and there's a small bedroom which shares a wall with your room."
The sitting room had a large, braided rug, in the middle of which sat a round wood table with a gracefully carved pedestal support. The table was covered with a lace-edged cloth and flanked by two chairs. On the wall opposite the door, there was a fireplace made of red, rectangular blocks. A bookcase, cabinet, and chest of drawers lined the walls, and a front window looked out onto the street.
"Did your husband make all this furniture?" asked Gabrielle, fingering the molding on the chest. "It's really beautiful."
"Yes, he took a lot of time with these pieces," Lizzie said, "and he made them out of oak instead of the pine that he used for the other rooms. Come in here," she went on, leading the way into the bedroom. "This is what we call a four-poster bed. That's because it has a post at each corner."
"It's lovely," Xena said, running her hand lightly over the curves of the bedpost. There was little space in the room for anything besides the bed and a washstand. But across one end of the room a curtain had been hung, and beyond the edge of it, Xena could see Lizzie's dresses hanging from hooks on the wall.
"Well, it's not much, but it's home to me," Lizzie said, "and I have a lot of happy memories of the years Jake and I spent here together."
"What's that bell ringing?" asked Gabrielle.
"What bell? Oh, that's just the clock chiming downstairs."
"What's a clock?" Xena asked.
"It's uh-- Well, it's what you use to tell time."
"We just use the sun and the stars," Xena said.
"Yes, that's the traditional way to do it. But with a clock we can still tell time even when it's cloudy."
"Is a clock like an hour glass?" asked Gabrielle.
"Sort of," Lizzie said. "At least they both measure time, but an hour glass only measures one hour and a clock can measure twelve."
"So you have twelve hours in your day?" Xena said.
"No, there are twenty-four. The clock goes around twice every day. Just now it chimed three times. That means it's three o'clock in the afternoon."
"Three hours after midday?" asked Gabrielle.
"Yes, exactly. When everybody has a clock, then we can all agree on what time it is. If something is scheduled for eight o'clock, then everyone comes at the same time."
Xena and Gabrielle were silent for a short time, considering this information, then Xena said, "I don't know. I can see where it would be useful, but it sounds a little . . . authoritarian or something."
Lizzie stared at her for a moment and then smiled. "Well, I never thought about it like that, but maybe you have a point. Shall we go on downstairs?"
"Who else lives here?" asked Gabrielle, when they stepped back out into the hallway.
"Well, directly across there, in the other front room, are the Millers. Rev. Miller is the new pastor over at the church, and he and Mrs. Miller are staying here while their house is being built."
"What's a church?" asked Xena.
"It's where we worship God."
"So it's like a temple," said Gabrielle, "and is a pastor like a priest? Does he make offerings to your god?"
"We don't really make offerings," Lizzie said. "I mean, not sacrifices or anything like that. Mostly we just pray and sing hymns and the pastor gives a talk about the scriptures."
"Who else lives here?" asked Xena, hoping to change the subject. If Gabrielle wanted to talk about the merits of various gods and belief systems with Lizzie later, then fine, but she herself wanted no part of it.
"The room across from yours is where our schoolteacher, Miss Ferguson, lives, but she's not here right now. She went back east for the summer to visit her family. Charles Shipley, who owns the bank, stays in the last room on this side. You'll meet him and the Millers at dinner. And the other back room, the one next to yours, is empty right now."
They walked to the head of the stairs and Lizzie started down. "Come on," she said, "and I'll show you the parlors and dining room." At the bottom of the steps, she went into the room Xena had peeked into before. "This is the little parlor, or sometimes we call it the ladies' parlor. The men can come in, if they want to, of course, but I don't let them smoke in here."
"Smoke?" Xena asked, puzzled. "What does that mean?"
"Well, it's something people do -- mostly the menfolk. They put tobacco leaves in a pipe or else roll them up inside a piece of paper. Then they light it and breathe the smoke." Lizzie laughed a little. "I guess it sounds kind of strange, if you've never seen it done," she finished.
"Tobacco," Gabrielle mused. "That's what that man said he was chewing -- that Frank, who drove us into town in his wagon. He kept spitting all the time."
"Oh Lord, yes, that's a nasty habit, that tobacco chewing!" Lizzie agreed. "I don't allow that here at all. I tell them if they want to chew and spit, they can do it out behind the house or at the saloon." She paused and looked at them. "Was that Frank Brown who brought you to town?" she asked.
"Yes, I think that was his name," Gabrielle said.
"Had he been drinking?" asked Lizzie.
"No, at least not that I could tell," said Xena, "but he's not a very friendly man."
"No, he's not, and he's ten times worse when he's on a binge. That poor wife of his," Lizzie said, shaking her head. She was silent for a moment, staring at the floor, apparently lost in thought. Then, looking up, she smiled at them. "Well, let's get on with the tour, shall we?" she said and quickly led the way across the hall to another parlor. "Now, this room," she said, "this is where we all like to sit, of an evening, and talk or sing songs or tell stories."
"Tell stories!" exclaimed Gabrielle. "I love to tell stories!"
"Gabrielle is a bard," said Xena. "Did she tell you that?"
"No," said Lizzie. "What does a bard do? Just go around telling tales?"
"Yes, more or less," Gabrielle said.
"Would you like to tell some stories here, to the guests? I think they would really enjoy it."
"Oh, yes! I'd be glad to! I could do it tonight after dinner, if you'd like."
"Good. Then it's all arranged," Lizzie said, smiling.
"What's that big wooden thing by the wall?" asked Xena.
"That's called a piano. It's a musical instrument."
"A musical instrument!" said Gabrielle. "But it's so big! How do you carry it around?"
"You don't," said Lizzie. "You have to leave it in one place and always play it there." She walked over to it and pressed down on some ivory tabs.
Xena started slightly at the unexpected sound and looked at Gabrielle.
"That's amazing," Gabrielle said.
"I don't play very well," said Lizzie, "but Mrs. Miller is quite good. We'll have her play something for you this evening." Then she turned to a tall, slender, piece of furniture. "This is the clock, by the way."
Xena and Gabrielle moved closer to stare at it.
"See?" said Lizzie. "These two hands just keep going around and around. The short one points to the hour and the long one tells you how many minutes are left in the hour."
"Why does it make that thumping noise?" asked Xena.
"Is it because that thing keeps going back and forth?" asked Gabrielle, stooping down to peer into the lower part of the clock.
"Clocks always tick like that," Lizzie said. "I don't know why. But that thing is called a pendulum. It's what makes the clock keep running. Of course, you have to wind it up, too." She looked at Xena and smiled. "I know you don't understand, but I haven't got time to explain it right now."
"That's all right," Xena said. "I already feel like I've learned so much today that my head's going to burst."
Lizzie laughed. "Come on and see the dining room," she said, then led the way back out into the hall.
Ten straight-backed chairs sat around a long table, which was covered with a white linen cloth. A large chest of drawers and two cupboards with glass doors stood by the wall. Inside the cupboards, plates, bowls, and cups sat in neat stacks on the shelves.
"We serve three meals a day," Lizzie said, "mostly just to the boarders, but sometimes others join us. Nicholas comes pretty often for dinner, since he doesn't like to cook. Ellis and Herbert usually fix their own meals, but every now and then they get a notion to eat here." She moved around the end of the table and turned toward one of two doors in the back wall of the room. "Come on, I'll show you the kitchen," she said.
Xena and Gabrielle followed her into a room that was fragrant with the smell of bread baking. Shelves and tables were crowded with crocks and bottles, pots, frying pans, and piles of dirty dishes. A faint breeze moved through the room from the open windows and door, but it did little to combat the heat in the room.
"There's no fireplace," Gabrielle said with a note of surprise. "How do you cook?"
Lizzie smiled. "We use a cookstove," she said, beckoning to them. "Come here and I'll show you." Crossing the room, she stopped in front of a large black metal contraption.
Xena could feel the heat increasing as they approached it. "Is the fire inside there?" she asked.
"Yes, right in here," Lizzie said, picking up a thick cloth and using it to pull open a door in the side of the stove. Then she selected a couple of pieces of firewood from a nearby box, tossed them in, and closed the door again. "We cook up on top here," she said, pointing, "and the oven is over here." She opened another door. "See? Mary's baking bread for tonight."
She closed the door just as a young woman with jet-black skin came in the back door, carrying a bucket of water in each hand. She stopped just inside the room and set the buckets down. Then, pulling out a bright red cloth, she mopped her face and regarded the two visitors with interest. "Are these the two ladies that saved Mr. Ellis' life?" she asked.
"Yes, Mary," Lizzie said. "This is Xena, and this is her friend Gabrielle. They've come here all the way from Greece," she added.
"I'm so pleased to make your acquaintance," said Mary with a big smile as she shook their hands. "I don't reckon I've ever met anyone from Greece before."
"I don't think any of us have," said Lizzie.
"That's all right," Gabrielle said. "We've never met anyone from America before today, either."
"I'm very lucky to have Mary helping me out here," Lizzie said. "I don't think there's any way I could run this place without her."
Mary beamed. "Well, Miz Lizzie is a right nice lady, but she sure knows how to keep a person busy!"
The other three laughed.
"Did you make that fried chicken we had for lunch?" asked Gabrielle. "It was delicious!"
"Yes'm, I fried that old bird," said Mary with a grin.
"You're a wonderful cook," Gabrielle said. "Maybe I can take some lessons from you."
"I was just showing them the cookstove," Lizzie said. "They've never seen one before."
"Is that right?" said Mary. "Don't they have cookstoves where you come from?"
"No, I'm afraid we don't," Xena said. Then she turned to the older woman. "Lizzie, I think we should get out of your way so you can get some work done," she said.
"All right, you run on along to Herbert's. Dinner is at six, so try to be on time."
"How will we know when it's six?" Gabrielle asked.
"Just tell Herbert you need to be back by then. He'll keep track of the time for you," Lizzie said.
"Okay. Thanks, Lizzie," Xena said, smiling. "We'll try not to be late."