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The Legacy

by Simahoyo

© 1996

About a week ago, Xena jumped me and said, "Write this or else." I didn't want the circulation cut off to my brain, so here goes.

Gabrielle dragged Xena into yet another inn--crowded, nasty--smelling like a mixture of men needing to bathe; the stew of the day, slightly charred, and mold. Xena's eyes swept the room looking for trouble and there it was, surrounded by rowdys. She was a taller, darker version of Gabrielle, but with a cruel set to her mouth and eyes as hard as a slaver's heart.

Gabrielle went stiff. She shot the woman a look, and didn't even turn around before she was halfway back out the door. The woman took off after her, and Xena stood in her way.

The woman gave her a look that made her skin crawl. The door shut with Gabrielle probably on the other side and this hard-bitten someone Gabrielle most definately did not want to see, on this side.

"Just what in Hades do you think you are doing?", asked the woman."I haven't seen my cousin in years."

Xena lifted an eyebrow.

"Your cousin?"

"Gabrielle. I don't know who you think you are, but I'm not giving up. Move."

The woman pushed almost past Xena, when Xena's arm shot out and caught the woman. She turned and raked her long fingernails across Xena's neck. Xena grabbed her hand and pounded her fist into her face. Instead of falling, like most people did, the woman narrowed her eyes like a cat and stomped her foot at an angle to Xena's knee--not at all like a cat. If Xena hadn't twisted out of the way, she might have lost a kneecap. Then she heard Gabrielle's voice behind her.

"Jacosta, leave her alone."

So now Gabrielle was protecting her. The woman gave her another shove and went over to Gabrielle. There was no smile or hug, just that circling dance like two curs planning a fight.

"Hello cousin.", said Jacosta, and her voice dripped venom.

"Jacosta.", said Gabrielle.

"Who is your overly protective friend?"

"Do you think I'm going to introduce *you* to a friend?"

"Still trying to be the white sheep of the family, huh?" Well I have news. You're no better than the rest of us. Don't try to be so high and moral. I know who you are. Just watch this." And Jacosta raised her voice to address the whole inn.

Hey everybody, I want to introduce my cousin, Gabrielle, granddaugter of Eccarius and great-granddaughter of Celefacles."

Somehow the room emptied within seconds. Gabrielle looked at Xena, apologetic, then back to Jacosta.

"You know, I really hate you sometimes."

Jacosta threw an arm around Gabrielle with a wicked smile.

"I knew you had it in you."

Xena was beginning to really dislike this Jacosta woman. She usually didn't let her emotions cloud her thinking, but this woman was playing mind games with Gabrielle--trying to make her part of that detestable family. Xena knew Gabrielle's heart. She put a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. She could feel her stop shivering. Xena turned to Jacosta and asked the question that wouldn't leave her mind.

"What do you want?"

"I'm renewing old family ties. Getting to know my cousin..."

"Yeah, right. I repeat, What do you want?"

Jacosta moved with easy grace to the table she had been standing at, and picked up her wooden and leather mug. She swung a leg over the bench and sat, swinging her other leg up and over, showing her calf as she did. She smiled insolently at Xena.

"Name your poison. I'm buying.", she said, waving her hand over the table.

Gabrielle winced. She sat where she could see Jacosta's hands. Xena did the same.

"Hey, innkeeper--some wine, aw why not, some ouzo over here."

The innkeeper ducked behind the bar. He bobbed up with an open bottle. Gabrielle frowned.

"No. Make sure the bottle is opened by me, with my own hands."

The innkeeper got another bottle, well covered with dust. Gabrielle smiled. He had obviously heard of her family. Gabrielle and Xena got out their mugs. Gabrielle opened the bottle, sniffed the contents and poured a tiny bit into her mug. She tasted it, then passed it to Xena.

It smelled okay. She tasted. It was Ouzo alright. Nice and strong. She nodded to Gabrielle, who poured them each a mug full, then some for Jacosta. Xena noticed how careful Gabrielle was to keep the bottle out of Jacosta's reach.

Jacosta leaned forward, treating Xena to a view of her breasts.

"Gabrielle, did you know grandfather left an inheritance when he died?"

"So what? He killed my father. I don't want anything of his."

"Think what you could do with your half of it. Ten thousand dinars. Your mother and step-father could live in comfort the rest of their lives. Your sister could stay single forever and you could help so many struggling young bards..."

Xena could see Gavrielle waver. This was the sort of thing that was Gabrielle's weakness. Xena knew there was a trap in there somewhere. She also wondered why Jacosta had made such a point of introducing Gabrielle to the whole inn. Probably had somebody planted. She'd have to watch Gabrielle's back.

Gabrielle nodded slowly.

"Five thousand dinars would do a lot of good. What do I have to do?"

"Ten thousand, Gabrielle. He left twenty thousand dinars. He knew our family well. Two of us have to claim the inheritance. That way we have to work together. We can't kill each other before we get the money."

"Why is it I don't feel comforted by what you said?"

"Hey, at least I can't kill you just for sport--and you know I would. It's just that we have other cousins."

"How many?", asked Xena.

"At last count? Five.

"I wonder how many, really.", thought Xena. "I'm not sleeping tonight."

"Where is your room?", asked Gabrielle.

"The end of the hall, next to yours."

Xena glared at Jacosta. "How did you know that?"

"It was the only one empty. Relax. The place we are going is just a couple of days away. It's grandfather's old lair--a series of caves and traps. You'll love how clever he was."

Jacosta got up, waved goodbye and sauntered to her room, moving her hips seductively.

Xena looked Gabrielle straight in the eye.

"Why are you doing this? You know you can't trust her."

Gabrielle flushed, then frowned.

"I want to help people, and with that kind of money..."

"You can't spend it if you're dead." And why is it important for your sister to stay single? Does she like women?"

Gabrielle dropped her voice.

"She can't stand for anyone to touch her that way--men or women. She's always been like that. My parents don't understand and Daddy wants her to get married. She just wants to be left alone. I can't see her somebody's housewife/servant for the rest of her life, having children against her will. She'd rather kill herself."

Xena tried to imagine hating sex. She couldn't. But she did understand being different. She also knew Gabrielle really loved her sister. And Jacosta? She knew Gabrielle's weaknesses all too well.

"Xena, I'm starved. Let's get something to eat and then get to bed."

"I don't think we want to eat anything we haven't prepared ourselves. We have plenty of food. Let's just eat in our room."

Gabrielle looked grave. The danger was finally beginning to sink in.

After a quick dinner from the food in Xena's saddlebags, Gabrielle sat down on the bed. Xena went over to the bed. She shed her armor and gambeson, and then sat down to take off her boots. She changed her mind. Xena kissed Gabrielle deeply, knowing distractions needed to be kept to a minimum, then laid down across the door way, sword at the ready. She looked back at Gabrielle, who was sitting on the bed.

"Go to sleep. One of us needs to be alert in the morning."

"Gods, I get so tense watching her all the time. But you never know if she's going to slip something into the drinks or food, or stab you with a cleverly hidden dagger. The funny thing is, she says she's considered the soft one in my family."

"Gabrielle, I thought you didn't know your father's family." Xena sighed. She knew Gabrielle wanted to talk. Gabrielle got out of bed, draped a blanket around herself and sat next to Xena.

"She came to my betrothal celebration--uninvited. Momma just figured she was there either to kill us or poison the guests. I caught her trying to seduce Peridcus. And she laced the wine with henbane. Everybody had a *very* good time, but I learned not to trust her. We can't let her near food and we have to watch her hands constantly."

"Sounds like a few warlords I've known. Are you sure you want to do this?"

"Wev'e gone over this. Hold me, at least, since you want to watch the door so bad."

Xena put an arm around Gabrielle and held her close. There were times Xena felt so contented--then immediately guilty because she felt she didn't deserve such contentment. She booted the ugly thought out of her mind and kissed Gabrielle. They touched their cheeks together.

Soon Gabrielle was dozing. Xena gently laid her on the floor and wrapped the blanket to cover her. She gave Gabrielle another kiss and let a light sleep settle around her.

The sound that woke her was the door being eased open. Xena tensed her hand on the hilt of her sword. The man emerging from the door held a sword at the ready. He made the mistake of holding it in front of him at an angle. Xena lunged, knocking his sword from his hand. She put his head in a half-Nelson and pulled him further into the room. As she spun him, he fell heavily, like a sack of turnips, only with a satisfying, "oof!"

When Xena turned him over, she could see the family resemblence. She felt Gabrielle behind her.

"Was he trying to kill me?"


"Are you going to cut off the circulation to his brain?"

"Com'er Gabrielle."

Gabrielle walked over to the man sprawled on the bed.

"I saw you try to do it to that merchant last month. Stiffen your fingers--yeah, like that. Okay, now *this* is the spot Poke hard, yeah, like that."

And Gabrielle grinned as she said "I've just cut off the circulation to your brain you'll be dead in thirty seconds unless you tell me what I want to know. Who are you?"

"I'm your cousin, Phillip.", he said, his face turning purple.

Who are you working with?"

"My brother, Lucas. Release me, please.", he choked.

Gabrielle looked at Xena, who showed her where to twist his pressure point free. Gabrielle freed him, then her grin turned to anquish as she remembered.

"Xena, what about Jacosta?"

"You watch him, I'll check on her."

Xena ran to the room next door, and when she pulled the door open, saw Jacosta standing over a dead man with a bloody dagger in her hand.

"Lucas, I presume."

"You're dead right. You didn't leave Gabrielle alone, did you?", she said in a tone which implyed that Xena was stupid. As Xena backed out of the room a terrific crash came from the room she shared with Gabrielle. She raced inside to see a broken window, the laticework gaping open in the middle and the cold air blowing through. Gabrielle stood looking outside.

"Gods, What happened?"

Gabrielle turned, her face unreadable.

"He jumped. He thought he could get away, but he didn't know there was a ravine just below our window. I think he's dead."

Xena felt Jacosta behind her.

"Good job, cousin. I'll go bribe the innkeeper. It wouldn't do to leave two dead bodies out in the open."

And Jacosta sauntered over to the innkeeper's rooms and knocked. While she talked with him, Xena looked into Gabrielle's eyes.

"You didn't push him."

"No, but Jacosta wanted you to think so. Please, Xena, just have faith in me. I'm not like the rest of my family."

And Xena closed the distance between them, taking Gabrielle into her arms. "I know you aren't like *that* part of your family. And I trust you--I've trusted you with my life."

"It's so cold in here."

Xena took her blanket and draped it over the broken window.

"I think the drama is over for the night. Let's keep each other warm."

"How warm?" and Gabrielle took Xena's hand, leading her to their bed. They got in and held each other under Gabrielle's blanket. After a few kisses, Xena placed one big hand over both of Gabrielle's.

"I want to be alert. I love you too much to let anybody hurt you. Understand?"

"So that's why we're sleeping with your sword, huh?

Then they held each other closer yet, drifting into a light sleep.

In the morning, as the light hit the blanket over the window, Xena was already up, dressed and armed. Gabrielle stirred, then slowly opened her eyes.

"Jacosta?", she asked.

"She came by a few minutes ago. She wants to get moving. Probably has an ambush she doesn't want us to miss."

"There's good in her--I can feel it.", said Gabrielle.

"Are you sure your judgement isn't clouded. She's family after all, and you are very big on family."

Gabrielle took Xena by the hand, touching her face with her fingertips.

"When are you going to trust my feelings? I found you, didn't I? Xena, she's never known anything else. You and I had mothers who loved us, family we loved. She grew up where hate was honored and love laughed at. She learned that life was cheap. She needs to unlearn it now."

"We thought that about Callisto, remember?"

"She was insane. Jacosta knows what she's doing."

"That's what worries me."

Jacosta rapped on the door, and when Gabrielle opened it, she frowned.

"You aren't even ready yet. We need to get going."

"Why?" Xena knew the word held all her suspicions.

"After last night? I'd think it would be obvious. I want to be there first so that Gabrielle and I can get our inheritance. I perfer that we make it in one piece."

Gabrielle combed her hair quickly. Xena winced as she looked at that top. It brought back memories--one funny by now, the other sad.

Xena had been eleven years old when her mother was still trying to domesticate her wild daughter. They had gathered onion skins, madder root and a huge pile of nettles. Cyrene had shown Xena how to use gloves to pick up the stinging leaves, and how to boil them in water to make a dye. They fished the nettles out and died the familie's new chitons, shirts and bracches. Then they rinsed over and over until the water finally ran clear.

The madder root had produced a bright red, and Xena had hoped that something of hers would be dyed, but Cyrene and Taurus's clothes got the bit of red dye. The onion skins had surprised Xena. They made a bright yellow. Xena had begged for something in yellow, and was rewarded with a blouse that looked like a bit of sunshine. Now most of the dye was gone. A skirt remained, just Xena's size. She watched as Cyrene had mixed the last bits of dye together to get the single ugliest color Xena had ever seen in her life. She knew better than to ask that the skirt remain white. Xena had an exceptional talent for finding dirt. They put the skirt into the dye, and sure enough, it had come out the exact color as Gabrielle's top.

When Gabrielle had been wounded, the bloodstains had ruined her blouse. She had alread cut down and re-dyed her original clothing, but the blood had hardened the cloth and it chaffed, so the bard had carefully cut off the offending spot, and was left with a much smalled top, still sprinkled with her own blood. Xena had gathered all the dye plants she could find, but it was the wrong time a year for many of them, and so all they could do was to mix them together. So, here was Gabrielle in that AWFUL color. Xena again wished she had enough dinars to buy something decent for her love.

Xena shook herself out of her reverie and inventoried her weapons--chakrum, sword, breast dagger and throwing knives. She hoped it would be enough. Xena picked up the saddlebags and waited for Gabrielle to get her big pouch and staff.

They got on the road promptly. Argo shied away from Jacosta, as if to say, "Beware this human." Xena patted her and rode on, her eyes sweeping the area for danger.She frowned as she noticed Jacosta and Gabrielle talking like old friends. Gabrielle wasn't paying enough attention to the sides of the road and they were thickly wooded. It was then that Xena hear something. She tensed. So did Argo. Xena felt a spear headed for her. She closed her eyes, zeroed in on the feelong and plucked the spear out of the air. Her adrenalin was pumping now. She felt alive and alert and only slightly embarrassed to hear herself laugh out loud.

The problem with attacking someone with a spear is, if you miss, there is nothing more to fight with. The young man who threw the spear at Xena suddenly realised this, and took to his heels. Argo was right behind him. What happened next was not Xena's fault, as one of those narrow, very deep canyons opened up just ahead of the spear thrower. He didn't see it in time, and fell in. Xena could hear his cry, but it was too late, and she and Argo barely stopped in time to keep from joining him.

Xena wheeled Argo around to check on Gabrielle, for if Jacosta had planned this ambush, Gabrielle was is great danger. When Xena bust into the clearing, there was the other thug, lying dead at Jacosta's feet. Her blade was covered with blood, and her face with a smile. Xena looked at Gabrielle, and knew that she was at the end of her patience. Even Gabrielle had her limits.

Gabrielle glared at Jacosta.

"Quit grinning and put that thing away. I think we should bury this one, no time for a funeral pyre. Let's cover him with rocks and get out of here."

So they gathered rocks, and covered his body, then Gabrielle led them down the road, watching for an ambush. She chose the place to camp, set up the watches, and told Jacosta not to bother, She and Xena were used to this sort of thing. So they took turns guarding the camp--partly from intruders, mostly from Jacosta. Xena was very proud of Gabrielle.

The next day, they set off down the road again, and the countryside changed. Limestone boulders, then cliffs rose above them. They could hear water far below, and trees hugged what barren ground they could find to grow in.

Then they turned a corner and towering over them was a cyclops. He watched them placidly as they approached.

"Hello Pirro, how are you?", said Jacosta.

"I am well. Who is this with you?"

"This is my cousin, Gabrielle, and Xena Warrior Princess."

Xena couldn't help squirming at the hated nickname. It had been given to her by peasants she had attacked to show how ignoble her behavior had been in their village. The name had stuck, and she winced every time she heard it.

"Why is she with you? She is not family. Only the living descendants of Celefaleus may enter his lair."

"Only the living?" asked Gabrielle.

"Yes. That is to keep them from killing a cousin and dragging the dead body in to bypass the rule that two must enter."

"If someone has been to the underworld, are they living or dead?"

"The living have been there Orpheus has, as has Heracles."

"What is their body has been in Tartarus for a week?"

"Then they are dead."

"Okay, then Xena is dead." And Gabrielle smiled her prettiest smile.

Soon the cyclops smiled too.

"Alright, I'll let your friend in."

And he stepped back to reveal the entrance to the cave. Jacosta lead them. About twenty steps into the cave, she stopped and lit a torch. Then motioned everyone to stop. She pointed out a trip wire. They all stepped over it.

"What was that?", asked Xena.

"It sets off about ten arrows.", said Jacosta.

They continued cautiously, Jacosta obviously looking for something. Finally they came to a hole in the wall. Light shown from the cave roof onto a curious set of markings. Jacosta looked at then, and as the ray of light was about to hit a mark, she shouted,

"Get back!"

They backed up fast as a blast of steam jumped out of a hidden geyser. It whooshed out of the ground so hot they could feel the steam on their hands and faces. Then it was gone.

"Run.", said Jacosta. And they ran to another crook in the passage. Jacosta stopped then and got out a mirror. Xena was beginning to wonder how Jacosta knew all the traps so well. She aimed the mirror around the corner, then smiled.

"The trap ahead is very creative. Grandfather somehow aquirred the head of Medusa."

"The one that turns you to stone if you look at it?", asked Gabrielle, her voice rising to a squeek."

"Yes. I know that Perseus' shield is on the wall above the head, and if I hold the mirror just right, I can guide us around the head to the other side, where we can't see it. You'll have to close your eyes, though. I can't have you turning to stone on me."

And if there was anything Xena did not want to do, was to close her eyes and trust Jacosta to guide her and Gabrielle past Medusa's head.

Xena glanced at Gabrielle, who didn't look too thrilled at the idea either.

"Come on. It's a small mirror, and we can't all guide us. I know where to look."

"Just how is it that you know where to look?", asked Gabrielle.

"I'll tell you later. Let's go."

So Xena took a deep breath and put her hand on Jacosta's shoulder. She felt Gabrielle's hand in hers as they followed Jacosta around a bend. They were lead slowly, as if Jacosta was having trouble. Then they rounded another bend. Suddenly Xena's foot stepped on something that felt too much like a human hand. The passage stunk, as if something dead was in there with them. Xena couldn't stand it anymore. She remembered her experience with Gabrielle in her world, so she kept her eyes shut.

"What's taking so long?"

"You can look now.", said Jacosta.

Xena gave Gabrielle's hand a squeeze, to warn her to delay opening her eyes until Xena saw if they were really safe. Then Xena slowly opened her eyes. No Medusa head assaulted her eyes, but her nose was definately under attack. She looked down, and she was standing on a dead man's hand. Xena moved her foot, and looked at the poor, bloated remains. Gabrielle opened her eyes too.

"Who is--I mean, was he?", asked Xena.

"My brother, Creon.", said Jacosta.

"So that's how you knew all the traps and things. Then why did you need us?", ask Gabrielle.

"I'll show you.", and they followed Jacosta as she entered the chamber with the money in a chest and the biggest, scaliest dragon Xena had ever seen.

"I see your problem. Gabrielle, do you still want to do this?"

"We need Jacosta to get out. She has the mirror."

"Oh, yeah. Then I guess I fight the dragon.", and Xena drew her sword.

The dragon glared at Xena with huge, yellow eyes. She felt like a mouse stalking a cat. The dragon drew its head back as she approached, then thrust its head forward and fire poured out of its mouth. Xena jumped and backflipped out of the way, but she could see singe marks on her arm guard. This was going to be a real challenge. She tried sneaking up from behind the beast, but its enormous tail sent her flying. As she thudded into a cave wall, she stood, and tried to shake her brains back into order. She remembered talking to Heracles about his fights with monsters. She had an idea.

"Gabrielle, give me your staff."

Gabrielle threw the staff to her, and Xena caught it handily.

"Somehow, both ends of this thing need to be attacked at once. Any ideas?"

Gabrielle looked around the room and saw a glaive hanging on the cave wall. It still looked sharp and the weight would add to her strength. She got it down and swung it up, over her shoulder. Xena have her warcry, and as the startled beast opened its mouth, Xena stuck the staff inside, so that the mouth was propped open. At the same time, Gabrielle swung down on its tail. The glieve chopped halfway through the tail, causing a roar of pain from the dragon, and a spattering of blood on Gabrielle. She pulled the blade out of the tail, and chopped again. Dragon's blood spurted up and covered her as she chopped through the tail. As the great beast lifted up its body, Xena plunged her sword through its heart. She winced as blood flowed over her from her shoulders down, covering her left side.

"Yuck! This is sticky."

"Tell me about it. My old Gepid granny used to say that dragon's blood makes you impervious to arrows and swords. I hope she's right. I'm red all over."

The Xena noticed what was missing in all this.

"Where's Jacosta?"

"The money is missing too. You were right, I shouldn't have trusted her. By the way, how are we going to get out of here?"

Xena had a sixth sense about caves. Going back seemed dangerous and foolish. Xena felt another opening somewhere.

"Let's see if there is another way out."

Gabrielle, still holding her weapon, nodded. They took the torch from the wall and looked for a passageway leading away from Medusa's head. Gabrielle found it first.

"Here. It's small, you'll have to duck down."

They eased through the opening, and followed the passage until it opened into a huge room. Water dripped into a pool, and both Xena and Gabrielle gasped as they saw the beautiful animals painted on the cave roof. Horned beasts, and antelopes, graceful horses...all looking alive and real.

"These are wonderful. I wonder who painted them? The muses sure inspired whoever it was.", said Gabrielle.

And Xena laughed at herself because as lovely as the paintings were, she was more interested in the pool of water and cleaning the blood off. She picked up a pebble and dropped in in the pool. It hit bottom really quickly. Xena touched the water, and then tasted it. It had a calcium taste, but no trace of poison. Xena also noticed that the water was faily cold. She set the torch between a convenient stalagmite and the cave wall, and washed the blood off her hands, arms and body. Gabrielle would need far more than this quick dip into the pool.

"Is it cold?", she asked.

"Not very cold, but not warm."

Gabrielle climbed in, fully clothed. She began to shiver.

"Not very cold, she said. Ha!"

"I'm sorry. Let me help you."

And Xena helped Gabrielle wash the blood off. It was kind of nice, finding the beautiful bard under the red. She helped Gabrielle lean back as she washed her hair clean. Xena was tempted to warm the bard another way, but they had to find a way out of the cave. So she indulged in a kiss to the lucious lips, then pulled back. Gabrielle wrung her hair out, then arose out of the pool, dripping.

"Brrr! I wish I had a blanket."

Xena grabbed the torch and held it close enough to Gabrielle to warm her. She could see her relax as her muscles felt the heat. They used the torch to get Gabrielle partly dried, then sought a passage out of the huge room. Xena found it, part way up a wall. she pushed Gabrielle up to the opening, then followed. The passageway immediatly opened up into two. Now Xena and Gabrielle had to figure out which one to take. Xena stuck her head into each one. The one on the left had a breeze blowing through.

"This one.", she said.

Gabrielle followed as they eased their way along a very narrow pathway. The ground began to drop away at an alarming rate, as the path rose upwards. They had gone a good long distance, when the inky black of the chasm below opened as if to swallow them. Remembering the fate of the Assassin, Xena held Gabrielle back as she searched for another side to the path they were standing on. It was above them, a stalagmite guarding the way. And it was too far for Gabrielle to jump. Xena knew she was afraid of heights, even the warrior's stomach was queasy about this one.

Xena pulled out her whip, flicked it out to the stalagmite and watched as it wrapped around the stone. She tugged on it, making sure it would hold Gabrielle.

"Gabrielle, I know you won't like this but,..."

"We have no other choice. I know. What do I do?"

"Pull yourself up there with my whip. I'll help you ar much as I can."

She could feel Gabrielle shaking. If it had been in her power, she would have given Gabrielle wings so she could fly up to safety. Gabrielle grabbed the whip, and pulled herself up, hand over hand. Xena held her, gently easing her up as far as she could reach without losing her own balance. Xena held her breath, as Gabrielle climbed up to the stalagmite, then crawled over it, to the path on the other side. Now it was Xena's turn. She lept, using the whip for leverage, and grabbed the stalagmite in her hands. The rough rock felt good and solid. She scrambled over it to the path, and jerked her whip free, returning it to her belt. Then she realized that she had left the torch behind.

"Son of a great stinking Griffin! I can't believe I did that. What was I thinking?", said Xena.

Gabrielle just smiled and pointed to a big pile of dry reeds set on a shelf in the cave.

"Someone has been here before, and probably did the same thing."

Xena picked up the bunch of reeds. She handed most to Gabrielle, then holding them tight, she got her flint and iron pyrite out of her pouch and struck a light. The reeds burned brightly. They went on down the widening path, and entered another big room. The bones of a bear were laid out. They were arranged as if the bear was an honored friend. They went around it, then started looking for a way out. There appeared to be nothing ahead but blank wall.

Xena was about to scream with frustration, but that would be breaking the Big Warrior code, so she just swore under her breath.

"Sweet Hera and all her sisters."

Xena sat down to think, then felt a breeze against her hip. She looked again, and the narrow slit in the wall could just be squeezed through if they were careful when they breathed.

"This is it, Gabrielle."

"This little space?", and again Gabrielle's voice ended in a squeek.

Poor Gabrielle. Xena would have to treat her to something special after all this--if they made it--no they *would* make it. Xena eased herself down and pushed her feet through the opening. She twisted and turned as she worked her way through, all the time thinking of another crawl space in a cave she and the other children of Amphipolus knew, and dubbed by Taurus, "Fat man's misery." This opening was smaller even then the other. Her breastplate scraped on the rock, then she was through. Gabrielle handed Xena the reed torch, then her feet appeared, slowly, she was working her way through. Her hips twitched, then Xena heard her sob.

"I'm stuck. Oh Gods, what will I do."

Now Gabrielle began to laugh. Xena's chest constricted as she thought Gabrielle was hysterical now.


"Xena, do you know where your sword is?", asked the Bard.

Xena reached back into her scabbard and clutched empty air. Her heart began to beat wildly. First Gabrielle was stuck in a cave wall, and now her 500 dinar sword was gone.

"No. I just had it in my scabard."

"I found it. That's why I'm stuck. Just a minute."

Xena winced as she heard the sound of metal scraping rock. She was afraid Gabrielle would get cut.

"Are you alright?"

"I'm fine. There just wasn't room for both the hilt and pommel of your sword, and my--er, breasts. I'll bring it through."

Then the flame burned Xena's hand, as she dropped the reeds and they burned out. The dark was so deep, she felt as if she could run her fingers along it.

"Don't forget the dry reeds. The light just burned out."

"Swell. I hope we aren't right above another drop off."

Xena heard Gabrielle grunt, and strain, then felt her foot bang into her leg. She grabbed Gabrielle's foot.

"Well, I found you. Where are the reeds?"

"Let me find your hand."

They both fumbled at each other, then their hands connected. Xena felt the reeds in her hand. She held them tight as she felt for her flint and iron pyrite, She struck them together, and saw that she was nowhere near the reeds. She moved her hand and tried again. She felt as if she needed three hands. The spark landed on the reeds, and Xena blew them into a flame. Now she could see a dirty and disheveled Gabrielle. She expected she didn't look any better. She looked around at the new passageway. It lead upwards again. Xena stood, her leg throbbing a bit from where Gabrielle had kicked her. Gabrielle stood too, handing Xena her sword and they began to follow the passageway. The flame flickered, an indication of air moving. They traveled on, wordlessly, tired, and half afraid that there was no way out. The passageway opened up more and more, then they entered a dome shaped room. From the top of the roof, a single beam of sunlight shown through.

But, the roof was out of reach. No handly stalagtite was nearby. Xena knew she could jump it, but Gabrielle could not. Rather like the cave she and Solon had been in.

"I'll have to boost you. Let's see if you can reach the hole." Xena watched Gabrielle swallow her fear. She lifted Gabrielle in her arms, and up, so that Gabrielle could stand on her shoulders.

"I can reach. But, how will you get out?"

"No problem, I can jump it."


And again the bard grunted with the exertion. Finally she was out. Xena put out the reed torch and got a running start, then lept, catching the rim of the hole. She pulled herself up and came face to face with the single, huge eye of the cyclops.

Xena pulled her self out and rolled along the ground, then stood. If this cyclops had hurt Gabrielle...!

Then Gabrielle appeared next to her. Xena wanted to hug her, but what did the cyclops want?

"What are you doing here?", she asked, more bravely than her stomach felt.

"I didn't see you leave from the front of the cave, so I suspected you would try the back way. Did you even know there was a back way?"

"No, but we found it."

"And you killed the dragon."

"How do you know", asked Gabrielle.

"In the first place, you have blood on your clothes. And in the second..."

Then the air began to waver and shine, as the cyclops turned into an astonishingly beautiful woman with full breasts and hips.

"Gaia.", said Xena and Gabrielle together.

"Who else would know everything that happened both on and under the earth? You did well. The dragon slipped out often and terrorized people for miles around. And you were very clever to find this other entrance. I have something for each of you."

Xena looked at Gabrielle. She was suspicious of the Gods, after her experiences with Ares. Gaia gave Gabrielle a glaive, with a stout leather scabbard. To Xena, she gave a heavy leather bag. Then she motioned, and Argo appeared. Xena's heart lept. She had been worried about how to find Argo. Gabrielle was thanking Gaia. Xena knew she should too. She shifted from one foot to the other. She didn't like to be in debt to the Gods.

"This was your father's weapon, before he gave up fighting. It is your legacy. Take good care of it.", said Gaia.

"Thank you so much. I always wanted something of his.", said Gabrielle.

Xena swallowed hard, and spoke before she lost courage.

"Thank you for the gift.", she said.

Gaia laughed, and the sound was like a brook running over stones.

"Still the suspicious one. You wanted to buy something for Gabrielle. And, from the look of her, she could use some new clothes."

And Gaia was gone.

They walked to the road, then on to the nearest inn. After being sure that Jacosta was not inside, they got a room. Xena slipped out, saying she would be right back, and haggled with the innkeeper's wife until she got waht she wanted. Then she went upstairs. Both of them were filthy.

"We need to get to the baths. I just hope they'll let us in.", said Xena. Then they went down, opened the door and found the young girl working there. The water was hot, the towels looked soft and the girl left as soon as they settled in. Xena's muscles had been crying out for this. She fairly melted into the tub. Gabrielle scrubbed herself. She hated being this dirty. They washed each other's hair, and reveled in the sensuousness of it all.

The bath attendant walked back in, carrying a cloth in a rich brown color. Xena smiled.

"The innkeeper's wife found exactly what you discussed."

"Thank you, and please thank her, and the customer who decided against it.", said Xena.

The girl put it on their towels and left again.

Then Gabrielle climbed out of the tub, looking lean and brown and beautiful. She began to towel herself dry. Xena eased out of the tub, and dried herself slowly, as she watched Gabrielle. Then Xena threw her chiton on and waited. Gabrielle reached for her worn out, blood stained clothes when Xena put a restraining hand over hers.

"Take this instead--please." The word felt odd on her tongue.

Gabrielle took the brown cloth into her hands. She unfolded it to reveal a chiton made of strong linen, but which flowed over her body as she put it on. She tied the sash, her face working with emotion. Finally, she threw her arms around Xena and hugged her.

"It's beautiful. Thank you!"

"It's a good color for someone who seems to be a lodestone for bloodstains."

The full moon shown over the four people camped below, two women sleeping, and two warriors sitting by the fire, talking.

Vanko spat into the fire. He turned to Xena, his full beard bristling, and his eyes suspicious.

"You killed a dragon how big?"

"Bigger than the Trojan Horse."

"With scales and yellow eyes?"

"Big scales. Big yellow eyes."

"And that girl asleep by the fire, she killed it with you?"

"She did."

Vanko spat again, by way of a transition, then took a deep breath.

"Did I ever tell you about the time I fought a three-headed Hydra? No shit, there I was..."


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