Convert this page to Pilot DOC Format
Disclaimer: This story contains violence. If you are offended by this
please don't read further.
An adventure of Xena, Warrior Princess and Gabrielle
"Come on now Gabrielle! I told you not to worry about it! Its only a tool. It can be replaced."
The Bard and her Warrior companion walked down a beautiful country lane, with Argo in tow, on an absolutely gorgeous day in spring. The island of Lemnos in that season is lovely, and the beauty is made even more striking by the smoking volcano sending its plume wafting up into the sapphire sky. The reason they were on the little island in the middle of the Aegean was that they had been summoned to exterminate a recalcitrant cyclops that had been raising hob with the populace of a small village on the north coast of the island called Windward Cove. Well, Xena taught the monster the error of his ways in short order by her usual tactic of blinding him. Now that their job was done they were preparing to return to the Hellenic mainland. The sylvan mood was broken though because Gabrielle was terribly upset and remonstrating with herself bitterly.
"Xena, I should not have tried to throw your chakram. I know you don't want me handling your weapons, but I couldn't stand it anymore. I HAD to try it! I am totally amazed you aren't mad at me! I behaved so stupidly! I mean I threw your favorite weapon into the sea!"
Xena had learned about her friend's single mindedness and curiosity during their time together, and the irritations that these traits caused in the past had long since changed into affection, even admiration for her plucky friend. Gabrielle had not only proved to be more than just useful to the big Thracian, but vital also; Gabrielle was superb company, and utterly reliable when the chips were down. Gabrielle's imagination and stubbornness had saved Xena's life more than once. Tolerance of the Bard's foibles had reaped Xena rich dividends.
"I mean the chakram is your trademark, well besides being six feet tall, gorgeous, with lightning blue eyes, and as strong as ten men put together. How will anyone know who you are? Gods know how many times we have both had our lives saved by that thing..."
Of course Gabrielle did talk a lot; no, she talked a LOT!
"Ease up there Gabrielle; you don't want me to lose patience with you, do you?" Xena adopted a mock glower, but it wasn't mock enough to allow Gabrielle to keep babbling. The Bard halted her monologue mid-word and her eyes popped out her head; she turned her eyes front in silence while her shoulders slumped---seemingly to her waist.
Xena's affection got the better of her, and she put a callused hand on Gabrielle's back and rubbed. Gabrielle turned her head and looked at the Warrior Princess, her admiration and affection for Xena very evident.
After a short while of walking in silence, they rounded a curve and came into the small Town of Lemnos, just as the smoking mountain grumbled in the distance. It wasn't much of a town, but it was clean and well kept up. The main street hummed with activity and commerce. The centerpiece of the hamlet was a huge chestnut tree under which a blacksmith tended to his business. Sparks flew and the street smelled of charcoal and molten metal. Just before the forge, an inn stood, its porch filled with people on hammock chairs enjoying the spring sunshine.
Gabrielle turned to Xena and raised an eyebrow. Xena nodded and they went in. The Thracian sat down on a bench while the Bard went up to the landlord and made her pitch for a booking. In the interim, Xena had ordered a simple lunch of cheese and pita that she had already started eating when Gabrielle returned.
"Gee its nice here, Xena! Shame we can't stay." Gabrielle sighed evidently disappointed. "We're leaving?" Xena asked frankly amazed. Gabrielle was a superb salesman; she was nearly always able to book a few days of performing.
"The landlord said his son is a bard!" Gabrielle carped, "He claims that he's heard everything. When I told him about my stories about you, he just shushed me and sent me on my way saying his son knew all the Xena stories there were! Xena, I hate complaining, but its not fair! I should get paid for the stories I create!" Xena nodded with a slight smirk. Gabrielle did complain, but generally only when it was needed.
Xena took a another bite and shrugged.
"Excuse me? "Out of the growing clatter of the incoming lunch crowd, a sweetly tinkling voice emerged into Xena's ear. At first the Warrior Princess ignored the voice, thinking it was for someone else, but the voice repeated, "Excuse me, are you Xena of
Xena turned while Gabrielle looked up from taking a bite of pita. Both clapped their eyes on a stunning sight. It was a woman, but certainly not an average woman. Her robes seemed to be made out of woven gold. The sight shocked Xena and Gabrielle, neither of whom had ever seen anything like it before.
"Whoever you are lady," The Lioness of Amphipolis said, "you had better get out of public view; that robe is a sure invitation to an armed robbery---yours!"
Gabrielle, once she had cleaned up the food that had dropped out of her mouth in the shock, nodded vigorously in agreement. The Bard then forced her eyes from the robe up to the woman's face. Gabrielle found that that face was unbelievably beautiful. Its features were made up of planes and angles; there was hardly a curve to be seen. The woman's skin was a light golden tan, and her eyes were a brilliant green, almost the same green as an emerald. Most remarkable though was the woman's hair. It was silver, not white, nor platinum blonde, or even gray, but real, metallic, glittering silver! The woman's hair looked as if it consisted of extremely fine, flexible silver wire. Gabrielle, in wonder, reached up asking: "May I?"
Xena shot a baleful look at her companion, but the woman in gold said graciously in her tinkling voice: "You may." and Gabrielle touched a lock of that amazing hair. It was warm, soft and silky. Gabrielle let the hair go and sat back astounded, her ability to speak wrested from her.
"Are you Xena, called the Warrior Princess?" The golden woman asked again.
"Yes, I am." Xena replied. "May I help you?" The Thracian continued, with more than a little suspicion in her voice.
"My father has heard you have lost something today." The golden woman said.
Gabrielle blurted: "Yes, but how could you know?" The glittering visitor continued, ignoring the little strawberry blonde. Xena repeated the question with even more suspicion. "My father, The Smithy, would like to give you something. Xena asked: "Your father is the blacksmith up the street?"
"No," The golden woman replied, "he is The Smithy, and he would like you to accompany me to his forge, so that he may give you a gift. " The woman's voice sounded for all the world like golden chimes blowing in the wind.
The Thracian was really suspicious now. "Who is this Smithy? Why does he want to give me a gift? And since I have never heard of him, why should I accompany you to his forge? I am not a hired sword. I will not be bought!"
"Curiosity." the golden woman replied. "Curiosity! You will come because you will ache to learn more!"
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other quizzically then turned their heads back to the golden woman. She stood there with a shining smile on her face and exclaimed cheerfully: "Observe!" At that moment, the woman's face transformed, with a sound of crumpling paper, from flesh to solid gold!
"Yep! You're right!" Xena exclaimed. Grabbing Gabrielle by the elbow Xena pulled her friend to her feet. Gabrielle needed such treatment because she was too stupefied to move. When Gabrielle did recover, all she could do was complain about leaving her lunch behind.
The golden woman's face returned to its accustomed tan and the three left the inn and emerged into the spring sunshine. The hair of the golden woman glittered in the sun as if it were made from diamonds. "Follow me!" she said. The three walked around the corner of the inn and something really odd came into view.
Gabrielle exclaimed: "OHH! What is THAT?"
Gabrielle and Xena looked at a cart such as had never been seen before on this earth. There were no horses to pull the contraption. The cart looked to be made of solid gold, just like the woman who presented it. Not only did the cart have four wheels, one on each corner of a flat platform, but also it had four seats. One of them, the seat on the left front, had another little wheel on top of a stanchion in front of it. There was a large frame that appeared to have a rectangular piece of glass in it that stretched all the way across the cart in front of the two front seats. There was also a stick on the floor in between the two front seats, and two strange things that looked like footrests just on either side of the post with the wheel on it. Behind the rear seats there was a large box with grill work on the front. The wheels were unique too. All normal wheels were made either of solid wood or a wooden ring supported with spokes linked to a central hub. These wheels, like the rest of the cart, appeared to be made out of solid gold, but the outer edge was covered with a black material Xena did not recognize. Xena reached out and touched the black part of the wheel, and discovered to her intense curiosity that it was somewhat soft. It yielded stiffly to the pressure of her finger.
"Gabrielle, this beats me!" The Thracian said.
Gabrielle turned to the golden woman who had taken a seat behind the little wheel and opened her mouth to ask, but the golden woman had beaten her to the answer. "The Smithy calls this an AUTO-MOBILE!" With a grand, sweeping gesture of her hand, the golden woman said: "Please, take a seat."
Xena and Gabrielle climbed aboard, Xena in the right front, and Gabrielle in the back---right behind her Thracian friend.
"Auto-mobile?" Gabrielle repeated, "It moves by itself?"
"Yes it does!" the golden woman's chime like voice replied, "Do you see the straps on either side of your seats?" she asked Xena and Gabrielle.
"Yes!" they both replied.
"Please put them around your waists and buckle them, for we wouldn't want you to be thrown forward out of your seats should we have to stop quickly."
Xena and Gabrielle did so, and Xena noted, with a raised eyebrow, that the straps were made out of a fabric that looked like woven gold, much like the robes the woman in the left front seat wore. The strap had a bright silver buckle on it, its tine fit in a slot on the opposite side of the seat. There was a button on the slot that said: "Release". Xena, once she inserted the buckle, pushed the button and the buckle came back out.
"Gods!" Xena exclaimed.
"Are we ready?" The golden woman asked.
"YES!" Xena and Gabrielle chirped. Both were vibrating with excitement.
The golden woman reached into her robe and pulled a small object, which Gabrielle thought resembled a key, and inserted it into a slot on the stanchion with the little wheel on top. The key seemed to be encrusted with precious jewels. Once the key was inserted, the golden woman turned it and both Xena and Gabrielle were startled to hear a roaring hum begin in the big box behind the back seats. The Automobile began to vibrate too.
Gabrielle asked loudly: "What is that?"
"It is the engine, Xena's friend. It's what makes this automobile move." "Please call me Gabrielle. What is your name Golden Woman?"
"I am called Alpha!" The golden woman chimed.
Xena asked, "You're named after the first letter in our alphabet?"
"Yes! The Smithy is partial to Greek!"
Xena noted that the hum was somewhat loud and asked: "Won't this thing's noise scare everyone? Animals too?"
"Do not be concerned Xena of Thrace! This vehicle is invisible and inaudible to all mortals. So were we once we boarded it! "You're immortal?" Gabrielle asked in awe.
"No." Alpha replied, adding nothing.
"You must be some kind of goddess!"
Xena reached back and put a hand on Gabrielle's knee. "No, but there is a God involved in this, and I think I know who. Keep your questions to yourself for now. We'll soon see."
Alpha put her right foot on one of the odd footrests and her right hand on the stick between the front seats. She moved the stick down and it seemed to catch twice before settling into a third slot. Alpha pushed down on the footrest; the hum began to grow louder and the "Automobile" began to move very smoothly forward!
Xena and Gabrielle were very impressed.
The vehicle turned past the inn and out onto the main street. Looking through the plate glass in front of them, the street looked different. It clearly was not made out of dirt any more but a hard, black material. There was now a series of white stripes down the middle of the street. Xena looked at Gabrielle and shrugged. She wasn't surprised by anything any more. In a few seconds the wind began to howl over their heads. Xena's and Gabrielle's hair streamed straight back in that wind. Neither had ever even approached this speed before. Argo on her best days could not go anywhere near this fast.
"This is marvelous Xena!" Gabrielle said with a huge grin on her face.
The Warrior Princess just threw her head back and laughed, reveling in the excitement of the breakneck pace. She stuck her hand up over the top of the glass window and let the wind take it. The force of the wind surprised her. Xena, who wanted usually for nothing while living a Spartan life, looked at Gabrielle and said: "OHHH Gabrielle, I WANT ONE!! Salmoneus would make an Emperor's ransom selling these things!"
Alpha looked over at Xena and smiled. "It is fun, isn't it? The Smithy just created it!"
Xena stuck her head over the open side of the cart and was amazed at the blast of wind. She looked down at the front wheels while keeping the corner of her eye on Alpha. She noticed that the front wheels slewed around corners when Alpha turned her wheel right and left. Xena whistled and shook her head.
After a short while, Gabrielle reached over the back of the front seat and tapped Xena on the shoulder. Pointing she said: "Look!" They were headed straight for the smoking volcano!
"Be not afraid, friends." Alpha reassured, then she made a hard left turn. If it weren't for the belts they wore, all three women surely would have been thrown out of their seats. As it was, Xena and Gabrielle both screamed at the strange feeling this caused and then smiled widely at each other.
In a few seconds, Alpha turned right again and seemingly headed directly for the side of the mountain. Xena was starting to get worried when right in front of them the side of the mountain evaporated into a tunnel. It seemed like a long time had passed when Alpha pressed the footpedal under her left foot and brought the automobile to a smooth halt. They had entered a gargantuan subterranean cavern that looked like it had been carved out of the mountain by main force. Xena couldn't be impressed any more. She had seen enough earlier to let nothing impress her in the future. Now, next to the automobile were three other vehicles, two of which were identical to the one that the party had just ridden, but the last one was at least three times larger. There were only two seats in it and in the back was a large platform surrounded by wooden stakes. On this platform were large ingots of some kind of metal. Xena hadn't thought of the possibility of using such a vehicle for moving heavy objects.
"Come!" Alpha said dismounting. Xena and Gabrielle followed.
They walked through an atrium into a huge open room. At the opposite end there was the largest furnace that they had ever seen. The room smelled of charcoal and molten metal. Table after table they passed. Each table had some kind of tools or metal work upon it. Gabrielle stopped and picked up an absolutely gorgeous piece of jewelry that just lay there on one of the tables. Just as Gabrielle was about to say something Xena reached over and slapped her wrist gently.
"Put that down Gabrielle!"
"Hey!" the Bard said, "Since when are you my mother!"
"Come on, we're falling behind!" Xena exclaimed, then she trotted to catch up with Alpha, Gabrielle right behind.
Finally, after passing huge metal things that looked like sculptures with wheels, levers, gears, and leather belts all over them, the party entered a smaller room that was brilliantly lighted by long white tubes that glowed a soft blue white light. At the end of the room, seated in a chair that had wheels on each of its four legs there was a man. This man had the hugest shoulders, arms and chest Xena and Gabrielle had ever seen. The man's head was large, ugly, and covered with pockmarks and scars. He had messy, thick, black, curly hair, and a long black beard, equally thick, curly, and unkempt. Sweat ran in rivulets from his forehead and back. His chair sat near a huge furnace, and he was using a gigantic, short handled sledgehammer on something that he held on a silver anvil with golden tongs. Each blow of the hammer caused a clang of painful loudness.
"Father?" Alpha asked, her voice now sounding like a temple bell.
The man dropped his sledge with a clang, grabbed the wheels on his chair and turned himself about. To Gabrielle's absolute horror she saw that the man had a tiny, withered lower body. His legs were nothing but reeds encased in large golden braces, and amazingly, his feet were on his legs BACKWARDS! Gabrielle took in a sharp breath, but Xena steadied her.
"Hephaestus!" Xena said while pulling herself to her full height, a skeptical smirk on her lips, her eyes narrowed and dangerous.
Gabrielle caught on and exclaimed: "The God of Blacksmiths! The Creator of all Womankind!" "Beta," Hephaestus roared, "get me my crutches!" The voice was brutal and harsh but cut through the constant din in the room brilliantly. Behind him, a gold form approached. It looked just like Alpha, but it wore no robes and appeared to be solid gold. Turning, Xena looked back at their chauffeur and saw her robe merge into her body and Alpha's flesh dissolve into gold. Beta gave two brilliant silver crutches to Hephaestus that did not go under the God's armpits but clipped with bands to his gigantic upper arms. He held himself up by pushing down on a handle on each of the crutches.
"Ah! These Gods damned things! There has to be a better way to get around! I gotta work on it."
With great difficulty, the Blacksmith God hobbled over to Xena and Gabrielle, sweat poured from his naked chest onto the heavy leather apron he was wearing. Gabrielle made a move to help but this drew a withering glare from the god and from Xena as well.
"I can take care of myself you little whippersnapper!" And the god came before them and sat down heavily on a jewel and gold encrusted stool. It was made out of a metal that was so silver that it was almost white.
"So what do you want from me?" The Warrior Princess asked skeptically.
But, Hephaestus wasn't finished talking to Gabrielle. He was obviously very peeved and was straining to master himself: "I PREFER to call myself the God of Technical Innovation and Manufacture, but its too big a mouthful for you mortals now." Gabrielle looked shocked at Hephaestus' arrogance. Hades was not like this!
"Don't look concerned there girl, I'm a natural grump. If you looked like this and couldn't get around too well you would be too. I take my aggression out on my work. As for you Xena, don't look shocked. I know who you are."
Xena repeated her question.
"Just like Alpha told you. You lost something and I want to replace it."
"Why?" Xena asked. "You know how to use and appreciate my work." The God of Technical Innovation and Manufacture stated. "It's not often that I see a human of this period who uses my implements to their uttermost. Also, I have heard of you from my Brother Hades and my half brother Hercules; you have helped them out of jams in the past, so you should be rewarded. There's something else; you actually beat me to something, and I admire that."
"What?" Xena asked shocked.
"That hang glider you built when you were a kid."
"What did I build?" Xena said unsure of what she'd heard. It was really noisy in the cavern. "The flying machine?" Hephaestus asked.
"Oh, I nearly killed myself with that thing! Never did it again either!" Xena then looked puzzled. "What did you call it?"
"A hang glider." Hephaestus looked impatient. "Anyway a Saxon named Otto Lillienthal will build one and actually make it work about three thousand years from now. "WHAAT?" Gabrielle goggled. "How do you know?"
"I'm a God you little fool. I can live anyplace and at any time. I am the God that plants innovative technical ideas into the heads of sentient beings. "Take that thing you rode in on. It will be invented by two more Saxons: Gottleib Daimler and Karl Benz about the time Lillienthal will invent the hang glider. I use the automobiles to get back and forth to Olympus when I'm called, and to bring in small amounts of materials. Hermes got tired of lugging me or my stuff around. He's got enough trouble bringing souls down to Hades."
"Saxons?" Gabrielle questioned. "You mean all these cool things are going to be invented by the barbarians that live north of the Illyrian mountains? They're not even civilized!" "And you ARE little girl?" Hephaestus grumped.
Gabrielle, once she got over being insulted again, considered for a moment then nodded. "Point taken, sorry."
"All right you two, cut the debate. Now why did you bring me here?" Xena intoned gravely.
"Right! What was it you lost Xena?" Hephaestus asked.
Xena couldn't resist, and now she knew that underneath the cantankerous surface, Hephaestus was a good, kind of nerdy, fellow; so she said: "Actually, it was Gabrielle that lost my chakram." The Bard's face turned into something similar to the face of a terrified fawn, but she needn't have worried. Hephaestus just snickered.
"No respect for the hard work of others!" He complained.
"No, she was just trying to learn how to use it. I don't like the idea but It looks pretty inevitable that she's going to learn about weapons." Xena sighed. "Gabrielle is VERY stubborn!" "Well!" Gabrielle chimed in, maybe a little hurt.
"What did you call the thing you lost again?" My hearing ain't too good, all this noise. Hephaestus asked.
"A chakram. That sounds like a Punjabi word.." the Smithy pondered, "Oh yes! It is Hindu! Did you know that we Olympians have relations with other pantheons?"
Both Xena and Gabrielle shook their heads.
"Oh why should you know, mortals? Besides our relations with our 'brothers on the other side of the Indus River are pretty standoffish, but they have no god like me, so I do contract work for them. The chakram is a design that Shiva, the Hindu God of War sent to me. She's innovative but has no expertise." He continued in a loud stage whisper: "You think I'm grumpy? Piss her off and she triples in size and grows six more arms! Sheesh! Anyway, how did you get hold of an Indian weapon?"
"When I was with the Amazons, I picked it up from a trader for a song. I think its better than a bow because it comes back!" Xena exclaimed.
"Oh yeah! Well if you really want a weapon that comes back, there's this huge island on the other side of the world. I designed for the natives something that looks like a stick with a ninety degree angle in it. It always comes back unless when you throw it and it hits something."
Xena looked at the God rather reluctantly.
"Right, I don't want you involved in all these time periods and locations. You Greeks don't know enough yet on your own."
Gabrielle nearly yelled: "But I'M DYING to know! What's on the other side of the world! I mean we knew the world was spherical, but we have no idea what's around there!"
"Well, you'll have to wait little girl, or Zeus will have my butt in a sling. He's already mad at me. That's why I'm in this workshop." Hephaestus looked sad. He won't let me back up to Olympus to live, and neither will Zeus speak to or listen to me.
I am completely Persona Non Grata with him. Its all because I criticized Zeus to his face about how he treated Hera."
Xena thought it prudent not to inquire further, but she did ask: "What about the chakram?"
"Oh right, hang on a moment." Hephaestus hobbled off to a smaller furnace and he reached into its white hot flames with a pair of long tongs. Then moving his arms so fast that Xena and Gabrielle lost sight of them, he hammered on the billet he removed from the furnace and within seconds that billet had been forged into a ring. The Blacksmith God then took the cherry red colored chakram over to a table and sat. He took out some fine tools and after a moment of intense work he dipped it into a bucket of some kind of liquid. When he was done, with his usual difficulty, he brought it over to Xena. "Here!"
The chakram was possibly the most beautiful thing that Xena had ever seen. It was made out of the same silver white metal as the stool on which Hephaestus now sat. It was incredibly richly decorated with engraving and inlayed lapus lazuli. This engraving was of incredible quality, and the pictures of which that engraving consisted were of Xena's own exploits! She was shown stopping Darfus from killing the baby which was the incident that started her heroic career. It showed her standing defiantly after running the Gauntlet to which her former army had subjected her. She was shown hanging from the Roc while trying to save Prometheus. The fight with Queen Melosa was there, and poignantly, she was shown fighting the Harpies with her beloved Marcus at her side. Finally, in a posture of storytelling, with her staff by her side, Gabrielle was there too.
Xena's breath was taken away, and Gabrielle thought that she might cry, but she knew Xena better than that. When Gabrielle took a second look at the big Thracian, she could now see that the Warrior Princess was looking at the weapon with professional interest. "I don't know if I can use this chakram, Hephaestus. It has no range markings, and there is no edge. It's blunt all around. It's also amazingly light. It'll be blown around like a feather in the wind! What's it made of? I know lapis lazuli, but this metal is foreign to me."
The Smithy smiled at Xena. Gabrielle noticed that his mouth was full of gold teeth! Then he said: "That is the beauty of this chakram Xena, You will get more out of it than you can believe. As for the materials, you are right about the lapis lazuli, but the chakram itself is forged out of an alloy of Titanium."
"Titanium?" Xena asked. "Is that a metal you created just for this use? It sounds like it was named for the Titans"
"It was Thracian, but I can't claim credit for it. That's Giaia's work; the earth mother spread it very commonly around. The rub is I am the only smith that can refine and work it. It melts at temperatures many many times higher than iron, and it is so hard only I can forge it even when it is white hot. I have to use diamond tools and noxious potions to etch or engrave it. But it is very much worth the effort, since it is ten times stronger than the finest, hand forged, steel and only a quarter of its weight for an equivalent volume.
Xena was fascinated. Here she was talking to the greatest weapons designer in existence, and her professional interest was at full cry.
"And about your range markers, well I don't know about those, but no matter. I have a great improvement. Hang on. Alpha, get the lights will you?" The golden woman walked over to a box on the cavern wall with a large lever on its outside. She pulled it down and many of the long, magical, white tubes over their heads went out making it very dark indeed.
Gabrielle had to ask: "What are those lamps Hephaestus? They are so much better than torches or oil lamps! I could actually read in here!"
"Those are a gift from Zeus. He's allowed me to harness his lightning bolts. I call it electricity. Pass this electricity through a glass tube filled with quicksilver vapor and a coating only I can make, and lots of good clean white light happens!" Apollo is jealous, the little twerp!" He thinks I've stolen the sun from him!" the Smithy snorted. He continued: "That loud humming you hear is my means of containing his lightning. Its a device called a generator. That's what is causing all the smoke that comes out of the top of this mountain. I have a big furnace in there that boils water and runs the steam through something called a turbine to run the generator. The furnaces here all run on that black stuff that comes out of the ground north of here. So do the automobiles."
Xena said: "No Kidding? I use that stuff sometimes to treat wounds! Otherwise its worthless!" "No", Hephaestus continued, "Petroleum really very useful, but you Greeks won't find that out for about twenty five hundred years! Anyway, its one of the reasons I'm in this mountain now. Artemis whined to Zeus saying my smoke dirtied up her air, and In Zeus' presence, I told her to clean her own air and buzz off and let me do my work! I know I created womankind but sometimes they drive me CRAZY! WOMEN!!"
Gabrielle's eyes bugged out of her head and she was about to chide the god, but Xena providentially shushed her. One of Xena's rules was to not piss off a god unnecessarily.
Xena hefted her new chakram. It was incredibly light, but it felt good in her throwing hand. "What do I do? She asked.
"You throw it, just as you usually do. I have heard from Ares what you were able to do with your old weapon, and it's astounding. So are the rest of your 'Super Mortal Abilities' but I haven't been told much more. OK what first? Xena, think to yourself this word: 'knife'. Hold the weapon by the inside edge." Hephaestus taught.
Xena did so, and right in front of her eyes, the blunted edge became razor sharp. Xena pulled a hair from her head and the chakram cut it lengthwise very easily.
"OK think: 'Saw'."
Xena did so, and the outer edge of the chakram turned into a toothed saw blade! "You don't need to throw it, these functions will work in your hand. Now think: 'range'." Xena did so, and an expression of extreme shock came to her face. Her blue eyes widened and she took in a sharp intake of breath.
"Xena! Xena! What's wrong!" Gabrielle yelled, terrified for the Warrior Princess.
"Don't worry Xena, what you are seeing is normal." The god comforted.
"What do you see Xena?" Gabrielle implored.
"By the Gods!" Xena whispered. "I thought 'range' and a green, glowing box came into my field of view! Its like its hanging right in front of my eyes! Inside the box, there are two lines floating in the center and three lists of numbers one on the right side of the box, one on the left side of the box, and another across the bottom. I can still see perfectly well! Wait, I just looked at something. The two drifting lines, one horizontal, and one vertical just came together into a cross, and there are two pointers to numbers both in cubits. There is a little block inside the top line of the box that says wind and there are two blank spaces next to the word..."
"Xena, those are the distance in elevation and range from the object you are looking at. There is another box that says force just above the bottom line. See it?"
"It tells you how hard to throw to reach the object in the crosshairs. Beta, get me my chair. Alpha, turn on the lights! Xena and Gabrielle, please follow me."
The God of Blacksmiths wheeled himself on, and Xena and Gabrielle followed. In a trice they were in another chamber. This room was vast. Gabrielle thought that it had to be a mile on a side. The high ceiling was dotted with incredibly bright electric lamps. A stiff, cool wind came from their right. The floor was not flat but simulated normal terrain. There were trees, brooks, rock outcroppings, in short everything that existed outside.
"This is a test chamber Xena. Start throwing and get used to the systems."
Xena did so. She threw bank shots, simple returns, and every variation she knew of delivering her favorite weapon.
"Its awful light! I can't get it to cut though the wind!"
"Use the windage! Look at your target and think 'set' The crosshairs will move to account for the wind. Throw towards the location of the crosshairs. The range will also show you the maximum range to which you can throw it. The closer into the wind you throw, the maximum range will reduce and the force required will go up. The chakram will adapt to your thoughts so that it will NEVER imbed itself in something. Also if you think, 'kill' it will do so, 'stun' it will do that by adapting the edge to match requirements. If you want, it will even compute the angles for carom shots if you like. Now throw it as far as you can. You will get two figures on the display, one for non return range and one for return. Throw it straight. We need to calibrate the force meter. Beta, turn off the wind!" The wind suddenly dropped away.
Xena threw the weapon again. She gaped: "It went over six hundred cubits! That's more than twice the maximum I could get with my old one! Incredible! But, I could hit everything that I wanted to hit with my old chakram anyway. What do I get besides increased range, windage and all this information?"
Another golden woman arrived on a small automobile after having fetched the chakram. She returned it to the Warrior Princess.
"Here's the kicker Thracian! Hephaestus exclaimed. "Alpha get the lights again!" The chamber went pitch black. "OK Xena think, 'night'."
Xena did so and exclaimed. "Impossible! Gabrielle, I can see in the dark! Everything is a weird green color but I can see you clearly! You too Hephaestus! What sorcery!"
"All of the functions that you saw in the light will work in the dark just as well. It will also work in smoke and fog. No target can elude you. What you are seeing is heat. Most animals are warm, so you can see them. Also almost everything absorbs the heat that is given to them by Apollo's sun then radiates that heat back out at night. The chakram 'sees' this and sends it directly to your brain. By thinking 'view' you can see what you see here or what the chakram sees itself. So you can throw it to see what's on the other side of the hill day or night! Just make sure that you have your view on when you try to catch it at night or you'll miss it. You can't directly guide the chakram. It just returns to your last known position. Try it!"
Xena picked a target and threw. She switched views back and forth and finally caught the ring when it returned. She shook her head completely pleased and dumbfounded.
"I have two more questions." Xena said as Hephaestus called upon Alpha to turn on the lights. "This will not destroy me if I hit something else you've made will it?
"No that was specific to that sword. Hera's order. She was going to get Zeus to hit me with a lighting bolt if I didn't. This chakram can hit anything of mine without damaging you or any other that uses it. "OK Hephaestus. Secondly, can Gabrielle use it?"
"Yes, anyone who touches it and knows the commands can use it. So, keep the commands to yourself eh? This is a great trust that I have given you. Since this is my creation, it can be used to kill an immortal. I give this to you because Hades and Hercules have told me you are completely trustworthy. I know you will not betray that trust. Well I wouldn't mind if you offed Ares. He's my biggest customer, but he is such a schmuck! Athena is much more responsible. However, he has allies far stronger than me so if you want to go after him, watch your thoughts and build alliances amongst the gods first."
"Gabrielle, here!" The Warrior Princess flipped the chakram to her friend who held it and said aloud "RANGE!" Then her jaw dropped.
When the Bard finished throwing the chakram, incidentally throwing it farther with accuracy she never thought possible, Hephaestus and his guests retired to what he said was his break room, where the golden women served a sumptuous lunch. They discussed life on Olympus and the characters of the gods, and Xena explained why she had iffy relations with some of them. Hephaestus agreed with most of what the Warrior Princess said. He was a bit of an outcast; he was married to Aphrodite but never saw her because the goddess was embarrassed to associate with a cripple. Hephaestus knew that she was promiscuous and he resented it, but his wife was a favorite of Zeus so he couldn't do anything about it. He went on by saying that it was Aphrodite's infidelity that was the reason he had built the golden women. They helped him around and they provided him with feminine companionship. Hermes and Athena stopped in from time to time, but mostly he threw himself into his work.
Gabrielle had looked around the workshop before the meal, and marveled at the god's artistry. He had poured all of his loneliness into self expression. She admired him for that. Gabrielle had noted that Hephaestus wasted absolutely no time on self pity, unlike some of the gods she had heard about. She also admired his responsibility. He held onto some of the most important secrets in creation and he mostly kept his mouth shut. He only told the things to Xena and Gabrielle that he did, because Xena would keep quiet and Gabrielle would, well, be called a storyteller. Gabrielle didn't mind, despite the implied insult. She loved the idea of knowing the future, even if nobody would believe it. Just as nobody would believe that what happened today had actually happened.
"Well mortals, I got to get back to work. I got a big job coming up. There's a war brewing in a place I can't tell you about and I got to go back to designing weapons. And Hera has a big jewelry job on order. She wants it yesterday. For someone I went to bat for, she can be an awful bitch." Hephaestus griped.
Xena looked at Gabrielle with a cocked eyebrow, and she said her good byes. Gabrielle went over to the God and gave him as much of a hug as she could. The god's upper body was so big that she couldn't get her arms around him. She then whispered something into his ear, well yelled actually, but Xena couldn't hear it for the noise. A big smile came across the God's ugly puss and he reached into the pocket of his leather apron and gave the Bard something. Then he waved and rolled back to his forge.
"What did you say to him Gabrielle? You left him in a really good mood."
"I just said that he was a great God and that I would worship him from now on. I thanked him for creating women, for without him I wouldn't be alive, and neither would be my best friend. I told him when I saw a good woman or a beautiful piece of metal work I would remember him. It's sad that not many people do worship him, apparently only blacksmiths do now. And I meant it. I admire him! Look what he gave me!" You Xena, and this!
Gabrielle held out her hand to her friend; the present was a small, delicate brooch designed to hold a chiton together. It was a diamond surrounded by delicate gold and silver filigree; inlayed in the silver loops were emeralds while rubies were in the gold loops. On the back, engraved in a delicate hand, was the inscription: 'To Gabrielle of Poteidaia: A lovely woman, a good worshipper, and an even better friend. Hephaestus.' "I never saw him work on it! He must have done it while his hand was in his pocket!" Gabrielle exclaimed in awe and a tear in her eye. She was greatly moved.
Xena smiled widely at Gabrielle in gratitude for the wonderful thing that she had said and then she looked wonderingly at the brooch Hephaestus had given Gabrielle saying: "I like him too, he has had a hard life for a god. Olympus isn't all music and ambrosia, I guess. He's tough and in his own way very brave. Of all the gods I have met, he is perhaps the most admirable. And the stuff he's created!" Xena marveled, The Lioness of Amphipolis looked at her new chakram in admiration, and then at her steadfast friend in deep affection.
As they began to walk back to the room where the autos were stored, they were joined by one of the golden women, who transformed into more human looking form. "Which one are you? Xena asked as they climbed back into the vehicle. "I'm Omega, Xena of Thrace."
"Can I ask you a favor then Omega?"
"If the Smithy will allow it, certainly, Xena."
"Take the scenic route back to town will you? And step on it!"
Croesus was terribly, terribly rich. Possibly he was the richest man in all of the Eastern Mediterranean. He acquired all this wealth by acumen, extreme ruthlessness and downright hubris. If there was a dinar to be made, Croesus would find the way to make it. Sometimes he would roll over his friends, enemies, whomever to get what he wanted. It didn't matter to him. His ego was so big that no matter how blatant his actions might be, he always found a justification for them, and he was rich enough to buy protection from the laws of men if he needed to. Indeed he had gotten away with so much in his life that he sometimes thought that he could pull a fast one on the gods themselves.
Like many men who had far more money than he could spend, Croesus was always looking for things to acquire. He had collected art, ships, horses, animals of all sorts, even women, and none of them satisfied his craving for exclusivity. He felt as if he were the absolute centerpiece of Greek culture, despite the fact that he was more wealthy than entire cities, and so much more wealthy than the average Greek peasant that he hardly knew that they existed, except that they worked the fields for nearly nothing on his huge estates. Finally, he had found something to collect that was worthy of his wealth and his audacity. He had become obsessed with the works of Hephaestus. So much so that he hired a defrocked priest of both Hera and Hephaestus named Dupontus to use him to ferret out what of the Blacksmith God's works remained on earth.
So, Croesus took a tiny part of his wealth and spent it on buying half of the Island of Lemnos, including the volcano and he had a shrine to Hephaestus built just outside the town of Lemnos. The reason was clear, Dupontus had told Croesus repeatedly about how Hephaestus had been banished to this island and had been forced to do all his work there Dupontus was certain that the smoke and noise coming from the volcano was the God's work but that it would take powerful sorcery to get the god to divulge where his work was. In the mean time, Croesus had small parties beating the bush for any sign of the god. There were men in all the shops who had been briefed on the signature of the god's works taken from the few examples known, such as the Gauntlets of Hercules so that they could keep an eye out.
Most Gods in the Greek pantheon required sacrifices for their satisfaction. These sacrifices were usually animals. For example, it was common practice to sacrifice horses to Poseidon to aid sailors or fisherman. Poseidon was the god that brought the horse to man. Bulls were sacrificed to Zeus as a sign of the gods divine sexual potency. Hephaestus though was a workman's god; most often gifts of the blacksmiths or other metal smiths were left at the few shrines to the god. Dupontus had another idea. Hephaestus was the creator of womankind. Dupontus was convinced that the only way that the god could be appeased enough to leave his work available to mortals was the sacrifice of women, preferably virgin girls.
Croesus was too cautious for that. His "spiritual' advisor had advocated the rounding up of every young woman on the island to be ritually murdered, but he had rejected that notion out of hand. He needed the labor to work his lands, and the last thing he needed to have was a rebellion on his property so he urged Dupontus to do better than that. So Dupontus started sacrificing female sheep to Hera in the hope that his prayers and incantations would influence the goddess to get her supporter Hephaestus to reveal more of his material works. That strategy wasn't working as of yet. So Croesus waited, salted many hands with huge piles of dinars, and watched.
Two of Croesus' men had just left the inn in Lemnos after they had finished dining at their benefactor's expense and were on their way back to the big house where their boss was then living. They had decided to take the back way through a small grove of trees when they suddenly heard a strange humming roar coming from the way that they had just come. They turned and suddenly in the little alley next to the inn two women just appeared out of thin air in an odd posture.
The first man looked at the second and said: I know that Dupontus had told us to watch for something like that, but Gods! I though that he had too much Ouzo! Did you see that?" "Yeah I did! Wooof! We'd better follow them!" the other said.
By the time Xena and Gabrielle had finished the tour of the on which Omega had driven them it was nearly dark. They were broke as well, so they had to live in the rough. The ship that had brought them wasn't due back for a week, so all that they could do was pick up Argo from in front of the inn and head back out of town. So Omega pulled the auto into the alley next to the inn and dropped them off, and Xena and Gabrielle had to come to a decision.
"Looks like rabbit again tonight Xena. I'll go look for some fig trees." Gabrielle said.
Xena nodded, mounted Argo, and rode off. The pair had checked out a clearing near the road when they came into Lemnos so they would meet there. Gabrielle had become expert at building fires and gathering foodstuffs, while Xena had kept the hunting for herself. Gabrielle didn't mind Xena doing the hunting, for she was still a bit squeamish about killing cute little animals to eat. Most nights the pair had to go hungry after dark if Xena couldn't hunt. Gabrielle was philosophical about it; her usual view was that the occasional fast was good for the soul. As she rode, Xena said to herself, "Not Tonight!" while thinking hungrily that they'll dine on roast 'possum! Xena touched the chakram, hanging from its accustomed hook on the right side of her leathers and thought "night!"
Gabrielle did indeed find several large fig trees near to the clearing that she and Xena had found and the Bard thanked Artemis for that There was plenty of kindling around and even some smaller limbs that could be cut up easily with Xena's sword. So, Gabrielle went on with her housekeeping chores light heartedly keeping away the boredom with thinking of the incredible story she was going to write. She also mused on Hephaestus' position. God or no, she was a trifle sad about the life of her new divine friend. Not all gods had happy lives apparently. How could anyone go through eternity lonely and unloved she wondered? Gabrielle had seen that The Smithy threw himself into his work as if he were compelled to do so, and Gabrielle saw little evidence that he enjoyed his life very much. There was nothing she could do about it, so she thought good thoughts for Hephaestus and went about striking her flint on Xena's sword to ignite the fire. Suddenly, not all that far away, the Redhead heard a familiar whine. Xena's chakram was in flight. The whine was followed by two sharp clangs and wet sounding "Thwap!" Gabrielle smiled. It sounded as if there was going to be meat for dinner after all.
The two men smelled the odor of burning wood in the gathering gloom and followed the smell. Androcles (who was called Andy) and Timmon (called Tim) were really not the smartest of fellows but Tim was at least an experienced hunter and tracker. With Tim leading, the men slowly worked their way down wind to a place within earshot of the fire and the little woman tending it. They got a good look at her as she worked and Andy commented in a very quiet whisper:
"I know that girl, that's the friend of that big Warrior dame that the village chief hired to punish the Cyclops. Why do you think she's sleeping outdoors?" Andy said.
"I heard that the Warrior refused any pay for the job, so the chief washed his hands of them. They must be broke! Pretty dumb if you ask me---Wait! someone's coming." Tim barely breathed.
It was Xena who came back from hunting with a large opossum. Xena had already neatly dressed and butchered the animal, and taking a flat rock she laid out the carcass and cut it up into small pieces. Gabrielle then helped the Warrior Princess skewer the meat on hardwood twigs that Gabrielle had heat hardened in the fire. In her short time near the clearing, the Bard had found figs, wild onions and Jerusalem Artichokes. The men watched the two women put these items on their sticks making a more than passable shashlik. Andy hoped the smell of roasting meat wouldn't make his stomach growl. Despite this fear, the two men strained to hear any conversation.
"How did Hephaestus' chakram work Xena? I heard it." the little redhead asked.
"Damn well considering I still haven't completely figured it out." the big brunette replied. "The night vision feature really is wonderful. I spotted that 'possum up a tree at one hundred cubits, then changed views and threw it to see the animal better. Worked like a charm. The shot I had was tough, but I could see two rocks that let me get at it from where I was. 'Possums are very sharp eyed and have great noses, so I couldn't afford to lose my downwind position. You see the result."
Gabrielle burbled: "I want to build the fire up a bit. I have a big pine log here that I didn't want to chop up with your blade. Could I use the saw?"
"Sure!" Xena flipped the chakram to Gabrielle so that it tumbled safely into the Bard's hands. With a theatrically loud "SAW!" Gabrielle activated the weapon and set to work cutting the log in two. After a few minutes the log was cut and split and on the fire, which was now roaring gaily.
The men in the woods listened with great interest. This was exactly what their boss wanted, but more was to come.
"Lemme see your brooch Gabrielle." In response to Xena's request Gabrielle took the piece of jewelry from her Amazon tunic and passed it to her big friend.
"Incredible." That Hephaestus is an amazing craftsman." Xena said. "I know a little about good diamonds and this is the best one I've ever seen." Then after asking for, and receiving Gabrielle's little bronze mirror, The Warrior Princess looked into the mirror and held the brooch up to the bottom of her throat like a necklace and then over one breast like a pin. "A bit too garish for me I suppose, but lovely nevertheless." You can wear it Gabrielle. I could never get away with it! Diamonds and rubies go better with blonde hair anyway...."
"C'mon!" Andy barely breathed, "We've seen enough!" And the two spies slithered silently downwind and away from the two women.
At dawn the next morning Xena and Gabrielle were up doing their usual morning workout, when the Warrior Princess got a familiar odd feeling down the back of her neck. Looking towards the road, she saw four huge men toting an elaborately decorated sedan chair.
"I don't like this Gabrielle," the Warrior Princess hissed. "You'd think that somebody rich enough to own a chair like that would still be in bed."
"Xena, Warrior Princess! This is your old friend Croesus!" I'd like to talk to you!" Came a cry from the litter.
"Oh crap!" Xena whispered to Gabrielle. "I know that bastard! Croesus is so corrupt that the only thing he wouldn't steal is a red hot stove! Take off that brooch and put it and the chakram in the bedroll. I don't want him to know about them." The Warrior Princess put her sword on her back and went out to meet the plutocrat. After doing what she was told to do, Gabrielle got her staff and stood ready.
"Croesus! What's a stinking rich slime like you doing on crummy island like this? And at dawn yet!" Looking for someone to bilk?" Xena asked, her tone dripping from contempt.
Stepping from the chair Croesus began: "Now, now Xena! What kind of manners is this to be so rude early in the morning. I'm an old friend of yours who just wants to talk business! I seem to recall that you used to be open to a good profit in the past!
Humm? I remember you could be pretty ruthless about it too. So why don't you give me a hearing eh? It would be more than worth your while!
"Oh yeah! and I can remember you buying out an entire nation and forcing the population into virtual slavery by forcing them to turn over their produce for free then selling the food back at such high prices that you gained control over them buy getting those poor people perpetually in debt! I remember too that your sutlers did the same thing to half of one of my armies, but you were clever enough to cover your tracks. If I could have proved that I would have just loved staring at your head on a pike!
"Yes? Oh I did that eh?" Croesus reposted "Was this when you had finished pillaging Thrace and half of Thessaly? Be that as it may, these recriminations are getting us nowhere. Will you entertain my offer or not?"
Xena was now very suspicious. Croesus was a coward. Her scare tactics would have spooked him in the past. Therefore he must have something; so with her war face on, she said to him: "Start talking. I'm listening."
Croesus started by saying: "I know for a fact that you have seen the Mighty God of Blacksmiths. Now don't deny it. I also know for a fact that you received two gifts from him."
Xena wasn't surprised. She knew of Croesus' obsession with Hephaestus, but she didn't expect that the existence of the chakram and the brooch would be discovered so soon. That meant trouble. She had to stall until she could figure out a plan to defend herself and Gabrielle from attempts to get the items. Xena kept a stone face and brazened out a denial: "Now where did you hear this little lie? I hold no truck with the gods nor will I do their bidding. Why should a god bother to give me anything? I'd only throw it back into his face."
"I know very well Xena that you got something from that god. Two things actually: a small, hoop like device that you use for hunting and a piece of jewelry. The hoop thing supposedly can kill animals unerringly, at night, over very long distances." "I'm not saying that you are right, but what would this 'thing' be worth to you if I had it?"
"One hundred thousand dinars for the hoop, and for the piece of jewelry fifteen thousand.'
Xena whistled. "That is a serious chunk of change Croesus, but you are chasing the wrong woman. I don't possess any such thing. Why don't you go hire Autolycus? He's a pro, so he might be very helpful."
"I urge you Xena" Croesus said in an oily tone. "Do reconsider this rather obvious evasion. This kind of lie will reap you a whirlwind of foul consequences. You know that I own nearly all of this island and everyone that lives on it.!' I wouldn't want to see you or your dependent over there, well---disturbed."
Xena's eyes flashed and her sword rasped out of its scabbard. She leveled its point towards Croesus' throat.
"I don't give a damn what you think I have." Xena snapped with a wicked grin on her exquisite face, "but if you come anywhere near Gabrielle, or me again for that matter, I will personally skin you, slit your gut, and have your liver with some fava beans! Do you read me?"
Croesus clicked his teeth: "Still using threats rather than listening to your self interest." said with supposedly sweet reasonableness. "Well, you will soon see your mistake." Without further comment the plutocrat turned and got back into his litter.
Xena turned, replaced her sword, and trotted back to Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, Croesus knows everything. We must have been watched last night. I was so distracted by the chakram that someone got close enough to hear us clearly. Whoever the spy was he must have been good because I didn't hear a thing" C'mon lets go see."
The pair started a search around their campsite and after a while Xena spotted what she was looking for---crushed grass and leaves.
"There were two men here." Xena grumped "The trail heads toward town. Now I talked about the night vision feature and you only called for the saw. At least we didn't give everything away. See Gabrielle, I'm not perfect by a long shot. I should have been much more careful to keep my mouth shut. As a result we have to stay on our toes. I'm sure that an attempt is going to be made to rob us."
Gabrielle looked very concerned and nodded vigorously.
Dupontus awoke from a very strange dream. In it all he saw was a pair of very large almond shaped eyes and he heard a deep feminine voice saying: "Sacrifice a goat and you will see me!"
In short order he did just that. He ordered his servant to get a young kid and he brought it to his shrine. Dupontus killed the goat offering it to the voice he heard. Before he realized what was happening he was on his face, prostrated to those same huge eyes that dominated his dream---forced there by a heavy, unseen hand.
"I am HERA! Listen to me and obey!"
"I will, but why come to me for I am not a priest of yours anymore?" Dupontus asked wailing.
"You were a priest of my son Hephaestus as well as myself, Hephaestus dishonors you, but I need you. Hephaestus has foolishly given the Warrior Princess, Xena, a weapon that a mortal can use to kill an immortal. This woman will not do my bidding, both from inclination, and that she is protected by another goddess whose power is so great I cannot punish Xena for her blasphemy. I need someone who is cunning and powerful enough among mortals to get this weapon and use it in my stead, for I intend to punish he who would degrade me by his philandering."
"Zeus!" Dupontus exclaimed.
"Yes! Only Croesus has the power among mortals to be my instrument. Convince him to acquire this 'chakram' and use it to destroy Zeus. If he does, he will eat Ambrosia and I will set him on the thrown of the gods and be his consort! You will become his high priest and the most powerful man in all of Hellas!"
"I hear mighty matron, and I will carry out your orders with pleasure!"
Xena was known for her ability to smell the enemy. In this case it was literally true! The two creeps that were following the Warrior Princess and Gabrielle fairly reeked of garlic and anchovies---pretty savory fare for a weekday noon. Xena had had enough; the idea of being followed didn't appeal to her at all, and these men possibly could be a source of information. Xena decided to break off her walk as ostentatiously as possible. In a loud, but natural sounding voice she said: "Go on Gabrielle, I have to go relieve myself. I'll catch up in a minute."
"Right! Have fun Xena!" This jocular reply from Gabrielle was only half in jest, for she knew from Xena's body language that someone was going to pay dearly for their impudence. Besides, the stench was so bad that she had smelled it herself. So Gabrielle surreptitiously slipped her staff from its bucket holster on Argo and continued up the road apparently on her merry way.
Xena rode a short way off the track towards a small thicket . There on top of a small embankment she found a large maple tree with a branch about ten feet in the air parallel to the road. When she was in position she jumped from Argo's back onto the limb and tied her whip to a branch that overhung the road. Here she waited and listened. From her vantage point she saw Gabrielle abandon the road as soon as she had rounded a corner. She had abandoned the road on the opposite side and begin to work her way back. "The girl was learning well" Xena thought to herself. Then she shook her head. Gabrielle was learning just as much by osmosis about being a warrior than Xena could have taught her. Xena slowly let out her breath. Like it or no, Gabrielle was learning the warrior's trade.
Finally, Xena saw her target. Two men; they didn't look like warriors for they had no armor. She did see one dagger and the other looked as if he might have had a small cudgel---nothing big. These guys were nothing more than back alley toughs. Seems as if Croesus didn't take her reputation too seriously, or the more likely possibility was that they were going after Gabrielle. That was the best strategy. Go after the weaker partner and then blackmail. Now was the time!
Xena jumped off of her tree limb ululating and yipping like a lunatic. She swung down on her whip and rammed into the two men as if she were the ball clobbering the pins in a game of skittles. Neither of the two men had any idea that the were about to be blasted. Xena let go of the whip, landed, rolled and came up in a fighting stance. The second man was still on his feet but wavering. A straight right to the face cured that condition. The first man had fallen but had gotten to his feet when with a high screech Gabrielle ran out of the trees and whacked him on the back of the neck with her staff, knocking him flat. "You're right Xena! Nothing like a good ambush to liven things up! I was bored to tears!" the Bard keened in glee.
"Yeah!" Xena agreed as she disarmed the miscreants. "Now to add insult to injury, get the water skin will ya Gabrielle?" Gabrielle did so. Xena pulled the cork off of it and then dumped the contents on the head of the second man who spluttered then started swearing. Xena then pulled him to his feet and made sure that he was conscious. Once she was satisfied that he was back to life, she asked: "Why are you following me?" The only reply was the man spitting in her face.
Xena wanted to kill him but she needed information more. She struck the man with quick taps of her fingers on both sides of the man's neck then said: "That woozy feeling you have is because you are dying. I've ended the flow of blood to your brain. You have twenty seconds for me to save your miserable ass. I'll let you die unless you answer my question. Why are you following me? "
But the man's eyes bugged out and he again spit in Xena's face. Then he twitched, gurgled and died.
"Damnit! What was that guy thinking about!" Xena garped, a hint of regret in her voice.
"Xena!" Gabrielle yelled. The other man had come to and took off.
Xena whirled and began to chase, but she stopped saying: "It probably wouldn't work on him either. They had to be both fanatics, drugged or under some magician's control. I don't like this at all." Croesus was grilling his priest: "The Goddess Hera told you directly that I was going to be her consort provided I kill Zeus?"
"Yes, my Lord! She said that to me!"
"Why didn't she come to me directly?"
"Only you can kill the King of the Gods! She cannot have left her traces on your soul! I am not to be with you my Lord Croesus when you do it!" Dupontus said. "I don't have the traits The Matron needs."
"I knew it! I am destined to greatness. It 's wonderful that the Queen of the Gods has finally recognized that. What am I to do? Dupontus?"
"First you need to get the weapon that Hephaestus gave to Xena. So, I will "Talk" to Lyesrada of Windward Cove, the woman who dealt with Xena over the cyclops, and make sure that the Lemnos innkeeper's son gets sick...."
A couple of days later, both Gabrielle and Xena felt as if their bellies were plastered against their backbones. They had tried fishing, hunting and all the other fieldcraft but food was just getting hard to find. The island was not the best agricultural land in the world. Xena, who was pretty good at living on rock soup, was starting to get pretty disgusted with both the island and the ship captain who was now a week late. It wouldn't be too much longer before they would be forced to beg, or start eating grass with Argo.
The pair were in a discussion about how hungry they were getting when they heard hoofbeats from two different directions. "What the Hades!?" Xena asked.
The riders were a man and a woman. The man was a short bald man with a shopkeeper's gut and lousy sit in the saddle. The woman Xena instantly recognized as the woman who had helped her in setting up the Cyclops that she had defeated earlier in the week.
Both were yelling at the top of their voices when they drew up in front of Xena and Gabrielle.
"All right, ALL RIGHT! One at a time Xena yelled!" You first mister.
"I don't need to talk to you . I need to talk to Gabrielle there!" Gabrielle got a quizzical look on her face for she knew the man to be the innkeeper who refused to book her into his inn.
The woman had an imploring look on her face, "Xena You must come back to Windward Cove, another Cyclops has come, and he is mad! He's not just eating the people he has been systematically destroying the village unless we give him more people to eat.!" Turning to Gabrielle, Xena asked: "Well?"
"The innkeeper here says that his son is sick and can't perform. He's just offered a weeks booking at 100 D a day!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "That is the richest booking I have gotten by far! I'd better take him up on it Xena, we're getting pretty desperate!"
"Yeah ok. Go ahead but stay alert. Take your staff. Ill be back as soon as I can. C'mon Lyesrada." Xena felt uneasy. This was too convenient. She had the feeling that the pair were being deliberately separated, but she had no proof. The woman had been very helpful and trustworthy in the past. Another thing, Cyclops usually are solitary creatures. They don't come in pairs very often. But, as she thought earlier, there was no reason to doubt Lyesrada. So Xena unhobbled Argo and mounted up while asking: "You got anything to eat with you?"
The innkeeper wouldn't shut up. Gabrielle was finding it annoying especially since she found riding behind the corpulent man uncomfortable as hell, so her mood wasn't too good when they finally arrived at the inn in Lemnos. The town seemed to be unusually quiet. The people in the canvas chairs were gone and there were no people to be seen on the street. It was late morning and Gabrielle figured that the town should be bustling. This started to make the Bard feel very lonely. "Take it easy Gabrielle, you're getting Xena's paranoia!" Gabrielle thought chiding herself.
"Well, here we are." Owner of the inn said and he sort of flowed off his horse's back. Gabrielle jumped down and followed . She had just passed through the doorway when she saw a blur of something coming from behind the door. It was a staff or club on its downward path and that was the last thing she saw as Gabrielle's vision exploded into red and yellow and then black.
It was getting near dark and the road to Windward Cove was winding and tree lined. The small repast of cheese and bread that Lyesrada had with her was barely adequate so Xena's stomach was complaining again. Xena thought that Lyesrada relatively pleasant company. She knew when to shut up. They were riding easily and were just before a left hand turn when Xena smelled something. Horse manure and a lot of it. Then garlic. She wondered to herself why everyone on this island loved garlic so much then shot a suspicious look at Lyesrada. Xena waved at her companion and held her finger in front of her lips. Lyesrada looked at the Warrior Princess utterly shocked. Xena had no time to do anything with her now, but she clearly was in on this.
Xena thought it odd that she didn't run.
All of Xena's senses went into maximum sensitivity. She urged Argo forward in a very slow walk and reached down and touched Hephaestus' chakram. Thinking 'night' and 'view' she threw the chakram which bounced off a tree and caromed around the corner. The remote sensing chakram revealed that there were at least fifteen heavily armed men some mounted, and most on foot blocking the road. Not only was there a large force on the road, but the chakram showed at least six hidden on either side of the road both in the landward woods and down an embankment on the seaward side also. It was clearly an ambush meant for her. Immediately, Xena knew what she had to do. When the chakram returned she switched to range, kill---no choice there were too many of them. She made the same throw as earlier and as soon as the chakram showed the group on the road she targeted the five men on horseback. The after it made its carom, the chakram altered course to make a sharp left turn and the flying ring neatly cut the throats of the horsemen in order. The strike was so swift and silent and the edge of the ring so sharp that the cuts were nearly painless. No sound of alarm or pain emanated from the men, they just slumped in their saddles.
When the chakram returned she executed the same shot again but this time thinking 'saw' and targeting the long pikes that the foot soldiers held. The chakram did exactly as ordered and the weapons were cut in half When that was done Xena spurred Argo into a gallop and headed for the men in the road. Argo was nervous. It was very dark now and the full moon that was due had yet to rise. But Xena urged her mount on gently, reassuring the mare that all was ok. The chakram revealed all. When the chakram returned she hung it on its accustomed hook and pulled her sword out of the scabbard. Fifty cubits out. Forty cubits, thirty, ten. Xena raised her sword over her head and ululated.
The men on the ground had found their buddies slumped dead on their horses and they all thought that a god had smote them where they sat. Then magically, their weapons disappeared; cut in half---useless. Then the sound of pounding hooves to their front was heard. The sergeant yelled at them to be still, but seemingly out of nowhere came a most awful sound that they had never heard before. Positive that the God of War himself was after them, they broke in panic. Xena was right behind them.
Xena was now lost in blood lust. She was doing the classic job of cavalry, running down a broken enemy. Standing tall in her stirrups, her great right arm rose and fell like a guillotine, a man being cut in half at every stroke. With every downward slash, a great grunt broke from the Warrior Princess' throat; she in yipped in ecstasy at every scream that every man who died left behind him. The Lioness of Amphipolis yelled at the fleeing men: "You never took on a lone woman before you miserable yellow bastards!? Run RUN you Sons o' Bitches! Your sons will remember this night!"
Looking behind and to either side, the screams of the dying infantry on the road had broken the men in the ambush who had never seen anything because of the night. Slewing Argo around, she saw a single man on his knees wounded and exhausted. Reining Argo in she jumped off and grabbed the man by his throat and hoisted him to his feet. His right arm had been severed at the shoulder, blood was pouring out of him. There was nothing Xena could do.
"Before you die, save your soul. Who were you after?" Xena demanded. "Xena, the Warrior Princess."
"Who hired you?"
"To get Xena's ring weapon."
"To trap her yappy partner!" and then the man slumped---dead.
"GABRIELLE! I knew it!" But Xena had other duty to do. She looked through the downed men but she had done her job too well. Out of twenty one men, she had killed eleven and only one was wounded. The rest ran. The wounded man had lost his left forearm and had enough wherewithal to tie it off with his sword belt saving his own life.
Xena went back to Argo and got a needle, catgut and leather ligatures as well as a bottle of tincture of opium she always carried from her saddlebag. She knelt down to talk to the man and to give him some comfort. This was hard for the man was terrified.
"Take it easy! I'm trying to help!" Xena told him.
"What are you a demon? You can see in the dark; I know it! I don't want to die!"
"You won't. That was a smart move you tying off this arm." Xena said, her blood lust forgotten. Her enemy was now a simple man in pain.
The chakram's night vision ability gave Xena a greatly detailed view of the man's wound. She ordered the man to drink half of the contents of the bottle of opium and waited until the drug to take effect. Then with a few quick taps to the man's chest and neck she deadened the nerves to his arm. Once that was done, she first looked for the big blood vessels and stitched them closed. With the dagger that she always kept razor sharp she cut the muscle away from the bone remaining below the elbow joint.
Xena worked the skin and muscle back from the severed bone until she reached the joint---only a couple of inches, and then cut away the joint. Once the bone had been removed she tucked the remaining muscle around the smooth end of the upper arm bone and stitched the skin tightly together with the leather twine making a good, clean stump. Once that was done, she relieved the accupressure anesthesia.
"Do you have any bandages?" Xena asked. The man did; Croesus made sure that these men were well equipped. Xena packed the end of the stump with medicinal herbs and then wrapped the stump in the cotton lint bandaging. Xena then told the wounded man to try to hold his arm over his head as much as possible or at the very least try to keep the stump elevated. She went around to the bodies and relieved them of their canteens and food. She kept some of the food for herself and gave the water and the rest of the food to the man. She went back to the now abandoned horses and got the man a blanket and she pulled him under a tree next to the road.
"Rest here for a couple of hours" Xena told him, "Drink lots of water and eat as much as you can. If the pain gets bad again, take no more than one small sip of this every now and then. You should be able to walk soon. Go back to the town you came from and get a healer to change the dressing. Your mercenary career is over, but you'll live to be a hundred."
"Thank you, thank you whoever you are."
"My name is Xena. Now get better. You now have a great story to tell your kids about the Demon who could see in the dark that took care of you after cutting off your arm. Good luck!"
Remounting Argo, Xena went back to where she left Lyesrada. She was expecting the woman to be gone, but the opposite was true. Lyesrada had fallen from her horse. Xena dismounted and examined her. Clearly she had been drugged or under some other
influence. Xena turned back to Argo and removed a small vial from her saddlebag. The little bottle contained a noxious potion that smelled to high heaven, useful for waking up unconscious people. Xena waived the bottle under her nose, and Lyesrada coughed, spluttered and woke up.
"Are you all right?" Xena asked.
"I think so. I have no idea what happened!"
"You look like you were drugged. Some kind of hypnotic. Who told you that a Cyclops was destroying the town? Xena you can see in the dark?" Lyesrada said amazed.
"Don't worry about that now. Who told you about the Cyclops?"
"Cyclops? Nobody told me about a Cyclops. You drove him off Xena! Wait, I was visited very early this morning by a man named Dupontus. He just came for a visit and introduced himself saying that he was moving into town. I offered him a cup of hot lemon water. Funny, I don't remember anything after that! You say that I came after you saying that the Cyclops was back? I'm confused."
"I know exactly what happened!" Xena said. "This Dupontus drugged your drink and ordered you to fetch me. He knew that you had arranged my dealing with the cyclops and that I would trust you. Then he had this ambush set up. The drugging would protect him from detection because you would have totally forgotten about him while still under his influence. There would no way I could have gotten you to talk. He was betting that I wouldn't survive the bushwhack. Well he was wrong."
"Oh gods! my head hurts!" Lyesrada moaned.
"You'll be ok. You just go home. I know what I have to do now. Take care and don't take in any more strangers before dawn!" Xena admonished. Then she leapt astride Argo and spurred her back to Lemnos.
Gabrielle awakened groggily only to find that she had been bound to a table arms closely cinched to her sides. Even worse, there was some kind of hard metal tubing down her throat. Terrified, she tried to scream but the sound wouldn't come. The tubing prevented it. Gabrielle's head hurt and she itched nearly everywhere. Then she heard a slimy voice, and as her vision cleared she saw the face that went with it---Croesus! Gabrielle glared at the plutocrat and any sign of her earlier panic disappeared. Xena had always told her that panic does nobody any good, least of all the one in trouble. She focused on listening carefully, maybe Xena might find something useful in getting this bastard.
"Well, Gabrielle---Yes, I know your name." Croesus smiled dangerously, "You are probably wondering why you are here and in this condition. I know you are the close friend of Xena . I also know that she has gotten a weapon from the Blacksmith God Hephaestus. I want you to tell me everything you know about this weapon, whether Hephaestus gave you or Xena anything else, and I want to know where these things are. The tube in your throat is copper. It is in your interest not to struggle because you could hurt yourself, and I wouldn't want you to hurt yourself."
Gabrielle glared at the man as hard as she could, but now lay stark still.
"The tube is going to carry a drug into your belly." Croesus continued , "Once it has taken hold you will tell me ALL that I want to know. You will be unable to resist its influence. Indeed you will find it MOST pleasant."
Gabrielle's eyes went wide in horror. "What will Xena say?" she thought over and over. Then she thought: "Xena will know I did my best. No matter what happens!"
Croesus oozed further while touching Gabrielle's face lightly: "You are such a pretty thing. I couldn't bear with any possibility of hurting you. You should be grateful to me. I could have had you tortured . But Xena has probably taught you how to resist torture and I don't have the time to waste with you. Besides, I don't want you all scarred up when Dupontus sacrifices you to Zeus. The god only likes perfect girls. I'm sure that when he sees you, he will grant me any favor I would like of him. This is exactly what I want. Zeus will be a sitting duck for the chakram, and I will become King of the Gods!! The man's arrogance dripped from his mouth. Then with a sudden change of tone of voice to cold ruthlessness , Croesus called out: "Dupontus! Proceed!" and he turned his back and walked out of the room.
Gabrielle knew the desperateness of the situation, and even Xena would turn to desperate measures when the conditions warranted. Gabrielle was a woman of reason, she rarely prayed, but she knew Hephaestus, and she knew him to be kind and honest, and the time was grave, so she opened her heart as much as she could and prayed: "Hephaestus! Hear my prayer! Croesus is going to kill your father with Xena's chakram! Oh Please help Xena stop them!!"
Another man came into Gabrielle's view. He was ugly but dressed in magnificent robes whose fabric was shot though with golden threads. He held a small bottle in his spidery hands. He looked old, burned out---almost half dead. He took out a small copper funnel from under his robes and inserted it into the tube coming from Gabrielle's mouth. After a moment the old man poured the contents of the bottle into the funnel, and Gabrielle felt it enter her stomach. Her belly immediately began to have a warm, wonderful feeling and in a few minutes a feeling of intense, relaxed bliss settled upon her. The man removed the funnel and very carefully removed the tube from Gabrielle's throat. The drug felt wonderful, wonderful! Gabrielle looked at the man as if he were some kind of god, she was becoming certain that she would do anything this fine man asked. For an instant however she saw a wavering image in her mind of Xena who smiled and beckoned to her. In a final momentary flash of lucidity, Gabrielle slurred out "Xena will make you pay..." just as she heard the first question...
Xena pushed Argo as hard as she could. The mare was very strong and had great endurance but she had been ridden hard all day---she was already tired before this headlong dash. Steam exploded from Argo's nostrils with every breath, and sweat lathered her withers. Xena felt terrible abusing her mount so badly but her best friend's life was on the line, and Xena had told her horse so. Xena couldn't be sure, but she thought that Argo pushed herself harder when the horse heard the news. Xena had to ride across country. The road was windy and followed an indirect route, it added miles to the trip. So Argo and Xena had to endure jumps, chuck holes rocks, tough slopes and you name any kind of obstacle, and they overcame them. When dawn came; Xena thought that the ride took forever, but eventually they reached the top of a small hill just east of Lemnos. "Great girl Argo, great girl! You did it!" Xena exclaimed rubbing her beloved palomino on her sweaty neck.
When the Warrior Princess looked up from her exhausted mount, she discovered to her absolute horror that Lemnos was now an armed camp. A quick assessment told Xena that at least a thousand men were camped in the town and a hastily constructed earthen birm had been thrown up around it. What trees there were around the town had been cut down and laid lengthwise on the top of the birm. Xena could see the sunlight glint off hundreds of polished bronze spearpoints. Embrasures had been spaced roughly one every twenty feet around the top of the log rampart. In each embrasure there was an armored man with a bow. Then she saw something that she had earnestly hoped that she would never see in her life. There were about ten women staked out spread eagled on wagon wheels laying on the birm---and one of them was Gabrielle. Quickly, she rode back down into the dead ground behind the hill.
After giving Argo all the water that remained in her water skins, Xena left her mare to graze for a while. She then crept up the side of hill and took a peek at the town. Militarily, the situation was clearly hopeless. There was no way that she could hit any of the men in the embrasures. Every approach to the town was covered . Xena thought a more detailed reconnaissance was necessary, so she took out the chakram, thought 'view' and threw it towards the town. The first thing she examined through the chakram was Gabrielle; The bard seemed to be moving slowly but otherwise fine. Fortunately, the other women looked unharmed too. They were just tied to the wagon wheels. All of them were clothed and none looked like they had been beaten. When the chakram crossed the birm it revealed that there was at least a troop of cavalry and a large wagon train in the center of town. Only one man could have marshaled such a force in such a hurry. Croesus must have stripped the island of all of its military manpower to set this camp up. There had to be a lot of VERY rich town chiefs on the island now. A lot of the men she now saw had to have extremely heavy purses as well. The only possible way of saving all those women was to bluff things out. Xena fervently hoped that Croesus would let her talk to Gabrielle.
As the chakram returned it saw that several people had seen it and pointed. A commotion started in the town. Xena was now certain that Croesus knew that she was here. Since there was no time like the present, she calmly walked over the brow of the hill and towards the fortified town.
The walk was about one hundred yards long, and as soon as she crested the hill a commotion started on the battlements. Ram's horns started bellowing, drums beating and a large bell started sounding. Xena could see men running along the entire length of the battlement and what looked to be hundreds of glittering arrowheads could be seen pointing at her. Xena was not deterred; she walked upright and proud despite her fatigue. Gabrielle saw this performance and marveled. It seemed to the Bard as if Xena's very presence demanded that all eyes be upon her. Gabrielle began to call but Xena made a barely noticeable motion with her hand towards her. The Bard knew it as one of the hand signals that Xena and she had agreed to in the previous weeks. it meant "play along." Steadily the Warrior Princess approached the birm, and Gabrielle wondered if Xena might someday be able to breach a wall with a look.
Because of a sudden sound to the right everyone that was staked out turned their heads and saw Croesus himself approaching in his litter surrounded by fifty heavily armed infantrymen. The plutocrat looked at Xena with a look of both extreme surprise and utter disgust. It was if he couldn't believe someone's incompetence. The look gave him away. Xena now knew for certain that the tycoon had been the man responsible for the ambush outside Windward Cove. However, Xena kept a straight face.
"Ahh! Xena!" Croesus exclaimed, "I see you have changed your mind and decided to negotiate with me! I knew that you couldn't possibly be so stupid as to miss out on such an opportunity." Xena looked at Croesus with ill disguised contempt and amusement. "Well Croesus, did you have all of this built just for me? It seems a mite excessive for a threat made up of a lone woman." "Well, these are dangerous times. A man must protect his interests. Now what can I do for you?" Croesus had resumed his customary oily manner.
"You know why I'm here. What do you want to release these women?" Xena asked firmly.
"You know very well what I want." Croesus pointed at the chakram on Xena's right hip. "As well as anything else that you have made by Hephaestus' hands."
"And if I don't sell?"
"I'll just have the women killed, one by one, until you do. Starting with your friend here." Croesus poked his thumb over his shoulder towards the Bard.
"She's not my friend." Xena said with a blank look on her face. "I own her. She's indentured to me. She's useful. Anyway, Croesus you have a deal." Xena turned and put two fingers into her mouth and emitted a long, shrill whistle. In a few moments, Argo came loping over the hill towards her mistress.
"Oh that's good, I'll keep her then!" She interests me. "She's very intelligent for a mere servant, and very pretty. I have something in mind for her."
Croesus disgusted Xena. Every fiber in her body wanted to behead the bastard slowly with the saw edge of the chakram, but not an iota of those feelings showed in the Warrior Princess' face. Argo arrived sliding to a halt next to her mistress. Xena then turned and opened the compartment in the saddle under the horn that she used only for the most valuable of her possessions. She reached in, pulled out Gabrielle's brooch and then handed it to Croesus.
"OHH! This is just fabulous It is clearly the work of Hephaestus!" Croesus purred. He flipped the brooch over and looked at the back. Under the inscription, Croesus looked for and found the hallmark of the god, a single highly stylized letter sigma.
Xena then took the chakram off its hook on her hip and flipped the weapon to Croesus, who examined it with the care that he had lavished on the brooch. He looked admiringly on the inlay work. He hefted the weapon clearly impressed with its lightness. Then to Xena's shock he said 'saw' and the edge transformed to the requested condition. "Amazing!" Croesus exclaimed. He then looked at a tree some distance away and said 'range' and his face went white; although he clearly knew what to expect, actually seeing the range display in his head still shocked him. "Three hundred and eighty two cubits away! Astounding!" He said clearly in awe.
Croesus then turned to one of the men who toted his litter. "Get the box!" he ordered. The man reached into the sedan chair and brought a very sizable heavy wooden box. Its hardware was made out of very thick iron. The man set it down at Xena's feet.
Taking out a large brass key, he opened the box which proved to be full to the brim with gold coins.
"That is one hundred thousand dinars, Xena. Enjoy it!"
"Thank you very much!" Xena sneered. Why did you give me all that gold. You didn't have to throw that in! I greatly appreciate it. Would you mind having some of your men make a travois and hook it to my horse so I can take the money?"
"We may be doing business again and I want to keep our good will. Call it an incentive!"
Croesus turned and yelled to his escort platoon. "Sergeant, do what the Warrior Princess asks! Corporal, release all the women except this one!" He bellowed pointing at Gabrielle. Xena turned to him glaring in shock.
"Why didn't you release Gabrielle? I thought we had a deal!" Xena struggled to keep from killing the plutocrat.
"Just insurance in seeing your back when you leave. She will be released when you are gone. Now take your money and go."
"I'd like to say good bye to Gabrielle first. We've been together a long time."
"Of course Xena, anything to satisfy a customer!" Croesus then walked away from the pair.
Xena walked over to the Bard who had been listening to the proceedings very carefully. "Sorry I had to sell you out, Gabrielle, it was the only way I could assure surprise when I hit'im later." Xena whispered. "How did he find out the chakram's functions?"
Gabrielle's face was full of regret when she whispered: "I'm so sorry Xena! They drugged me! I couldn't help myself! I told them everything!"
"Don't worry about it. They drugged Lyesrada to get me to separate from you. She led me into another failed ambush." Xena smirked. "Croesus has a master apothecary working for him."
"I've met him. His name is Dupontus." Gabrielle said.
Xena nodded curtly. "That was the guy that slipped the mickey to Lyesrada"
"He's a priest of Hera and Hephaestus too. Xena, we have a bigger problem than me. Much bigger."
Xena raised an eyebrow.
"Croesus intends to kill ZEUS!"
Xena raised the eyebrow even higher.
"The King of the Gods, Xena! That 's why he wants the chakram! I over heard them talking, when I was faking that I hadn't yet recovered from the drug. Dupontus said that Hera is setting up the situation for Croesus. Hera has offered to feed Croesus ambrosia and make him King of the Gods in Zeus' stead! Hera is going to do something to Zeus to keep him distracted so Croesus can throw the chakram and kill him! You already know the reason. Xena, you have to get the chakram back, don't worry about me!"
Xena struggled to contain her shock. "Ok, stay cool, and play along. I'll figure out something. I don't like the way Croesus looks at you. If you get raped, there is no loss of honor, and I can take care of it."
"I'm not worried about that Xena; when I was faking being out, they examined me to check my virginity. I heard the words sacrifice and deception plan. I hope your plan is a good one." Gabrielle had a very fervent look on her face.
Croesus started back towards them. "What are you two talking about? Old times?"
Xena turned and replied. "Gabrielle was in charge of much of my personal affairs, she was giving me names and addresses of my creditors. There are a lot of them. I'm done now." Xena showed Gabrielle a hand signal, which was her thumb and index finger forming a circle and her three remaining fingers outstretched. Gabrielle glowered, a professional to the end.
Argo had had the travois harnessed to her by now and Xena mounted up. Once she was astride her mare she looked at Gabrielle and showed her a hand signal. Xena had formed a ring from her thumb and index finger and extended her three remaining fingers. She made a motion with her hand as if she were sweeping her black hair away from her face when she made the gesture. Gabrielle's eyes lit up. It was the signal for everything will be ok. Xena gave a seemingly hearty wave to Croesus and she rode off up the hill from whence she came.
Xena knew that she had a hell of a problem. The chakram could be thrown by a strong man almost one thousand cubits, and the seeing range of the weapon at night was at least a mile in diameter. Every heat source within that range would be detected. She knew that there had to be someone on the battlements of Lemnos throwing that chakram continuously. The obvious thing to do was to cover her body heat by something else that was living. She rode Argo away from Lemnos searching hard for such cover. Then she saw it. It was a herd of sheep in a pasture which adjoined the main road about half a mile west of Lemnos. Fortunately for her, there was a small stream near the pasture and a lot of fig trees around. At least she would eat. There was a grove of trees behind the pasture that might provide a bit of cover. The canopy of leaves was very thick.
So, after taking a very circuitous route to the woods behind the pasture, the Warrior Princess took care of Argo, buried and marked the chest of gold, ate and drank a little, and waited for night. She constantly looked up and scanned the sky with her eyes for a glint of silver. She listened for the soft, telltale whine of the chakram. She never saw or heard it. Could Croesus be so stupid as to not use it? "I doubt it!" Xena muttered. She moved near he edge of the woods and waited until a sheep came close to the edge of the wood. Without leaving the trees, she lashed out with a length of rope, lassoed the unfortunate animal, hauled it in, and killed it. She then skinned it making sure that the skin of the legs was kept as intact as possible.
Draping the skin, which still had the head attached, over her head, she inserted her arms and legs into the arms and legs of the skin like sleeves. Xena hoped that this would distribute her body heat so that she would look like a sheep to the chakram. Next came the long, long crawl to the edge of the road. She hoped this stake out wasn't going to last too long, because she was going to smell really ripe in short order. Nevertheless, she was willing to wait for her chance to slip into the town for as long as it took.
Dupontus went into the great hall in Croesus house in Lemnos and addressed his employer. Croesus perked up his head to listen saying: "Well?" "My Matron Hera has come to me in a dream. She has said that if we sacrifice a bull and offer Zeus a live virgin."
"How soon can we have the altar set up?" Croesus asked.
"Tomorrow night. I have already chosen the site. It is not far away."
"Good Dupontus. See to it." the plutocrat ordered.
Xena had been right. She did begin to stink to high heaven, and she had to slaughter another sheep to keep from gagging, but her patience paid off, and as usual she was very lucky. The following morning, a major convoy began to assemble in the village.
From what she could see from the top of a tree next to the road with her entire body covered with leaves for camouflage. The column was also headed up the road in her direction. If the convoy had headed east, well, she had thought, she was totally screwed. It was possible that this movement of troops was either a diversion, or a separate detail for another purpose. Xena waited to see what happened next. She soon had her answer. The column was indeed headed west with a company of infantryman in the lead. As the first troops began to pass her tree, she spotted in the distance what had to be Croesus' sedan chair, and there was a wagon just behind the litter with something standing upright upon it. After a few minutes, she could see what it was.
It was Gabrielle still spreadeagled on the wagon wheel.
"The slimy bastard!" Xena muttered to herself.
The road made a sharp left hand bend about an eighth of a mile west of her treetop position. Xena waited for the last soldiers to pass and then she jumped out of the tree, stripped off her leafy camouflage down to the sheepskin she still wore, and in a crouch she scurried along a stone wall that separated the field from the road until she reached the apex of the bend of the road. There she waited for the last man to pass. Slipping into the column was going to be tough but it was the only thing she could do. Once again Xena got a break. From the column she heard "Sarge, I got to GO for Gods sakes!"
"All right! All RIGHT! You should have gone in town, but fall out and do your business!"
There was a moderately large tree at the corner and Xena, who knew her men VERY well, hid right behind it. The man crossed in front of the tree headed for the side of the tree farthest from the retreating column. The soldier was just about to unhitch his belt when his head snapped up in shock. He had heard:
"Sorry, but this stall is taken!"
A straight right to the nose from Xena followed immediately. Instantly, the man was knocked back onto the tree unconscious. Xena relieved him of his trousers, tunic and helmet , and stripped off the sheep skin. She put the articles on and then jogged to catch up to the column. When she arrived she waved at the sergeant and fell in as the last person in line.
The march took most of the day. In late afternoon, Xena arrived in a huge clearing on the top of a high hill in which a group of engineers had erected what appeared to be a large altar. The altarpiece was up on a wooden plinth, and the entire area was surrounded by a circle of Ionian columns that were made of cheap plaster. Just in front of the plinth was a series of braziers and torches and a large circular sand pit surrounded by logs. Clearly, this was to be a sacrificial ground. Just outside the ring of columns there was pen made up of split rail fencing. In the pen there were several huge bulls. Xena thought that these bulls were to be sacrificed to Zeus. The poor animals were part of the plan to deceive the King of the Gods once Hera had distracted him.
Xena looked around for cover and found it. About ten yards to her right, there was a small gully about five feet deep, at the bottom of which was a shallow, swift running stream. This stream bed went past the circle of columns and missed them by only about twenty feet. It looked to Xena to be only about twenty yards from the center of the plinth to the stream. Things could not have gone more perfectly! This position provided excellent cover and a superb position to strike when necessary. She slipped out of the column, jumped into the gully and lay down in the stream, which not only felt good after a long march, but would cover her heat signature should someone use the chakram for reconnaissance also. She pulled off her stolen clothing and tore up some of the abundant rushes and brush around her to make a quick camouflage cover. There she waited for things to start happening. The camouflage wasn't much, but she had been very lucky already. Xena didn't believe in Tyche the Goddess of Luck, but sometimes....
Croesus and Dupontus rode side by side in their litter. "You are certain that you have done everything that Hera has asked of us Dupontus. Everything is in readiness?" Croesus demanded of his defrocked priest.
"Yes my lord Croesus, my Matron Hera is very pleased. With her support we cannot fail!"
"I knew it! Years ago.." Croesus pontificated. "I knew that it was my destiny to be a God! I accumulated all the wealth of the world to achieve that end. Someone with my abilities deserves, nay DEMANDS that he be worshipped. The universe has not used me to my full potential. Fools like Xena refuse to see that potential. They do not have MY vision!"
"Yes My lord!" Dupontus said. "The chakram that Hephaestus foolishly gave to Xena will assure the great growth the world will under go under your leadership!" Dupontus smiled at his boss with a death's head grin. He knew that his boss's first act as King of the Gods was to feed him ambrosia and turn HIM into a god!
"Make sure that you have Xena's former servant bathed and prepared for the ceremony Dupontus. She will be a worthy concubine to me when this is all over. She will father the first of my divine progeny! She is of high intelligence and great spirit! Her sons will help me shape the earth in my image!" Croesus declared awash in his own arrogance.
"But what of Xena, my lord?" Will she not interfere to liberate her friend?"
"Gabrielle is Xena's servant, not her friend. I'm sure she doesn't give a damn about nobody but herself!" Croesus proclaimed exquisitely sure of himself. "I know these warlord types. Those stories about Xena becoming selfless are total BS.! Warlords are nearly as greedy as me! Xena will not bother us again! I'm positive!"
Gabrielle was getting cold stretched out on the wagon wheel. The trip on the wagon was very hard on her, jostling her mercilessly, but she was in an odd way content. Xena was on her trail and she was sure to come up with a plan. Xena had to be the greatest tactician the world had ever seen. Gabrielle was convinced things would work out. "Look at the bright side." She said to herself. "I'm going to meet Zeus!" Gabrielle had also learned something from Xena---always have a fall back plan. So she continued to pray long and hard for Hephaestus to help her friend out.
When Gabrielle's wagon finally arrived at the altar site she was cut down from the wheel and escorted under heavy guard to a huge tent where a large wooden bathtub dominated the interior space. Several women bathed her and then anointed her in rich perfume, and precious oils. Her long, strawberry blonde hair was plaited and wrapped around her head and a crown of baby's breath was placed upon it too. Finally, she was dressed in a chiton of the finest Persian silk and decked out in what seemed to be tons of gold jewelry.
"If I'm gonna die, this isn't a bad way to go out I suppose." She said to herself. When her ablutions were completed, she was led out of the tent and seated on a marble bench just in front of the sand circle in front of the altar.
That evening, Xena realized that the balloon was about to go up. She had moved stealthily up the gully so that she was in a good position to see the proceedings. Gabrielle was there, looking as beautiful as Xena had ever seen her. "Shame she's going to get mussed up!" Xena thought to herself. Xena could have bailed her out of there a long time ago, but the plan was to save Zeus and get the chakram back. Finally, Croesus and someone that Xena took to be Dupontus arrived. They both spoke to Gabrielle, and Croesus must have said something highly offensive because Gabrielle spit in is face! "Gutsy move Gabrielle!" Xena thought half smiling and half cringing. Croesus wasn't disturbed however, and he walked off seemingly in a good mood. In a few seconds Xena lost sight of him for he went behind one of the pillars. Xena figured that there were about twenty five armed men in the immediate vicinity. As Xena had hoped, Croesus had lowered his guard.
Dupontus walked up onto the plinth which was awash in golden firelight. Dancers in bright costumes swirled about in artistic ecstasy as drums pounded and a guida wailed its strange song. Dupontus, in a magnificent silver robe dropped to his knees imploring the King of the Gods to take the gifts that he now offered. One by one the bulls were led out of the pen and ritually slaughtered by Dupontus. Each carcass was dragged off by oxen and yoke to be butchered and fed to the troops in the camp. "What a waste! Xena thought to herself. That food could have fed the villages that had been preyed upon by the Cyclops that she had defeated. Croesus had still not appeared. What could have happened to him?
The drums were now hammering as loudly as Xena had ever heard. Dupontus was clearly in some kind of trance. He was yelling and begging Zeus to send a sign and just as the music came to a dramatic peak, Dupontus yelled at the top of his voice: "Oh Father! Take this virgin to your bosom as your bride! Love is the hallmark of your reign! Zeus, Thunderer, creator of all around us show us your fecundity! Take this virgin and save the mortal universe!"
Just as that final sentence rang away, the sky erupted into sheets of lightning. Thunder hammered in great rolls. The lightning filled the arena with shimmering blue white light. That light was so bright that the images of all that was in the arena began to waver and shake, and to Xena's awed shock, a man, at least seven feet tall appeared, standing on the plinth. He glowed in the same colors as the lightning, but he was not what Xena expected Zeus to be, he was not handsome or even distinguished looking. He looked older than any of the legends of the god depicted him. He looked kind of pathetic. The King of the Gods walked down the steps to the plinth and headed for Gabrielle, who sat transfixed in awe.
"This is a great tribute to me!" Zeus said, "Beauty will beget beauty eh, and all will be well! The bulls you have sacrificed has made me strong beyond understanding, and ready once again to spread my seed on the world of mortals!" So this is the beauteous creature you offer me as a bed mate. Looking for all the world like a dirty old man, Zeus reached out and caressed Gabrielle's face!
Gabrielle was broken out of her awed reverie. She jumped to her feet in front of the God and screeched right into his face: "ZEUS ITS A TRICK! CROESUS IS GOING TO KILL YOU!! LISTEN TO ME MY LORD ITS A TRICK!!! CROESUS WANTS YOUR THRONE!!"
Just at that moment, a door opened in a pillar on the opposite side of the arena. Croesus emerged, and he had the chakram in his hand!
Xena exploded out of her cover and ran like Hades towards the plinth ululating and screaming like some monster from Tartarus. The guards stood there in dumb shock, and Xena threw a shoulder block into the first unfortunate soldier that stood in her way.
"PLEASE MY LORD LOOK UP! CROESUS HAS A WEAPON MADE BY HEPHAESTUS!" Gabrielle yelled now jumping up and down as often as she could. Dupontus had come down from the plinth and was about to strike her and Gabrielle stopped him by a quick kick to the groin.
Zeus had heard the commotion finally, he looked up and saw Xena, sword drawn, running as hard as she could towards Croesus but she had ten yards to cover and the richest man in the world already had the ring by his ear prepared to throw it. Xena started bellowing the name of Zeus as loud as she could as she started to beat off the guards that had intercepted her. The Warrior Princess used all of her super-mortal abilities, leaping and twisting through the air. She kicked like a windmill making bodies fly. Her sword flashed sending body parts tumbling to the ground. But it was too late! She couldn't get to Croesus for Croesus had already thrown the chakram. Its whine shattered the air in the chaos.
A Miracle happened. A voice popped into Xena's head! It was unmistakable! It was HEPHAESTUS' voice. The voice roared: "XENA SAY OVERRIDE 241, RETURN! REPEAT OVERRIDE 241 RETURN!"
Xena yelled at the top of her voice "OVERRIDE 241, RETURN. OVERRIDE 241, RETURN! To Xena's shock the range display for the chakram popped into her field of view. She had acquired control of the weapon!!
The chakram was whining directly for Zeus' throat, when it entered a hard right bank and whistled right between Gabrielle's and Zeus's faces. The hot wind of the weapon hit the face of the King of the Gods, and the lecherous look that was there vanished into shock and puzzlement. Gabrielle, totally lost in the situation, grabbed the god by the face and shook him while yelling: "CROESUS IS TRYING TO KILL YOU!!! Finally the spell Hera had placed upon him evaporated and the God's ability to read people's hearts returned to him. He stood and looked up directly at Croesus. Who stood in complete shock and disbelief.
"YOU HAVE TRIED TO ASSASSINATE THE KING OF THE GODS AND TAKE HIS PLACE! YOU SNIVELING TINY MORTAL. YOU WILL PAY FOR YOUR ARROGANCE, CROESUS!"
Zeus grew to over thirty feet tall and his visage became the terrible handsomeness that all the legends had ascribed to him. The fighting stopped. All the guards that were fighting stopped, turned, and fled. Xena saw the chakram returning and caught it, returning it to its hook on her belt.
As Xena and Gabrielle watched blue white lightning formed all over Zeus's huge body. His hair stood straight up on end. He reached his right hand up into the air and made a sweeping throwing motion at Croesus. In that instant a bolt of lightning shot from his fingertips, struck Croesus full in the chest and incinerated him. Looking about he saw his next target Dupontus. The priest of Hera had long known that he was next and he was already on horseback riding hell for leather away from the altar.
But it did Dupontus no good. Zeus's lightning bolt hit him square in the back and he suffered the same fate as his employer.
His rage subsided, Zeus returned to his smaller size and looked directly at Xena who, as always when she met a god, stood her ground.
"You are the woman who saved my life! You have something you shouldn't have I think, that round thing on your hip. It is clearly made by my son. I will punish him for giving such a weapon to a mortal."
Gabrielle piped up. "Please my Lord, don't punish Hephaestus! I heard him speak to Xena. It is He that saved your life, but He had to do it though someone else because you have banished him. He had no intent to harm you but only give a gift to someone he admired for doing good!" Gabrielle put her hand on Xena's shoulder. Xena stood even more upright than usual.
"Oh yes! Xena the Warrior Princess! Friend of my son Hercules and beloved of Ares!"
At that announcement Xena cringed slightly.
Zeus chuckled: "Do not worry Xena you are already smarter and tougher than he is. You are favored by another immortal but I cannot tell you who. It is not my place. And you little one, Gabrielle isn't it? Do you know who arranged this little show?' "Hera my Lord!" Gabrielle replied.
"I knew it! That bitch will pay!" The King of the Gods growled. "Xena, you are incredibly brave and caring and I will watch you with interest from now on. Indeed if you were a little less tough, I might have considered being your partner, but I think softness is more becoming on a woman. I will have to talk about that with Hephaestus, when he returns to Olympus. Gabrielle, I think I have plans for you later on. You keep your virginity for now. Xena, I must insist you return that "round killing thing" to my son. It is too dangerous for mortals to hold."
"Certainly Lord Thunderer!" Xena agreed. She knew if she kept the chakram, not only would that piss off Zeus, the god she could least afford to anger, but the attempts to steal it would never end.
"I obey you as well, my lord Thunderer!" Gabrielle stated. Then she asked: "My Lord do not hurt the people who were working for Croesus. They didn't know they were involved in the attempt on your life. If you can, help the ones that were injured by him."
"I will little one, if they merit it. So!" Zeus made a large sweeping gesture with his hands and miraculously, one of the Golden Women on an automobile appeared. "Enjoy your trip Xena and Gabrielle. Tell Hephaestus I am happy with him!" Zeus then simply disappeared.
Xena turned to the Golden Woman and asked: "Hi Which one are you?"
"I'm Alpha, Xena of Thrace, I am pleased to see you again!"
Xena smiled and said: "Goldie, you have no idea how happy I am to see you!"
Both Xena and Gabrielle mounted up on Alpha's automobile, and they were off to the workshop in the volcano.
* * * *
"I am very sorry that the weapon brought you so much trouble Xena. I know you acted as wisely as possible, but mortals are too greedy, dangerous and unready for anything like that chakram yet." Hephaestus stated sadly.
Xena handed the ring over to the Blacksmith God and said: "It was wonderful Hephaestus, but it made my job too easy! I like my work. It made me feel like I was sitting behind a desk. Look and another enemy bites the dust. I love being good at what I do!"
"I understand that Xena, so here." Hephaestus reached under his workbench and pulled out a brand new chakram. One side had the lapis lazuli inlays as the god's first gift but on the opposite side was the range markings and blue stones of the one that Xena had lost. It weighed as much as her lost chakram did and the edge was sharpened on opposite quadrants just as the lost one was. "Thank you very much Hephaestus! Its lovely!"
"Its made out of something called stainless steel." The God of Technical Innovation and Manufacture said. "Actually there is more nickel in it than iron, so it won't rust. It is just as strong as the old one you lost and has the same flight characteristics. And there is nothing on it to link it with me, only you will know." The god reached down and pulled two more identical chakrams from his workbench and handed them to Xena, who looked at the god surprised and pleased. "These are in case the little redhead here gets too sprightly. You can't stop it forever Xena you're going to have to teach her how to use it!"
"I know Hephaestus. I know." Xena looked resigned to her fate.
"As for you little girl," Hephaestus said to Gabrielle, "Here. To replace the one Xena had to sell. I'm sure your first one is lost for ever. You deserve it. Your praying to me gave me back my home. Zeus wants me back on Olympus ASAP I'm going to wait though. I don't want to be there when and if Hera gets it." The gift was another brooch, if anything more exquisite, but rather than having diamonds and rubies on it, The brooch had topazes and opals on it. The inscription was identical too, but without the God's signature. The brooch was less valuable on its face but the gold and silver of which it was made was worked with infinite care, and the stones were polished perfection. There was no hallmark.
Gabrielle bent and kissed the handicapped God on his cheek. "Thank you Hephaestus, for everything!"
Hephaestus waved Xena and Gabrielle away and returned to his work, but Gabrielle thought that she saw a hint of a tear in the god's eye, and the Bard's heart went out to her immortal friend.
A golden woman led the pair to the really big automobile and while Xena and Gabrielle rode in the back, she drove the vehicle to the wood where Xena left Argo and the gold. Both the horse and the gold were loaded onto the vehicle and Xena then had the chauffeur drive first to Lemnos to pay for the damage done to the town by Croesus' army, and then up to Windward Cove to pay for the damage done to the town by the cyclops. The rest of the gold was given to the poor in both towns and a bit was kept to pay the boat fare to Athens. The boat had finally arrived at Lemnos.
On the boat, the Bard turned to her friend and said: "Greed, in all its aspects can be terrible Xena! If only there were a way to stop it!"
"We can try Gabrielle. We can try!" The Warrior Princess exclaimed, her resolve stronger than ever.