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Xena, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the series Xena: Warrior Princess, are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are my property. Please do not use my characters without my consent.
All works remain the © copyright of the original author.
This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story. If one is fortunate enough to love, then theirs is a greater garden within.
Webster describes Quondam as " that which once was" This story takes place sometime after If The Shoe Fits. I welcome all comments and can be reached at email@example.com
The Quondam Stone
|Chapter 1-3||Chapter 4-6|
They had purposely awakened a couple of candlemarks before dawn and used the moonlight to guide them into the city. Upon arriving at the docks the women stayed out of sight. The three adventurers waited until the sacrificial boat was on its way before they, themselves, left for the island.
After the two women were seated, Xena untied the boat from the dock, pushed it away from the pier and jumped in. The sail was raised and soon they were under way. It was a pleasant morning with an easy breeze that pushed them along. The sun was coming up over the horizon and everyone was in good spirits. As they neared the island, a layer of mist hung to the surface of the water about a third of a league around the landmass. The mist engulfed the entire island and presented itself as a warning or deterrent to anyone who approached it.
Legend was written that the Cyclops guarded The Key of Two Doors. Eudocia said it would take that which was two but one to steal it and return it to the place known as the Temple of Hades on Mount Psiloreitis. Xena wasn't quite sure what the Cretin meant by that statement.
The Island was primarily rock, with sparse vegetation and a few trees that looked like they had survived from the prehistoric era. A spring fed stream ran from somewhere toward the center of the island to the shoreline and emptied into the sea. Understanding the Cyclops's ravenous appetite explained why the three women did not see any wildlife other than birds.
The Cyclops was not in the immediate area so they decided to go ashore. They landed the boat away from where the creature would come down to the beach for the offerings that the town brought and they stayed low until the sacrificial boat left Gavdos. Xena needed to locate the hiding place of the Key of Two Doors. She figured that it would be near to where the Cyclops slept and that meant working their way into its lair. She turned around toward the Bard and began to speak but as her mouth started to open Gabrielle said quietly, "Listen, I'm in this all the way and I will not be told to stay with the boat or hide behind a rock or whatever. Am I clear Xena!"
Xena nodded with a half smile and knelt down. The other two followed her lead and joined her.
"I want to work my way around the main route Koprio takes to the waters edge and see if I can get a look at how things are and what our best approach would be. You two stay here and I'll be back in a candlemark. If not, then do not come looking for me. Promise me you won't," Xena pleaded.
"Consider me gone, get off of the island and back to Crete. Eudocia, do I have your word that you will return Gabrielle to her family if something happens to me? Not that I expect anything to happen but I want to ease my mind." Xena explained in a serious tone.
Gabrielle reached out and squeezed the Warriors forearm in an understanding manner. The Cretin Warrior nodded an affirmative and Xena was gone.
As the Warrior worked her way up the trail of the small mountain, she came across the remains of sheep. There were bones, heads and fleece scattered everywhere on the trail.
Xena thought, Sloppy eater.
The Warrior tried to stay above the trail by climbing the rocks that paralleled it, however, there were places where she had to jeopardize her safety and take the trail for short distances. She made the turn at one of these spots on the route and froze in her tracks. Looking up and over the rocks up ahead she could see Koprio. He was an ugly and vicious Cyclops, condemned to spend the remainder of his days guarding the Key of Two Doors. The gods made it so he could leave the island only in the face of starvation and thus the town kept its end of the bargain by feeding the creature and keeping it content.
Xena moved in for a closer look as she crept along the boulders on the trail. They had fallen from the cliffs on either side over time and gave some cover. The Cyclops lifted its head, looked around and sniffed the air. It let out a low growl and moved down the trail toward Xena. The creature had to be five horses high. It kept peering at the ground, to the left then to the right. Xena located a fissure in the wall of the cliff and slid her body in as far as she could.
"Smell flesh," the Cyclops said aloud. "Human flesh!"
The creature was naked except for a loincloth and a tremendous amount of hair all over it. It was far from human and yet it had two arms, two legs, one head and one great gray eye. It was extremely filthy, it stunk and yet it had a great sense of smell.
Xena had the advantage because the Cyclops was somewhat slow in its reaction time. When it passed by her position, she ran further up the trail to check out whatever she could find. The Cyclops continued to growl and search for what he thought he smelled. After awhile he turned and headed back towards his cave.
The Warrior had just reached the cave entrance and was almost sick from the smell that it emitted. The stream that her two companions and she had found earlier actually ran out of the cave. It took a turn and ran straight into the cliff, disappearing underground, apparently coming out further below.
She hesitated, looked around and finally entered into a place no human had ever seen and stayed alive to tell the about. There was a pond in the middle of the cave floor where the spring originated. As Xena glanced around, she saw decayed meat, bones and other remains strewn around the living quarters. Xena looked further and figured the height of the creature would give clue to where the Key might be hid. She searched with her eyes over the rocky walls in the cave and found several holes in the surface that could be a place to hide such an item. Looking for a hand and foothold, Xena began her climb upwards. She scaled the wall and found an opening that would have been a nice size cave for her and Gabrielle had it been somewhere else. She climbed in and began to look around when she heard the Cyclops.
"WOMAN! I Smell Woman." The creature screamed in an angry voice.
Xena ducked back out of sight as the Cyclops entered its domain and looked around. It tossed large boulders in anger and searched all the little places a normal sized human could hide reaching around and between the cracks and fissures. Then it turned its head upward but in the direction opposite of where Xena was hiding. The Warrior had to react quickly or she would be trapped if found.
As the creature felt around in the openings across the cave from Xena, she looked down into the pond and saw something that looked like it could be a chest.
The gift of vision, Xena thought.
She immediately dove into the water from the opening trying to enter without a splash. The warrior went down under the surface equivalent to the height of four men and worked at the rusty hasp on the chest with her breast dagger. It finally opened and there was the Key of two Doors. The key was as long as the Warriors arm from wrist to elbow and weighed about twice as much as the Chakram.
Xena slipped the key into her belt and began to rise to the surface. The Warrior swam to the right, dodging the large hand and arm of the Cyclops. Panicking as she looked around under the water Xena found a small opening in the wall that she swam into but her lunges were ready to burst. As she swam up the length of the opening and out of the reach of Koprio, she came to a large pocket of air where she could raise her head above the water. She gasped the precious air she needed to stay alive. Xena could feel the thunderous pounding from above as the Cyclops banged its fist into the cave floor.
It had picked the chest out of the pond and found it empty, crushing it like an empty shell.
It cried out, "Ahhhh! Woman.....I shall devour you........YOU will NEVER leave!"
Then it returned its arm to the water and felt around with no success. After a time the creature was puzzled.
Did I miss her and she escaped, it thought.
The Cyclops stood up and began to pace, looking into the water and back at the cave entrance. Finally, it made a decision to search outside, screaming in anger as it left.
"Ahhhh! I will kill this thief!"
Xena could hear the footsteps fading as the Cyclops left. She took her chance and swam to the surface. Her next move was a surprise as she heard Gabrielle call to her from the ceiling of the cave. Looking down at Xena was the Bard and Eudocia. They had found their way above the cave to a hole that would let the smoke out when the Cyclops made a fire. They motioned for the Warrior and she began to climb her way up the side of the cave. When she reached the highest point she could climb, the Cyclops returned and fixed his eye on her.
Graahhhh! WOMAN!!! I shall kill you....by eating you ALIVE!
Eudocia dropped a rope through the smoke hole and it was still too short for Xena to grab. Time was running out, as the creature reached for the Warrior. Just then, Xena made her war cry, "YiYiYiYiYiYi!" and doing a forward flip, snagged the rope and climb upward just out of the reach of the Cyclops.
The creature grabbed at the Warrior but missed, looked towards the cave entrance and headed out of it in quick pursuit.
Xena scrambled through the hole and shouted, "I thought I told you both to wait! Thanks for not listening. Now, let's move it! I don't feel like being dinner!"
The trio ran to a path that Eudocia had found on the way up to the top of the mountain and headed back down, as quickly as they could. The Cyclops hadn't found their trail yet but he was up above the cave and looking desperately for Xena. He spotted the footprints left behind by the women and bellowed at the sky. Beginning his decent with wild abandon, picking up boulders and tossing them down the mountainside the Cyclopes was crazed with anger and blind rage. The gods would punish him beyond belief if lost the key.
As the three women emptied back onto the original trail that Xena had followed to the lair, the warrior stopped and told Eudocia to tie the rope to a large boulder on one side. Xena took the other end and tied it to another boulder on the far side of the trail then ran it back so it was doubled. There was little time as they all ran further down and waited in plain sight of Koprio. He came thundering down the mountain to the place were the two trails met and even though the rope broke when he tripped over it, the hesitation was enough to get him to fall, smashing his head against the boulders and rocks in front of him. The Cretin drew her sword as the Cyclops hit its head on the boulders and she plunged her weapon deep into the creature's neck, spilling its blood across the trail. He moved slightly and it was over.
Gabrielle turned to Eudocia and said, "thank you for helping me. I wouldn't have been able to do it alone."
The Cretin Warrior replied by saying, "It is what I was trained for by the Guardian. I was happy to assist you Gabrielle." Then she walked up and hugged the Bard much to Xena's surprise. Gabrielle received the hug but moved back when it was over glancing in the direction of Xena who looked miffed.
"Are you two finished?" the Warrior asked obnoxiously. "If so, let's get out of here."
Xena kept looking at Gabrielle on the way back to the boat. She could not believe that what she just saw was innocent. The Warriors mind was going as fast as a horse on a gallop.
The Cretin Warrior and the Bard got in and Xena pushed the boat off of shore as they headed back to Crete with the first of four challenges completed.
Xena was thinking, perhaps one of the challenges is Eudocia trying to steal my Gabrielle away. I don't know what I would do if I were to lose her.
The Warrior Princess continued to look ahead toward Crete because she felt that if she looked at Gabrielle at this moment she would lose a tear or two from those piercing blue eyes of hers. That would not do in front of mixed company. There was a light wind on the single sail and they would make Sougia before dark.
Gabrielle didn't really want to go into any of what happened in front of Eudocia. So, deciding to wait until they were by themselves, she would try to explain that which really didn't need explaining, when time permitted.
A candlemark later, the boat pulled up to the dock and the three women disappeared into the night. Xena rubbed the hook her Chakram hung on and thought about how she really missed her unique weapon.
One step closer to my Chakram and one less Cyclops in this world. Not a bad day really!
They found an inn on a dark deserted street. They went inside for a couple of cups of wine to settle themselves with the day's events and to discuss their next move. Finding a place to sleep seemed to be in order, so they left the unknown inn and traveled toward a busier part of town for lodging. Xena asked Eudocia to stay at the same place with her and Gabrielle. She felt it might help to take the uncomfortable feelings they were all having away
Eudocia hesitated for a candleflick of a flame, then agreed to stay at the inn for the night.
"Let me explain myself to you, please." And the Cretin began her story as they walked. "I have never slept in a structure, an inn or house you know. As I told you the other day, the Guardian raised me. I cannot remember my beginnings. I only remember from a time when I was very small. I was taught the way of the warrior and that was my only direction in life. When my instructions in the way of the warrior were complete, a task would be asked of me. One I could not refuse, as this was to be my destiny."
"I lived in a cave located in the mountains, which was quite comfortable to me for I new no other way. My Guardian took care of me, very well. I was taught to center myself through meditation, that I would be one with the stars as well as one with the land. This was perfected in me to a level that would bless me with glimpses of the future. I am only given a little at a time for one must not have the map of their life to dwell upon. Many things were given to me in the way of teachings and all for one reason. I was groomed to be your guide and assist you in any way I can. I slept in a cave or under the stars but never in a structure. So, if this pleases you, then I shall stay here." She concluded.
Xena had a look of bewilderment while Gabrielle's mouth hung open while she attempted to absorb all she had just heard.
Finally, Xena said, "You will stay in a room with us this night."
"Yes!" Agreed Gabrielle. "We are your friends."
The Cretin smiled, as if this made her happy.
They found an inn, a sanctuary for the night. This tightened the bond between them and it was needed for what lie ahead. The room was set up with two beds and there was really no thought given to the sleeping arrangements. Xena climbed into bed and Gabrielle joined her but what they did not expect was what happened next. Eudocia relieved herself of her clothing and climbed into bed with the Warrior and the Bard. At first they were quite startled but when the Cretin curled up behind Xena with her lover on the other side, Xena could only think, how innocent...how pure.
The Bard thought, there might be a problem developing here.
The next morning was spent in preparation for the second leg of the journey with the Cretin. Eudocia meditated for a candlemark and drifted into a deeper state for half of a candlemark. When she returned to the present, she had more information that she shared with the other two women.
The journey was to continue to the north near the Chasm of the Dead. There was a temple dedicated to Hades. Within this temple were many passages. One passage would lead to the Room of Two Doors.
The horses were packed with supplies and as they headed out of the town of Sougia, Xena pondered on what the future held for the three of them. Eudocia led the way and she did something that was completely out of character. She began to hum a strange tune as she rode along the trail. Gabrielle looked up at her and said, "That's a very pretty melody. Do you know the words Eudocia?"
"I'm not really sure if there are any words. My Guardian only hummed the song to me."
The Cretin asked Xena, "Do you sing, Warrior?"
Gabrielle looked up at Xena and the Warrior Princess quietly said, "Yes," as she thought to herself and then spoke again.
"I sing a song of mourning ........ When those that have touched my heart, have died."
"Would you sing for me Xena?" The Cretin asked.
"Maybe someday but not today," the Warrior replied.
They needed to reach the temple sometime early the next day. It was too far to reach in one day for they would get there after dark and the way was tricky. The Cretin explained that behind one door was a map to the Heart of Stone. She went on to tell them that in her vision, she saw twelve warriors who slept. They would remain asleep unless they were disturbed by someone's mistaken move.
The lore is that no one who has ever entered Hades temple has left, for the temptation to remove even the smallest piece of treasure will result in death. Xena asked Eudocia if she knew which door to choose from what she saw in her vision.
The Cretin replied, "That was not given to me, Xena."
Gabrielle wondered aloud, "That means we have only half a chance on being right!"
"Either way we will make it work, my love," Xena assured her companion.
The temple was about four candlemarks ahead and its location was common knowledge to the area inhabitants. In fact, based on what was known of the temple, very few if any visited it. It was not a place for prayer and adoration. Passing along the Chasm of the Dead was difficult enough. The temple stood part way up on Mount Psiloreitis.
The going was slow, partly because it was up hill and the terrain was rich with vegetation. This appealed to Xena because it kept them paced and slowed them enough to keep from rushing into any situation. The Bard was also very helpful with the ability to think things through rather than being rash and rushing into things. This had shown in their relationship for many seasons and became a helpful tool for Xena.
They stopped at a fast moving stream to fill the waterskins, breaking to rest and eat something. Gabrielle started a fire and put some water on to boil for herbal tea. She had a mixture of ginseng and ginkgo to help them with endurance, when they were on the trail. Today she flavored it with a couple mint leaves.
Xena went up stream with Eudocia following, to see if she could find an area where the water pooled and some fish could be caught. After a quarter candlemark had passed, they found just what they were looking for. The ground leveled out for awhile and a small pond had been formed. Xena removed her sword, boots and armor. She moved slowly into the pond trying not to disturb the water. Her hands slipped quietly under the surface and she waited for the first fish.
While Xena was in deep concentration, she did not see the Cretin remove her weapons, leathers and boots. She stood on the bank and called to the Warrior in a little more than a whisper, "Xena! Xena, do you think I'm beautiful?"
Xena dropped the fish she had just caught back into the pond and her mouth hung open in disbelief. The Cretin was a magnificent woman physically and this Xena had all ready observed on the beach but she was taken by surprise. The Warrior Princess looked into Eudocia's eyes and she knew there was a problem.
"What? Eudocia! You need to put your clothes back on!" Xena said with a cracked voice.
"Is there something wrong with me?" The Cretin asked.
"No! Not at all!" Xena shot back.
"I want you to make love to me Xena. I need you too!"
Xena stepped out of the pond saying, "I can't do that Eudocia! I belong to someone else!"
"Is it the scar?" Eudocia asked with great concern.
"No! You are not mine and I am not yours. I belong to Gabrielle." Xena explained and then she continued to say, "The scar adds character to who you are, not that you needed any enhancements. But understand that you are more than just your covering, your skin. Tell me, how did you come by it?"
"I was young, maybe seventeen winters. I was very trusting back then. Two men and a woman were wandering in the area that I lived. They told me they were lost and needed guidance. When my guard was down they attacked me and the woman cut me out of jealousy while the other two held my arms."
Xena reached out saying, "How awful!"
"No matter. They paid the ultimate price." Eudocia replied with iced eyes. Then her focus returned to the moment.
"Yes, I know! I know that you and Gabrielle are one. I also know that I am three summers older than she and I have never been with anyone in my life."
The Cretin Warrior raised her voice slightly, "I will never be with anyone unless you or Gabrielle make love to me!"
"What? What is it you mean to say woman?" Xena said with much agitation.
"I have seen my death. It will come while I'm with you at your side. I am not angry with this nor do I wish to change my destiny. To do this is an honor. This is what I was groomed for. I knew it would end this way when the Guardian explained it to me many, many seasons ago. I still made my choice even after I saw this in my own minds eye." She explained.
Xena was stunned. She walked up to this woman who was her equal as a fighting tool of perfection, still, she was so inexperienced as a human being. Here stood a woman that begged to have her needs met, who wanted to taste the fulfillment of passion, something Xena knew too well. As she looked into the Cretin's eyes she knew what she had been told was all true.
Xena moved slowly, slipping off her leathers and stood naked in front of Eudocia. She moved closer and placed her hands on the woman's shoulders and kissed her softly on the cheek. Xena looked up, backing away and said, "I can't! I just can't."
Gabrielle had gotten worried and decided to look for the two. She came up to the edge of the pond and asked indignantly, "What the Tartarus is going on?"
"Oh! By the gods! Athena help me!" Xena cried out looking towards the sky. Xena started, "Gabrielle. Let me ex......."
"No Xena, let me explain it to her." Eudocia went through it all over again for the sake of the Bard. When she was finished the Bard had tears in her eyes. Gabrielle looked to Xena for an answer but there was none to give.
"I've asked too much," the Cretin mumbled, looking dejected and began to put her breeches and leathers back on. She returned to the campsite with Gabrielle while Xena resumed fishing. The Warrior Princess felt they needed to stay in camp the rest of the night so there was time to regroup.
Although the fish were tasty, Xena and Gabrielle somehow overlooked them as they were left swimming in a sea of thought. The Cretin was throwing her knives at a stump trying to keep her skills sharp. She was out of range to hear the conversation that transpired.
"Do it Xena! Just do it for her." The Bard commanded.
"No! I won't! If you feel that strong about it, you do it!"
Xena then got her bedroll and got ready to say goodnight. She gave the Bard a quick peck on the lips and lay down. The other two followed a little later.
About halfway through the night when the moon was high in the sky, Xena woke to the sound of voices. She heard Gabrielle talking to Eudocia and explaining why it was not possible for either of them to make love to the Cretin.
"As much as we want to help you Eudocia, we feel that it would be a betrayal of our love to each other even though we feel deeply about the pain you are in," The Bard shared.
"I love Xena too much! She is my life and the other half of my soul. I cannot blemish what we have today nor do I believe she can."
Xena thought, My Bard, I love her so much. Her wisdom always amazes me. A better soul never lived. Perhaps things won't turn out like Eudocia believes they will. Perhaps the gods will send her a love of her own.
Xena rolled over and fell asleep with a tear in her eye for her love of Gabrielle and the sadness she felt for Eudocia.
When the Warrior and the Bard rose at the beginning of the dawn, they noticed that the Cretin was up and meditating a little ways away from the camp. They did not disturb her but pulled up camp and waited in case there were further instructions. She had been extremely accurate up to this point. Gabrielle had been very intrigued by the Cretins meditation practices and was looking forward to picking her brain on this topic. Something deep within sparked the Bards curiosity of these things.
Eudocia joined the two and had a broad smile on her face.
"I have been given more to tell you my friends." She said.
"You have past the second challenge."
The two adventurers looked at each other and back at the Cretin rather puzzled at her remark.
" I went into my meditation period this morning and I was troubled by how I conducted myself with both of you with my dilemma yesterday. It was brought to my enlightenment when I reached a transient state, that your second challenge was to resist the temptation to help me with my sexual fulfillment and not jeopardize your relationship with each other. We can go now."
"Wait! Just a minute!" Xena screamed. "You mean to tell me that this was all a put on?"
"No my friend. I was very sincere and knew nothing of this challenge. If anything, I was used as a test and need to ask to be forgiven for my bitterness toward that which deceived me. I found it very cruel to work my emotions to such a state, however, for the conclusion it will bring, I humble myself in the face of spirit." Eudocia said with remorse.
Gabrielle looking much sadder than the day before began to walk the trail toward the Chasm of the Dead.
A candlemark from when they left camp, the trail began to change from the lush vegetation that was beaming with wildlife to a bleak landscape of gray rock and little growth. As the trail climbed, the ground along side of it began to drop off. It became so narrow of a trail that the horses had to be walked for fear of falling into the abyss. The stone and shale fell into the depths even under the careful placement of boots and horse hooves. There was volcanic activity below as black smoke and ash rose toward the surface and burned the eyes of the seekers. The sweat poured down each woman's body as they crossed through this area. As the trail turned they were able to see the molten lava beneath them. To slip and fall was certain death.
There was a bridge that crossed a large fissure. The molten lava flowed through it like a burning river. The aged bridge was constructed of rope, with wood planks that were tied in place for the walking surface. Xena told Argo and Eudocia's horse to go back and knew the horses would stay in the green area beyond where the warning was posted. There they could feed until the three of them returned.
Although the bridge appeared to be safe, the three women proceeded with caution, one at a time. Eudocia led the way, stepping carefully on each board. She kept a tight grip the rope hand guides as she ventured forward. When she was about three-quarters of the way across the bridge, Gabrielle began her journey. She moved with the same level of caution, as did the Cretin.
Just before she made it to the halfway point, a board that was dried out and brittle snapped in two, causing Gabrielle to slip.
"Help me Xena, I'm slipping!"
The Bard hung on for dear life as Xena started her approach to help her. Carefully, the Warrior moved closer.
"Hang on Gabrielle!" Xena shouted.
Eudocia waited on the other side. It made no sense to add her weight to the bridge. Xena got to the Bard and pulled her back up, getting her on both feet. Then Xena sent her ahead so they could disperse the weight of the two of them. When the Bard got to the other side and the Warrior was just about off of the bridge, Gabrielle shouted, "My staff! I left my staff on the bridge!"
Ephiny had given Gabrielle the staff, so it held a special place in her heart. Xena knew this or she would have never gone back to get it.
"There you go." Xena said with a smile.
The only thing the smile concealed was Xena's concern about returning over the bridge on the way back.
The trail took another turn in the opposite direction and started to open up. Slowly the terrain changed back to what it had been further down the mountain. The greenery returned, along with the sound of songbirds and the occasional sighting of a rabbit or squirrel.
A large rock bore the message, WHO EVER TREADS HERE, TEMPTS FATE
Xena read the message, then scanned the area and moved on. They reached the temple and it was something of a vision out of paradise, with flowers, trees and vegetation everywhere. There were statues of the wildlife that lived in the surrounding area. They appeared to be a tribute to the fauna. Each side of the temple had a different looking entrance and all were open with no doors visible. The walls were covered with vines and there was a fountain in the middle of the temple. This place did not appear, as one would have expected it to be. The gold and jewels were there to tempt the weak. There were chests, large bowls and urns overflowing with temptation in the form of jewels, adornments; gold coins and weapons fashioned with a king's ransom. The place was very beautiful and not desolate, as was the trek to the entrance.
"Gabrielle, be careful not to touch anything. This place could be a trap in a pretty package." The Warrior explained. Xena entered one of the long, open corridors examining the walls as she stepped carefully around areas of the floor she did not care for. The Cretin shadowed the Bard as she walked up the other side of the same corridor. Nothing seemed amiss, nothing happened. Everything was just too peaceful.
They reached the center where the fountain was spouting water about the height of two horses in the air. They looked with their eyes before they moved and still there was nothing. The beautiful statues of the woodland creatures captivated Gabrielle. They were six times larger than life but so lifelike. Xena turned her head just as Gabrielle touched a Lynx and shouted, "Don't!"
It was too late as the statue came alive and turned into a crazed warrior that sported the head of a Lynx but the body of a human being. This thing looked like it was delivered from Dahok himself. The monster wielded a two-headed axe, its body was covered in black leather and it hissed like a cat as it tried to cut the Bard in half. She hit the ground and rolled out of the way, dodging the blow.
Eudocia side flipped into the air throwing and depositing both of her daggers into the beast's chest. It ran straight in her direction screaming in agony while trying to reach the Cretin. Xena ran up behind the creature and drove her sword into its back. It reared, thrusting its arms back and dropped the axe on the floor. Xena pulled the sword from it and the creature fell to the ground dead.
"Gabrielle! Are you all right!" Xena called in fear.
The Bard got to her feet, picked up her staff and kept saying, "Stupid! Stupid! I'm so ........"
"Foolish?" Xena finished for her. "Foolish will work as long as you're all right!"
Eudocia retrieved her knives, cleaned them on the creature's leather and slipped them back into their sheaths.
"Thank you, my friend." Gabrielle expressed, with the touch of her hand on the Cretins forearm.
The woman bowed her head and turned to Xena to see what their next move was to be. Xena had spotted something just before the action started. As she started down the second passage she noticed, that on the opposite wall there was something beneath the vines. She motioned the Cretin Warrior to guard the way in the direction of the fountain while she crossed toward the wall in question.
Gabrielle went two horse lengths down the hall but stayed away from the statue of the large snake. There were two statues in every hall and three remained in the courtyard near the fountain. There was a squirrel, a rabbit and an owl in the center. Along with the snake was a fish down at the end of the corridor. The first hall had a deer and a fox. The last two halls had not been checked out to see what statue guarded it, so it still remained a mystery.
They were all quite aware what would happen if another statue would be touched. What they did not know was they had started a chain reaction that could not be stopped.
Xena got to the wall and started to cut the vines away with her sword, revealing one door. She had the Key of Two Doors on her back, tied to the backside of her scabbard. The lock was as old as old could be. She looked but did not touch anything. Then she began to clear more of the vegetation away, using her weapon. She finally discovered the second door. Both doors looked as if they hid the secrets to life itself. The doors were not side by side as she thought they might be but there were eight paces between the doors.
"How is it coming Xena?" The Bard asked without letting her eyes shift from the direction the hall in front of her.
"Come over here, both of you. I need your help in deciding." The Warrior commanded.
They both backed up from the corridors where they were standing guard until they could see the two doors. They were absolutely identical.
"Oh no! You're not going to make one of us choose because if we are wrong, I'll have to live with the I Told You So's for the rest of my life." The Bard rattled on.
"That's only if we live through this." Xena responded
As they were talking, the creature that was within the rabbits' statue came to life. It jumped high into the air heading right for Xena with a spear in its hands. It too took on the appearance of the statue it came from, except its eyes were red with hate and it showed its razor sharp teeth. The Warrior Princess back flipped to the other wall while she yelled her Warrior cry, "AYiYiYiYiYi!"
Gabrielle swung her staff, deflecting the spear as it was thrust at her. The Cretin forward flipped at the creature and kicked it in the back as she landed. As it turned, it grazed the Cretin across the forearm with the spear. Xena and her sword were flying through the air and she buried her blade into the side of the creature. The Cretin pulled her sword, running it through and the rabbit-headed monstrosity dropped to its knees and fell over dead.
"We need to hurry before the next one awakes!" Xena said with urgency.
"Which door Gabrielle?"
"The Right, no....the Right! Do the right door." The Bard insisted.
Xena pulled the Key out, looked down at it and at both of her friends, then inserted the Key into the door turning the lock. She pulled on the handle as hard as she could and the door began to swing open.
"The gods laugh at us! There is nothing here but a blank wall," Xena screamed.
About then, they heard the other creatures coming alive. Xena side flipped to the other door, placed the key in the lock, turned and opened. There, in a small hole in the wall was the Map of Agia Eirini, which would guide them to the Heart of Stone. She reached in, grabbed the map then turned and ran to assist the Bard and the Cretin. The Bard was fighting the creature that was part snake. It hissed and lunged at her in an attempt to bite the Bard. She was losing ground when the Cretin came to her aid. Eudocia threw one dagger and it stuck right in the eye of the enemy. Gabrielle took out its legs with her staff and the creature landed on the floor. Eudocia finished it off with her sword. These creatures were hideous being part human, part animal and twice as dangerous.
Xena was engaged with another foe that was part wolf but was armed with two swords. At the same time the creature that was part squirrel attacked her and she cut off the flow of blood to its brain and said, "Sorry! I don't want to know anything from you!"
Xena returned to the wolf, separating it from one of its swords and the Cretin dropped it from behind with a thrust of her sword.
They all ran down the hall in an attempt to escape the remainder of the adversaries but a few were still in pursuit.
Eudocia fought magnificently as she hacked and cut the enemy to pieces. She took out the fish creature single handedly and was engaged in battle with the half owl when she was run through the side. She held on to the spear and stuck her other dagger through the beaked creature's chest, killing it.
Eudocia pulled the spear out but took no time to worry. The Cretin ran to catch up to Xena and her Bard, who were fighting the foxman armed with a mace and axe. Xena was working him over when the creature that had the head of a deer shot an arrow that was headed straight for the Warrior Princess.
Eudocia threw herself in the arrows' path, stopping it from finding Xena. It went through her back, in the vicinity of her heart. Gabrielle ran over and held her in her arms as Xena finished the fox-headed creature. The Warrior then picked up Eudocia's sword throwing it and sinking it into the chest of the buck. The creature fell to the floor, eliminated forever.
The creatures that remained hid themselves well out of fear and did not show themselves again. Xena walked over to the Bard and the dying Eudocia.
"Xena! You have but t.to ....read th...map. You.....will ma ke it. This I have seen." The Cretin struggled. "W..will....you...sing....f.for ......me ...Xena?"
She grabbed the Bards halter with her hand clenched tight in pain and said, "I love you ... Both."
And she was gone.
"Hades! It didn't have to be this way!" Xena screamed at the sky.
Hades, the god of the underworld never responded to Xena's cry. He knew that what had come to pass with Eudocia was meant to be. It could end no other way. It was not in his power to interfere with destiny.
Xena took the body from Gabrielle and moved out of the temple area. The Warrior then carried Eudocia's body until they got to the bridge, where she set her down so she could concentrate on the Bard. She sent Gabrielle over first, then lifted the body of the Cretin in her arms and moved with extreme caution across the failing structure. Her steps were slow and methodical. She could hear the added stress on the boards under her feet as they creaked and moaned. Eight more steps and Xena was to the other edge of the fissure. Argo was waiting patiently, as if the horse knew she would be needed.
She laid the warrior over the saddle and secured her. The Warrior led the return, as there was no other way out of the boxed ravine and walked Argo out along the narrow trail. Gabrielle followed leading Eudocia's horse by the reigns. When they reached the area just beyond the entrance to the Chasm of the Dead, they prepared a grave and buried the Cretin
Xena walked back to the chasm with Gabrielle close behind and stood at the edge. She paused for a long time looking out over the isolated area, then began to sing her song. This was an especially sad moment for both women, as they had grown attached to this very different soul. As Xena sang, a steady stream of tears poured down her face. Her Bard stood next to her, hand on Xena's shoulder and wept bitterly.
After awhile the two walked back to the horses and could not talk. Gabrielle took the saddle off of the Cretin's horse and released him to the wild. She still preferred to walk. As they left the area of Mount Psiloreitis, they moved south toward the Agia Eirini and what would be the final challenge to obtain the Heart of Stone. Three challenges had been met but the cost was much too high price to lose such a soul.
Xena and Gabrielle wanted to put as much distance as they could between the temple and themselves. The hurt they were experiencing would take much time to heal. Not only did they suffer a great loss but also both, each in their own minds, wrestled with afterthoughts of denying the Cretin her request to lose her virginity. In their hearts, each knew they made the right decision but it hurt anyway.
They continued to travel into the early evening before they set up camp. Gabrielle brought out some apples, while Xena got the jerky and bread that remained. Both were too tired to go hunting or fishing but Xena took a little time to set a couple snares with the intentions of picking up a rabbit or two for tomorrow.
The Warrior thought, Normal size rabbits, please!
The adventurers were at a point of frustration and Xena, for one, began to wonder if this quest was all worth it. Was the death of Eudocia worth the cost of regaining the Chakram? This was a question that weighed heavily on the Warrior. Still, there was something at work here that was greater than anything that the two of them had encountered in their travels. It was told to them that the love they had and their quest for doing good was the reason that they were singled out for this. The reunion of the Heart of Stone with the Quondam or host was a task that had been carefully thought out over a period of thousands of seasons and could only happen when all the players had arrived at the crossroads of time.
Gabrielle started a fire and they settled down around it. Xena brought out the whetstone and worked on sharpening the edge of her sword. The Bard was content to look into the flames as they danced over the burning embers. Some time passed and Gabrielle moved closer to Xena saying, "Hold me, will you? I'm cold, sad and I need your touch."
Xena smiled softly and raised her arm in the form of an invitation for her lover to come to her. Gabrielle moved into position and they held each other as they both watched the burning embers.
"I miss her Xena. She would have been a good friend. I would have helped her become an Amazon. Her skills, her way would have been a wonderful asset to us all."
There was the Chasm of the Dead and beyond, a picture of the temple. The trail continued away from the chasm and on a southern route. They were headed in the right direction but they needed to veer northwest from the looks of it.
One more challenge ahead or so the two of them hoped. Had they known at the beginning, what would take place maybe they wouldn't have come on the quest. What was it that Eudocia said? Gabrielle thought, something about not being able to see too far ahead in ones life.
The Agia Eirini was a great gorge that had been talked about over the years as a place of the unknown. There were stories that Xena had heard seasons before that strange people lived in the cliffs. They were never seen or told about so there wasn't a description of them but they were there. They were almost invisible; in fact, it was said that their form was so elusive that it was like it was without form.
It would be sometime before they would get to the area and it appeared from the map, that there would be a tremendous climb up the wall of the gorge. The Heart was indicated on the map as being up high and tucked away in a crevice in the rock face. There were some words written on the bottom of the map that read, ONLY THE GODS LOOK DOWN ON THE EAGLE WITH HEART.
It was a pleasant day, as they made their way through the forest. The sound of water running filled their ears and the sound was getting closer as the moved down the path they were on.
"Xena!" The Bard called in a soft guarded speech. "I think I hear voices! It sounds like children but there are no villages up here. Are there?"
"None that I've heard of."
"Shhhhh! I hear them too!" The Warrior countered.
They approached very cautiously and moved through a thick grouping of bushes. When they came out on the other side, they were standing near a hot springs and there were three pools that emptied into a stream. But that isn't what widened their eyes! It was the six Pigmy Amazons that were bathing in the waters and lying on the smooth rocks basking in the sun.
When the Pigmy's looked up and saw the Bard and the Warrior, the alarm was sounded. Within twenty beats of the heart there were as many more Amazon Pigmy's, armed and aiming at the two with drawn bows. Immediately, Xena and Gabrielle gave the sign of peace by putting their hands together over their heads.
"They know the sign! Lower your weapons." A tiny voice shouted out.
"Who are you and how did you find your way here?" A Pigmy with dark hair asked.
She held a staff like Gabrielle's but much shorter in length and was dressed in miniature leathers and boots. She was well proportioned and very pretty, as were all of the Pigmy Amazons. The majority of the women were no shorter than eleven hands and a few were as tall as twelve maybe fourteen hands at best.
"My name is Xena and this is Gabrielle." The Warrior explained.
"How is it that you know the Amazon sign for peace." The dark hair questioned.
"I am an Amazon Queen!" Gabrielle spoke up with great authority.
Gabrielle showed the feather grouping that she carried in her bag and they all knelt on one knee as she held it high.
A beautiful redhead with alabaster skin approached from behind a couple of other Amazons and said, "I am Queen here. I am Queen Clytia. My sisters and I welcome you both. We have heard stories about the Warrior Princess. We have also heard stories of one whom became Queen in the north, by right of cast. A great storyteller with a greater heart it was told! Come! Let us celebrate this meeting!" The tiny Queen shouted.
The Amazon women cheered and they all walked toward the village, which was a short distance on the other side of the hot springs. Food was prepared and wine flowed free. There was music, drums and dancing. Xena and Gabrielle were filled with joy at the timing of this pleasant happening. After all of the things they had been through just recently, this was a medicine they were in desperate need of.
The village was well organized and there was a population of about two hundred. They had a large vegetable garden and the forest was full of a variety of game. Theirs was a self-contained world. They had stayed in seclusion for many, many seasons and that was one of the main reasons they had not become extinct. For the most part, they were very comfortable with each other for any relationship and there were those relationships that lasted a lifetime.
The way of the Amazon was not the way most societies were accustomed to, so when they mated with a man it was for the sole purpose of rejuvenating the tribe. Babies of the male gender were given to the father. This was understood before any mating was agreed upon. This was the way of the Pigmy Amazons.
Xena and Gabrielle felt like they had found a home away from home. There was a peace that filled their hearts and the burden of what had taken place thus far, could be put to rest for awhile.
The festivities carried on far into the night. There was much lovemaking going on openly and it began to raise the temperatures of Gabrielle and Xena. The Queen came over with a special drink for the two visitors. This was something she said would bring them to a new place. The wine loosened their inhibitions and so they both indulged in the aphrodisiac.
The drums began at a slow deliberate beat. Twelve Amazon Pigmies started with one foot forward, then the other while their legs were spaced somewhat apart. Their faces were impassive without smiles but beautiful in their sullen looks as they swayed to the rhythm. They all moved in unison as they rolled their heads from side to side. Some of their eyes were closed in deep concentration, while others focused on an imaginary focal point somewhere in the distance.
Two Amazons played the mandoures with a suggestive melody that glided through the air and accented the drums. The eroticism began to increase as the women danced in a large circle around the fire. Music filled the air and the dancing aroused their bodies. Gabrielle was coaxed by two Amazons to join in and dance with them. At first she was a bit apprehensive but as the music touched her soul she became lost in the rhythm.
The Amazon Pigmies removed their halters and began to shake their breasts to the beat of the drums. Gabrielle was completely engulfed in the moment and joined them. Her hands reached up and squeezed both breasts as she danced in front of Xena. The Warrior was wet and deeply aroused by this display of sexuality that her lover presented to her.
As Gabrielle danced her temperature started to rise. She became hot and her body spoke of love as it too ran wet with desire. Drums pounding in her head and the magic of the elixir heightening that which was already on the rise, made her wanting and ready. She danced in front of Xena rubbing her hands up and down her body with sultry moves that brought out the animal in her. Xena could not take her eyes from the spectacle of these half naked women dancing around her lover as she led them in the seduction. The dance continued and the women turned back to back, moving to the beat then they faced each other. Soon they moved closer and when they were within touching distance suggestively rubbed their breasts against their partner while moving their necks around each other from side to side. Xena realized her hand was on her mound, as she worked her fingers over the sensitive nerve endings.
She stood up and took Gabrielle by the hand, leading her to the hot springs. Several of the Queens warriors guarded the perimeter to insure their privacy. Xena took her clothes off then turned to her lover and removed the skirt and boots. They crushed their lips against each other as they both burned from within. Their centers were wet and swollen. Gabrielle dropped to her knees next to the pool and used her hands to open Xena's stance wider. She ran her face through the wet valley, extending her tongue in an attempt to collect all of Xena's honey as it poured from her. The Warrior held the Bards head as she sucked the orb between her legs causing her knees to tremble.
Xena brought herself down to Gabrielle's level by kneeling and slipped her tongue into her lover's mouth tasting her own passion intermingled with her lovers juices. Gabrielle laid her body on the cool smooth stones next to the hot spring pool pulling Xena's legs over her head while she lifted her knees up and spread herself. There, they tenderly brought each other to climax.
They paused for a moment, catching their breath but holding their positions when, Gabrielle slid two fingers into Xena causing the Warrior to jump at first. Slowly a rhythm began as Xena moved back and forth on her knees. The Bard kept it up while she darted her tongue over Xena's nerve center.
"Mmm...mmy.....I'm cumming again! Gabri...elle!"
Xena rolled off and slipped into the hot spring pool. When she surfaced, she called her lover to join her. The two played in the pool for a candlemark and then several of the Amazons joined them. Another candlemark passed and Xena and Gabrielle were ready for bed. A hut was prepared for them and other than having to bend way down at the entrance, it was very comfortable. The generosity of the Queen Amazon, Clytia was beyond good manners and the graciousness of these people overwhelmed the couple.
This was a blessing from the gods and was received as such. Both the Warrior Princess and her Bard needed a night of bonding, a night of healing. They had been through Tartarus together and had lost a good soul along the way. Sleep came as a friend that night.
Xena thought, and then straight up to whom knows where.
Based on what Xena remembered when she last looked at the map, what they said made sense.
Gabrielle and the Warrior said their good-byes thanking the tribe for all they had done to make things pleasant for the two of them. They promised to return some time when circumstances were better.
Argo left the Amazon village a very happy horse after being spoiled on apples and oats for a day. It was as if they had both been refreshed. Xena was ready for the challenge. Her body was in great shape and she felt that her mind was focused. The Bard was still mourning the loss of Eudocia and thought to her hearts ear, I will write a separate scroll for her, which will tell her story, and how she saved my love.
The Queen of the Amazon Pigmies called the area they were leaving Elefthera and what lay ahead was lush vegetation until they reached the gorge. The two adventurers had a three-day trek ahead of them. Their journey continued through an area that had many large trees showing the age of the forest they were in. It was an enchanted place that brought forth ideas from Gabrielle that they were traveling through a possible land of the fairies.
"Xena! This could be a magical place you know!" The Bard carried on.
"Fairies and little gnomes could be in a place like this," she continued.
"The fairies are all in your head," Xena laughed back.
The Bard continued, saying, "I could write a great story about...."
Xena gave the Bard the stop signal with her hand. There was something in the forest in front of them. Weapon drawn, she moved cautiously forward but didn't see anything. No more than shadows bouncing off of the trees.
Wait a minute, she thought and swung her sword at the black mass in front of her.
"Ahhh!" It screamed, as it fell to the ground. Another attacked and she fought it off as a knife just missed her head, sticking in the tree beside her. Gabrielle dropped one with her staff, then another and finally called, "Xena! Help me!"
There were three of them pulling her into the forest. Xena attacked with the rage of ten warriors and fought them off. When she held the Bard in her arms, all evidence of the shadows disappeared and they found themselves alone again.
"Thank the gods, Xena. They gave up."
"Do you remember when we were on the ship? Wasn't this very similar to when that attack happened?" Xena asked the Bard.
Xena went on to say, "It was as if the attacker was just a shadow of itself but when I stepped in to protect you from it, the attacker was real enough and so was the knife. We had better keep our eyes open to anything that looks suspicious."
Gabrielle led the way while Xena watched their rear for any activity but all remained quiet. The going was slow as the path would be open for awhile with easy walking and then there were places Xena had to use her sword to cut their way through the growth. Argo suffered a few scrapes from the thick underbrush but was determined, as were the two adventurers to get through.
Xena found a place she felt comfortable with, so they decided to camp for the night. Gabrielle started a fire and cleared the area of any additional dead wood so they had fuel that lasted through the night. Both were coming to the point of fatigue and their nerves had been on edge since the last attack. There was little conversation this night until Xena told the Bard she was heading out a short ways to hunt for supper. A half candlemark later, she returned with a couple of quail. This brought a large smile to the Bards face. After they ate and both satisfied their hunger, they felt more confident and planned tomorrow as they sat around the fire.
"Xena?" The Bard asked, "Do you think that there is more than all this?"
"All what, Gabrielle?"
"You know, this land, those stars, the people we have met. Does it stop here or does it go further than we could ever imagine?"
"I'm not sure my love but I would think that the gods might even have gods to answer to. Who knows? Why do you ask these things anyway? You're always...........out there Gabrielle!"
"Oh, I don't know. Just wondering aloud, I guess."
The next day was much similar to the first day of this leg of the journey with the exception of that there were no attacks. The vegetation was their only enemy as Xena hacked her way through the dense growth. Some of this explained why the Amazon Pigmies stayed so well hid for all this time. It was virtually impossible to approach them from the south or east because of the greenery.
Queen Clytia had them take a variety of herbs and medicines with them as a safety measure. For even she knew there might be things unknown ahead on their trail. Gabrielle had thought to herself how comfortable she had felt when they stayed with the Pigmy Amazons. Truly, Xena and she would return to bond with them further. The two of them did swear an oath of secrecy that they never share their location with anyone.
It was hot and buggy as they made their way through the wall of vegetation. What normally would have been a day and a half trip was lengthened into three days because of the terrain. The most pleasant part of the day happened when the found a fast, moving stream as they popped out of the trees and underbrush. It appeared to be going toward the gorge
"Xena, I need to cool off," and the Bard peeled her clothing from her body and sat down in the cool mountain water. Xena looked around as a safety measure and was out of her armor, leathers and boots in a flash.
"Ahhh, this feels good!" Xena moaned with satisfaction as the water cascaded over her body. The Bard was hanging on a rock and letting the water run through her hair and over her torso as she held on.
The women washed out their clothing the best they could and let them dry in the sun. The leathers could only be wiped down but it helped a lot.
"How much further Xena?" The Bard asked, trying not to be annoying.
"I figure we will get there by midmorning tomorrow. Then we need to work our way up the gorge according to this map. After that, I go straight up the side of the gorge if I'm reading this right." The Warrior explained to her partner.
They moved on and made good distance the rest of the day as they followed the water. The natural shower that they took in the stream helped revitalize them both. Late afternoon came and they prepared again for the evening. Camp was set up and Argo was given the last few apples they had from the Amazons. Xena worked the stream for a half dozen trout, which Gabrielle cooked up with some of the herbs they were given. Life was good.
After the two had eaten, Xena walked into the woods to relieve herself. While she was vulnerable, she was bitten by what appeared to be a large wasp or something similar. She ended its existence as she smashed it against her rear. She picked the dead bug up and examined it, thinking she had never seen one like it. The wasp was gold/green in color and larger than any Xena had ever encountered before. The sting was extremely painful and there was intense burning. The Warrior became sick to her stomach and lost everything she had just eaten. She headed back to the camp when she had composed herself.
Gabrielle knew there was something wrong when Xena had a hard time sitting down, but within a candlemark later the Warrior was running a fever and began sweating profusely. By the time the moon was straight up in the cosmos, Xena was delirious.
"Gabrielle, I'm so sick. I'm burning..........get ..me ...water...Gabbrie..."
"Xena, talk to me! You have to come out of this" The Bard pleaded. She returned to the stream and soaked a cloth for Xena's forehead. Gabrielle knew that if she couldn't get the fever down, she would have to drag Xena into the stream and let the water help cool her down.
"My Warrior, you have to drink these herbs that I prepared for you"
Gabrielle lifted Xena's head and got some of the liquid down her throat. After that was accomplished, she needed to turn the Warrior over and put a poultice on the bite.
Thank the gods for Queen Clytia's intuitive powers, the Bard thought. Without these medicines there would be real trouble here. Come on Xena, pull through......I'm scared!
The Bard held Xena all through the night. The early morning just after dawn, found Gabrielle asleep next to the Warrior. Xena's eyes opened and she called softly to the Bard, "Hey! How long have I been out?"
"All night, my love. Are you OK?" The Bard questioned.
"I'm a little shaky but I'll live. We need to get moving." And Xena tried to rise but dropped back down to her bedroll.
"Just relax Xena, it's not even light out yet! Get your strength back, then we'll move on." Gabrielle mothered her a bit, as Xena looked up at the Bard then closed her eyes.
Three candlemarks past sunrise the Warrior woke again. This time she got to her feet and reached for her rear end, gently touching the area of contact and grimaced.
"I killed the bastard, you know? Nobody bites me but you," and Xena smiled, showing the Bard she was feeling better. A late breakfast helped get her strength back and they were nearing the gorge by the time the sun was just beyond straight up. The sound of the stream changed up ahead and for good reason as it dropped down to the bottom of the gorge and joined the main stream. They reached the edge and checked out the way they would attempt the decent to the bottom. Xena found what appeared to be an ancient trail that led downward but the two would have to be careful where the trail had been destroyed by a washout and navigate carefully around that spot. After that, there were no more obstacles to the bottom of the gorge. Argo was left to graze the area and wait for their return.
Carefully, they made their way down to the lower part of the gorge. That completed, Xena pulled out the map and the two of them studied it, comparing different landmarks to the drawing.
"It looks like we need to keeping heading north till we run out of gorge," Xena said with a bit of sarcasm.
"Remind me to get a new staff when we're finished with all of this. I think I've worn off the length of two hands so far." The Bard responded back.
They moved north, along the belly of the gorge and followed along the banks of the stream that occupied the center. There were many boulders scattered over the interior of the gorge. Within the Agia Eirini, were a few trees strategically positioned along with bushes cropping up here and there. The place had a beautiful but eerie look to it.
Once again after about three-quarters of a candlemark had passed, Xena wanted to examine the map. She pulled it out and opened it saying, "Ah yes! That's what it meant!"
"What? What Xena? What are you talking about?" The Bard picked inquisitively.
Xena just pointed up at the top of the cliff and said, "Only the gods look down at the Eagle with Heart!"
"The passage in the map, Gabrielle! See the eagle's nest! The heart has to be up there."
As they got near to the cliff face and Xena was just about ready to begin her climb, the sky became cloudy and cast a shadow over the gorge. The shadow began to break up into many shadows and Xena pulled her sword, while the Bard held her staff, ready for action. From the crevices in the cliffs and rocks came the attack. There were hundreds of them, no; thousands came at the two.
Just before they engaged in battle, Xena slipped her sword back into its sheath and told Gabrielle to put down her staff.
"Now hold my hand, Gabrielle. Hold it tight!"
The Bard did what was she was told and the attack stopped. The shadows vaporized and the cloud disappeared. They had the key! In fact, they were the key, thought Xena. What was it Eudocia said?
That which was two but one.
"That's us Gabrielle! She was talking all along about our relationship. Like you told Iolaus so long ago about the story of the four-legged people who were divided by the gods lightening bolt and the two halves were separated from each other. They spend the rest of their lives searching for their other half of their soul. We have ours! You and me!" Xena explained.
"We are a match!"
"There's just one little problem," Xena said with a note of apprehension.
"We have to climb up the cliff face together."
"What? You want me to.........what? To climb?" The Bard sputtered as she looked up and figured the distance at the height of eight horses.
"Don't make me do this Xena."
There was no getting away from the solution to the situation they were in. If Xena tried to acquire the Heart of Stone without the Bard they would both undoubtedly be destroyed.
They started the climb realizing that they had to make physical contact with each other every few body lengths up the cliff face. Any other time this would have been something they would have enjoyed doing. In fact, it was their intent to do just that forever.
Xena had Gabrielle lead in order to keep a closer eye on her and have a better chance at preventing a fall. Every time they broke physical contact, a cloud began to form overhead and the shadow people started to take form. The contact of the two women stopped the process.
Gabrielle was about two thirds of the way, up the side of the cliff face. Her fingers were sore and bleeding in a few places, along with her forearms and knees. She was determined and refused to give up, especially being so close to the prize. Xena kept encouraging her, telling her to think through each move before she made it.
Some stone and gravel dislodged, causing her to slip. Xena caught her foot in the palm of her hand and supported her weight with one arm until she stabilized herself and got a new grip. The Bard banged up her cheek and lost a little blood from one nostril but her and Xena were both very much alive.
As Gabrielle moved on, she could see the sticks from the Eagles nest overhanging the stone shelf it was on. It had to be about twelve hands above her.
The Bard told Xena, "We have to be getting real close," and as she climbed seven hands higher, she saw the opening in the face of the cliff. Within the cleft stood the Heart. It was blue/gray in color and was three hands high while one hand wide. It sat in the center of the opening and about two hands back from the edge.
"Can you retrieve it Gabrielle?" Xena asked.
"I'll try but it looks heavy."
"Try to get it into your leather bag and I'll take it down to the ground." Xena suggested.
"OK, here goes nothing!"
Gabrielle reached into the opening with one hand and grabbed the top of the stone, lifting it off of its resting-place. This must have released the large, black spiders that began to crawl out of the opening scaring the Bard. She screamed but held on tight through the encounter, brushing the spiders away and they fell on top of Xena who was directly below. Others scurried away in other directions. Gabrielle could hear Xena cursing under her.
"Hey! What do you want from me? I got the Heart!" Gabrielle boasted to her partner.
She slid it into the bag and almost fell again, handing it to Xena.
The trip down the cliff face was slow and tedious but with the Heart in hand, Xena needed to be extra careful. When they reached the ground, the Eagle flew over them as if to say goodbye. They hugged each other for a moment and made their exit down the gorge.
As they made their retreat, they never encountered the shadow people again. At the end of the day they had made it back to the area where they had to leave Argo behind. She was grazing at the top of the bluff above the gorge when they rejoined her. By the end of the second day, they made it to the coastline of Crete and headed toward Paleohora
They spent the night at the inn that they first met Eudocia and both shared tears together as they talked about her death over a cup of port. It was such a short time ago and so much had happened since that first meeting. It really tore at both their hearts.
"No stories to tell this time, my friend." The Bard told the barkeep. You could see in his eyes, he was genuinely disappointed.
Xena made arrangements for them to board in the morning on a ship called the Pelican. This ship would take them back to Zakynthos Island. Xena wanted to pass through the ports quickly because someone might suspect that they were carrying treasure of a more common kind, like gold or silver. Stone Hearts were not in big demand this time of year, the Warrior thought.
Gabrielle was looking for the soap everywhere.
"Xena! I wish you would put things back!" She shouted to an empty room. Xena took her bath earlier so she could make the arrangements with the Captain of the Pelican. Then she was going to check on Argo, making sure the horse's accommodations were adequate.
The hot water felt extremely good on the Bards sore and tired body. A hard scrub from top to bottom made her feel new again. When she finished with her bath, Gabrielle lit a couple of candles and sat on the bed imitating the meditation stance that Eudocia had demonstrated when she was alive. She began to see that there was a door that could be opened, that gave way to new discovery in the scope of everything that brought one full circle in their life's quest. The spiritual journey was for each star in the sky and each one twinkled in its own special way.
Xena returned and the Bard was just finishing her journey.
"Gabrielle, is the Heart still safe?" Xena asked.
"My heart's safe with you, Xena!"
"Yes! It's still in the bottom of the tub."
"I love you Gabrielle. Do you know that?" The Warrior said tenderly.
"I need you to hold me my love."
"I am not comfortable with myself tonight and I feel my confidence is shaken," Xena told her Bard.
Gabrielle motioned her over to the bed where they wrapped their arms around the other enjoying the comfort found in their common love. Xena placed her head on Gabrielle's chest and could hear her heartbeat as she fell asleep.
The ship was out of port before the sun was high. Wind in the sails put the women on the move again. Gabrielle spent much of the voyage working on her scrolls. She had much to account for and it was imperative for her to write all the details down while they were still fresh in her mind. So many things had transpired. Many vivid pictures were floating in her thoughts and before the colors faded she wanted to capture them by writing them down.
As Gabrielle sat on the deck of the ship and wrote, Xena watched the horizon. Fascinated by the ship mascots swimming in the sea, the Warrior enjoyed watching several dolphins matching the speed of the ship. It always amazed her that a grumpy god like Poseidon could create such beautiful creatures of the sea. An occasional school of sharks would mill around but only when the cook discarded some scraps or leftovers.
The trip to Zakynthos Island was an easy voyage and the two women were left to themselves. This was a time of tender bonding and Xena even brought up the topic of getting closer with herself on a spiritual level. Gabrielle always liked to speak of the inner side of a person. She would love to talk about the soul and the development of the spirit.
"Xena! Do you think we come back to this life after we die?"
"By the gods, I don't know Gabrielle but if we do, I better not come back as a man! They're too crude and I never knew one that was soft like you!"
"I'm spoiled Xena! I've got the best there is and she treats me like the Queen that I am!" The Bard strutted and giggled as she ran down the deck with Xena in hot pursuit. The temperature between them was beginning to rise and it looked to Xena like a night in the city of Zakynthos might be one to remember.
Xena thought, I'm feeling better after she held me last night and she drives me beyond wild, so I'll let her take advantage of me, maybe three, maybe four times tonight.
They docked in the early evening and left the ship. As they left the docks and headed into Zakynthos, Xena caught sight of the extremely large sailor that tried to show her just how big of a man he was once before. When their eyes locked, he reached up and rubbed his ear to let the Warrior know that he had not forgotten. Xena glared back at him, as if to say, make your move or get on with your life.
The intentions of the two women were to head back to the Owl Inn. It was a very nice place, they were known there and they wanted to watch the weasel drip all over them, under the direction of his wife. They were lucky and got the same room they had before. The Bard talked Xena into having their meal downstairs with the owners and a merchant who was passing through, as well as the Captain of one of the other ships in port. Onion soup was the opener followed by the main course of chicken, vegetables and biscuits. The weasel's wife was a very good cook.
Gabrielle mused to herself, Everyone needs to be good at something, as she looked across the table at Xena and I think I'm getting pretty good at satisfying!
Dinner finished, they both gave their excuses for an early rise the next morning and headed off to bed.
"Come here my Bard." Xena commanded in an easy tone.
Gabrielle walked over to her and sucked on the Warriors lower lip as their eyes locked together.
"Oh! Ish gonna be like dat tonigh, uh?" Xena tried to say with the lip lock on her.
The Bard was mischievous tonight but also sensuous as she released Xena's lip, giggling and backing up slightly. She started to remove her clothing but not too quickly. It was Gabrielle's intentions to move through this love making like she was telling one of her stories.
One never rushes through a story but puts in all the little details that enhance the vision of the listener, the Bard reflected to herself.
So keeping that in mind, she kept her eyes locked to Xena's and peeled the clothing off of her own body like removing the skin from a ripe grape. Her boots remained on for time being while she taunted and teased her lover. Gabrielle walked over to the chair that was against the wall and brought it to the middle of the room. Then she called to Xena to come and sit down. Xena walked over and sat, looking inquisitively at her partner.
The vixen then moved around to the front of the chair and stood in front of Xena with her hands on her hips, sort of with an "I'm in charge" attitude.
"I'll help you out of your leathers Xena," the young lover directed.
Gabrielle took great care in leaning over Xena, as she relieved her of her covering. Her breasts brushed the Warriors face and cheeks as she worked the outfit off of her. Xena tried her best to get her mouth around a nipple but her lover stayed elusive, which only helped in raising both of their temperatures. The blond purposely squatted in front of her partner to help remove Xena's boots.
This drove Xena out of her mind as she gazed at the Bards passion in its swollen state. They were both feeling the intense level of wanting that had been reached by just taking time to enjoy each other visually.
Xena could take no more and stood, wrapping her arms around her lover while she slid her tongue past Gabrielle's lips and their juices mingled. The Bards nipples ached from all of the waiting but it took her to new places and made the evening extra special. Xena coaxed her partner to the bed and had her lay on her back with intentions of removing the Bards boots but instead, she grabbed the boots by the soles, pushing her legs back to her chest. This opened her lover's prize and Xena began to kiss the inside of Gabrielle's knees, working her way up between those beautiful thighs.
Xena knew her destination but took her time even though it was torture for her. She wanted to taste her lover and now she was just inches away. Her tongue danced over the opened lips of her lover's vagina and breathed in the sweet smell of Gabrielle's arousal. She slipped her tongue deeper between the folds, memorizing every path there was to take. Feeling the varied textures of her partner's flesh and tasting the nectar that their love created, she continued to explore.
Gabrielle was wild with desire and she abandoned all sense of reality as she felt her lover reach her nerve center. The Bards legs shook as she climaxed. Xena shifted her position and climbed next to her lover. She rolled her tongue over the nub in a circular motion while she inserted one then two fingers into Gabrielle's center. Xena worked her fingers in and out causing her love to arc her back in ecstasy. Gabrielle came one more time and collapsed from exhaustion.
They napped for awhile and when the Bard awoke, she rolled over and latched on to one of Xena's breasts, bringing the nipple to life. It didn't take long to revive the passion and Gabrielle sucked the nipple of the other breast, knowing that Xena was alert again. The little one reached between the Warriors legs and massaged her mound, which was covered with thick black hair. She did this until the entire area was wet. Then she inserted two fingers into Xena's depths. She used her thumb to work the surface of her clitoris. This caused the raven-haired beauty to grab her lover by the hair and guide her home.
Xena gasped when she felt her lover's lips engulf her passion. Gabrielle worked her mouth like there was a hunger that could not be satisfied. Xena cried out as she peaked once and then again.
"My love! ......That's so good!"
When Xena opened her eyes the next morning Gabrielle was working on her scrolls. The weasel had told them that a ship would be docking this morning and he would, if they did not mind, make the arrangements for Argo's and their passage to Preveza. Xena agreed but told him that there better be no problems or they would come back to haunt him.
The Heart was kept in the room with the two women. They had agreed that one of them would remain with it at all times. They hid it in Argo's stall when they ate the night before because they knew that the horse would take out any intruder. She was known to have a mean left hoof.
The Bard and the Warrior thanked the owners of the Owl Inn for their hospitality, picked up Argo at the stable around back and headed off to catch their ship. The weasel made good with his promise and felt real proud of his self for the day. It turned out that the adventurous women had caught a ride on the same ship they started off with. The Red Shark! At this point in their journey, the familiarity was a welcomed friend.
They left port and followed the coast as they had done before. It looked to be a quick and quiet trip to Preveza, until the huge sailor came up on deck. When he saw Xena, his rage got the better of him as he walked over to Gabrielle and the Warrior.
"You got the best of me last time Xena but I'm gonna beat you silly and throw you to the sharks, you bitch! Then while you're busy being their dinner and they get done pickin their teeth with yer bones, I'm gonna make love to this little wench of yours. When I get done teaching her what a man is all about, she'll end up in the water as dessert for the hungry gray fins. Anyway bitch, you ripped my ear open the last time we met!" And he reached for his ear as he did when he saw her on shore.
Xena looked at Gabrielle and said, "Please excuse me for a moment."
As she walked toward the big-mouthed sailor, she sprung into the air to plant her feet in his chest but he was ready for the move and punched Xena in the ribcage. She thought she heard something crack as she hit the deck. She flipped out of the way of the assailant, landing back on her feet and smashed her head into his, not quite sure who got the worst of it. Xena followed up with several punches to the head and he got a shot in as well. That shot knocked her back a bit.
Xena was hurting from the punch in the ribs but didn't let on. Instead she faked a right cross and planted a foot in his chest. While he was trying to suck air, she kicked him in the side of his right knee. He screamed in pain and that brought a smile to the Warriors face. The gargantuan then picked up a timber and tried to squash Xena with it. She dodged several shots and kicked the same knee in again. That slowed him as he dropped the beam. Xena flipped over him and when she was behind, lifted the beam on end and tipped it in his direction, banging him in the head with it when he turned toward her. As he staggered toward the railing, the Warrior spun him around and flatted his nose. He stumbled backward and fell over the side.
"YEA! XENA! XENA!" The rest of the sailors cheered.
Gabrielle knew that the sailor had hurt Xena but she was careful not to show it above deck. She tended the Warrior when they went below.
"Ah, he got a lucky shot in on me and cracked a rib. I'll survive, with your help." She told the Bard.
"Xena! What was that about? He acted like you got in a fight with him before!" Gabrielle asked with her usual inquisitiveness.
"Oh, we met on the way to Crete when you were in a shop picking up some body oil, I think. He didn't like my face, so I tried to improve his vision."
"Xena, what am I going to do with you?" Gabrielle moaned as she said, "I can't leave you alone for the flick of a flame on a candle."
The voyage concluded and the ship pulled into port. It was good to be back to the mainland. There was only a short trek left and they would once again be on the top of Mount Paramythia. Xena was thinking, this Heart is getting heavy. It will be good to return it to its home.
Gabrielle wanted to stay in Preveza and Xena wanted to move on to the little village of Louros, where they had spent their first night after losing the Chakram. They ended up staying in Preveza but they opted for a different inn in order to stay as obscure as they could. The pair was getting too close to their destination to make any mistakes now. What they did not know was, that they had been spotted by one of Tzannas's men and he was sharing that information with the assassin, as they continued to look for lodging.
"They are here in the city?" Tzannas shouted, as he threw the jug of wine he had tasted up against the wall.
"Yes boss! I saw them when they were walking through. I think they were lookin for a place to spend the night."
"OK, this is what we'll do. Get everybody together and meet me here in two candlemarks. We need to get out of here tonight. We'll fix her somewhere on the road and maybe they have somethin of value to make killin her all the more worthwhile. I'm gonna slice that other little bitches throat too, while Xena watches. Now, go get the men."
"Let's stay at this place Xena!" The Bard begged.
"The One-Eyed Toad? You've got to be kidding!"
"Well, it sounded mysterious to me. I don't know!" Gabrielle exclaimed.
"Your right about that, my friend. YOU, don't know."
"Now there's an intriguing name for an inn." Xena boasted.
"The Last Inn? Give me a break Xena! The Last Inn?"
And the Warrior walked in and ordered a room much to the dismay of her partner. All the way up the stairs only one thing could be heard.
"The Last Inn? You've got to be kidding!"
The pleasures of a good room and great company go without deep explanations. The evening was full of romance followed by a deep sleep at least for Gabrielle. Xena started to get that itch she gets when things look all right but something is amiss. She wasn't sure just what was bothering her but she knew from past experiences to trust her feelings.
The Warrior slipped out of bed earlier than normal and went to check up on Argo as a safety precaution. Xena found the horse in good spirits and everything looked just as it did the night before with the exception of fewer apples and oats.
"You're a good girl to put up with me and Gabrielle hauling you all over the place. I love you Argo. Do you know that? Of course you do!" The Warrior told her horse.
Xena returned to the room to pack up Gabrielle and The Heart of Stone. It was time to finish this trek. Xena wanted her Chakram back and felt obligated to finish what she had begun. It was personal now. With the loss of Eudocia, it had to come to an end or her death would have been for nothing.
They left the city of Preveza two candlemarks after sunrise following the same trail they had entered into the city, close to a half of moon ago. When they reached the part of the trail that looked over the port, they took their time to take it all in. Xena got off of Argo and walked over to the Bard, placing her arm around Gabrielle's waist. They scanned the horizon together, and then they turned toward each other and kissed.
"It's the best my life has ever been Gabrielle. You were sent to me at a time when I promised myself I needed to and could change who I was. Look at what we have with each other today." Xena said as best she could.
"I know, my love, I know." The Bard replied.
They started to move down the trail when Xena turn to her Bard.
"There's trouble coming our way Gabrielle," Xena said with concern.
Gabrielle took a new grip on her staff and looked over the terrain ahead. The road was up hill, through rock formations; some small over hanging cliffs and trees scattered about. The forest began toward the mainland and thickened as the road came out of the rougher area they were going through. After that, the road continued on to Louros.
Xena felt an attack coming their way and believed that it would happen while they were going through this area. She was right! The thunder of boulders and rocks heading down upon the duo caused quick action, as Xena who was on Argo, grabbed Gabrielle by the arm. She lifted the Bard up to the saddle and galloped ahead on her faithful horse. Xena released her hold on Gabrielle and set her back down on the ground. The planned avalanche missed its mark.
The Warrior pulled her sword, then hearing the sound of the arrow being released from the bow, reached out with her free hand and snatched it out of the air before it struck her. Gabrielle headed up the draw, trying to stay out of harms way.
Xena moved along the road toward Gabrielle and saw the assassin with the spear but a little late, as he had already released it in the direction of the Bard. Xena wasn't even able to shout out a warning. She gritted her teeth in anticipation of the fatal blow to the woman she loved.
Somewhere deep within Gabrielle, she heard the voice of Eudocia say, "Drop to the ground! NOW!"
The Bard dove without hesitation and the spear sliced through the air just over her back, missing its mark.
"Thank you, my friend!" The Amazon Queen said aloud.
Xena was just amazed the Gabrielle had avoided certain death. She continued up the road and dismounted when confronted by Tzannas and one of his men. She blocked a feeble thrust by the attacker and punched him in the face. Xena clashed blades with Tzannas as he threw many insults her way.
"If you were as good a fighter as you are a talker, you might have a chance to beat me!" The Warrior taunted the lowlife. A quick turn and the thrust of her blade stopped the other assassin dead in his tracks. Xena cut the cheek of Tzannas and blew him a kiss. This enraged the thug and he charged her as she ran him through. The rest of his men, witnessing this, scurried away like rats from a sinking ship.
Xena moved over to Gabrielle to see if she was all right, then she whistled for Argo who came back down the road and stopped by the two women. The Stone was still intact on the horse's saddle so they moved up the road and headed toward Louros. The village was about a candlemark ahead. They would stop and regroup before attempting the to go up the mountain to the ancient ruins and finally finish there business.
They entered the village about dusk and found the little inn they came across the first time through. When they entered the establishment, it was as if nothing had changed. The same old faces lined the bar and gave a standard glance toward the door not even seeing what they were looking at but rather out of habit. A flicker of the candles' flame and they all returned to their conversations or their beverage.
Gabrielle refreshed the proprietor's memory about the time they stayed at his place not that he forgot and ordered a room for the night. Xena carried the Heart into the inn and took it up to the room. There was nothing on their minds this night but the Heart of Stone and the end of all this. Sleep came hard and it was difficult for both of them to silence their minds.
"Yes my love."
"She called to me Xena! She called to me from within." The Bard said in wonder.
"Who called to you?" Xena questioned.
"Eudocia warned me of the spear. She talked to me internally. I listened and it saved my life."
Xena paused for a bit and replied, "I believe she did! I'm indebted to her twice."
They both drifted off awhile later but were out of bed at first light. The two friends did not eat but packed up, got Argo and began the final steps of what could be one of the Bards greatest stories to share with her listeners. They reached the ruins in three candlemarks. Xena rode around the area to make sure there was no one else around. She did not want to be disturbed with another confrontation. When everything appeared to be in order, she got off of Argo and studied the problem at hand. How to get up on top of the monolith.
The Stone was heavy but she had secured it to her midriff with the use of Gabrielle's leather bag and some lengths of cloth tied around her. The monolith was too high to reach the top from ground level, so Xena scaled the cliff that towered behind it. The Warrior knew she would have to get higher than the nearest pillar that remained standing from the ancient ruins. When she reached the height she wanted, she back-flipped and landed on the pillar. She came close to falling because the added weight changed her center of gravity. It was now possible to jump to the Quondam Stone, which she did.
Several moments passed while Xena unwrapped the package she had spent so much energy acquiring. She scanned the surface of the monolith with her eyes but did not see the cavity in which to place the Heart. Xena panicked for a candle flick of the flame then reached down, around the top of the monolith, running her hand over the edges and located the orifice. She held the Heart in her hand as she looked down at Gabrielle, then slid it into place.
The Quondam Stone began to tremble and Xena was almost thrown to the ground below but managed to jump back to the pillar then hanging down she dropped to the ground. Xena quickly joined Gabrielle and they both watched as an apparition appeared in front of the stone. The apparition was of a much younger and beautified personification of the old crone Xena and Gabrielle had encountered the first time they were on the mountain.
"For what you have gone through and have accomplished, I am eternally grateful." The spirit explained.
" When I came to you, I had the belief that you two were the one that I had envisioned to deliver me from the wrong that had been done to me. I am not of this place or of this time but was on a journey that went amiss and left me stranded for a period. I needed the time to heal but one of your world bonded his heart to mine and I to him. The healing in me was finished and I had to leave but he could not bare this. He became bitter, keeping me by separating the life source from the mass, the Heart from the monolith and hiding it far from me. He bargained with evil powers that agreed to protect the whereabouts of the Heart. You encountered many of them along the way. This caused me to be a prisoner to the mountain and to time."
"I had a child. I showed him the result of our bonding and love, then hid her away from him forever. I wanted to hurt him for making me a prisoner of this place. You knew her as Eudocia."
"His time came and he moved to greater planes when his host died out. This left me with no hope of my own and bound forever, until that vision was given me, of the two of you."
"Although it cost the life of my seed, she understood what she was doing and knew that she could never return from where I came. She was not of here, she was not of there. Eudocia's sacrifice saved me and in that was the love we shared for one thousand years."
"It is now my time to return. My heart is no longer stone but of the essence that brought me here. My love to you both for what you endured."
There was an intense flash of light and she was gone.
The monolith began to glow from blue to a dazzling white, the vaporized into thin air. There was nothing to hold Xena's weapon anymore.
The Chakram continued on its flight as if it had never been stopped. It careened off of the cliff wall, hit a pillar and returned to the hand of its owner. Xena looked at it with amazement and then she returned it to her hip.
"There is so much in the scope of things that we do not know, Xena." The Bard expressed.
"Maybe we're not supposed to know, my love. Let's go home."
And Xena wrapped her arm around her partner as they headed down the mountain with Argo following behind.
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