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Copyright Disclaimer: Xena and Gabrielle do not belong to me. They belong to people who are not me and who work in big buildings with the names Universal, MCA, and Ren Pictures painted on signs out front.
Charon and his boat belong to a little old lady who only uses them to get back and forth to church on Sundays. I promise everyone will still be in good working order when I get through with them.
No Money Disclaimer: I do not intend to make a profit from the writing of this fan fiction. Which is good because I won't. That's ok. I'm a poet. I'm used to not making money.
Sex and Violence Disclaimer: Unbelievably no.
Subtext Disclaimer: Oh, Yeah! It's in there, but not much. Just some innuendo. It's very, very mild.
Author's Note: I was working on another story when my thoughts wandered on over to the Xena and Gabrielle section of my brain and I was wondering how often the two of them must have crossed the River Styx by this time. Suddenly, a story idea hit me. Hard, too. I still have the mark. Anyway, I just wanted to dedicate this piece of fluff and nonsense to my wonderful daughter, Brittany, a future rock star who changed the name of her girl group to "The Disclaimers" just to make her mom smile.
Comments can be e-mailed to me at email@example.com
Flames will be used for the sacrificial roasting of wieners and the making of s'mores, before being extinguished according the Smokey the Bear's Good Camper Guidelines. Remember only you can prevent forest fires.
Twelve Angry Gods
Tartarus On 10 Dinars A Day
Blackness. Muck. Heat. Cold. Ooze.
Another beautiful day in the Underworld.
Not that Charon ever noticed what kind of day it was. Not that he noticed much of anything. He was too busy. What with the plagues and wars and other harbingers of death visited upon mortals in these times. If things kept up like this, he'd need a bigger boat.
At least he got some good coin out of the deal. That was the important thing. He never spent it. Not one thin dinar, but it was all his and most days it was enough.
This was not most days.
He had a headache. He was bored. His feet hurt. And his dog was sick. It was enough to make the ferryman cry in frustration, and now, to top it all off, some old man who, if the odor was any indication, had clearly died from some alcohol related mishap, was getting sea-sick all over the bottom of his boat. The smell was...beyond description. This, of course, caused a chain reaction among the other passengers, and soon everyone, Charon, included, was hanging over the edge of the craft and sending their last meal into the River Styx.
I need a change. He thought as he rinsed out the bottom of his boat with river water. I should ask Hades if I can do something else for awhile.
Something else. Sure. But what? He had no skills. All he knew was that stupid black river and carrying the dead across it. He was no good at making decisions. His judgement was clearly off or else he wouldn't have been in such a lousy job in the first place. He wasn't what most would call a people person. Not a live people person, anyway. And as for brains, well, whenever he added two and two together, he got five and a half- every time.
Face it. He told himself. You're stuck here. It was true, but facing it did nothing to improve his bad mood.
"Excuse me?" a gentle inquiry came to his ears.
All signs of crankiness left Charon's face when he turned to see the most beautiful girl he had ever laid eyes on. He allowed himself the pleasure of a closer inspection. She was easy to look at. Younger than most of his passenger, though hardly a girl. A shapely figure. And a smile that lit up the dim cavern. He was particularly drawn to the smile. It wrapped itself around him like a fur on a cold day.
"Y-yes?" he stuttered. What ever you want from me, the answer is yes.
"You didn't tell us where to go now." The girl explained.
Us? He managed to look behind her and notice the band of still green passengers he had just ferried across, before returning his gaze to her sparkling blue eyes. Had she been among them? Why hadn't he noticed? Then her saw the cloak draped across her shoulders and he remembered a small huddled figure in the back of the last group. Poor kid.
"Go to Tartarus." He said with a lopsided grin.
"What?" She exclaimed in anger, the smile fading fast.
"No, I didn't mean..."It took him a moment to recover. "I just meant you have to go through Tartarus to get to anywhere else."
"Oh." The girl said blushing at her mistake.
"You just keep going until you get past the fields. After that, you'll be judged."
The girl bit her bottom lip, and turned anxiously toward the tunnel entrance.
"If you like," Charon stumbled again, "I mean if you want. I could show you around a bit later."
"Really?" The girl asked brightening at his offer.
"Sure." He said, trying to sound casual. "Just wait for me at the mouth of the tunnel. I'll be along as soon as I get the last couple of folks across."
"That's very kind of you."
It was, and he knew it, but he shrugged it off.
"I'll be back soon," was all he said as he got into the boat.
Even the black river water seemed brighter as he made his was back up the river. Funny what a nice smile could do to a fellow. Charon found his own lips curling up at the corners when he thought of the girl. He couldn't remember the last time he felt so...well, giddy. A warm feeling ignited in his chest and spread outward in all directions, finally settling in his stomach, and hands. He found himself remembering an ancient melody as he pulled the tiny craft through the water. Soon his lips parted and puckered and a melodious whistle filled the cavern.
He didn't even bother to watch where he was going. He knew the route well enough, and he was too busy day dreaming about the girl, and all the things he could show her. If she got into the fields, and he felt that she would, she would be allowed to wander around at her leisure. Sure, there were some places off limits to the mortal dead, Hades castle for instance, but those places wouldn't be of much interest to someone like her, anyway. Someone like her. He felt like he knew her already...
He docked the boat near the entrance and, without looking up, began his spiel:
"Come on in,
The water's fine.
I'll give you
Till I count to nine."
He chuckled lightheartedly as he finished.
"If you're not
In by then,
Guess I'll have to
While the rest of the rhyme had been recited in a loud, singsong voice, the word ten came out as a croaked whisper. That was the moment Charon choose to look up.
"Again?" His couldn't decide whether to be angry or confused. He finally choose to walk a thin line between both. His giddiness was fading quickly, and his bad mood was returning with a vengeance.
"What is it with you two anyway?"
The two women didn't answer his questions. Not with words. The taller of the pair merely shrugged at him, while the other one tugged and smoothed her brown skirt self-consciously. He couldn't remember another mortal who had visited the underworld as often as these two. Sure, Hercules came around now and then, but that was usually to solve a problem, or to perform some feat of daring do, and besides, the man was half-god anyway. He had a right to come and go as he pleased. But these two... These two were making it a habit, and that annoyed Charon to no end.
"What was it Xena?" he asked sarcastically. "You finally meet a warlord with more tricks up his sleeve than you?"
"And you?" He asked the other one. "What happened this time? You fall down another hole?"
"Actually..." Gabrielle attempted.
"Never mind." He cut her off. "I don't want to know what killed you this time."
"Oh, we're not dead." The bard informed him.
"You not..." he said, exasperation coloring his voice. " What are you talking about?"
"As I was trying to say," Gabrielle went on. " We're not dead. We're just visiting."
"Visiting?" Charon spat for he was truly miffed at this point. "This is the Underworld. There's no visiting here."
"See." Xena said. "I told you this was a bad idea. Let's go"
With that, she turned leave, but Gabrielle grabbed her arm.
"Now, Xena." She said soothingly. "You promised to try. We both agreed that we need a place to...regroup."
"We didn't think you'd mind." She told Charon in the same tone.
"Mind?" The boatman's voice was bitter. " Why would I mind? Just because it's inconvenient. Just because it's wrong. Just because it's against the rules. Oh I don't mind."
"I think he minds." Xena deadpanned.
"Rules?" Gabrielle asked in her most diplomatic voice.
"Yes, sweet pea, everything has rules." Charon, though still angry, was beginning to calm down. "There are rules to dying. You two don't seem to get the concept of this whole death thing."
He finally climbed out of the boat and approached them. Standing in front of the couple, he held up one hand, lifting a finger for each item on his list. He spoke very slowly as if explaining a new concept to a child.
"One. This is the Styx. The dead cross here. Only the dead. Two. They only get to do it once. And three. They do not, I repeat, do not get to go home later just because they feel like it."
"But you two..." he pointed a bony finger in their direction. "You're in. You're out. You're dead... Whoops! No you're not. Well, I'm sick of it, I'm sick of you two, and I am definitely not in the mood to carry non-dead passengers. This is the Underworld, for Zeus's sake, not some two-bit tourist attraction. You can't just come and go as you please, whenever the mood strikes you."
"We just need to stay until the morning." Gabrielle said in a small pleading voice.
"Morning? What is this? Some kind of slumber party? Does this"- he gestured around him "look like an inn to you? What kind of inn would hang a sign like that over the door."
He drew their attention to a large plague hanging above a nearby tunnel.
"Abandon hope all ye who enter here."
"Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"Not really." Xena said simply.
"Oh, I don't know, Xena." Gabrielle reflected. "It did scare me the first couple of times."
"It's just a sign, Gabrielle." Xena said in a comforting manner. "It doesn't mean anything."
"Hey!" Charon snapped. "Do you know how hard it was to get that thing to hang straight. It took me forever to get it right. And now you act as if it doesn't even matter."
"Sorry." Gabrielle apologized. "We didn't mean to act like it was nothing. It's very..." she searched for just the right word. "Ominous." She decided. When he didn't seem convinced she added, "Really."
"Thank-you." He said in a small voice. She really was very nice, he remembered. Maybe he could help them out, just this once. He shook his head. He was falling for it again.
Charon sat on the edge of his boat and sighed dejectedly. Gabrielle saw her opportunity and went in to seal the deal. Placing a soft hand on the ferryman's shoulder, she bent to a knee in front of him.
"We could really use your help." She said softly. "We just need to hide...er...I mean stay here for a few candlemarks."
"You two in trouble?" He asked.
"Nothing we can't handle." Xena offered defensively.
"Right." Charon said with just a touch of sarcasm. Then in a more solemn tone he said, "I really shouldn't do this. Hades won't like it."
"He'll never know." Gabrielle assured him. "And we'll make it worth your trouble."
She nodded toward Xena who handed a small bag to her. After opening the bag, Gabrielle turned it over, spilling the contents onto the boatman's lap. Charon gasped. Ten Dinars! The most he had every received for a two person voyage. He held one of the coins up to his face and turned it around, watching it sparkle against the darkness.
"Consider it a down payment" Xena said, practically. It really wasn't a bad deal. An Inn with a bath and a hot meal would have cost them nearly as much.
Charon was so fascinated with the coins, he nearly forgot his foul mood, but, just for show, he thought he should give them a hard time. "Alright, but remember, if Hades finds out about any of this, it'll be on your heads not mine."
"And you." He added pointing to Xena. "Stay out of Tartarus. You scare the warlords."
A companionable silence fell over the trio as they entered the small boat and began the journey. The River Styx was the widest river in existence, and crossing would take awhile. Charon usually spent this time offering words of comfort to his passengers, and explaining the ways of the Underworld to them, but these were two old hats he had here, and he found himself at a loss for what to say.
"So," he began when the silence finally proved too much, "Want to tell me about it?"
Gabrielle looked to Xena, who nodded in silent approval.
"Well, I guess I should start by saying that this isn't something that just came up." Gabrielle said in her best story telling voice. "It's been happening all along."
"What's been happening?"
"Well, this thing with the Gods. I was just saying it isn't new."
"The Gods?" Charon interrupted again. He didn't like the sound of that.
"See, a lot of our missions have involved the Gods." Gabrielle started in earnest. "And, well, some of them haven't been too happy with the results."
"Some of them?"
"Most of them." She amended. "Most of the vengeful ones, anyway."
"How many Gods are we talking about here?"
"Umm. Well, I counted twelve." She said, trying to ignore the interruptions. She hadn't got to tell this one yet, and she was anxious to try a few things out. Still, she knew the questions were important, and she wanted to make sure she had all the details right. She turned to her companion for confirmation. "Xena?"
"Sounds right." The warrior princess said agreeably.
"A dozen Gods, huh?" Charon asked. The conversation was starting to get interesting. " Like who? Ares?"
"Just being his usual lovable self." Xena supplied.
That's one. Charon mentally counted.
"Who else? The Furies?"
"Been there, done that."
"I'll take that as a no." The boatman said. "The Fates then?"
"Somebody broke their scissors." Xena said, glaring at her friend.
"It was an accident, Xena." The bard pleaded.
Two. Charon went over a list in his head, remembering stories he had heard of their exploits.
"He can bite me." Xena spat.
Was that a yes or no? He'd come back to that later.
"She had a plan, we foiled it." Gabrielle offered, "Same old, same old."
"I told him what I'd do if he hit me with that stupid arrow." Xena mumbled.
"Who do you think I was looking at when the arrow hit?" Xena said with a shrug.
That's six, Charon thought. Counting Bacchus, that is. Halfway there. Who else?
"Dirty limerick." Gabrielle said, blushing.
The ferryman didn't speak for a long time. He was too busy trying to think of lewd words that rhymed with Calliope.
"Wow." He muttered at his own poetic efforts. Then he noticed the women staring at him. "Oh," he said, now sporting a blush of his own. "Sorry."
"How about," he stumbled as his thoughts cleared. "How about Apollo?"
"Mad about the Artemis/Arrow thing." Gabrielle said. Then holding up two crossed fingers, she added in a whisper. "They're like this."
"Virgin Goddess, my eye." Xena muttered.
Where are we? Eight?
"You know her." Xena said. "Any friend of Hercules..." She trailed off.
"Is an enemy of hers?" Charon finished. "Got you. Who else? Poseidon?"
"Ulysses. Cecrops." Xena said with a shrug.
"Oh, I don't know, Xena." Gabrielle said, trying to be helpful. "I think it has more to do with the time we were playing "spit in the ocean" and you didn't realize he was that close to the ship's railing."
Xena shot her a look that told her she was not being at all helpful. She had a reputation to consider, after all, a reputation that didn't include indulging in childish games in an effort to cheer up seasick bards. She narrowed her eyes as she spoke. "You're the one who had the cold."
"I don't think that's how you play that game." Charon muttered. He had lost track of his count. Did he mention all the obvious ones? And did Bacchus count or not. He decided to end the guessing. "Ok. I give, who's next?"
"Hestia , I guess." Gabrielle uttered quietly.
"Hestia? What did you do to make her mad at you?"
"Umm. Well, that's a long story."
"Never stopped you before."
"So?" Charon prompted, wiggling his hand in invitation for her to go on.
"Ok. I..." Gabrielle stalled. "Where was I?"
"You hadn't started yet."
"Oh. Right, of course." Gabrielle looked to Xena as she spoke, her eyes were pleading.
"Oh, for Zeus' sake." The warrior growled. "There's a woman named Leah who looks like me."
"Just like you." Gabrielle corrected.
"Alright, then." Xena conceded. "Just like me."
"Especially in the moonlight." The bard added.
"Especially in the moonlight." The ex-warlord repeated through clenched teeth.
"And from the back..." Gabrielle tried to elaborate but was interrupted.
"Anyway," Xena said in a pronounced way, thus ending the bard's assistance. "Leah is a Hestian priestess."
Charon had turned to more easily navigate the small craft, and was only half-listening to their bantering, but the omission of a certain word, got his attention.
"You mean a Hestian virgin priestess." He said without turning.
"Not anymore." The bard said in a small voice.
When the boatman turned to face them again, they avoided his eyes. Xena was examining the bottom of the craft, for holes he suspected, and Gabrielle was studying the riverside with a "will you look at that" type of face plastered on. They needn't have bothered to be uncomfortable. Charon, being the sort who thought the phrase "he can't see the forest for the trees" meant one should always carry a sharp axe, was without a clue.
He shrugged and went on with the questioning.
"What about Zeus?"
"Well, he isn't mad at us, himself," Gabrielle explained, her sightseeing tour now complete. "But with everyone else complaining, he thought he'd better do something. So, we're on trial."
"You're on trial?" Charon asked, "Then what are you doing here?"
"It's a trial by chase."
"Trial by chase?" He'd heard of trial by combat, trial by fire, and trial by council, but never trial by chase. Then again, he thought, When everyone you talk to is dead, it's hard to get the latest news.
"If one of them finds us before morning," the bard went on without further prompting, "Then Zeus will find us guilty and then we'll have to face sentencing."
"What makes you think they can't find you here?"
"Zeus said they'd be looking everywhere in the heavens and on the earth."
"And this is neither." Xena offered. "So, we came here to..."
"Hide?" Charon interrupted.
"Regroup." Xena amended. "Hercules offered to speak for us at the trial, and he suggested we find someplace quiet to wait this out."
Charon only nodded at her. They were nearing the far bank, and his thoughts were turned to a certain young woman waiting just inside the tunnel. He was sure this God thing would work out for them. Things always seemed to work out for them. They hadn't mentioned Hades, so he was sure his master wouldn't mind too much if he found out. He was starting to feel pretty good again.
The women were kind enough to give him a hand getting the boat ashore, before heading for the tunnel.
"Wait a minute." Charon called after them, questions resurfacing in his mind. "If Zeus isn't really mad, he doesn't count. Even with Bacchus, that still leaves one more. Who is it?"
"Who'd we forget?" Gabrielle wondered out loud.
"Athena," Xena said as the three of them walked into the tunnel.
"Athena?" The ferryman asked in disbelief. "It's almost impossible to tick her off."
"Not for us." Gabrielle said with a touch of pride.
They stopped just inside the tunnel to let their eyes adjust to the darkness.
"So," Charon said leaning toward them in a conspiratorial manner, "What did you do?"
"I broke one of her temples." Xena said, off-handedly.
"You broke..."he sputtered. " And just how does one manage to break an entire temple?"
"Easy," the warrior explained. "First you need a giant, a catapult, and a vat of grease. Then you drink a whole lot of wine at the Amazon Welcome the Harvest party..."
"Never mind." He cut her off as a small shapely female emerged from the darkness. "I think I can guess the rest."
He couldn't really, but he didn't care. As soon as he saw that warm smile forming on those lovely lips, he lost all interest in the two passengers and their God problems. They could find their own way from here. Wasn't like it was their first time or anything.
Gently placing an arm around the young woman, Charon led her to the tunnel's end and on toward the inner circle and the fields. Leaving his two passengers to their own devices. He was certain that trouble would come from this, problems just seemed to follow that pair around, but he would deal with it tomorrow. For now, he would just enjoy this moment, bask in the glow of the woman at his side, and spend some time relaxing in the fields.
Yep. Just another beautiful day in the Underworld.
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