Xena was about to tell him that they were just leaving, when Sappho jumped in.

"Do you repair leather?" She asked, smiling at Xena.

"Best leather repair in Thessaly," the shopkeep responded proudly. He looked a little more closely at the poet, and then recognition crossed his features.

"Are you Sappho, the Tenth Muse?"

"Some people call me that." Sappho answered, remembering Xena's standard response to her own title. Her eyes twinkled at the warrior, but she did not rise to the bait.

"I'm honored to have you in my shop!" The shopkeeper said and turned back to Xena.

"You must be Xena, the Warrior Princess?"

"Some people....." Xena stopped, suddenly aware of her automatic answer and gave Sappho a look.

"What makes you think so?" the warrior asked instead.

"Aside from the fact that there isn't another woman in the world who could fit the description? Well, there's rumor that you are traveling with the Tenth Muse. I just assumed that the rumor is true."

"It's true." Xena said flatly, and stood to wait by the door. Apparently, Sappho was planning to shop in here for a while.

"It's a honor to have the two most famous women in all of Greece here in my shop." He turned to acknowledge Gabrielle, who stood pouting, suddenly feeling very left out.

"And you are?"

"Gabrielle of Poteidaia." Gabrielle muttered in reply. She didn't expect him to recognize her name.

"Of course, the famous Bard. Xena's trusted partner. Well, I'm beyond words." Gabrielle beamed. "How may I help you."

Sappho motioned to the shopkeeper as if to tell him a secret. He leaned forward expectantly.

"Her leathers and armor are in really bad shape. We need them repaired, but we don't have much time. Can you do it now?"

"The shopkeeper scratched his chin and thought, "I'll have to take a look." He walked over to Xena and bent to examine her breastplate. The warrior moved away quickly and glared at the merchant.

"Come on, Xena. It won't take long. Let him have a look!" Sappho pleaded.

Xena looked at Gabrielle. The bard shrugged and continued to browse.

"Go ahead." the warrior motioned to the shopkeeper that it was safe for him to continue. He examined her front and back, and then stood to face the poet.

"I can do it. But it's going to cost extra for emergency repair," the merchant warned.

"No problem. Whatever. Just do it."

"They'll have to come off," the shopkeeper looked at Xena. Xena glared at Sappho. Her expression told them all that there was no way she was going to wait in this shop naked, for her leathers to be repaired.

"There's a robe in the dressing room in the back. You can use that." The merchant smiled.

Xena grunted and headed into the dressing room. She drew the curtain and started to fumble with her armor.

"You need help in there?" Gabrielle offered.


Xena's arm extended through the curtain holding her breastplate. Gabrielle took it from her and handed it to the shopkeep.

The merchant examined it with a grunt, "This clasp is ready to break!"

Xena's arm extended through the curtain again, this time holding a leg bracer. Gabrielle took it and passed it along. The shopkeeper tsk'd as he looked it over. "Pretty badly scuffed!" Xena shoved another to Gabrielle. She passed that along, too.

Finally, Xena passed her leather tunic out to Gabrielle. Sappho held her nose as it drifted by her face.

"Wheww! Xena! When was the last time you cleaned that tunic. It could stand and fight by itself."

"Very funny." the warrior mumbled from within the dressing room.

Gabrielle laughed, handing the tunic over to the leatherman. He held it up to the light.

"Looks like you've seen a lot of action." The merchant looked at Gabrielle with concern on his face. He was well aware of how each and every mark must have been made.

"Can it be repaired?" Gabrielle asked.

"No problem," the artisan answered, "I'm an expert. It'll be done in a little while. Relax and have a good look around. Maybe there's something else you would like. There's jewelry in the back." The shopkeeper pointed to a room in the rear and started his work.

"Ooooh!" Gabrielle said, "I'll be in there." She ran off to look at the jewelry.

Xena came out of the dressing room wearing a blue robe.

'Amazing,' Sappho thought to herself, how unlike a warrior Xena appeared now. 'We are what we wear, she thought, and smiled. The warrior still had her gauntlets on.

"Why don't you give him the gauntlets as well. He can check them over." Sappho suggested.

Xena looked down as if she had forgotten about them. As she pulled one from her left arm, a rolled up scroll fell to the floor. Xena bent quickly to retrieve it but Sappho was quicker. The poet snatched it up.

"What's this?" Sappho asked, starting to unroll it.

Xena tried to grab it away, but Sappho turned out of reach. The poet unrolled the tiny scroll and read aloud:

"Her strange hair gold light

has red glows and blond sparkles....."

"What is this?" the poet asked with a smirk on her face. 'Was Xena blushing?' the poet thought to herself.

Xena looked away suddenly embarrassed.

"They said it was something you wrote." Xena answered, trying to sound uninterested.

Sappho said nothing, but stared in amazement at the Warrior Princess.

"Gabrielle wanted something you had written. I got it for her. I thought she'd like it. I..er..forgot it was in there." Xena tried to explain, but wasn't doing a good job of it.

Sappho smiled, "Xena, where did you get this?"

"From one of the vendors in Avlon."

Sappho shook her head, "Xena, I'm sorry but I never wrote this."

"I didn't think so, but I thought it was ....well, I thought Gabrielle would like it." Xena looked away, wishing her armor would be finished.

"You thought Gabrielle would like it?" Sappho rolled it back up and handed it to the warrior, "Xena, if you like the poem and if it touches you in some way, then it doesn't matter who wrote it. Actually, it's not that bad really."

Xena took it back and placed it next to her sword and chakram.

"I tell you what," Sappho said, smiling at the embarrassed warrior, "I promise I'll write something just for you to give to Gabrielle."

"That won't be necessary."

"No. I want to." Sappho said, placing her hand on the warrior's strong arm, "Really."

Xena did not answer, but looked at the poet with a slight smile.

"Gabrielle would love it." Xena said.

"I'm sure she will." Sappho smiled.

The voice of Gabrielle interrupted them. She was calling for Sappho to come into the back of the store. The poet winked at Xena and left. The warrior handed her gauntlets to the shopkeeper with a half grin.

"Hurry up." she asked, not wanting to have to answer any more of Gabrielle's questions about the uses for the items hanging all over the walls. She looked around the store and coughed. Some of the items were downright embarrassing. She picked up a leather paddle from a table and examined it, more out of boredom than anything else.

"We have a sale on those today, if that's to your taste." the merchant offered.

Xena tossed it back on the table with a smirk, "No thanks." She sat down on a stool deciding it would be safer if she didn't look at anything else. She could hear Sappho and Gabrielle laughing in the back room. She thought about going in there, but decided she would rather let Sappho satisfy the bard's curiosity by answering what was probably an unending stream of questions. She could only imagine the kinds of things that would be back there.

A slight scream from Gabrielle brought Xena to her feet.

"What's back there?" She asked the merchant, grabbing her sword from the dressing room.

"Jewelry," the man answered calmly, "My wife is back there. She does the piercing."

"The what?" Xena put the sword back down slowly and turned, almost afraid to ask.

"She wouldn't." She mumbled to herself. Xena took a step towards the back, only to be halted by Sappho coming out. The poet had a mischievous smile on her face. Xena did not like the look of it one bit.

"Gabrielle! Are you all right? What's going on back there?! What did you talk her into doing now!" Xena tried to push by Sappho, but the poet's expression stopped her cold. Sappho silent reply was an all too guilty face.

Gabrielle came out of the back room smiling. "So? What do you think?" She was twisting and turning as though displaying a new skirt, but her skirt was still the same old amazon cloth.

"What in the world....?" Xena's eyes traveled down the length of the bard's taut body and rested on her abdomen.

Her belly button had been newly pierced with a shiny, silver hoop.

Gabrielle twisted proudly. "Do you like it?"

Xena's eyebrows shot up. "Gabrielle! What have you done!"

"You don't like it?" The bard asked, a little disappointed.

Xena shot Sappho a disgusted look, and moved to touch the hoop. Gabrielle backed away and grimaced.

"Don't touch it. It's a little sore."

"I bet it is." Xena stated. She stared at the piercing and raised an eyebrow.

"I think it looks great!" Sappho commented.

"Well, then why didn't you get one?" Xena barked at the poet, turning to face her.

"I wanted to see how much it would hurt, first."

Xena narrowed her eyes. "And?"

"No way! It hurt too much!" Sappho laughed and stepped behind Gabrielle. She grabbed the bard's hips and displayed her to Xena. "It looks great on her though, doesn't it?"

Xena's eyes rested on the bard's stomach once more. Gabrielle's abdomen was tight and well muscled. The years with Xena, the constant travel and battles, had helped to shape her body very nicely. This was not the first time Xena had looked at her stomach in appreciation, but it was the first time she had done it so blatantly, with Gabrielle looking right at her. The warrior tried to keep her expression as stoic as humanly possibly. The bard grinned as she saw a small smile play across Xena's lips. Though her words said otherwise, this smile betrayed her. In all truthfulness, Xena thought the piercing looked very sexy indeed.

Xena tried to remain the voice of reason, "That's going to take a long time to heal."

Gabrielle shrugged. "I can take it."

Xena smirked, "We'll see."

Gabrielle sauntered past Xena, wiggling her stomach in an over-exaggerated manner. Xena watched and laughed.

"Sure looks nice to me." Sappho mumbled.

Xena lost her smile and glared at Sappho.

The shop owner came between them with the leather tunic.

"You're all done, Princess." He handed her the tunic.

"Xena will do." She took it and walked into the dressing room, pulling the curtain closed roughly.

Sappho handed Xena the other items one by one. Xena grabbed them just as roughly from her hands. When she finally emerged from the booth, both Sappho and Gabrielle gasped.

Her leather tunic had been oiled and repaired. Her armor was sparkling and bright, as if brand new. The gauntlets and even her bracers where cleaned to perfection. If she didn't look like Xena, Warrior Princess before, she certainly looked every bit the famous warrior now...and then some.

She flipped her sword into its sheath, attached her chakram to her hip with a spin, and then pushed past them all.

"Let's go. It's getting late."

Xena opened the door and motioned for them to exit.

Sappho threw a bag of coins to the merchant, who bowed and smiled, measuring the weight of it in his hand. It was much more than he would have normally asked for. Sappho walked through the door first, followed by Gabrielle. The bard took Xena's arm and smiled. They walked out into the open air together.

"You look great! Your leathers look brand new!" Gabrielle could not stop staring at her friend.

Xena looked down upon herself and could not surpress a grin, "They feel pretty good too! That was good oil he worked in." She smiled down at Gabrielle.

"The ring looks OK." The warrior said nonchalantly. It was all that Gabrielle needed to hear.


Chapter IX


"Prolong the night, Goddess who sets us aflame!

Hold back from us the golden-sandalled dawn."

- Rene Vivien 1877-1909

Gabrielle walked into the room and looked at the bed with a sigh.

"A bed!"

She couldn't remember the last time she and Xena had slept in a bed. Their constant travels had them sleeping on rocks, grass, dirt but mostly rocks night after endless night. Not that she was complaining. The bard loved the open air and the starry sky. She loved their quiet times beside a camp fire and the tender conversations that helped to warm the chilly nights. She felt closer to Xena than any other person she had ever known. And Gabrielle knew that Xena had opened up to her more than she had to anyone else in the warrior's turbulent life. She wouldn't trade those nights under the stars for all the dinars in Athens.

However, here was a bed and tonight it was free. She wasn't about to turn down the opportunity. She sat down on the mattress without a second thought and, just as quickly, jumped back up to her feet.

"Owww!" She howled. Her new belly button piercing pinched her mercilessly. Tentatively touching it with a finger, she noticed how red and irritated the tender skin appeared.

"Oooh!" She sucked in some air and tried to blow on it. Then she slowly sat on the bed, carefully trying not to bend at the waist at all. Impossible to sit without bending, Gabrielle let herself plop on her back down onto the soft mattress. She sighed once more, enjoying how the mattress bounced softly and then slowly became still.

"Ahhhh!" Gabrielle chirped happily.

"Bellybutton hurt?" Xena said, watching her friend from the doorway with a grin.

Gabrielle popped her head up, but didn't try to move.

"Not at all," the bard lied and laid her head back down.

"Uh huh." Xena grunted, not believing a word, "Here. Let me have a look at it."

The tall warrior dropped down onto the bed next to Gabrielle, causing the mattress to bounce like a wave.

"Take it easy!" Gabrielle complained. "Where have you been?"

Xena chuckled. "I've been discussing security arrangements for tomorrow with our Amazon friends. I'm glad they're here."

The warrior looked closely at the taut belly with appreciation and smirked. She noticed that Gabrielle was lying back with her eyes closed and took the opportunity to poke the tender skin right next to the navel.

"Owww!" The bard popped her head up and slapped Xena's hand away, "Take it easy, I said!"

"Doesn't hurt, huh?"

Xena stood from the bed and rifled through Gabrielle's amazon pouch, which had been laid carefully on a chair. She found what she was looking for and crossed over to a table. Taking a soft cloth and a pitcher of water, she wet the cloth and came back to the bed, dropping down once more upon the mattress.

Gabrielle glared at her with annoyance, as the mattress bounced again.

Xena grinned and examined her abdomen carefully. She tenderly began to cleanse the bard's belly button and the skin surrounding it. Gabrielle sucked in a breath as the cold cloth touched her skin, and then relaxed a bit as the coolness began to soothe her discomfort.

"Hmmm, that feels better." She purred and closed her eyes. Xena smiled down at her warmly.

"You have to keep this clean, you know." The warrior's brow furrowed as she began to clean out the bard's navel, "What's this in here?"

Gabrielle popped her head up to see, "What's what?" She looked down her nose at her own belly button.

"Looks like nutbread crumbs to me!" Xena joked.

Gabrielle dropped her head back down with a laugh. Xena grinned and continued her ministrations. When she was satisfied that the area was clean, she took a dab of gel from the small jar she had removed from Gabrielle's pouch. Using her fingertip, she gently applied the salve to the ring and the area surrounding it. Xena smiled as her fingertip touched the bard's soft skin, and traced the contours of flesh in small circles around her navel. She spread the gel lovingly, taking the opportunity to watch Gabrielle's face as her fingertip ran along her stomach. The bard was hypnotized.

Xena's eyes became fixed on Gabrielle's face. She watched as the bard's mouth curved upward into a slight smile and part to allow her tongue to moisten sudden dry lips.

The warrior's heart stopped beating, and she quickly drew her fingertip away, realizing with a start that she had been enjoying herself much too much. She jumped up from the bed and turned her back to hide the blush that was already tinting her cheeks.

"You should clean that and apply the gel at least twice a day." Xena advised stiffly, and then headed for the door, "I'm going to check on the guards. I'll be right back." With that, Xena left the room.

Gabrielle popped her head up from the bed, and slapped the mattress with the palm of her hand.

"Darn it!" She whispered angrily and let her head drop back down to the mattress in frustration.

Xena let the door close behind her and then fanned her already heated face.

"Darn it!" Xena whispered hoarsely and shook her head. She headed down the stairs in angry frustration.

Sappho poked her head out of her room just in time to see Xena leave and fan her face. She heard the whispered curse and watched the warrior's tormented exit with amusement. The poet placed her palm against her cheek, shook her head in wonder.

"They're going to drive each other crazy!" She commented to herself, and then grinned wickedly, "Aahh, but what sweet torture."

Waiting until Xena disappeared down the stairs, she left her own room and poked her head quietly into Gabrielle's door.

The bard was still lying on the bed with her eyes closed. Gabrielle heard the door open and assumed it was Xena.

"Xena, that felt so good. Why did you stop?"

"I have no idea. If it was me, I sure wouldn't have!" Sappho answered with a chuckle and stood in the room.

Gabrielle's head popped up again in surprise. A deep blush colored her cheeks.

"Sappho. I thought you were Xena!"


"She was...er....rubbing my belly.....er.. I mean, putting salve on my ....ring." The bard stammered, suddenly at a loss for the words to explain.

"Is that all?" The poet queried knowingly.

"Yes." Gabrielle insisted, jumping up from the bed indignantly. "You know, Sappho, Xena and I are not lovers. We are just....."

"I know....I know." Sappho put up her hands in defense, "You are just good friends."

"Right!" Gabrielle agreed with a nod.

"I see." The poet said cryptically.

"Xena doesn't think of me in that way." Gabrielle explained further.

"She doesn't?"

"No." Gabrielle insisted.

Sappho moved closer to the bard, causing Gabrielle to take a step back uncomfortably.

"Gabrielle, do you know the difference between good friends and lovers?" She asked staring directly into the bard's emerald eyes.

Gabrielle shrugged, embarrassed to answer the question, but somehow finding the courage anyway.

"Sex?" she answered meekly.

The poet took Gabrielle by the chin and shook her head in the negative.

"No." She said and grinned. Gabrielle waited for the answer.


Sappho released Gabrielle's chin and walked away, allowing the bard to ponder the difference for a moment. She whirled around smiling, suddenly changing the subject.

"Are you hungry?" Sappho asked.

"Starving!" Gabrielle answered, the mention of food always bringing a smile to her lips. Actually, she was more than happy to change the subject and think of something else.

Sappho clapped her hands, "I thought so!"

She turned and opened the door to the room, "Come on in!" She yelled into the hallway.

In paraded Laci, followed by Cleo, Alecto and Meager. Then came Erato, Polyhmnia, Urania, and Thalia. Not to mention Calliope, Eutrepe, and Clio. Followed closely by Melpomene and Terspichore. They were all carrying either plates of food or pitchers and glasses of ale.

"Let the games begin!" Sappho announced with a flourish.

Gabrielle gulped. Xena was not going to like this one bit. They filled up their room, placing the trays and pitchers wherever they could and sitting in any open spot available. They were obviously settling in for the evening.

Sappho sat in the only chair and crossed her legs.

"We were hoping you would tell us another part of the story," she said, explaining the sudden intrusion, "Actually, I was hoping to bribe you into telling us." She motioned to the plates of food and grinned.

Gabrielle bit her lip, torn between what she knew Xena's reaction would be to finding the entire troupe in their room, and the offer of limitless food. She regarded Sappho with narrowed eyes. The poet's dark hair hung wildly down around her shoulders in braids and wisps of loose strands. Her steel eyes sparkled with mischief, and her disarming smile conspired to make the poet absolutely irresistible. She could talk Echidna into selling her children. Add to this the wonderful smell of freshly cooked chicken and vegetables, and Gabrielle was conquered.

"Food will get you anywhere!" Gabrielle answered Sappho with a laugh.

"I thought as much." Sappho smiled in return and handed Gabrielle a plate of chicken and wild rice. The bard licked her lips and accepted the bribe.

Xena headed back into the tavern after making yet another inspection of the newly erected stage and speaking one more time with an Amazon sister regarding security arrangements for tomorrow's performance.

The Amazon girl thought that the warlord was overdoing it a bit, having just gone over the very same arrangements with her a few minutes earlier. She wondered what prompted the beautiful warrior to come out of the tavern to talk with her again, and hoped perhaps it was something more than business. Xena, however, had simply reiterated her instructions and then mysteriously took a brisk walk around the block. When the warrior returned, it appeared as though she had dunked her head in a barrel of water, for her hair was dripping wet.

The Amazon girl shrugged her shoulders at another sister, and watched as Xena shook the water from her hair and walked back into the tavern. Whatever had heated her up, she seemed to be cooled off now. The Amazons laughed.

Xena walked slowly up the stairs, reluctant to go back into the room. She was getting entirely too distracted and not doing a very good job of protecting Sappho from her assassin. She berated herself for not concentrating on finding the killer, instead of simply planning against attacks.

She looked at the main dining room of the tavern. It was empty. Samthus made it a habit of renting an entire tavern wherever they went for however long they were there. He paid the owners enough to compensate for the lack of business. There would be no patrons other than the troupe in the inn for the remainder of their stay. It was good planning, and good for the warrior. She would sleep down in the dining room tonight and let Gabrielle have a good night's sleep in the bed. She would be able to think clearly down here. Now she had to tell her friend her plan. She expected Gabrielle was not going to like it one bit.

The sound of flute and drums filled the second story of the tavern. The troupe had already started the evening's party. As Xena approached the top of the stairs, she paused looking briefly into Sappho's room. It was empty.

Xena cursed under her breath as she realized the sounds of the festivities were coming from her own room. She thought briefly of walking in and throwing them all out, but changed her mind. This would make everything easier for her. Gabrielle could keep her eye on Sappho, and she could guard the door to the tavern downstairs and get a chance to think. She wiped her wet hair from her forehead and smiled. 'Let her have a good time.' the warrior thought to herself, 'I'm going to be no fun tonight.' She was about to turn, when she heard her friend's bardic voice fill the room.

"Now where was I?" Gabrielle asked the room.

Xena quickly pulled a stool out from Sappho's room and sat in the shadows of the hallway. Gabrielle was going to continue her story. She did not want to miss it, so leaned against the wall and stretched her long legs to the other side of the corridor.

"The wolf let the mole live!" Sappho said, "to search for his love, the owl."

"Right!" Gabrielle pointed to the poet and smiled. "Now let's see." She tapped her chin and waited for the room to settle down.

Outside in the hall, Xena tipped her head back and laid her sword across her lap. She could hear everything through the wall. She closed her eyes and smiled. Her wet hair dripped a small puddle onto the wooden floor.

"Aah yes, but now the mole had to cross the river to continue his journey and the search for his love. He fixed his gaze on the far shore. He had never been on that side of the wood. How it mesmerized him now, the stony bank sparkled, the dark trees whispered, and the gentle wind leaned on his back. How would he cross the river?

He foraged for a log, but the ground was smooth, layered only with leaves and sticks. He was ready to try jumping, when he caught sight of a tortoise basking in the sun. The mole crept quietly closer, knelt down and peered inside. The tortoise lay deep asleep, lost in his dreams. The mole rolled the tortoise onto his shell and pushed him towards the river.

The tortoise woke to find himself gazing at branches and blue sky. He withdrew into the home which was his shell, it being the only place he had ever known. After a while, curiosity got the better of the tortoise, and he extended his chapped face to find he was being pushed by another; he was being pushed along by a mole.

'You realize,' the tortoise said calmly, 'It will take me all day to crawl back to where I was.'

'Sorry' shrugged the mole, 'but I'm desperate and manners must go by the board.'

'A desperate mole?' the tortoise mused, pulling indoors. His view paused for a moment and settled on the water.

'You wish me to swim you across the river?' the tortoise asked, suddenly understanding the mole's intentions.

The mole nodded and rolled the tortoise over, then climbed onto his back.

'You might have asked' the tortoise sighed. Yet he felt a quiet awakening inside him, an ancient hibernation disturbed by an unexpected spring. Curiosity, which was not in his nature, found its way into the tortoise's heart. And so he pushed forth stiff legs and stood. The mole closed his eyes at the movement in fear and hoped for the best. After what seemed like a lifetime, the mole no longer felt the motion of the tortoise.

'You're across the river,' the tortoise said quietly.

'Are you sure?' the mole asked, opening his squinted eyes, 'Well, so I am. And so are you!'

'We are both across the river, for the first time.'

'It's only a first for my feet' The mole said, 'The rest of me has stood here for years.'

The tortoise shook his head, 'I admire your courage. But why were you desperate to cross this river? No mole has ever left the wood, and for good reason.'

The mole thought for a moment, remembering the words of the wolf.

'I'm not a mole.' The mole answered.

'Oh? What are you then?'

The mole pondered the question, eyes fixed on the horizon. 'I don't know anymore.' he said at last.

'Ah' sighed the tortoise, who thought he had reasoned the mole's purpose, 'Then you're leaving to find yourself.'

'No,' the mole answered, walking away, 'To find someone else.'

The mole moved down the long slope, parted tall grasses that stood high above his head, paused for a moment to wave at the tortoise, then disappeared into the field.

The tortoise watched a trembling path of sheaves move crookedly toward the horizon.

'We all need someone to help us from our shell' The tortoise whispered as he watched the mole disappear into the wide world beyond.

Gabrielle paused to observe Sappho's expression. The poet had closed her eyes, silently envisioning the story as it was being told. She opened them slowly, suddenly realizing that Gabrielle had stopped speaking. The room was silent.

Outside, Xena's eyes were also closed. She, too had been picturing the tortoise watching the mole in wonder as he disappeared into the tall grass. Gabrielle had a way of making everything so clear. The warrior smiled and wished she had gone into the room, so she could look into her friend's eyes. Xena sighed and stood from the stool, deciding instead to go down to the dining room and get to work.

"No more?" Sappho said sadly, like a little girl who did not yet want to go to bed.

"Tomorrow," Gabrielle promised. "I'm tired. I want to get some sleep tonight."

"Sleep?" Sappho protested, jumping up from the chair, "Sleep? There's plenty of time to sleep when you die!"

"Uuggh!" Gabrielle grunted and fell back onto the bed, "Don't you ever stop!"

"Never!" Sappho said, grabbing a goblet and holding it in the air!"

"I know...I know," Gabrielle said, already feeling the headache she was going to have tomorrow, "Here's to dessert!"

Sappho smiled and drank.

"Let's sing!" Laci suggested to the room.

"Where's my lyre?" Sappho asked, suddenly concerned with its whereabouts.

"You are always losing your lyre!" Gabrielle commented.

"Someone always finds it for me," Sappho laughed pulling Gabrielle up from the bed and sending her out the door.

"All right, all right I'll get it! Where is it?"

"It's in my room."

"Right. Your room. Of course." Gabrielle left the party in her own room to fetch the lyre.

Xena sat at a table and ran her hands through damp hair. It was dark and quiet, the only sound filling the room was the muffled music coming from the rooms above. She was tired. The warrior took her sword out of its sheath and removed the whetstone from its pocket.

Gabrielle smiled as she heard the sound of a sword being sharpened. She tiptoed quickly down the stairs and into the dining room with a papyrus roll and Sappho's lyre in her arms.

"Xena!" the bard whispered to her friend across the room. Xena looked up and smiled.

"Where have you been? What are you doing?" Gabrielle asked, crossing the room to sit in a chair beside the warrior.


The bard noticed that Xena's hair was damp. "Your hair is wet! You'll catch a cold."

"It's almost dry," the warrior shrugged, "It was dirty."

Gabrielle smiled, thinking of the stool and the puddle of water she found outside of their room.

"Why didn't you come in?" She asked, watching the warrior sharpen her sword.

"Too crowded."

Gabrielle caught Xena's eyes in her own, "Why did you leave in the first place?"

Xena stopped her strokes and changed the subject.

"What've you got there?" She pointed to the roll of papyrus with her whetstone.

"Oh! Right. I came down here to show you this." Gabrielle put down the lyre and laid the roll on the table. She took a rolled up scroll out of her skirt top. "This is the threatening note that was attached to that arrow yesterday."

Xena took the scroll from her hand and nodded.

"Look at this roll of papyrus and look at the note."

Xena compared the two in the candle light and drew a breath.

"This note came from this roll?"

"Exactly. No two rolls of papyrus are alike. Slightly different shade. Slightly different wood fragments. That note came from that roll."

Xena nodded in understanding. "Where did this roll come from, Gabrielle?"

"It's Sappho's. It came from her scroll bag. I noticed it when I went in her room to get her lyre for her."

Gabrielle moved closer to the warrior and placed her hands on her arm. A worried look crossed her features.

"What does it mean, Xena? Is Sappho writing these horrible notes to herself?"

Xena thought of that interesting possibility, but shook her and examined the note against the roll of papyrus a little closer.

"No. I don't think so. But what it does mean makes me just as worried."


"It means that whoever is threatening Sappho, is close enough to her to be able to get hold of this papyrus."

"You mean it's one of us?"

Xena nodded slowly.

"The bastard's probably up in our room right now!" Xena slammed the scroll down on the table in anger. She had assumed that the assassin was someone following the troupe. Someone from the outside. She should have thought of the possibility that the assassin might be someone within their ranks before this.

"Good work, Gabrielle!" Xena placed her hand over her friend's and squeezed, "Good work."

A change in the air of the room caused both of them to turn their heads toward the stairs.

"What is that smell?" Gabrielle asked, crinkling her nose up in disgust.

"FIRE!" Xena shouted and jumped up from her chair.

A single plume of smoke drifted down the stairwell and into the dining room. Xena grabbed Gabrielle, lifting her out of her seat and towards the door.

"Get out of here and get some help!"

Gabrielle resisted for a moment, wanting to stay with Xena, but the warrior was adamant.

"Get help!" Xena urged, pulling Gabrielle up from her chair. The bard realized that one of them had to get help, and it was probably going to be her. She picked up Sappho's lyre and papyrus, and headed towards the door.

"Be careful, Xena!" She yelled and watched worriedly as Xena took the stairs two at a time, heading into the smoke. She turned and ran off to find help.

By the time Xena made it to the top of the stairs, the hallway was filled with smoke. She paused briefly at the doorway to Sappho's room to shield her face from the flames that were coming from there. She tried to close the door, but the heat was already too intense. She went to the next room and kicked the door open.

The door flew in, interrupting the merriment. Sappho was about to complain when she saw the amount of smoke that entered in behind the warrior's tall body.

"Fire!" Xena barked, "Get out of here!"

Sappho watched in amazement as Xena tore the door from it's hinges and used it to block the flames threatening to engulf their exit down the stairway. She held the flames back with the door and waited for them to pass. Sappho shuffled the troupe out of the room as quickly as she could. The poet hesitated, looking around the room, and spotted her own bag of scrolls and Gabrielle's amazon pouch.

"Hurry!" Xena grimaced as the door began to heat up, threatening to burst into flames in her arms. Sappho nodded and ran past Xena with her arms full.

The warrior could no longer hold onto the door and was forced to drop it into the fire, which had now spread well into the hallway. The sudden rush of air forced Xena to back away from the flames and into their room. She was now trapped inside.

"Get out of here!" She yelled to Sappho, who was watching in horror from the stairwell. The poet scampered down the stairs and into the street to get help.

Gabrielle had successfully summoned the owner of the tavern, who was running over with buckets of water. The town's fire alarm had sounded, and many people were rushing to the building to help. A line was forming from the well to the inn, and the fire fight was on.

Gabrielle glanced through the crowd nervously looking for Xena. She grabbed Sappho when she saw her.

"Where's Xena!" the bard yelled in panic.

"Gabrielle, she's still up in the room!" The poet answered with worry etched all over her face.

The bard looked up at the rooms overhead. The shutters on the window to the right had already been burned away and flames where licking upward out of the window to the thatched roof above. The room on the left still had its shutters, but smoke was billowing from it's corners. The room had to be in flames inside and the roof was threatening to collapse at any moment.

Gabrielle looked up in horror, "Xena! Xena!"

She started to run back into the tavern, but Sappho grabbed her and held her tight. The bard fought with all of her strength, until Sappho could hold her no more. She broke free and was about to run into the flames when a chair broke through the wooden shutters of the window above.

The shutters and the chair crashed onto the dirt and shattered into splintered pieces. Gabrielle could see Xena looking out from the window above. She could also see the flames advancing behind her.


Xena took a quick look out of the window and saw what she was looking for. There was a wagon filled with straw right below the window. Gabrielle watched as her friend disappeared from view.


They heard Xena before they saw her next.


Xena came catapulting through the window headfirst. She dove towards the wagon, flipping over in mid air onto her back. She landed with a heavy thud, squarely on her back in the wagon. Pieces of straw flew into the air and floated on the breeze at the impact. And then there was silence.

Sappho looked at Gabrielle. They both heard Xena groan and ran over to the wagon. Gabrielle jumped in first and knelt beside the warrior who was lying flat on her back, covered in straw. The fall had knocked the wind out of her momentarily.

"Ugh! That's was harder than I thought it would be!" Xena groaned.

"Nice dive!" Sappho commented from the rear of the wagon.

"Are you all right?" Gabrielle asked, afraid to move her for fear of injury.

"I don't know." The warrior eyes suddenly bulged, "Gabrielle!" she whispered hoarsely.

"What's wrong!" Gabrielle placed her hands on either side of her face in worry.

"I think I fell on a pitchfork!"

"By the gods, Xena! Don't move!" Gabrielle grabbed the warrior's shoulders and rolled her over carefully. Sure enough their was a pitchfork, just barely buried in her tunic. The newly repaired leather had protected her well. The pitchfork had not penetrated her skin at all. Gabrielle glanced at Sappho and smiled. She pulled the pitchfork out of the leather and threw it over the side of the wagon. Sappho watched it clank to the ground and then looked at Xena's back.

"Hey, we just fixed that leather. Now you have holes in it again!"

Xena sat up and spit some straw from her mouth. She smiled at Gabrielle, who was still looking worriedly at the warrior for signs of injury.

"It smells like a cow in here!" Xena said waving her hand by her nose, "I didn't land on anything else, did I?" She lifted her rump to check underneath.

Gabrielle threw her arms around Xena's neck, hugging her in sudden relief. The warrior hugged her back in return. "I'm fine." she confirmed, softly pushing the worried bard away from her. When she looked at Gabrielle, she saw that black soot from her own face had found its way onto Gabrielle's cheek.

Xena tried to rub the black from Gabrielle's face with her thumb, but her hand was also covered in soot.

"OOPS! I think I made it worse!" Xena grinned. Gabrielle laughed and rubbed it with her own hand, inspecting the dirt.

"Now we'll both need a bath!" Gabrielle said, standing and offering Xena a hand. Xena took it and smiled, standing over her friend in the back of the wagon.

A rumbling noise caused all to turn around. The thatched roof was ablaze and crashing in on the tavern.

"We better move back!" Xena warned and jumped from the wagon. She helped Gabrielle down, and moved both the bard and Sappho to a safe distance. They watched in silence as the fire turned first the tavern and then the stage into flames."

Chapter X


"Because you do not share in the roses

which are the Muses' gift,

You will be unnoticed and wander about

even in the house of Hades,

spreading your wings among the insubstantial ghosts"

- Sappho, circa 625 B.C.


The city guards surrounded the line of wagons, straining to keep the crowds at bay. The atmosphere in the village center was a mix of anger and disappointment at the cancellation of Sappho's performance. Most, however, were really surrounding the charred remains of the tavern and stage just to get a glimpse of the famous poet. Then there were those who were more anxious for a look at the Warrior Princess of Calmi, the Destroyer of Nations, interested in seeing if the infamous warlord was as fierce as she had been described in countless bardic tales. She did not disappoint.

Xena was covered from head to foot in black soot and dirt, having spent the entire night fighting to keep the blaze from destroying the entire village. After that, the Warrior Princess spent the morning digging through the rubble trying to find some clue as to the fire's origin. Her mood was foul.

The fire had destroyed everything in its wake, leaving nothing behind but cinder and ash, most of which had found its way onto the warrior's newly cleaned leathers. The only thing left shining on the ex-warlord were her angry steel eyes. She stood by Argo at attention, staring coldly at the soldiers and the crowd. Covered in black, with angry eyes blazing, she looked every bit a creature sent directly from Tartarus. It was not an image many of the audience would forget easily.

Gabrielle grunted as she walked up, seeing the crowd stare in awe at the dark, frightening creature who was guarding the troupe from the onlookers. The city guards were probably not necessary at all. Xena was scary enough to frighten the Furies away. Gabrielle chuckled. Xena had many skills, and intimidation was one of her favorites.

She stood beside her friend, with her amazon staff in her hand, attempting to act as reinforcement. Xena glanced down but did not smile.

"Having fun?" Gabrielle whispered through the side of her mouth.

"Do I look like I'm having fun?" Xena asked, not amused.

"You *look* like a creature from Tartarus! You're scaring the children!" Gabrielle's head motioned toward a small group of young children who were staring at the warrior with wide eyes. Xena looked at Gabrielle and followed her eyes to the toddlers huddled against the knees of their parents. Xena smiled at them. The flash of her white teeth made them scream and hide their heads.

Xena relaxed and laughed, shaking her head at her friend.

"I guess I'm a pretty scary sight." She looked down at her armor and groaned. "What a mess!"

The bard noticed the leather shop owner in the crowd, obviously annoyed that his fine work had been so quickly ruined. Gabrielle hooked her arm around Xena's and gave it a tug, "Come on! We're almost ready to leave. The guards are doing fine. Let's at least wash your face."

Gabrielle smiled up and watched Xena's mood soften.

"Is my face that dirty?"

"It's that dirty."

"All right. If you insist."

Xena allowed the bard to pull her along. The crowd watched in amazement as the small, pretty redhead walked away, arm in arm, with the tall, dark creature from Tartarus.

They stopped at the rear of one of the wagons. There was a bucket of water, soap and a few rags waiting for Xena in the back. Xena smiled at Gabrielle, who laughed at the sight of her white teeth against her black face.

"Wash!" Gabrielle pointed to the bucket and ordered.

"Thanks." Xena replied sincerely, and splashed her face with the cold water.

"Did you find anything?" Gabrielle queried as Xena washed her face with soap.

"Not a thing." Xena answered in between rinsings, "Everything was destroyed." Rinse. "I know it started in the room next to ours, though." Rinse.

"That was Sappho's room." Gabrielle commented.

"I know." Suddenly Xena grimaced, "Oww!"

Gabrielle grabbed her arm, "Are you hurt?"

"No, just soap in my eyes." Xena's hand fumbled around for the rags. Gabrielle grabbed one and handed it to her. "Thanks. What happened at the meeting?" Xena asked, wiping the soap from her eyes.

"The Village Council said 'no show'."

"I figured as much." Xena commented, wiping her face thoroughly with the rag.

"They said the fire was a message from the Gods. A warning to the village that Sappho should not play. Can you believe it?"

"Why would they think that?" Xena asked, looking at the black soot on the rag. "Is my face clean?"

"Nope, still dirty. Wash again."

Xena scrubbed again.

"They think the Gods are angry at Sappho for not honoring them in her songs." Gabrielle continued, "They believe the Gods will punish any village that allows Sappho to play."

Xena rubbed her face with another clean rag, "Clean now?"

Gabrielle smiled, "Beautiful!"

Xena smiled back.

"What about all the other places she's played! Those villages didn't feel the wrath of any of the Gods."

"That's what Sappho said, but they didn't care. You should have heard her! She made this incredible speech to the Council. 'The Gods may command from the heavens above, but love rules over us all!' she said to them. It was so beautiful! And they were appalled that she should say such a thing! They told her to be quiet before Athena heard her and punished them all. Then you know what she said?"

Xena dipped her dirty hands into the cool, refreshing water and washed, "No, what did she say?"

Gabrielle's crooked grin made Xena's eyes sparkle, "She said, 'Since you do not share in the roses, which are the Muses' gift, you will go unnoticed and wander about, even in the house of Hades, spreading your wings among insubstantial ghosts.'" Gabrielle's eyes twinkled in wonder, "since you do not share in the roses.......how does she come up with this stuff! Incredible! And they didn't understand a word of it. They still refused to let her play. They said if she tried, they would arrest her and throw her in jail!"

"Is Sappho upset?" Xena asked, drying her hands with the last towel.

"Very." Gabrielle said simply. "She's already started to drink."

Xena paused and looked at the bard. 'That means trouble,' the warrior thought to herself. Gabrielle read her mind and nodded.

Xena threw the last rag down and looked at her armor. The normally clean bronze of her breastplate was covered in soot. The warrior sighed.

"What you need to do is just jump in a lake, armor and all!" Gabrielle chuckled.

Xena raised an eyebrow, "Are you telling me I should go jump in a lake?" They both laughed.

"Well, you'll be happy to know that there is a great camping spot between here and Arkarna. There's a beautiful lake and lots of fish." Xena informed Gabrielle.

"Great! I gather we'll be stopping there tonight?"

Xena nodded, "The faster we leave here, the quicker we can get there!"

"I'll tell Sappho. Maybe it will lift her spirits."

Xena laughed, "I don't think we need Sappho lifting any more spirits."

"You're right about that!" Gabrielle smiled, "I'll go tell her anyway. Oh, and Xena....."

"What?" Xena asked, smiling down at Gabrielle.

"You missed a spot." Gabrielle pointed to Xena's breastplate. When the warrior looked down, Gabrielle swiped her finger up along the armor and flicked Xena's nose with her finger. It left a black smudge. The bard ran away with a happy chuckle.

Xena looked in the wagon for a clean rag, but there were none left.

"I'll get you for that!" She yelled at her friend as the bard scooted away in search of Sappho. The warrior wiped her nose with the back of her hand and chuckled, realizing she was no longer in a bad mood.

Sappho, on the other hand, was in a very foul mood, and it was growing worse with every sip from the wine skin. She sat in the back of the wagon, with her back to the crowd, staring at the charred remains of her stage. She took a long swallow of wine and let it burn down the back of her throat. The poet closed her eyes as a slight breeze caressed her cheek. If she drank enough, maybe she could pretend that the caress was other than the breeze; that the scent was not cindered wood, but fire on a beach and the crowd's milling voices were seagulls calling to the sea. If she drank enough, maybe she could feel her lover sitting down next to the fire and taking her hand; and if she started to sing, maybe she would hear their voices harmonizing together, just as it used to be.

The long journey was almost over and the stage had been burned to the ground. There was no place else to sing. Was the reason gone as well? The poet took another sip of wine and opened her eyes to find Gabrielle watching her closely.

"Are you all right?"

"Gabrielle," the poet whispered sadly, "Where is my tortoise? I need to climb on his shell for I cannot cross this river alone."

Gabrielle took her hand and slowly removed the wine skin from her lap. "Your tortoise is right here," she answered the poet with a smile, "Climb on board. I'll be happy to help you cross that river."

Sappho glanced briefly over Gabrielle's shoulder at Xena who was walking towards them, wiping the soot from her nose.

"Well, here comes the wolf." Sappho whispered.

Gabrielle grinned knowing without looking that Sappho was referring to Xena, "The wolf will protect us both."

Sappho watched the warrior and then touched the bard's cheek. "You have such faith, Gabrielle. It shines so brightly, all around you." The poet dropped her hand and leaned her head against the side of the wagon.

"Why don't you lie down and get some sleep. We'll be leaving here. Xena says there's a beautiful lake where we'll be camping tonight."

"Really? Then let's get out of here. There is nothing here after all."

Samthus walked up behind Gabrielle and shook his head as Sappho seemed to fall off into a drunken sleep.

"Where's the warrior?"

"Right here." Xena said from behind Samthus. He climbed into the front of the wagon and took the reigns. "Let's get moving."

Xena nodded and climbed onto Argo. She lent a hand down to Gabrielle and pulled her up into the saddle.

"You're going to get dirty from my leathers. Sure you don't want your own horse?" Xena said, as Gabrielle wrapped her arms around the warrior's waist.

Gabrielle moaned at the question and ignored the black soot that was rubbing off onto her forearms.

"I like it back here just fine, thanks anyway." She leaned close against Xena, not caring if her top got dirty, but vowed to keep her face away from the armor this time.

Xena clicked at Argo, and led the procession out of town.

They were making good time out of Kapandrition. There were a few less wagons due to the fact that the stage had been destroyed. Samthus sold off the unneeded carts and horses, giving the proceeds, and then some, to the tavern owner. The man greatly appreciated the gesture.

They wound their way out of town, up and over a small hill pass and into the woods. They were following a well traveled road that would lead them directly to Arkarna probably by the end of the day tomorrow, with one overnight camp along the way: at the lake.

Gabrielle hummed as she walked. She had gotten down from Argo as soon as they were out of the village, far preferring to walk than ride. Xena had laughed at the black spots on her arms and chest, but she was able to rub it off for the most part.

Gabrielle looked up at Xena with a sly grin.

"Why don't bears wear boots and socks?"

The question took Xena by surprise. "What?"

"Why don't bears wear boots and socks?" Gabrielle repeated impatiently.

Xena looked at her as though she were crazy. "Because they're animals!"

Gabrielle sighed at the warrior's answer, "Why don't bears wear boots and socks?"

Xena suddenly realized that Gabrielle was going to tell a joke, "Oh. I get it. I don't know. Why don't bears wear boots and socks?" She repeated.

Gabrielle looked away satisfied, "Because they like to walk around in bear feet!"

Xena rolled her eyes and looked away.

"What do you call a mean tempered horse?"

Xena looked back down at her friend. "I don't know. What do you call a mean tempered horse?"

"A nightmare!"

Xena shook her head and chuckled, "Don't listen, Argo."

"What do you call a chicken crossing the road?"

"Gabrielle! Must you?"

"What do you call a chicken crossing the road?" Gabrielle repeated crossly.

"I don't know!" Xena yelled.

"Poultry in motion."

Xena moaned, but chuckled anyway. "Gabrielle, please stop."

"Here's one you should get." Gabrielle looked up at Xena. Xena stared back at her doing her best mock imitation of the great Warrior Princess 'you better not or I'll chop your head off' look.

Gabrielle was not impressed, "What sounds better the more you beat it?"

"Gabrielle, please!"

"Come on, Warrior Princess, what sounds better the more you beat it?"

"You! If you don't stop telling me these bad jokes!"

"Ok! Fine then! If you don't appreciate my jokes, I'll go tell them to Sappho. She'll like them!"

"You do that!"

"Fine then! I'll just do that!" Gabrielle flipped her hair at the Warrior Princess, leaving Xena chuckling to herself atop Argo. She stomped off in mock anger towards Sappho's wagon. Smiling at Samthus, she walked around to the back of the cart, and prepared herself for the jump in. The back was empty. The bard had a bad feeling about this.

"Ah, Xena!" Gabrielle yelled, following along behind the empty wagon.

Xena didn't hear her. She yelled a little louder.


Xena turned in her saddle and raised her eyebrows at the bard.

"I think we forgot to pack something!" Gabrielle said, pointing to the back of Sappho's wagon.

"What?" Xena asked, her eyebrows knotting together.


"What are you saying? This better not be another bad joke, Gabrielle!"

"I'm not kidding. Sappho's gone."

Samthus whirled around and looked. Xena brought Argo to a halt. The procession came to a slow stop.

"WHAT!" Xena pulled on Argo's reins, bringing the horse around to the side of the wagon where Sappho should have been sleeping.

"She's gone." Gabrielle stated.

Xena stared at the empty cart. Then she looked at Samthus. He shrugged his shoulders. Xena rode Argo up and down the line of wagons, looking for the poet. She came back and stared at Samthus.

"Where did she go?"

"How should I know?"

"Kapandrition!" Gabrielle stated.

"Knowing her. Probably." Samthus agreed.

Xena looked at Gabrielle with a question in her eyes.

"To sing!" Samthus answered, "She's the most stubborn person in the known world!"

"Xena!" Gabrielle ran to her friend worriedly, "They'll arrest her!"

Xena's lips tightened and her eyes flashed, "Great Goddess Artemis! When I get a hold of her.....! Stay here, Gabrielle! I'll be right back!"

Xena kicked Argo and the horse broke off into an instant gallop, the hooves kicked dirt into Gabrielle's and Samthus' faces.

"Wait, Xena!" Gabrielle yelled, ducking the flying dirt and mad at being left behind once more. She watched Xena disappear down the road back to the village and hit the side of the wagon with her staff.

"I hate when she does that!"

Samthus nodded in sympathy.

Xena flew down the trail that led back to Kapandrition. She was angry, but it felt good to run with Argo. She leaned farther into the gallop and urged her horse to go faster, enjoying the wind as it rushed through her hair. "Yah!" The warrior yelled, exhilarated by the speed. She might be enjoying the ride, but she was going to give Sappho a good spanking when she caught up with her anyway.

She brought Argo to an abrupt halt at the ridge over the town. The view told the entire story. Sappho was back there all right, and her unscheduled performance was about to begin. A large crowd was gathering in front of a Temple to Athena, and so were the city's guards.

"She would pick a temple!" Xena grumbled as she ran Argo down the hill.

It was a great Temple to Athena. A large staircase led up to an ornate door. The staircase was bordered by rows of large marble urns on either side. Corinthian columns supported the marble roof, and surrounded the entire temple at even intervals. On the roof, two statues of Athena stared with a regal air down upon the city's center, one statue on each corner. And in the middle of the statues, one small poet sat holding a big lyre, her feet dangling over the edge towards the ground.

She looked down at the scene below and laughed in amusement. The guards were so busy trying to keep the crowd from stampeding the temple, they did not have time to deal with the poet. She would get her chance to sing - at least one song, and that was all she needed. She stood up and was about to start, when she noticed Xena riding Argo into the center of the village, and working her way through the crowd towards the temple.

"Its now or never!" Sappho said to herself and stood. A hush came over the crowd.

"Don't you dare!" One of the council members stood at the bottom of the stairs and pointed his finger up at the poet. "Don't you dare sing a word!"

Sappho ignored him and strummed her lyre; the crowd applauded.

"Stop now or we'll shoot you down!" The old man shouted and motioned to the guard's commander. He yelled an order and the guards turned their backs on the crowd. A line of soldiers raised their bows and drew their arrows, pointing at Sappho on the roof of the temple.

Sappho ignored them and strummed her lyre.

"I tell you, we will shoot you down!"

Xena urged Argo through the crowd, but it was getting more and more difficult the closer she got to the temple. She could see the line of bowmen, and she could hear the shouts of the councilman, but she was still too far away. The situation was tense. She unwrapped her whip and cracked it in the air. That got the attention of everyone around her. They quickly moved out of the way to let her pass through. She brought Argo up, just behind a guard.

Xena glared up at Sappho and caught her attention.

Sappho ignored the warrior and strummed her lyre. She took a deep breath and sang out clear and loud. Her beautiful voice brought the crowd to silence and quieted the shouts from the council leader. The line of arrows faltered, as the soldiers reacted to her singing.

Sappho stood atop the Temple to Athena and sang her song. The audience became still as it washed over them, filling the village square as it floated outward on the wind.

She barely finished the first verse when the city council leader's voice erupted in anger. He pushed the commander to get his attention and issued his order.

"I said, shoot her down! Now!"

The Commander barked at the bowmen and they lifted their bows to draw their arrows once more, preparing to shoot. Sappho ignored them and continued to sing. The crowd was torn between watching the poet and watching the bowmen. Seconds later, they had something else to look at as well.

Xena snatched her chakram from her belt and aimed. She leaned back in the saddle and gave the weapon a mighty throw that sent it careening into the nearest column. It hit the marble in a shower of sparks, which sent it flying at a ninety degree angle towards the village wall. It screamed just over the head of the council leader, causing the man to duck in fear, which shut him up nicely. The chakram hit the wall creating another shower of sparks and reversed it's direction. It roared right by the noses of the first line of guard, and then neatly chopped off the points of all of the arrows in the bows held by the bowmen, ending back in Xena's waiting hand with a thud.

The display shut everyone up, including Sappho. Xena took the opportunity to fill the village with her own song.

"AIYAIYAIYAI!" Her warrior yell echoed in the square. Sappho raised her eyebrows, "Not bad," she mumbled from the roof.

Xena vaulted off of Argo and flipped once in the air to land squarely on the steps leading up to the temple. She took the steps three at time until she came to the top. The warrior looked up at Sappho and snarled. The poet backed up a step and hastily continued to sing.

Xena snapped her whip out and up, and sent the end winding around the waist of one of the marble statues of Athena. With a tug to secure it, she made quick work of climbing her way up to the roof of the temple.

Sappho gulped, but continued to sing. She knew she was in trouble now.

When Xena reached the top, she secured first one hand and then another onto the breasts of Athena's statue. They made perfect handles to help her onto the roof. The warrior swung her legs around the statue and landed safely next to the poet.

Sappho stopped singing, "Hi Xena. Fancy meeting you here." She offered a smile. Xena did not respond.

The guards were fumbling to replace the arrows in their bows. Xena did not want to wait for Sappho to finish the song.

"Show's over!" She barked, picked the poet up and threw her over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Sappho almost lost her lyre, but hung onto it tightly with one hand.

"Uughhh!" The poet groaned as her stomach hit Xena's shoulder guard, "How are we going to get down!" Sappho yelled, her braids now pointing straight down to the ground. Xena swung around, causing the roof to disappear from Sappho's view. The poet was looking straight off the edge and to the ground.

"AAHHHH!" Sappho screamed, and grabbed onto Xena's butt with her only free hand. The lyre was threatening to slip out of the other, but the poet held on tight.

Xena took a good hold of the whip with a her left hand and, securing Sappho to her shoulder by the seat of her pants, she jumped off the roof.

"AAHHHHHH!" Sappho screamed again as the ground rush up at her. The whip went taut and swung them first out and then in towards the door. At the apex of the swing inward, Xena let go of the whip and landed in front of the golden entrance. Xena dropped Sappho to the ground and turned to draw her sword. Sappho landed onto the hard, marble entryway with a thump. She held onto her lyre and scooted behind a column to hide. Whether it was to hide from Xena or the approaching guards, she didn't know. She cowered in a corner just the same and tried to stay out of the way.

Xena glanced once over her shoulder to make sure Sappho was safe and then prepared herself for the attack. She flipped her sword in her hand once and then smiled as a group of guards rushed up the stairs at them both.

The first one to reach the top caught a boot in the face for his trouble. It sent him flying back into several others, which sent them flying back into several others still. They tumbled back down the stairs like so many bowling pins. Sappho laughed from her corner.

Another guard made it up to Xena and struck at her with his sword, or thought he was going to strike her. The warrior was suddenly not where she was supposed to be. He looked up to find her swinging from her whip and coming back at him with both feet. She knocked him off the landing, sending him flying down the stairs.

The soldiers were hesitant to climb the steps again and stood in a nervous group looking up at the Warrior Princess. Xena looked down at them, grinning wickedly. They weren't going to come to her, so she decided to go to them. She swung her sword overhead, shrieked her warrior yell, and ran down the stairs to meet them in battle. The sight sent several of the soldiers running. The others froze like scared rabbits.

One brave soldier met her blade with his. She stopped it, flipped it around once and sent it flying to land at the feet of the council leader. He jumped back in fear, realizing that he could have been killed. A look from Xena told him that if she wanted him dead, he would be.

Xena sheathed her own sword with one flip, and lifted the now disarmed soldier by the shirt and the belt. She flipped him up and over, and threw him head first into one of the marble urns that adorned the stairway. The soldier's feet kicked angrily in the air.

Another soldier swung his weapon at the Warrior Princess. She ducked under it easily and lifted him the same way, throwing him headfirst down into the next urn. She did this with every soldier in turn, until urns on each side of the staircase were filled with upside down soldiers.

Sappho laughed at the sight of the now filled urns, the soldiers' legs like so many flowers kicking in the sunshine.

The audience was actually clapping and laughing. Sappho lost her smile, however, as the Warrior Princess turned back to her, the soldiers having all been neatly dispatched and planted in urns. Xena ran back up the stairs two at a time.

Xena showed her teeth to Sappho. It was not a smile. "Let's go!" She hissed.

Xena grabbed Sappho by the front of her tunic and hefted her over her shoulder once again. The poet resigned herself to her fate. Sappho's eyes popped as Xena planted a firm slap on her rump.

Xena ran down the stairs two at a time, each step down jolted the warriors shoulder into Sappho's stomach. The poet grunted with every jolt.

Somehow, but Sappho was never able to really explain how, the warrior leapt from the steps and managed to land perfectly in Argo's saddle. Sappho recalled seeing the stairs fly by as she hung down over Xena's shoulder. Next thing she knew, she saw the astounded faces of several guards and a few villagers staring up as they vaulted overhead, and then suddenly her nose was rubbing against a horse's ass. Sappho lost all air on impact, and her next breath was not a pleasant one.

Xena unceremoniously pulled the poet from her shoulder by the back of her tunic and flopped her across the front of the saddle. With an angry tug of the reins, she turned Argo around, leaving the crowd and village in a cloud of dust. The crowd cheered as they watched the Warrior Princess spank the Tenth Muse and gallop away.

Gabrielle stopped pacing when she saw Xena canter up. The bard laughed at the sight of Sappho draped over the saddle, bouncing mercilessly up and down in rhythm with Argo's most uncomfortable gait.

"That's gotta hurt."

Xena's expression told Gabrielle that the warrior was enjoying every minute of it. She brought Argo along the side of the wagon and stopped.

"Are you OK?" Gabrielle asked the poet, twisting her head upside down so she could see Sappho's expression. She brushed back the strands of hair and braid to peek at Sappho's face. The poet was laughing!

Sappho shoved the lyre into Gabrielle's hands and jumped from Argo.

"That was great! You should have seen it!" Sappho yelled, clapping her hands in excitement and then wincing. She stopped clapping, and rubbed her butt instead.

Gabrielle looked to Xena, confused as to why her butt should hurt. Xena slid down from her mount and led the horse back to the front of the line.

"Xena was incredible! I would have never believed a word of it, if I hadn't seen it myself! She swung! She kicked! She fought! We flew!" Sappho carried on excitedly, as she sliced her palm through the air in front of Samthus' nose illustrating their flight. "She planted soldiers face first in urns!!" Sappho lifted imaginary soldiers and plunked them down.

Everyone raised their eyebrows at this. Gabrielle looked at Xena and smiled. The bard knew that every word was probably true. Xena ignored them all and was helping Argo to drink from a bucket.

"UUggghh!" Sappho moaned in frustration, "I wish I were a bard, so I could describe it better! Xena if we act it out again, maybe Gabrielle could write it down!"

This got Xena to whirl around in Sappho's direction and glare.

"Not unless you want another spanking." Xena warned, meaning every word.

"Spanking?" Gabrielle inquired incredulously.

Sappho rubbed her butt again and thought, "Maybe not."

Gabrielle spun around to face Xena, staring at the warrior in disbelief, "I can't believe you spanked Sappho!"

"Well," Xena said, glancing sideways in Gabrielle's direction, "She sounded better the more I beat her!"

Part 4