Letting her own fury loose, Callisto advanced on Xena, enraged that in all their confrontations, the warrior held back; the warrior who had killed her family, had wanted to spare her life.
Taking a quick glance where she was, Xena feigned a blow to Callisto's arm, as the woman shifted her stance bringing her sword up to block it. Xena planted her weight on her right foot, kicking out with her left, connecting forcefully to Callisto's body.
The warrior felt herself flying through the air, then come to a sudden halt as she flew into the back of Argo.
Xena watched Callisto gather her bearings, while an annoyed Argo paced forward a few steps with a snort. Putting her fingers to her mouth, Xena let out several high pitch whistles.
Hearing her mistress signal, Argo planted her forelegs, and kicked back with her hind-legs, catching Callisto full in the back.
The blond warrior shrieked in pain, feeling the force of the hoofs breaking her back, landing unmoving in front of Xena. Trying to breathe, the warrior felt her back mending, but the pain was intense, then Xena's hands on her, dragging her toward the well.
Xena dragged Callisto over to the well, she was not sure how much time she had, but she was not going to waste a second trying to talk to the woman.
Placing the warrior on the well's edge, Xena grabbed Callisto's feet, feeling movement, she hurriedly shoved her over. The woman screamed all the way down, until it was cutoff by a splash.
Spinning around for her bard, Xena saw Gabrielle still kneeling on the ground her back to her. Furious at the bard's lost of control, Xena stomped toward Gabrielle shouting, "WHAT IN TARTARUS DID YOU THINK YOU WERE DOING!"
Xena came to a sudden halt, as she saw that Gabrielle was weeping, arms wrapped tight around her as she rocked back and forth, repeating "Forgive me . . . forgive me."
Kneeling next to the bard, Xena reached out to touch her, she knew how to fight, how to heal, and now thanks to Gabrielle, how to love again. But she was unsure how to comfort the woman she loved, or what was wrong.
Jerking away at Xena's touch, Gabrielle looked around coming out of her self-induced daze. Falling into Xena's arms, her weeping came out in a soulful wail, "I didn't mean it Xena . . . I didn't mean it."
Confused, the warrior hugged the bard tight, shaking her head, "Gabrielle I don't understand, what didn't you mean?"
"Xena, you said the dead can hear our thoughts, what if Perdicus heard me, how can he forgive me?"
Gasping in surprise and understanding, Xena held the bard away from her, tilting her head to look her in the eyes, "You said it Gabrielle didn't you, You did thank Callisto for killing Perdicus?"
Sobbing, the bard grabbed Xena, holding onto her tight, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
Melinda woke up in a sweat, sitting up in her bed she was a little disoriented, but that passed quickly. Looking around for Janice as she got out of the bed, she remembered that her friend was sleeping in Kehlia's room.
Walking over to the window, the morning sunlight was just creeping though, Janice was an early riser, she should be up by now Mel was thinking.
Walking toward the bathroom, she paused by the scroll touching it with her fingers. Shaking her head, she turned back for the bathroom, she'll clean up, then look for Janice, wondering how she'll take the news.
Janice opened her eyes, she couldn't sense Kehlia's body next to her, rolling over she looked around the room, only to find it empty. Janice, she thought to herself, you're getting soft, didn't even hear her get up and leave.
Sitting up on the edge of the bed, she ran her hands through her hair, smiling as she thought about the woman. She was amazed at what skills a belly dancer could bring into lovemaking, standing with a groan, she padded naked over to the sink.
Best that Kehlia was not here, Janice reflected, otherwise she may not make it out of the room as she splashed water on her face, grabbing the toothpaste she looked over the rest of the toiletries.
Melinda came down the stairs into the club's main room; she saw Janice sitting at their balcony table reading a newspaper. Glancing around the room as she went to join her, she didn't see any evidence of last night's brawl.
Janice waved to Mel as she climbed the short stairs, sitting at the table with her friend. "Janice, you're looking pretty chipper this morning, that must have been a great few hours in bed."
Racked by a sudden coughing fit, the blond could only nod, as she pounded her chest.
Concerned by the cough, Mel leaned over patting Janice on the back, this was her first time in Africa, and she heard stories about all the diseases a person could pickup. "Are you ok? You should be careful since we're in a strange climate, are you getting something?"
Clearing her throat, Janice only looked at Mel wide eyed, biting her bottom lip to keep from smiling, I'm getting something all right she was thinking.
Janice was thankful that Kehlia picked that time to come from the kitchen carrying a tray. The dancer's eyes lit up as she looked at Janice, but turned her attentions to Mel, "S'bah l'khir Melinda, you good?"
Returning the smile, Melinda nodded, "I'm feeling better, shokran."
Setting the tray on the next table, Kehlia placed a cup of coffee in front of Janice, then pointed to the cup while looking at Mel, "Gahwa."
Glancing at the cup Melinda nodded with a smile, "Gahwa, coffee, got it." Then the aroma of sweet tea drifted over her as the dancer placed a cup in front of her, "Shai," she said.
"Shai, tea," Mel looked at Janice, unable to hide her delight, "Janice, how did you know I was going to join you for breakfast?"
"It was Kehlia's idea, she's allowed to cook her meals in the kitchen, and she made us breakfast, she was just waiting for you to come down," Janice replied as the woman sat plates in front of the pair.
Melinda looked at the plate, it looked liked two rolled pancakes covered in syrup, but after yesterday's pigeon pie, she was not sure, hearing the dancer say "Ataif." Mel glanced at Janice, "Pancakes?"
Already cutting into her portion, the blond shook her head, "Ataif, is the name of the dish, pancakes stuffed with cheese and nuts, then covered in syrup." Stuffing a piece in her mouth Janice spoke while chewing, "One thing you'll find in Morocco, they like their food either sweet, or spicy, nothing in between."
Nodding, Melinda looked up at the dancer who served them raising her eyebrows, then turned to Janice, "Is Kehlia going to eat?" Watching Janice and Kehlia speaking back and forth, Mel realized just how lost she would be without the woman.
When Janice talked about going to Africa to find the scroll, then maybe see about the Aegis, she didn't know how they would get there. Nor did she even think about how the pair would have gotten around if Janice had not spoken Arabic.
Her musings were interrupted when the dancer leaned over kissing an obviously embarrassed Janice on the cheek, then waved at her as she jaunted down the stairs heading for the front entrance.
At least Janice doesn't have to worry about me kissing her, Mel thought with a smile. Americas don't have the custom to kiss everyone in sight, "I see you made a new friend Janice."
Relaxing under Mel's smile, Janice nodded quickly, wanting to change the subject before much more came up, "So how did the translating go?"
Sighing, Melinda paused long enough from eating to tell her about the incident at the well, Xena's and Gabrielle's relationship, and how Gabrielle though tearful, was thankful that Callisto killed her husband.
Janice shook her head, angry at Jack Kleinman, thanks to him inadvertently taking the Xena Scrolls, she didn't even know Gabrielle had been married. Hell she thought, there was so much they didn't know about the pair, it was sickening.
Misinterpreting the angry look on Janice's face, Melinda shook her head in sympathy; guess she's disappointed also about the relationship. "Janice, I know you're hurt, but this was ancient Greece, things were different then. Even my daddy says those types of women are still around . . . Lord knows what they do though, I mean . . . they are missing some necessary equipment."
Pausing, Melinda looked carefully at Janice, the woman looked sick, maybe she was catching something, "Janice are you all right? Maybe you should lay down for a while."
Her appetite gone, the blond just shook her head, she liked Mel, in fact she really liked Mel. Not looking at her as a lover, but as a friend, she missed not having her father around, but most of all she hated being alone.
But how can she hide that she's one of THOSE women from her, she's naive, not stupid.
"Janice?" Melinda was starting to get worried, the woman seemed to be in a daze. But then she herself was in a daze most of the time around the constantly moving Janice.
Pulling out a cigar, the blond sat back slowly lighting it, then looked at Mel though the smoke, "Sorry, was just thinking about what you said. I'm not disappointed, I mean they loved each other, right?"
Shrugging her shoulders, Mel made a face when she sipped the sweet tea, "My, you're right when you said they like things sweet here. But as for Gabrielle and Xena, different times I guess, I just don't see the attraction for another woman. I mean men are here for a good reason."
Mulling over Mel's words, Janice reached forward grabbing her own coffee, "I take it you never met one of those?"
Mel shook her head while returning to her breakfast, "No, until my daddy told me about them, I never even thought that women could." Hesitating, Mel started nodding and rolling her hand in circles, "You know . . ."
Inhaling deeply on her cigar, Janice blew out several smoke rings, and downed the strong coffee, grinding her teeth at the double boost of nicotine and caffeine. She's not fearful, or hates us, Janice was thinking, maybe after she gets to know me things will be ok; best talk to Kehlia when she gets back though.
Picking up her napkin, Mel dabbed around her mouth, "Well, what's the plan for today?"
Making a face, Mel nodded with a sigh, "Later, what about this morning, how about we go out and look around, I still need a respite from last night. You know Amoud would have killed me if I had been in that cupboard!"
Standing and taking a long drag, Janice blew the smoke out thinking briefly and smiled, "Let me show you around the city, lets play tourist for the morning."
Excited Mel stood up saying she was going to get her parasol, shaking her head as the woman ran to their room. Janice looked forward to it, this would let Mel see what she was really like, and it would be nice to walk around and loosen up.
Stubbing out the cigar in the table's ashtray, Janice went to get her hat, and heaven help her; her jacket, after last night she was not going anywhere unarmed.
Several hours later, the pair was strolling near the Casa-Port railway station. Janice had to admit that the morning had been fun, Mel had enjoyed the architecture of the Ville Nouvelle; and almost went crazy over the Medina Bazaar.
Then the sight of Mel after she tasted one of the kebabs Janice had purchased, only to be told it was camel meat was priceless. Along with the temperature was still in the low seventies, so Janice was not roasting in her jacket, made everything perfect.
She even talked Mel into taking a camel ride, the alarm as the animal rose to its feet and then the delight on her face. It made Janice realize how much she missed sharing life with someone.
Melinda glanced at Janice as they walked, spinning her parasol as they enjoyed the morning. It was nice to see Janice close-up like this; it was moments like this that she knew she did the right thing in becoming friends with this electrifying woman.
Now she just had to remember to keep Janice to her promise, that from now on, before she eats anything, Janice will tell her what it is. Not that the camel meat was that bad, but it sure didn't taste like chicken.
Hearing the sense of urgency in Janice voice, Melinda drove all other thoughts from her mind, "Yes, what's wrong?"
Straining to remain calm, Janice held onto the edge of her jacket, hand ready to go for her gun. "Close your parasol, we're being followed, two men in a car."
Closing her sun shade, Mel was tempted to look over her shoulder, but knew that would be the wrong thing to do. At least the streets were crowded with people.
As if some devil was having fun, as the thought flashed through Melinda's mind, a high pitched wail commenced echoing around the city, followed by a few very colorful curses from Janice that had Mel turning red.
Stumbling as people started to push her out of the way, she looked to Janice to tell her what was going on.
Grabbing onto Mel's hand, she shoved a man out of her way, following the crowd up the street, still sensing the car close behind, "Air Raid, everyone's heading for shelters."
Finally coming to a break in the on rush, Janice held onto Mel and the pair started running up the street. The car behind them blocked by the panicking crowd in its drive for shelter.
"TURN HERE," Janice yelled, but not giving Melinda much choice as she pulled the woman behind her up a narrow side street. The wailing of the siren louder between the closed in building.
They were halfway up the block when Janice heard squealing tires behind her. Turning she saw the car roaring up the street after them. Quickly pulling her .44 she aimed carefully and fired, the recoil of the gun bucking her hand backwards.
As if in response to the retort of her gun, antiaircraft batteries started firing, soon the explosions were making hearing difficult.
The bullet hit the windshield on the driver's side, immediately, the car swerved over hitting the curve, the passenger door flying open.
Not waiting to see anyone, Janice fired three shots into the passenger door of the car. Grabbing Mel who was holding her hands over her ears. Janice pushed her down an alley at the run, glancing over her shoulder for any pursuit.
Unseen by the pair as they ran into the alley, a figure watched them with a smile. They had done nicely in breaking the pursuit, but then they were supposed to.
Now the figure thought they will go back to Janice's uncle's club and work on the scroll, like they should have been doing in the first place, not playing tourist.
Looking up in the air for nonexistent planes, the Gestapo agent walked away from the scene.
Janice walked into the club eyes darting around taking in each of her uncle's customers, assessing if they were a threat to her or Mel. Signaling with a wave of her hand, Melinda came in after her, the run, followed by the fast pace Janice put her through to get back to the club, made her feet ache.
Walking toward the stairs by the kitchen entrance, Mel felt every eye in the place on her. Not knowing if it was because she was one of the few European women in the city, or because she had Amoud's scroll, made her feel very uncomfortable.
They made it to their room without incident, as soon as the door closed Janice pulled her gun setting it on the table beside the bed. On the way back to the club, Melinda sized up the situation much to Janice's surprise.
Mel saw that they had no choice but to translate the scroll, and if they couldn't figure out where the Aegis was, steal the second scroll. Otherwise Amoud would not leave them alone, they also didn't like the idea of leaving for the states with Amoud still in possession of the second scroll.
Janice watched the door, and reloaded her gun, serves me right she thought, last time I go for a stroll in the city without extra shells. Melinda sat at the table kicking off her heels, looking over the scroll picking up where she left off.
Xena held onto Gabrielle, emotional comfort was not one of her strong suits. She had buried her own emotions so long ago, that it took the bard two summers too just to get her to say the words, I love you.
Turning her head, Xena could hear Callisto's screaming, trapped for now in the well. She guessed they'd have maybe a half day before the woman could get out, then everything would start over.
But more important matters first, cupping her hand under the bard's chin, she lifted her head until she was looking at Gabrielle's tear stained face.
"Tell me about it Gabrielle, don't keep this inside, or it'll keep growing until it's unbearable, believe me, I know from experience." Looking into the bard's green eyes, Xena felt the pain within, Gabrielle was too good to have really thought that, she reflected, "Please Gabrielle . . . please."
Closing her eyes, the bard nuzzled up to Xena's breasts, seeking the protection she always felt from the warrior. It was the second plea from Xena that did it, the warrior didn't say please much, and now Gabrielle was glad. The heartfelt warmth behind each word broke down her defenses, but she couldn't look at her, not when telling her something so evil.
"It was three days after we made love for the first time," stealing a glance at the warrior's face, she was held briefly by a pair of sea-blue eyes, turning away, the bard continued. "I was so happy, you were asleep, the night was warm and the stars filled the sky."
Biting her lip remembering, Gabrielle took a deep breath, "I remember cause I was so ashamed of myself, I was thinking how happy I was, I knew then that you would never send me away."
Feeling the tensing of Xena's muscles, the bard stopped her tale glancing up at the warrior, who only nodded, "Go on Gabrielle."
"It . . . just came into my mind, that something really good came out of Callisto's actions for once. I laid there just a little longer, then it came to me what I was thinking, I was so ashamed Xena."
"That's it!" bending her head lower, the warrior tried to get the woman to look at her, "Gabrielle, you didn't thank Callisto for killing Perdicus." Sighing Xena looked once again at the well, the yelling from her nemesis stopped and that worried her.
"Gabrielle, understand this right now!" the warrior internally winced, she saw fear in the bard's eyes. My gods, Xena was thinking, how could I have missed this.
Softening her tone, and smiling, Xena kissed the bard's forehead, then helped her to her feet. "Gabrielle, I WANT to talk about this, but I don't want to do it with Callisto here. Even if she's at the bottom of a well, lets grab the water skins and go, there are many things I want to say to you."
Gabrielle ran to grab the water skins, Xena watching the bard in a new light, "Gabrielle!" From the way her bard looked at her, like a fawn trapped by a predator, Xena was both overjoyed at the love she saw and remorseful that she overlooked the bard's fear for so long.
"Gabrielle, just remember, I do really love you."
Glad to see the smile returning to her bard, Xena walked over to the well looking in. She couldn't see Callisto but could hear movement, turning her head, she looked around the area, but could see nothing that would keep the woman in the well.
Gabrielle hooked the water skins onto Argo's saddle waiting for Xena. She felt like she wanted to die, she was going to at last tell Xena all her fears. But the prospect of telling what she kept inside for so long was terrifying, she watched the woman she loved looking around the well, then became puzzled when she sat on the ground.
Xena guessed that well wall would be weakened by the moss, at least she hoped it was as she sat on the ground. Bracing her arms behind her, she placed her feet against the wall of the well, and pushed.
The warrior strained, but just when she felt the wall start to give, she slid back, she was just about to give it up, when Gabrielle ran over sitting behind her, back to back the bard braced her legs against a tree.
With the new found support, Xena once again pushed with her legs against the walls of the well, as before when the rocks started to give she felt herself moving back. Only this time, Gabrielle's supported her as a brace.
Xena could feel the bard shaking, trying her keep her knees from flexing, just as the bard started to cry out from the effort, the well wall gave in. Callisto's scream of outrage and terror was suddenly cutoff as half of the upper wall crumpled down into the depths.
Standing and helping the bard to her feet, Xena peered downwards, "Better than I hoped, maybe we'll have a full day before she gets out."
Janice looked up as Mel stopped her narration at the knock on the door. Getting off the bed gun in hand, she approached the door cautiously, "Who is it?" she called out.
"Kehlia, Ma tkoobal, Smeh lee gahwa, shai?" Came a muffled reply.
Smiling, but still setting her foot against the door, Janice opened the door, peering though the crack at Kehlia's smiling face. Opening the door the rest of the way, the dancer quickly stepped in.
Melinda waved to Kehlia and looked at Janice, who explained that Kehlia was asking if they wanted coffee or tea.
Melinda turned back to the scroll while Janice asked for both coffee and tea, shutting and locking the door as Mel started once again.
The pair had walked in silence leading the tired Argo for a candlemark, Xena wanted Gabrielle to bring up the subject, but every time she looked at the bard, Gabrielle turned her head away.
Since it had to be her that would start it, Xena being who she was, took the direct approach. "Gabrielle, from what you said, you didn't really thank Callisto for killing Perdicus." Holding up a hand to cutoff her bard, the warrior continued.
"You were happy, a thought flashed across your mind, and from what I hear, it was not a thank you for Callisto, just thinking that you were happy."
Using her staff as a walking stick, Gabrielle bit her lip, "But Xena, I was happy that we were together, and that Callisto made it possible."
Groaning inwardly, Xena wished that she could take all of the bard's doubts and fears onto herself. "I know you Gabrielle, you would never have wished Perdicus's death, and I've seen the hurt you've gone though. What you are experiencing is the guilt of finding someone else to love."
Seeing that she had the bard's attention, Xena continued, "I felt the same thing about Marcus, I loved him, but with you it's deeper. And I feel that he would be happy that I was with you, not alone and thanks to you, I'm not bitter."
Even with her sensitive hearing, the warrior almost didn't pick up Gabrielle's remark, "But I didn't love Perdicus."
Astounded, Xena halted looking at her bard, "Why did you marry him, then?"
Staring at a spot on the ground, Gabrielle thought what she should say, they had caused each other a lot of pain by not talking about their feelings in the past. But then the truth hurts, she thought, it'll hurt, but this time it won't take the defense of a village to make her say what she held back.
"I married Perdicus," the bard stated, "Because he needed a short, ugly girl that wanted to be a bard, and the person I loved didn't."
Closing her eyes to hide the pain, Xena nodded, her mind thinking to the times that Gabrielle left her in the past. To go home, to go to the bard academy in Athens, even marrying Perdicus, Gabrielle asked if Xena had needed her.
Thinking she was doing what was best for Gabrielle, Xena told her to go, she never guessed that her beloved bard, who seemed so strong in will, wanted to hear like anyone else, that she was needed.
Reaching out to pull the woman she loved close, Xena embraced her, the warrior wanted to pull her into her soul. "Gabrielle, I needed you all those times, but I thought you were better off without me. I was wrong not to tell you that, you're beautiful, you're the greatest bard I've heard, and I need you Gabrielle, I really need you.
Relaxing in Xena's embraced, the bard looked at the face hovering over her, "And Perdicus, how do I say I'm sorry, not only for marrying him when I didn't love him, but for thinking that I was happy that Callisto killed him?"
"I know you Gabrielle, even better now, you didn't say that you were happy that Callisto killed him." Hesitating, the warrior looked at her bard, "You thought about how happy you are, and felt guilty, I can see that over time you blew what you thought all out of proportion by holding it inside you."
Putting a finger to Gabrielle's lips as she started to protest, the warrior continued, "Believe me, I know about holding thoughts inside. I can't see the person that you think you are, I love you so much Gabrielle that I'm not sure I could go on without you. And the dead can hear your thoughts, knowing Perdicus, I think he already knows that you regret those thoughts, and he's happy that you have found someone that loves you dearly."
Kissing the bard's forehead, Xena released her but kept hold of her hand, "We need to get going and pickup the pace, the rocks will hold Callisto a little longer, but not more than a day . . . if that long."
Gabrielle forgot about asking about Argo, one look at the poor horse, and even her untrained eye could see that she was done in.
"We're keeping to the plan of sailing over the ocean, and throwing the Aegis overboard right?"
Nodding Xena took a quick glance behind her, as if watching for a demon to come chasing after them, "Yes, otherwise we'll have Callisto chasing after us forever, this is the only way I can see that would get her out of our lives for a little while."
Groaning at the thought of the mad woman chasing them once again, Gabrielle shook her head, "Ok, what about Argo?"
Slowing to run a hand over the horse's mane, she smiled at the grateful snicker, "Argo did her job, she got us this far in good time. There's a village just ahead, we'll stable her there and head for Athens."
Looking behind her once again, Xena hated that she looked, and not trusted her senses, Callisto seemed to have that effect on her. "There's a shortcut to Athens' not far from the village, it's a detour though a graveyard, but it'll save us some distance."
"What's the village name?"
"Euclid," the warrior replied, pleased to see her bard more relaxed, she had forgotten how much anyone wants to know that they're needed. She promised that she would not make that mistake again with the bard.
"Euclid," Gabrielle repeated, rolling the name over her tongue, she looked over at the warrior, "I've heard of it, but just can't remember why."
Chuckling, in order to lighten the mood, Xena looked at the bard, "Come on Gabrielle, think, it was someone famous."
Smirking, the bard stayed in step with the warrior, "Did you kill them?"
"Am I a warlord?"
Grinning, the two passed the time walking, with Gabrielle asking question after question, Xena answering yes to the bard's latest question.
Deep in concentration, Gabrielle had just about put the morning behind her, when her eyelids flickered with a memory of an epic battle, "Did I die in Troy?"
"You are getting very hot Gabrielle."
Laughing with the knowledge that she won one of the few question contests with Xena, Gabrielle looked triumphant, "Is Euclid my birthplace?"
"You are just burning up Gabrielle!"
Jumping in front of the warrior, the bard smiled wide, holding her head up, "I'm Achilles!"
Leaning over, Xena kissed the bard, "And the graveyard we'll take a shortcut through?"
"That's where Achilles' tomb is!"
Nodding, Xena was pleased to see that Gabrielle seemed to have put the day behind her, "Yes, and since his tomb is there, most people out of respect don't take this shortcut. But I think knowing what our task is, he would forgive us."
Nodding, Gabrielle walked beside her lover, knowing for sure that she was wanted.
Continued - Part 4