Darinius and Autolycus, meanwhile, had spent the same morning racking their brains trying to come up with some way to raise the money necessary to hire a ship. Autolycus was not used to such heavy thinking and it was starting to make his head hurt.
"I thought you were supposed to be rich," he said finally.
"Autolycus, you of all people should know it's stupid to carry that kind of money around. It only invites trouble and I seem to find enough of that without asking for more."
"Then what are we going to do?" Autolycus asked. "I still say you should let me use my 'talents' to get the money."
"I don't know. I had not counted on a ship's passage costing so much. And I told you we can't get the money that way. It just would not be right," said Darinius.
"You and your sense of honor," sighed Autolycus."You sound like Hercules"
"We were lucky to find anybody at all to agree to take us there. Most of those captains were too terrified to even discuss Kathos," reminded Darinius.
"But not for long if we don't get some dinars. Remember what that captain told you, noon tomorrow and he is sailing with or without us," said Autolycus.
"Yeah yeah, I know I know," growled Darinius.
"How about, when Xena and Iolaus get here, we just take the ship? Those clods would not stand a chance against us- I mean, you guys," said Autolycus.
"Oh, and I suppose you know how to navigate a ship, huh?" asked Darinius.
"Uh, nooo," replied Autolycus.
"Well, neither do I and neither do any of the others," said Darinius.
"Well tell me this, smart guy, once we get to the island how are we going to get back? Remember, we're only hiring this guy for a one way trip- if we can come up with the money that is," said Autolycus. Frustration was beginning to eat at him. Why does he always have to be so damn logical, thought Autolycus. Why can't he go more with his gut, like Hercules?
"Calm down, Autolycus, grinned Darinius. "I'm counting on Hercules to get us back. Remember, he sailed with Jason and the Argonauts. I know he is an excellent sailor."
"But so did Iolaus, didn't he?" reminded Autolycus.
"At that point in his life Iolaus was looking for adventure, not how to be a sailor," said Darinius.
"It's not going to make any difference if we-"
"Will you knock it off? I still have a die to cast. Trust me, okay? We will wait for Xena and Iolaus to get here and then we'll sort things out," said Darinius.
"Darinius, I hate to be a nag but even with Hercules to guide us what are we going to use for a boat?" persisted Autolycus.
"We will use the same one they used to carry Hercules there in the first place," snapped Darinius. He then poked his finger into Autolycus' chest.
"You wouldn't be trying to back out on us now would you?" he asked, scowling.
"No!, I was just exploring all the options, that's all," pleaded Autolycus. The look Darinius gave him was chilling. Immediately Darinius regretted being angry at his old friend. He knew every point Autolycus had made had been valid. The hard countenance softened and he grinned, "Sorry, it's just that we can't do this job without you. We need you."
"Hey, no problem," said Autolycus, regaining his composure. "You know I always was a worrier."
Phoebus had almost completed his daily journey across the heavens when Xena and her party reached Cataria. Iolaus reminded her they were to meet the others at the inn. As they approached the inn Gabrielle spotted Autolycus and waved to him. Xena, too, was pleased to see the King of Thieves again but she remained as as stoic as ever. Autolycus stepped out into the street to meet them and immediately came under interrogation from Xena.
"All right, Autolycus, where is Darinius?"
"Well, uh he's..."
"Right here, Xena," came a voice over her shoulder. "Iolaus, you never could keep a secret," chided Darinius.
"Don't blame Iolaus," said Xena, turning to meet her old nemeses. "He didn't tell me. After Gabrielle told me about her little run in at the inn and gave me your descripton, I knew well enough who you were."
"But Gabrielle could not have described me as you remembered me," said Darinius with some amusement. "After all, I did not much look like the leader of a great army in that inn."
"And I must say you certainly look much more presentable now," Gabrielle blurted out.
"Why thank you, Gabrielle," said Darinius, bowing from the waist. "Autolycus said the crew might jump ship if I came on board smelling like a dead horse."
"So, Xena, how did you know it was me?" he persisted.
"I just put two and two together," said Xena.
"Well, I guess it's nice to be remembered," said Darinius.
"Oh, I have never forgotton you," said Xena dryly.
"I have not forgotten you either, Xena," said Darinius softly. For what seemed an eternity to the others the two great warriors just stood there, boring holes into each other. To everyone's obvious relief Xena finally broke the silence.
"So what are your thoughts about handling this?" she asked.
"First thing we should do is get off the street," said Darinius, eyeing Salmoneus suspiciously. "We have a room in the inn. We can talk there."
"It's all right," said Xena. Salmoneus is a good friend of Hercules."
"Yes, Hercules and I go back a long way," squeaked Salmoneus.
"Sorry about that, Salmoneus. I didn't know. We can't be too careful about this. For all we know someone might have been left behind to make sure Hercules wasn't followed.
"Darinius, did you find a boat?" asked Iolaus anxiously.
"Oh yeah, we found a boat,'" said Autolycus glumly. "We just haven't found enough dinars to charter it, that's all. I offered my uh, 'services' but Darinius here says it's a bad idea."
"So do I," said Xena.
"How much do they want?" inquired Gabrielle.
"One thousand big ones," answered Autolycus slowly.
"Ouch," winced Iolaus.
"Let's pool our money and see how much we are short," advised Xena. "Gabrielle, how much do we have?" Gabrielle reached into her shoulder bag and retrieved a small leather pouch.
"Thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight, looks like thirty-nine dinars, Xena," answered Gabrielle.
"Is that all? I thought we had close to 300," said Xena.
"Well we did before a certain somebody decided they needed yet another dagger, remember?" retorted Gabrielle.
"Oh yeah, right," said Xena somewhat sheepishly. "How about you, Iolaus?"
Iolaus ran his hand into his pocket and pulled out six dinars.
"Six dinars?" growled Gabrielle. "Six... dinars?"
"Wellll, when you travel with Hercules you don't have much need for money. Everybody is always giving you free meals," protested Iolaus.
"We are not exactly the Athens mint here now, are we?" allowed Autolycus.
"So, counting ours, that makes 273," said Darinius. "If only we had more time I could raise 1000 times that. We're not dead yet though. Maybe there is another way."
"What?" asked Gabrielle. "We can't borrow the money and we don't have anything valuable enough to sell."
"Yes we do," said Xena quietly. "Petracles' bracelet."
"Oh no, Xena, it means too much to you," said Gabrielle. It meant something to Gabrielle too. After all, Petracles had given his life to save her.
"Not when it comes to Hercules," said Xena, putting her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder.
"Xena won't have to sell her bracelet," said Darinius.
"You got a better idea?" asked Xena testily.
"As a matter of fact I do. Follow me," replied Darinius. Darinius lead the group into the inn and up to their room. There he opened up his long leather bag and produced something wrapped in an oilcloth. He gave the object to Xena and said, "We will sell this instead."
Xena unwrapped the oilcloth revealing the most beautiful sword she had ever seen. It was made of the finest polished metal with inlaid gold in the hilt and two large rubies implanted on each side just below where the hilt met the blade. It did not have a nick or even a scratch on it. Obviously, it had never been used.
"Ohh, Xena it's even more beautiful than the one you and Hercules used to free Prometheus," gasped Gabrielle. "I've never seen anything shine like that."
After scrutinizing it with a professional's eye, Xena allowed herself to appreciate its inherent elegance.
"So this is the die you were talking about," said Autolycus.
"Yep. It was given to me by King Demantheus in gratitude for my assisting him to raise and train a force to repel invaders."
"I'll bet you did more than train," leered Xena.
"Weelll, I did kind of lead them in their first couple of battles. You know, to let them get the hang of it. Most of those raiders were just amateurs anyway. It wasn't anything quite like what you and I are used to, Xena, but the king was very grateful and insisted I take this sword as a token of his appreciation," said Darinius.
"But is there anyone around here who can afford to buy it." wondered Iolaus. "It must be worth 10000 dinars."
"We don't need 10000 dinars, Iolaus. All we need is 727," replied Darinius.
"Darinius, I can't let you do this," said Xena firmly. "We will sell the bracelet instead."
"Are you going to try to stop me?" asked Darinius.
"I might," said Xena. It seemed the moment that everyone had dreaded had arrived. Darinius reached out to take the sword from Xena's hand but she did not let go. They silently stood there toe to toe, both gripping the sword, eyes locked on each other.
"Hey. Hey! We are all on the same side here, remember?" Gabrielle had actually ducked down and forced her way up in between the two proud warriors.
"You are right, Gabrielle," agreed Darinius.
"Now I want you two to stop testing each other," said Gabrielle. "Xena, Darinius, I want you to shake hands." It was evident to Xena that Gabrielle really wanted Darinius and her to be friends. Xena raised one eyebrow only to have Darinius do the same but with much more exaggeration.
"Okay, wise guy," said Xena, offering her hand. "But only for Gabrielle's sake." Xena and Darinius shook hands with Gabrielle still wedged between them.
"And Hercules', remember?" reminded Darinius.
"That's more like it," Gabrielle said triumphantly. Iolaus and Autolycus only now allowed themselves the luxury of breathing again. Salmoneus, meanwhile, had came to a decision while he watched this potentially explosive situation unfold.
"No one will have to sell anything," he declared.
"What are you talking about?" asked Xena.
"I can give you the money for the ship. I have 1200 dinars in my purse," answered Salmoneus.
"You do?" asked Iolaus suspiciously.
"Of course, I do," said Salmoneus, irritated by Iolaus' doubt. "I was going to buy Egyptian cloth, remember? They don't give that stuff away you know."
Xena walked over to where Salmoneus was standing and put her hand on his shoulder. "This is very kind of you. I know this is a big sacrifice," said Xena.
"Hercules, and you too Xena, have pulled my fat out of the fire more times than I care to remember. This is just my small way of repaying a very big debt," he stammered. "If I did nothing to help you guys I would feel like a traitor. I am glad to give them to you."
"Tell you what, Salmoneus, let's just call it a loan, said Darinius. "I'll make a deal with you. Loan us 800 dinars and you can keep the sword for security. How's that?"
"But, but you might need it," protested Salmoneus.
"Nah, I've still got my trusty old one. Besides, if we don't come back I won't need it anyway, will I?" answered Darinius.
"Now there's a cheerful thought," said Gabrielle brightly.
It was at this juncture Xena resolved to try again. "Gabrielle, I need to speak with you, alone."
Gabrielle at once knew what Xena was up to and set up her own defense. "Oh no, if you have something to say to me, say it right here."
"Very well, said Xena slowly. "I think you should stay here with Salmoneus and wait for us."
"But what about needing someone who is good at talking their way through things,"asked Gabrielle. "Remember?"
"I am sure Autolycus can handle whatever we run into," said Xena gently. "Gabrielle, I would feel a lot better if you stayed here."
"Hmmph," snorted Gabrielle. "Autolycus couldn't talk his way out of a papyrus bag."
"Heeey," protested Autolycus.
"Quiet!" commanded Gabrielle. "Now, where was it that Darinius found him? In a cess pool? Autolycus must have done some real smooth talking there."
"I was a victim of circumstance," said Autolycus.
"Well at any rate, you are not going," said Xena.
Darinius could barely hide his amusement as he saw the fire start to build in Gabrielle's beautiful green eyes. Here was someone who could give as good as she got. Even to Xena. His unfailing sense of perception told him Xena was clearly uncomfortable with this confrontation. As for Gabrielle, even though he barely knew her, he could see she was something special. The courage, loyalty, and compassion she had already exhibited were only a scratch on the surface of this remarkable young woman.
"Look, Xena, you are treating me like a kid again. I thought we were past that." said Gabrielle. "Why can't you trust me?"
"Gabrielle, I would trust you with my life. You know that. But you know what a hard time you have on boats and who knows what we will run into on that island?" Xena asked. "Gabrielle, listen to me. There is a good chance we won't be coming back. I can't risk that."
Darinius could not help but notice that although Xena was doing her best to be forceful, tenderness kept escaping through that stern countenance.
"Let's just ask Darinius and see what he thinks," snapped Gabrielle.
"Whoa, Gabrielle, this is between you and Xena. You two will have to work this out on your own. After all, no one is charge here," said Darinius.
"Maybe there should be," suggested Gabrielle.
It wasn't really anger, Darinius decided. The force behind Gabrielle's rebellion against her powerful friend was something closer to panic. It wasn't so much Gabrielle wanted to go to that island, who did? She had to go. Good for you, little warrior, he thought.
"You are not going and that is final," declared Xena. Darinius had heard that tone of voice before on a long ago battlefield in Mymalar. A voice that had chilled the spine of many a brave man, his included. For most it was the last voice they had ever heard.
For her part it was breaking Xena's heart to speak to her beloved this way but she just could not be certain she would be able to keep Gabrielle safe. There was sure to be a rough bunch on that island- Zeus only knew how many. Much better to hurt her feelings than to have her dead. Even so, she was proud of the way Gabrielle was standing up to her.
Gabrielle sensed her cause was being lost so she cut loose with her heavy ammunition. She pulled herself up to her full height, stood toe to toe with the Warrior Princess, and fired her final salvo. "You don't have the right to order me around, Xena. I am not some soldier in your army and I am not a slave, either." By now Gabrielle was almost shouting.
She then composed herself and added softly, "I am not someone that walks the path of life with my friends only when it is level and straight. I walk the hills and valleys with them too."
Xena just stood there blinking. She really has changed, thought Darinius. The old Xena would never have tolerated a verbal assault like that. Now he decided he could, indeed, trust her in her completely.
Damn it, she's right, thought Xena. I don't have the right to give her orders. If she wants to come I have to respect that, like it or not. I'll just have to protect her come Tartarus or high water. "Okay, Gabrielle. You win. But if you get yourself killed- well I'll never speak to you again," said Xena with her trademark half grin.
All this time, Autolycus and Iolaus have been again been having trouble breathing. An irate Xena was hard on the respiratory system. For the love of Zeus, wondered Autolycus. Is it going to be like this the whole way?
"Thank you." Despite having won her case, Gabrielle did not feel very triumphant. In fact she felt down right nauseous. Much more arguing and she would have been sick.
"Now that the passenger list has been finalized, we need to get on with the business at hand," reminded Darinius. "Iolaus, you and Autolycus take 250 dinars and go see that captain. Tell him 250 tonight, 250 more when we board ship, and 500 when we get to our destination. Got that?"
"Right," said Iolaus. Salmoneus opened his purse, counted out 800 dinars and gave them to Darinius. Darinius added these to the 273 he already had and stacked them up on the table. He then counted out 250 and gave them to Iolaus.
"Hey, how come he gets to hold the money," protested Autolycus.
"It's not that we don't trust you,but-" Xena was cut off by a huge grin from Autolycus.
"Hmmm. I see. Well let's be off Iolaus, I'll take you to our brave captain," he said.
Darinius watched them leave and turned to Gabrielle. "If it's all right with you, could you keep the rest of this money for us.? asked Darinius. "I don't have any place to carry it and I don't see any pockets on that get-up of Xena's either."
"Sure, no problem," said Gabrielle. Gabrielle scooped up the coins and deposited them in her shoulder bag.
With the preliminaries now out of the way, Darinius and Xena were now free to fully concentrate on each other for the first time. "Ah, Xena, I think we need to talk," said Darinius.
"Okay," said Xena. "Gabrielle, we are going for a walk. Stick close to the inn, okay?"
"I'll be here," replied Gabrielle. She watched Xena exit the room and turned to Salmoneus. "Now, let's see what we can do about that gash in your head."
Xena and Darinius walked down the street that led past the docks. There they cut across the beach and stopped under a large pier that extended far out into the water. Neither spoke as they stood watching the pelicans diving for fish out in the bay.
Darinius was the first to break the silence. "Xena, before we go any farther with this I need to get some things off my chest.You may not know it but I have been just sort of wandering around for the last couple of years. When I heard of the good you were doing I didn't believe it. I thought it was some sort of scheme you had hatched out. But the more I heard, the more impressed I became. I learned about how you helped Hercules free Prometheus, how you were able to keep the Amazons and Centaurs from slaughtering each other, and even how you bested Hyperion."
"That was mostly Gabri-"
"Let me finish," Darinius cut her off. "Now, you and I were about as hated as two enemies could be. How we regard each other now- well that's another matter. The gods only know I am not one who can pass judgment on anyone. I have made enough mistakes of my own. You did what you felt you had to do to survive and so did I. Who was right and who was wrong is for others to decide. Like you, I am not the same person now that I was then. I just want you to know that, from the first time I saw you on that hot day in Tumas, you have always had my respect. The way you led your army into battle and the way you handled that rear guard action- I have to tell you, that was the greatest single act of courage I have ever seen. I could not help but admire you, you know? And when you and I fought I thought I was battling Ares himself. I had never seen anyone handle a sword like that!"
"As I recall, you did all right for yourself," said Xena dryly.
"Well maybe I did," grinned Darinius "But I'll say this; I can truly say I have never feared any man but I'm not so sure about a certain woman. Anyway, my point to all this is regardless of our past and our attitudes toward each other we need to cooperate and put all our energies into the work ahead of us.
You and I both know Hercules is a real beacon of hope in this dark world and we have to do all that's humanly possible to make sure that beacon stays burning. If we fail... well, the world will not be a very nice place to live in. Especially for people like Gabrielle."
Why did he mention Gabrielle?, wondered Xena.
"The reason I'm telling you this is I don't wan't you to have to worry about having to watch your back once we get there. You will need all your concentration for the job ahead," said Darinius. "And so will I. I uh-well..."
"Okay, since we are being honest here, I have got a few things to say, too," said Xena. "For a very long time I never hated anyone as much as I hated you. After that first battle all I could think of was revenge. I even forbade my men to mention your name. You became all consuming to me. Of course we continued to raid all over the place but every thought I had, every move I made was with you in mind. But I got sucked into that terrible battle with Tyldus at Corinth so I was delayed in returning to your valley. When I did I thought by then had the power to crush you. I believed I had all the answers to your tactics but, damn you Darinius, you tricked me again.
When it was over I was devastated. I three years time I had fought the two greatest battles in history and what did I have to show for it? Nothing but a lot of dead bodies For the first time in a long time I actually began to feel something. And later when I ran up against Hercules, well it changed my life. I was ready to give up and die but then I met Gabrielle. She saved me, Darinius. But it's still a struggle, you know?"
Xena seemed to pause and gather herself. "Darinius, I am glad you are coming," she said. "You are the greatest leader of men I have ever seen. Next to me, of course." She then leaned over until their faces were very close and added, "And you're not so bad with a sword either."
Xena paused again. Why am I rambling like this? she wondered. Something about him... "Gabrielle must be rubbing off on me," she continued. "She likes you, you know. Usually I don't say this much in a week. My jaws will be sore tomorrow. Darinius, I think you know me better than any man alive so I am sure you are aware of how I feel about Hercules. And to successfully complete our mission there can be no suspicion between you and me," said Xena. She paused briefly and added, "Oh, and Darinius?"
"I don't hate you anymore."
For once the great general seemed to be at a loss for words. Finally he spoke, "I think we had better get back. Iolaus should have returned by now."
"Yeah, they probably think we are trying to murder each other," said Xena.
Back at the inn Iolaus nervously paced the floor. "You don't think they are trying to kill each other, do you?" he asked.
"Of course not," said Gabrielle.
"I don't know, the way they were staring each other down I would not be surprised," said Iolaus.
Salmoneus burst into the room, panting heavily from running up the stairs. "They're coming!" he exclaimed. He had been watching for them from the front door of the inn.
"See, I told ya," said Gabrielle smugly. "Well did you two have a nice chat?"
"We cleared the air a little," said Xena.
"Iolaus, did you get the boat?" asked Darinius.
"Yep, we sail at noon tomorrow," said Iolaus.
By now it was dark outside and activity in the village was beginning to wane.
"I suggest we all try to get some rest," said Xena. "It may be the our last chance. Gabrielle, have you had anything to eat?"
"Yeah. I went to the market and bought some food. I got some fish cakes, apples, and some bread," said Gabrielle. "The rest of us have eaten so help yourself."
"I'm not hungry," said Xena.
"Well, I am. That fish looks pretty good to me," allowed Darinius. "Mmm, I always did like perch."
"Umm, Darinius, I uh, had Salmoneus take Argo to the stable," said Gabrielle. "Our food and the hay for Argo cost 30 dinars. I hope that's okay with you."
"That's why I let you keep the money, Gabrielle. You spend it as you see fit. Besides these muttonheads have to eat." said Darinius.
"I resemble that remark," said Autolycus, looking up sleepily from the floor.
"Oh, that's very funny," added Iolaus.
"By the way, Iolaus, did you find a sword?" asked Darinius.
"Nah, I imagine I'll have my pick of swords once we get to Kathos," said Iolaus.
After a furtive inspection of the room Darinius saw that the sleeping arrangements were going to be very cramped.
"It's going to be a nice night," he yawned. "I think I will sleep out back of the stable."
"It's going to rain and you know it," said Xena. Gabrielle never failed to marvel at this. Xena was almost always correct when it came to predicting the weather.
"C'mon Darinius, Gabrielle and I are big girls. We won't hurt you. So stop trying to be so noble."
"You promise?" laughed Darinius. He threw his bag in the corner, pulled out an old blanket, doubled it, and spread it out by the bag. "Okay, Xena and Gabrielle get the bed."
"I don't need the bed," said Xena.
"Well in that case maybe-", Autolycus, who had been crawling toward the bed, was cut off in mid sentence by the furious look on Xena's face. "As I was saying, maybe I should sleep by the door. In case someone tries to do us in during the night."
"Uh huuh," scowled Xena, her withering glare still evident.
"Xena, you take the bed. You'll rest better," offered Gabrielle. "I will be okay on the floor."
"Forget it, Gabrille," said Xena.
"No buts. Take the bed," repeated Xena. "I'll be okay."
It was a wonder to Darinius to see how swiftly Xena's demeanor could change. It was but a heartbeat from the rage at Autolycus to the gentle forcefulness with Gabrielle.
"Oh, all right, said Gabrielle. "I'm getting too sleepy to argue. But if you change your mind-"
"I won't. Now go to bed," said Xena.
Reluctantly Gabrielle reclined on the bed. Xena posted a chair at the foot of the bed and propped her feet upon the end of it. How odd, thought Darinius.
Before long the others had drifted off to sleep. I wonder what these guys dream of? thought Darinius. With Iolaus there was a good chance it was about a woman. With Autolycus it was probably making a big score. Salmoneus? Who knew? Why had Xena refused the bed? What was she afraid of? All these thoughts swirled around it his head until, finally, sleep came.
"Damn it, Iolaus, will you knock off that snoring?" whispered Autolycus loudly. "For the love of Zeus, you sound like a herd of ibex"
"Huh?, Snnxxx, oh sorry." Iolaus rolled over on his side and quickly dropped back off to sleep.
Darinius, awakened by this little exchange, looked over and saw Xena in the same position as before. Arms folded. Feet on the bed. For the most part her eyes were closed but at regular intervals they would open and at once lock on Gabrielle. Xena seemed to be looking for any sign of discomfort or disquiet.
She's guarding her!, though Darinius. All the interaction he had observed between Xena and Gabrielle in the last few hours now came rushing back to him. For his analytical brain there was only one conclusion to draw. Xena was in love with Gabrielle. To him it was now as plain as the nose on one's face. So, the mighty Warrior Princess had been conquered after all!
Even the great bards of Athens wouldn't dream up a tale such as this, thought Darinius.? It was not really all that surprising, though. In the short time he had known Gabrielle he could sense she was extraordinary. She did have a way about her. At times she seemed flighty and unfocused but he knew there was a depth to her that few people had.
For most of his life Darinius had relied on his ability to size up people quickly. In his line of work one did not always have a lot of time to separate friend from foe. In this he rarely failed. In Gabrielle's case he had no doubt. She was kind, loving, smart, brave, and funny. What more could any man- or woman- want? But what were Gabrielle's feelings concerning Xena? He decided to leave that for another time. Darinius finally fell asleep to the tune of Iolaus' returned snoring and with the haunting image of Xena's silent vigil still stuck in his mind.
Off to the west, the slowly approaching rumble of thunder signaled that Xena's prediction would soon be fulfilled.
"C'mon you guys, time to get up," said Xena as she prodded each of the men on the floor with her foot.
"Oh, for the love of Zeus," growled Autolycus, "I'm as tired now as when I laid down. It's hard to rest with a lion roaring in your ears all night."
"You have nothing to complain about," said Iolaus."I wasn't the one who kept grinding his teeth."
"Cut it out you two," snapped Xena. "We have got things to do."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," sighed Autolycus, rubbing his eyes.
"Time to get up, Gabrielle. Gabrieellle, waaaake uuuup," teased Xena.
"Huh? Oh, yeah, right. Good morning, Xena," said Gabrielle, rubbing her eyes.
Xena loved to see her wake up each morning. To see that face come to life each day was so much more beautiful than a plain old sunrise.
"So, how did you sleep, Xena?" asked Gabrilelle. "That chair couldn't have been all that comfortable."
"I slept well enough," said Xena.
Gabrielle had long been aware of Xena's insomnia. She had awakened many times to find her just sitting there staring into the fire of silently pacing the camp. Gabrielle did not know how Xena was able to function so effectively on the pitiful amount of sleep she got.
For his part, Darinius had been awake since well before daybreak. The old soldier's habit of rising early had stayed with him. This day he had not risen but had just lain there on the floor listening to the light rain falling on the roof. Just before dawn he heard that deep regular breathing that could only have Xena's and was glad she had finally dropped off. But it had not been for long. Just after daylight she had carefully risen and replaced the blanket Gabrielle had managed to kick off. She then silently padded to the door and after a quick look outside, returned to her post beside Gabrielle's bed.
Like a restless leopard, thought Darinius.
Not more than hour later she was up for good. "C'mon you guys, time to get up."
By now everyone was awake and slowly beginning to shake off the spell of Hypnos.
"I wonder where the ah, well- you know- is?" asked Autolycus.
"Same place as always," said Gabrielle. "Out back."
"Right," yawned Autolycus and he headed off to perform his morning ritual.
"Wait up, I'll go with you," said Iolaus.
"Now, Iolaus, I'm perfectly capable of doing this by myself," leered Autolycus. "I don't need any help."
"Funny. You should have been a comedian," growled Iolaus. "Come to think of it, as a thief you are pretty humorous."
"Oh, for the love of Zeus," sighed Autolycus as he and Iolaus started for the door.
"Once those guys get back we need to start sewing things up here," said Xena. Gabrielle, I want you to see about buying some more food for our journey.Get enough for about three days. You know what to look for; stuff that will keep well.
Gabrielle picked up her shoulder bag and started for the door.
"Make sure you eat something now, while it's still early," said Xena.
Gabrielle rolled her eyes at Salmoneus and slowly shook her head. She hefted her bag upon her shoulder and had almost gotten away before Xena called out to her as she descended the stairs.
"Oh, and Gabrielle?"
"Make sure it's nothing too greasy or you will be sorry," reminded Xena.
"Okay, okay," replied Gabrielle. For the love of Zeus, she thought. Oh great, now I'm starting to sound like Autolycus.
Xena stood in the doorway shaking her head in amusement as she watched Gabrielle mumble her way to the bottom of the stairs.
"Do you really have to remind her to eat?" asked Darinius.
"Of course not. But she's as liable as not to give her food to some poor soul she thinks needs it more that she does," said Xena. "Well, we might as well clear out. Salmoneus, I need to speak with you."
As the three of them descended the stairs, they heard Iolaus and Autolycus at it again. "I swear, Iolaus, I don't see where a little guy like you stores so much water," grinned Autolycus."I thought you had sprung a leak or something."
"Aw shut up, Autolycus," barked Iolaus. "And..don't..call..me..little..again.., you hear."
Xena had heard enough. "Now look, you two," she snarled, "I have had enough of this, you understand? ENOUGH! The next time I hear so much as a peep from either one of you," she poked each of them hard in the chest, "I may do something I will regret later." She brushed past them and stomped down the stairs.
Darinius had been watching all this from behind her with a big dung- eating grin on his face. "I'd lay low for a while if I were you, boys. Looks like she's in a baaaad mood today."
Autolycus waited until Xena was safely out of sight. He shook his fist in her direction and whispered, "Peep."
Xena stepped out into the street and could see Gabrielle talking to the woman in the market. Presently, Gabrielle picked up what looked like a small basket and started back up the street towards the inn.
Turning to Salmoneus, Xena said, "Salmoneus, while we are gone I would appreciate it if you would see to it that Argo is taken care of. Make sure the man in the stable is giving her enough hay. And give her a couple of apples every day. She loves apples. Now, we should not be gone more than a couple of days, three at the most. If we are not back in a week- well we won't be coming back at all. If after a week you have not heard from us I have one final favor to ask of you"
"Anything for you, Xena," said Salmoneus.
"I want you to take Argo to the Olympic Plain and turn her loose. Tell her I'm not coming back and to remember me. I know it sounds stupid but she'll know...she'll know."
"I don't think it sounds stupid, at all," said Salmoneus.
"Thanks, Salmoneus," said Xena. With that, she walked down the street to meet Gabrielle.
"Salmoneus, I too, need a word with you," said Darinius.
"If we don't make it back you can have this bag and everything in it. Keep it, sell it, whatever you want. I know it doesn't look like much but looks can be misleading. As for the sword, a deal is a deal. If we do manage to return I am willing to kick in an extra 1000 dinars for your trouble," said Darinius.
"You don't have to do that," said Salmoneus. "I am a man of my word."
"Then let's just call it a reimbursement," said Darinius. "You know, for Xena's horse's upkeep at the stable and your room and board at the inn while your are waiting for us."
"You are an honorable man, Darinius," said Salmoneus. "Hercules will be glad to have met you."
"So Gabrielle, what did you find?"asked Xena. "Anything good?"
"Well, I got some more fish cakes, and some pears, and look, Xena, nut bread!"
"You remember what happened the last time you ate nut bread, don't you?" asked Xena slyly.
"Well, yes-but, I don't think this bread has any hen bane in it," said Gabrielle.
"I hate to break this up but don't you think we had better start for the ship?" asked Autolycus.
"Right, lets get going," said Darinius. "Salmoneus, thanks for your help. I won't forget it. Gabrielle, count me out 250 dinars to give to the ship's master." Gabrielle quickly counted out the money and gave it to him. He then turned and started for the dock.
"Hey, anything to help the Big Guy," called out Salmoneus, watching Iolaus and Autolycus hurry to catch up to Darinius. "Good bye, Xena, take care of yourself."
"I always do," she smiled.
Salmoneus nodded in the direction of the three men and added, "And watch out for those guys, okay? They ah, they..."
"I know. They kind of grow on you, don't they? But don't you dare tell them I said so," warned Xena with mock severity.
"Xena, you know if I thought I could be of any help at all I would go with you," said Salmoneus.
Xena touched the man on the shoulder and smiled, "I know, good bye, Salmoneus."
Gabrielle offered her hand to Salmoneus and said, "See you around."
"Gabrielle, are you sure you want to go?" asked Salmoneus. " Not to scare you but I have heard stories of all kinds of things on that island. And not many of them human, either."
"Salmoneus, you know me," smiled Gabrielle, "I go where Xena goes. "Somebody has to watch her back."
"Then be careful. Let the others be the heroes," pleaded Salmoneus.
"Good bye, Salmoneus." Gabrielle then turned and ran up the street to catch up with Xena.
"Good luck," said Salmoneus softly. It must be wonderful to have so many brave friends willing to risk their lives for you, he thought, as he headed for the stable to check on Argo.
By the time Xena and Gabrielle arrived at the ship, Darinius was already speaking to the captain. "My friend, Iolaus, here has already given you 250 dinars. Here is 250 more and, as agreed, there will be 500 more when we reach Kathos. A word of caution. I have heard about how some of you sea dogs like to rob their passengers and toss them overboard. Not to say that you would do such nasty thing, you understand, but just so there is no misunderstanding..." Darinius snatched up the dagger in the captain's belt and drove half of it's blade into the foremast 20 paces away.
"Show off," said Xena.
"Captain, these are your other two passengers," announced Darinius.
"Well now, things are startin' to look up 'round here. This here voyage might not be so bad after all," leered the captain. Maybe you and I can spend some time together, blondie. I might even knock off some of the price of your trip."
The captain extended his arm and had no sooner touched Gabrielle's elbow when an incredibly strong hand locked onto his nose.
"Maybe what you better do is learn some manners," hissed Xena. She was squeezing the captain's nose so hard he had sank to his knees, the tears streaming down his face. "You just keep your filthy mind on piloting the ship and don't worry about giving any rebates." Xena knelt down beside the captain and as she gave his nose one last vicious twist she purred, "Be nice."
With as much dignity as he could muster the captain rose and began to give orders to his crew. "All right quit cher gawkin', you scurvy dogs. Make preparations for gettin' underway!" What kind of demons are these? the captain wondered. Especially the big woman and that Darinius guy.
An hour later the passengers were settled in below and the ship was well underway. Darinius had transferred his weapons from his long bag to an old bag made of sailing cloth. For the first time Xena got a look at them. The sword, and Xena believed it was the same one he had fought her with so long ago, was nothing special to look at. No engraving, no ornamentation of any kind, but obviously very well made. What really fascinated Xena was the bow. It was longer than any she had ever seen. Beside it lay a bundle of arrows with the ugliest war heads imaginable on them.
Xena sat down beside him and fingered the arrows. "Where did you get these beauties?" she asked.
"I designed them myself," said Darinius.
"And the bow?"
"I call it a long bow. It has a much greater range than a crossbow and not nearly as heavy. I only string it when I need to use it. I guess that's now," said Darinius.
A couple of hours later the wind picked up and the seas began to get choppy. Poor Gabrielle, thought Xena. Sure enough, it wasn't long before Gabrielle began to turn very pale.
"C'mon let's go up on deck," offered Xena.
"No, Xena- I'm fine- really," croaked Gabrielle.
"I'm sure you are. But all the same a little fresh air will be good for you," smiled Xena.
"I hate to be a nag but I'm getting hungry," said Autolycus.
"Yeah, me too," said Iolaus. "Gabrielle, where did you put those fish cakes?"
The words 'fish cakes' was all it took. Just before clapping her hand to her mouth Gabrielle managed to gasp out, "I gotta go," and bolted up the steps and out onto the deck.
"What's the matter with her?" asked Autolycus as he munched on his fish.
"I knew she would," sighed Xena. "Boats are like the plague to her." Xena started to get up but Darinius put his hand on her shoulder .
"Stay here and rest. I'll take care of her," he said.
"No, I really should-"
"Look, I know you didn't get much sleep last night," Darinius cut her off. "And we are going to need a fully rested Xena on that island. Now, you can trust Gabrielle to someone else for a little while can't you?"
"Okay, you win," said Xena.
"Just try to rest okay?" Darinius called out over his shoulder as he bounded up the steps.
"OOOWWWAAAHHHH! OOOOOWWWWWAAAAAHHHHH!" By the time Darinius got top side poor Gabrielle was heaving her guts up over the ship's railing. Beside her stood the captain with his arms folded in triumph. "What's the matter, Cutie, can't ya take it?" he sneered.
"If you don't get out of here right now," raged Darinius, "I am going to slice up your fat ass and feed it to the fish."
For some strange reason the captain decided he had had enough interaction with the passengers for one day and retreated to the bow of the ship.
"That's it, Gabrielle. Get it all out. You'll feel much better when you do," soothed Darinius. Gabrielle gave him a quick glance and he was surprised to see tears in her eyes. "Aw now, Gabrielle, it's not that bad. You're just a little sea sick, that's all."
"You don't understand," gasped Gabrielle. "I try. I try so hard not to be a burden to her. OOOOWWWWAAAAHHHH! But it always seems like she has to make allowances for me. "I hate," Gabrielle coughed up some snot and spit it over the railing, "I hate it when she has to do that. And then something like this is always happening to make me look like a fool." By now she had vomit all over her mouth and chin.
"Hey, YOU," barked Darinius at a nearby sailor. "Bring me some drinking water and a clean cloth. NOW!"
Having gotten most of it up by now, Gabrielle began to dry heave. "Why won't she let me share more of the load? GUUUAAAAHHHH!"
The sailor returned with a bucket of water and a large cloth. Darinius began to gently wash her face. "So, you think you're a burden, huh?"
"You don't know what it's like, Darinius," sputtered Gabrielle. "She doesn't sleep. It's like she feels she has to constantly watch over me, you know? I- I am pretty good at taking care of myself now but- GUUAAAHHH!- but even in a fight she always keeps one eye out for me."
Gabrielle gave one last good heave and a little bit of vomit landed on Darinius's shirt. "I- I'm sorry," she sniffed.
"Don't worry about it. I have had a lot worse than a little puke on me," Darinius assured her. "Now sit still and let me clean you up." Darinius finished washing the beautiful young face. He rinsed the cloth in the bucket, wrung it out, and emptied the water over the side.
"Thank you, I do feel better now," said Gabrielle.
"Well let's just sit here for a little while to make sure," he said. He took the cloth and gave her mouth one last wipe and gave the cloth to her.
"Xena is fine, Gabrielle. I was able to convince her to try to get some rest, that's all," said Darinius.
"See? That's what I mean. Sometimes I- I don't know what she sees in me," she said.
"That's an easy one," smiled Darinius. "A pure heart and a clean soul." He was gratified to see her blush a little. "There, you see. You must be feeling better. You are beginning to get some color back."
Gabrielle's face turned very sad. "I live in fear, you know that?"
"With someone like Xena around?" he asked.
"Not for myself, for her," said Gabrielle. "You would not believe some of the risks she has taken for me. I'm so scared that one of these days I'm going to do something really stupid and it's going to cost her her life." I just- I just don't know what I'd- I'd ...."
"Little bard, let me tell you a story," said Darinius. "Once there was a fierce warrior. One of the greatest the world had yet seen. The countryside trembled at this warrior's very name. But for all the power, all the wealth, all the fame, the warrior felt empty inside. This warrior was feared and respected but it meant nothing. The warrior had known true love once but now it was gone.
One day the mighty warrior left the army behind and began to search for answers to help to ease the pain which extended down to their very soul. In time the warrior made a friend. Soon the warrior realized the friend was more than a companion. This 'friend' is really the warrior's redemption. The rock on which a new life might be built.
Now this warrior is still brilliant in battle but not so brilliant at expressing feelings. Afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing, unsure of their self for the first time, the warrior does nothing. All the warrior can do is protect the 'friend' and care for them. The warrior hoped the day would come when the world will not need warriors anymore but until then the warrior did what they could to help. The warrior was still very much torn by the past and was sometimes plagued by doubt. One thing this person new for sure was that without the 'friend's faith and loyalty nothing could be accomplished."
"Well," he grinned, "What do you think?"
"That's an interesting story- for an amateur," said Garbrielle. "Funny though, you didn't specify a gender." She cocked her head to one side and squinted, "Is there any special significance to that?"
"Oh, I don't know, it's just a story," said Darinius.
"It's easy to see you were describing Xena," she said. "Weren't you?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps I was talking about... me," he replied.
"Oh, uh, mmm- I see," stammered Gabrielle.
"Look, Gabrielle don't ever feel like you are a burden to Xena or anyone else. All that stuff about how many times she has come to your rescue is a very small weight on the scale compared to what you have given her," he said.
"How can you say that?" she protested.
"Gabrielle, you are so perceptive when it comes to others why not when it comes to Xena?" Perhaps you are too close. Let me just say this. She needs you a lot more than you think. So the next time you worry about coming up short in her eyes, forget it because you could never, ever do that."
"Gabrielle, are you all right?" Xena stood on the steps with her head just visible above the deck.
"Yes, I'm fine. I feel much better. Thanks to Darinius here," she answered. Gabrielle began to rise and found herself still a little woozy. Darinius slipped his arm up under her shoulder and helped her up. "Thank you, mighty warrior," she smiled.
"Yeah, riiight," he groaned, rolling his eyes.
"I'm coming, Xena." Still clutching her cloth the wondrous young soul- no longer a child but not yet really a woman reached the top step and, as she started down, Xena stretched out an arm to steady her.
"I was beginning to think you might have fallen overboard," grinned Xena.
"Oh, Xena," sighed Gabrielle.
Up on deck Darinius looked far to the southeast and saw a very small, black object protruding out of the sea. Kathos Island! You know, he thought to himself, that wasn't such a bad story- for an amateur.
Continued - Part 3
The Bard's Corner