Darinius turned to Gabrielle and Autolycus and said, "Okay, you two stay back and take care of anyone who tries to flank us."
"Don't worry," said Gabrielle, "we'll take care of the bastards, won't we Autolycus?"
"Gabrielllle!" Gabrielle's swearing had startled Xena. "You hush that."
"Sorry." Hmph, thought Gabrielle, here we are about to fight twenty men and she is worried about my language.
"Here they come!"
In quick succession Darinius's four remaining arrows screamed through the air toward the guards. The men were so bunched together it was impossible for the missles not to find a mark. Simultaneously, the deadly chakram struck home and downed three more. Darinius picked up a couple of smooth stones from the road and readied his sling.
"I told you this came in handy, Autolycus," he said.
"Iolaus, don't rush out to meet them," warned Xena. "We want to hit them three abreast."
Senta's men were now within ten paces as one, then two more of them fell- courtesy of Darinius's sling. The battle was now joined. In the blink of an eye Xena broke the neck of one man with a monstrous kick, ducked under another's sword slash, and nearly cut him in two with her own sword. Iolaus, meanwhile, took down two more with a rolling block and, before they could rise, were dispatched by Gabrielle and her staff. The odds were now seven to five.
The battle was as good as over. Darinius pulled out his knife, deftly dodged a sweeping slash at his knees, and planted it into his assailant's neck. He relieved the dead man of his sword and ran it through one of the two men battling Iolaus. In the meantime Xena had killed another two and was locked in on the next one.
Relieved of his double team, Iolaus quickly dispatched his man with a series of hard elbows to the stomach. Again, Autolycus had the bad luck of drawing the biggest of the bunch. This man, with arms the size of Autolycus' legs, had him embraced in a huge bear hug. Try as he might to free himself, Autolycus could not manage it. Soon he was turning as purple as Xena's old battle cape.
Gabrielle's work with her staff had once again made her light- headed but she still managed to give Autolycus' antagonist a solid whack to the head before her knees buckled. This result of this was that the huge man loosened his grip just enough for Autolycus to separate himself and drive his knee into the man's groin. Autolycus then clamped his hands together in a double fist and hit him with everything he had. Like a huge tree the guard teetered briefly and fell crashing to the ground.
Autolycus's eyes registered a myriad of scenes as they began to refocus. Xena was chasing the last man up the road, Iolaus was bent over Gabrielle, and Darinius was checking out the downed men.
Darinius knew he could not take the chance of letting one of these men sneak off and warn their master so he utilized a lesson he had learned in the Spartan army so long ago. No matter how adept a man was at holding his breath no one could remain motionless after receiving a solid kick to the groin. He did not have to test all of them as most were obviously dead. It was a dirty job and he did not relish doing it but he had to be sure. All but three were dead.
"Iolaus, can you give me a hand?" asked Darinius.
"There are three of them still alive. Let's tie them to those trees over there so they can't get in our way anymore," said Darinius.
Here, thought Gabrielle, is the difference between my friends and all those marauding bastards who call themselves 'warriors'. Hercules, Xena, Darinius, always fought for good and only killed in the heat of battle. When it was over they once again became the examples of the heights humanity could attain. If we had lost here...well she had no illusions about that, either. None of us would have been left alive to be tied to trees that's for sure, she thought.
This brief, but very bloody, conflict had been a perfect illustration of the very different fighting styles of Xena, Iolaus, and Darinius. Iolaus tended to rely on his amazing quickness and agilty to avoid blows and deliver vigorus counterattacks to his foes. Xena, on the other hand, was the ultimate warrior. She was not really that quick but she was capable of performing stunning, almost gravity- defying maneuvers. Her real assets were her incredible raw power, aggressiveness, intellect, and courage beyond description. But what really made her so memorable was flair with which she utilized these assets. She exhibited a certain style which, once seen, was forever burned into one's memory- if they lived. A breathtakingly beautiful warrior woman in the prime of her life; she was a vision to behold.
To best describe Darinius' abilities one needed only to ask the ultimate authority on warriors, Xena. She had fought many battles, large and small, and had seen many warriors but only two whom she considered her equal. One was Hercules, of course, and the other was the quiet, confident man from Mymalar. Darinius might have been Xena's equal but their fighting styles were not much alike. His methods and been learned in Sparta's bloody coastal wars and over time he had refined those methods to something close to technical perfection. Because his army had been so often out numbered, he had developed combat techniques that required less physical exertion than normal. As a result he was not stylish or creative in combat; only deadly efficient. Another difference between the two was Darinius, like Hercules, mainly had a "lets get if over with" attitude when it came to fighting while Xena clearly relished a good fight.
Xena was having more trouble catching Thaddeus that she had expected. I should have sent Iolaus, she thought. Running was the only chink in Xena's armor and it was but a small one. After all, it was not something she was called upon to do very often. While she did not have anything like a sprinter's speed she made up for it by being able to maintain a very good pace for a very long time.
Thaddeus was doing the best he could but he was steadily losing ground to the demon- woman. He had never seen anything like it! Twenty men defeated by this woman and her companions in less time than it took to tell about it. Now the woman's measured breathing and heavy foot steps were coming closer...closer. Suddenly, two powerful arms were around his legs and he crashed to the ground. He felt himself being hoisted up to a sitting position. The woman was now behind him and she had locked a forearm under his chin. It's not possible for a woman, anyone, to be this strong, he thought. Struggle as he might, he could not break free.
"No, no, no. You are not going anywhere," panted Xena. "I have had enough road word for today. Now, why don't you tell me what I want to know and maybe I'll let you live."
"You will get nothing from me, harpy," spat Thaddeus.
"That's too bad." Thaddeus felt the shock of his head being snapped back and what felt like a couple of fingers being pressed sharply into the junction of his neck and shoulders. Soon he could neither move nor breathe and blackness was enshrouding his vision.
"I've cut off the flow of blood to your brain, the she- devil told him. "You have less than a minute to tell me what I want to know. Otherwise I walk away and you die. So let's not beat around the bush, shall we? Where is Hercules?"
"In- in the dungeon at the castle," gasped Thaddeus.
"And where is this dungeon located?"
"By the- the south wall of the palace."
"How many minotaurs?" demanded Xena. Here Thaddeus hesitated. Xena locked her hands around his neck and tried again. "How many!"
"Twelve," he answered, finally.
"Any other surprises I should know about? Well?"
"No," he croaked.
The fingers once more were jabbed into his neck and he found himself able to fight for air now.
"Thanks," cooed the she- devil.
Thaddeus rolled back his eyes in time to catch sight of the oncoming fist.
The cage had performed its job well. Hercules was indeed powerless just as Hera said he would be. This, however, was not quite the way Senta wanted it. After all, as long as he was in the cage his mind was unable to comprehend anything. What good was it, she thought, if she could not hold him close or feel his lips on hers. This way he was nothing more than an exotic pet. I love him so much, she thought. I don't dare release him now but once the three moons are passed we will be together forever. Senta turned her gaze to the two minotaurs silently watching Hercules from their post in the corridor. Such filty creatures!, thought Senta. She did not trust them despite the fact they were under orders from Hera to obey her. Thaddeus and his men should be returning soon, she thought, I will have one of them watch Hercules for a while.
"There she is!", shouted Iolaus. "Xena!" Iolaus was greatly relieved to see her. The possibility of her being led into a trap had occured to him. Now she strode back down the road to meet her comrades.
"I didn't think you would have to chase him that far," teased Darinius. "You must be getting slow in your old age."
"I didn't see you chasing him," retorted Xena. "And you are a fine one to be calling someone old."
"I prefer to call it 'maturity'," said Darinius airily.
"Did you find out anything, Xena?" asked Iolaus.
"Yes. Hercules is being held in a dungeon by the south wall of the palace." Xena paused before delivering the really bad news. "There are also twelve minotaurs roaming around in there."
"Uhh boy," groaned Darinius.
"Gabrielle, are you all right?" asked Xena.
"Yeah," replied Gabrielle. "But I am starting to know how cyclops feels."
Poor Gabrielle was right. Not only was her left eye completely swollen shut but the whole left side of her face from the jaw to the temple as well.
"Just be thankful you were able to avoid the worst of it or...," Xena's voice trailed off.
"I know, I would be crossing the river Styx right about now. Right?"
"'Fraid so," said Xena.
"So what do we do now?' asked Autolycus.
"Good question," said Darinius. "What do you think, Xena. It's going to be dark before long. Do we risk a night attack or do we wait until morning?"
"If we attack at night we will be at a clear disadvantage," said Xena."They say minotaurs don't see very well in daylight but do very well at night. On the other hand, if we wait Senta is going to know something is wrong. There is no telling what she might do. She might even be crazy enough to harm Hercules in some way."
"Okay, what about you guys?" asked Darinius.
The idea of fighting minotaurs in the dark did not appeal to any of them.
"We will do whatever you and Xena want," said Gabrielle.
"What I want is to be fishing on a beach somewhere," grinned Darinius. "How about you, Xena?"
"Make mine a good hot bath," answered Xena.
"I hate to break up this little moment," said Autolycus, "but are we going to hit them tonight or not?"
"If we wait Senta might send a couple of those things out to look for us," said Xena. "We might be able to set up some sort of ambush."
"Can we risk letting Hercules staying in there another night?" asked Iolaus.
"That's what we are trying to decide, Iolaus," said Xena.
"Well I have had enough," said Iolaus. "You can stay here and 'decide' all you want. I am going to do something." He had not gone two steps before Xena caught him by the arm.
"Calm down," she said softly. "We are on your side, remember?"
"Iolaus, we all want to help but we can't just go rushing in there," reminded Darinius.
"I knowww. It's just-"
"Iolaus we will get him out of there," said Gabrielle.
Xena planted herself squarely in front of Iolaus and put her hands on his shoulders. "I owe my life to Hercules," she said. "Iolaus, I swear to you on my brother's grave if we are not successful I will not be leave this island alive."
As far as Iolaus was concerned this was what amounted to an emotional outburst for the usually stoic Xena and he was somewhat embarrassed by it. Fortunately, his discomfort was interrupted by Gabrielle mumbling to herself.
"What did you say?" asked Xena.
"I was just thinking. If these things don't see very well in daylight why don't we take advantage of what time we have left today and get inside the castle? I mean- they won't be out on the battlements or anything; they will be inside, won't they? And, and if we get inside maybe we could sucker some of them into a trap out into the open and even the score a little."
Gabrielle caught herself. Stupid! she thought, who are you to try to tell these great military minds their business. She reminded herself that Xena was almost infallible at overcoming obstacles like this. Gabrielle, you will be lucky if they don't chase you clear back to the beach, she thought.
For a long moment Xena and Darinius just stood there staring at her.
I got a bad feeling about this, thought Gabrielle. She then saw this "look" come over Xena's face. It was hard to read her but she seemed to be pleased.
Darinius's face was not so hard to read. The delight was very plain to see.
"Well, Xena, the wrong ones have been leading this little expedition," laughed Darinius. "I think she has got something."
"I told you she was something, didn't I?" she replied proudly.
"Well, what do you say, General Gabrielle? Shall we get to it?" asked Darinius.
This guy sure has a way about him, thought Gabrielle. "Lead the way, private," she laughed. It felt good to her to be making a tangible contribution. "Oh and, by the way, you don't have to salute if you don't want to."
Darinius bowed deeply from the waist and Xena could only shake her head in amusement.
"There it is."
There was no more than hour or so of daylight left when they reached the castle. Xena studied it with interest and noted it was not especially a big one. It had been designed more as a residence than as protection from invasion. She could see the gates were closed and assumed they were locked. They probably left one or two men behind to watch the gate, she thought.
"I think maybe we should try that northwest corner," suggested Xena. "There's a good chance only one or two men are manning the gate so our best bet is to go to the opposite corner."
"You read my mind," agreed Darinius.
The little band quickly worked its way down the slope of the hill and skimmed along the walls of the palace until they reached the northwest corner.
"Okay, Autolycus," said Darinius, "this is where you earn your keep. Think you can scale that wall?"
"No wall is too tough for the King of Thieves," assured Autolycus. "Stand back."
Unfortunately for Autolycus the battlements had been shaped to form a sharp ridge on the top and there was no place for the grappling hook on Autolycus' on of a kind device to attach itself to. On the first attempt the hook came bouncing back down the wall as it fell to the ground.
"No wall is too tough, huh?" chided Xena.
"Well, ah, it's just a temporary setback," said Autolycus.
But twice more he tried the hook and twice more he failed.
"Maybe we should just throw you over the wall," growled Xena.
"Do you think you can put that thing through there?" asked Iolaus, pointing to a window in the watchtower.
"It's worth a try, I guess," answered Autolycus.
It took a couple of minutes for him to rewind the mechanism.
"It's going to be a long swim home for you if you don't hit that sill," warned Xena. She was becoming very impatient. We're wasting time, she thought.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," said Autolycus.
Although he was sure Xena was only kidding- wasn't she?, he was nevertheless relieved when his hook shot squarely through the tower window. His anxiety was further eased by the solid feel of the hook setting itself in the ledge. Soon he was up the cord and through the window, making the cord more secure.
"Okay, Iolaus, you're next," said Darinius.
Ioluaus quickly and neatly scurried up the cord to join Autolycus.
"Xena, I don't think I can make it up there," said Gabrielle.
"You don't have to, we will pull you up," assured Xena. "Go on Darinius, I will go last."
Darinius quickly hauled himself up the cord.
"Here, put this around you," said Xena, putting a loop in the cord. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm a little tired, but don't worry about me," said Gabrielle.
Xena made sure the loop around her was secure and added, "I want you to know I am proud of you. You really showed these guys what you are made of today."
"Thank you. Okay guys, I'm ready."
"Watch your head, now," warned Xena.
Gabrielle was quickly pulled up to join her friends and soon Xena was with them also.
Silently the made their way down the tower steps and toward the main gate, Iolaus, as usual, leading the way.
"There's only one that I can see," said Iolaus, peeking around the corner and eyeing the gate.
"Get his attention, Iolaus," said Xena. "It's not polite to arrive unannounced."
"Hey, stupid! Your mother wears army boots!" yelled Iolaus. He stuck his thumbs in his ears and wiggled his fingers.
"Who are you?" bellowed the guard. "Come back here! When I get my-" the guard rounded the corner where Iolaus had been and ran headlong into a straight right hand from Xena.
"Army boots?" laughed Darinius.
"It was all I could think of," shrugged Iolaus.
"Now that we are close," said Autolycus, what do we know about our 'friends' in there?"
"Big. Strong. Vicious," answered Xena.
"But also slow and stupid," reminded Darinius.
"And one more thing," added Iolaus, "they stink."
"It will be dark soon," said Xena. "Let's get to work."
Quickly they made their way to the south wall of the castle. Xena saw that the place where Hercules was being held must have been used for some kind of ceremonial, probably religious, purpose at one time. A solid slab of what looked like marble supported by four columns formed a kind of portico over the entrance. On top of the stoa were two rather large statues of griffins. The columns and the door facing were heavily engraved with symbols Xena had never seen before. The door opened into a hallway of at least twenty paces in length and faded into the darkness beyond the palace walls. To Xena the place had obviously been one in which its users had wanted to easily restrict whom could enter.
"You know, those griffins don't look very stable," observed Xena.
"You're thinking if they were to 'accidently' fall someone could get hurt?" asked Darinius. "Like a minotaur maybe?"
"Oh, wouldn't that be just terrible," purred Xena.
Iolaus thought he could see what was next. "Do you want me to go in there and try to draw them out so that you can play 'mash the monster'?" he asked.
"That's what I was thinking except you are not going in there, I am," said Darinius.
"Why you?" asked Xena. "Iolaus is obviously a faster runner than you are."
"Because," said Darinius, "from here on there are no leaders and followers. We just go in there. It's going to be a dog fight, plain and simple. No battle plans, no tricks, we just slug it out. Nobody is in charge now. No, I cannot ask Iolaus to do this. It is my turn."
"Then maybe I should be the one to go," suggested Xena.
"Nah, somebody has to get up on top of the stoa," said Darinius. "None of us but you can make the leap up there sooo..."
"Okay, okay, I get the message," said Xena dryly.
"One last order from me," said Darinius. "Autolycus, you and Gabrielle hide behind these front columns and stretch that cord from your grappling hook across the bottom of the doorway. Don't worry, our friends will be concentrating on me and not you. After I pass by pull the cord up just high enough to trip them. That will make it easier for Xena and Iolaus to hit them with the griffiins. Iolaus, care to trade swords? I believe you still have mine."
Iolaus traded swords with him and asked, "Darinius, what's to keep all of them from following you out here?"
"Nothing," said Darinius. "Whether they all follow me or not is irrelevant. This still has to be done."
"Iolaus, we can't fight a battle of attrition here. These things are too strong. Minotaurs can fight all day and all night and not get tired. We have to try to take some of them out not only quickly but with as little exertion as possible. Now, once we get in there, I am hoping Hercules can give us a hand but we have got to reach him first." He paused and looked at Xena, "You ready?"
"Let's go then."
Without her usual war cry, Xena executed a leaping back flip and landed up on top of the portico. She immediately lay face down on the slab and reached one arm over the side. Locking Iolaus' arm with hers, she easily swung him up to join her on the slab.
The woman is amazing, thought Darinius. "Are you ready?" he asked Autolycus.
Darinius took a hard swallow and entered the hallway. He had not gone ten paces before the stench greeted him. It's even worse than I remember, he thought. Poor Hercules! Now it was to dark too continue much farther. Well, here I go, he thought.
"HERCULES! HERCULES, WHERE ARE YOU?"
Darinius immediately detected sounds of movement directly in front of him. There! No more than a few paces away and about level with his waist, Darinius could see two- no three pairs of red glowing embers boring in on him out of the darkness. Get ready, he told himself. Then another pair of eyes appeared and with them, a roar loud enough to wake the dead. The eyes were now closing on him!
Darinius almost waited too long to make his escape. He felt the whoosh of a sword stroke not more than a hand's width away from his head. He ran down the hallway and out into the open with the monsters hot on his heels.
As soon as Darinius passed them, Autolycus and Gabrielle yanked up their cord and tripped up three of the minotaurs. The fourth one managed to elude the cord and continued straight for Darinius. The three minotaurs were no sooner on the ground when the two griffins came crashing down on them. And after the statues came Xena. With a savageness she rarely let Gabrielle see, Xena rammed her sword into each of the prostrate minotaurs bellies.
"Keep an eye on the door," she told Gabrielle, "and yell out if you see any more of them coming."
By now Darinius had turned to face his pursuer. This one did not wield a sword but a battleaxe. The monster swung his weapon in long sweeping arcs, aiming mainly at Darinius' legs. Darinius deftly eluded each of his foe's attacks and, using his sword with deadly efficiency, scored two solid hits on the monster's left arm. As the minotaur began to make his next sweep at Darinius his knees buckled and his weapon fell heavily to the ground.
Due to his intense concentration on the minotaur Darinius had not seen Iolaus close in from the right and ram his sword into its ribs.
"Are you all right?" asked Iolaus.
"Yeah, I'm okay. Thanks, Iolaus," said Darinius.
Iolaus was having trouble removing his sword from the monster's ribs. Finally, by planting his foot on the minotaur's back and pulling with all his might, he was able to remove it.
Xena, meanwhile, returned to Gabrielle and Autolycus after seeing that Iolaus was on his way to help Darinius.
"Stay close to me from now on, Gabrielle," she said.
"For a moment there- I mean, with the minotaurs, it was like you were someone I didn't know," said Gabrielle.
"I was," said Xena. "You caught a glimpse of the past, Gabrielle. I guess with so much at stake here I lost a little self control." Seeing the apprehension in Gabrielle's eyes she smiled, put a hand on her arm and added, "Don't worry about me, I'm all right. Really"
"I'll be glad when this is over," said Gabrielle.
"So will I," smiled Xena. "So will I."
"Hey guys, look what I found."
Autolycus had been searching for a place to relieve himself when he noticed a large box with a lid held on by leather straps. He looked inside and found a small bag of grain, a jar of some unknown liquid, and three torches.
"These torches will come in handy," said Iolaus.
"What's this stuff for?" asked Gabrielle.
"My guess is it's some sort of religious offering," allowed Xena.
"Well, it's time," said Darinius.
Making their way to the entrance, Xena asked Gabrielle, "Have you got your flint?"
She reached into her bag, produced the flint, and quickly lit the torches.
"Here," said Xena, giving Gabrielle and Autolycus the torches. "Gabrielle if they get too close to you I want you to put this right between their eyes, understand?"
Gabrielle merely nodded.
Darinius gave his sword a quick inspection and said, "Friends, here is where we succeed or fail. Let's not fail."
They slowly entered the hallway. Xena, Iolaus, and Darinus led the way, walking three abreast down the corridor with Autolycus and Gabrielle following close behind.
"Ugh! That odor is awful," said Gabrielle.
The steps were now just ahead and Darinius stopped for a moment to listen for that scuffling noise he had heard before.
Nothing. Just the hiss of torches.
Carefully they descended the steps. Still nothing. The bottom of the steps ended in another hallway which ran perpendicular to theirs.
"There's more than room down here," said Xena.
"So which way do we go?" asked Darinius. "Left or right?"
"We go right," said Xena.
"Okay," agreed Darinius, "Autolycus, keep a sharp watch behind us to make sure we don't get any surprises."
This passageway was much longer than the one leading outside. The little band advanced down it for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, they saw a faint light filtering out of the left side of the corridor.
"It's got to be a room," said Iolaus.
"Get ready," said Xena.
Darinius carefully inched up to the door of the room and peeked inside. The light was coming from a small, barred window high up on the opposite wall. Although it was now completely dark outside, a full moon was beginning to peek over the battlements of the castle and cast its rays through the window.
The room was not very big and, as far as Darinius could tell, nearly empty. He took the torch from Gabrielle and eased into the doorway and stuck the torch into the room. A small table in one corner, some old rags in the center of the room, and what looked like a bigger pile of rags in the corner under the window were all he could see.
"Nothing here," he whispered, turning back.
"Wait! It moved!" whispered Gabrielle.
"What moved?" asked Xena.
"Over in that corner, whatever that is, it moved I tell you," said Gabrielle.
Holding her sword with both hands, Xena stepped toward the big pile of rags. She closed to within a couple of paces before she realized it was a man. His hands were manacled to the wall and a hood had been placed over his head. She knelt down and could hear him softly moaning.
"What is it. Xena?" asked Iolaus.
"Is he- dead?" asked Gabrielle. She found it hard to believe anyone could survive here.
"No," replied Xena. "He is just unconscious."
Gabrielle's compassion over came her fear and she moved to join Xena. She was halfway there when Xena removed the man's hood.
"Ohhh nooo," groaned Xena.
"What is it?" asked Gabrielle.
The others moved in closer to see what had given Xena such a start. By now Gabrielle's line of vision was no longer blocked and she could see the man's face.
"Joxer! What in Tartarus is he doing here?" demanded Gabrielle.
"One can only guess," said Xena.
Gabrielle soaked Autolycus' old rag with water from her bag and placed it to Joxer's lips. Xena, however, decided on a more direct approach to revive him. She placed her thumbs on Joxer's eyelids and gently pushed them up.
Joxer awakened to see Xena and Gabrielle kneeling over him and was too stunned to believe what he was seeing. What a wonderful dream, he thought, My two favorite people in the whole world.
"Joxer, Joxer, snap out of it," Gabrielle whispered as she gently slapped his cheek.
Still, Joxer could not quite clear the fog in his head. "Xena. I knew you could not resist me forever," he said dreamily.
With a smile that revealed more amusement than annoyance, Xena reached over and gaver Joxer a firm pinch on the nose. "Wake up, you moron," she said.
"Owww! Not the nose. It hurts enough already. Finally, reality came to Joxer. "Hey, it is you guys! Hiya, Gabby. Ugh. What happened to you?"
"It's a long story," growled Gabrielle.
"You know this man?" asked Darinius.
"I am afraid we do," said Xena dryly. "Darinius, this is Joxer, Warrior Idiot."
"Yeah I...huh?...I sometimes help out these two when the going gets too tough for them," boasted Joxer.
"What are you doing here anyway?" asked Gabrielle.
"Well I was in Cataria minding my own business when these guys came running by me carrying this cage on long poles," said Joxer. "As they passed by me one of them tripped and dropped his pole. The cage tilted over and the cover came halfway off and I saw, you will never believe it, Hercules inside it."
"We can believe it," replied Gabrielle.
"Wellll, the mighty Joxer saw his duty at once and attacked these cretins. I would have taken them, too, if this one sneak had not gotten in a lucky punch," he said.
"Don't tell me, let me guess," said Xena. "He broke your nose, right?"
"Yeah. How did you know?"
"Just a hunch, I guess," said Xena.
"Well, anyway," continued Joxer, "the next thing I know I'm here. I have been working on an escape plan but I am sure glad to see you guys."
"Autolycus, can you get those off him?" asked Darinius.
"Hmmm, let me see, yeah- no problem," said Autolycus. He produced his tools and in less that a minute had Joxer free. "There you go," he said.
"Joxer, do you know where Hercules is?" asked Xena.
"I don't even know where I am," bleated Joxer.
"Can you stand?" asked Xena.
"I don't know. I think so." Joxer placed his hand on Gabrielle's shoulder and managed to rise. "Just give me a minute and I'll be okay."
"Looks like it's back the other way for us," said Iolaus.
Joxer picked up the sword Autolycus had laid down and asked, "Can I borrow this? I want to get even with those cowardly bastards."
"Tell you what," said Xena, "why don't you let Autolycus keep the sword and you carry the torch?"
Joxer sadly took the torch from Iolaus and unsteadily began for the door.
What is it about that guy that makes it impossible for me do dislike him, Xena asked herself. Yes, he is totally inept but he does mean well.
Iolaus crept to the door and sneaked a peek down the hall. "I don't see anything," he said.
"Let's move out," said Darinius.
"Do me a favor?'
"Keep an eye on Gabrielle for me?" asked Xena.
"You got it," beamed Joxer.
"I don't- he..." Gabrielle was cut short by the little wink Xena gave her. Oh, so that's it, she thought. Typical Xena. Always rock hard on the exterior but ever compassionate to the lucky ones she counted as friends. And Joxer was a friend.
They began to retrace their route back down the corridor and stopped when they reached the steps once again.
"Wonder where they are," said Iolaus. "Do you think they could be setting a trap for us?"
"Probably," nodded Xena.
They group slowly made its way past the steps and on down the passageway. Xena, Iolaus, and Darinius led the way with the others behind. The torches were not as bright as before and the dim light made it impossible to see the very thin crack in the wall of the passageway which was the only clue to the presence of a hidden door. Xena and Autolycus, in fact, looked straight at it but passed on oblivious to it. They had proceeded about ten more paces when the grating of stone upon stone was heard behind them.
"Uh ohh," said Iolaus.
They no sooner turned to face the noise when a tremendous roar filled the corridor. It seemed to be all around them.
"Run!" exclaimed Xena.
With her sword in one hand and Gabrielle's hand in the other, Xena followed Ioluaus, Autolycus, and Darinius down the corridor. Joxer, meanwhile, never knew he could run so fast. After about thirty paces the corridor made a sharp turn to the right. The warriors rounded the corner and ran straight into four more minotaurs.
"Don't stop!" yelled Darinius. "Just keep going!"
Holding his sword at arm's length and across his body, Darinius charged straight into the minotaurs. Iolaus and Autolycus hit them a split second behind. The momentum of the charging men was enough to knock down all four of the minotaurs.
The monsters had been standing in a doorway of a large room lit by torches. Xena and her companions were too occupied at first to notice the blueish glow emanating from the corner of the room.
"If we can keep them bottled up in the corridor," said Xena, "we might be able to hold them off."
"But for how long?" asked Autolycus.
Xena, Darinius, and Iolaus rushed to where the corridor opened into the room just in time to do battle with the minotaurs and prevent the minotaurs from entering. As Gabrielle turned to look for another exit she saw it.
"Xena! The cage. It's Hercules!" she shouted.
"Autolycus, open the cage," said Darinius.
Autolycus produced his tools, hurried to the cage, and began to the inspect the lock.
"Hercules, it's me," said Autolycus. Hercules did not reply. He merely sat there, staring. Well, this doesn't look too hard, thought Autolycus. Autolycus inserted his pick into the key hole and a gray fog began to cloud his eyes. In a matter of seconds he could not remember what he was doing there or even who he was.
"What's the matter with you?" demanded Gabrielle.
Autolycus did not reply. Like Hercules he simply stared. Instantly Gabrielle saw the meaning of it.
"By the gods, it's true. Xena! Remember the story about the cage?" asked Gabrielle.
"I'm a little busy here, Gabrielle," replied Xena. "I don't have time for stories." She, Darinius and Iolaus were now being pressed very hard by their enemy.
"The story," persisted Gabrielle, "said that any man who comes in contact with the cage becomes mindless."
"Well it's true. Autolycus can't open the cage. He touched the cage and it zapped him."
"If a man can't do it then a woman will have to," said Darinius.
So far the minotaurs had been content to crudely hack away at the humans with their swords. They were very much restricted in their movements by being bottled up in the narrow corridor. Darinius knew it was only a matter of time, however, before they regrouped and charged the way he and his friends had done.
"I see what you are getting at," said Xena. "Gabrielle, you will have to open the cage."
"Me? protested Gabrielle. "I don't know anything about picking a lock."
"JUST DO IT!" screamed Xena. "We can't hold on here much longer. Joxer, we need your help!"
"Coming, Xena." Despite being very frightened, Joxer felt somehow exhilarated by the scene unfolding around him. The Warrior Princess and her friends were calling on him for assistance! He took the sword from the still comatose Autolycus and rushed to the aid of his comrades.
Meanwhile, Gabrielle returned to the cage and timidly began to jiggle the pick in the lock. To her relief she found that the cage, indeed, did not affect women. Desparately she began to work the tools into the lock in every position she could think of but nothing happened.
"Autolycus! Autolycus, you have got to help me!" Gabrielle was screaming at him but his demeanor did not change. She felt the anger and frustration begin to rise up inside her. Did we come all this way only to fail now? she thought. NO!
"Autolycus, snap out of it," pleaded Gabrielle. That's it! she thought.
Gabrielle reached back as far as she could and came forward with looping round house right and caught Autolycus squarely in the jaw.
"Owwww! My hand." Gabrielle was sure it was broken. That was a stupid thing to do, she thought. The last thing we need is for me to become hysterical.
But she had finally gotten a reaction from Autolycus. Waking from his drunken stupor, he blinked his eyes several times and began to shake his head as if he was trying to clear out the cobwebs. Then his brain began to register the pain in his jaw. He turned to Gabrielle, "Thanks, I needed that...I think."
Suddenly the minotaurs retreated a few paces and began to seemingly communicate among themselves.
"I was afraid of this," said Darinius. "They are going to rush us."
"Quit jabbering, you two, and get that cage open!" yelled Xena.
"Right. Autolycus, you are going to have to tell me how to do it," said Gabrielle.
"Well, first you place this one in here..."
With a huge collective roar the minotaurs charged down the hallway.
"Stand back!" yelled Xena.
The four defenders waited until the last possible moment and stepped out of the way of the onrushing monsters. Caught up in their own momentum, they burst right past the defenders. Xena on one side and Darinius on the other both managed to ram a lethal thrust into the side of a minotaur as it ran past. The fight now degenerated into individual battles all over the room.
"Now holding the first one in place, just stick the other one in here and slowly twist it until you feel a click," continued Autolycus. He sized up the situation around him. We're goners, he pronounced to himself.
"I don' t feel any..." click! Gabrielle felt the door loosen and she pulled it open with a fierce yank.
"We did it!" Xena, it's open!"
Xena knew Gabrielle was not nearly strong enough to remove Hercules from the cage by herself. "Darinius, I have got to help Gabrielle get Hercules out of there."
"Go on," he replied. "We'll try to hold 'em off. Form a wall in front of the cage door, boys!"
Rushing to the cage, Xena stopped for a moment. "Here, take this," she said, giving Autolycus her sword. Autolycus quickly joined the others on the human wall in front of the cage.
"C' mon, Gabrielle, we have got to get him out of there," said Xena, entering the cage. "You take his feet and I'll take the shoulders"
"Uhh, he's a lot heavier than he looks," said Gabrielle.
"Hang on, we are almost out," said Xena. "Hercules..."
The superior strength of the monsters was beginning to make a difference. Joxer received a blow to his left shoulder and collapsed. Darinius, too, was cut but managed to keep his feet. Iolaus had managed to wound one of the enemy but the fierce fighting was taking its toll.
Autolycus took a vicious two- handed swing at a minotaur with Xena's sword and, as the monster ducked, hit the cage with it. To his horror the sword simply shattered. Even more surprising to him was the contact with the cage had not affected him.
Suddenly two huge arms ran past each side of Autolycus' head, caught a minotaur in each hand, and savagely crushed their heads together. Simultaneously, Darinius rammed his sword into another one's guts . Autolycus threw the hilt of Xena's sword at another and cracked it right between the eyes. As the monster stepped back to shake off the pain, it found itself being hoisted into the air. Hercules had picked it up like a rag doll and, turning to face the rest of the enemy, threw him on top of them.
Hera or no, the minotaurs realized they were outmatched. They scrambled to their feet and disappeared into the gloom of the corridor.
"Herc, it's good to see you again," said Iolaus.
"You too, Iolaus. Ah where are we, by the way? What are all of you doing here?"
"We came for you," smiled Xena.
"I don't understand," said Hercules.
"It's a long story," said Xena. "Gabrielle can tell you all about it on the way home."
Hercules then noted Gabrielle's battered face. "Who did this to you?" he asked.
"He's been taken care of," said Xena.
"Well it's good to see all of you again," said Hercules. He then spotted Darinius helping Joxer to his feet. "I don't believe I've had the pleasure."
Xena made the introductions. "Hercules, this is Darinius."
"Darinius?" Not the famous general Darinus?" asked Hercules.
"The same," said Xena. "Believe me, I ought to know."
Hercules shook hands with Darinius and turned to Joxer.
"And this is Joxer," said Xena.
Poor Joxer was so overwhelmed at meeting the great hero he was unable to be coherent. "I'm mad to gleet you," he stammered. "I mean, I'm meesed to pleat you... I mean-"
"Joxer, he gets the idea," said Xena.
"I hate to spoil the reunion," said Autolycus, "but shouldn't we get out of here?'
"You're right, Autolycus," said Hercules. He made for the door and stopped. "Uh, could someone show me the way?"
"Sure thing, Herc," smiled Iolaus. "Just stay close, okay?"
"Autolycus, where is my sword?" asked Xena.
"Wellll, uh, Xena, it's like this- it's ahh, well I broke it," said Autolycus meekly.
"You WHAT?" In all the confusion of the battle she, indeed, had not seen what the cage had done to her sword. And now for a moment Xena felt a powerful urge to wring Autolycus' neck- but only for a moment.
"It was not his fault, Xena," protested Gabrielle. "It must have been the force in the cage. When your sword made contact with it it just exploded."
"Okay, okay," muttered Xena, still very angry.
"C'mon, Xena, let's get out of here," said Darinius.
The night sky was now blanketed by clouds an they stepped out into the fresh air of the palace courtyard.
"It looks like you have been very busy tonight," said Hercules, stepping over the dead minotaurs by the portico.
"Busy enough to last me for a while," said Iolaus.
A soft voice beckoned to him from the blackness of the courtyard.
"It's Senta," said Xena. "She's the one who brought you here."
"Hercules, please stay with me."
"I can't do that," said Hercules. "I don't belong here. And besides, kidnapping is not the way to make friends.
"I only wanted to love you," said Senta. "I knew I could never win your heart fairly so I decided to have you any way I could. When Hera told me of the cage-"
"Hera!" interrupted Hercules. "I should have known."
"She said we belonged together and that after a while you would grow to love me and help rebuild my island."
Hercules noted the very real pain in Senta's voice and it made it impossible for him to be angry with her. He could only pity her now. "I'm sorry about what happened here," he said, "but Hera only used you to do harm to me. She is always trying new ways to destroy me and she will use any amount of treachery and deceit to accomplish her goal. She does not care who is hurt in the process."
"I cannot believe the great Hera would-"
"Listen sister, Hercules never lies, okay?" snapped Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle, calm down," whispered Xena.
"I have heard the great Hercules always tells the truth," said Senta. "I see you and your friends have defeated my guards. It must be wonderful to have such powerful friends.
"It's nice to have friends whether they are powerful or not," said Hercules. "It only matters that they like you for who you are."
"Then take your friends and go. The ship that brought you here is moored not far from here. You can use it for your voyage home," said Senta.
"Why don't you come with us? This is no place for you," said Hercules.
"This is my home, I cannot leave it again," said Senta. "Go now and, Hercules?"
"Try not to think too unkindly of me. Loneliness is a bitter enough potion to swallow without having the one you love hate you."
"I don't hate you, Senta. You are the real victim in all this," said Hercules
"We have some of your men tied up in the forest," said Xena. "We will release them before we go."
The rising sun found them already well out to sea. Hercules was at the tiller, Iolaus and Autolycus were working the sails, and Xena was attending to Joxer's and Darinius' wounds while Gabrielle slept.
"Looks like you are going to have a nice scar there to go with the one if the other one, Joxer," said Xena.
"Really? That's owww! great. Boy, wait till I tell everybody I helped to save Hercules."
"Joxer, a good warrior doesn't need to boast," said Xena. "His deeds will always will speak louder than words."
"Well maybe I could just tell a couple, like Meg maybe?" he asked.
"Won't do any harm, I guess," said Xena. "Now why don't you try to get some sleep?"
Xena watched Joxer stumble up to the bow and lie down. "Well, she said, turning to Darinius, "you don't seem to be too badly hurt."
"Nah, I have had a lot worse. You know that," said Darinius.
"Yes, I know," said Xena.
"That Joxer, for a guy as inept as he is, has got guts," said Darinius.
"He always means well," said Xena.
They were interrupted by Gabrielle stirring slightly in her sleep.
"You know, I have never met anyone like her. From the moment I saw her I knew I liked her," grinned Darinius.
"Gabrielle is a special person. I don't know what I would do without her," said Xena. "So, what's next for you?"
"Me? Ahh I don't know. I might go home. You know, check on the old homestead. I haven't been to visit Lycidia in a while."
"She must have been something to have caught you," smiled Xena.
"No, Lycidia was the one who was something," said Darinius. "What about you?"
"There is still time to make it to Athens for the bard's competion so that's where we will go. Gabrielle doesn't let on but it means a lot to her. She is very good, you should hear her sometime," said Xena.
"I'd like that."
For a few moments neither of them spoke. Finally, Xena broke the silence. "Darinius?"
"Gabrielle thinks you can see inside a person's heart. She's very perceptive about things like that."
"Well can you? I have seen people do some pretty amazing things in my time," said Xena.
"Not really, of course," said Darinius. "I do make it my business to know people, though. I found if I studied their body language and how they react to certain stimuli I could indeed learn a lot about them. Remember that day in Tumas when I called you a murdering harlot?"
"Yeah, I remember," said Xena dryly.
"Well, that was just a test. I wanted to see how well you were in control of your emotions," he said. "A commander who can't control his emotions is not a winner.
Xena did not answer and Darinius knew something was eating at her. Finally, it dawned on him. "I know what is," he told her."You want me to tell you what I see in you. You want me to compare the Xena of today to the Xena I knew in the old days, don't you?"
"I won't even speak of the past but I will tell what I see in the Xena of today. I see strength and courage beyond comparison but, you always had those. But I also see integrity, loyalty, and, yes, compassion. I also see a tolerance now for those less gifted. I also see pain, sadness, and regret. The little voice inside you that beckons for a return to the old ways. But I know now that little voice will one day die and you will find your peace, Xena," said Darinius. He turned to gaze at the petite form lying beside him. "And I see something else, too. Love."
"You know, don't you?" asked Xena.
Darinius closed his eyes and nodded, "Yes. That night at the inn, the way you watched over her. I knew."
"I would die for her, Darinius. She means more to me than life itself. You know, there are those who say it's not- well...you know what I mean."
"It's nobody's business but yours and hers. The Xena I know would not give a damn what anybody thought as long as she was happy. Let me tell you something. I have traveled just about everywhere and met almost everyone of any importance and I will tell you to straight out you are the most remarkable person I have ever met."
"I mean it, Xena."Now if the most remarkable person I have ever met doesn't deserve love, then who does?" Darinius broke into a silly grin and looked down at his hands. "Aww, I talk too much. Gabrielle has the right idea. A good nap is just the thing for a wounded hero."
Xena put her hand in the hand of her greatest enemy of all time, squeezed it, and said with a wry smile, "Then don't let me stop you, 'hero'." She turned to leave, looked over her shoulder at him, and added, " Oh, and Darinius?
"Thanks. I'm glad I didn't kill you all those years ago," smiled Xena.
Darinius scratched his ribs and yawned, "Me too. I kind of like this breathing thing."
Xena left Darinius and Gabrielle lying on the foredeck and walked back to where Hercules was manning the tiller. "So, how are you feeling?" she asked.
"I'm fine. I just can't believe what happened," said Hercules.
"Well, it shocked all of us when we heard about it," said Xena.
"Thank you for coming so quickly," he said.
"What would the world do without the Hercules?" asked Xena.
"I'm serious, Xena. No one else could have done it and I am grateful to you."
"It wasn't just me, Hercules. Look around you. Everyone here had a hand in it."
Hercules let his eyes wander over the ship and the remarkable people on it. Iolaus and Autolycus- trading good natured insults by the mast. Iolaus, my great friend. Xena's friend Joxer- sleeping up in the bow, a strange fellow but Xena saw something in him. Gabrielle- as true a friend as anyone ever had. Darinius- the great warrior. A man whom he would certainly have to get to know better. And Xena- what could he say? A stunning beauty with the heart of a lion and the awesome skills to match. Was there anything she couldn't accomplish? Hercules doubted it. It made him feel proud to know these people...his friends.
As Salmoneus stood by the dock looking out to sea, the lengthening shadows of the evening sky were like a manifestation of his growing apprehension. Tomorrow morning will be three days, he thought, I wish I knew what was happening. Could the five of them really do it? Salmoneus knew what Xena and Iolaus could do and the respect that Xena obviously had for Darinius meant he must be tough too. But was it enough? What if it wasn't? The thought of Xena, Gabrielle, maybe even Hercules being dead was something that made him shudder. What would the world be like without them?
Well, he thought, I'll give it a week. Xena said they ought to be back by then. If not... Salmoneus turned to go back to the inn. He had already checked on Argo and his stomach told him it was time for some supper. Without thinking, he took one last peek over his shoulder. A small black dot on the horizon caught his eye. A ship. Could it be them? Probably not. Oh well, he thought might as well stick around to make sure.
An hour later the ship was close enough for Salmoneus to make out individuals on board. It was not long before he saw the unmistakable outline of Xena standing in the bow. It was them! Salmoneus didn't know when he had felt relief like this.
"Hey there, Salmoneus." It was Gabrielle. "We got him!"
"I never doubted it," lied Salmoneus.
A half an hour later the ship had moored and had discharged its brave cargo.
"Hercules! It's so good to see you."
"You too, Salmoneus," said Hercules. "Xena told me about your help. Thanks."
"I was glad to be able to contribute in some small way," said Salmoneus. "Oh my- Gabrielle, what happened to you?"
"She hit a cyclops in the fist with her head," said Autolycus.
"Wait til I tell you about it, Salmoneus," said Gabrielle, "you won't believe it."
"Is Argo okay?" asked Xena
"Fine. I just saw her a couple of hours ago," said Salmoneus.
"Could you lend me twenty dinars?" asked Autolycus. "I'm getting mighty hungry."
"Forget that, Autolycus," said Salmoneus. "We'll have a feast fit for a king."
Salmoneus was as good as his word. That night they celebrated the return of Hercules. Needless to say, Iolaus and Autolycus had a little too much to drink and wound up on the floor. Gabrielle related the story of their adventure three times and each time embellished it a little. Even Xena was less stoic than usual. Soon the good food combined with her happiness and, yes, relief worked to make her drowsy. For the first time in many a moon Xena got a good's night sleep.
Soon Gabrielle joined her on the floor and, before long, she too was asleep. Joxer and Salmoneus were the next to fall to Hypnos' charms. But Hercules and Darinius talked well into the night.
The next morning found all of them preparing to go their separate ways.
"Xena," said Gabrielle, "it's sort of sad isn't it?
"I mean, all the things we have shared and then, just like that, we all separate go our separate ways."
"We are only separated physically, Gabrielle. They are always with us."
"I'll still miss them," said Gabrielle.
"We'll see them again. Who knows, there even might not be any trouble around when we do," said Xena.
"Yeah, right. If there is one thing I have learned it's that you hero types aren't much for making social calls," allowed Gabrielle.
The two of them were joined by Darinius and Salmoneus approaching from opposite directions. Upon meeting, Salmoneus gave Darinius his leather bag.
"Here, you forgot this," said Salmoneus.
"Thanks," said Darinius. "Remember, be in Athens in ten days. Be at the magistrate's office at noon and someone will be there with your money,"
"I'll be there."
"Gabrielle and I are on our way to Athens ourselves. If you fetch Argo from the stable for me you can go with us," said Xena.
"That would be great," squealed Salmoneus. "I'm on my way," And he hurried off in the direction of the stable.
Now Joxer saw his chance and he took Salmoneus' place in the group. "Well, warrior pals, I've got to be going."
"Take care of yourself, Joxer," said Xena.
Darinius pulled out Joxer's sword and said, "If you are really serious about learning how to use one of these, come up to Mymalar in a couple of months and I'll give you some lessons."
"Wow! Would you? I mean do you mean it?" sputtered Joxer. "Say do you think you can show me how I can be like be Xena and make a dagger pop out from between my-"
"Let's not get carried away, shall we," chided Gabrielle.
"Sorry, Gabby, it was just a thought," said Joxer.
"Get out of here, you idiot," smiled Xena.
"Well, until next time farewell, fellow adverturers," boomed Joxer. He replaced his sword and started down the street.
Gabrielle could only shake her head, "What an idiot."
"You know, ah, Xena, maybe you could show me that trick with the dagger," grinned Darinius.
Xena gave him a nonchalant smile and replied, "Maybe."
"Sure." Darinius opened his bag and produced the sword, still wrapped in the oil cloth. "Here, Xena, I want you to have this."
"I can't take this, Darinius"
"Sure you can."
"Something like that is too valuable to give away," protested Xena.
"Xena, this is quite possibly the finest sword in the world. I can think of no one more worthy that you to carry it. Don' t think of it as a gift, think of it as a token of respect and admiration from one old warrior to another."
"In that case, I accept," said Xena.
Xena removed the oilcloth and for the first time, saw the true measure of the sword's beauty.
"It's about the same size as your old one, so it should fit you scabbard well enough," said Darinius.
For a fleeting moment her emotions are almost too much for even the stoic Xena to control. "Darinius, I will never forget this," she said softly. Quickly, Xena kissed Darinius lightly on the lips.
Gabrielle smiled to see the sight of the great Hero of Mymalar finally lose a little of his composure.
"I uh, ahem, I uh, better be off," sputtered Darinius. "Gabrielle, good bye. Xena, you are amazing." Darinius shook hands with the two of them and turned to leave. "Oh, I almost forgot." He reached into his bag and pulled out a small leather sack. "Here, little bard, this is for you. Don't open it yet! Wait til I am gone. It belonged to Lycidia but you are the first one I have met since her death that this seemed to be perfect for."
"What is it?" asked Gabrielle.
"Remember our little talk on the ship?" he asked. "You know when you were sick?"
"Well, whenever you look at this think about what I said," said Darinius. "Good bye friends."
"Aren't you going to wait for Hercules?" asked Xena.
"Hercules and I said our farewells last night and Iolaus, well he already knows how I feel about him. He will understand," said Darinius. "Until then." Darinius turned and started down the street leading out of town.
"Hey, Darinius!" yelled Autolycus. "Mind it I join you? After all this excitement I don't much feel like traveling alone."
"Sure, c'mon. Only no funny stuff okay? You know, no wandering fingers in somebody's pocket," admonished Darinius.
"Okay, okay. Sheeesh. If I keep hanging around with you guys I might revert to an honest man again," said Autolycus.
"Have no fear, Autolycus," laughed Darinius. "Besides, most 'honest' men are not as trustworthy as you are anyway."
This little exchange was the last Xena and Gabrielle could hear before Autolycus and Darinius were out of hearing. Gabrielle open the sack and removed its contents.
"Oh, my," she gasped.
"It's beautiful, Gabrielle," said Xena.
In her hand was a solid gold rope chain. Attached to the chain was image of a balance scale.
"Just what did you two talk about on the ship, anyway?" asked Xena.
"Oh, nothing. Just stuff."
Despite Gabrielle's reticence, Xena saw that she had, indeed, gotten the meaning of Darinius' gift. "Well, anyway it is beautiful, " repeated Xena.
"Isn't it though?" Gabrielle looked up to see Autolycus and Darinius disappear among the trees that lined the road out of town. Good bye, warrior, she smiled to herself.
"Where is everyone?" asked Iolaus. He and Hercules and been inside the inn settling the bill.
"They've gone," said Xena. "Darinius said you would understand."
Iolaus looked down the street and smiled, "Yeah, he hates good byes."
"Hmph, for someone who hates good byes he is pretty good at it," said Gabrielle.
"Nothing, Iolaus," smiled Gabrielle.
"So, Hercules, what's next for you?" asked Xena.
"Well, Iolaus and I were on our way to Philedonia before we were ah, interrupted. So I guess that's where we are off to," said Hercules. "What about you?"
"Athens. Gabrielle's contest."
"Yeah? Well good luck to you, Gabrielle," said Iolaus.
"Xena, Darinius and I were talking last night and he has some good ideas about how to stop Malaneus and his men from raiding those villages up north after each harvest," said Hercules.
"He always was good at that," said Xena wryly.
"Well, yeah. He said we should be able to stop them without too much trouble if we work together."
"We?" asked Xena.
"Yeah, you, me, him, all of us," said Hercules. "What do you say?'
"Count us in," blurted out Gabrielle. "Oh, uh, sorry, that is if Xena-"
"You heard her," said Xena. "Count us in."
"You know, Xena, for someone who once was a hated enemy, he sure thinks a lot of you," teased Hercules.
"Sounds familiar, doesn't it," retorted Xena.
"Yes, I guess if does," allowed Hercules.
"Well, good bye, you two," said Xena.
"Be safe," said Hercules.
"Good bye, guys," said Gabrielle.
Xena turned and looked up the street toward the stable. "C' mon, Gabrielle, let's see what's keeping Salmoneus."
The Bard's Corner