by L. Fox
The characters Xena, Gabrielle, Iolaus, Autolycus, and Hercules are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this story. All the other characters are mine.
This story contains descriptions of violence and a few suggestions that the two main characters are more than just, ahem, "friends".
"Xena, are you sure you don't want me to go with you?" The little bard was doing her best to change Xena's mind.
Xena turned to face her and smiled, "Gabrielle, you know I want you to go but this summons from King Aron specifically states that I am to come alone."
"Hmph," snorted Gabrielle, "I don't see why I can't stay in the city while you see the king. I mean, suppose it's a trap. Suppose you need me or suppose..."
Xena placed her hand on the bard's shoulder, "Suppose you calm down.
Look, there's no sense in you traveling all that way for nothing." Xena held up the king's note. "The note implies they want me to help make sure some kind of conference goes smoothly"
"You mean like, provide security?"
"Yeah I guess you could call it that," allowed Xena. Evidently these negotiations are very delicate so that means I won't be leaving the castle till it's over. We wouldn't get to see each other it you did go."
"Okay, okay," sighed Gabrielle, "I give."
Then with an impish smile the bard pulled her latest scroll out of Argo's saddlebag and, using her finger, pretended to write on it. "I can see it all now," she giggled.
"I'll call it "The Adventures of Xena:Warrior Nanny."
"Why you..." Before Xena could take a step Gabrielle squealed and tossed the scroll at her warrior. Like a young colt she bolted up the road, howling with laughter.
"That's it, run!" yelled Xena, half grinning. She allowed her to get a good head start before she struck out after her.
"You'd better run faster, Gabrielle, I'm gaining on you." Of course, the Warrior Princess could have easily caught the young girl much sooner but she wanted to enjoy this last precious moment of fun with her bard.
Now she quickened her pace and her long legs began to rapidly eat up the gap between them. Xena let out that loud, menacing laugh that had chilled the spine of many a poor soul but it only made Gabrielle's grin grow wider.
"I've got you, Gabrielle. I've got you! AAAIIIEEEEEYYAA!"
Gabrielle sneaked a peek over her shoulder but Xena was nowhere to be seen. Two steps later she found the Warrior Princess. Without even having a chance to see it coming Gabrielle ran straight into Xena arms. She had vaulted completely over the bard and landed in the road ahead of her.
"Gotcha!" crowed Xena triumphantly.
"Darn it, I keep forgetting that," panted Gabrielle.
Xena broke into an evil smile and drew her near. "Now what are you going to do, wise ass?" she demanded gently.
"This." Still puffing and glistening with perspiration, Gabrielle tiptoed up and kissed her lover.
Xena drew herself up to her full height, raised an eyebrow, and looking down her nose, said, "Hey, that's cheating. What kind of move is that to break a hold with?"
"All's fair in love and horseplay," said Gabrielle sweetly.
"Yeah, yeah." Xena gave her an extra squeeze before releasing her.
"Seriously, Gabrielle, the turnoff to the castle is just up the road. What I want you to do is follow this road to the next village because the timing in this could not be better."
"How so?" asked Gabrielle.
"Well, if I have my moons right, they should be having their annual bazaar right now."
"Bazaar?" Gabrielle's eyes grew wide.
"Yeah. Each year at this time Selonia, that's the name of the village, hosts a big bazaar. Merchants come from all over Greece, from other lands even, to trade and sell their wares. It's really a big event."
"Oh, Xena, it sounds wonderful."
"I thought it might pique your interest," grinned Xena. "Anyway, it will give you something to do while I'm gone. Think of this as a vacation. You know, take it easy for a couple of days, do some shopping, waste some dinars, that sort of thing."
Gabrielle lowered her head. "But Xena, you know I don't... have any dinars."
Xena swept the girl's bangs off her forehead and answered, "Sure you do."
"Inside my bedroll is a pouch with a hundred dinars in it. It's yours."
Gabrielle put her hand to her mouth, "Oh, my. But how...where did..."
Xena lovingly gazed into Gabrielle's eyes. "Remember when we took care of that little problem for that fisherman?"
"Well he gave me that as a sort of token of his appreciation."
This was stunning news to Gabrielle. "But, Xena, I have seen you turn down thousands of dinars since we've been together. Why did you take the fisherman's money this time?"
"If you recall that was the same day I got this summons," reminded Xena.I knew then that the bazaar was the place for you. And if one goes to a bazaar they need money, don't they?"
"Ohhh, Xena." Gabrielle threw her arms around her warrioress and hugged her tightly. "You are so good to me."
"Uh huuuh. Just have fun, okay?" Xena pointed a long finger at her and continued, "And stay out of trouble."
"Trouble? Who meeee? What could happen at a bazaar?"
"You, do have this ah, 'knack', shall we call it, for finding it, Gabrielle."
"I don't find trouble," protested Gabrielle, "it finds me."
"Well whatever, just watch yourself."
"I will," Gabrielle assured her.
The little bard no sooner turned to start back up the road toward Argo when she felt Xena whack her across her behind.
"That's for cheating," smirked Xena.
A half hour later found them at the turnoff. Xena looked up the road and then back into Gabrielle's eyes. "Well, this is it."
A soft "yeah" was all Gabrielle could manage.
"I shouldn't be gone for more than a couple of days."
Gabrielle only nodded.
"Make sure you keep your money out of sight," cautioned Xena. "Don't let anyone get any ideas."
"I'll be careful." The bard's beautiful green eyes were now glistening.
Gods!, thought Xena, It gets harder every time we do this. She took the girl into her arms and kissed her. The warrior had to force herself to pull away but before she did she gently pushed her tongue up under the girl's upper lip and slowly withdrew it, trailing out to the tip of her nose. Gabrielle always liked that.
"Gabrielle, I do love you so."
The Warrior Princess then swung herself easily upon to Argo's back and beamed the smile that had mesmerized not only men but gods as well.
"I miss you already."
"Just hurry back when it's over, okay? And Xena, please be careful."
"See ya soon," said Xena with a wink. "And stay in the village so I can find you."
She kicked Argo into an easy gallop and soon they were out of sight.
Gabrielle watched her disappear among the trees lining the road and hoisted her bag upon her shoulder. "There's no use feeling sad," Gabrielle thought aloud, "She'll be back soon."
She looked up the road she was about to traverse and forced herself to smile. "Now let's check out this bazaar."
By early afternoon she had covered a league or so on the road. She found the closer she got to the village the more crowded the road became. It wasn't long before the people around her combined with her growing anticipation of seeing the bazaar lifted her spirits considerably.
In a way she found it refreshing to be in a crowd for much of her time with Xena was spent traveling alone. Most took one look at the Warrior Princess and her daunting demeanor and figured this was someone best left alone. Naturally, they applied this to Gabrielle as well. Many was the time she had struck up a conversation with someone only to have them suddenly remember they had something to do or someone to see when Xena joined them. Of course it was nothing intentional on Xena's part (was it?) but her presence was nothing if not commanding and Gabrielle, accustomed to her strength, sometimes forgot its impact on others.
Later Gabrielle's day was made much brighter when she fell in with a young married couple. She learned this would be their first time at the bazaar also and the rest of their journey together was spent enjoying Gabrielle's marvelous stories-even some which did not include Xena.
Phoebus' chariot still had a fair distance to travel when Gabrielle and her companions at last reached Selonia.
"But I don't see anything," said Gabrielle, barely hiding her disappointment.
"Oh, but it's not in the village," said the young wife. "We were told they set it up in a field on the other side of town."
"Oh," replied Gabrielle sheepishly. "Well I guess that does make sense."
"Gabrielle, it's been nice traveling with you," said the young man, extending his hand, "but we are supposed to meet her brother here before dark."
"Your wonderful stories made the trip go so much more quickly," added his wife.
"It was my pleasure," beamed Gabrielle. She loved it when people praised her stories. When she told them to Xena she might only get a grunt or something else as noncommittal even though she knew Xena liked them too. There were those times, however, when Xena would merely say, "Good one," or "I like that," and to the little bard it meant more than if the praise came down from Mount Olympus itself.
The young man took his wife by the hand and melted into now fair sized throng weaving its way through the narrow streets of the town. Gabrielle was once again alone. After a time she joined a rough column marching through the town and, holding her staff close, allowed herself to be swept along by it.She was careful to maintain a firm grip on the bag slung over her shoulder. She had not come all this way only to be a victim of some thief.
Selonia was a good sized town but, even so, before she knew it she and the others were spilling out the other side. Now, for the first time, she saw the spectacle that lay before her.
"Oh my," she gasped.
About two hundred paces from the town lay a field covered with tents.They were all brightly colored and topped with pennants streaming from their center poles. Some of the colors were such as she had never seen before. On the north side of the field were two large pens containing horses of every size and color. From one of her fellow travelers she learned this was actually the very first day of the bazaar and it would take a couple of days for the real crowds to begin showing up. There were enough here already, however, to impress the bard. She could see hundreds, maybe a thousand people milling around the tents.
No longer confined by the narrow streets of the town Gabrielle's companions fanned out in several different directions as they approached the field. Some obviously knew where to go, others were already lost, still others were just idly taking in all the sights.
For her part Gabrielle decided to just start at one end and work her way down the rows of tents. To her delight she found it was more than just a place to buy and sell goods. It was actually more like some kind of carnival. There were jugglers, roaming musicians, acrobats, singers, and all sorts of other performers-each hoping to receive a dinar or two from those stopping to appreciate their talents. Gabrielle, while enjoying their efforts, did not dare part with a single dinar just yet. She wanted to look around first and check out the prices on various things.
The tents stood in two long parallel rows running north to south forming a street about twenty paces wide. Gabrielle decided to visit the tents in a zigzag fashion instead of just walking down one side and back up the other for they stretched out for almost a quarter of a league. Each tent had a large display out in front where the merchants exhibited their various wares.
After visiting several of the displays Gabrielle still had found nothing that suited her fancy. She had observed, however, that the prices were very reasonable. At last she came upon a display that caught her eye. On a large, flat board were several different types of hair brushes. Big, small, plain, or ornate; there was one to fit any need. Gabrielle winced when she remembered how worn her own brush was. After much deliberation she decided on a plain, but very practical, one and handed over the three dinar price. She had almost bought the very fancy six dinar one but, in the end, she decided against it. She did not want Xena to think she was frivolous.
After a while the lengthening shadows and the grumble of her stomach convinced her it would be best to call it a day. Luckily for her there were stands located all around where one could buy food and, after letting her nose lead her around a bit, she bought two pears, a large wedge of cheese, some bread, and a big slice of cooked beef. She wrapped her repast up in a cloth and, after stopping to buy some milk to wash it down with, planted herself under one of the many large trees lining the west end of the field.
Gabrielle opened up her cloth and neatly laid her food out upon it.
"Mmmmm." Her first bite of the tangy cheese sent her taste buds to the Elysian Fields. Gabrielle loved cheese. She could never understand how Xena could be so indifferent about food. To be sure she ate well but, except on rare occasions, she just seemed to view food as a necessity; something to keep her strength up rather than be savored and enjoyed. She sat there in the golden twilight, finished her fine meal, drank the last of her milk, and wondered what her beloved Xena was doing at that very moment. After she was finished she sat with her back up against her tree and let out a small, contented burp. The little bard could definitely pack the food away given the chance.
By now the activity in the bazaar was beginning to wane and Gabrielle's thoughts turned to a place to spend the night. All ideas of obtaining a room at an inn were out. She had heard her traveling companions complain of the lack of inn space.
She wondered if it be okay to just stay right where she was. Her question was soon answered by the sight of dozens of other people making for her stand of trees. They scattered themselves out at respectful distances from one another and began to make preparations for spending the night.
Well, thought Gabrielle, I guess that takes care of that. Already fires were being built all up and down the tree line, some for cooking, and some just for the comfort they provided. Gabrielle sat there watching the others until, finally, her eyelids began to get heavy. Before laying down she positioned her bag next to the tree and, discreetly making sure the open end of it was under her, lay her head down upon it. Her last precautionary act before settling in for the night was to cradle her staff in her right arm...just in case.
That night she slept very well although she did wake up a couple of times and sleepily wonder where Xena was. Unlike Xena Gabrielle had no inner demons to battle with so getting a good night's sleep was almost never a problem for her.
The next morning she awoke to find most of her past night's company already gone. For the most part she was not a morning person. Only grudgingly did Gabrielle break Hypnos' hold on her and, in fact, on most days the toughest battle Xena fought was just getting the little bard up and about. She sat up, rubbed her eyes, and again without thinking, looked about to find Xena. Then she remembered.
After carefully checking her bag she made her way across the field to the long rows of tents. Not feeling very hungry...yet...she decided to skip breakfast. She quickly located the last tent she had visited and resumed her browsing. Over the next couple of hours a small mirror, two bars of soap, two rolls of thread, and three large needles joined the brush in Gabrielle's bag. She had decided to take care of obtaining the practical things first before splurging on something fanciful for herself. Before she did that, however, the next thing she wanted to do was buy something nice for Xena. But what? She was not exactly the easiest person in Greece to buy something for.
As Gabrielle stood at a table laden with Egyptian cloth by chance she glanced to her left and caught just the briefest glimpse of what she thought were the familiar golden locks of someone. "Nah, it couldn't be," she said, under her breath, "What would he be doing here?"
By midday she had covered about two thirds of the bazaar and the crowds were now noticeably larger than yesterday. Feeling a little tired and hungry besides, she decided to take a break. But first... mother nature was calling. Fortunately, there was a place provided for that too. She next purchased some fishcakes and sat down beside one of the larger tents to take advantage of the shade it offered. As she sat there munching on her lunch she became aware of a presence behind her. Her mouth still full of fish, she whirled to face the apparition, staff at the ready. Instantly the golden locks and that impish grin happily registered themselves.
"Iol-" Gabrielle held up her hand and gulped down her fish. "Iolaus!"
The two old friends embraced warmly and pulled back to get a good look at one another.
"I thought that was you I saw a while ago," said Iolaus.
"What in the name of Apollo are you doing here?" asked Gabrielle, laughing.
"I'm here to visit an old friend. He lives in the village there. How about you?"
"Ahhh, Xena got some kind of summons to..."
"Come to the castle of King Aron?" Iolaus interrupted.
"Yeah. How did you know?" asked Gabrielle.
"Hercules got the very same request," said Iolaus. "Funny about all the secrecy though."
"Wow, it must be really something big if the king feels he needs both Xena and Hercules," observed Gabrielle. "Wonder what it is."
"Aww, who knows?" Most of these royals make a big deal out of keeping anything and everything secret. I don't think they even want anyone to know when they use the...well, you know," grinned Iolaus. "So, uh, what were you planning on doing the rest of the day?"
"Oh, just shopping mostly," said Gabrielle. "I want to buy a gift for Xena but you have no idea how hard that is."
Iolaus raised his eyebrows. "She's not exactly the jewelry and perfume type is she?" He turned to look across the field toward the village. "How would you like to go into the village with me? We'll look up my friend and," Iolaus gave her a sly grin and nudged her with his elbow, "maybe get a free meal out of it."
"C'mon," urged Iolaus, "we'll come back here this evening to look around some more."
"Sure, why not?"
"Then shall we?" Iolaus locked his arm in hers and together they started off across the field.
"So, who's the friend?" asked Gabrielle.
"His name is Maris," replied Iolaus. "He and I used to soldier together. He saved my life once."
In no time at all they were across the field and making their way down the main street of the town. Iolaus was surprised to find that he didn't remember where Maris lived. It soon became apparent he was not going to find his friend's home without some help.
"Uh, Gabrielle, I think we're going to ask for some directions," said Iolaus somewhat sheepishly. "I don't seem to recall just where it is he lives."
"Aahhhh, getting senile, huh?" teased Gabrielle.
Iolaus immediately crouched over into a remarkable imitation of an old man. With a cackling voice he replied, "That's right, dearie. When you get to be my age you are lucky if you can remember how to put your pants on."
"Oh, you!" Gabrielle playfully jabbed him in the ribs.
"Oww. Careful, you young whippersnapper. Do you want to break an old man's rib?"
Their fun was cut short by the sound of angry voices off in the distance. Iolaus stood erect and instinctively placed himself between the voices and Gabrielle. The street was not very crowded and it was easy to see for a fair distance along its length. It was plain there were several individuals coming their way and they did not seem too happy about something.
"Wonder what all the commotion's about?" asked Gabrielle.
"Beats me." As Iolaus spoke a man, seemingly running for his life, burst into view. "It's Maris!" he gasped.
He took a quick glance around and went over his options. There weren't many.Maris was now not more than fifty paces away and from the terror stricken look on his face it was obvious his life was in danger.
"C'mon!" Iolaus took Gabrielle's hand and pulled her into an alley between two of the shops lining the street. This is perfect, he thought. The alley was dark and narrow with two large barrels at the far end.
Iolaus peeked around the corner and saw Maris was now just a few steps away. To Iolaus' relief he saw Maris' pursuers were not yet in sight. He stepped back into the alley and waited. As Maris tore by him he reached out and grabbed him by the arm.
For a moment Maris thought his time had come. "No, please," he begged.
"Maris, it's me, Iolaus."
Iolaus jerked him back into the shadows of the alley and pushed him toward the far end. Thinking quickly, Gabrielle lifted off the lid of one of the barrels and jerked her thumb toward it. "Inside," she commanded.
Maris did not have to be told twice. He scrambled into the barrel and Gabrielle at once replaced its cover.
"Good work. Let's go," said Iolaus, nodding to the bard.
They hurried back toward the street only to find four huge men armed with swords milling around in front of the buildings forming the alley.
"Where in Tartarus did he go?" growled one of them. "He must have come this way."
"Spread out and find him," ordered another, obviously the one in charge. "We must find that stone."
"By the gods, I'll find it or my name is not Orthis," said another.
"What are they talking about, a stone?" whispered Gabrielle.
Iolaus put a finger to his lips. "Shhh." Carefully he peeked around the corner and found one of the men coming straight for the alley. Realizing how suspicious it would look to be found in there, Iolaus did the only thing he knew to do to allay the man's misgivings.
Seizing Gabrielle by the waist, he gave her a long, lingering kiss. Obviously not expecting to find two lovers in an alley in the middle of the day, the man was somewhat taken aback for a moment and he didn't know whether to continue searching the alley or beat an embarrassed retreat. He finally decided to compromise.
"Hey, you two, you didn't see a man about this tall pass this way, did you? He was wearing a blue tunic with brown pants."
Iolaus put his finger to his temple, "As a matter of fact we did. He ran down the street and cut in between the stable and that other building there, didn't he darling?"
Gabrielle, still stunned by the kiss, could only nod her assent.
"Are you sure? I think we would have seen him before he got as far as the stable."
Gabrielle cut Iolaus short by putting her arm around his neck and cooing,
"Oh, sweetheart, don't waste time with this ruffian. After all, you have more important things to attend to." Gabrielle gave Iolaus a very suggestive smile and snuggled closer to him. "If you know what I mean."
"I really would like to chat with you," gasped Iolaus, "but as you can see I-I'm kind of busy. All I can say is a man in a blue tunic ran by here and made for that stable."
"Okay, okay," the man could not take his eyes off the very pretty little blonde clinging to that lucky bastard with her. Reluctantly he turned away and went off down the street toward the stable.
Iolaus waited several tense seconds before daring to sneak a peek out of the alley.
"They've gone, for now," he whispered.
Gabrielle at last allowed herself to breathe and exhaled, "Whew. You know, that was quick thinking on your part."
"Well, you did all right yourself. I had no idea what I was going to say to that guy before you jumped in and saved us."
The two old friends looked into each others eyes and, for a moment,shared the warm glow of a job well done.
Gabrielle nodded toward the barrel, "What are we going to do about him?"
"Maris? Gosh, I don't know. Those guys are still around here, somewhere. "Any ideas?"
"We can't just leave him in that barrel," reminded Gabrielle.
"I know, I know." He began racking his brain for some sort of scheme to move Maris to safety.
"Hmm. Gabrielle, keep an eye out, I'm going to speak to him for a moment."
Iolaus trotted down the alley and partially raised the lid on the barrel.
"Maris, where do you live?"
"Two streets back this way," said Maris, pointing to his left. "Next to a tavern with a sign that has a griffin painted on it over the door."
"These men, do any of them know where you live?"
"I...I don't think so," said Maris.
Iolaus reached down and patted Maris on the shoulder, "Don't worry, we'll get you out of this."
Quietly he replaced the lid and made his way back up to Gabrielle. Maybe we can find some way to transport barrel and all, he thought.
"He lives two streets that way," said Iolaus.
"Hmph, might as well be two leagues right now" snorted Gabrielle. "Look."
He followed her outstretched arm and there were Maris' pursuers, standing down by the stable. They seemed to be arguing amongst themselves. Finally, the one who seemed to be in charge stretched his arm toward the direction of the bazaar and the others nodded their heads and started off in that direction.
"Looks like we caught a break," observed Iolaus.
They waited until the men had disappeared past the stable and them waited a few tense moments more, just to be sure.
"Let's go," said Iolaus, tapping Gabrielle on the arm.
In a heartbeat they were down the alley and pulling Maris out of his hiding place.
"Follow me," said Maris.
A few short minutes later they were sneaking through the back door of Maris' home. He went straight to a wine flask and poured himself a large cupful.
"Maris, what's this all about? Why are those guys after you?" asked Iolaus.
Even in his own home Maris lowered his head and spoke in a conspiratorial manner, "They want my eye," he rasped.
"Your eye?" asked Gabrielle, incredulously.
Maris eyed Gabrielle suspiciously, "Who's your friend, Iolaus?"
"Maris, this is Gabrielle. She is a very good friend of mine. Anything you say to me you can say to her."
Maris noted the barest hint of anger in Iolaus' voice. "Sorry miss. I guess all this excitement has just about been too much for me. I shouldn't be doubting someone that went through all that trouble to help me."
"It's okay, I understand," replied Gabrielle.
"Now what's all this about someone wanting your eye?" asked Iolaus.
"They don't want my eye. They want this."
Out from under his tunic Maris withdrew a pouch suspended by a string around his neck. He opened it up and removed a round, white object with what looked like a red stone of some kind implanted in it.
"It's beautiful," gasped Gabrielle. "Is that a ruby?"
"Yes. This eye is meant for the statue of the Kalimos Dragon," said Maris.
"The Kalimos Dragon?" repeated Gabrielle excitedly. "Legend has it the Kalimos Dragon was the most fearsome creature to ever to roam the earth. It was supposed to be almost invincible and only Zeus himself, by plucking out its eyes after a great battle, was able to subdue it."
"You know your legends, Gabrielle," said Maris admiringly.
"Well, it's kind of what I do," blushed the bard.
"Then I'm sure you know the rest," continued Maris. "It turned out its eyes were the focal point of its power. Once they were out the dragon became helpless. Even then, however, Zeus could not slay the monster-not even with his fearsome lightning bolts."
"So what did he do?" asked Iolaus.
"He turned it into a statue," answered Gabrielle quickly.
"Right again," said Maris.
"But what's that got to do with your...eye?" asked Iolaus.
"Well, after defeating the dragon and turning it to stone, Zeus sealed it up in a cave. One day Hera, during one of her many jealous rages, created these eyes to," Maris paused to let his words take effect, "bring the dragon back to life."
"I have never heard that," said Gabrielle.
"No wonder," said Maris. "Only the priest of this particular temple of Hera is supposed to know of it."
"She must have really been mad at Zeus that time to do something like that," said Gabrielle.
"It seems," continued Maris, "that Zeus found out about the eyes and Hera gave them to Alomas, a priest at one of her oldest temples, for safekeeping. She also gave him the location of the dragon and charged him, if she should find it necessary, to arrange for someone to go to the dragon and replace its eyes."
"This Alomas, he was a priest at this temple?" asked Gabrielle.
Maris nodded. "Anyway, on his way back to temple Alomas was waylaid by bandits who killed him and took the eyes. However, the location of the dragon was not found on his person. Many years passed and the eyes became separated and lost. Over the centuries even Hera and Zeus forgot about them. Everyone, that is, except the succession of priests that followed Alomas."
Iolaus scratched his ear, "Why should they care about something so obviously lost?"
"They were humiliated by the perceived failure of one their own to safeguard something their goddess had entrusted to them," said Maris. "They have spent countless years since in search of the eyes.
"No telling how many generations of priests have spent their entire lives looking for this thing," said Gabrielle.
"They sound like...nuts to me," said Iolaus.
"I think the word you're looking for is fanatics," smiled Gabrielle.
"How do you know all this?" asked Iolaus.
"And," asked Gabrielle, "how did this eye come to be in your possession?"
"This woman came into the tavern with it and wanted to sell it. I didn't know where she had gotten it. It struck me as an unusual item so I bought it," said Maris.
"Bad move," said Iolaus.
"Hindsight has perfect vision, Iolaus," said Maris
"I thought I might be able to make a few dinars off it. Iolaus, I swear I didn't know it was stolen. I thought it was just some kind of curio," said Maris. "Then, of course, a couple of hours later some of the magistrate's men came into the tavern looking for this woman. It turns out she sometimes helped to clean the temple and I guess on this particular occasion she somehow was able to get her hands on the thing."
."Did anyone see you two together?" asked Gabrielle.
"I don't think so. But I knew sooner or later they would locate this woman and find out who she sold it to,"said Maris.
"You don't really believe this Pharbus guy is going to try to bring the dragon back to life, do you?" asked Iolaus.
"I know he is," said Maris.
"But no one even knows where the dragon is," reminded Gabrielle.
"They do now," said Maris. "Maybe not its exact location but pretty close."
"How do you know?" asked Iolaus.
"Yesterday I went to the temple during evening prayers and managed to hide in one of the anterooms."
"Oh m'gosh, why did you do that?" asked Gabrielle.
"My original intention was to return the eye, anonymously of course."
"Why didn't you just give it to the priest?"
"You don't know Pharbus," replied Maris. "He's not the type to just forgive and forget. Anyway, I waited until all was quiet and, as I eased my way up to the alter, I overheard footsteps approaching so I ducked into what I thought was an empty room. Well, imagine my consternation when Pharbus and another man entered the very same room through another door!"
Iolaus winced. "Ouch,"
"Luckily for me there was a large partition between them and me and I was able to hide behind a large curtain. I heard someone, his assistant I guess, tell him they had not yet found the woman but were still looking for her.Pharbus then said something about interrogating the woman 'his way'."
"You mean torture, don't you?" asked Gabrielle.
"Well, I didn't want..."
"Maris, I've been around. You don't have to coddle me," said Gabrielle.
Maris shrugged his shoulders. "Anyway, I knew right then I was in deep dung."
"How come you didn't get out while you had the chance?" asked Iolaus.
"Because I had to stay all night in that temple. They locked all the doors and I couldn't make my escape until this morning. I came home to get some money and I was just going to the stable to buy a horse when those guys began chasing me. In fact, Iolaus, I was going to find Hercules and tell him about all this."
"That still doesn't explain how you know about the dragon coming back to life," persisted Gabrielle.
Without another word Maris stepped to the corner of the room and removed a loose board in the floor. Reaching into the hole, he extracted a small scroll, its handles very ornate. .
"I found that in the room," said Maris. "After the two of them left I was just getting out from behind the curtain when this caught my eye."
He handed the scroll to Gabrielle. On the handles she noted the carved image of a dragon.
"This scroll tells the whole story," said Maris.
Gabrielle began to read the scroll. What she did not know was this particular scroll was not the same one as had been so studiously copied by the priests of this temple over the decades. Within fifty years of the death of Alomas a mistake was made while copying the scroll. Whether someone thought it no longer relevant or it was merely an omission, the location of the dragon was left out of the copy. Subsequently, all ensuing copies carried this omission.
But what Gabrielle held in her hand was the text of the original copy. Workmen had found it while doing some repairs on the temple. While not specifically stating the location of the dragon, it did say where it should be looked for. This made Pharbus the first person in centuries to have a clue as to the location of the Kalimos dragon.
As she read the last part of the scroll Gabrielle could feel the hair on the back of her neck begin to rise. For this scroll plainly spelled out the consequences of replacing the dragon's eyes.
Iolaus peeked over her shoulder at the parchment. "Pretty heavy stuff, Gabrielle," he said.
"That's not the half of it," said Gabrielle ominously. She turned the scroll around to where he could see it. "Look at this."
The last line of the scroll read as follows, "Two leagues east of Kysa, one hundred fifty paces, unbroken, north by east of the pool of tears. Follow Sappho."
"Pool of tears? Hmmm."
"Kysa? That's not far from here," said Iolaus. "I'll bet this Pharbus has found it."
"Maybe, maybe not," countered Gabrielle. "Just because he knows where to look doesn't mean he has found it. And even if he has discovered it he still must have both eyes, right?"
"True enough," said Maris, "But this is too important to assume he doesn't at least have some knowledge of the other eye."
"So what do we do?" asked Gabrielle.
Ioluaus turned to face the bard, "We've got to get out of here. It's only a matter of time till they find out where Maris lives."
As if to confirm Iolaus' reasoning a loud banging was heard at the front door.
"It's them!" cried Maris.
"Calm down," said Iolaus. "Stay here, I'll see who it is."
He eased into the front room of the house and crept up to the door.
Unfortunately,there was no peep hole in the door to allow him determine who was on the other side.
BAM! BAM! BAM!
Iolaus heard voices on the other side.
"Maybe he's not here."
"He's in there all right. Break it down."
Iolaus decided to take a gamble and open the door. Maybe there's only the two of them, he thought. I can take care of that many.
Iolaus lost his gamble. He opened the door to find six men armed to the teeth standing in front of him. And to make matters worse one of them was the man he and Gabrielle had tricked in the alley.
"Hello, lover boy," grinned the man, revealing his rotting teeth.
Like a herd of wild boars the men rushed through the door. Iolaus managed to get some good licks in on the first two men but before he could really do damage they pinned him to the floor and pointed a sword to his throat.
"Tie this bastard up."
Iolaus realized he was in a real jam but he help out hope that his skirmish had warned Gabrielle and Maris in time to allow them to escape. This hope lasted but a moment for the two of them were summarily shoved into the room to join him.
"Hey, wait a minute. There's been some kind of mistake here," protested Gabrielle.
"Shut up, blondie, or I'll crack your skull open."
"You hurt her and you're a dead man," snarled Iolaus.
"Friend, I don't think you're in a position to do anyone much harm," retorted Gabrielle's captor.
To prove his point he viciously kicked Iolalus twice in the ribs.
"Stop it!" pleaded Gabrielle.
"I found it, Maleus!"
One of the men ran into the room carrrying the dragon's eye. "It was in the girl's bag."
A high pitched voice from outside the door shrieked, "Arrest them!"
Pharbus strode in and immediately took command. To Gabrielle he was one of those whom one meets and instantly dislikes. He was tall, very thin, with a long hooked nose. His eyes were cold and set close together and he carried himself with an air of someone with a much higher station in life.
Pharbus pointed a long finger at Maris. "You! How dare you defile my temple."
Gabrielle could not help but challenge him. "Your temple? I must be missing something. I thought it was Hera's temple."
"Silence, nonbeliever. Speak not of things you have no knowledge of."
Pharbus turned to the magistrate. "Maleus, you must do your duty and see these blasphemers are punished."
"I know my duty, Pharbus," Maleus reminded him. Maris, I hereby place you and your accomplices under arrest for theft of a sacred religious artifact from the temple of Hera."
"But I didn't..."
Pharbus cut Maris off. "Then how came it in your possession it you didn't steal it?" he smirked.
"I bought it from the...woman," said Maris.
"She said you put her up to it," said Maleus.
"That's a lie!" exclaimed Maris.
"Maleus, look what I found." One of his men entered the room holding the scroll.
Gabrielle knew their goose was really cooked now. Pharbus was not only getting the eye back but Maris' already weak story about buying it would surely not hold water with the magistrate now.
"I suppose you 'bought' this as well, hmmm?" smirked Pharbus.
"We know what you're up to," said Iolaus, "and we'll stop you."
Maleus turned to his deputy. "Lock 'em up, Adamus."
Adamus nodded and gestured to his men to follow him and bring the prisoners.
At the magistrate's office the three of them were formally charged with theft and their names were entered into the record. They were marched down a long set of steps that led underneath the building to where the cells were located. The stairs led to a narrow aisle about twenty paces long with three cells located on either side.
The place was dark, damp, and reeked of...human waste. Poor Gabrielle's breath was nearly taken away by the stench.
"Don't worry, blondie, you'll get used to it quick enough."
"Put the girl in this cell and these two in this one," ordered the sergeant.
Iolaus and Maris were untied and shoved into the first cell. Gabrielle was placed in the cell across the aisle.
The sergeant put his face against the bars and glowered at Iolaus. "We don't take too kindly to strangers coming into our town and starting trouble."
He jerked his head to the door. "C'mon boys, it's almost time to go off duty."
The prisoners watched the guards disappear up the steps.
Gabrielle put her hand to her chest. "Iolaus," she gulped, "I don't think I can handle this."
"Try not to think about it, Gabrielle. Concentrate on how we are going to get out of here."
Even though their eyes were now becoming somewhat acclimated to the murk of the place it was still hard to see. The only light was provided by a small candles located at the base of the steps.
Iolaus squinted into the gloom and, as best he could tell, decided they were alone. "Look's like we're the only ones down here," he said.
From out of the darkness at the far end of the room a weak voice disproved the validity of his remark. "Well now, I wouldn't say that."
Gabrielle couldn't believe it. That voice... Naw, it couldn't be.
"Autolycus," she wondered aloud, "is that you?"
A scuffle of feet accompanied by groans drifted through the darkness.
"The one and only," said Autolycus. "So, uh, what are you mugs in for?"
"Autolycus, are you all right?"
"Well, I've...I have had better days, Gabrielle."
"You know this man?" asked Maris.
"Yeah, he's a good friend of ours," said Iolaus.
Gabrielle did not like the way Autolycus sounded at all. He seemed to be fighting for every breath.
"Are you hurt?" she asked.
"Yeah. That double-crossing Pharbus had some goons work me over pretty good. I-I think one of my ribs is broken."
Those bastards!, thought Gabrielle, her anger rising. "Why?"
"I had something he wanted."
At once a feeling of foreboding settled on Gabrielle. "A round, white stone with a ruby in it?"
"How did you know?" wheezed Autolycus.
"It's a long story," replied Gabrielle.
"Autolycus, do you think you can get us out of here?" asked Iolaus.
"Normally a dilapidated rat hole such as this would pose no challenge to the King of Thieves but, ah, I seem to be tied up at the moment," said Autolycus.
"They tied you up?" asked Gabrielle.
"Chained up actually," said Autolycus. To confirm his statement Autolycus rattled the chains. "It seems my reputation has preceded me."
"That's just great" said Iolaus.
"I wish Xena was here," said Gabrielle, more to herself than anyone else.
"Xena?" rasped Maris. "That murderer! What would you want with her?"
"She's not like that anymore, Maris," Iolaus said softly.
"Humph, I wouldn't trust that harlot as far as I could throw her," scoffed Maris.
Uh oh, thought Iolaus.
From out of the gloom a tight lipped Gabrielle's voice pierced the silence.
"Maris, I don't care if you are Iolaus' friend. I'll not have you speak about her that way, understand? So you just watch yourself."
Autolycus would have laughed out loud if his ribs had not hurt so badly.
Maris turned to Iolaus with a wide eyed, quizzical look only to be met with raised eyebrows and a wide grin from his friend.
"Xena's her best friend. They are verrrry close."
"Ohh...I see," sputtered Maris.
"Ah, excuse me, but about our little problem here?" Autolycus reminded them.
"He's right," said Gabrielle, resolutely. "We gotta get out here, now."
"Yeah," agreed Iolaus, "we've got to come up with something-and fast."
Gabrielle's mind began to run through various plots and schemes. What would Xena do? she wondered.
"What about if one of us pretends he's sick and we jump the guards when they come to check it out?" she offered.
"No good," said Autolycus. "You heard the sergeant. Most of these guys are off duty by now. That means most of them are gone. I think they only keep just a couple of men up there during the night because nobody came down here at all after dark last night."
"How long have you been in here?" asked Iolaus.
"This is my second day," replied Autolycus.
"Then if we can only get out of our cells we should not have much trouble making our getaway," said Maris.
"First things first," Gabrielle reminded them. She began a meticulous inspection of her cell. She tested the door, got down on her knees and tried to find out how deeply the bars were implanted into the floor and even tried squeezing herself through the bars. Finally, in disgust, she sat down cross-legged on the floor and stared at the cell door with her chin in her hand.
After a few minutes an idea came to her. "Autolycus?"
The King of Thieves issued a dry cough before answering, "Yeah?"
"You say these cells are very old. How hard do you think it would be to pick the lock on one of these things?"
"Probably not too tough, for me that is," allowed Autolycus. "But you need the right kind of tools and a good touch to do it."
"What kind of tools?"
"Well I have my own specialized tools, of course," said Autolycus, "but on one of these old wrecks all you'd really need is a couple of rounded pieces of metal small enough to fit in the lock."
"You mean...like needles?" asked Gabrielle excitedly.
"I don't know, Gabrielle. Most needles would probably be too small and too weak but I suppose a couple of larger ones would work okay-if they didn't break that is."
With a small grin Gabrielle snatched up her bag and dumped its contents onto the floor. Fortunately for her the guards, after searching her bag and finding the dinars, had become so engrossed in how they would be divided among them they had paid no attention when the bard discreetly picked up the bag again after they had carelessly tossed it onto the floor.
"What are you doing?" asked Iolaus.
"Trying to get us out of here," said Gabrielle. "I bought some needles at the bazaar. One of them is the kind used to pierce leather. You know, for when Xena's stuff needs mended. It just might be big enough to use in the lock."
Carefully the bard placed a hand on her pile of things and began sorting through them.
"Hmmm, there's my old brush, my newww brush, the mirror, thread, my cheese...", without thinking Gabrielle unwrapped the small chunk and popped it into her mouth, "my flint, my sooooap..."
"C'mon, Gabrielle, hurry up," urged Iolaus.
"Iolaus, I can't see a darn thing here. I just have to OWWW!"
Gabrielle's finger found her needles-the hard way.
"Ummm. I hope you're satisfied, Iolaus," said Gabrielle, placing the offending digit in her mouth.
"Sorry, are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'll live."
The needles were stuck through a small piece of leather to keep them together. Pulling out the two largest ones, she made her way to the cell door.
"Okay, Autolycus, what do I do?"
"Well, put your biggest one in first and..."
Twenty minutes later Gabrielle was still laboring over the lock.
"Any luck?" asked Iolaus, for the tenth time.
"That's the ninth time you've asked me that, Iolaus," said Gabrielle testily.
"Tenth," Autolycus corrected her. "Calm down. The more frustrated you become the less capable you will be of doing the job. In this line of work you need patience, Gabrielle."
"Right." Gabrielle stepped back and closed her eyes. Autolycus is right, she thought. C'mon Gabrielle, remember what Xena always says, "Focus. Act, don't react."
The little bard took two deep breaths and started anew.
Oh my gods!, thought Gabrielle.
"Did I hear a click?" asked Iolaus.
"Yeah," answered the bard, under her breath.
She placed her hand on the door, almost afraid to try it, and gently pushed.
The rusty hinges on the swinging door were sweet music to Gabrielle's ears.
"I did it." With a triumphant smile she announced, "Okay boys, we're bustin' out of this joint."
"Good work," said Iolaus.
"I knew you could do it," added Autolycus.
Quickly she raked her things back into her bag and stepped out into the aisle.
"Get Autolycus next," said Iolaus.
Continued - Part 2
The Bard's Corner