DISCLAIMERS: Please see "Step 1" for specific disclaimers.
COMMENTS: Feedback is always welcomed. "DJWP" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
WHAT ARE LITTLE GIRLS MADE OF?
Lakme negotiated her way through an obstacle course of tables and chairs balancing a tray loaded with three big, heavy bowls of stew. She exhibited all the delicate precision of a bull in a Greek urn shop. She did not, however, spill one single drop and arrived quite proudly at the table of waiting patrons who had ordered the lunch. She paused to smile at Mallika smugly before serving.
"Did you see that boy Chemeclees dragged away by the kings guards this morning?" One of the farmers gossiped.
Lakme froze, eyes turning to saucers at the comment.
"Whadda ya think he did?" Asked his table mate.
"Probably kissed the wrong girl....."
"And made er cry!!!"
Their laughter filled the dining room causing Mallika to look up from her position behind the bar. Lakme caught Mallikas attention with her worried expression.
"Did they take him to jail?" asked a toothless farmer.
"Nope. Carted im off in the direction of the palace."
"Yeah, then hes a strange boy."
Lakme gasped and turned quickly, hitting one of the gossiping men smack in the side of the head with her tray. Three bowls took off in the opposite direction landing, to the amazement of all, neatly on the table - expertly served.
Three customers looked up at their waitress in surprise. One rubbed the lump on his head, the other two shrugged and picked up their spoons. Lakme gulped, smiled as though she meant for that to happen and scurried away to report the very disturbing news to Mallika.
A single ray of sunlight filtered across the room reflecting on the shiny surface of a silver plate. The resulting sparkle tickled the bards eyelid causing a twitch which grew into a flutter, eventually bringing the bard to dreamy consciousness.
The first thing Gabrielle did was yawn. The second thing she did was look down at the table, noticing immediately that the fuzzy, white merkin was empty of its tiny, precious bundle.
Gabrielle gasped and sat up quickly.
"Xena?" She said, lifting the piece of fur to look underneath.
The fabric of her bodice began to ripple and the bard smiled, recognizing a sleepy stretch when she felt one.
Gabrielle leaned back in relief and stared into the cleavage of her bosom. Xena was pushing her feet into the fabric of her bodice, giving herself a fine morning stretch against very warm and inviting skin. The warrior flashed a lazy smile up at the bard.
"Well, good morning! Dont you look comfortable." Gabrielle grinned.
"Hmmm. Softest bed I ever slept in. Nicest, too."Xena purred, not resisting the urge to snuggle back in.
Gabrielle smiled warmly and began to stretch her back which was cramping badly from sleeping in the chair all night. The unexpected movement upset the warriors comfortable bed.
"Hey! Ya messin up my bed! I wanted to sleep in!"
"Oops! Sorry." Gabrielle quickly lowered her arms and then scratched her chin. "I wonder what happened to Chemeclees? Didnt he say he would come back here with some notes?"
Before Xena could comment, Mallika and Lakme burst through the door to the room.
"Chemeclees has been arrested!"
Gabrielle twisted around in her seat.
"Taken to the castle!" Lakme added breathlessly.
Xena stood to peek out of the bodice.
"Weve got to get you two out of here!" Mallika advised.
"Theyll be looking for you next, Im certain!" Lakme added.
"Wheres Xena?" Lakme asked, looking down at the empty piece of fur.
When she looked up she noticed Xena smiling at her from the safety of Gabrielles top. She grinned wickedly.
"Come on!" Lakme grabbed Gabrielles arm to pull her along, still smiling at the location of the warrior. "Well hide you in our house."
Gabrielle halted a moment to grab her Amazon staff and bag, then followed the girls.
The house where Mallika, Naderus, and Lakme lived was not far from the tavern. The three women scooted out the side of the inn and slipped along a back street, trying to attract as little attention as possible.
They arrived on the front porch and Mallika held the door open for them, as Lakme and Gabrielle slipped inside, pausing a moment to allow the pet cat to scurry in. The arrival of Lakme always meant food for the cat, and the feline never missed a meal.
"Come on, Grumbles. Get inside." Mallika huffed impatiently as she waited for the cat to slip in. Her impatience was answered with a grumbly meow as the fat cat sauntered between her legs, pausing for an affectionate rub.
"Get in!" Mallika scooted the cat along with her foot. Grumbles did not appreciate the action, letting her know his exact feelings with an indignant flip of the tail before entering the house.
Mallika looked down both sides of the street, satisfied that no one had seen them, then closed the door.
They congregated in the kitchen.
"What happened?" Gabrielle asked the girls as soon as she caught her breath. Xena was once again peeking out again over the edge of her amazon top.
"I overheard some customers talking. They said that Chemeclees had been taken to the castle by palace guards. Arrested apparently." Lakme explained.
"I had a feeling that would happen."Xena cursed.
"Why didnt you say something. I could have gone with Chemeclees when he went back to the shop!" Gabrielle complained.
"Then you both would have been taken."
Gabrielle sat down in a chair in a huff. The resulting jerk nearly sent Xena flying out of the top.
"Watch it, would ya! Dont forget you have a passenger in here!"The warrior growled at the bard.
Mallika covered her mouth and shook her head.
"Well, what are we going to do now."
"We have to get him out." Gabrielle exclaimed.
"And we have to get help." Lakme added, "We have to tell somebody whats going on!"
"Who are we going to tell? Who can we trust?"
They all looked at one another, no one venturing any suggestions, eyes wide and minds blank.
"Tell your father."Xena offered.
All three girls froze and looked at the tiny warrior peeking out at them from Gabrielles shirt.
"My father?" Mallika asked, a little perplexed, "Why him?"
"If he runs the best tavern in town, then he knows everybody. Hell rally the right support behind us, especially if theres been other villagers that have gone missing and the town is already angry with the kings lack of action. Once you have the right support and the proof to back it up, you can approach the captain of the guards."
"What proof do we have?" Mallika asked in exasperation.
"We have Xena!" Lakme exclaimed, "What better proof can there be!"
Xena smiled at the bright girl.
"Right!" Gabrielle exclaimed and stood, "Heres the plan. Well go and get your father and bring him back here, so he can see Xena. That should convince him. Sound good, Xena?"
"Sounds fine. Better put me on the table, Gabrielle."
"Why? Id rather you come with me." Gabrielle argued, not wanting to leave Xena behind.
"Not a good idea. Better to talk with Naderus first before dangling me in front an entire tavern full of people!"Xena advised.
"Right." Mallika agreed.
Gabrielle took a moment to think. The suggestion made sense, but the bard could not help but worry about leaving Xena alone in a strange house in such a vulnerable condition.
She acquiesced, nodding reluctantly and used the finger method to lower the warrior onto the kitch dining table
"Will you be all right, Xena?" Gabrielle asked, worry knotting her eyebrows together in worry.
"Ill be fine. Youll only be gone a few minutes. Ill wait right here."
Gabrielle put her staff and bag in a corner, then nodded at the girls to follow. The determined group exited the kitchen, leaving Xena standing on a table covered in dishes, filled with the remains of the mornings breakfast.
Mallika, Lakme and Gabrielle hurried along the alley and back into the tavern. Their entrance was halted abruptly by the sight of three palace guards talking to Mallikas father.
Mallika came to a skidding halt just at the entrance, causing Lakme and then Gabrielle to run into her back. Their momentum hurdled the three of them unceremoniously into the busy tavern, causing all activity to stop and bringing them into the center of attention.
All heads turned in their direction.
"Ares balls!" Lakme cursed under her breath. Mallikas eyes flicked to her friend in surprise.
"There she is!" One of the guards yelled pointing at Gabrielle.
"Where have you girls been!" Mallikas father, Naderus, yelled at his daughter.
Before any of the girls could react, two of the guards had surrounded Gabrielle and lifted her by the arms.
"King Democritus wants to see you."
Mallika and Lakme could only watch as Gabrielle was led away. The bard twisted around in the guards arms.
"Talk to your father! Now!"
Both Mallika and Lakme nodded in earnest, watching helplessly as the guards escorted the bard out of the tavern. They turned to face Naderus together.
"What in Hades Blazes is going on!" The large man barked with his hands on his hips.
"Father. We have a *tiny* problem." Mallika began.
"And its waiting for us back at the house." Lakme continued.
The big man raised his eyebrows.
"Come on." Mallika said softly, pulling her father by the arm, "Lets go talk in the kitchen."
"Why does everyone always end up in the kitchen?" Naderus grumbled as he allowed his daughter to lead him away.
Xena examined her surroundings with a curious eye. She was certainly seeing the world from a new perspective, that was for sure. The breakfast plates looked large enough for her to ice skate on and she could build a house with the left over strips of bacon.
The warrior briefly thought about having a bite to eat, when a grumble and a hiss from across the room caught her attention. She turned around slowly in the direction of the noise.
Grumbles, the cat was licking her chops and eyeing Xena hungrily from the edge of a cutting table, whiskers trembling in anticipation with every move the tiny warrior made.
Xena stared into unblinking yellow eyes the size of two large moons.
"Great!"The warrior mumbled to herself, under her breath, slowly taking a step away, "Just great!"
"Youre drooling over the bacon and not me, right?........"
Continued in Step 13
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