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EXT. DESERT OASIS - DAY
Xena is standing in the water up to her knees, her head tilted to one side. Gabrielle is sitting on the bank with her feet dangling in the water. Their hair is wet, and their desert clothing is hanging from a line tied between two palm trees. The horses are still grazing, while keeping a wary eye on their two-legged visitors.
You really think there's
fish in there?
How do you know? Do you
hear them? Or do you just
sense their presence?
Xena grins like a kid in a candy store. Suddenly she plunges both hands in the water and comes up with two good-sized fish. She tosses them on the bank and then dunks beneath the surface. She rises and exits the water, the sunlight creating interesting patterns on her wet skin. Gabrielle appears mesmerized as she watches her, and smiles sheepishly as Xena gives her a knowing look. Xena plunks down next to her and they each go to work cleaning a fish.
Xena, how did fish get in there? There's
no river or creek feeding it. Its source
is obviously underground. There's no
other water around for miles. I can
see tree seeds and grass seeds
floating on the wind, but fish?
One of the great mysteries of life.
Maybe they're subterranean fish
and swam here underground.
Gabrielle peers at her skeptically, unable to read Xena's poker face.
Hmmmm. I think
you're teasing me.
Xena starts to answer, but when she looks up, a Palomino very much like Argo, moves closer to them and studies them, before it begins to drink. Bubbles snort up from the water and it swishes its tail in a slow contented rhythm.
It was like this.
Gabrielle merely glances at her as if she's been expecting the sudden change of subject, and keeps working on her fish.
I'll always be grateful to Hercules for
taking a chance on me, and for helping
me take those first baby steps toward
turning my life around. I tried to convince
myself I loved him, but honestly, what
I really wanted was to be like him.
Gabrielle starts to laugh and Xena stops, and stares at her in outrage.
What's so funny?
Gabrielle briefly touches her on the arm, and pulls herself together.
I'm sorry. I was just thinking the opposite
was true when I met you. I tried to convince
myself I was following you because I wanted
to be like you, when I was really following
you because I was in love with you.
At least you had an excuse. I spent
many sleepless nights trying to come
up with some logical reason why I
let you keep traveling with me.
They glance at each other almost shyly, and Xena reaches out and brushes her hand against Gabrielle's cheek, before she continues.
Anyway... Hercules... I couldn't have stayed
with him. I don't think there would have
been room for two warrior egos in that mix.
Add in Iolaus, and frankly I would have
been upsetting a partnership that
already worked quite well without me.
So I struck out on my own.
Where did you go?
Nowhere. Everywhere. I was lost and my
own skin didn't fit me anymore. I wandered
around Greece for a while. But I had no
friends, and a whole lot of enemies. I didn't
even know what I was looking for, other
than to stay out of fights with well-meaning
people who wanted me dead.
Guess they don't automatically remove
the bounties from your head just because
you've decided to reform, huh?
Xena stares across the pond, and watches a mare with her foal for a moment, and smiles sadly.
I remember telling Hercules that everything
he did was to honor the wife and children Hera
took from him. That was his inspiration. And I
remember telling him I didn't have anything like
that in my life. I knew in my heart I wasn't going
to find that if I stayed with him. So while I
wandered, I was looking for something,
anything, to give me a sense of direction.
She looks over at Gabrielle and their eyes meet for a very long moment. Xena finishes cleaning her fish and takes Gabrielle's to finish it. Gabrielle squeezes her shoulder and gets up.
I'm listening. Just thought
I'd get the fire going.
She moves to a nearby fire ring and stacks up some dried palm branches.
After a while I grew weary of running
from bounty hunters. I had no dinars,
and I couldn't use my preferred
method of getting them anymore.
Xena reddens in shame and looks down.
Yeah. So I sold my horse and hired on to
a boat headed to Egypt. It was taking the
long way from Crete to Cyprus and along
the coastline, delivering and picking up cargo
as we went along. I hoped maybe the honest
work and the salt air would clear my head.
It did, in a way, because the captain worked
us so hard I didn't have time to think about
much else. Things went okay for a while....
But you ended up here. I take it you didn't
make it all the way around to Egypt.
EXT. BOAT DECK - DAY - 36 SUMMERS AGO
Rob's Folly bobs up and down on the ocean waves, its familiar painted eye readily visible. On the deck several figures toil at various tasks - trimming sails, mending nets, fishing, and cleaning the catch. Xena is swabbing the deck, her attention partly on the mop and partly on the open sea before her. The captain walks along, eyeing the work in progress, making comments here and there. He passes by Xena and pokes her in the back with the end of a spyglass.
See to it that ya keep yer
mind on yer work. No
daydreaming on my watch.
Xena snarls at him behind his back.
She re-doubles her efforts for a while, but then she stares out to sea again and her motions slow down. Her expression is one of great sadness, and we see flashbacks of some of her past pillaging and plundering. The captain passes by again and this time gives her a firm smack to the backside.
Ya hired out to work for
me, and work ya will!
Suddenly, Xena is on him, her hands around his neck, and they roll around the deck, slinging several healthy punches at each other. The bored crew surrounds them, glad for the entertaining diversion. Soon the men are all cheering them on, and exchanging a few bets on the side.
They continue to struggle and end up on their feet in an all-out fistfight. One sailor tries to intervene and Xena merely lands a roundhouse kick to his middle, sending him flying across the deck, as she continues to pound on the captain. She jumps him again and draws a dagger from her boot, pinning him and pressing it against his throat.
The captain strains against her as much as he can, but she's got him trapped. Her fingers twitch on the dagger hilt, and there is a murderous gleam in her eyes.
What are ya gonna do?
Bloody kill me?
Her eyes blink with clarity, as she realizes what she's doing.
Better make up yer mind now, but either
way, ya lose. Ya let me live, I'm busting
ya for mutiny. Ya kill me, me first mate
over there is gonna bust ya for mutiny
and murder. Is that what ya are?
A bloody murderer?
Xena blanches at the word murderer and her entire body jerks as if he physically struck her. She glances over at the man she kicked and winces, realizing he is the first mate. She studies the dagger in her hand and slowly drops it to the deck. She stands in surrender, and two sailors move in and take her into custody.
The captain stands, rubbing his neck and eyeing the chains at her wrists and ankles with great satisfaction. He circles her, tugging at his beard.
In the blink of an eye, the sailors tie Xena to the yardarm and hoist her out over the water, hanging upside down. Her ankles are tied to ropes looped over the yardarm, her wrists to ropes that disappear beneath the ship. She does not fight her captors.
All the crew hangs over the railing, watching in anticipation. Xena stares steadfastly out to sea, her eyes fixed on the horizon. As they drop her downward, she takes a deep breath and vanishes below the boat.
The crew rushes to the other side of the boat, waiting until finally her dark head breaks the surface. She splutters, gasping for breath, as they haul her aboard and begin to untie her.
EXT. DESERT OASIS - EARLY EVENING - PRESENT X&G TIME
Xena and Gabrielle are sitting beside the fire, eating their fish.
Xena! By the gods.
Relax. I can hold my breath
a long time. I swam to
I try not to think about that too much.
That was a pretty scary time for me.
I'd not been back from the Academy
that long. I was still feeling badly that
I'd left you like that. And then you just
took off to help Marcus. I... I wondered
if you really wanted to come back.
Xena puts down her plate and takes Gabrielle's hand.
You wanna know what kept me
going during that long swim back to
the surface that second time?
With every kick, I prayed to any god
who would listen that you were still
waiting for me beside that lake.
Xena, you don't pray....
... unless I'm at the end of my rope.
If you were on shore, I had every
reason to keep going. If not....
Xena swallows and looks down at their joined hands. She takes a deep breath and blinks hard and looks back up.
You tossed me a lifeline that day. When
I broke the surface and saw you sitting
there, I think I could have walked
on water the rest of the way.
Gabrielle squeezes her hand and swipes her other hand across her own eyes once, before she picks up her plate and begins to eat again.
So what happened after
they keelhauled you?
The captain was so disgusted I survived it, he
tossed me in the brig and put me ashore the
first chance he got. Gave me three days' rations
and a water flask, and took off. At least he had
the good grace to leave me with my weapons.
Unfortunately, he put me off in the middle of
godsforsaken nowhere. I'd seen some barren
land in Chin, and some wild country across the
northern steppes with the Amazons, but nothing
prepared me for the Arabian desert.
EXT. DESERT HILLS - DAY - 36 SUMMERS AGO
A fierce sandstorm is blowing. Xena stumbles across the terrain, barely able to see. She shelters her face with the end of her turban, and holds one hand out in front of her.
Son of a bacchae!
She ambles on, coughing as the sand swirls around her face. All of a sudden she bumps into something and feels it all over, and puts her face right next to it, squinting.
A tree? It can't be.
She grabs the tree with both hands and slowly kneels, leaning back against the trunk with both knees drawn up. She buries her face into the long loose tunic she's wearing. One arm wraps around her head, and the other drops limply beside her. Her fingers begin twitching and she grabs up a handful of something, first sniffing it and then tasting it. She spits it out.
She sniffs the air cautiously and coughs again several times, then sniffs some more.
She crawls on her hands and knees, feeling in front of her as she goes. She stops and we hear a splash, as she dunks her head into some water. Her head flies up and she whoops loudly, then goes back in again, this time immersing her entire body, clothes and all. She surfaces with another loud whoop and we hear a slurping sound as she drinks greedily.
EXT. DESERT OASIS - DAY - 36 SUMMERS AGO
The storm has subsided and it is obvious some time has passed. We can see the oasis clearly now, a large herd of horses grazing around it. A golden Palomino mare trots down to the water, snorting and kicking up her heels. It is Argo I. She stops as she reaches the edge, suspiciously eyeing a large sandy lump which appears to be sitting on the water's surface. Cautiously, she enters the water until she is almost up to her belly. She nudges the lump and it shoots out of the water.
Yahhh! What the?!
The lump shakes and the sand sifts off, revealing Xena's head. She has fallen asleep during the storm, sitting shoulder-deep in the water. She ducks under and her head re-appears. She swirls around and sees Argo standing there only a few feet away. She smiles.
Xena tilts her head to the side.
Xena rises up a little bit and holds out her hand. Argo eyes her and whinnies, then carefully sniffs her hand, lipping it just a little. She snorts and takes off, stopping a short distance from the water's edge. She whinnies again and rears up once, pawing the air with one hoof before she lands on all-fours again.
Same reaction I get everywhere. They
either run or want to yell at me. You’re
one of the first to manage both, though.
Xena stands and walks laboriously to the bank in her waterlogged clothing. Argo backs up but still doesn’t run. Xena watches her, but makes no threatening moves. Finally she shrugs and moves toward a palm tree where she removes the heavy, wet clothing and rummages around in a bag she left tucked under the tree. She dons the tunic she usually wears under her leathers and sets about making camp.
Argo moves further away and begins to graze, but continues to eye her curiously. Xena shimmies up a tree and plucks a few coconuts, and splits them open, drinking the milk before she begins digging out the sweet flesh with a dagger. She quirks an eyebrow at the mare, and then carefully lays a path of coconut from where she sits, halfway to Argo.
Argo takes halting steps to the first coconut bit, and lips it a few times, before eating it. She makes her way down the trail, taking her time. Her ears twitch constantly, and her tail swishes in nervous agitation. Finally she reaches the last bit, only a few feet from Xena. She eats it and looks up expectantly.
Xena smiles and holds out another piece, her arm fully extended away from her body. Argo snuffs it and nips it up, crunching the treat loudly. She finishes it and closes the distance, nudging Xena’s arm and pawing at the ground.
Ah. A sucker for sweets.
I’ll have to remember that.
She offers another bite and scratches Argo's nose and forehead, as she finishes off the coconut.
EXT. DESERT OASIS - EVENING - PRESENT X&G TIME
It is now full dark, and the fire is blazing brightly. Xena and Gabrielle are sitting together on their bedroll, snuggling. The sky overhead is covered in a blanket of twinkling stars. The horses are still there, apparently settled in for the night.
‘A sucker for sweets.’ Boy, I'll say.
Her sweet tooth sure got us in trouble
that time with the Scythians.
All for a few lousy apples.
I’m not sure what was worse... Argo’s
sweet tooth or Joxer’s turnip stew.
(holding her stomach)
Ugh! Please. I just ate.
But I think the apples
started the whole thing.
Xena smiles knowingly and pulls her pack closer, digging around and coming up with a wrapped bundle.
Yeah, it seems the girls in
my life are always getting
into trouble over sweets.
She hands Gabrielle the bundle. Gabrielle takes it and sniffs it and her eyes grow wide with delight.
She tears the wrapping open and breaks the loaf apart, offering Xena half. As Gabrielle begins to devour the sweet dessert, Xena’s meaning hits home and she stops, blushing.
Oh gods. Will I never
live that down?
Xena pulls her into a headlock and gives her a noogie on top of her head before releasing her.
I was such a kid then.
A very cute kid, if I recall.
She trails off and smiles wistfully for a moment.
When you told me I was beautiful,
I was floored. Not literally floored
like you were, of course, but….
Gabrielle elbows her in the ribs.
She scoots a few inches away and they tussle a little bit before they settle back down into their snuggling.
I remember wishing you felt that way
about me when you weren’t high on
henbane. And just how much it surprised
me when I realized I wished that.
I did, you know... feel that way.
Yeah, I know now. But then... all I
knew was that I had some feelings
I didn’t know what to do with.
At least you recognized what they were.
I just thought I’d come down with some
permanent fever that caused me to
daydream all the time and bump into
things on perfectly clear days.
Xena leans over and kisses Gabrielle lightly, then pulls her even closer until their heads are touching.
Oh, I knew what I was feeling all
right. I was falling for a kid. I
remembered wondering if I could
keep you until you grew up.
You make me sound
like a puppy.
Xena rubs her head playfully.
Whoof. You proved just how grown
up you were, not too long after that.
Remember Salmoneus and the fizzy water?
Gabrielle’s eyes grow sad and she looks down.
That’s another time I try not to think
about. But boy, did Argo come through
for you. She was one smart horse.
She sure was.
EXT. DESERT OASIS - DAY - 36 SUMMERS AGO
Xena is standing petting Argo, scratching underneath her mane and forelock, and feeding her more bits of coconut. Xena sighs and steps back, and picks up her pack, and slings it over her shoulder. She is wearing her bulkier clothing again.
I can’t stay here forever.
She looks around the peaceful setting.
She looks up at the sun and off into the distance, and shakes her head slightly. She walks over to Argo and gives her one last friendly scratch.
Thanks for sharing lunch,
but if I’m ever going to get
back home, I have to go.
Xena walks away, and stops at the edge of the grass. She turns around and looks back wistfully.
She turns resolutely and walks away, tramping over the sand toward a nearby rocky canyon. She hasn’t gone far, when Argo catches up and nudges her in the back. Xena draws her sword and spins around and gasps. She drops the sword back into its scabbard, and puts her hands on her hips.
Sneaky. I didn’t
even hear you.
She taps her own head near her ear.
And I don’t miss much.
Argo nudges her again.
You sure you wanna leave
paradise to follow an ex-warlord
to gods know where?
Argo whinnies loudly and paws the ground.
All right, but just remember
following me was your idea.
She eyes the mare skeptically.
Don’t suppose you’d let
me ride, would ya?
Argo’s ears flatten and she snorts indignantly, a sound that almost sounds like laughter. Xena laughs back at her.
We’ll see. You stick with me,
you might have to earn your keep.
They walk on and reach the canyon, and traverse down one side into it until high jagged cliffs tower over them. The path through the canyon is narrow, winding back and forth between tall boulders and a few desert-hardened scrubby trees.
The sun casts deep shadows in the lower parts of the canyon, creating blessed shade all along the path. It takes them quite a while to make their way through, walking along in silence, save the sound of their own footsteps and the whisper of the wind between the rocks.
As they near the other side and a path leading up and out, Xena stops and looks all around. She looks up to the top of a cliff and sees a few small pebbles bounce down, their sound almost deafening amid the mostly quiet canyon. Xena backs up to a stalagmite-like rocky protrusion, and slowly draws her sword with a metallic hiss.
Better get behind this rock, girl.
Argo stands her ground, and makes low uneasy rumbling noises. Suddenly three well-armed bandits appear and begin scaling their way down the canyon wall. Xena stands up taller, her sword ready. They are almost to her when out of her peripheral vision, she spies a couple dozen more bandits approaching at a run from quite a distance away. She is vastly outnumbered.
There go those odds.
She engages the first three, neatly disarming one right off the bat. She then finds herself fighting the other two simultaneously, using both sword and chakram in tandem, against their larger, sharp, shining weapons. They back her against the rock and she fends them off, one eye constantly checking the progress of the others, who are still approaching. Finally, she jumps up and kicks both of them in the head, sending them to their backs, just as the first one retrieves his weapon and the others close in.
Down the path a little way, Argo whinnies loudly and Xena looks over to see the mare crouched partway down, inviting her to climb aboard. Xena doesn't have to be asked twice. She makes a running start and goes into a set of backward handsprings, flipping up in the air and landing on the surprised mare's back.
Argo stands up, as Xena looks back at her pursuers, one of whom has pressed into a sprint and caught up with them. Xena whistles low under her breath, and unexpectedly, Argo kicks out backward, sending the man flying behind them.
Well I'll be damned.
Come on, girl.
Time to fly. Yahhh!
Argo takes off and quickly reaches the path upward. In no time she climbs up and over the canyon wall, and then really takes off, flying like the wind, speeding across the desert, her legs a blur of motion. Xena crouches low, and her turban comes unwrapped. She catches it just before it flies away, and holds on, the wind blowing her hair back wildly. Finally, when she is certain they've put enough distance between them and the bandits, she urges Argo back into a walk.
Xena looks down at Argo in amazement, just as Argo turns her head to look back at her, her expression as smug as a horse can get. She is barely breathing hard, and she curls her lip up impudently almost as if she's grinning at Xena.
Thanks. Whistling? I think we
might be able to work with that.
Guess the least I can do is give
you a break for a little while.
She slides down and they begin walking again. Argo occasionally nuzzles her arm, nibbling at the material covering her shoulder.
What am I gonna call you, huh,
girl? You're bigger than life.
She stops and turns to the mare and rubs her neck.
How about Argo?
Argo snorts in approval.
Argo it is, then.
EXT. DESERT OASIS - EVENING - PRESENT X&G TIME
Xena and Gabrielle are now stretched out on the bedroll, looking up at the stars. The fire is burning low, snapping occasionally. The only other sound is wind rippling across the pond, the gentle breathing of several horses and two quiet voices.
Yeah. When Jason commissioned Argus
to build the Argo, no one had ever seen
a boat like it. It was larger than life.
Oh. Okay. I get it. She was
an amazing horse. Guess she
got you out of lots of jams.
That's an understatement.
That time with Salmoneus and the
fizzy water, I think that was when
Argo and I bonded. After that, I
wasn't really afraid of her anymore.
Xena rolls to her side and idly plays with Gabrielle's hair, pushing it back off her face.
I remember telling you then that I knew I'd
make it home again... that you risked your
life to take me back to Amphipolis. Truth
is, Gabrielle, that night I lay awake for a
long time, just watching you sleep across
the fire. I think that was when something
inside of me realized I was already home.
Gabrielle looks up at her, her eyes reflecting the strong bond between them. She reaches up, and wordlessly pulls Xena down for a lengthy kiss.
END OF ACT ONE