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EXT. DESERT OASIS - DAY - PRESENT X&G TIME
It is early morning, and Xena and Gabrielle are packing up camp. Gabrielle tosses sand on the remains of their breakfast fire, while Xena is off to the side under a palm tree, using her coconut trick to win over a beautiful white and gray dappled horse. While feeding the white horse, she's sitting atop a chocolate brown horse with a white star on its forehead. The brown horse is placidly munching on yet more coconut.
Gabrielle looks over at them and shakes her head, a little smile tugging at her lips. She shoves some cooking utensils into her pack and walks over to them, stopping a few yards short.
We riding the rest of the way?
Sure beats walking.
You're certain this one is going to
be gentle enough for me to ride?
This white one's a gelding, so I think
he's been domesticated at some point.
He'll be a lot more gentle than a stallion
would be, and no worries about
the moodiness of a mare in season.
How on earth did you figure out
he's a gelding and not a stallion?
Xena just looks at her pointedly.
Both of these are a little older. Old
enough they won't be feeling their
oats so much, but not so old the
travel would make 'em keel over.
How do you know
how old they are?
Xena slides down from the brown horse.
I checked their teeth.
Gabrielle appears to think about this, and unconsciously opens her own mouth a little bit, and runs her tongue over her teeth as she contemplates it. Xena chuckles and leans over, planting a firm kiss on her lips.
Doesn't work the same on people.
Here, you want a boost?
Gabrielle eyes the gelding warily.
What do I do if
he starts bucking?
You'll be hanging onto fistfuls of mane
anyway. Hang on tight, or get him past
the grass and fall off. Sand's deep
and soft. You'll be fine. You've won
over a few horses, if I recall.
True. Okay. Boost me up.
Xena grabs her by the hips and lifts her up. She lands solidly on the horse's back. He looks back and flattens his ears, then takes off running. He kicks up his heels a little, but doesn't buck or rear full-out.
Whoa! Easy there, boy.
She leans over and hangs on, and talks quietly to the horse whose ears prick up and turn backward so he can hear her talk. He nickers and slows down some, and finally begins to walk. Gabrielle continues to whisper to him and the horse stretches out his neck, walking proudly as Gabrielle guides him back to the tree.
Well done. What in Hades
did you say to him to get
him to settle down so quickly?
Gabrielle smirks at her.
Told him if he didn't calm
down, you were going to
ride him instead of me.
Xena curls up her lip, but her eyes are twinkling.
Let's get moving, horse-
whisperer. Daylight's burning.
Gabrielle looks up at the already-blazing sun.
Good thing we have these
clothes, or that's not all
that would be burning.
Xena also looks up.
That reminds me. I checked the stars
last night, and we need adjust our
direction. We were walking too far east.
We need to head more to the north.
Fine by me. It got a little tiring facing
the sun all morning yesterday.
Xena hands Gabrielle her bag and shoulders her own, then re-mounts the brown horse.
Yeah, last time I was here, I was heading
mostly east, just trying to reach civilization,
but honestly, I wasn't quite sure where I
was when they put me off the ship. The
mornings then were pretty brutal too.
Where did you end up?
I finally ran into the Euphrates River, and
followed it all the way to the Persian Gulf.
Then I traveled the western coastline for
a while, until I reached a village. But
eventually I ended up in Gaza.
Gaza? Xena, that's in the opposite
direction. That's a very long way
from the Persian Gulf, isn't it?
Xena stares off into the distance.
A thousand miles.
A... a thousand miles?
A thousand miles!?
How did you get there?
I rode Argo.
Gabrielle stares at her incredulously.
You rode Argo a thousand miles
across the desert? That must
have been a very long hot ride.
Xena looks over at her for a long moment, her features somewhat stoic.
Hot. Oh, yeah. But it
only took five days.
Five days? That's…
Xena, that's impossible.
No it's not. There
was this race, see....
EXT. PORT TOWN ON THE PERSIAN GULF - DAY - 36 SUMMERS AGO
It is a bustling little town with a very busy harbor, ships of all sizes coming and going. Slaves carry heavy bundles of cargo on their backs, and the streets bear steady traffic of man, woman and beast. Xena is riding Argo, staying to one side of the street close to the buildings. Her eyes dart everywhere as she takes in the crowd and activity around her. They are barely moving, the street is so packed.
Without warning, she reaches down and grabs hold of a wrist, its hand halfway into her belt pouch. She looks down into the face of a very surprised thief, his dark eyes bulging as she squeezes his arm tightly.
See anything you like here?
He shakes his head furiously as she twists his arm slightly.
Xena continues to squeeze until his fist opens, and a large gold coin pops out. Xena catches it handily and tucks it back into her pouch, and laces it closed again.
Didn't think so.
She loosens her grip slightly and leans over, getting in his face.
I catch your fingers anywhere
near me again and I'll
cut 'em off. Got me?
The thief backs away and rubs his wrist as she releases him. He admires Argo and smiles broadly, gesturing.
Ocean of fire, no?
Xena looks at him and then down at Argo, and then back.
No. Last time I checked,
she was a horse.
She shakes her head and moves on.
Takes all kinds, my
mother used to say.
She smiles sadly and urges Argo to walk a little faster, guiding her down a less crowded side street. She spots a tavern and pulls over, then jumps down to the ground and ties Argo to a hitching post near the door. As she walks through the entrance, she sees a man approaching Argo from behind. Xena lets loose a whistle, and Argo kicks backward, knocking the man across the street and into a water trough.
Argo looks at her and snorts.
Keep watch, will ya? I'll only
be in here long enough to
grab a bite and a drink.
Argo whinnies and snorts again.
INT. TAVERN - DAY - 36 SUMMERS AGO
Xena ducks inside and bellies up to the bar. The tavern keeper spies her and makes his way down to her, swiping the bar surface with a rag as he goes along.
What'll you have?
A strong drink and a plate
of whatever is cooking
over there on the fire.
Lunch special, coming up.
He turns and fills a plate and a mug, then plunks both down in front of her. Xena studies the unidentifiable mixture of grain, vegetables and bits of meat, and then sniffs the drink and blinks as the strong alcohol scent assaults her nose.
Liquor of date palm. It'll
grow hair on your chest.
As he says this, Xena is in mid-sip, and she spews the liquor back into the mug. She looks down at her chest and back up at the man, who reddens as he realizes what he said. Xena grins wickedly, and then slugs down the drink in one gulp. She plucks a bit of the meat from the grain mixture and waves it in front of his face.
Goat? You're sure?
Not camel? Or dog?
Xena's eyes narrow and she sniffs the small bite, before popping it in her mouth and tasting it carefully.
Goat. Not bad.
The tavern keeper smiles and nods graciously at the compliment. He leans over, and rests one arm against the bar top.
Nice horse out there.
She's yours, right?
Xena glances behind her, where she can see Argo through the open doorway.
Argo apparently hears him, and whinnies in protest.
Heh. Like owner, like
horse. Not for sale.
Look at those legs.
Bet she can run for days.
Not pure Arabian, is she?
Caught her in the desert.
I have no idea her parentage.
She's too big to be pure
bred. That's too bad.
She won't qualify for
the Ocean of Fire.
Xena stops in mid-chew, and swallows.
EXT. DESERT HILLS - DAY - PRESENT X&G TIME
Xena and Gabrielle are riding side by side on the horses. It is sunny and relatively calm, a welcome respite from the sand-filled wind of the day before.
Ocean of fire.
What does that mean?
That was the race.
The Ocean of Fire.
What an odd thing to call it.
Not really. That was the thousand miles,
Gabrielle. It was a race across the
Arabian Desert from the city of Hajar
near the Persian Gulf to Gaza on the
Mediterranean Sea. Some of the
most scorching and barren territory I
ever hope to see. The desert, it was....
An ocean of fire.
Gabrielle looks across the sand, where she can see the heat rising in shimmering waves.
That must have been pure
torture for poor Argo. That's
not like you. Xena, why?
But Argo.... Didn't you care
what that might do to her?
At the time, no.
She saved your life
from those bandits.
I didn't see it that way, not initially.
You forget the ego. I was convinced I
could've fought my way out of that
canyon if Argo hadn't been there.
Things changed later, but
I'm getting ahead of myself.
Must've been a big purse.
Enough I could've lived comfortably
for the rest of my life. And mother and
Toris too, if they would've let me....
Gabrielle steers her horse closer and reaches out and briefly touches Xena's arm.
So you wanted to win so
you could try to get back
in your family's good favor.
That was part of it, but not
exactly, no. You have to
remember who… what… I was.
A reformed warlord?
A warlord who was trying to reform might
be more accurate. Other than selling my
horse before hiring onto that boat, I hadn't
earned an honest dinar in years. There
were bounties on my head all over Greece
and beyond. I had no idea how to go on or...
how to live my life. All I knew how to be was
a warrior, yet for a while after I met Hercules,
almost every time I drew my sword, I felt
guilty, unsure if it was the right thing to do.
Even to defend yourself?
I didn't feel I deserved defending. But that
purse, if I had that kind of money, I could have
traveled somewhere far away and started over
and not worried about what I was going to live
on. It was the easy way out. You know me;
I almost never take the easy way. But
I was just so tired… of everything.
Gabrielle reaches over and squeezes her leg.
But you couldn't enter the race
because Argo wasn't pure Arabian?
Xena smiles, a wicked little glint in her eyes.
It was a very elite race, for only the finest
Arabian horses, run by a pair of twin brothers.
One lived in Gaza, and the other in Hajar.
They were Arabian sheiks and wealthy princes
of the highest order. I joined a caravan to
Hajar and hunted down the brother who
lived there, Galeel. I learned as much
about him as I could from the caravan, and I
talked up Argo to anyone who would listen.
You conned your way
into the race, didn't you?
Let's just say by the time we reached
Hajar, I think that caravan expected
Argo to sprout wings and fly.
But how did you get past
Argo not being purebred?
I learned Galeel had a weakness.
He was a Tabula champion.
It's a strategic board game. I've played
a fair share of Tabula. You toss dice and
move pieces around a series of gridlines.
During the long nights on the caravan, I
watched Tabula games and played until I
was dreaming about those damned grids.
INT. TAVERN - EVENING - 36 SUMMERS AGO
Xena makes her way through a crowded room. Every table is full with predominantly male patrons, and the atmosphere is one of a carnival. The Ocean of Fire is the topic of conversation at each table she passes. Beautiful girls in harem costumes glide between the tables, serving food and drink. To one side is a stage of belly dancers, swaying to the beat of hypnotic music. It is an upscale place, with elaborate tapestries on the walls and plush carpeting on the floor. The air is thick with cloying opium smoke, and Xena takes a hit off a pipe that is passed to her.
In a back corner, a throng of wealthy-looking men is gathered around a table. Seated at the table are two more men, decked out in fine clothing. They are both smoking and drinking and hovered over a game board. Xena is dressed similarly to the harem girls, and she smoothes her hair back before approaching the table. One of the seated men looks up and smiles approvingly.
Ah, just in time. Girl, bring us
another round of drinks.
I'm not a servant.
She rests one hand on the table and leans over to give him a better view of her assets, and smiles fetchingly.
You Prince Galeel?
The man continues to smile, checking her out as he talks.
Yes. And who might you be?
The name’s Xena. I'll get
you that round of drinks,
on me, on one condition.
And that would be?
Let me play.
Galeel and all the men around them laugh heartily.
This is no woman's game. Are
you sure you know how to play?
Xena leans closer still, her own face inches from his.
I have many skills.
Galeel swallows hard and licks his lips.
Very well, then. It would be
my pleasure. Get us those
drinks, and I'll play you.
She bats her eyelashes at him and purrs.
I'm sure the pleasure
will be all mine.
She disappears and returns with a tray full of drinks and passes them out, then takes the seat across the table from Galeel. She wordlessly removes a gold coin from a small belt purse and places it on the table. Galeel's eyebrows rise in surprise, and he digs in his pocket and matches it.
I see. You want to
make it interesting.
I make everything interesting.
I'll just bet you do.
He hands her the dice.
I'm no lady.
Galeel is practically panting as she takes the dice, trailing her fingertips across his palm in the process. She tosses them on the table and makes a move. He quickly makes a move that obviously out plays hers. Xena raises her fingers to her lips.
She takes her turn, and they go back and forth for several moves, while the others look on. Most of them watch Xena rather than the game. She plays a fair game, but finally, Galeel makes a move and sits back and crosses his arms in triumph.
That's it. You've nowhere
else to move. I win.
Xena looks down at the board and back up at him with a sensual pout.
I tried so hard.
She reaches across and touches the back of his hand.
You obviously tried... harder.
Her fingers tease back and forth across his hand, and his forehead breaks into a sweat.
One more game, please?
I'll make it worth your while.
One more game? Sure.
What can it hurt?
Xena withdraws her hand and smiles coyly, then places two gold coins on the table, which Galeel promptly matches, his eyes never leaving Xena's. Xena puckers her lips in Galeel's direction, then she lifts the dice up and blows on them. She tosses them and makes a move.
Your eyes are the most
amazing blue. So different.
Different? You got that right.
She watches him make his move and then takes up the dice. She smiles charmingly, then tosses the dice and her smile disappears. She moves her pieces, evicting a few of Galeel's from their spot. He looks at the board and then at her, his features puzzled. Her eyes gleam evilly, and then the game is on in earnest, dice flying and pieces moving in rapid succession. A larger crowd begins to gather around the table, watching a woman best the crown prince. It ends in a flurry, as Xena makes a final move, snatches up the coins and tucks them into her pouch.
You tricked me!
I played a fair game.
One more! Best
two out of three.
Xena looks at him like a rabbit caught in a trap. She leans forward, getting in his face again, but this time all pretense is gone.
(in a throaty voice)
All right. But let's make
this really interesting.
Anything. Anything at all.
(under her breath)
I have a horse. Argo.
Argo? I've heard of this horse.
You were with the caravan
that arrived yesterday for the race.
That's right. Here's the deal.
I lose, you get Argo.
If she's as fine as I've heard,
I look forward to beating you.
He leans closer, plucking at his moustache.
On the off chance you
win, what do you get?
Argo and I get to
enter the Ocean of Fire.
You're a woman.
That a problem?
The crowd laughs.
No. No, no problem. But Argo,
do you have her papers?
Can you prove she's pure?
She's a wild pony from the desert.
I can't prove a damned thing,
except she can run like the wind.
Impossible! Only the finest
Arabians can enter the race.
You said 'anything.'
Are you not a man of
your word? Hmmmm?
She allows just a hint of flirtation to surface again.
What've you got to lose? At best,
you get my horse. At worst, you
let a woman and a half-breed mare
enter a race against Arabia's finest.
Come on, Galeel, what'll it be?
Very well, then. One more game.
I win, I get your horse. I lose,
you enter the Ocean of Fire.
Xena stares steadily at him, and lifts the dice again. This time, she spits on them.
EXT. DESERT HILLS - DAY - PRESENT X&G TIME
Xena and Gabrielle are still riding across the desert.
I take it you won.
I won all right. The tavern all but
named me the new Tabula champion,
but I refused. I'd gotten what I
wanted, and I didn't want Galeel any
angrier at me than he already was.
So you entered the race?
Xena sighs and her eyes take on a faraway look.
Mmmm. Yeah. I thought I'd seen
it all in my travels, but I hadn't a
clue what I was getting myself into.
They ride on in silence, the sun beating down from overhead, as we....
END OF ACT TWO