by JayBird (Jay Markle)


He wasn't a very tall man, but the little boy could tell he was a warrior just by the way he walked into town with a proud stride to his step. Just like he owned the place. Well... that and the sheathed broadsword he had slung over one shoulder.

"Hey, boy!" The warrior called to him. Almost instantly the youngster was by his side.


"This is Sidaris, isn't it?"

"Oh, yessir!" He knew his little village probably wasn't much compared to the great cities this warrior had probably pillaged...

"Good." He smiled down at the boy while running his hand through his own straw-colored hair. "I want you to do a favor for me, okay?"

"Sure!" The boy grinned from ear to ear. Helping a warrior on some dangerous mission was a whole lot more exciting than helping his father sell pigshit to the farmers.

"I'm looking for two people. Strangers to this town. The first is a tall dark-haired woman wearing battle leathers, boots... and she carries a sword."

"Wow..." the boy gasped. "A woman warrior!"

"Yeah. She's traveling with a girl who might be carrying a staff. The girl is kinda... blondish-reddish-haired... Well, she's cute. Wears a tight green top and a short skirt."

The boy shook his head. "No sir! I ain't seen nobody like that! Ever!"

"Good!" the warrior grinned. "So... the moment these two get into town, I want you to tell me, okay?"


"Now is there a tavern around here?"

"Yeah!" He pointed down the street. "That way!"

"And that's where I'll be waiting." He looked at the boy strangely. "Hey, what's that in your ear?" The warrior bent down and seemed to pull a shiny dinar out of the boy's head.

"Wow!!!" The boy grinned as he handed it to him.

"Now, when you let me know when these ladies arrive, chances are good I'll find a dinar in the other ear! Okay?"

"Yeah! Thanks, mister!"

He tousled the kid's hair and moved on down the street.



"Is there gonna be trouble?"

The warrior grinned. "Count on it."

"Oh, boy!!!"


Not far away, Xena gently urged Argo forward in a damnably slow walk. Riding with Xena, Gabrielle was also leaning against her, dead asleep with her head lolling against Xena's shoulder and her arms wrapped around Xena's waist. Once upon another time, such close contact would have been annoying. Now she just found it... comforting.

Besides, Xena reasoned. Last night the young bard had stayed up very late scratching away in her scrolls by the dying blaze of their campfire. She needed her rest for the trouble that lay ahead. At least that was the scroll for publication.

Gabrielle yawned in Xena's ear and smacked her lips.

"Ummm... Are we there yet?"

"Almost," Xena replied. "Just around the next bend."

"Goody." Gabrielle stretched and hopped off Argo, continuing to walk alongside as she rubbed the soreness out of her butt. She reached inside one of the saddlebags and took out the pieces of her Amazon war staff, snapping them together with practiced ease. Lastly, she snagged the waterskin from the pommel of Xena's saddle and took a deep swallow.

Humming to herself, Gabrielle took the lead as they continued down the wide dirt road to Sidaris.

For no particular reason, Xena slipped off Argo and joined Gabrielle to walk beside her. It was still early in the afternoon of a cool spring day. Once they reached Sidaris they'd meet with Iolaus and together the three of them would travel on to Corinth, where they'd meet up with Hercules and attempt to stave off a plotted coup against King Iphicles.



"Is this King Iphicles any different from the other kings we've met?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well... most of the other kings have been... jerks. Or fools."

"Comes with the job," Xena grinned.

"But Iphicles is Hercules' half brother, right? Same mom, different dad." She shrugged. "Maybe he's different."

"Not according to Hercules."

"Hmph. I wonder if he's handsome?"

"I hear he bears a passing resemblance to Ares."

"Oh, ick!" Gabrielle made a face. "There goes my lunch! Y'know, that seems to happen quite a bit around here."


"Common folks like us being dead ringers for royalty. I mean, there's you and Princess Diana... Iolaus and that dead cousin of his, King Whozitz of Whatzitz..."

"Orrestes of Attica."

"Whatever." Gabrielle smiled wistfully. "Maybe... somewhere... I have a double! A beautiful young princess of some long lost city..."

Gabrielle frowned when she realized Xena was snickering at her.

"It could happen!"

"Don't worry about it. You're already a defacto Amazon queen."

"True..." Gabrielle sighed and decided to change the subject. "So, have you thought about what you're going to do about Iolaus when we reach Sidaris?"

Xena looked at her. "Do about him? What do you mean?"

"Oh, you remember what Hercules told us," Gabrielle said. "About this trick he likes to play on his fellow warriors whenever he sees them somewhere..."

"I don't remember..."

"Aw, com'n. It was when we were in that tavern right after we left Arcanae." She looked at Xena. "Come to think of it, you were pretty plowed that night..."

"I was entitled," Xena replied. "So what's this 'trick?'"

"Well, according to Hercules, whenever Iolaus meets an old war buddy... or even one of the Argonauts... he likes to confront them like this..."

Gabrielle suddenly leaped in front of Xena, bringing her staff to bear.

"Hold, varlet!" she shouted. "So! You decided to show your scurvy face here after all, eh? Well, this road isn't big enough for the two of us! So... have at you! Hi-yahhh!!!"

Gabrielle charged Xena, intent on landing a gentle hit to the breadbasket. Instead, Xena sidestepped and neatly plucked the staff out of her grasp, giving Gabrielle a gentle kick to the tush that sent her face down in the middle of the dirt road.

"Like that?" Xena smirked.

"Alright." Gabrielle got up, brushing herself off and spitting out some dirt. "Maybe not like that. But close. Hercules says Iolaus even does it to him! Sometimes a real fight breaks out and things get bloody!"

Gabrielle reached for her staff, only to have Xena deftly snatch it away from her.

"I'll take my chances."

"That's my point," Gabrielle said as she kept trying to retrieve her staff even as Xena twirled it around her body, just keeping it out of her reach. "I mean... I know you... Xena. You've got this temper like the hair trigger onna crossbow... One --ugh-- false move... and you could hand Iolaus his head..." Gabrielle stopped in front of her. "Oh fer Zeussakes willya gimme back my freakin' staff!!! Arrgh!!! I hate it when you get this way!"

Xena stopped and smiled sweetly. "But you didn't say the magic word."

Gabrielle sighed. She made one last quick grab, only to end up with a handful of air.

"Puh-leeease... can I have my staff back?"

Xena flipped it back to her, giggling like an evil little girl. Gabrielle shook her head and continued walking beside her.

"Don't worry about Iolaus," Xena said. "He's a big... well, he can take care of himself."

"Ha! What about that night you almost killed me?"

"That was different. You shouldn't sneak up on anybody when they're dead asleep. How'd I know it was you wanting a little..."

"Okay-okay." She looked up at her. "So what about Iolaus?"

Xena grinned. "I have a plan..."


Iolaus was in the tavern on his second ale, when the little boy came rushing in like he was on fire.

"Mister! Mister!" He was out of breath and almost out of control as he crashed into Iolaus' leg. "They're here! Both of 'em! Just like... you said! A big lady in battle leathers, an'... an'... an' a pretty girl carrying a staff!"

"Good work, boy!" Iolaus finished off his ale, patted the boy on the head and made for the doorway.

"Mister?" the kid whined. "Whadda 'bout my other dinar?"

"Did you check your ear?" Iolaus asked.

The kid shrugged and started to dig around between his own buttcheeks.

"No, no! You ear! Not your rear!"

"Oh!" He checked and found another shiny dinar tucked away. "Thanks, mister! Good luck!"

Iolaus nodded and almost ran into a bear of a man blocking the doorway.

"A moment... friend," the man growled. "I'm Denarus. The merchants of this town pay me to keep things... peaceful."

"Good for you," Iolaus replied. "If you want things to stay peaceful, you'd better move. Cuz one way or the other, I'm coming through... friend."

Denarus frowned. This was usually as far as he had to go to stop a fight. Also, there was something behind the eyes of this little man. A look that wasn't bluff or bravado... something that he just didn't want to mess with today.

"Okay." Denarus moved. "It's just... if you do have some trouble coming, it's be kinda nice if you took it outside of Sidaris. Please?"

"I'll do my best," Iolaus answered, and then he was out the door and charging down the street.

He stopped. There was no sign of Xena.

"Looking for someone, Iolaus?"

He turned. Xena was walking into the center of the street to face him. Already a crowd had gathered, eager to see a little bloodletting.

"You shouldn't have come here!" Iolaus said, getting into the spirit of it all. "This town can't hold the both of us!"

"But I had to come," Xena replied. "For you."

"Dangerous words." Iolaus drew his sword.

"Dangerous times." Xena drew hers. The crowd gasped in anticipation.

"Stop it! Just stop it!!!" Gabrielle broke through the crowd and stood between them. "Please, don't do this! Stop this madness!!!"

"Get outta the way, Gabrielle," Iolaus said, getting a little confused. "This isn't your fight."

"You heard him, Gabrielle," Xena rasped. "Move it or lose it."

"Noooo!!!" Gabrielle screamed. "Don't either of you understand? I love you both!!!"

There was dead silence on the street. The entire crowd was entranced.

"Huh?" Iolaus blinked, realizing something was terribly wrong. "Xena..."

Screaming her war cry, an enraged Xena charged Iolaus, who managed to parry her sword as she swung it against him again and again even as the clang of iron echoed down the street. He had been caught off guard, and the vicious sword strikes were almost more than he could handle.

Iolaus knew now that Xena wasn't playing a game. Somehow he had tapped the wellspring of the Great Warrior Princess she had once been, and now he was in way over his head. Xena's eyes were feral even as an evil grin of pure blood lust split her face.

Iolaus knew he had to defend himself against her berserker rage or die. Just as he knew in his heart that there was no way in Hades he could ever hurt a friend as close as Xena.

He knew of only one way out.

"Xena, stop!" he shouted. She halted in mid-swing, chest heaving, eyes wild. Iolaus dropped his sword to the ground. "I yield. Do as you will. But I am... and always will be... your friend. And I never meant to come between you and... and..." He shrugged. "Whatever you think I came between."

"Iolaus..." Xena growled as she approached like a stalking animal. "There's too much between us... too much history... for this to end any other way than this..."


She grabbed Iolaus in a tight embrace and kissed him long hard and deep. Bending him back and continuing the kiss for long moments even as the assembled townsfolk looked on in open-mouthed amazement.

Finally Xena came up for air. Iolaus tottered on his boot heels for a second before falling to the ground, wondering what in Tartarus had happened.

Then he heard it. Laughter. Waves and waves of good natured laughter as the entire populace of Sidaris suddenly got the joke. Xena was standing over him with her hands on her hips, laughing as well. Gabrielle joined her, holding onto her for support as she laughed so hard tears were streaming down her face.

Iolaus shook his head, not knowing whether to be pissed off or not. A second later he grinned and started laughing himself.

Still chuckling, Xena held out her hand. Iolaus took it and pulled himself to his feet.

"We'd better get going," Xena said with a gentle smile. "It's a long way to Corinth."


And so just a little while later, the three friends found themselves on the road to Corinth, heading towards yet another adventure.

"Xena," Iolaus said. "You aren't going to tell Herc about this are you? Cuz if you did I'd never hear the end of it..."

"Why, Iolaus!" Xena managed to look both shocked and hurt. "Would I do that?!"

"Well..." He sighed as Xena giggled like an evil little girl.

"Gabrielle?" He looked at her. "This isn't going to end up in one of your scrolls, is it?"

Gabrielle shrugged. "I dunno, Iolaus. There were a lot of witnesses. And you know what they say... sooner or later -one way or the other-- a great story just has to be told!"


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