Gabrielle paused in her staff practice to catch her breath. She had only been an Amazon princess for a short time, but she was determined to prove that she could handle the responsibilities. One of the understood duties of an Amazon was to be soundly proficient with at least one weapon. The next time she sat foot in Melosa's camp, she was hoping to give Eponin a run for her dinars. Right now though, she'd settle for not embarrassing herself in front of Xena. Still it was harder than it looked, and she tired easily.
Gabrielle was just about to renew her efforts when she heard someone coming up the path. At first she was delighted. Xena's come by early! She wasn't due until sundown, and it's barely midmorning. After her birthday, Gabrielle had wanted to visit her parents. Xena had said it was a great idea, but at the last minute had decided to visit an old friend in a nearby city instead of accompanying her all the way to Poteideia. Not that Gabrielle really blamed her -- her family had not exactly embraced Xena with open arms before. She arranged to meet Gabrielle in this cave, which was roughly midway between Poteideia and Stagirus, in a week's time.
Gabrielle happily poked her head out of the cave mouth to greet Xena. She was unpleasantly surprised to see five unkempt, rough looking thugs coming her way.
"Well now men, look at the nice little treat. She ought to keep us busy for a while."
Gabrielle quickly retreated into the cave and took up a defensive stance. She racked her brain for a series of moves that would let her take out five armed men. She'd seen Xena do it, but the number of differences between her and Xena defied counting. The men entered the cave and approached.
"Oh look, the little lady has a stick. I like it when they have spirit."
Gabrielle knew that she would have to get awfully lucky to escape unharmed. She picked out the the meanest looking of the bunch and waited for them to charge.
All five men ran at Gabrielle. She knocked out her target with one blow, but that left her off balance. The other four quickly swarmed over her. She squirmed and struggled her as they tied her spread-eagled on the ground.
"You're just not gonna keep still, are you?"
Gabrielle felt a knife handle impact with her skull and everything went black.
"Oh, like, no way", Aphrodite muttered as she stormed out of her scrying chamber. Every once in a while she liked to check in on certain mortals who were, consciously or not, furthering her objectives. Gabrielle may be irritating, but she was a terrific ally. Having her innocence destroyed in such a fashion could put a major kink in the plan. It was going slowly enough as it was.
Aphrodite's thoughts were a blur. She had to rescue Gabrielle, but pulling Xena in would violate an important rule. An innocent person can not be brought in to protect a god's champion. Only someone who owes a debt to the champion can become involved. As odd as it is, Xena is an innocent in this matter. By saving Gabrielle's life several times over, she has repaid her debt, at least in Gabrielle's eyes. So who else owes Gabrielle a debt?
Wrong question -- what's time to a god? Who will ever owe Gabrielle a debt? And if they intend to repay it but are prevented by death, it passes to the descendants. Thousands of years worth to choose from! She considered the legal candidates. No...no...I don't think so...mmm, better but no...ah, perfect! Well, almost perfect.
"Ares!" yelled Aphrodite as she sped back to the bedroom.
"Hmmm?" mumbled Aphrodite's sleeping lover.
Okay, be cool now, Aphrodite told herself. Can't let Ares know who he's helping; he's not exactly the bard's biggest fan.
"Ares, snookums..." Aphrodite said as she lay back down on the bed, encouraging her robe to reveal her cleavage.
"Yeah?" Ares said blinking open his eyes and giving his lover a big smile.
"Sweetie, take a look at this woman." Aphrodite waved her hand to bring up an image of a tall, dark-haired, young woman in the midst of a furious workout. "I think she needs your help."
"Looks like she's doing pretty good to me. Why don't you help her?"
"Can't; it's a war thing." Better hurry before he wakes up all the way. "Look, she's got something pretty nasty coming up in her future and the only weapons she has are those blunt swords. Can't ya give her just a smidge of help? She's one of yours, after all." Aphrodite rolled on top of Ares and began to stroke his chest and neck.
Ares was having trouble putting a name to the face. The woman must be from pretty far in the future. Or pretty far from Olympus. Or something. How was he supposed to think under Aphrodite's wandering hands? He concentrated briefly on the woman in the vision, sending a small blessing her way. Aphrodite rewarded him with a huge smile.
"Thanks snookums. I'd feel sooo bad if something happened to one of your cute warrior babes." Aphrodite liberally punctuated this statement with deep, heart-pounding kisses. While Ares' eyes were tightly shut, she quickly made a series of gestures with her hands and poured a considerable amount of power into her spell. Gabrielle should be okay now, for a while, she thought, And I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll be able to distract Ares' attention long enough...
Gail crossed the sai over her head and took a deep breath. She turned on the balls of her feet, flipping the swords down to guard her arms. She risked a glimpse in the mirror to observe her posture and was satisfied with what she saw. Her stance was perfect and she was not too flushed from the intense workout. Her sensei would be pleased tomorrow. Of course, he'd be prouder still if she could nail the end of this kata. It was very complicated with lots of fast sword moves, but she felt up to the challenge.
She'd been taking karate lessons for almost a year now. Not coincidentally, she started within a week of coming to work for Mr. Profit. Not that she believed that he'd ever try to hurt her, not physically. She used karate for the meditation more than anything else. While she was practicing, she could clear her mind, regain her focus, and feel like she was really in control of her life.
She'd lost quite a bit of weight in the past year too. She'd like to credit the karate and basketball for that, but the more likely reason was working straight through lunch and dinner far too frequently. Often, she was lucky if she got across the street for a bowl of noodles while Mr. Profit was in a private meeting. He had a lot of those, but that was okay with her. She didn't feel like she needed to know every detail of his schemes. In fact, she was pretty sure that she didn't want to. He's a good man; that's all that's important. Well, maybe not good exactly, but he's made quite an impact on my life, that's for sure. After all, my mother is thriving under the advanced treatments in the hospital he arranged. All I have to do is help him with his plans. A little computer hacking here, some information gathering there, it's all harmless. And as much as I hate to admit it, I'm having a lot of fun. I wonder if you can get addicted to adrenaline rushes.
Oh no... Gail realized too late where this train of thought was headed. She felt the unwelcome thoughts stir in her brain and start buzzing around like bees. Mr. Profit and his big plans for tomorrow... "Come by my apartment early, and wear that dark blue suit". On one level, she was glad that he had found a solution for the Kelly Woodward problem. But just thinking about it made her stomach clench up. And now that she'd started thinking about it, her concentration was surely broken. With a growl Gail threw her sai onto her bed and stalked off to the kitchen. She slowly drank a glass of cold water and tried to again clear her mind.
When she was finally feeling calm again, she went back into her bedroom, closed the door, and picked up her sai. She redoubled her efforts on the new kata, her brain working as hard as her body to fend off things she didn't want to think about. She was so focused on executing the prescribed moves that she barely felt the force that removed her from her comfortable home.
The blackness that had overwhelmed Gabrielle quickly receded. She blinked in the dim light and tried to make heads or tails of her new surroundings. She was lying on a large, soft bed in an impressive room, by her standards -- probably at least 5 paces by 7. On the opposite wall was a full length mirror. To her left was a window with the curtains drawn, and to her right was a door, also closed. Those things she could understand. She was having more trouble with the box that had a glass side, or the similar box with a tablet of buttons attached. She sat up to try to get a better look and a wave of dizziness overcame her.
Focusing on her image in the far mirror, she saw that she had taken a pretty nasty bash to the head. It was still bleeding a little, and she felt like she might faint. She was certainly not going to be able to do any exploring right away.
Gabrielle laid back down on the bed and took stock of her injuries. Head wound. Bruised shoulder. Rope burns on her wrists that caused her to suppress a shudder (her boots had spared her ankles similar abuse). That was it. It certainly could have been worse.
She then noticed with some embarrassment that her skirt was no longer tied. Well, actually it was still tied, but it fell open anyway. Apparently it had been cut open. She took a deep breath and tried to feel if there was any ... other ... damage. No, everything was fine.
So that makes no sense. They attack me, tie me up, knock me unconscious, cut off my clothes, and then just bring me here? I'm missing something. Maybe I was rescued! Or someone hired them to kidnap me and specified that I wasn't to be harmed. Either way, I suppose it's better than the alternative. With those marginally comforting thoughts, unconsciousness claimed her again.
Gail thrust her swords forward in the final hard lunge of the kata. Suddenly, she was almost knocked down by the wave of heat that engulfed her. Just as she was starting to come to terms to her new environment, she was stunned again as her eyes adjusted and she watched a dead body drop off the ends of her swords.
"Where'd that bitch come from? She just killed Crenulous!"
Three dirty, unshaven men began to close in on Gail. Did I just kill a man? Have I lost my mind? How did I get here? "It was an accident!" Gail shouted trying to back away and get into a good defensive stance.
"You'd better get ready to have an accident yourself, whore." The men came closer. Gail could see the predatory looks in their eyes.
She kicked the closest thug in the stomach and brought her sai blade down to connect with the back of his skull. She had intended to use the blunt blade to knock him unconscious. Much to her surprise, the now very sharp blade opened his skull like a melon instead.
She tried to mask the horror on her face as she brought she sai back up to a guard position. "Just get out of here and leave me alone."
The two remaining thugs decided to rush her instead.
She pivoted, kicked, thrust, and dodged. She felt power and energy flowing out of her limbs. She also felt a feral sort of pleasure that nothing else, not even hacking into the toughest of security systems, had ever provided before. When she finished, both of her foes lay dead at her feet.
Gail then promptly threw up, all over the dead men's bodies.
Jim opened the door to Gail's house and walked inside. Gail had actually managed to surprise him when she presented him with a copy of her house keys, ostensibly so that he could water the plants while she was out of town. Of course, Gail always did need to sugarcoat things for herself. He supposed that she'd gotten tired of convincing herself that she'd left the door unlocked when she would come out of the shower and find him sitting in her living room.
Receiving no reply, Jim began to wander through the house searching for her. She should be home because her car is still parked out front. She could have gone for a walk... Ah! He spotted the closed bedroom door. For novelty's sake, he knocked.
No reply. He doubted that she was asleep -- Gail didn't take naps. She had too much nervous energy. He opened the door.
Jim could have come up with a lot of possible scenarios for shocking things he might find behind that door, but a half-naked teenage girl lying in Gail's bed with a bleeding head wound was nowhere on the list.
Gail, Gail, Gail...don't I cause enough trouble for both of us?
Jim walked over and examined the girl. There was a good-sized blood stain on the pillow beneath her head, but the wound itself had mostly stopped bleeding. Jim debated the relative merits of the girl surviving this encounter versus succumbing to the nasty wound. As much excellent blackmail material as her death would provide, his instincts told him that he'd get a very interesting story by talking to her, and he wouldn't have to worry about disposing of a body.
He got a clean wash cloth from the linen closet and began to wash the blood away from the cut. It was deep, but not that long. She could probably use a couple of stitches. He calmly prepared a needle and thread and sewed the wound shut. There were no bandages available, but he found some antibiotic salve. As he spread it on the wound, his young patient began to stir.
Xena left Stagirus early in the morning, making her excuses to the town council. She was certainly glad she had come. The old friend she had told Gabrielle about had been in town. He had been scouting the area for peasants to enslave. Now, there was one less slaver in the world.
Afterwards, the town council tried to convince her to announce publicly that the entire area was under her protection. She refused -- those kinds of statements brought back entirely too many bad memories -- but had offered her assistance if the town was ever threatened again.
With any luck, that'll happen around the next time Gabrielle gets homesick. I'd take fighting slavers any day over meeting that family of hers again. Xena wasn't really accustomed to caring what other people thought, so her reaction to her first meeting with Gabrielle's family puzzled her. They just kept glaring at me like they thought I had plans to tear Gabrielle to pieces and leave her in a ditch somewhere, Xena thought. Why, I'd at least hang her from a tree, to warn other chatty bards to stay away, she amended wryly.
Why should I care what they think? And why am I so damned eager to get back to her anyway? Xena had realized a long time ago that she didn't just put up with Gabrielle; she actually had grown to like the girl. Now she was coming to the alarming realization that she didn't just like her, she needed her. For someone as fiercely independent as Xena, coming to terms with a thought like that was like trying to breathe water.
She's just a little brat. She'll probably alternate between ripping my head off for going on an adventure without her and talking herself blue about the latest thrilling developments in Poteideian farming techniques. Then she'll smile in that sweet disarming way of hers and I'll forget to be upset with her. But you just know that the next time I try to keep her out of some hideous danger, she'll throw Stagirus back in my face. Xena continued making her way (quickly) back to their arranged meeting place. Outwardly she was scowling, inwardly she was mocking herself for getting too attached to this scrappy village girl, and deep down she was counting the moments until she saw Gabrielle's smile again.
Gail closed her eyes and counted to 10. She thought of lush, peaceful meadows and watching the sun set with her mother. She took a deep breath and opened her eyes. The horrific scene was still there.
The four men near her were certainly dead. There was so much blood! She was actually standing in a pool of blood! She had thought such an idea was just an exaggeration by horror writers, but no, apparently if you slice open enough people in just the right way, you can get a pool. She tried to keep her hysteria down and looked frantically around the cave.
There was another man slumped against the back wall. He appeared to have been knocked unconscious by a blunt object, probably the nearby discarded staff. Gail picked it up. It was a nice staff, as they went. Gail had never really liked fighting with one though. They seemed so unwieldy, and if you misjudged a maneuver, you could end up way out of position. She preferred the quicker and more versatile sai.
Her sai...now that was a whole different concern. She put down the staff and examined her trusty weapons. They looked largely the same, but with the crucial difference that the blades were now razor sharp. Sai are not supposed to be sharp. I've certainly never seen any that were. How could this have happened?
Practicality sat in and she realized that she was in an unknown place wearing nothing but her karate gi. She didn't even have any shoes. Well, I'm a mass murderer. I guess it wouldn't hurt to be a thief as well. Hysteria was starting to break through her carefully constructed walls. I'd better get out of here before I start giggling...or crying. I'm not sure I'd be able to stop.
She searched the bodies and, with a shrug, the unconscious man. She found 15 rough coins with nothing but a face in profile on one side and a crown on the reverse. There was no lettering of any kind, not even to identify the country of origin. She also found several canteens of water of which she quickly drank her fill, then used the rest to wash the worst of the blood off her clothing and body. She didn't have a scratch on her, she noticed.
She also noticed some rope on the ground in a somewhat sinister arrangement. Looks like they were trying to tie someone up - probably whoever took out the unconscious guy. I wonder what they did with her? I'm glad they didn't get a chance to try it with me. She hung the coin pouch and the sai onto her belt. She was ready to see what other surprises this day had in store for her.
As Gail walked out of the cave, she felt a brief wave of dizziness. She paused to steady herself and felt it again, perhaps a little weaker that time. One more mini-wave passed and she felt steady again. She quickly stepped out of the cave and onto a dirt path. She intended to head straight into the first town she saw. With any luck, there was a board qualified psychiatrist there who could help her through this. If nothing else, they'd have a phone and she could call Mr. Profit. He would know what to do.
Gabrielle opened her eyes to see a man dressed in black kneeling towards her. She screamed and pushed him away. She drew another breath to scream again, but he just stood there, holding his hands up in a non-threatening manner.
"I was only trying to help," Jim said, pitching his voice soft and gentle.
"Who are...why am I...where am I?" Gabrielle sputtered, trying to figure out which was the most urgent question to have answered.
Jim smiled, trying to look helpful. "My name is Jim. You are in my assistant's bedroom. Just what you're doing here is something I'd like to know as well. What should I call you?"
Gabrielle slowly brought herself into a sitting position. "My name is Gabrielle." It looks like his assistant sent out those men to capture me. But why, and why didn't he know about it? "So, you're the commander, but no one told you why I was brought here?"
Commander? Something's not quite right with this kid. "What Gail does in her spare time is none of my business," Jim actually managed to say with a straight face. "I'm concerned about you though. Did she do this?" Jim lightly touched the gash on Gabrielle's head.
Gael? What kind of name was that? "Not personally. I guess her goons knocked me out and brought me here."
Gail has goons? Just then Jim noticed the rope burns around Gabrielle's wrists and began to get a sneaking suspicion as to what this was all about. Hmmm, if I'd have know that she was into this sort of thing, I would have bugged her bedroom a long time ago.
"Do you think she had you brought here to be her slave?" An image of his gentle secretary dressed in black leather and wielding a whip, was running merrily through his mind.
Gabrielle shuddered. "Gods I hope not. I just wish Xena was here."
Jim was pretty sure he had it now. They were doing some role-playing with Gail as Xena and this girl as Gabrielle and apparently things got out of hand. Gail must have gone for help (or maybe just ran away), and the girl was suffering some confusion and memory loss because of the blow to the head. Maybe she never even knew Gail's real name in the first place.
"This Xena, is she tall, with blue eyes and black, wavy hair?"
"Almost, but her hair is straight and long." Doesn't everyone know what Xena looks like?
Hmm, she could have worn a wig. He reached over to her bureau and picked up a framed photograph of Gail and her mother. He showed the picture to Gabrielle, pointing at Gail. "Is this her? Imagine that she has the right sort of hair and clothes."
Gabrielle gawked at the image. She couldn't believe what she saw. She had never met an artist of this caliber before. "Did...did you paint this?" she asked, awe clear in her voice.
Jim was a bit taken aback. That blow must have scrambled her brains more than I thought. "No, of course not. Now focus -- is that her?"
Gabrielle looked more closely at the woman in the incredible painting. She had a lovely smile that actually did remind her a little of Xena. "No, that's not her, not even close. Xena's much bigger." Gabrielle held up her hands to indicate wider shoulders and, after a moment's hesitation, larger breasts. "I've never seen her before in my life."
"So why are you in her bedroom?"
"I told you, I don't know what she wants with me. I was waiting for Xena, and five goons came along and attacked me. They didn't say what their mission was. It seemed pretty clear at the time."
This is making less and less sense. "We need to find Gail."
Gabrielle opened her mouth to protest, but Jim surprised her by slipping an arm around her shoulders and helping her to her feet. His eyes widened a bit when her skirt fell off completely.
"Stay right there," he said as he opened the closet. He quickly found a plum blouse and skirt and handed them to Gabrielle. "If you need any help, I'll be just down the hall," he said and left the room.
Gabrielle found the new outfit very warm and comfortable. The only problem was that her tiny frame swam in the over-sized clothes. This was almost as bad as when she'd tried on Xena's leathers!
Jim had to smile when she came out. A few safety pins later, she looked much more presentable, if a little mismatched in a business suit and hiking boots.
"Now, why don't we go get something to eat and try to figure out what might have happened to Gail?"
Gabrielle's stomach was firmly behind this plan. Gabrielle's mind was still unsure. "What if she tries to hurt me? I don't even have my staff!"
"She won't hurt you, not with me around. Do you trust me?"
She looked into his eyes; he was telling the truth. "Yes, I trust you," she declared, linking her arm in his.
Aphrodite watched Gail defeat the would-be rapists with the satisfaction of a job well done. She gave her little impromptu champion a moment to catch her breath, and prepared to send her and Gabrielle back to their proper times. With any luck, they'd both think it was just some strange dream.
As Gail walked over the spot where she had first appeared, Aphrodite let loose the return spell. Nothing seemed to happen. She tried again. Still no response! One more quick try, which had no better results, and Aphrodite began to have a sinking feeling. She refocused her scrying to where she had sent Gabrielle. The room was empty! She let out a loud and vicious curse and desperately tried to find Gabrielle.
Ares awoke with a start and ran to see what had so upset his lover. He entered the room just as Gabrielle's face appeared. "Aphrodite, sweetheart," he said in a tone of voice more typically reserved for epithets like 'scumbag', "what are you doing with her?"
"For the love of Zeus! This has something to do with that woman you showed me earlier, doesn't it? No wonder I couldn't place her; she's not one of mine at all! If you swapped their places, you've broken the rules by lying to me. I can keep them where they are for as long as I like. Oh, but don't worry -- it won't be long. Just enough time for Xena to return to me."
"But, sweetie, everything's fair in love!" wailed Aphrodite.
"And war, my dear, and war." Ares disappeared with a frightening smile on his face.
"What have I done?" Aphrodite sank to her knees. "This just bites."
Gail wasn't out in the direct sunlight long before she was soaked with sweat. She rolled up the sleeves and pant legs of her gi, but it didn't help much. Her steps became shuffles and her eyes started to glaze over. It is still autumn isn't it? If I've been in some sort of fugue state for months, who knows what kind of damage I've done along the way. Wait a minute -- the weird money, the weird weather -- I think I'm in Australia! That would make some kind of sense. Those men were speaking English. Maybe they were poachers from the outback or something. Now how did I get to Australia?
Gail came upon a village after scarcely an hour of travel. I must be way out in the boonies. There are no telephone wires, no electrical wires, no cars... Gail began to feel distinctly uneasy. She giggled a little and began to hum the Twilight Zone theme under her breath. I've got to get some cooler clothes; I think I'm getting heat stroke.
She entered a store that had a picture of a needle and thread on the sign outside. There didn't seem to be any signs that had actual words on them. She smiled at the shop keeper, a stout middle-aged woman.
"Uh, G'day. I'm from out of town, and I didn't realize what the weather was like around here. I'm looking for some cooler clothes."
The shop keeper looked the curious foreigner over. Foreigners were good to sell to; they didn't know the usual price of anything. She took Gail over to several large bolts of cloth. "Well now, any of these should do you just fine. Nice and light -- cheap too."
Gail stared at the bolts of cloth. Her knowledge of sewing ended somewhere around re-attaching buttons. "I was thinking more along the lines of something already put together," she said with a sheepish grin.
"Ah. Well, I don't get much call for that." The shop keeper thought for a moment and then grinned. Maybe I'll finally be able to get rid of that Amazon outfit. I never should have taken it as barter in the first place, but what are you supposed to do when a poor warrior offers you the clothes off her back to buy her sweetheart something nice for their wedding? She reached into a box and tossed some leather scraps to Gail. "How about this?"
Gail gasped when she untangled the material and realized it was supposed to be an entire outfit. The short, wrap-around skirt might be all right, but the top wasn't much more than a leather bikini. "Don't you have anything a bit more modest?"
"These are genuine Amazon! You can't expect barbarian tribes to dress like priestesses, dear. Besides if it's cooler clothes you want, you'll not do much better than that."
"Oh, well, if it's all you've got..." Gail briefly considered commissioning the lady to make a blouse for her, but decided that she'd rather conclude her business here as quickly as possible. Amazons indeed. "How much would this, um, outfit be?"
"For such a nice young lady, 10 dinars."
I wonder if you're supposed to haggle in Australia? And isn't their currency dollars? "Seven?" Gail responded tentatively.
"I can't do seven. But call it nine and I'll throw in this belt; good to hang your swords on and such."
"How about if I add this?" Gail said indicating her gi. She didn't have any use for it now, and she had no idea how she could get any more coins.
The store owner examined the garment. Good thick material. Of course I'll have to alter the style a lot. "Deal."
Gail hesitantly counted out seven of the strange coins and gingerly handed them over. She had such an odd expression on her face that the merchant looked carefully at her coins to make sure they weren't counterfeit. Everything looked fine. "Would you like to go ahead and put on your new clothes?" she asked gesturing towards the dressing curtain.
"Sure, thanks." Gail went behind a curtain and quickly dressed. She felt mortified; the outfit revealed even more than she had feared. She took a deep breath, straightened her shoulders, and walked out with her head up, determined not to show how exposed she felt.
"There now, don't you look like a real Amazon? Old Methius down the street will sell you some sandals, and you'll be all set. Now, if you'll be needing a place to stay, Dagnine can put you up at his inn, but watch his wine -- that's some potent stuff. Anyway, now he's also the local priest of Hermes, so he'll try to overcharge you, but you just say that you know his rooms aren't worth more than three dinars, meals included, and he'll back right down." The woman prattled on, content that she'd made a good bargain with this nice young lady, even if she was a foreigner.
"Excuse me," Gail interrupted, "did you say Her-...I'm not in Australia, am I?"
"Australia? Goodness, child, I never heard of the place. You're about a half a day's walk out of Poteideia to the south. Stagirus is to the north. Maybe if you asked Dagnine, he'd know about this Australia you're looking for -- he travels more than me.
Gail didn't spend much more time in the small village, which was called Olynthus. She paid two dinars for a nice pair of sandals and had an entire hot meal for just one dinar. Since she was used to being tall, she hadn't quite noticed how much she towered over the villagers. Had she realized just how intimidating a six foot tall woman wearing Amazon clothing was to the average townsperson, she would have been much less surprised by what good bargains she struck. No one there seemed to know anything about Australia, America, Chicago or psychiatry, but they'd all said, as politely as possible, that she should go north to the big city.
Xena arrived at the cave in good spirits. She had picked a bouquet of wild flowers for Gabrielle (she had to do something while Argo grazed) and was very much looking forward to seeing her sweet, young friend again. Her nose picked up on the blood before her eyes could take in the scene.
Oh please no! Xena ran into the cave and frantically looked for Gabrielle. Five dead men, but no Gabrielle. That Gabrielle wasn't there was very much a mixed blessing. She would never kill, but these men are very -
The unconscious man picked a particularly bad time to wake up.
"You! Tell me what happened to the girl!" Xena pinched off the man's jugular out of reflex.
"We were going to ... take ... her. She ... hit ... me with," he nodded toward Gabrielle's staff.
Xena noticed the ropes on the ground and understood exactly which meaning of 'take her' these men had intended. Something very dark came over her as she picked up Gabrielle's staff and cradled it. She couldn't even hear as the man gasped for release with his dying breath.
Xena came back to herself after a short while. She didn't feel any regret for killing the man, but had she been thinking straight, she would have kept him alive for further questioning. Xena searched the cave carefully and found all Gabrielle's equipment tucked away under a ledge in the back. More importantly, she also found a set of tracks leading out. She was probably giving herself room for staff practice, then the men charged her. She took down that one, but then? Right now I'm going to have to assume that Gabrielle was rescued by someone who carried her out towards Olynthus. At least that makes sense...if she needs a doctor. Xena almost choked at the thought. She made it to Olynthus in record time.
In Olynthus, the trail began to get cold. No one at the inn had seen anyone fitting Gabrielle's description. There had been some excitement earlier that day by an Amazon passing through, but Xena hadn't attached much importance to that at the time. If an Amazon had rescued Gabrielle, she would have certainly stopped in this town. However, their only healer had not had a patient all day.
Xena lost some time riding all the way to Poteideia. It was certainly the most likely place for Gabrielle to have gone if she wasn't injured. Xena steeled herself to face Gabrielle's family, but was saved from that fate by overhearing Gabrielle's sister talking to a friend.
"At least your brother just has falling sickness. My sister is completely irrational. She left to meet up with her ex-warlord, oh excuse me, great warrior for truth and justice, this morning. She just left us, like she didn't have a care in the world. Of course, she doesn't have to worry that the next time she'll see her sister it'll be at her funeral."
Lila's words hit home with Xena, but she didn't have time to talk to Gabrielle's family now. How could I have been so stupid? The Amazon! Melosa's tribe may be the largest around, but there are still other tribes who want their hunting grounds. Kidnapping a princess would give them an awfully good bargaining chip.
Xena sped back through Olynthus. The villagers there had said the Amazon had gone north on foot. She had a good head start, but Xena had a warhorse on her side and was determined to find this woman before she got Gabrielle locked away in some hidden Amazon camp.
"What kind of food do you like?"
Gabrielle couldn't stop a huge smile from breaking over her face. "Lots."
Jim grunted in amusement. He walked over to his car and opened the driver's side door. Gabrielle was staring at the car with a puzzled expression on her face. Jim put on a polite smile, walked around the car, and opened the passenger side door for her. "Get in. I know a nearby restaurant that has gigantic portions." The trip would also take them along a likely route that Gail might have followed if she had fled her home.
Gabrielle got into the huge carriage. Jim closed the door after her, sealing her in. She was completely surrounded by metal and glass. It was quite unnerving. He opened the other door and sat down beside her. "Um, where do the horses..." she began, then ended with a startled scream. Another carriage had gone by. There were no horses attached at all.
"What?" Jim asked after he had started the car and backed onto the road. The girl didn't reply. She was staring straight ahead. I hope she's not going into shock. A hospital would ask some awfully awkward questions.
Gabrielle felt like she'd been bathed in cold water. She wondered if the things she was seeing could possibly be real. They rode past rows of houses unlike any she'd ever seen. They were made of strange materials --even the wooden ones didn't look quite right -- and every one had a horseless carriage in front of it. They pulled onto a larger road and picked up speed. The buildings went by faster and faster. Gabrielle didn't think she had ever moved at such speed before. There were some signs, but she couldn't read the language. Some of the letters looked familiar, but their arrangements didn't make any sense. Where am I? I don't think even Xena has ever traveled this far. She never described anything like this. They obviously have a lot of magic. They speak Greek, or at least Jim does, but they write with strange characters. China, maybe? Gabrielle knew very little about China, but tales of their strange written language that was very difficult for foreigners to understand, their powerful magics like black powder, and their wise scholars had reached her. It seemed as good a guess as any.
Gabrielle watched the bizarre scenery zip by. Soon she had an even more pressing problem. "I'm going to throw up!"
Jim managed to pull over and stop the car astonishingly quickly. The deceleration provided the final lurch to send Gabrielle's stomach over the edge. Jim leaned over and opened her door just in time.
After a fairly long while, she was down to dry heaves. "Have you ever been carsick before?" Jim was pretty sure that nausea was a symptom of concussion.
Karsik? Maybe it's their word for 'vomiting'. "Yeah, sometimes. I think moving too fast is the problem. I don't even like horses."
"You won't find too many of those in Chicago. Listen, let's change the plan. We'll go back to Gail's house. You can get cleaned up, we'll order in some food and wait for Gail to come home."
The trip back was made with no further incidents. Jim was feeling frustrated that they hadn't seen any sign of Gail during the excursion, but at least the girl seemed unlikely to die on him.
"Mandarin should deliver out this far. Do you like Chinese food?"
Gabrielle smiled. At least she was correct about being in China. "I don't know; I haven't eaten anything around here."
Jim called the restaurant and ordered two dishes and two appetizers. That should fill her up again. While he was on the phone, she got that same puzzled expression as when he had shown her Gail's picture and when she had gotten into his car.
"Why were you talking into that -"
"Don't tell me you've never seen a phone before."
"Phone? No, I don't think we have them where I'm from. How does it work?"
"Never mind that. Where are you from anyway?"
"Poteideia," Gabrielle replied then felt a little silly. You couldn't expect even a Chinese scholar to know about every little town. "It's kind of near Amphipolis, maybe two days hard ride."
This just gets better and better. She really believes it. They may have been playing at first, but now she is completely convinced that she is Gabrielle of Poteideia. So what do I do with her now?
Let's do a list of things I know. The village I was just in had no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and no telephones. The people spend crude coins known as dinars. They speak English, and they believe in Amazons and Greek gods. This does not fit with any culture on the planet at this time. Therefore, I have lost my mind. Q.E.D.
Maybe the shopkeeper was crazy -- maybe the rest of them don't believe in the Greek stuff. I could just be several hundred years in the past. In England maybe, before Australia was founded. Unfortunately, if that's what I think has happened, I have still clearly lost -
Gail's thoughts were interrupted at this point by a strong hand swiftly latching onto her arm and pulling her into the forest. She was spun around and her back pinned against a tree by a muscular female body. A hand clamped firmly across her mouth, and a pair of ice blue eyes stared into hers seeming to radiate carefully controlled rage.
The woman spoke: "Now, I'm going to remove my hand, and you're going to immediately start telling me what happened to Gabrielle. You're not going to call for help, and you're not going to pretend that you don't know anything, because I am just not in the mood." She punctuated the last bit of her statement by shaking Gail hard enough to bang her head against the tree with each word. Then she removed her hand.
Gail took a shaky breath and stole a quick look at her attacker. She was tall and muscular, dressed in armor, and had a sword, a whip, and a shiny round weapon that tickled a memory somewhere in the back of Gail's brain. Gail met her eyes. "Please...please tell me what this Gabrielle looks like, because I haven't known anyone with that name since I was a child."
"Ga-bri-elle," the woman enunciated impatiently, "you know, the princess. Now I promised Melosa that I would treat all Amazons with respect, but so help me, I will cut off the flow of blood to your brain if you don't start talking now!"
Gail realized two things: 1) she's deadly serious and 2) she's at least as crazy as me. Maybe I can correct one of her delusions. "I'm not an Amazon! I've never even met one. Especially not a princess!"
"You're not an Amazon. Well well, that would mean that you probably don't have a partner somewhere in these trees with a crossbow aimed at my head, hmm?" the woman purred.
Gail began to seriously doubt the wisdom of her last statement. She wondered what the odds were that she would be able to reach her sai before this crazy warrior cut her in two. She felt they were stacked soundly against her. She needs me alive now. If I play along, at least I'll have a hope of escape later. "Um, yeah. I guess that's right."
"I didn't actually think you were," the woman coolly replied, straightening up and moving away from Gail, "you didn't move like an Amazon. You stayed to the road, not the trees. Your hair's too short. You're wearing sandals instead of boots." She waved her hand to indicate she could go on further if Gail needed more proof. "I know you were telling the truth now. If you had lied about anything, you'd have lied then." The woman paused for a moment. "Actually, you look like some village woman's idea of an Amazon. Is that it -- you're running away hoping to join them?"
Gail decided that now was a dandy time to start lying. "That's right. I'm a good fighter," she indicated her swords. "I'm strong and quick. But that's not good for much in my village if you're a woman. My name is Gail."
"Gael? I've never heard a name like that before. It must have a story behind it. You certainly did quite a job on those men in the cave. I'm Xena." She held out her arm for a warrior's handshake.
Gail managed to fake the handshake, but her mind was spinning. Now she could just be named after the famous warrior...the famous warrior that a famous bard named Gabrielle wrote about. Gail began to feel cold. This wasn't just a suspicion that she had lost her mind. This was proof. Her every sense was telling her that she was standing in a forest talking to Xena, the Warrior Princess. And that was just impossible.
Watching Gabrielle eat was something of an education. Not only did she ignore the chopsticks he'd placed next to her plate, she also ignored the fork. She used her bare fingers to pop meat, rice, and vegetables into her mouth with considerable zeal. Even though Jim ate just enough to take the edge off his hunger, they finished the meal in no time.
"You don't remember anything else beside traveling with Xena and having adventures?"
"Of course I do. I remember my childhood in Poteideia, my family, all the stories I heard when I was young. It's important to have a good memory if you're a bard."
"But don't you remember anything else? Like going to high school, watching movies, eating with a fork..."
"I did go to a high school -- the Academy of Performing Bards. I don't know of any schools more respected than that. But I didn't stay. I couldn't give up being with Xena. The adventures I have with her are even more interesting than stories I make up myself."
Jim felt that they were going around in circles. He had to say this for the kid -- she was stubborn. Breaking her out of this delusion was getting to be quite a challenge.
"What language do you use when you write your scrolls?"
"How many other languages do you know?"
"Just Greek, some dialects, um, Xena taught me a little Latin. I know if I had stayed at the Academy I would have learned more but -"
"Then how do you explain that we're speaking English right now?"
"I'm not. I'm speaking Greek," Gabrielle said but started sounding unsure when she saw how Jim was looking at her.
Jim brought her a pencil and paper. "What's the Greek word for 'woman'?"
Gabrielle carefully spelled 'γυναικα'.
"Can't you feel that you're saying a shorter word than that?"
Gabrielle's brain started to hurt. She could feel that there was a difference between what she was thinking and what she was saying but she couldn't understand what was going on. "What's happening to me?"
"You're confused because you got knocked on the head. What you think you remember is really just some fantasy that you and Gail came up with. So you and I are going to stick together until you remember who you really are and what happened to Gail."
"Wait -- a fantasy? No..."
"Yes. You and Gail were just pretending to be the bard and warrior who lived 3000 years ago. It wasn't real."
"But I remember it so clearly! 3000 years?" Gabrielle's head was really pounding now. How could her whole life have been a dream? How could she really belong here where everything was so unfamiliar? Please, she prayed to anyone who was listening, help me!
"Tell me everything you remember."
"I was practicing with my swords in my uh, home village and the next thing I know, I'm in a cave with these four uncouth men. After I'd finished with them, I noticed the fifth unconscious in the back, but I never saw a woman. I did notice the ropes," Gail checked Xena's face for a reaction but saw none, "and the staff, but I didn't think much of it at the time. I followed a path back down to the road and tried to find my way home."
"It doesn't make any sense! If Gabrielle had escaped, she would have gone back to Poteideia, but she's not there. If she had been rescued by someone else, you wouldn't have had to dispose of those men. And if they had killed her, they wouldn't have stayed there after getting rid of her body."
Gail couldn't fail to notice the quiver in Xena's voice then. "I'm sure she's fine. She must just be somewhere you haven't looked yet."
"It's true -- there is one other family I need to check. If an Amazon rescued her, she might have taken her to Melosa's village. Come on, we might as well travel there together."
"Gabrielle is really an Amazon?"
"Gabrielle is the Amazon princess." Xena said it matter of factly, but she felt a strong wave of pride. "That only happened recently though; I don't think she's had time to write any tales about it. Say, are you familiar with her stories?"
"Uh, yes. Yes am I. I think I've read all of them."
"She'd be proud to hear that. They're even better when she performs them though. Which one is your favorite?"
Gail decided to play it safe. "I think the first one is still my favorite. You deciding to seek redemption and saving her village like that. It's a very powerful story."
"What she probably didn't write was that it was her bravery that inspired me to act. I'm not really surprised that she hasn't finished the Amazon story yet. She doesn't like to write about herself."
"Well she's a bard. They're supposed to write stories about heroes, not become heroes themselves. You really miss her, don't you?"
Xena shot Gail kind of a nasty look. "She's a sweet, young girl. I just want to be sure she's safe."
"Okay, I understand. I have people I miss too. I was supposed to see my mother tonight; she really looks forward to my visits. It's funny -- she's the one who's sick, but she's more concerned with making sure I'm all right. I guess that's just how mothers are. You know how it is when you see your son."
Xena felt the blood drain from her face. "What did you say?" she asked in a low, threatening voice.
Gail realized that she'd made a mistake, but she didn't know how to take it back. "Your son -- Gabrielle wrote about how you had to leave him with the cen-"
Xena grabbed Gail by the throat. "Gabrielle doesn't know. Even if she did, she would never write a story about it for the whole world to hear. Who are you? What are you doing here? Talk!"
This was different than the first time Xena grabbed her. Then, she had seemed angry but was in control. Now, Xena looked like she just wanted an excuse to hurt someone. Gail did the only thing she could think of -- she told the truth.
"I'm - I'm from the future. Far in the future. About 3000 years I'd say. Gabrielle's scrolls are still around; I've read them. She eventually does find out about Solon. She writes a story about it. Maybe she doesn't let anyone but you see it, I don't know, but she does write it."
"The future...so if you were transported into the cave, does that mean Gabrielle is where you were?"
Gail was stunned. "You believe me?"
"You're too scared to lie. Now is Gabrielle safe?"
"Yeah, I don't see why she wouldn't be." On reflection, Gail decided to keep the dangers of electricity and motor vehicles to herself. "I can't believe you're just accepting that I'm from the future. If you showed up in my living room, I'd have you carted away to the funny farm before you could say 'chakram'."
"I've seen the gods meddle in people's lives firsthand. This is certainly one of their doing. Probably Artemis, since Gabrielle is her princess. Usually I'd be upset, but under the circumstances, I probably owe her a debt of gratitude."
They set out for Melosa's village, since an Amazon priestess would be the most likely person to get Artemis's attention. After a while, the silence began to get to Xena. When she was alone she was fine, but having someone walking next to her not talking seemed wrong somehow.
"Why don't you tell me some stories about the future or something?"
"I'm not much of a storyteller. And if you're used to having Gabrielle of Poteideia as your pet bard -"
"She's not my pet! She's a sweet, young girl."
"I - I just meant that I'd be a big disappointment in the storytelling department after her."
"Oh. Well, what's different about the future then?"
"I don't know. There are no Amazons for one thing. No centaurs, satyrs, dryads..."
"Wait, slow down. What happens to the Amazons and centaurs, and the others? What about my son?"
"They never really" Rephrase! "I mean, we don't have any solid evidence that they ever existed. I think they found a few graves that had women buried with their weapons and stuff, but there's never been any sort of half man-half horse skeleton found. I once read an interesting paper that argued that your son became the Athenian legislator who abolished slavery, but I don't know if that's true."
"My son abolished slavery," Xena whispered in awe. She shook her head. "I just can't believe Artemis would let the Amazons die out."
"Well, as for the gods, no one really believes in them anymore. We still have religions but they're mostly monotheistic."
"I've met some Israelites -- that's what they believe, isn't it?"
"Right. What do you believe?"
"All I know is that I've met more than one god."
Gail didn't have much to say to that, so there was silence again. Much to her chagrin, Xena found herself filling it. The anecdotes, generally about Gabrielle, were never stories exactly and were not very skillfully told, but they made her feel better.
Gail felt envious at the relative ease Xena adapted to their situation. As soon as she had been told Gabrielle was safe, that was it. She became an eager traveling companion focused on getting Gabrielle back. Of course, Xena didn't have to adapt to a 3000 year time shift, to eating trail rations she could barely identify, to an unexpected camping trip with wild animals all around. I shouldn't worry so much anyway. This can't possibly be real, can it?
Long before Gail's time, the Greek gods removed themselves from direct contact with our world. Most of the races now only considered myths were in fact chosen by the gods to accompany them to their new home. Artemis took her Amazons, Bacchus his Baccae, and so forth. The only god who did not leave our world was Ares, but his imprisonment rendered him completely powerless.
The gods can still monitor our world in their new home outside our dimension, but as their believers die out, most lose any ability to affect anything that happens here. As religions wax and wane, different gods gain slight amounts of power depending on the concentration of belief in areas they once controlled.
With the late 20th century upswing in moon goddess worship, Artemis was faring better than most. She heard Gabrielle's prayer, but undoing a spell Aphrodite wove when she was in her prime was certainly beyond her power now. The best she could do was to send Gabrielle a dream. In it, she appeared as a white hart and said: "Do not be afraid my little princess. Your mind is sound and your memories are true. Have faith in Xena; she will not fail you. Be helpful and inquisitive. I will watch over you."
Of course, Artemis could 'watch' Gabrielle just fine -- she just didn't have enough power to actually help her. The man that was lurking nearby could be trouble. Still, Artemis was reasonably sure everything had worked out in the past. There was no reason to suspect it wouldn't go equally smoothly this time around.
Jim had waited until Gabrielle was safely asleep in Gail's guestroom to seriously investigate Gail's bedroom. He found nothing suspicious, which was rather vexing. No rope, no blunt weapons, nothing even to indicate a struggle. Think like Gail. You've done something stupid; you're scared, you...you go to the only person you can tell. You go to me.
Jim made sure Gabrielle was really asleep before he headed to his apartment. He had so expected to find some message from Gail there that he was almost stunned when there was none. He caught a minimal amount of sleep and then began preparations for the next day. Whether he liked it or not, he was going to have to use the girl. Rescheduling the service wasn't an option, and Kelly Woodward would want to see the body. He acquired the supplies he would need and returned to Gail's home.
Gabrielle slept soundly until Jim woke her for breakfast. She felt calm and refreshed. After some thought about the discussion with Jim last night, Gabrielle felt that the most likely explanation was that she had be transported to the future by some god. She could tell that Jim would never believe that -- maybe the gods don't do such things anymore -- but the dream of the white hart stuck with her. Artemis was watching over her, and no matter where she was, she felt sure that she would see Xena again.
The breakfast Jim had prepared was unusual, messy (she continued to ignore the fork, but didn't miss the syrup for the pancakes), and not really filling, but she didn't complain.
"I bought you something to wear today." Jim showed her a nice black suit and matching shoes. "Why don't you get washed up, then you can try it on." He led Gabrielle to the bathroom.
"You just pull up here and turn these knobs to fill up the tub. Yes, the water is already heated; isn't that amazing. Here's a towel, some soap, shampoo for your hair..."
"It'll be weird to bathe alone. Xena likes for us to bathe together."
"I'll bet she does."
"She says it's safer."
"Mmm. Hurry up -- we've got a busy day today."
Jim had watched Gabrielle as she ate breakfast. She seemed incapable of keeping still for longer that 20 seconds at a stretch. There was nothing for it. He tidied himself up and had everything ready for her when she came out of the bath.
She looked good in the suit. She was still a little young for the role she had to fill, but makeup could take care of that. He handed her a pill. "This is cyanide. Swallow it; it's good for you."
Gabrielle shrugged and swallowed the pill. The room soon became blurry. Gabrielle couldn't keep her eyes open. She felt herself pitch forward. Jim caught her and sat her on the couch, careful not to wrinkle the suit.
Before Gail awoke, Xena left for a brief scouting trip. She got held up a bit by a wild boar, but at least now they'd have some fresh meat. As soon as she entered the campsite though, she felt that something was wrong.
"Did anything happen while I was away?"
Gail swallowed. "I was breaking camp and packing everything onto Argo. I heard three people coming so I knew it wasn't you. I never hear you coming at all. I hid in this tree and watched as they grabbed whatever they saw. They took the cooking pot, Gabrielle's blankets, the trail rations, I don't know what else."
"Well that's not too bad. It doesn't sound like they got anything important." Xena thought for a moment then looked briefly panicked. She pawed through the saddlebags quickly then relaxed. "Gabrielle's scrolls are still here. I don't want to think about what she'd do if she came back and they were gone. Why didn't you stand up to the thieves? They probably would have run off if you had."
"I don't know. I guess I was just afraid. It wasn't like in the cave. Then I felt full of energy and even bloodlust. Now I don't know what I feel. Lost. It's not like I'd have been risking my life anyway."
"Now I wouldn't go that far. Some of these rogues put up a good fight. You should be careful."
"That's not what I mean. See, I'm not really here."
Xena raised an eyebrow.
"I'm really in a padded room somewhere. There are probably a bunch of doctors tending to me and trying to break me out of my psychoses. This is all just a really weird dream. I bet that it was brought on by that big billboard advertising the Xena TV miniseries that I see on the way to work each morning. I have a really stressful job too, so I guess I just snapped." Gail seemed almost happy as she explained this.
"Alright, if it's a dream then change it. Make it so our stuff wasn't stolen or give me green hair or something. Make yourself wake up."
"I don't think you can do that with these sort of dreams. I think they just have to run their course."
If she keeps believing that she's in a dream, she's going to be next to useless in figuring out how to get Gabrielle back. Before really thinking about it, Xena drew her arm back and gave Gail a swift punch to the midsection. It wasn't hard enough to knock her down, but it was certainly hard enough to get her undivided attention. "Does that feel like a dream to you?"
"Maybe a nightmare," Gail gasped.
"Now understand that there are plenty more where that came from. Get that nonsense about being in a dream out of your head and concentrate on helping me undo this." Xena cocked back her arm again. "You are 3000 years in the past, like you said before, right?"
"Good girl. Now walk; we've still got a day and a half before we reach Amazon territory."
Jim was beginning to admire Gail's taste in women. Gail's little friend was strong willed, but oh so trusting. She would have actually taken cyanide just because she's convinced herself she doesn't know what it is.
The drug he had really given her was a powerful anesthetic and muscle relaxant. He actually didn't think he could have manufactured a better looking corpse if he'd tried. She seemed at peace, yet her small body in the coffin (the large coffin, since it had been chosen for Gail) would be quite moving.
Gail was an excellent computer hacker, and she recently became one of the very few people who knew the real life identity of the Key, probably the most powerful hacker in the world. Unfortunately, she only got that information by falling into a trap. Her best account for stashing funds was compromised and the Key, a.k.a. Kelly Woodward, was coming for her.
The good news was that Kelly Woodward had no way of knowing that Beatrice Palmer wasn't a real person. Gail had been scrupulous about establishing that identity. As Kelly got closer and closer, Gail and Jim waited until the last possible moment. Then, Beatrice Palmer committed suicide. Her will had left all her money to certain charities that Kelly supported.
The bad news was that Kelly Woodward wasn't stupid. She was going to make damned good and sure that she attended Beatrice Palmer's funeral. This necessitated an open casket, a sermon, the whole production number.
Fortunately, Jim was good at production numbers. He had posed as a movie producer and rented a funeral home, "for a few days of shooting". He had hired a few mourners and a minister, but no one Gail knew. That could be awkward. Then, on the eve of the big event, he had been short one star.
This will work, he thought making the final touches to Gabrielle's makeup. Maybe even better than it would have with Gail. After all, at the end of this, Kelly Woodward won't know what Gail really looks like.
After getting up before dawn, hiding from thieves, eating badly cooked boar's meat for breakfast, walking five straight hours and hearing way too much about Gabrielle, Gail was feeling a little crabby. "Can't we at least stop long enough to take a bath? I feel filthy."
Xena sniffed in Gail's general direction. "You smell fine."
"My hair is oily. My legs are all stubbly. You know, Gabrielle didn't mention that Xena the great warrior had hairy legs."
"We're not pampered royalty -- Gabrielle's legs are hairy too."
"Oh, but I'll bet that her leg hairs glimmer in the firelight."
Xena felt that she was being mocked; she just wasn't sure why. What's worse, she had noticed that they glimmered, just a little bit. "She's a sweet, young girl."
"Xena, do you know what a mantra is?"
"It's a kind of fish." Xena said with such an air of 'Take that, Miss Know It All from the Future' that Gail didn't dare burst her bubble.
What the hell. "Xena, there's something I've always wondered..."
"Not just me actually; most everyone wonders..." Gail trailed off. Suddenly this didn't seem like such a good idea.
"Well, it's just that running through the scrolls there's a distinct subtext, you might say, that kind of leaves open the possibility...it's almost like Gabrielle's playing a game with her audience, never really wanting to answer the question one way or the other."
"And what question would that be?" Xena calmly asked, mentally commending herself for her patience.
Too late to turn back now. "Um, are you two lovers?"
"Are you and Gab-"
"I heard you!"
"Oh, well, it's not important. I was just curious, and you know, as long as I was here, 3000 years in the past, I thought I'd ask..."
"Of course not!"
"No! Well, 3000 years of literary speculation finally resolved. Let's move on to something else. How do you think the Amazons -"
"She's a sweet, young girl!"
"Ah. Well, that settles -"
"She just turned 18."
"Right. Well, I -"
Xena's eyes took on a distinctly far away look. "We were traveling on her birthday, but I'd been saving our money, and I managed to ride ahead and rent us a nice room at an inn. I had them bring her more nutbread than even she could eat, and I bought her a scroll case specially coated to keep water out. You should have seen her; she was so happy."
Oh my God -- she's blushing. She's actually blushing. Gail began to feel a little uncomfortable. The idea that all the speculation might actually be true (even if it wasn't true yet) was not something she wanted to think about at any length right now. "I'm sure you'd never do anything, uh, inappropriate with her."
"Exactly!" Xena said, a bit too enthusiastically, "I'd sooner cut off my right arm than do anything to hurt Gabrielle."
Somehow this didn't fully reassure Gail.
Kelly Woodward arrived at the funeral home right on time. She lingered a bit before the coffin, then lowered her head and took a seat alone.
The funeral featured a surprisingly well conducted service. The actor playing the minister had been fully convinced that any slip-ups in this 'dress rehearsal' would lead to his immediate dismissal from the cast. Too bad that there wasn't really going to be a movie. I'll have to keep him in mind though, for future use. He's very good.
Gabrielle did just fine as well. Her breathing was shallow but steady, and the makeup added enough age to approach the 30 years Gail had established.
After the sermon, the pall bearers closed the coffin and carried it into the back room. Jim had slipped away moments earlier and was already waiting there. He indicated an identical coffin for them to load onto the hearse.
Once they had left with the second coffin, Jim opened the lid of the first so Gabrielle wouldn't suffocate. He'd have to leave her here until after the burial, but she should be fine. Her pulse was strong and her breathing was steady. There was no need to worry about her.
Every once in a while, even Jim can miss an important detail. There's a reason that anesthesiology is among the best paying of all medical specialties. Calculating exactly the right dose to give someone is crucial and something of a fine art. If you're off too much one way, your patient wakes up in the middle of surgery; the other and the patient may never awaken at all.
A good anesthesiologist would have taken Gabrielle's high metabolism into account. She woke up shortly after the switch had been made. She was groggy, dazed, and hungry. Gaah! I'm in a coffin! Gabrielle clamored out and tried to piece together what had happened. Her last clear memory was bathing in the amazing tub with all the sweet smelling soap. The shampoo had smelled so tasty she even drank a tiny sip -- definitely not recommended.
She left the dark room and coffin behind and went in search of Jim. She stumbled across a bathroom first and examined herself in the mirror. There's something wrong with my face. I look ten years older. Gabrielle scrubbed her face thoroughly and was quite relieved to see a much more familiar version of herself appear. The scrubbing left her face a little raw, but that was all right. She thought that she could hear voices coming from further down the hall. She headed towards them still wondering what in Hades was going on around here.
Jim thought that his heart was going to stop when Gabrielle stumbled through the door. He tried to intercept her, but Kelly was closer.
One thing that people misunderstand about Kelly is that she isn't cold-hearted. She may be relentless and have an almost telepathic link with computers, but she is also part of a large, loving family. Her older sister, Karen plays a particularly large role in her life. Her heart just twisted with grief looking at the girl, obviously Beatrice's younger sister.
The poor thing. Her face is red from crying and she looks positively stunned. Kelly stepped forward. "I'm so sorry for your loss. Believe me, I had no idea that this would happen. I hope my presence here doesn't offend you; you must hate me."
Gabrielle hugged Kelly, partly to comfort her obvious distress and partly to steady her own balance. Still quite muzzy, Gabrielle thought she was talking about Xena. "I could never hate anyone. I'm sure she's doing fine where she is, and she'll wait for me."
Kelly was overcome with emotion. She made a beeline for the exit.
"That was very good," Jim said as he approached Gabrielle from behind, "but you should have stayed where I left you."
"You didn't tell me to, and I got hungry. What's going on here anyway? I was in a coffin!"
"We've got to attend the burial now -- I'll explain on the way."
Jim drove quite slowly to avoid bringing on another bout of carsickness and explained in very general terms how they were burying an empty coffin to protect Gail. He was surprised at how accepting Gabrielle was to the scheme. It was almost like she was used to being bossed around and not having things fully explained to her. Funny, he'd never suspected Gail would be into that sort of thing.
The burial itself went flawlessly. Kelly didn't even show up. Of course, he was going to have to create an identity for 'Gabrielle Palmer' as soon as possible, but that was just a small annoyance compared to the massive good news that the girl could be trusted to help out for the time being. She kept herself together even though she was drugged, and she's naive enough to trust me completely. Even Gail knows better than that.
Both Xena and Gail were having difficulty getting to sleep. They had put in a hard day of traveling, but traveling only tires out the body. Their minds were fully awake and brimming with troubling thoughts. Gail was both trying to find some detail to convince herself that she wasn't really in ancient Greece, and trying to accept that she might really be there. Xena had been bothered by one thought all day.
"Yeah?" Gail tried to sound sleepy. She really, really hoped that the big warrior wasn't getting ready to come on to her.
"I was wondering...what in her scrolls made you think that Gabrielle and I were lovers?"
A little better, but still not exactly the subject I want to talk about while lying less than an inch away from her. Well, I guess started it. "Oh, I don't know. It's been so long since I've read them."
Xena's disappointed scowl encouraged Gail to rack her brain. "Well, there's the fishing scene. Where you and Gabrielle take off all your clothes, get into a lake and you uh, teach her how to fish."
"What in Hades is romantic about that?"
"A lot of scholars see it as a metaphor. There's traditional symbolism between water & sex and fish & women, you see."
"No, Gabrielle had just always wanted to do it, so I showed her how."
"Right, that's pretty much exactly what she wrote. But if you go by the symbols, what you showed her how to do was have sex with women."
Xena laughed. "I think your scholars spend too much time studying. I remember that day. The only hidden agenda I had was to get Gabrielle to help with the hunting."
"Really? I wrote a paper once on how you're always throwing fish at her or dangling fish in her face..." At this point Xena was looking at Gail like she was a pervert.
"We like fish. Can you remember anything else?"
Gail tried to recover. "Let's see, the most blatant line I remember goes something like 'It was loving. It was tender. It was intense.' She never said what 'it' was, but it happened on-" Gail decided that finishing that sentence with 'her wedding day' was probably not the wisest plan. "On a day that was important to her. You know, I probably shouldn't tell you about things that are supposed to happen in your future."
"Because knowing might cause you to act differently and change it. Who knows what kind of repercussions that could have?"
"Can't you tell me how it all ends?" Xena's cool exterior seemed forced.
Gail shook her head. "We don't really know how it ends. The last story we have is a pretty standard one. Gabrielle overcomes her fear of horses and heights to ride a pegasus in to save the day."
Xena's face was a mask, unreadable. "So it just ends. One day she's here; the next she's gone."
"No! I mean, we don't know. The only scrolls that we're sure about are the ones from the Athenian library. Those seem to tell about your earliest adventures. There have been other discoveries, sometimes in batches, sometimes one scroll at a time, but they take decades to be authenticated. Even that last one that I told you about is now presumed by many to be a fake, even though it was in the library."
"Why would someone fake a scroll?"
"It was probably an archaeologist seeking glory. Finding a new Gabrielle scroll would certainly make a career. I hope it's not saying too much to tell you that where I'm from Gabrielle is regarded as one of the founding pillars of our literature."
Gail couldn't fail to notice the warm smile that spread across Xena's face at that. "Anyway, Xena, you can tell that she loved every moment she spent with you. No matter what you taught her at the lake."
Xena cuffed Gail playfully, perhaps a little harder than was necessary. Gail retaliated and a spirited tickle fight later both women were feeling much more at ease with each other. Gail fell asleep in Xena's arms and didn't feel the least bit weird about it in the morning.
For dinner, Jim decided to pamper Gabrielle. He was going to have to take her to work with him tomorrow. He had been worried about that before the funeral. On one hand, several deals he had been working on were delicate enough that he needed to be there in person to close them. On the other hand, he didn't want to let the girl out of his sight for the whole day, and he hadn't been sure that she was sane enough to be around crowds of people.
He decided to take her to a Greek restaurant as a final test. It was a rather ritzy place, and Gabrielle was delighted. She was even able to read the menu since the dishes were also listed in Greek. They ordered three different appetizers, which Gabrielle ate all by herself. For the main course, Jim managed to steer her towards souvlaki, a wrapped dish that is okay to eat with your fingers. She seems a little disappointed that she can't talk to the waiter in Greek, but I suppose that's just as well. Since she's convinced that she only knows Ancient Greek, she'd probably ask the equivalent of 'Hast thou any baklava'.
Gabrielle did ask the waiter for another helping, which startled him a bit. "Where are you putting it all?"
Gabrielle grinned. That was a question she was very familiar with. "I have hollow legs."
She finished off the second helping of souvlaki, had two desserts, and they were ready to go. "The food was wonderful, but are you sure you have enough dinars? With all we ate, I bet it'll come to 7 or 8. They don't have a bard though; maybe they'd let me work-"
"Don't worry -- I'll take care of it. See this card? I keep all my dinars in a safe place. They write down the card number and that lets them take as much money as I owe."
"Doesn't that get confusing?"
"It can, but that's one thing Gail's good at -- making sure the numbers always come out in my favor."
I really shouldn't play into her delusions like that. But when you find someone so easy to manipulate, it's a moral imperative to do so.
Jim and Gabrielle didn't talk in the car on the way back to Gail's house. Gabrielle had found that if she shut her eyes and sat very still, she could almost pretend that she wasn't moving at all.
Gabrielle slept in the guest room again that night. She seemed comfortable enough there, and the bloodstain in Gail's bed went all the way down to the mattress. Jim hung her suit up carefully; she'd need to wear it again tomorrow. He then injected himself with a careful amount of amphetamines and worked all night establishing an identity for Gabrielle Palmer as well as tying up some loose ends with tomorrow's business deals.
"You know, you'll still probably need to join the Amazons if you want to get back home."
Gail was surprised. I'm no warrior. "Why?"
"That's who Artemis is most likely to help -- Amazons and virgins. I don't suppose..."
"Amazons it is then. Xena, is it true that they cut off their right breasts to be better archers?"
"What? No. Most of the Amazons I know would seriously object to that. And not just for themselves; they want their partners to be fully endowed too."
"Oh. Um, so it's true that they're mostly lesbians?"
"No. Well, there's one named Jala; I think she's a Lesbian. The rest are all from the mainland as far as I know."
Gail gritted her teeth a little. I think she did that on purpose.
"Gael! Make the peace sign like I showed you. Here they come."
They were quickly surrounded by Amazons fully decked out in war masks. Xena recognized Solari as she stepped forward. "Xena, you are welcome in Amazon territory. But where is Princess Gabrielle? And who is your new companion -- an emissary from another tribe?"
"This is Gael; she's not an Amazon but she helped save Gabrielle's life and now wants to join your tribe. Gabrielle is missing, but I have an idea of how Melosa can help us get her back."
"I'll escort you to the village immediately."
Xena left Gail with Solari and went to tell Melosa about their situation. Melosa offerred to begin Gail's initiation right away and to have the high priestess speak to Artemis on their behalf. Xena couldn't help but feel relieved that Melosa was obviously concerned about Gabrielle and was willing to do whatever was necessary to get her back unharmed.
When Xena returned, she noticed that Solari was standing considerably closer to Gail. She was just in time to overhear Solari say:
"I like you. You're tall...smart...you know, you could spend the night with me instead of in one of those drafty old guest huts."
Gail opened her mouth to reply, but no sound came out. She closed it, opened it, and tried again. "Th-thanks, b-"
Xena decided to have some compassion. "Gael, great news! Melosa said to start your initiation right away. For your physical demonstration, I thought you might show me how you defeated all those men with just those little swords of yours." Xena unsheathed her sword.
Solari looked impressed. "You're going to fight her?"
"I guess I am," Gail replied, readying her weapons.
Solari whistled and soon quite a crowd was assembled. Melosa clarified the rules. The combat was for demonstration purposes only. Much to Gail's relief, this meant no one was supposed to get hurt.
Xena came forward first with a slow attack that Gail easily blocked. A few other leisurely strikes followed that Gail correctly concluded were meant to lull her into a false sense of security. Xena finally let loose a blindingly fast set of attacks that left Gail very out of breath, but unscathed.
For her part, Xena was impressed. The woman is fast! She blocked or dodged everything I threw at her. So far though, she hasn't made an attack of her own.
Gail's own thoughts were running along a very similar vein. She's still playing with me, and I don't have the endurance to hold up much longer. Maybe I can surprise her though. I don't think she's ever fought against sai before.
Xena came forward to attack again and Gail stepped in very close. As Xena brought her sword down for a low attack, Gail trapped the weapon in the sai's long quillions. A quick twist and Xena's sword flew over the crowd. Gail deftly brought one sai up and placed the blade against Xena's neck.
Gail broke into a huge smile. I can't believe I actually did it! I won!
Xena was first puzzled, then stunned. Something very dark broke loose inside of her. She must have cheated -- now she's standing there...smiling. Before she could stop herself, Xena kicked out. She hit Gail smack in the chest with all her force.
The blow lifted Gail off her feet and threw her backwards. She hit the wall of a hut and slid down into a sitting position. She bent over, gasping for breath. Blood flowed steadily from her mouth.
Xena stared in horror as the Amazons crowded around Gail. How could I do that? "Gael, I'm so sorry," Xena said as she slowly stepped forward. Solari shot her a blistering look.
Kayla, the chief healer, was examining Gail. "Half her ribs are broken...I think her right lung is punctured." Kayla's assistants helped her carefully move Gail to the infirmary.
Kayla is a good healer. Gael will be fine. She has to be. Xena couldn't hold the tears back. Oh Gabrielle, please come back to me. I need you to hold back my darkness. I need you.
"You can't just hold them like that indefinitely, Ares," Artemis contended. Aphrodite had called this council of the gods to protest Ares' inference in her action.
"Unlike some of us," he said giving Aphrodite a meaningful look, "I understand the rules. It's true that I can't hold them apart forever. However, since I was tricked into blessing someone who is by no stretch of the imagination a warrior, I can impose a curse on her. And my curse will be that neither she nor Gabrielle will return to their rightful times until Xena comes back to me. But don't worry sisters; I don't think it will take much longer now, do you?"
"Not quite Ares," Zeus proclaimed. He always served as moderator for disputes among the lesser gods. "There is in fact no guarantee that Xena will come back to you. She's pleading for help now, not raging as she would have done in the past. Also, the woman Gail has done nothing against you directly -- unless you want to claim that those men in the cave were doing your dirty work."
No, Ares definitely didn't want to claim that. For some damn reason, that irritating brat had more gods on her side than any hero short of Perseus.
"You are entitled to claim reparation from Aphrodite alone. You must relinquish your hold over Gabrielle and Gail and allow them to return to their proper times."
"Okay leather boy, what'll it be?" Aphrodite sulkily offered.
"First, I want an apology. Second, I want your promise that neither you nor Cupid will do anything to encourage a romantic relationship between Xena and Gabrielle-"
"And third, I want an all purpose love spell from you that I can use on any person, at any time."
"That is just way harsh, Ares!"
"The terms are entirely reasonable, daughter, for the stunt you pulled," Zeus ruled. "Now if our business is complete here..."
"Wait! I do have this teeny little problem. See, I had to cast the spell so fast that I forgot to make allowances if one of them moved before it was time to return, and now they're both way out of position."
"That was your own mistake, my dear. You'll have to find your own way out of it."
Ares felt like it was winter solstice time. Not only were Xena and Gabrielle still apart for the immediate future, but now he had a powerful weapon to use in case they ever started getting too close.
The next morning, Jim woke Gabrielle almost as early as Xena would have. "Get up. I need you to help me with something today."
Gabrielle grumbled a little, as was custom, but soon was bathed, fed, and dressed. "Where are we going, another funeral?"
"No, I need you to come to work with me. If you sit at Gail's desk, we can pretend you're her replacement."
"Don't you want a real replacement?"
Not with some of the stuff in Gail's desk I don't. "Not really. And this way I can keep an eye on you, make sure you're safe."
"I'd be fine here. You should worry about your friend Gael. You haven't done anything to try to bring her back."
"What would you suggest I do -- sacrifice a ram to Zeus?"
"That would be a good start. If you could find a priest around here to-"
"Stop it. I'm doing everything technologically possible to find her." She is not being helpful. If she keeps this up, I'm going to have to get her hypnotized.
Gabrielle knew it was time to quit. He's not going to be swayed, and he's starting to think that I'm crazy. I don't know how I'd survive here if he abandoned me.
He drove them to Gracen & Gracen. Gabrielle managed not to ask any questions about the card keys, security cameras, or elevators. He installed Gabrielle at Gail's desk. "Now, if anyone asks what you're doing here, say 'I'm a temp.'"
"I'm a temp?"
"Trust me. Now just sit here and write."
"What do you want me to write?"
"It doesn't matter; just look busy. And don't touch anything, understand?"
Jim fixed Gail's phone so that it would automatically forward calls to his office. An annoyance, but it was better than having 'Gabrielle of Poteideia' answer the phone. He also taped down the Intercom button so he could hear what she did.
"I'll be in this office," he said pointing at a closed door near the desk ,"but try not to bother me. Around noon we'll have lunch, okay?"
"Sure." She managed a smile. The morning went by pretty quickly as she worked on a new story. If there was one thing she'd like to take back home, it'd be the pen. It is so much easier to write when you don't have to break your train of thought to re-ink the quill. I don't think I could get used to this sort of life though. It's really kind of boring.
The Amazon priestess respectfully lit the incense and began to conduct the formal ceremony of supplication. Artemis couldn't stand to wait through the whole thing and manifested herself almost immediately.
Nearby, Gail was talking to Solari in the infirmary. "I'll bet this wasn't what you had in mind when you asked me to spend the night with you."
Solari, who had stayed with Gail all night watching over her, considered for a moment. "Oh, I don't know Gail. You're in bed, out of breath -- my plans were similar."
Gail chuckled. "I love how you say my name. I think you're the only one who pronounces it right."
"Gail...Gail...Gail," Solari muttered as she leaned in for a kiss. She quickly cleared her throat and stood up straight as Melosa entered the hut.
"It's good to see you're feeling better Gael. Xena wants to apologize to you, but she's not sure if you'd want to see her now."
"I don't hold a grudge against Xena. I'm sure it was just a stupid accident," Gail said. Solari looked less convinced.
"Solari, please wait outside. I need to talk to Gael about her decision to join us."
A talk with the queen was traditional when an outsider sought to join an Amazon tribe. There were so many myths about the Amazons that the queen needed to be sure the applicant really understood the commitment she was about to make. Melosa spoke to Gail about the strength of individuals banding together, and the importance of resourcefulness, courage and tradition in their lives. Gail expressed a reluctance to consider herself worthy of joining, which Melosa loved. She reassured Gail that her intelligence and bravery had already proven her worthy.
Solari knocked. "Queen Melosa, the priestess has a message from Artemis."
The priestess was led in. The awe of actually seeing a goddess was still written across her face. "Artemis appeared to me. She told me about the spell that is keeping Gabrielle and Gael in their wrong times. She said that we must find a way to send Gabrielle a message through time. When we have done this, she will position Gael where she needs to be. Artemis is sending Gael's ancestor -- a king -- to help set things right. He should arrive by the end of the day."
"Did she give this king's name?"
Melosa rolled her eyes. "Well, even an Amazon queen can learn something new every day. I had no idea that Artemis had a sense of humor."
A woman with black hair and an almost feline grace stood before Gabrielle. "Hello. What are you doing here?"
"I'm a temp."
"I see. What happened to Gail?"
Jim hopped out of his seat as soon as he heard Joanne's voice over the intercom. This was what he had been afraid of. The chief of security was dangerous and clever, and she had been onto him almost from the beginning. She didn't have any solid proof against him, but that just made her all the more determined to find some.
"Um, we don't know. She just-"
"Joanne! What a surprise," Jim said as he came out of his office. "Gabrielle and I were just about to have lunch. Would you like to join us?"
"You're having lunch with the temp? You never eat outside the office."
"It's to welcome her; she may be with us for a few days."
"What happened to Gail?"
"An emergency out of town. I think her godmother is ill." Gail had a disappointingly sparse family tree, especially of members who lived far away.
Jim hustled Gabrielle into a coat and down the street to a fast food place. It may be unhealthy and unappetizing, but least it's finger food.
Joanne watched them leave. And I guess I'm supposed to believe that Gail lent her coat to the temp, out of the goodness of her heart. While Joanne firmly believed that Jim was the sickest son of a bitch on the planet, she wasn't sure how to feel about Gail. Sometimes she seemed so good and honest...other times, she just had to be involved in his schemes.
He's done something to her. Damned if I know what, or why, but I intend to find out.
Joanne hit pay dirt the first place she looked -- Gail's house. The blood soaked into Gail's mattress gave this whole undertaking a sobering jolt. She dusted for prints and came away with three sets. What do you want to bet that they belong to Gail, Jim, and the mystery woman.
She had to find out more about this new figure in Jim's life. Having the fingerprints checked would be a start.
Xena could hear Gail and Autolycus arguing as she approached.
"King of Thieves? Oh please. The locks here are just rockers; you don't even need a torque bar! In my time, it's seven pins if you're lucky. Sometimes there are pins along the bottom of the lock too. And don't get me me started on key cards."
"Well, maybe the future is challenging, but if you get caught, they don't cut off your hands."
Of course, Xena thought, you have to get them together before you can see the family resemblance. "Autolycus, I need to talk to you."
"Sure Xena, what's up?"
"I've been thinking about this all day, and I think I know how to get a message to Gabrielle. We have to write it in the scrolls."
"No problem. You have the scrolls right there."
"Not all of them. Gabrielle stored the first ones away at the Academy of Performing Bards in Athens. From what Gael says, I'm willing to bet that those are the ones that survive until her time. This is where you come in, Autolycus. I need you to break into the Academy and write this message on the scrolls in Gabrielle's handwriting so it doesn't look odd." Xena handed him a slip of paper.
"I can do that. But what will I get in return?"
"You mean you're not willing to do it just to help your offspring there?"
"Not if I think you'll pay me for it."
Gail broke in. "How about if I tell you where the greatest treasures in the world are buried?"
"How would you know?"
"Because by my time, they've found the tombs, but there's no treasure left in them." She proceeded to give Autolycus a detailed description of Egyptian treasure and the general layout of a pyramid's interior. By the time she was done, Autolycus was practically drooling.
"As for you Gael, I should give you some advice before the final initiation ceremony. I'm sure you'll do fine, but if they ask you to chose an Amazon you admire, my advice is to chose Gabrielle."
"But I've even met G-"
Solari ran up to them. "Gail, Melosa is ready to receive you. May I escort you to the ceremony? "
Gail knew that Solari was actually worried that she'd still need some help walking. "Thank you," she said, lacing her arm with Solari's. Most of the village followed them to the ceremony.
Xena turned finally to Argo. "I need you to carry him swiftly, old friend. You know how much I need Gabrielle to return."
Autolycus mounted up and was soon underway. He should make Athens by tomorrow morning. This should work; Gabrielle would certainly want to know how her scrolls came out. It has to work.
Melosa smiled down on Gail from her throne. Gail was not surprised to see Kayla there as well. I suppose Xena was trying to tell me that I'll be choosing someone to fight as my final test. At least they have the healer here to keep me from getting permanently injured. Gail had no illusions about her ability to fight in her current condition. Since Gabrielle isn't here, they would probably just waive that part of the test if I chose her. But that just wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't be right.
"Gael, you have demonstrated impressive physical ability, clearness of thought, and great dedication to the Amazon nation. Tonight we will welcome you as one of our own with a feast. But first, tradition dictates that you must chose an Amazon whom you respect and admire. You will be marked as hers and she will serve as a mentor and guide for you in your new life."
"I choose Solari," Gail replied solemnly. A cheer of approval went up from the crowd.
"Congratulations Solari. You have gained a fine addition to your family. Now I ask Gael and Solari to join me on the dais to conclude the ceremony."
Solari steadied Gail as they climbed onto the small platform. "Queen Melosa," Gail whispered, "aren't I supposed to fight someone to complete the initiation?"
"Fight? One of us?" Melosa laughed, "No offense Gael, but asking a non-Amazon to fight an Amazon is like asking a dog to fight a wolf." The crowd roared amusement at this. "No Gael, just sit down and remove your skirt."
Gail sat automatically but blinked in astonishment at the second part of Melosa's command. She looked to Solari to see if she could help her know what to do. She saw that Solari was retying her own skirt. The healer nodded to Melosa, "A simple pattern -- just one through the hood and one on the right lip."
I'm not sure I like the sound of that. "Um, could someone tell me -"
"Just relax, Gael," Kayla spoke softly as she deftly removed Gail's skirt, "it'll all be over before you know it."
Gail got a good look at a very large needle as it was sterilized by fire. Somehow I doubt that.
"Spread your legs, dear."
Oh my God -- this is really going to happen. She's actually going to - Ow!!!
Gail watched in something close to horror as the needle was withdrawn and a small silver ring was carefully threaded through the new hole in her right inner labia.
The healer picked out a different needle, a smaller curved one, and sterilized it. "Just one more and you'll be official."
Gulp. Gail didn't think she could watch this one. She felt each distinct detail though as the needle was threaded under her clitoral hood and swiftly penetrated through. Another silver ring was locked into place.
"There now, all done. Have a look."
Gail didn't really want to, but morbid curiosity won out. It actually didn't look bad at all. No blood -- they were pretty discreet really, as genital jewelry went. She could feel a fit of giggles building; she fought to keep them down. My ribs are killing me. It'll hurt if I laugh. Oh but what is my gynecologist going to say? That did it. She doubled over as she laughed away the stress that had so recently built up.
"Solari, did you let her get into the festival wine already?"
When they got back from lunch, Joanne wasn't around. "Stay away from her. She's trying to trick you. If you told her anything about your whole Xena fantasy, she'd have you locked away."
Gabrielle had noticed something very cunning in Joanne's eyes. She decided to follow Jim's advice. "If she comes by again, I'll say I'm too busy to talk."
She didn't have to worry though. Several different people did drop by to talk briefly, but no one else doubted her. By the end of the day, she had nearly finished her new story. She also had an idea.
"Jim, I was wondering...some big cities have a place where scholars can go to read copies of famous scrolls. If we can pretend that I'm a temp, can we maybe pretend I'm a scholar?"
He almost told her that no, he had no idea what she was talking about, but then he thought, Why not? I'd actually like to see the look on the little nutball's face.
It was better than he could have hoped. Her eyes glazed over and she just stood in the middle of the library, trying to take it all in. She had never imagined that there could be so many stories. Jim decided to look for a book about the scrolls to see if he could stump her. That would probably go a long way towards snapping her out of it. Gabrielle herself was content to wander the stacks for hours. She didn't find one book written in Greek, but it didn't matter. Looking at the covers and just being around so much literature was enough to practically overdose her on joy.
One series of books that Jim purposefully left on the shelves was Janice Covington's treatises on the Xena scrolls. The author's picture on the book jacket was just a little too close for comfort. He breathed a sigh of relief. She's a Covington -- that explains a lot. Obsession with the Xena scrolls is practically a family trait. Huh, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if her name really is Gabrielle. I'll have to check up on that. North Carolina (where Janice Covington lives with her partner Melinda Pappas) isn't too far away. The kid is probably supposed to be going to college around here.
When the library closed at eleven, Jim checked out a couple of books on the scrolls and led a reluctant Gabrielle back to the car. "You must have enjoyed yourself. Didn't you realize we missed dinner?"
The stricken look on Gabrielle's face made him stop for pizza on the way back to Gail's house.
Xena was not really in a festive mood. She tried to socialize with the Amazons, but without Gabrielle it all seemed so empty. She had to suppress a smirk though, when she saw Gail walking gingerly towards her.
"Let me guess; you didn't choose Gabrielle."
"I chose Solari...I thought I was being honorable." Gail winced. "Right now I'd trade honor for aspirin any day."
"I don't think that's around yet. Come with me; I should be able to find something to help in my healing kit."
"I don't know if I should leave...what if there's more to the ceremony."
"No, the queen's welcoming toast at the beginning of the feast was the last thing. The rest is just eating, drinking, and dancing. Frankly, I think most of your sisters are so far gone that they wouldn't notice if Artemis herself came to the party."
"Out of curiosity," Gail began as they walked toward Xena's hut, "what would have happened if I had chosen Gabrielle?"
"As a member of the royal family, Gabrielle was entitled to design her own pattern when she was initiated. Even though she isn't here now, Gabrielle's pattern was distinctive enough that I'm sure Kayla remembers it."
"Distinctive? Maybe it's just as well that I chose Solari. Hers is supposed to be fairly simple as they go."
"Oh Gabrielle's was simple too. She told them about a mathematical thing that she picked up at the Academy. It says when you have a big thing," Xena was quickly getting out of her depth, "you can always divide it into nothing."
Gail was good at math. "Oh, set theory. Every set has a subset that is the null set. So she got her piercings -- she just got zero of them?"
Xena was a little irked that Gail obviously understood how that math thing related to the Amazon tradition. She couldn't make heads or tails of it herself. "Yeah, she can talk her way out of almost anything. I just wish I knew..."
Xena shook her head and focused on preparing a mild dose of pain killers for Gail. She kept it pretty tame because she could tell that Gail didn't need much. Truth be told, she mainly left because she could tell that I wanted to get away.
Though Xena knew that she should be grateful for this sympathy, she more she thought about it the angrier she became. How dare she pity me. I don't need her pity. I don't need her. I need- Xena closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths. This is not productive. I should take a long walk and think of a plan.
"Maybe you should talk to me about how you feel," Gail said drinking the bitter mixture Xena handed her. "After all, who am I going to tell? I'm smart enough not to tell anyone here because, let's face it, you'd kill me. And when I get back to my own time, what's the worst I could do -- write a book about it? I'm no scholar; no one would take anything I had to say about you seriously."
Maybe it was Gail's sweet, open personality, or just the certainty in her voice when she said she'd get back to her own time, but Xena felt some of her emotional barriers break down. "Gael, this is my worst nightmare. I've been so scared of losing her even from the beginning, and this time, I'm completely helpless. There's no place on earth I could go to find her. I just want to smash something, everything, until I've torn it all down and she's all that's left."
"Okay, well first of all let me tell you that destroying the world won't help matters. Like you said, she's not in this world right now."
"I know, but I need her. She's all that keeps me going sometimes."
"Second of all, you're not helpless. You came up with the plan to get her back. All we have to do is wait for Autolycus to carry out his part. In fact, why don't I wait here with you." Gail moved toward Xena's pallet.
"Don't worry; I'll stay the night. You don't have to keep watch over me."
"What if I'm only doing it so I don't have to fend off a village full of drunken Amazons who'd like to get a good look at my new jewelry?"
Xena had to smirk at the truth in that. "I wish I just had your problems Gael. Get in."
Gabrielle had the dream about the white hart again. It was largely the same, but for some reason, the phrase 'helpful and inquisitive' really stuck in her mind. On the way to work the next morning, she asked Jim if there was anything about the scrolls that people didn't understand.
"Not really. There are a few open questions, but nothing terribly important."
"Tell me the questions; maybe I can answer them."
Jim was in a good enough mood to indulge her a little. He had done his reading last night. He had also booked a flight to North Carolina for them on Wednesday. He felt like he was just about to get to the bottom of this.
"The perpetual question, of course, is were Gabrielle and Xena lovers? It's also unclear whether Joxer was real, or just a figure added for comic relief. And, the ordering of the stories was sometimes downright bizarre. For example, the story where Marcus is rejudged and sent to the Elysian fields comes before the one where he dies."
Gabrielle was quite curious about question number one herself. For question number two, she knew the answer far too well. But the last one had her stumped. "That isn't right. The first encounter with Marcus came before the rejudgement -- that should be obvious."
"Well, it didn't fit in with the system."
"Gabrielle of Poteideia indexed her stories with a letter at the top of each one. What that meant was that the stories indexed together had happened within a given month -- the alphas first, then betas, and so on. Sometimes letters were skipped; that meant nothing happened that month." (Xena hadn't meant to cause this much confusion. Scholars should think a little harder before jumping to such big conclusions.)
Gabrielle knew for a fact that she had done no such thing. Her heart started to beat faster. This is it. Artemis said Xena would not fail me, and she was right. Xena has sent me a message through time. All I have to do now is decode it.
"Do you have a list of the stories? I want to see how they're ordered."
Jim handed her his library books as they got out of the car. He even read all the titles of the stories aloud so she could transcribe them into Greek. This will at least keep her busy today.
As Gabrielle began the long task of assigning letters to the stories, then regrouping them in the order they actually occurred, Joanne came in to speak to Jim. They disappeared into his office.
Joanne needed to rattle him. She hadn't been able to convince the Chicago police department to file a missing persons complaint. When she told them about the dried blood on Gail's mattress, they reminded her of a quaint little custom they had called a search warrant. There was simply not enough evidence to justify taking any action right now.
"Jim, did you know that no one by the name of Gail Koner has gotten on a plane in the past week?"
"Maybe she didn't take a plane."
"I thought of that too, so I went to see her mother. It turns out that she doesn't even have a godmother. She's definitely not around, though. She's never gone this long without visiting her mother before. "
"Maybe she decided she needed a vacation. She just left a message on my answering machine saying she wouldn't be in."
"I want to hear the message."
"I erased it," Jim said with a smug smile.
"Listen to me you cold-blooded bastard. If she doesn't turn up soon I will find an excuse to tear your life apart, even if I have to make it up."
"You should be more careful when you threaten me, Joanne; anyone could be listening." He nodded his head toward Gabrielle who was watching the commotion inside Jim's office with interest. "Get out of my office; I have work to do."
Joanne stormed out and Gabrielle went back to work. By lunchtime, she was finished. Her hands trembled as the final character fell into place. The message Xena had sent to her through time was finally complete. "Lie on Gael's bed."
The day started a little later than usual in Melosa's village. Gail spent a good portion of the morning convincing Solari that she shouldn't be upset at Xena about the accident. Solari felt she had a pretty good reason to be upset, but her hangover made her inarticulate. She finally had to agree with Gail.
Xena and Solari were just shaking hands when Artemis appeared to them.
"Greetings, Amazons. Autolycus has delivered the message. Now we must position Gail and wait for Gabrielle to act. "
"I'm coming too!" Solari and Xena declared simultaneously.
"Neither of you is coming. Hermes has agreed to carry Gail, but we can't have him weighed down by the likes of you. If you set off for the cave at a hard gallop, you'll probably get there not long after Gabrielle. Are you ready, Gail?"
"Wait," Xena said stepping up to Gail. "I never really apologized for what I did. I know I should have been so grateful to you for helping save Gabrielle's life, but some part of me blamed you for keeping us apart. I let my rage slip out at you more than once. I'm so sorry."
"It's okay Xena; I understand. Just watch over great-granddad for me, okay? He's got a good heart, just sticky fingers. Solari, thanks so much for taking me into your family. You really made me feel welcomed and loved. I'll miss you. I'll miss you all."
A glowing light enveloped Gail and she moved away from the village at a fantastic rate of speed. She could never actually say that she saw Hermes, but his presence was unquestionable. She was left at the mouth of the cave where she had originally appeared.
Gail waited impatiently. There was nothing to do but wait and think. The cave was much less comfortable than the infirmary. What's worse, she had time to consider that she was really bugged by how chummy Autolycus and Solari always seemed in Gabrielle's stories. She didn't know what was worse -- the idea that she was jealous of someone over a woman, or the possibility that she had been propositioned by her great (great, great, great...) grandmother.
"Jim, do you think we could go back to Gail's for lunch?"
"That's all the way in the suburbs. Why?"
"My head hurts and my stomach's upset. I want to take a nap." Xena had always told her that head injuries were very strange. Sometimes they wouldn't bother you at all until days later when they completely incapacitated you. She just had to hope that Jim had also heard these stories.
Jim was skeptical about her motives, but getting her (and himself) away from Joanne wasn't a bad idea. "Okay, but we have to be back by three."
When they arrived at Gail's, Gabrielle ate only a light lunch and slipped down the hall. She closed the door to the guest bedroom, but actually went into Gail's room. She lay down on the bed. Okay Xena, Artemis. I'm here. Now what?
Almost as if in answer, a force engulfed her and deposited her onto a rough cave floor.
Gabrielle poked her head out of the cave. The sun was setting, and she could see a figure quickly approaching on horseback. Xena saw Gabrielle's bright hair glowing in the sunset. She hopped off Argo and ran towards the cave as fast as she could. Gabrielle met her partway and they embraced, laughing like a couple of children.
After a long while, they could finally speak. They told each other snippets of what their past few days had been like, but there was really nothing either wanted to do more than just sit side by side and bask in the joy of their reunion.
By the next morning, Gabrielle would be back to her old, talkative self. She'd notice that Xena didn't seem to have any problem with that for a while. She told Xena a much more detailed version of her journey through time. After some debate, she decided not to try to rewrite the tale about her adventures that she'd left on Gail's desk. It was just too weird. Giants and gods were one thing, but who'd believe something like that?
For her part, Xena couldn't wipe the smile off her heart for weeks. Just having Gabrielle around soothed her, calmed her, and comforted her. She could feel the rage and blackness receding to a point where she could almost pretend they didn't exist. And finally; she didn't have to do much of the talking!
Gail's return was also quick and painless, which was a surprise in itself. She found herself lying in her own bed, ribs perfectly sound. In case she was tempted to think it was a dream though, she was still dressed in full Amazon garb. She examined herself. Yes, full Amazon garb.
She wandered out of her bedroom to take a shower, at long last, and was horrified to find Jim staring at her. She bolted into the bathroom. He was actually too stunned to follow.
In the coming days, Jim, who was by no means a playful person by nature, would repeatedly tease her about her Amazon outfit. He would insinuate that she was into kinky sex. He would express an awful lot of interest in knowing where her little redheaded friend went. For her part, Gail would express a lot of interest in knowing what he did with her redheaded friend while she was away. He told her the basics of what had happened, assuming that she would spill her side, but she remained frustratingly closed mouthed. If she had learned one thing from the Amazons, it was to act confident, even if she really wasn't. And in this case, she was confident that telling him what really happened would cause her considerably more problems than just letting it blow over. For once in her life, she wasn't going to cave in to him.
With Gail being so unhelpful, Jim worked every angle he could in trying to find out what happened to the missing girl. The Covington angle didn't pan out. Joanne's fingerprint search revealed nothing. (But at least he'd gotten to see her face when Gail walked in safe and sound the next morning with a good story about where she'd been). He even translated the Greek she scrawled while at work.
The first day's output was a story, written in the Gabrielle style of course, of her adventures in the future. She used consistently naive terms to refer to technological items, and had made a pretty good tale of it. The next day's was simply a careful reordering of the stories.
Reading them in the new order made much more sense. What had once been an almost scattershot collection of tales was now a coherent work of literature with on-going themes and character development. After a while, he also figured out the coded message of the letters on top. Once he knew the message, it took him a long time to stop thinking about it.