DISCLAIMER: Xena Warrior Princess is the property of Renaissance Pictures and MCA.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Della Street
Xena strode up the dirt road, fingers clasped firmly around Argo's reins. The seemingly endless supply of cobbles imbedded into the soil jutted into the worn soles of her boots, but there were no outward signs that the warrior felt any discomfort.
Ahead of her, on the left, she saw what she was looking for: A tall wooden fence, opening under a crossed-beam entryway that gave the place a more dignified appearance than it merited. Peering over the fence, she could make out the top of a crudely constructed platform.
She walked the horse through the entry, her eyes coming to rest on a short, burly man seated on a wooden bench. His mouth moved, and after a moment Xena realized that he was mumbling to himself. She turned to face him, affecting an indifferent yet striking pose.
The proprietor didn't need to raise his head to identify the voice, but did so anyway to take in the body that came with it. It was always amazing to him that this woman could insult him by the mere pronunciation of his name.
He didn't seem too happy to see her, but then he didn't seem too happy, period.
"Long time, Arcas. How's tricks?"
"You know how it is, Xena," he replied, "some days better than others." He laid his hands on his knees, and said tiredly, "What do you want?"
"I heard you had some goods you couldn't unload today."
He perked up, taking a new interest in her. A potential customer.
"You in the market?"
"I might be."
He jumped to his feet, then stopped, and looked at Xena uncertainly. "I heard you weren't into that sort of thing any more."
"Oh, right. I've reformed," she said, with more than a little sarcasm. "Even if you believe that, Arcas, a girl's still gotta eat, doesn't she? And have her washing done."
Arcas clasped his hands together. This might just be the solution to his problem, if he could pull it off . . . .
He took Xena's arm, stopping to give her fine warhorse a friendly pat. "Zeus, Xena, what've you been doing with this horse?" He wiped the horse's sweat on his trousers. "You been riding her all night or something?"
Xena smirked. "Well, Arcas, a polite guest always knows when it's time to leave."
"Heh, heh. Ran into a little trouble, huh?"
She shrugged. "Some people have no sense of humor," she said, her eyes wide with innocence, capping her observation with an alluring grin. "So, anyway, Arcas, show me what you've got. I want to get my horse taken care of."
He guided her toward a smaller enclosed arena, jabbering enthusiastically. "Xena, this one's perfect for you. Strong . . . healthy . . ." He held his curled hands out in a crude gesture. "Great--"
"Do you know if she can cook?"
"Cook? Uh. . . yeah. Sure! The guy that sold her to me said she cooks like she was born in Aphrodite's kitchen. I'm telling you, Xena, you'll not do any better."
They rounded the corner and Xena saw her, reddish blonde hair tangled about her shoulders, hands chained above her head on a ringed post. Gabrielle's eyes widened at the sight of the warrior, and she strained instinctively at the chains, trying to call out through the cloth fastened tightly across her mouth.
Xena's step faltered for an instant.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing," she said. "I'm just a little tired."
Arcas studied her face. "I'll say. You look like you haven't slept in a week."
"Arcas, if I need to rent a mother, I'll let you know," Xena snapped. "Just show me the goods, and let's get on with it."
Gabrielle stopped struggling. The goods?
Xena casually surveyed her surroundings as they approached the subject of their discussion. "You know, Arcas, this hole's not a bad place to do business," she mused. "Isolated . . . only one way in . . . ." She eyed a couple of lower life forms examining some armor a few yards away. ". . . no one here but unscrupulous dregs who'd do anything you wanted for a line of credit. It'd be almost impossible for someone to get out of here without paying for the goods." She smiled at Arcas. "I don't even know if I could do it."
Gabrielle's muscles tensed. Uh oh . . . .
Arcas was nodding. "Yeah, but I don't have to worry about that sort of thing, Xena, 'cause my prices are so good." He waved in Gabrielle's direction. "You can have this catch for only four hundred dinars," he declared, as if proving his point.
The bard's heart sank. Four hundred dinars? They had maybe forty, if Xena hadn't spent any in Carua.
"Now, what makes you think I have four hundred dinars?" Xena inquired playfully.
"Oh, come on, Warrior Princess, you've gotta have a hundred times that much stashed away over the years. Woman like you must make a good living, whether out of the business or not."
Xena shrugged. "So why didn't she sell?" she asked, tossing her head toward the other woman.
"Well, you know, I just wasn't willing to lower my price on this one, Xena."
She pursed her lips. "Yeah, right. Arcas, you'd lower the price on your own mother to close a deal."
"Well, hey, my mother's not worth as much as this little beauty." He reached his hand down toward Gabrielle's face, and she lunged at it. Arcas jerked it away quickly, laughing nervously at his customer. "Gotta love that energy," he said.
Xena's lip curled. "Forget it, Arcas. I'm not looking for energy. I'm looking for a slave that won't give me any headaches." She clicked at Argo, and started to turn the horse around.
"Wait, wait! You said you need someone to cook and clean for you." He pointed at Gabrielle. "I'm telling you, she's perfect."
"Don't waste your breath, Arcas." Xena let Argo's reins drop to the ground, and stepped closer to his captive. "She looks like trouble." She circled around the young woman, contemplating her. "She looks like the kind who'll ignore your instructions and leave your room, ending up in some godsforsaken place while you chase around for days looking for her." She lowered herself in front of the bard, until their eyes were level. "And thank the gods when you find her," she added softly, fingering a strand of blonde hair.
Arcas licked his lips nervously at the warrior's proximity to the hellcat. The girl could let loose again at any moment, and he'd kiss his sale goodbye. He tugged cautiously at Xena's arm, drawing her up and out of harm's way.
"Why is she chained up?" Xena asked.
"Oh, you know, just had some extra chains lying around," Arcas replied. "Didn't want my little treasure running off."
"Couldn't handle her, huh?"
"No, no, nothing like that."
Xena pointed to a gash over Gabrielle's left eye. "I suppose she got that from doing handsprings?" she said sarcastically.
"That? Just a misunderstanding. Thadamus took her leg chains off to have a look-see, and, uh, kind of got tangled up with her foot. An accident, of course," Arcas added quickly. "Nailed him right in the -- process," he said, wincing.
"He gave her that?"
"Just reminding her to be more careful. No permanent damage."
"Thadamus . . .," Xena repeated thoughtfully. "I think I've done business with him. Short blonde guy, right?"
"Nah. Flaming red hair, bright yellow eyebrows." Arcas tapped his own forehead. "Got a nasty scar here from when someone tore his brow off. You won't soon forget it."
"No, I won't," she said.
"You know, Xena," Arcas purred, returning to the subject at hand, "it doesn't hurt for the wenches to have a little energy . . ." He draped his arm around Xena's shoulder.
She looked at him expectantly.
"You know . . . ." He winked at her.
Xena shook her head. "Not my type." She stepped out from under his arm.
"Now, Xena, just think about it. Late at night . . . lonely campfire . . . It wouldn't be long before she became your type."
"It'd have to be pretty late."
The bard grunted.
"You're nuts, Xena. Most of the buyers here were more interested in her bed than her cooking."
"I'm not interested in having a fight to the death for every meal and every lay," Xena replied. She turned to leave. "I'm going to see if Lambes is around. He used to carry pretty good stock."
"Lambes is dead."
"Really? Some jealous husband finally get hold of him?"
Arcas shook his head. "Nah. Got sliced up on a raiding party. Left here bragging it'd be a piece of cake, but something got messed up." He shrugged. "No girls, and Lambes got a blade through the gut. In Iona, I think."
Achronia, Xena corrected mentally.
"Business is getting a little tough," Arcas groused. "My sources are starting to dry up."
"You're breaking my heart." Xena jerked her thumb toward the young woman chained to the post. "Look, is this all you've got? If so, I'm not interested in wasting any more of my time."
"Tell you what, Xena. We had some good times together in the old days--"
"No, we didn't."
"--so I'll do you a favor: Three hundred dinars and she's yours."
Xena leaned in closer to him. "You don't get it, Arcas. I don't want her."
"How do you know? You haven't really given her a chance." He reached out for Xena's arm again, and she took evasive action, stepping closer to the chained woman.
"Why the gag?"
"Uh . . ."
She raised her hand. "Let me guess. Because her voice is pure siren's song, and you didn't want to lull your bidders to sleep." She tugged down the cloth.
"I curse you and your horse to the foul stenches of Tartarus!" Gabrielle growled. "I'll cook nothing for you, but the minotaur's dung--"
Xena pulled the gag back up, and turned to Arcas, an eyebrow arched.
He wrung his hands. "Two-fifty."
Xena drew the material down again.
"--I'll gouge out my own eyes, before lying in your unnatural bed, and the instant you fall asleep I'll plunge a dagger through your black heart, you--"
The gag went back up.
"Ha, ha, what a kidder," Arcas mumbled, but the warrior wasn't buying it. She wouldn't be buying this thorn in his side, either, if he didn't do something quick. "Two hundred dinars -- but that's as low as I can go, Xena. I paid two hundred for her."
"Then you were cheated." Xena leaned in closer to the young woman, scrutinizing her face. Suddenly she drew back. "Oh, for Zeus' sake, Arcas, she's a Potedaian!" she said, sounding as if she had just stepped in something. "Isn't that right?" she demanded, yanking the gag down.
"'Potedaia, my Potedaia'!" Gabrielle sang out. "'Pot--mff!"
Arcas tossed up his hands. "Who cares where she's from?"
"You're from the islands, right?" Xena asked.
"So you don't know about the Potedaians."
"They're known as the Medusae of Chalcidice," she said gravely.
Arcas stared at the small blonde figure, sensing his profit margin slipping further away.
"They drive their enemies to the brink of madness with their voices," Xena continued. "A single conversation with a Potedaian has been known to deprive a grown man of his sanity. You've heard of the Battle of Aclemia?"
Arcas shook his head.
"A squadron of Telluris's men captured a dozen travelling Potedaian women one afternoon. By the following morning, every man had taken his own life." The warrior's lip curled. "Thirty-two senseless deaths."
The merchant dropped onto a bench, beginning to look as if he had eaten some bad fishcakes.
"I got stuck on the road with a Potedaian once," Xena went on. "I had to cut off the flow of blood to my own ears just to stay alive."
"Hn! Rwmnff . . .," Gabrielle muttered into the cloth barrier.
"And, to rub more salt in the wound, she was lousy in the bedroll." Xena plopped down beside her listener. "Potedaians are notoriously backward in human basics, probably from all the years of inbreeding," she speculated.
Gabrielle's eyes bulged, and she yanked on her chains. "Mmrtf!"
"They don't seem to have any natural ability for it. You have to explain evvverything to them in detail." She rolled her eyes. "Kind of spoils the moment, if you know what I mean." Xena rose, and laid a hand on the dealer's shoulder. "Sorry, Arcas. You got a raw deal." She took a dozen long strides toward the exit.
"Wait!" Arcas caught up to her, and grabbed her arm.
Gabrielle stared intently at the two of them, trying in vain to hear their discussion. Xena was shaking her head, adamant, but Arcas was still working on her. Eventually, Xena nodded, and drew out a small coin purse tucked in next to her chakram. They stepped under a canvas shade between the entryway and the auction arena, emerging a few minutes later, a large key in Xena's hand. The warrior knelt before Gabrielle.
"If I unlock these chains, do you promise to behave until we reach the town limits?" She held up the key. "You want something, you give something."
The blonde woman glared at her, then slowly nodded.
In quick succession, Xena unlocked her ankle chains, then the heavy metal ring securing the bard's shackled wrists to the pole. She watched as Gabrielle tried to massage her sore shoulders, aching to perform that task for her friend. But there were still a few more things to do.
"Get up." Xena pulled the younger woman to her feet. "Can you walk?"
Gabrielle nodded silently again.
"Then let's go."
Xena laced her whip through Gabrielle's heavy bracelets, and led her new acquisition down the long center road. It would have been safer to ride, she knew, but Argo was already exhausted to the point of collapse.
A shock of red hair flickered in the corner of the warrior's eye. Xena turned her head, and a moment later its owner turned and favored her with a clear glimpse of bushy blonde eyebrows. She stared for a moment through cool blue eyes, then led her two companions to a nearby hitching post. "I'm sorry, Gabrielle," she said quietly, looping the whip around the post so that it appeared secure. "It wouldn't look right if I left you standing on your own. I'll be right back."
"Where are you going?" the bard whispered.
"I have to see a man about a fist." Gabrielle watched as her lover blazed a path through the crowd, soon losing the dark-haired woman amidst the milling riffraff. Suddenly a familiar sound reached her ears.
Gabrielle listened curiously. Sounded like a gut punch.
Backhand across the face.
Gabrielle's eyes narrowed. A head -- no, a head and shoulders -- entering a wooden building through a previously nonexistent window. She closed her eyes, listening for more clues. Ash or oak . . .?
She opened her eyes a moment later to see the Warrior Princess smiling down at her. "There. All better now," Xena said brightly.
"What was that all about?"
"Some loser ended up head first through a latrine wall," the warrior replied mildly. "Luckily he'd been pounded senseless first, so I don't think it hurt much."
"Um, . . . how fortunate," Gabrielle said.
Long minutes later, they were outside the border wall, and Xena hurriedly unlocked the metal rings which encircled her companion's wrists. She pressed both wrists to her lips, kissing the discolored skin, then drew the bard to her gently.
"I'm sorry, Gabrielle. I didn't know where you were. I got here as fast as I could."
"I wasn't worried. I knew you'd come."
Xena held her lover silently for another long moment, caressing blonde hair with her cheek. Finally, she released Gabrielle and took her hand, and they began their trek away from the refuse heap behind them. After a few steps, Xena reached into her cleavage. "Oh, here." She handed Gabrielle a heavy coin purse.
Gabrielle felt its weight in her hand, and turned to her companion with wide eyes. "You had this much on you the whole time?"
"Not the whole time."
"Then--?" Gabrielle's hand shot out toward Xena. "Wait--he paid you to take me?"
"Well, he didn't say I had to take you," Xena murmured. "I thought of that on my own."
"Well, you can just keep thinking on your own," the bard replied. "I wouldn't want to burden you with having to explain 'evvvverything' to me in detail."
A corner of Xena's mouth turned up, and she ran her gaze along the length of Gabrielle's body. Come mid-night, her hot-blooded lover would be begging her to explain a few things, all right . . . .
"So where are we headed?" Gabrielle's question brought Xena out of her daydreaming.
"Antires? I thought you said that place was overrun with slaver scum. 'Foul, degenerate wastes of skin,' to be precise."
Xena shrugged. "It is. But I thought maybe we could pick up some extra dinars." She glanced at Gabrielle, and outlined her plan. "I'll turn my back, and you get yourself kidnapped. Then, you bother and harass the slaver with your personality until he can't take it any more -- an hour or so ought to do it -- and I'll move in for the kill."
Gabrielle clamped her lips together, then jabbed the end of her staff in the ground, and stomped off down the road.
"OK, OK, kidding!" Xena called after her. "Gabrielle. . . ." She picked up the pace a bit. "Gabrielle?"
The bard heard Xena hurrying after her and grinned, tossing the fat coin purse up and down on her palm. The warrior was going to earn every one of those dinars.
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