It all started on one of those quiet days. One of those days spent fishing and swimming and generally taking it easy.
I remember that I was sunbathing at the time, a soft breeze tickling my skin as I listened to Argo chomping on a clump of grass and Gabrielle chatter on about anything and everything. You know how bards get.
I learned a long time ago how to listen to her without actually listening; how to filter out the idle gossip from the interesting stuff that required me to nod or make some kind of noncommittal noise of agreement.
Gods, she can talk. And her theories! You wouldn't believe some of the things she comes up with.
That day was a definite theory day and I had on my serious face, greeting every new bardic revelation with a shrug or a "yeah, I can picture that".
That was something else I learned a long time ago - never make fun of a finely worked theory from a ticked off Amazon with a big stick. No matter how outlandish the theory, no matter how harebrained the theory, no matter how much your sides ache from holding back the laughter. Warrior Princess or not, it bloody hurts when she hits you with that thing. And three days of the silent treatment tries anyone's patience.
So anyway, there I was, flat on my stomach, armour draped over a nearby tree, weapons tucked into Argo's saddle miles out of reach, sun tan coming on very nicely thank you when she comes out with the most STUPID thing I have ever heard her say.
Yes, even more stupid than, "Hey Xena, that Caesar guy - I think he has a thing for you."
Even more idiotic than, "Do you think my being a virgin has anything to do with all these kidnap and sacrifice attempts?"
"Xena," she says, "you know the moon..?"
And I actually look up, which was a really dumb thing to do. If I had kept my head tucked into my arms I might have got away with it. But no, I had to look up.
"Yes, Gabrielle," I say, "I know the moon."
"Well," she continues, and I can almost see the cogs whirling in her mind, "you know the moon looks round..?"
I can't help myself, "yee-e-ees..?" I draw the word out, giving her ample warning, I feel, that this one is going to be difficult for me to take.
Does she notice? Does she Hades.
"Well, I have this theory, right?"
I had guessed that much.
"I have this theory that if the moon looks round from here, you know, from the Known World? Well, perhaps the Known World looks round from, well, you know?the moon?"
If I had been sitting on a chair I would have fallen off it laughing. I gave serious thought to building a chair just so as I could do that. As it was I just held my breath until I thought I would burst and watched her as she watched me.
If she didn't expect an answer, I thought, I may get through this unbruised. I let my head fall back onto my arms and slowly expelled the breath.
"What do you think, Xena?"
Oh damn and blast and bloody smelly horse poop.
So, anyway, one afternoon's sunbathing went right out of the window.
Later, I was walking along next to Argo working out a good story in my head which would explain the black eye.
Yeah, laugh it up, but you try ducking when you're already lying on the ground.
"War Lords", I'll say to anyone who asks, "there were these ten?no, twenty?HUGE War Lords and they all attacked at the same time, and I had to protect Argo, and Gabrielle was off talking to the trees or something equally bard-like, so she couldn't help me out, and before I knew it one of them had walloped me a good'un."
Yeah, that's believable.
And since the Bardic One is no longer talking to me, she won't contradict me.
A person approaches?let the games begin?
Okay, so the scruffiest peasant on the road listened patiently to my amazing story of heroism, courage, best friend neglect and all round tragedy and laughed like a drain.
It's be all round Greece by Thursday.
It took years to work on this reputation!
The afternoon wears on and I realise that I am hungry.
Time to start grovelling. Pride is one thing, but I am not ready to face my own cooking just yet.
Gabrielle is stomping on ahead, radiating her bad mood to all around, slamming the end of her staff into the ground with each step and muttering under her breath.
I'm not sure what she's saying but I hear the words "moronic" and "narrow minded" being uttered in the same sentence as "warrior" and "princess".
I decide to let it go and not be offended.
I am really hungry.
I tug on Argo's reigns and catch up with her in a heart beat, setting my expression to apologetic and tearful. (And let me tell you, it has taken close to three years to get that tearful look just right. It is not something that comes easily to me and I only use it in dire emergencies such as this.)
"Gabrielle," I say softly - hey, I can do 'soft'. She's not the only one who can turn on the charm, "Gabrielle," I say again when she refuses to look at me, "I'm sorry. It's a good theory, a great theory. And if you think the Known World is round, who am I to argue?"
She stops just in front of me and I almost walk into her. I can see her shoulders relaxing just a little and I start to thank the gods for her general good nature.
She never stays mad for long, right?
Ding! Wrong! Thanks for playing oh ye of many skills, one of which is not the ability to read Amazon body language.
She turns to face me, ever so slowly, and gives me The Look.
Now, part of me is crying 'foul' at this point. I taught her The Look, godsdammit, and I don't think it's fair that she keeps turning it on me. But that part of me is drowned out by the nervous knot in my stomach which seems to be insisting that I stand and blink at her like a rabbit caught in?caught in?damn! Someone should invent a saying for that scared rabbit look.
But whatever it is the rabbit is caught in, I was impersonating the wide eyed panic very nicely.
"Xena," she says, and I almost back away, "If you think one dewy eyed apology just because you're hungry and don't want to poison yourself is going to get you off the hook this time, think again."
I blink again before my pride starts to slap me around a little.
'You are the Warrior Princess,' it says, 'You are the Destroyer of Nations, the Bitch of Tartarus. Are you going to let this?this?poet boss you around? Are you going to let her talk to you like that and get away with it?!'
That little inner voice has served me well in the past.
I narrow my eyes and step forward, letting Argo's reigns fall, "Gabrielle?" I say in my best warning, don't mess me about, I'm pretty close to getting annoyed voice.
Well, they say pride comes before a fall.
I wish they would stop saying it.
I pick myself up off the ground and rub my ankle as she leans back on her staff and continues to glare at me, "Gabrielle!"
Oh yeah, that's intimidating. Go from deep, husky and threatening to high pitched, whiny and childish all because she clouted you on the foot.
My pride throws up its arms in disgust and walks out on me.
It even slams the door.
She is still looking at me and I know exactly what I have to do.
I have to beg.
"Gabrielle, I really am sorry. I shouldn't have laughed?"
"Or rolled on the ground?"
"?or rolled on the ground?"
"Holing your stomach?"
"?holding my stomach?"
"I've forgotten what I was saying."
"You were apologising."
"Oh yeah." I pause and look at her, "I'm sorry for all that and for trying to get round you with the tears and the eyes and everything."
She gives a smirk of victory and I imagine what it would be like to pluck her eyelashes off one by one, "Apology accepted."
I let out a breath and grin at her, "That's great."
I unhook my chakram and look towards the trees, "Shall I catch us some dinner?"
My stomach rumbles noisily and she smirks again before shrugging and walking off, "That's okay," she says, "I'm not hungry."
I trail behind her and consider calling on Ares. If I was leading his army again, she'd have to show me some respect. I'd make her cook rabbit for me all day and all night. I'd make her stand up in the centre of Athens and admit that her theories are all crazy. I'd make her..
"Xena! Come on!"
I pick up Argo's reigns again and slouch off after her.
Argo snorts at me. It sounds like laughter so I reach into the saddle bag and eat her last apple.
Teach her about loyalty.
Little do I know it, but up on Mount Olympus Ares has heard my thought and is doing a little dance of joy. He has, as you know, been offering me his army on a plate for years and years and years.
This is like all his birthdays and solstices wrapped up in one.
He gets me and my armour back, he gets Gabrielle as a lackey and general all round slave and he gets to storm across Greece on a wave of glory.
All because Little Miss Grumpy came up with her stupid Known World Is Round theory.
He raises his hand, ready to do the flashy god thing, when Zeus pokes his head round the door and stops him.
Ares is niggled, "Come on Dad," he says, "She wished for my army. I didn't beg her or force her or stamp around on that irritating blonde until she agreed to do as I say. She wished for it."
Zeus, for once, doesn't get annoyed with his son. There are no thunder bolts or lightening flashes. He just looks a little sheepish, "Yes, I know, son," he says, "but unfortunately you can't exercise your godly powers on a Wednesday anymore."
Ares looks at him as though his beard has jumped off and danced the can-can, "What's so damned special about Wednesday?" he splutters.
Zeus won't look him straight in the eye, "Wednesday's belong to the Goddess of Chaos. She gets a little irked if anyone else goes messing around with the mortals on a Wednesday."
"Goddess of Chaos?!" Ares is all but spitting fire now as he watches a golden opportunity become so much star dust, "There is no Goddess of Chaos!!"
"There is now" says Zeus.
"What do you mean, 'there is now'" yells the God of War, "You can't have no Goddess of Chaos one minute and a fully functioning Goddess of Chaos the next. That would be?"
"Chaotic" said Zeus, "Yes, I know. Why do you think they call her the Goddess of Chaos?"
Ares flops down onto his throne and puts his head in his hands. Zeus floats over and pats him awkwardly on the shoulder, "There, there, son. It's Thursday tomorrow and Xena's bound to wish for your help again. After all, that bard really is irritating."
Ares sniffs, "You think?"
Zeus gives a fatherly smile, "I think."
Ares wipes a hand across his eyes and sits up straight, "And you won't let the Goddess of Chaos change the no meddling day to a Thursday?"
The God of War gives a little smile, "Okay."
Zeus pats his boy on the back once more and gets up to leave, "I almost forgot," he says, "The Goddess of Chaos is planning a little fun with your warrior and her sidekick. You might want to watch."
Ares waits a while until his father has gone, before waving a hand and vanishing.
He and the Goddess of Chaos hit it off at once.
If I had known what they had planned, I would have stayed by the river and let Gabrielle go off alone to sulk.
It seems that the power of prophecy is also not one of my many skills.
By late afternoon I am recognising land marks. There is a village ahead. I am no longer hungry, though. A quick solo detour, under the pretence of visiting the bushes, produced a handful of berries and some apples.
Gabrielle keeps looking at me suspiciously and I know I have a self satisfied smirk on my face.
Not to mention quite a lot of berry juice.
Ha! Take that, bard face! I survived without your cooking for ten years and I can do it again.
We round a bend in the road and see another scruffy peasant hurtling towards us in a cloud of dust. He screeches to a halt and falls at my feet, gasping for air.
I grin. Sorry, but I still have a thing about men throwing themselves at my feet. Old habits and all that?
"X-Xena," he gasps, so I guess that he recognises me. It's the leather, the armour, the height. And the fact that there are still 'wanted, dead' parchments in every tavern from Athens to Sparta. I have noticed that not many of them have 'wanted, dead or alive' written on them, and the ones that have usually have the 'alive' part scribbled out. I really should talk to someone about having them taken down. It gets a little tedious when you're strolling along, minding your own business and behind-the-times bounty hunters keep dropping out of the trees shouting about a five thousand dinar reward and would I be so kind as to drop the sword and not slice them up with the chakram.
Anyway, I digress.
"Xena," he says, having got his breath back, "you have to help us!"
I raise an eyebrow.
Gabrielle has told me that the eyebrow thingy puts people at their ease. Sort of like, 'hey, she's calm about it, things can't be that bad.' I had to practice in front of a mirror for three weeks to get it just right. It was very difficult.
"What's the problem?" I ask as Gabrielle helps the man up and offers him a sip from our waterskin.
"There's a band of ruffians outside our tavern," he gasps, "They're demanding we give them all our gold and livestock or they'll burn the village to the ground."
Aha! Time to earn respect and awe from all around me. Time to do 'The Hero Thing!!!'
Time to gallop head long into the village astride my trusty steed. Time to draw my sword from its scabbard and wave it menacingly. Time to let my war cry pierce the sky and scare the raiders out of their wits. Time to fling my chakram at exposed throats, laughing as blood spurts?
"I'll talk to them," says Gabrielle, "Perhaps we can work something out."
Work something out? Who's the hero in this partnership anyway? What are you gonna do when they aim a row of crossbows at you? Talk them to death?!
Come to think of it?
"Work something out?" I say, "These are War Lords, Gabrielle. They stab first and ask questions later."
She looks at me with that 'you're not completely forgiven look', "Come on, Xena," she says, "they sound like petty thugs." She raises her staff and twirls it, "Let me do the hero thing for a change. You always get to do it. Do you have any idea what it's like to be known across the whole of Greece as 'whatsername-the-one-that-travels-with-Xena'? Let me go in there and threaten them a little and you can hang around out here and get kidnapped by their friends who just happen to be heading into town."
I raise the eyebrow again, "Kidnapped?"
She seems a little upset about this and her ears are going a strange shade of pink, "Yeah," she says, "Kidnapped. It's what always happens to me, so I think it's high time it happened to you for a change."
I decide to humour her, "Okay," I say, "I can do that."
I watch as she strides off into the village.
I count to ten.
I follow her at a discrete distance.
Yeah, okay, so she's a grown woman who can make her own decisions and shouldn't be treated like a kid, but you and I know she's going to get ambushed the second she sets foot in town. And I'm still a little ticked off at her for the food thing, and I'm not in the mood for a full scale rescue.
So I follow her and try not to sulk.
I reach the edge of the village and watch as Gabrielle walks up to a crowd of swarthy-looking men. She looks the biggest of them in the eye and says, "Evening."
The man blinks down at her.
He is one of those typical War Lord types. You know: seven foot two tall, seven foot two wide, shaggy hair sticking out at all angles from a head the size of a boulder. Big scar across his face, hardly any teeth, bad breath, fists the size of slightly smaller boulders with 'pain' tattooed across the knuckles of one hand and 'PAIN' tattooed across the knuckles of the other. He has the type of face that only a mother could love, and even she'd have to spend time practising in front of the mirror.
He blinks at her again and I see her life flash in front of my eyes.
Odd feeling, that.
I start to draw my sword, ready to leap to the rescue when he says, "Evening yourself."
I then spend the next hour sitting on a rock, just out of sight, listening as Gabrielle and the softest bunch of War Lords you could ever meet, talk about anything and everything, sing bawdy drinking songs and tell even bawdier jokes.
I shall have to ask my so-called-innocent little sidekick where she heard the one about Ares, the donkey and the game of hide-the-soap.
And then I'll wash her mouth out with it.
I was on the verge of falling asleep when the big guy falls backwards off his seat and begins to laugh like a drain. I wonder what joke Gabrielle has told him this time, when I notice that she is not laughing.
That she is standing up and glaring at him.
That she is raising her staff high above her head with that look in her eye.
"It's not funny!" she yells, "I say the Known World is round!!"
I take off running, my sword in my hand, just as she wollops the big guy across the stomach and spins round to face the others as they surround her.
And so the fun begins.
I execute one of my patented triple-somersault-with forward-twist-and-extra-loud-war-cry moves, knocking three of the baddies down and landing next to Gabby as she begins to realise that perhaps she is in over her head.
"Oh, hi Xena" she says as she parries a sword thrust.
I give her The Look, "We need to talk about your temper" I say.
We stand back to back as they attack in earnest, "I'm really sorry," she says, "But it's my best theory. The more I think about it?" she whacks one poor unfortunate over the head, "?the more I know it's right."
Big Guy is starting to recover, so I kick his legs out from under him. Seven foot two of ticked off muscle coming at me, I do not need, "I agree," I say, "as theories go it's no crazier than any of your other ones."
She goes quiet for a moment, and I know she's trying to work out whether I've just insulted her. "Okay" she says, "okay.."
For a moment it is just us against them as we kick butt together. Then?
Oh for the love of Zeus?
I dodge a particularly dangerous sword blow?
"If the Known World is round?"
?spring ten feet into the air?
"?well, how do the people on the underside?"
?somersault backwards whilst hanging in the air like a feather on a breeze?
"?keep from falling off?"
And suddenly I have the grace of a brick and the aerodynamic qualities to match. I plummet to the ground and land with a rather painful crash on top of the remaining four baddies.
"Oh yes" cries Ares, punching the air, "That's brilliant. Brilliant!!!"
And he does a little dance.
The Goddess of Chaos grins and does something meaningful with butterflies.
Down on the hard, hard, bloody hard ground I disentangle myself from the now unconscious War Lords and get to my feet.
Gabrielle is blinking at me in shock as the gravity of the situation hits home, "?are you okay?" she says.
I am a little embarrassed that I have fallen on my backside in front of a whole village of people. I brush myself down and shrug, "yeah," I say, "must have hit an air pocket."
She looks as though she is about to ask me what the Tartarus an air pocket is, but behind her the first War Lords are also getting to their feet and brushing themselves down.
I brace myself, all ready for a super-duper-twirling-backwards-kick-'em-in-the-goolies somersault. The War Lords charge us and I leap?two feet into the air and land awkwardly on my ankle.
"Ow!" I say and try again.
I land better this time, but still only manage a two foot leap.
Gabrielle is twirling her staff around her as she holds off the bemused baddies, "Xena!" she yells, "Could you please contribute a little more to this fight? Standing there jumping up and down on the spot is not very intimidating."
She whacks the closest man on the head and I marvel at how she can still talk the legs off a centaur even in the middle of a battle.
Not willing to humiliate myself any more than I have done, I kick butt the good, old fashioned way - from ground level.
All is going well until I spot an archer standing at the far end of the village. He has a clear shot at me.
In your dreams, sunshine!
I snatch my trusty chackram from my belt and toss it nonchalantly in the vague direction of the archer, knowing it will somehow reach its target.
Gabrielle watches as it strikes the corner of a house and spins off at an impossible angle?
"You know?" she says,
?it skims through a water trough, gaining altitude as it leaves the other side?
"?there's this other theory I have?"
?chips a chunk of wood from the top of a tree, doubling back on itself as it plummets towards the ground?
"..it goes something along the lines of 'every action must have an equal and opposite reaction'?"
?sparks off of a large rock while reversing its course and speeding towards the exposed neck of the archer. It is a beautiful sight to see and I feel a lump in my throat?
"?and if I'm right about this theory - as I usually am - then your chackram is breaking some rather important laws?"
?and falls to the ground inches from his neck, lands on its edge and rolls gently down the hill.
I feel like crying.
"?I call them the Laws of Physics" says Gabrielle as she finishes off the last of the baddies with a smug smile.
Ares falls to the ground and rolls up into a wildly giggling ball, "Oh Zeus," he gasps, "This is perfect, this is absolutely perfect. I never thought I'd see?."
And the laughing carries on unabated.
If I had been there to see it, I would have done something quite unpleasant to his nose.
The Goddess of Chaos smiles and does something else meaningful with butterflies.
Meanwhile, I have another problem.
The archer has fired his arrow in shock - quite a common problem among men of a certain age - or so I've heard.
I watch the arrow streaking towards me. I ready myself to catch it, but take a quick sideways glance at Gabrielle, who is frowning.
"Don't even bloody say it!" I yell as I duck just in time.
The arrow buries itself in the wall of a house behind me with a thud. The archer runs away.
I think back wistfully to the days before I had a sidekick. Good days. Happy days. Quiet days.
Okay, so I was a rampaging War Lord with a price on my head in ever town in Greece. Okay, so I killed at a whim and led an army of men who were not really very nice at all. Okay, so my mother hated me, my friends feared me and my enemies wet themselves as soon as I came over the hill.
But at least I could jump. At least I could somersault. At least my chackram did what it was meant to do.
And nobody, I repeat nobody, bothered me with their stupid theories on the nature of the Known World.
I pick myself up again. I dust myself down again. I walk towards my still frowning sidekick. "Gabrielle," I say in my most menacing tone, "I'm spotting a little pattern here."
She looks at me, "A pattern?"
"Oh yeah," I say, "Just ever so."
I take her by the arm and lead her out of the prone mass of War Lord's all taking a snooze, "I want you to do something for me," I say.
"Stop talking?" she asks and I realise she is not as dopey as I had thought.
"No", I say as I point to a flock of ducks flying overhead, "I want you to say 'I have this theory. Ducks can't fly.'"
She frowns again, "I have this theory. Ducks can't fly?" she asks.
A suddenly flightless duck hits her on the head with a somewhat startled quack. It waddles away, salvaging as much pride as it is possible for a duck to salvage.
For the next few moments it rains ducks.
"Bugger," says Ares, "She's figured it out."
I pick my way cautiously through the mess of mallards, dragging a, for once, speechless bard behind me.
"I want you to do something else for me," I say.
"Another theory?" she asks.
I smile, the scary all-teeth-and-eyes smile which totally fails to intimidate her, "Oh yeah," I say, "Definitely another theory."
I look up at the sky again, "I want you to say, 'I have this theory. The god or gods responsible for this really feel the need to appear before us.'"
Ares whimpers, "I'm dead."
The Goddess of Chaos frowns and squashes one of her butterflies.
The others flutter away in disgust.
So anyway, all of a sudden Ares is standing before us, looking sheepish. This is no big surprise. If he hadn't been involved I would have been shocked. And maybe a little hurt.
Standing next to him is a goddess with a squashed butterfly in her hand.
Gabrielle gasps and steps forward to examine the deceased insect, "Oh," she says, "I have this theory about butterflies?"
I Look at her until she shuts up.
I stride up and down in front of the two Olympians, "I don't ask for a lot," I say, "A sharp sword, an accurate chackram, the ability to perform feats of physical dexterity beyond the means of mortal woman," I continue, "I like my life. I like the wandering from place to place, I like my horse, I even like Gabrielle on a good day. But you gods?"
They try to look innocent, but I'm not buying it.
"?you gods", I carry on, "You do nothing but meddle and interfere. You curse everything you see, you mess with people's lives, you put me and my friends under one spell after another. If it's not personality changes or body swaps, it's enchanted scrolls and abysmal luck with men?" I point at Gabrielle who is studying the end of her staff, "?do you know how long it's been since a guy has kissed her and lived to tell the tale?"
The two gods look at their feet.
I'm on a roll now, "Do you have any idea what it's like to traipse the length and breadth of Greece with a sexually frustrated bard in tow?"
Some one taps me on the shoulder, but I ignore them.
"Some of the stories she makes up! They'd make your hair curl!"
The tapping becomes more insistent and I turn to look at my sidekick. She raises an eyebrow, "Um, I think you're straying somewhat from the point here, Xena," she says.
I pause. She's right.
I glare at the two gods as they scuff their feet in the dust like naughty school children, "You'll take this curse off right now or I'll provide her with a few theories which will make your lives Tartarus."
Behind me, the sun is going down and the Goddess of Chaos breaks into a smile, "Fine," she says with a wave of her hand.
I look at Ares, "Would you mind explaining what that was about?" I say.
The God of War grins at me in that sexy, dark, bearded, creaking leather way he has, "It's Wednesday," he says and vanishes in a burst of light.
I am confused and frown a lot as I go to retrieve my chackram. I give it a test throw. It bounces off of six walls, decapitates one of the ducks which was just figuring out that it could fly again, and returns to my hand.
Gabrielle is twirling her staff in thought when I return to her side, "You know," she says, "I have this theory about gods, too?"
No ducks were harmed during the production of this story. (Stunt ducks were used for the more dangerous parts.) However, Xena's pride was more than a little dented and the butterflies remain baffled to this very day.