Disclaimer: No virgin sacrifices
were actually necessary in the writing of this story. Dang it. Genre: Xena:
Warrior Princess Mush factor: Character dies (sort of) alert. Gore factor:
Minimal. Smut factor: Sorry, none of you are invited. Rating: PG13
Argo was refusing to go into the
forest. For some obscure reason the war-horse was being stubborn. Perhaps
she was tired, or perhaps she just didn't plain want to -- it's hard to tell
with a horse -- but whatever the reason, no matter how much Xena prodded and
no matter how Gabrielle pulled, Argo refused to budge.
"She wants to go
that-a-way," Gabrielle said, pointing to the west, towards the sea.
"Well, I want to go this
way," Xena said, pulling a little on Argo's bit. "And what I want
"Why?" Gabrielle asked,
"I mean, it's not as if we have an actual destination in mind. We're
just traveling the countryside as we always do, hoping to run into people to
help or warlords to fight. I hardly think it really matters if we go through
a field for once. Forests always mean trouble. Remember the Bacchae?"
"Exactly," Xena said,
pulling just a little bit harder on Argo's reins.
For once Argo lost her temper,
catching her rider off-guard and throwing Xena off. "Are you
alright?" asked Gabrielle.
"She's never done that
before," said Xena wonderingly, still winded by the fall.
"Let's just take it as a sign
and choose another way, okay? There's a sign pointing to a village that
way," Gabrielle said, pointing to the same direction Argo had wanted to
go in the first place. "Let's just go there. I'm starving, I could
really go for a home-cooked meal."
"Might as well," said
Xena, gingerly picking herself up. "There's no use reasoning with an
unreasonable horse." ***
They were almost to the seaside
village when they spotted a crowd, moving with great energy towards them.
"Maybe it's the welcome
wagon," Gabrielle said. "It could happen," she protested to
Xena's cynical gaze.
"Well, don't count on it,"
said Xena from her lofty position on Argo's back. "Get on and get
ready," she ordered lowly.
"Look," Gabrielle said as
she scrambled up Argo's back. "That looks like Joxer the villagers are
"Why aren't I surprised?"
"He hasn't seen us yet,"
Gabrielle urged. "I say we run for it."
For a moment Xena was tempted, but
at that particular moment Argo whinnied and the question became purely
"Xena!" screamed Joxer as
he spied the two. "Help!"
"Traitor," whispered Xena
to Argo before urging the war-horse forward. "Come on, we might as
Joxer was running for his life. He
usually made better time but at the moment his speed was greatly hampered by
the young woman he was dragging along. The woman, in turn, was greatly
hampered by her long white dress and flimsy leather sandals. Joxer,
he thought to himself for the millionth time, what is it about you that
calls out to these beautiful needy women? It's a curse. He sighed. Okay,
so it had probably been the greatest night of his life. Maybe even better
than that night with Meg. But at least then an entire village hadn't shown
up to defend her honor. This, he thought grumpily, is what comes
out of being a gentleman, as well as a mighty warrior. Can I help it if I'm
"Stop this!" he shouted to
the crowd out for his blood. "You don't know who you're dealing
In answer the crowd roared even
louder and surged nearer. A wrong turn led them to a dead-end alley. Joxer
turned back and drew his sword, thrusting the woman behind him protectively.
"Yi yi yi yi yi yi!" came
a battle cry as Xena hurled herself into the mass, punching one man in the
face and simultaneously delivering to the stomach of another one. Gabrielle
and her staff weren't far behind.
"No!" the young woman
protested. "Don't hurt them!"
"Yeah," Joxer growled,
brandishing his sword menacingly. "Don't make me hurt you!" The
crowd refused to be reasonable.
"How could you do this?"
screamed a woman with white hair. "What would your father have said?
After I endured unimaginable pain, for _hours_, to bring you into this
world? How could you?"
"This is your mother?"
The girl gave an unhappy nod.
"Gabrielle," ordered Xena,
"put the girl on Argo and leave. Joxer and I will handle this."
"Leave you here? With
_him?_" Gabrielle asked, aghast. A glare from Xena changed her mind.
"I could do that," she agreed.
"Bye Mom!" cried the young
girl as Gabrielle urged her up on Argo's back. "I'm sorry! I'll write!
Don't forget to feed the cats!" Argo reared and the crowd fell back,
giving Argo and her riders time to get away.
"Now then," said Xena,
smiling at the crowd. "Do you want to talk about this, or do you want
to do this... the _hard_ way?"
"Kill him!" screamed one
man, thrusting a hoe threateningly towards Joxer. "Kill that randy
"Spoiler of innocents!"
"Debaser of virgins!"
Xena looked at Joxer in disgust.
"You didn't," she accused. Joxer blushed guiltily.
"My poor daughter," moaned
the girl's mother. "A future priestess of Artemis!"
Xena looked even more disgusted.
"Don't you ever stop?" she asked.
"I didn't know, okay?"
protested Joxer. "I got to this village last night. She met me coming
down the road and threw herself into my arms. She begged me! She said she
couldn't live without me! What was I supposed to do?"
"Used your brains
instead?" Xena suggested dryly.
The crowd, in the meantime, seemed
to have lost their steam. They were standing around, shuffling their feet
and looking unhappy but relieved as well. The girl's mother was
conspicuously blowing her nose into her sleeve.
"Maybe it's just as well,"
stated one man. "I don't think we could have gone through with it
"Yeah," said a young
pregnant woman. "Marina and I played together as children. I don't
think I could have done that to her either."
"But now what are we going to
do?" asked a young villager.
"Maybe we should move,"
suggested another man. "I hear Troy needs new citizens."
"Stop this!" ordered a man
who Xena decided was the chief, judging from the size of his headdress.
"You think moving away will fool Poseidon, great god of the ocean?
He'll destroy us all for disobeying him! You can't hide from the gods, you
"I'm sorry," wailed
Marina's mother. "I should've raised her better. I should've beaten her
more." She burst into noisy tears. "But she was such a _good_
"There, there, Cora,"
soothed another old woman. "It's not your fault. We'll think of
"What?" asked the chief
irritatedly. "We're running out of time! It's almost the summer
solstice! Where will we find another virgin sacrifice?"
Xena gave Joxer a sardonic look.
"Couldn't live without you, huh?"***
Marina and Gabrielle were seated
under a tree, peacefully waiting for Xena and Joxer to catch up. This time
around Argo had exhibited no reluctance whatsoever at going into the forest,
and at the moment, in fact, was happily munching on a patch of sweet grass.
"Are you sure your friends will
know how to find us?" asked Marina. "It's a pretty big
"Sure," answered Gabrielle
complacently. "Xena _always_ finds me."
"That's nice," Marina said
absently, letting the conversation trail off.
"Can I ask you a personal
question?" ventured Gabrielle after a few moments.
"Sure," Marina shrugged.
"About Joxer..." she
began, then, unable to help herself, blurted out, "how could you?"
Her disgust was written plainly on her face.
"Joxer?" Marina asked with
a small smile. "Is that is his name?"
"You didn't even know his
name?" asked Gabrielle, now even more disgusted.
"We really didn't have time for
introductions," shrugged Marina.
"You're just the slightest bit
impulsive, aren't you?" Gabrielle commented dryly.
"I am now," agreed Marina
heartily. "All those years being a good girl. Missing out on all the
fun, all the adventures I could have had, and for what? _I_ wanted to be a
priestess of Artemis. _They_ wanted to feed me to a sea serpent."
"What about death before
dishonor?" asked Gabrielle dryly.
Marina gave a disdainful sniff.
"Forget it," she said. "I'd rather live."
"Why would they want to feed
you to a sea serpent anyway?" queried Gabrielle. "What did you
protested. "That was the whole point! I've never done anything! Oooh, I
could just _strangle_ Malver!"
"Dark guy, tall hat." said
"The one that was screaming
'Kill that randy goat'?"
"I kinda liked him," said
Gabrielle wistfully. "He made so much sense."
"Hmp," snorted Marina,
flicking away a mosquito with a too-long sleeve. "If there's a randy
goat around it's him. They should feed _him_ to a sea serpent. I bet the sea
serpent wouldn't ever come back."
"What is this about a sea
serpent anyway?" Gabrielle asked.
"Long story," answered
"Well," said Xena as she
and Joxer came into the small clearing, "I suggest you start
"Maybe we should start a fire
and get comfortable first," suggested Marina brightly. "Maybe
catch dinner? It's getting dark." With studied casualness, she grabbed
Joxer's hand. "You find some wood, Joxer," she ordered. "I'll
go find us something to eat. Can I borrow your knife?"
"But," protested Joxer,
"Shame on you, Joxer,"
scolded Marina. "These women save us and you want them to work for
their dinner? Come on, it's the least you can do." She pulled Joxer off
his feet, deftly taking possession of the knife in his boot. "Don't
worry," she winked and patted him consolingly. "I'm, or rather I
_was_, a future priestess of Artemis. I know what I'm doing." With that
she dragged him further off into the forest.
"You think we should go after
them?" asked Gabrielle worriedly.
"Why?" asked Xena.
"If we're lucky we never have to see either one ever again."
"You don't really mean
that," said Gabrielle. "Do you?" Xena gave another sardonic
smile. "There's no telling what could happen to them out there."
"You heard her," said
Xena, flattening a patch of grass and lying down. "She knows what she's
"Are you sure you know what
you're doing?" Joxer demanded.
"Will you be quiet?"
hissed Marina. "This is my first night in a forest. If I can make a
kill I'll pass the first test."
"Kill?" Joxer squeaked,
nervously backing away. "What kill?"
"Shush!" said Marina.
"Why don't you go get the wood and bring it back to the camp? I'll
return after I catch something." With that she turned and disappeared
into the darkness.
"Come back here!" shouted
Joxer. "It's dangerous out there!" He looked around. "You
never know what you'll find in a forest like this. Wolves. Boars. Lions.
Blood-sucking Bacchae," he said with a shaky smile. "Oh boy."
A sudden sound startled him. "The wind, it was just the wind," he
told himself, placatingly. "Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. Wood. I was
getting wood. Okay," he looked around him and hurriedly gathered the
twigs and branches that lay scattered at his feet. "Not much wood
here," he mused, "we need more. Bound to be a long night. Not to
mention a dark one." He looked around consideringly, and his eyes fell
on a particularly large beech tree. "Wood's wood," he shrugged and
drew his sword.
The sudden scream that shattered the
calm disturbed everyone except the two women peacefully camped under a huge
"That sounded like Joxer,"
commented Gabrielle sleepily.
"Yes it did," agreed Xena
noncommittally. "You think we should go see what the matter is?"
Xena looked at her askance.
"You're starting to like the idiot, aren't you?" she asked.
"He grows on you,"
admitted Gabrielle weakly. "Like one of those yappy dogs."
"Like a callus," corrected
Xena. "Springing from a constant irritation." With a
long-suffering sigh she stood up. "Come on," she said again.
"We're already up, we might as well."
They found Joxer lying on the
ground, with Marina using her sleeve to fan him back to consciousness.
"What happened?" Gabrielle
"I don't know," Marina
shrugged. "He mumbled something about being attacked by a tree and then
"Attacked by a tree,"
snorted Gabrielle. "Yeah, right."
"That's what _I_ said,"
Xena, on the other hand, was eyeing
the beech tree suspiciously. "Come out," she ordered, to the
surprise of the two women. "Come out _now._" To their surprise the
tree shifted, and from within its trunk the a shadowy shape slowly took
form. In moments, a young, startlingly beautiful girl with brown hair and
silver-green eyes stood apart, cloaked in young leaves.
"I'm sorry," the girl said
in a small voice. "I just wanted him to stop. Did I kill him?"
Joxer groaned. "Unfortunately
not," stated Xena mournfully. ***
"Did you have to hit me so
hard?" grumbled Joxer, nursing his aching head.
"You're lucky _I_ didn't have a
sword," snapped Talia, the hamadryad. "Didn't anyone ever tell you
not to cut living wood? Just wait till I tell Pan about you!"
"Settle down, children,"
Xena said, stirring the fire and testing the roasting roots.
"I can't believe I didn't catch
anything," complained Marina. "I bet his scream scared all the
"Warlords, I can handle.
Blood-sucking Bacchae, I can handle. A dozen crazed centaurs, I can handle.
Moving trees -- sorry." returned Joxer sarcastically.
"You wouldn't have caught anything
anyway," added the nymph. "This is Pan's forest. You can't hunt
"Oh, wonderful," said
Marina, ironically. "My first night in a forest and it has to be one
where there's no hunting allowed. How am I supposed to make my first
"I'm sure all the poor forest
animals are beside themselves with woe," answered Talia.
"Why don't you act like a tree
and leave?" said Marina.
Joxer laughed and was rewarded by
three icy stares. "Well, that was very witty, what she
said," he protested.
"I can't," said Talia,
pouting. "I harmed a living thing, I have to make a reparation. Believe
me, I'm not too thrilled about being tied to a human either."
"Why don't you just kiss it and
make it better?" suggested Marina eagerly. "Then you can go back
to your tree and we can go back to our peaceful lives."
Xena snorted softly but didn't
"I can't," Talia said,
looking both disgusted and wistful at the same time.
"Why not?" asked Joxer,
eyeing the beautiful nymph. "A kiss would certainly make me feel a lot
better." Another trio of glares shut him up.
"I... promised someone I never
would." Talia explained lamely.
"You?" asked Marina
disbelievingly. "But you're a nymph! You kiss every man and god that
comes your way!"
"That's a lie!" growled
Talia, her fierce demeanor completely at odds with her fragile appearance.
"Nymphs are people too, you know. We have feelings, we have needs, but
we have taste, too. And even if every other nymph went around kissing
everything in tights or togas what makes you think _I'd_ be so
"Hey!" protested Joxer.
"You can't talk to me like that. _I'm_ Joxer the Mighty!" Entire
villages of beautiful women have been known to run after me. Princesses,
"Sorry," said Talia,
though not very sincerely. "I didn't know."
Joxer looked a little put-out and
proceeded to sulk.
"Who did you promise?"
asked Gabrielle, who always loved a good story.
"It was a long time ago,"
Talia said wistfully. "He was so tall, and handsome, and his wings were
"Wings?" asked Joxer
curiously, his earlier annoyance forgotten.
"Calais," supplied Xena
"You know him," Talia said
happily. "He landed here one day, he said he was looking for his
"Zetes," Xena again
furnished the name.
"Yes. He stayed the night. He
sang to me. We talked." Talia smiled reminiscently. "He said he
had to go on this adventure but that he'd be back. He said he wished he
hadn't promised to go first."
"And you believed him?"
asked Marina, snorting at the nymph's naiveté.
"He promised," repeated
Talia, solemnly. "And I promised I'd wait."
"Well, I'm sure he'll be back
soon," said Joxer cheerfully, sending a meaningful glare in Gabrielle's
"What about you, Marina?"
asked Gabrielle, skeptically. "What's this about a sea serpent?"
"Well, I guess I might as well
tell you. You already know everything else anyway." She sat down more
comfortably. "You see, every year Poseidon sends us this huge storm
that completely wipes out our village..."
"Not as terrible as being eaten
by a sea serpent," commented Xena dryly, passing around the cooked
roots to the others. Talia refused with a smile.
"You said it," agreed
Marina emphatically, biting into a root with a grimace. "Anyway, we
were pretty much used to it, you know, as a way of life. We'd work, get
wiped out, rebuild, get wiped out..."
interrupted Joxer again.
"Not really," said Marina,
shrugging prettily. "You have to be philosophical about these things.
We always had plenty of time to leave and save the most of our belongings.
It was pretty much the most exciting thing that ever happens in our
village." She gave a sentimental sigh. "Then Malver had to go and
panic everyone with his stupid sea serpent announcement."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we've been having a
pretty bad year, that much is true. But then Malver announces that Poseidon
told him that he - Poseidon - was going to send a sea serpent to our village
during the summer solstice and if we sacrifice a virgin -- and guess who he
pointed to at this particular moment in time? -- our village would be spared
the storm this year."
"And the villagers believed
him?" asked Gabrielle.
"Well, Malver _is_ a priest of
Poseidon, not to mention a halfway decent sorcerer." Marina shrugged.
"At first some of the elders decided that we'll just have to take our
chances with the storm, as usual, but then Malver convinced them that if the
sea serpent came and there was no virgin it would be the serpent that would
destroy the village and kill everyone besides." She sighed. "Okay,
I know what you're thinking... I should just let the stupid serpent eat me
and save my village, right? Well, forget it. If my mother couldn't
guilt-trip me into being eaten alive, neither can you."
"And even if you did change
your mind," commented Xena caustically, "it'd be too late
"I can't believe this,"
said Joxer, appalled. "You _used_ me!"
Marina grinned. Talia blushed.
"Listen," said Gabrielle
suddenly, looking around her. "Do you hear that noise?"
"What noise?" asked
"That strange noise," said
Gabrielle, still listening intently. "No, it's not a noise, exactly.
It's like... music."
"I hear it, too," said
Joxer. "Like a humming."
"You can hear it?" asked
Talia excitedly. "Not everyone can. Calais could," she said,
remembering. "It takes a certain kind of heart to hear it."
"I don't hear anything,"
said Xena. Marina seconded.
"It's the greensong,"
"The greensong?" asked
"The song of life. Of the
forest. The trees are singing it."
"Trees can sing?" asked
"In their own way,"
explained Talia. "All living things can. And remember, this is Pan's
forest. The greensong is strongest here."
"It's gone," said Joxer
after a few moment, disappointed.
"No," said Talia.
"It's just gone deeper. The greensong never stops, not while one tree
"Funny, for a while there I
thought I understood what they were singing." mused Joxer.
"Maybe someday you will,"
said Talia, looking at Joxer with a strange light in her eyes.
"I wish Hercules was
here," commented Joxer, after a few moments of silence. "I know
for a fact that he's killed a few sea serpents in his day."
"Who needs Herc?"
Gabrielle asked cheerfully. "We've got Xena!"
"You're not suggesting..."
started Joxer warily.
Xena grinned. "Oh, Joxer?"
she asked sweetly. "Can you swim?"***
"I still don't believe we're
doing this," grumbled Joxer, as they tramped their way back to Marina's
village. "This is _not_ a good idea. I mean, Herc, I can understand.
But you... Say, you're not half-goddess, are you? You haven't been holding
out on us or anything?"
"Will you just relax,
Joxer?" said Marina irritatedly. "There's five of us and only one
sea serpent. How bad can it be?"
"And it's the least you can do
after robbing that village of their last virgin," commented Gabrielle
slyly. "Maybe if we do this they won't draw and quarter you."
"I would just like to say
again" stated Talia, "that I am against our planning to hurt this
poor misunderstood sea serpent. It has a right to live just like any of us,
and for all we know maidens are a necessary part of its diet. Maybe it had a
terrible childhood and can't help itself."
"Are you sure you don't want to
go back to your tree where it's nice and safe?" asked Marina
"I'd like to," admitted
Talia. "But I told you, I need to make reparation for the harm I did
"Joxer," snarled Joxer.
"The name's Joxer!"
"Yeah," said Talia. "Jockster."
"But what about your
tree?" asked Gabrielle. "I thought you weren't supposed to leave
"Well, were not _supposed_
to," agreed Talia, "but that doesn't mean that we can't. Anyway, I
put a spell of protection on it. It should be fine for a few days -- barring
idiots with swords, that is."
"Look, I didn't know,
okay?" protested Joxer.
"Don't you have trees where you
come from?" asked Talia. "You _never_ cut living wood." The
rest of the group nodded solemnly.
"Okay," surrendered Joxer.
"_Now_ I know. I'll never do it again, okay?"
"Good," said Talia
happily. "I made a convert! Pan would be proud. Will you also promise
to always write on both sides of paper?"
"What?" Joxer asked,
"Just promise," Talia
pleaded, "it's very important."
Joxer shrugged and did as she
"Are you sure you won't go back
to your tree?" asked Xena seriously. "You don't owe Joxer
anything. He was trying to cut your tree down."
"I'm sure," said Talia,
meeting Xena's eyes squarely. "I always wanted to see more of the
world. And I've always wanted to see the ocean. That's where Calais went,
you know. He went to sail the ocean on this great boat."
Xena seemed to want to say something
more but changed her mind.
Marina, "you've traveled all over Greece, haven't you?" Xena
nodded. "After we kill this serpent, would you give me directions to
the nearest temple of Artemis? Maybe give me a recommendation?"
"Sure, why not," agreed
"My chances would be better,
though," mused the young priestess-wannabe, "if I could say I had
already passed the tests."
"And what tests would those
be?" asked Gabrielle.
"Well," explained Marina,
"there are three. You have to be able to hunt - that means making a
kill. You have to best a man in something that he prides himself -- that
means beating him at a contest of his choosing. Lastly you have to be able
to call on the powers of the moon." She sighed heavily. "I still
haven't figured out that last part yet."
"And don't you have to be a
virgin?" added Gabrielle.
"I plan to plead
self-defense," stated Marina. "Besides, they say it doesn't count
if you didn't enjoy it."
"Hey!" protested Joxer,
"just what is _that_ supposed to mean?" Marina just grinned
wickedly and winked.
"I think that's sick,"
commented Talia. "Having to kill a poor defenseless animal just so you
can be part of some snobby sorority, some clique! Just wait till I tell Pan
"There's a thought,"
Gabrielle suggested brightly to Marina. "You could be a priestess of
Pan instead. Your lack of virtue would be a plus to the old goat."
"I'm telling him you said
that!" warned Talia peevishly.
"Too bad she didn't kill him
with that blow," whispered Gabrielle to Xena. "Then we could just
have buried him and be rid of both of them."
"We'd still be stuck with the
other one," said the warrior woman.
"Do you think it's a good idea,
going back to the village like this?" asked Joxer. "What if they
want to continue what they started yesterday and..."
Argo's whinny alerted them to the
sight of the village people coming up the path to meet them.
"Uh oh," said Gabrielle.
"Deja vu." ***
"Okay, folks, the summer
solstice is two days away," began Xena, as the group and the villagers
gathered at the traditional meeting lodge. "What we need is a
"What we need to do,"
suggested Gabrielle, "is to lure the serpent with a false maiden and
kill it when it comes after her."
"Would that work?" asked
Talia. "Won't the serpent be able to tell whether the maiden is false
"We put some girl in a white
dress, who's going to tell?" shrugged Gabrielle. "All we need is a
volunteer." All eyes fell on Marina.
"Oh no," protested Marina,
vehemently shaking her head. "This is how all this began in the first
place. There is no way I'm letting myself be chained to a boat and sent out
to sea. I get seasick!" All four looked at Marina strangely, while the
villagers had long-suffering looks on their faces.
"It won't work," growled
Malver. "You think Poseidon, great god of the ocean, will be deceived
by such childish tricks?" A murmur of agreement swept through the
"We're not trying to deceive
Poseidon," explained Joxer patiently. "We're trying to stop a sea
serpent from leveling your village."
"Marina," suggested Xena,
"why don't you take your Mother and the rest of the villagers home and
the rest of us can figure out a plan?"
"But--" protested Marina,
but was silenced by a meaningful glare from Xena. "Okay," she
agreed. "But I'll be back. Come on, Mom, folks, let's leave them alone
so they can make plans."
"But," protested Malver,
"this is _our_ village. Shouldn't we stay?" The villagers murmured
"It's better this way,"
reasoned Talia innocently. "If Poseidon gets angry you can say
you had nothing to do with it. Just point to the rebellious ex-virgin
ex-sacrifice and her evil cohorts. Be sure to mention that I had nothing to
do with hurting the poor thing either, will you?"
"That _does_ make sense,"
admitted Cora, shooing the rest of the villagers out of the door. "Come
on folks, let's leave this to the professionals."
After the crowd had left Xena turned
to survey her 'troops.' One Amazon princess, one once-and-future
priestess of Artemis, one high-strung hamadryad, and one, uh, _Joxer._ She
winced. At least I have Gabrielle, she thought. As for the rest, well, they
were better than nothing.
A plan, she thought again. What they
needed was a plan.***
*The Summer Solstice, dawn,*
thought Gabrielle. *In other parts of the known world this day was
greeted by great joy and revelry. However, in this tiny fishing village the
dawn was greeted by an unnatural hush and an impending sense of doom.
Whereas an ordinary dawn would be greeted by a rush of fishing boats and a
sudden explosion of activity, only five pairs of eyes greeted this dawn, and
all of them were focused on the figure on a lonely fishboat at sea.*
*Their commander stood alone,
separate, bearing the weight of responsibility on her beautiful, proud
shoulders, while her soldiers stood at attention -- brave, vigilant, ready
to battle the direst threat, the greatest enemy if she but gave the command.
They stood ready, awaiting the slightest change, the merest hint of battle.
They stood poised at the edge of danger, ready to risk life and limb --.*
*When the idiot destroyed the
mood,* thought Gabrielle.
"Shush Joxer," said
Gabrielle. "I'm trying to concentrate." ***
*The Summer Solstice,
Gabrielle. *The cool winds blew in from the sea, bringing with songs from
distant lands and the promise of new beginnings. The birds flew against a
cloudless sky the exact shade of a peacock's egg and the waves tumbled
cheerfully like carefree ---.*
"How's our sacrifice holding
up?" asked Joxer.
"Shush Joxer," said Talia.
"Gabrielle's trying to concentrate." ***
*The Summer Solstice, noon,* thought
Gabrielle. *The hot sun beat mercilessly upon their --.*
"Lunch anyone?" asked
Joxer, cheerfully bringing in a plate full of roasted fish.
thought Gabrielle. *Yes, that would work.* ***
*The Summer Solstice, half past
bored,* thought Gabrielle. *The
courageous warriors had been beaten back by the tide, by the sun, by the
sheer, utter uselessness of their stupid quest. A sea serpent my foot. There
is no such thing --.*
"Heads up, people!"
ordered Xena as the waters surrounding the boat began to stir and churn.
Faster than anyone could follow, a great draconian head broke out from the
waves and attacked the boat. One blow from its great tail reduced the vessel
to splinters, and the figure in white, still chained to the mast, bobbed
helplessly in its path.
As Xena and her companions watched
in quiet fascination, the serpent transferred its attention from the boat
and went after the figure in white. A hush followed as the serpent opened
it's great maw of a mouth and swallowed the white shape in one impressive
"Did it work?" asked
Marina. "We stuffed that dummy with the most lethal mushrooms and herbs
we could find."
"Wait and see," advised
The serpent faltered once, and the
group waited with bated breath for it to fall, for it to stop. It didn't. It
now cast its gaze upon the shore, upon the tiny village and started towards
"It didn't," decided Xena,
shouting. "Places everybody!"
Like a well-trained army responding
to the voice of its commander Gabrielle, Joxer and Marina assumed their set
positions on the beach.
Their first line of defense. Arrows.
Joxer had momentarily put aside his crossbow for a longbow, opting for the
greater range and faster reload speed of the more primitive weapon.
"Remember," Xena cautioned, echoing the instructions she had
repeated over and over again the day before. "Shoulders back, wrists
turned flat inwards. Keep both eyes open, don't blink. Aim for the
eyes." In perfect syncronicity, Marina, Joxer and Gabrielle let lose a
deluge of arrows. Talia, reluctant to get involved in such violence,
nevertheless helped her friends by supplying them with a fresh supply of
arrows each time their quivers emptied.
The serpent thrashed and roared each
time an arrow found its mark and imbedded itself its hide, but it didn't
seem to be greatly affected.
"Aim for the eyes!" Xena
ordered again, but the serpent moved too swiftly, too unpredictably.
"Talia," Xena instructed
grimly, "time for the fire arrows."
"Do we have to?" protested
Talia. "The fish will die."
"Do as I say," Xena
gritted, and Talia, looking decidedly unhappy, handed her a quiver of
special arrows whose heads were covered in cloth and soaked in oil.
"I hate fire," said Talia.
gloomily. "Fire destroys everything. It's ever so much worse than sea
serpents who at least only harm virgins. And you can never reason with it.
Prometheus should be chained up for giving it to humans."
"Uh," said Joxer,
momentarily distracted by the conversation, "He was. Xena and Hercules
"Oh," said Talia,
deflated. "Too bad."
Lighting her first arrow, Xena took
careful aim and let it loose. It landed near the serpent and the sea was
suddenly ablaze. The oil that the companions had poured near the waters
surrounding the boat burned hotly, quickly and for a moment they were unable
to see the serpent as it dove beneath the waters to escape the inferno.
Their hopes were quickly dashed to pieces as it reappeared a moment later,
away from the boat and a great deal nearer the beach.
"Come on," said Xena,
running towards the water. "We can't let it get to the village!"
Gabrielle and Joxer responded
immediately to her command, running down the beach to where the serpent was
coming nearer. Xena took out her sword dove into the water. The waves beat
her back but she forged on -- cutting through the smaller ones, going under
the bigger ones. On and on she, strove. Gabrielle and Joxer tried manfully
to get to Xena and help her but the waves seemed to drive them back harder
with each foot they gained.
Marina and Talia held back. Marina
looked as if she were rooted to the ground while Talia wrung her hands
Xena and the serpent met in
waist-high water. The warrior woman, weighed down by sodden clothes and
fighting the waves tried to swing her sword at the serpentŐs head. Its tail
it struck Xena full on the body and she disappeared beneath the waves. Joxer
and Gabrielle battled harder against the waves, frantic to reach her.
"You have to help them,"
Talia hissed to Marina. "They're doing this for you."
"I can't," said Marina
guiltily, whispering something under her breath.
"What?" asked Talia,
"what did you say?"
"I'm afraid of the water,"
Marina confessed, head down, tears in her eyes. "I fell off a fishing
boat when I was a little girl. My father saved me but he drowned. I'm afraid
of the water," she repeated.
Joxer and Gabrielle had reached
Xena. Gabrielle was now trying to pull Xena to shore while Joxer made
ineffectual stabs at the beast with his sword. The serpent, now madly
annoyed, again knocked Joxer down and held him under the water with the
weight of its tail. From the shore Talia and Marina could see his hands
flailing wildly, helpless out of the water as he struggled to get loose.
"Great Pan, it's killing
him!" shouted Talia, running towards the water. "Help Xena and
Gabrielle!" she ordered Marina. "I'll go help Joxer!"
"You?" shouted Marina
disbelievingly after Talia. "What can _you_ do?"
"I can be a virgin
sacrifice," answered Talia grimly to herself.
Determinedly, the young hamadryad
marched up to the water towards the serpent. She waved her hands in the air,
shouting at the serpent, then ran up the beach, away from the village. The
reptile saw her, immediately released Joxer and went in Talia's direction
with dangerous intent.
"What's Talia doing?"
demanded Gabrielle as she and Xena finally made it to shore. Joxer followed,
gasping and wheezing for breath.
"I don't know," said
Marina, helping Xena back on her feet.
"It's going after her!"
said Joxer, also getting on his feet. "Come on, we have to help
"We can't fight it in the
water," said Xena. "It's too strong and it moves too fast."
"It's slippery, too, "
said Joxer, picking off some slime from his armor, then disgustedly throwing
it all off. "I hope I don't rust."
"We have to get it out of the
water, but how?" asked Gabrielle.
"Of course!" exclaimed
Xena, pointing to Marina. "You can do it!"
"Me?" asked Marina,
confused. "What can _I_ do? I can't even go into the water."
"You want to be a priestess of
Artemis, right?" asked Xena. "Well, here's your chance. You can
prove you're worthy by calling down the powers of the moon."
"What? I don't
"The tides," explained
Joxer. "The moon controls the tides! You've been training, right? You
know the prayers, the incantations. You can do it!"
"But," protested Marina,
"there's no moon."
"There is, you just can't see
it. There!" said Xena, pointing to a thin sliver of white against the
red sky. "Now, listen carefully, you don't have much time. Close your
eyes and feel it, the power is within you. Pray, pray as hard as you can to
Artemis. If you're worthy she'll help you. She'll help us."
The three then picked up their
weapons and ran to the direction. "I believe in you," shouted
Joxer, even as he ran towards the water. "You can do this!"
Marina looked helplessly after her
friends. "I have to help them," she thought. "They're doing
this for me."
Talia, not used to such activity,
was rapidly tiring. But she couldn't stop. The serpent seemed to have
fixated upon her and followed her every step. She didn't dare go further
inland and risk the village. She didn't know what else to do but to keep
A particularly big wave came out of
nowhere and swept her off her feet. She went down and stayed down, choking
on the silt and the sand. Each time she tried to get up another wave knocked
her back down, and each ebb of the tide pulled her deeper and deeper into
the water. Deeper and deeper, until her feet could no longer touch the sand,
carrying her helplessly forward, delivering her into the jaws of the
Whoosh! A bright circle flung
through the air, neatly striking the serpent on the nose just before it
could harm Talia. Xena neatly caught the chakram as it zipped back to her
and continued fighting the waves, desperate to reach the dryad. Joxer and
Gabrielle followed closely behind.
A strange humming sound started from
the beach and Joxer took one hurried look behind him. Marina was now on the
beach, weaving strange designs upon the sand and singing songs to the sky.
He also cast a quick prayer skyward that Marina's calling would work, or
that the three of them -- Gabrielle, Xena and he could stop the serpent and
save their friend. "You have to save her," he thought to himself.
"You're Joxer the Mighty and it's your fault she's here. If you hadn't
tried to cut down her tree..."
Xena grabbed Talia away just as the
serpent made another lunge, thrusting her back to Gabrielle. "Take her
back to shore," she ordered and faced the serpent once more. Once more
the water seemed to be on the serpent's side, the waves rolling and foaming
with intense animation.
"I'll distract it," said
Joxer grimly. "You go at him from behind."
Xena nodded. Gripping her sword she
stood very still while Joxer once again poked at the serpent with his sword.
Annoyed, the serpent turned to Joxer as they had hoped and Xena had a she
slashed down on the exposed neck with deadly force. She cut deep, deep into
the vertebrae, releasing blood and slime, turning the water crimson. But not
deep enough. Wounded, the serpent thrashed and writhed and turned its
attention back to its tormentor. It's deadly tail lashed once again, twice,
knocking the two heroes down.
But not for long.
Joxer landed heavily, grimacing at
the pain in his back. Surprised, he realized that all of sudden the water
had become shallow, barely a few inches deep, the tides receding back into
the ocean. He turned to grin at Xena only to find that the though now
virtually helpless in the absence of water, the serpent had coiled itself
around the inert body of Xena. Joxer took a few steps forward and the
serpent hissed, tightening its embrace.
"Xena!" shouted Gabrielle
running back after she had helped Talia back to the shore. "Xena!"
She would have run past Joxer and into the reach of the serpent if he hadnŐt
caught her and held her back.
"Let me go!" she demanded.
"We have to help Xena!"
"Don't get any closer," he
warned. "If he squeezes any tighter Xena will die."
"Well, we can't not just do
anything," Gabrielle hissed, desperate to reach and help her friend.
The serpent remain on guard, glaring suspiciously but unmoving.
"Back up slowly,"
instructed Joxer. "Maybe he'll be less angry and release Xena."
A sharp whizzing sound flew past
their ears. Then another. The serpent's head snapped and fell back, it's
body thrashing weakly. Then it lay still. Two large arrows now protruded
from its eyeball sockets.
They looked back and saw Marina on
the beach, holding her bow.
"Good girl," whispered
Xena weakly from where she lay. "She aimed for the eyes."***
They victors had hardly time to
catch their breaths when a dark shadow loomed overhead.
"I never saw a storm come up so
fast," commented Gabrielle.
"Oh -oh," said Talia,
chewing her lip. "I _knew_ this would happen."
"What?" asked Marina.
"What's going on here?"
boomed an outwordly-loud voice. "What have you done to this poor
Poseidon, great god of the ocean,
Joxer, Marina and Gabrielle cringed
at the anger in the god's voice and remained silent. However, Xena was
more used to dealing with irate gods than her friends.
"Us?" Xena demanded.
"_You_ were the one who sent this serpent to destroy this village! Did
you really think the villagers would just sit by and watch that happen?
Maybe sell tickets?"
"I did no such thing,"
roared the god. "this beach is this serpent's usual fishing ground. It
never harmed the villagers before, why would it harm them now?"
"Because we wouldn't sacrifice
a virgin in your honor," supplied Marina.
"A virgin sacrifice?"
asked Poseidon, clearly surprised and disgusted at the notion. "You
think I don't have enough problems with those silly heartbroken fools
throwing themselves off cliffs and into my ocean? You think I don't have
enough garbage down there with you people always throwing your dead bodies
off your boats or those floating funeral pyres? You think I would actually
want another rotting corpse in my kingdom?"
The group, with the exception of
Talia, were starting to look very confused.
"But," began Marina,
"Malver said --."
"Malver!" roared the ocean
god angrily, "is he the one behind this? I knew I should have drowned
that old goat a long time ago. Pretending to be one of my priests.. Well,
he's gone too far this time!."
"But the serpent went after
Talia," protested Marina. "It wanted to eat her."
"Well, of course it wanted to
eat her," exclaimed Poseidon. "You wave a virgin in front of a sea
serpent's nose what do you expect? Virgins are a favorite treat for
serpents. They're very rare these days you know."
Both Marina and Talia blushed, but
for different reasons.
"But what about the
storms?" demanded Xena. "Those yearly storms that wiped away their
village? Are you telling us you didn't send those?"
"Oh, I sent those,
alright." he agreed. The god gestured with one hand and a great rock
rose from the ocean, the shape of a throne. Poseidon sat down and made
"Why don't you people ever stop
to think?" he asked ruefully. "There are so very few of these
creatures left. Why can't you people understand that there's a purpose to
every life? That there's a balance to everything, a harmony."
"A song," supplied Talia.
"Yes, a song," agreed
Poseidon. "Life and death, light and dark, give and take. There can't
be one without the other or the balance will be destroyed."
"What does that have to do with
the storm?" asked Gabrielle.
"These people live off the
ocean. They take from it. Their food, their trade, their treasures -- and
yet they give nothing back. And because they won't give I have to
"So you took my father?"
asked Marina angrily.
"Your father gave himself to
me," answered Poseidon gently. "There's a difference. Because he
gave himself freely he has no regrets and has passed on to the Elysian
fields. He's very proud of you," he added to Marina.
"He is?" asked Marina
"Yes." Poseidon nodded.
"Now, your father, he understood the balance. He understood that
everything affects everything else, and that each person is responsible for
everything and everyone else. That each person must do his part, do what he
can, all he can, no matter how little." The god sighed. "There are
so few like him left," he mourned. "Now men grab and crash through
everything without thought, without care."
The god rose from his throne and
moved closer to the friends, carried by the water.
"The problem with people,"
he said very deliberately, "is you never use the brains Prometheus gave
you. If you'd just stop to think about the consequences of your actions you
wouldn't keep getting into trouble and then blaming everything on the gods.
And you know what's worse? Your impetuousness is catching. Just look at
her," he said, pointing to Talia. "She left her tree in search of
adventure, even knowing the consequences."
"Consequences? What do
you mean 'consequences'?" Joxer asked. "Sir," he added
"Dryads can only live away from
their trees for three days," explained Xena quietly. "As soon as
the sun sets on the third day both the dryad and the tree die."
All eyes went towards the west,
towards the horizon where the sun shone red, too red as it began to sink
into the sea. Then the same eyes turned to Talia, who smiled weakly,
sweetly, then slowly crumpled to the ground.
Joxer caught her before she actually
hit the sand and the distressed group hurriedly clustered around her.
"Why?" Joxer asked Talia
angrily. "Why did you do this?"
"I owed you a reparation,"
answered Talia softly.
"A reparation," he
protested, "not a life! And you," he bit out to Xena, "you
knew this would happen, why did you let her do it?"
"Shhh," whispered Talia to
the grieving man, laying one cold hand against his cheek. "It's not her
fault. And it's not yours. It was my choice. I could have gone back if I
wanted to. I didn't want to."
"For In the name of Zeus, why
not?" Joxer demanded.
"I never had friends
before," she said, smiling weakly at the group. Marina was crying on
Gabrielle's shoulder and the bard was conspicuously wiping at her eyes.
"And I was so tired of waiting." She turned her silver-green eyes
to Xena and the warrior-woman felt a strange mist cloud over her own eyes.
"Calais is dead, isn't he?" Talia asked, already knowing the
"Yes," Xena nodded
solemnly. "He and Zetes fell together, in battle."
"Did you see it happen?"
Talia, asked, her voice getting weaker.
"A friend of mine did. Hercules
was with them when it happened." Xena answered.
"Good," Talia whispered.
"I won't die alone either."
"Stop saying that," said
Joxer, weeping openly. "You're not going to die!"
Talia smiled again and closed her
"No!" shouted Joxer,
shaking her still body. He turned to Poseidon, his fear of the god lost in
the face of the impending loss of his friend. "Help her," he
hissed. "You're a god, how can you stand there and let this
"She made her choice,"
Poseidon answered calmly, "there's nothing I can do."
"There's _always_ something you
can do," argued Joxer. "That's what you just told us, wasn't it?
Maybe little things but _something._"
Poseidon smiled at his courage, and
at his concern. "You're right," the god agreed, "that _is_
what I said, wasn't it?" The god lifted one massive hand and made a
beckoning gesture. The wind blew and from the west, seemingly from out of
the setting sun flew two silver egrets. One landed on Poseidon's shoulder
while the other one landed on the sand, near Talia. Another gesture from
Poseidon and the egret shimmered and grew until it was the size and shape of
a man with huge silver wings upon his back.
"For their courage and service
the gods rewarded Calais and Zetes by changing them into birds after they
were killed in battle," explained Poseidon.
Joxer and the rest stood back as
Calais made his way to where Talia lay and tenderly took the dryad into his
arms. He bent his head down and Joxer heard him whisper brokenly "I've
been looking for you. I was coming back. Why didn't you wait?" The
dryad's eyes remained closed.
"Please," Joxer begged
Poseidon. "_Please,_ you can't let it end this way."
Poseidon stared at Joxer, looking
deep into the man's eyes, and then smiled. "Give and take, warrior.
That is the law, the balance. What will you give me in return?"
"Anything," promised Joxer
"Anything," echoed Xena,
standing beside Joxer and placing her hand on his shoulder.
Gabrielle, joining the two.
"Anything," also affirmed
Marina, completing the group.
Poseidon was amused, and greatly
impressed by the regard displayed by the friends. "Only one vow is
necessary," he answered, turning to Joxer. "Yours. You have a
great heart, warrior, and I see that you and your antecedents will become
staunch guardians of my kingdom. So I will give you this gift -- to one of
your blood will I reveal its secrets. As for your friend," he
continued, turning back to Talia and Calais, "no payment will be
necessary, She has already proven her worth to me." A strange high
piping music sounded as if from a great distance and Poseidon smiled.
"And to her god Pan. For her faith and courage, this shall be her
reward -- as long as the greensong lives, so shall the love of Calais and
He waved his hand and both Calais
and Talia's body started to shimmer. Through the brilliant light the friends
saw Talia's arms move and return Calais' embrace. When the light died down,
two silver egrets stood on the sand, soon by the one on Poseidon's shoulder.
Then they spread their wings and took flight. One circled around the
delighted group and landed briefly on Joxer's shoulder, rubbing her head to
his cheek before finally flying away.
"Thank you," said Joxer,
turning back to Poseidon after he lost sight of the birds. "And I'll
keep my promise. If you ever ask me to do anything, I'll do it. Whatever it
is. I always keep my promises."
"I know, warrior," nodded
Poseidon solemnly. "And so do I."
"You're the first god I've met
who made any sense," said Xena to the god. "Who showed any
compassion." She saluted with her sword. "And I keep my promises
also. If you ever need my service, my sword is yours to command."
"No," Poseidon shook his
head. "You belong to another, far more great than I. You will find your
destiny soon enough." He turned as if to leave, the storm winds rising
up to his call.
"Uh, Poseidon? Sir?"
interrupted Marina who had recovered nicely from her recent emotional
upheaval. "Are you close friends with Artemis? Could you put in a good
word for me?"
"Ah, yes, the ex-virgin
sacrifice," laughed the god. "I think you'll be pleased to know
that you've got your goddesses a little mixed up. Athena and Hestia require
their priestesses to be virgin. Artemis is a little more open-minded about
it after that Endymion incident."
"Really?" Marina asked,
excitedly, then sobered. "But I still haven't passed the tests."
she said mournfully.
"Of course you did,"
answered Gabrielle. "Look, you made your first kill," she pointed
to the serpent's body. Poseidon frowned and Gabrielle hastily added,
"you beat Malver at his own game."
"How did I do that?"
Marina asked, disbelievingly.
"He tried to trick you and your
villagers," Xena explained. "You wouldn't let him and now everyone
will know what a charlatan he is. You're a far better priestesses than he is
"That's true," agreed
Joxer. "And you called down the powers of the moon! Now _that_ was
"Xena showed me how." said
Marina, humbly. "I could never have done it by myself."
"But you still did it. Nobody
ever said you had to pass your tests alone." pointed out Xena.
"I was afraid," said
Marina in a small voice.
"We're all afraid of
something," said Xena. "The point is not to let that stop you from
doing what has to be done."
"Did I really pass the
tests?" Marina asked Poseidon, reluctant to believe and seeking
validation from a higher authority.
"Yes, priestess, you did,"
agreed Poseidon. "I'm sure that if you go to the nearest temple of
Artemis the other priestesses will welcome you with open arms. Now I truly
must go. Live well, brave warriors, and may you always be as true as you
With another gesture the body of the
serpent and the god disappeared , leaving only the sea foam that broke upon
the sand, leaving no trace that either was ever there. Epilogue
"It's really nice of you to
come with me to the temple," said Marina, as they tramped back through
the forest, "but really, I think I could have found it on my own."
"We're happy to go with
you," said Gabrielle. "Besides, you might need witnesses. You
don't exactly have the head of that serpent to show as proof.
"We didn't really have any
solid plans anyway," added Xena. She looked at Joxer, who was being
uncharacteristically silent. "What's wrong, Joxer?" she asked.
"I've been thinking," he
began. Xena's eyebrow lifted but she stifled the caustic remark that rose
almost instinctively. "What he said, Poseidon I mean, about give and
take, about balance and responsibility, it made sense didn't it?"
"Yes it did," agreed Xena.
"He said he'd reveal the
secrets of the ocean to one of my blood someday. I wonder what he
meant?" he mused.
"Who knows what gods
mean?" snorted Gabrielle. "Being cryptic is one of their rules, I
think. You never can get a straight answer from any of them."
"Look!" Marina said
happily, pointing excitedly. "Talia's tree! It's alive!" The great
beech tree was indeed alive, it's trunk shining silver in the bright
"What did Poseidon say
again?" Joxer asked as he looked up at its lush branches. "As long
as the greensong lives... And Talia said that the greensong lives while one
tree lives." The warrior's eyes brightened. "I'm going to do
it," he told Xena, his eyes sparkling. "I'm going to do as
Poseidon said. Be responsible. Keep the balance. I'll be a guardian of the
ocean and the forests, and when I have kids I'll teach them to be
responsible, too. To not cut living wood, and be careful of fires, and write
on both sides of paper, and stuff. Maybe even take care of the
"Talia would have liked
that," Marina said approvingly.
"She would, wouldn't she?"
said Joxer happily, looking back at the tree.
"She'd be very proud of
you." said Xena quietly, placing her hand on Joxer's shoulder.
"And so are we," added
Gabrielle softly, taking his hand in hers.
And the greensong rose clear and
strong in the hearts of the four friends, and lived forever.
21 March 1997