The gods were angry.
At least that's what the people of Greece thought. There had never before been such a season of torrential rains. All crops had been severely damaged, if not completely washed away. Small gullies had become ravines, and ravines had become canyons. The earth was saturated, and it and its people could take no more. Gifts to the temples of Demeter had tripled. But, still it rained.
Hercules could do nothing to battle this foe, but he could help the people cope with the damage. He and Iolaus, with their friends Xena and Gabrielle, were out searching for lost livestock. The animals could be anywhere, and the searchers were experiencing tough going through the deep mud and muck. They had rescued a few animals stuck in the mud. Xena, with Argo's help, of course, was able to pull the animals from the mud, once one of the other companions had waded in and gotten the rope's loop over the mired beast's head. The four weary, muddy friends now had a small herd of three cows and five sheep gathered, and it was time to turn around and return these strays to their rightful owners.
They turned and began the trek back in the general direction of the village they'd left that morning. All were tired, animals and their rescuers alike. Clouds were again beginning to gather in the northern sky. It looked like more rain was coming.
The four friends talked little on their way back. Gabrielle walked beside Xena, who was leading Argo. Hercules and Iolaus followed behind the livestock, shooing ahead any stragglers who seemed about to deviate from the trail and likely end up stuck in the mud again. They were passing one of the new little canyons born during the incessant rain.
Hercules came to a stop. Iolaus went ahead of his friend a few steps before he realized the tall man was no longer beside him.
"What's up, Herc?"
"I thought I heard the bleat of another sheep. I was waiting for it to cry again, to see what direction it came from."
Iolaus walked back to his friend. "I didn't hear anything. I think you're just so tired, you're imagining things. If there *is* a sheep out here, it'll still be here tomorrow. C'mon, it's getting late, and I'm so hungry I may just eat one of these critters raw. If we don't make tracks, we'll get drenched and probably lose all the animals we've gathered today. C'mon, Herc, the others are getting way ahead of us."
Hercules looked at his bone-tired friend, and smiled. "Okay, just one more quick look around, and we'll rejoin the troops." With that, he walked over to what had once been a small ravine, and looked over the side to see if he could see anything stranded at the bottom. "Nope, nothing there. It must have been my imagination."
Then, just as the hero took a step back toward his friend and the trail, the edge of the ravine began to drop away under his feet. "Iolaus!" he cried, as he desperately grabbed for something to stop his fall. Nothing was there, however, and a startled Iolaus had to watch helplessly as his best friend and the precarious edge of the canyon disappeared from sight.
"Herculeeees!" the frightened warrior screamed as he gathered his wits about him and ran to the ledge where his friend had just been standing. When he reached the edge, he could feel its weakness, and jumped back as more dirt and debris broke away and tumbled noisily to the floor of the canyon. Iolaus threw aside his sword and the rope he'd been carrying, and dropped to his stomach, inching carefully forward to peer over the edge and search for his friend.
He saw Hercules, lying frighteningly still, draped backward over a large boulder near the narrow bottom of the small, rain-swept canyon. Iolaus' heart jumped into his throat. "Hercules!" he called, "Hercules, can you hear me?" He saw no movement below.
Iolaus could hear Xena and Gabrielle running toward him to see what had happened. He quickly turned to them and motioned for them to stop. "Don't come any closer. The ground's really unsteady."
The two women looked at each other, then dropped to their stomachs and crawled forward as Iolaus had done. When they reached the edge and looked over it, Gabrielle gasped and put her hand over her mouth. "What are we going to do?" she asked.
"I have to get down there with him," Iolaus answered, his eyes never leaving the still form of his friend. "I don't know how, but I have to do it." He tentatively began to rise to his feet, and glanced around for a good place to start his descent.
Xena looked up into his determined eyes. "Wait, Iolaus, we have to think about this. If you try to climb down there, you may cause another slide, and then we'd have two of you stranded down there. I think I'd better high tail it to the village and get some help." She slowly stood beside the worried man.
Gabrielle looked up at her two friends. "Xena's right, Iolaus. You need to think of what's best for Hercules. You certainly don't want to send more rocks and stuff falling down on top of him, do you?"
The warrior's eyes flashed in irritation. "Of course I don't. I won't risk anything like that happening, but I *am* going down there to be with him. I'm not gonna just sit here and leave Herc down there by himself. He'll need a blanket, and someone to build to him a fire, and to keep the rain off him, and...and...just someone to *be* with him." Iolaus looked searchingly into the eyes of his two friends.
"Iolaus," Xena said in her quiet voice, "what if he's dead?"
"Don't say that! Don't you *dare* say that. He's NOT dead! I know he's not. He's just knocked out, and he needs our help. ARE you going to help, or not?"
Xena could see the single-minded determination in the warrior's eyes. It would be better to help him than to fight him, and a fight it would be if she tried to keep him away from his friend. "Okay," she answered, "I'll help you get down there. But not right here, the risk's too great. Let's look for a sturdier place, and I'll lower you down, using Argo. But, Iolaus," her commanding tone brought the warrior's eyes to hers, "if he's beyond help, you're not staying down there. He wouldn't want you to risk your life for nothing." It sent cold waves to the pit of her stomach to even suggest such a thing, but it was a possibility that they'd all need to accept.
Iolaus dropped his eyes from hers, and whispered, "Okay."
The threesome found a stable looking overhang just a little down-canyon from where Hercules lay on those ominous rocks. Iolaus tied a foot-hold into the end of his rope, while Xena tied the end of her rope to her saddlehorn. The ropes were tied together, and then, slowly, she and Argo lowered the determined man down to the floor of the small canyon. As soon as his foot touched the ground, he was off and running to the side of his friend.
His heart was pounding in his chest as he stumbled over the loose rocks to reach Hercules. The pounding was as much from fear and apprehension as from exertion. He reached out a shaking hand to his friend's face. "Herc, please be all right," he whispered as he touched the demigod's face. The skin was warm. Iolaus quickly lowered his fingers to Hercules' neck, and felt a strong, steady pulse. A grin sprang to his face.
He turned to where he could see two heads peering over the wall of the slash. "He's alive," he yelled, "Gabrielle, Xena--he's alive!" Iolaus laughed as he turned again to his friend, and began to assess the damage done to the demigod.
Hercules was covered with dirt and mud, and several scrapes and abrasions could be seen on his arms and face. Iolaus felt of his friend's arms and legs, and could find no breaks. He couldn't have helped but been knocked unconscious when he hit the rock. Iolaus could see or feel no major wounds to the hero's head. But, his back? There was no safe way, under these conditions, to tell what damage may have been done to his back. It was better to take all precautions available to keep Hercules' back straight and as immobile as possible until they got him out of the canyon and back to the village. Iolaus allowed himself to cling to the hope that Hercules would be good as new in no time.
He reluctantly left his friend's side, and walked farther from the wall of the canyon, to better address the two women awaiting word from him.
"Xena, can you find anything up there that we can make a sled out of? We need to get Herc off that rock and onto something that'll keep his back straight. I'll look around down here and see if I can find anything. Also, did you happen to bring any blankets, or anything else we can use to keep him warm and comfortable? Anything you have that might help him, please send it down. I'll get back with you in a bit."
With that, all three parties began a diligent search for materials they could use to bring their injured friend out of the canyon. Just as the sun began to disappear behind the dusk clouds, Xena and Gabrielle lowered down to Iolaus the few things they'd been able to find in the brush bordering the trail they'd all been following.
Iolaus had thanked the gods when he'd found a substantial bit of plank siding that must have been washed away from some poor soul's home. By tying together that planking with wood found by Xena and Gabrielle, and then carving beveled edges on the two runners he'd tied to the bottom of the contraption, he'd fashioned a passable sled to support his friend's back as they tried to get him out of the hole where he'd ended up.
Xena had Gabrielle lower her down to Iolaus' side when it came time to move Hercules onto the sled. Very slowly and carefully, the two warriors worked their injured friend onto the wooden sled. When they had Hercules securely on the sled, they carefully drug it away from the boulders and onto the floor of the canyon. Xena gently bathed Hercules' face, and gave him another quick examination which confirmed what Iolaus had found.
She turned to the blond man. "Okay, Iolaus, you stay here with Hercules and I'll ride to town to get some help, and then we'll find a way to get him out of here. I'll pray that the rain stays away tonight." She turned to walk back to the rope to be raised out of the canyon.
"Uh, sorry, Xena, but I'm not gonna just wait here to be rescued. I'll be dragging that sled in the direction of the village, looking for a safe place to walk out of this hole. It's too dangerous down here, especially if it does rain some more. I need to find us someplace safer, on higher ground, just in case there's a flash flood. I really don't think it's wise to just camp here and wait. "
Xena began to object, but Iolaus held up his hands to stop her. "You can talk and argue all you want, but that's what I'm gonna do, regardless." The woman recognized the look in Iolaus' eyes, and knew it'd do no good at all to belabor the point.
"Okay, but *be careful*. I'll be back with help as soon as I can. Gabrielle wants to stay here with you...." As Iolaus began to object, it was Xena's turn to hold up her hands and interrupt his arguments. "Look, she can be every bit as stubborn and exasperating as you can, so don't mess with me. It just wastes time arguing about it. As soon as she's down here, I'll be on my way." As she turned to begin her ascent to the top, she glanced again at Hercules, and then into the eyes of his best friend. "Stay safe, Iolaus."
He smiled at her. "I will, Xena. We both will." He watched her leave, and turned back to his friend. Hercules hadn't moved or made a sound. Worry etched Iolaus' face. He looked up the canyon in the direction of the village, the direction he'd be pulling Hercules, and began to formulate some sort of plan. This wouldn't be easy, but it was possible. Hercules *would* be okay, he'd see to it.
He was still staring up the canyon when he heard Gabrielle approaching behind him. He turned and smiled as he gazed into her youthful, energetic face. Being around Gabrielle always made him feel good. He appreciated her innocence and enthusiasm. Yes, the world had been hard on Gabrielle since they first met, and some of her innocence had been destroyed in the process, but she still refused to give up on the world, or let it beat her. It was this purity of conviction that so appealed to Iolaus, the world-weary, toughened warrior. Secretly, he was glad she was to be with him during this trek to safety for Hercules.
Gabrielle was carrying one of the ropes over her shoulder, and Iolaus used it to rig up a rough harness for pulling the sled with its heavy, precious load. With a smile to Gabrielle, and a last glance at Hercules, Iolaus put his shoulders into the harness and began dragging his friend along the canyon floor.
It was rough going, but not impossible. Some places were rocky, some smooth and sandy. Iolaus found he definitely preferred the sandy bottom, so made good time in those areas. For the rocky places, he just gritted his teeth and made the best of it. Gabrielle offered to take a turn at the harness, but Iolaus just grinned at her offer of help, and kept on going. He didn't want her to know just how very heavy Hercules was to drag, or how hard this work really was. Instead, he got her to talking about her adventures as an Amazon princess, and how she'd learned to use her staff in battle. He'd watched her drill with her staff, and was very impressed with what he saw. She glowed with a new confidence. Iolaus remembered their first meeting, when she'd asked him about his friendship with Hercules, and then vowed to learn to fight alongside her companion, Xena, too. By golly, she'd done just that! Iolaus was impressed.
Iolaus was also dead tired when they finally decided to call it a night. He'd found a nice looking place on higher ground, easy to get to, and that offered some protection from rain, which was again threatening them and the drenched countryside. He pulled the sled up into the alcove, slowly unhitched himself from the harness, and then collapsed in a worn-out heap against the side of their new camp. Gabrielle could easily tell how tired he was, so she rustled around for scraps to build a fire, and, when the fire was going well, pulled out some bread, cheese, and water from her sack. Hercules was still unconscious, but she and Iolaus enjoyed their small meal.
Gabrielle noticed that Iolaus seemed to be having a little trouble lifting the food to his mouth, as if his shoulders really pained him. She finished her own rations, and then moved over to him and began massaging his shoulders. She felt him wince if she got a little heavy on his shoulders, but he told her it felt great. She could feel him relax under her hands. In fact, he became so relaxed, he began to nod with sleep. She helped him get comfortable on the floor of the little alcove, and he dropped off to sleep immediately. Gabrielle fussed around a bit longer, building up the fire, checking on Hercules, and then checking on Iolaus again before she herself tried to sleep. She gently smoothed the hair out his eyes. He smiled in his sleep, and then turned over on his side. Gabrielle gasped when she saw that his vest had fallen away from his left shoulder. There she saw terrible bruising, and a raw, oozing rope burn. She quietly pulled open the other side of the sleeping man's vest, and saw his other shoulder was in much the same shape.
Then tears came to her eyes. She watched the firelight play on the blond warrior's sleeping face, and she marveled again at the beautiful, loving friendship shared by the demigod Hercules and his mortal best friend, Iolaus. Each would willingly give his life for the other. No pain or effort would be too great, if it meant the health and safety of the other. They were amazing. She realized how very lucky she was to have met and come to know these two exceptional men. With that thought fresh in her mind, Gabrielle took her staff into her arms, settled against the wall of the alcove, and fell asleep, herself.
The rain started very early in the morning. It was still quite dark when it began as a sprinkle, and then quickly escalated into a downpour. Of course, the change in the weather woke Iolaus immediately. When he rose to a sitting position, Gabrielle saw him blanch at the stiffness in his shoulders. While he checked on Hercules, she gathered together some rags she had brought along, and dampened them in the falling rain. She then draped them over her staff and held them over the fire, heating them up. When Iolaus turned around again to face her, he asked her what she was doing. She just smiled at him, and motioned him to come sit beside her. She then took the warmed rags and laid them under Iolaus' vest, against his sore shoulders. He was first very surprised, then very grateful as the heat penetrated his aching muscles. He took Gabrielle's hand and kissed it.
The two friends had been sitting a short while, watching the rain and the water slowly rising in the bottom of the draw, when they heard a moan from the direction of the sled. Iolaus quickly jumped up and went to Hercules' side. "Herc, Herc, can you hear me? Herc?" he asked as he watched the big man slowly regain consciousness. Finally, Hercules' eyelids fluttered and he waked. He looked around in confusion, seeing the worried faces of Iolaus and Gabrielle over him, and then tried to sit up.
Iolaus immediately put pressure on Hercules' shoulders to keep him from rising. "Whoa, there, big guy. I don't think sitting up is too good an idea right now. You took one major tumble off that cliff, so let's see if all your working parts are still in order before you try moving around too much."
"Tumble? Cliff? What are you talking about? Where am I?" the big man asked as he looked around and slowly raised his hand to his face.
Iolaus smiled at his friend as he took his arm and lowered it back down to his side. "Remember, you walked to the side of a really big ditch, looking for a lost sheep, and then the side gave away and you fell, oh, a few feet, anyway." Iolaus felt relief as he saw comprehension light up Hercules' eyes. "Herc, I'm really glad to see you again. You had us pretty worried. You've been out of commission for an evening and most of a night. How are you feeling. Is there any pain?"
Hercules slowly moved his head from side to side, then raised both his hands to his face and rubbed his eyes. "No, I don't feel any real pain, but I ache all over, like I've been run over by a war wagon or something. Just where are we, anyhow? And, where's Xena?"
"Xena went to get help," Gabrielle piped up. "We're still in the bottom of the canyon, waiting for her." The girl giggled," We couldn't figure out how to get you out of here, so we're just waiting around for some really good plan to present itself to us. Hercules, I'm so glad to see you're all right!"
Hercules was very quiet. Iolaus suddenly frowned and leaned over his friend. "Herc, you *are* all right, aren't you?"
"Well, I don't really know, right now." The big man looked straight into the worried blue eyes of his friend. "Iolaus, I don't seem able to move my legs."
Iolaus quickly moved to the foot of the sled, and pulled the blanket from around Hercules' legs and feet. He pressed on his friend's feet. "Do you feel that, Herc? Can you wiggle your toes any?"
Hercules just shook his head. Iolaus then reached up and pinched the skin on the big man's thigh. "I don't feel a thing," was Hercules' response. "It just feels 'funny,' like a heavy weight down there. My mind's telling my legs to move, but they just won't. Iolaus, is my back broken?"
Iolaus looked friend squarely in the eyes. "No, Herc, I don't think your back's broken. It that'd happened, I don't think you'd be able to move your arms around. I think you've just really bruised your lower back, and that with time and rest, you'll be just fine. Shoot, you've got all that god-blood in you, remember, so you'll probably be up and dancing in no time."
Hercules looked at his friend, and a whisper of a smile crossed his lips. "Iolaus, I don't know how to dance."
Gabrielle was flabbergasted at this unexpected response to such a serious situation, but Iolaus sputtered in mock annoyance, "Oh, you do, too. Remember, you told me about meeting that nutty old lady who taught you the Twinky Tootsie, or the Twaddle Waddle, or somesuch thing! By the way, you've never shown me that whatever-it-is, and you owe me that. So hurry up and get well, so you can show me."
Hercules smiled. "It was the Twanky Twiddle, I'll have you know, and I'm not sure you could handle it if I did show you." Then seriousness passed over Hercules' face, and the smile disappeared. "At least, I hope I have the chance to show you."
"Come on, Herc. You'll be fine, I know it. I feel it in my bones, and my bones have never lied before. Just don't dwell on the negative. We'll get you out of this damned canyon and into the tender care of a healer in no time. Why...."
Iolaus' words were interrupted by a great roar from up the canyon, accompanied by a trembling that was felt by the three friends in the alcove.
Iolaus jumped to his feet. "Landslide," he muttered as he raced down to the canyon floor. The rain had stopped, and, thankfully, the stream through the canyon had grown no larger than the warrior had seen earlier. He stood quietly, listening as the noise from the landslide diminished. When he could no longer hear tumbling rocks, he stayed a while longer, listening intently to the sounds around him. He heard no sound of a flash flood or of any more landslides. When he was convinced that all the disturbance was over, he again entered the alcove.
"Okay, it's over, for now. We're wasting valuable daylight, so let's hit the trail again." He began to stamp out the fire, and nodded to Gabrielle to start gathering things back into her bag. Hercules tried to raise himself onto his elbows, asking "What do you mean, hit the trail? How...."
Iolaus threw a small fit. "Hercules, QUIT trying to sit up! You'll just injure yourself more." Arms akimbo, Iolaus drilled his friend with a stare. "Look here, I'M in charge now, and I'M telling you to BE STILL! I managed to drag you this far, and I'm gonna drag you the rest of the way out of here, even if I have to drop another boulder onto your thick head to MAKE YOU MIND! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!?"
Hercules lay back down. "Yes, sir," was all he said. He and Iolaus had been making light of the situation, but he now painfully realized how the seriousness of their plight was worrying his friend. The warrior was on edge, and the best Hercules could do to help his friend, at this point, was to be quiet and let Iolaus complete his plan. When it was all over, no matter what the outcome, Hercules would let Iolaus know how much he admired him and would thank him for his devotion and friendship. He grasped the sides of the sled as Iolaus put on the harness and began to drag it back to the canyon floor.
Gabrielle noticed the pain that flickered across Iolaus' face when he first put his weight against the harness, but she knew better than to say anything to him. The determination in his eyes brooked no argument. As he pulled the sled forward, she fell in behind, and smiled and winked at Hercules as he looked up at her. He smiled back, but the smile didn't go all the way to his eyes. He was worried--for himself and for his friend.
The little party made slow progress through the morning. Iolaus would stop about every hour, and stretch his arms above his head and check on how Hercules and Gabrielle were faring. Then, they were off again. When the sun rose to shine directly over them, they stopped for a quick, simple lunch of cheese and bread. Iolaus was impatient and couldn't stay seated for any time at all, so scouted up the canyon to see what they had before them. Shortly, he returned at a run.
"Herc, Gabrielle, I think I've found a way out of here! I found where that landslide happened, and if looks to have made a grade where we can climb all the way to the top. We'll take it slow and easy, to make sure the ground's stable, but I think we can make it. C'mon, let's go!"
As he was climbing into the harness, Herc glanced quickly at Gabrielle. She just shrugged her shoulders. They both knew better than to ask Iolaus to think about this new plan of his. They'd just wait and look over the situation when the time came.
After about another hour, the party came to the newly formed incline up the canyon wall. It did look fairly passable, for someone on his own two feet. To someone pulling a sled with a heavy passenger, it held serious doubts. Gabrielle had to speak up.
"Iolaus, are you sure? That's a 45 degree grade up there. I don't think we can make it. Let's just stop here and wait for Xena and the villagers to return. They could probably pull us out of here with no trouble."
"No no no no no, Gabrielle, we can make it just fine! It'll be a piece of cake!" The blond warrior was pumped. He could finally see an end to their plight, and no one was going to take that possibility away from him. "You just stay behind, and brace the sled with your staff every few feet. I *will* probably need to stop and catch a breath pretty often, so if you could keep the sled from sliding backwards at those points, it'd help a lot. C'mon, let's go."
Hercules had been studying the incline before them. He was worried, not about the enthusiasm and determination of his friend, but about his physical stamina. He didn't feel Iolaus knew exactly what he was about to face.
Softly, he spoke. "Iolaus, are you sure--really sure?"
The blond warrior looked down at his dearest friend. A small smile came to his face, and he nodded. "Yes, Hercules, I'm sure."
With that, Iolaus turned toward the incline and began the climb. The way was rocky. Iolaus and Gabrielle stumbled frequently, and the sled moved slowly, but move it did. Gradually, they inched their way out of the canyon.
The farther they went, the more often Iolaus had to stop and rest. Gabrielle would jab her staff into the ground at the foot of the sled, and brace it while Iolaus grabbed deep breaths. He'd look back at her periodically and flash that glorious smile of his. She had to giggle--no one could stay depressed with Iolaus around. She smiled into the worried face of Hercules, and gave him a thumbs up. They *would* make it, she was convinced.
On and on they went. Iolaus' eyes never wavered from the path ahead of him. His lungs ached as he gasped for breath. His legs began to tremble from the sheer exertion asked of them. His shoulders and arms were numb. He felt a tickling on his chest, and looked down to see blood slowly trickling from the abrasions on his shoulders. But, the discomfort only fueled his determination that much more. Step after step after step, he dragged his friend to safety and help.
Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, they broke over the wall of the canyon. Iolaus kept on going, putting one foot in front of the other, even after he heard Gabrielle's squeal of triumph. She raced ahead of him, turning to put her hand on his chest and stop him. She couldn't smile any bigger.
"Iolaus, we made it, we made it! You did it! I'm so proud of you!" She threw her arms around the neck of her exhausted friend. Then she stood away from him, and her smile became a frown as she noticed the blood on Iolaus' chest, and saw the utter exhaustion that marked his face and eyes. But, he was able to break into a wide smile as he slowly realized that their battle had been won. They were out of that plagued canyon. Hercules would be all right, now. Iolaus tried to raise his arms to return Gabrielle's hug, but they just trembled at the effort. When the warrior looked into the girl's worried face, he just laughed. "Gabrielle, I'll have to give you an IOU for that hug. This'll have to do for the meantime." At that, he leaned forward and kissed her cheek. His young friend beamed at him, and threw her arms around his neck again.
"Uh, excuse me, but have you two maybe forgotten about someone?" came a voice from the sled. Iolaus laughed and turned to look into the face of his best friend. Relief was the primary emotion displayed on Hercules' face. He could see that his friend was completely worn out, but also that he was quite okay. Things would be better, for sure.
Iolaus tried to kneel down beside Hercules, but his trembling legs would barely move at all, so he decided to be content to just smile and laugh at the joy of the moment. Gabrielle joined them, wiping tears of happiness from her eyes. The three friends just enjoyed the moment and the company of each other.
Then, the joy was cut cruelly short. An ominous voice came from behind the threesome. "I'm really glad you people are having such a good time. I'm sorta sorry I'm gonna to have to put an end to it."
Iolaus and Gabrielle turned to see four ruffians emerging from the brush at the side of the road. Gabrielle took a firm grip on her staff. Iolaus tried to reach for his sword, but he couldn't get his arms to work. He took a defensive stance, and felt his legs trembling beneath him. This was *not* good.
The head ruffian laughed at the site before him. "Well, well, well, look what we got here. The mighty son of Zeus, flat on his back, his runt buddy without the strength to even move, and a li'l ol' girl with a big stick. Hey, girlie, aren't you afraid you'll hit yourself with that?"
The four goons laughed as they slowly advanced on the three friends. "You know, when we heard that warrior gal in town gathering up men to come help rescue Hercules, we really had no idea it'd be this easy to take him for ourselves. Hera's bound to heap major goodies on the guys who bring her the body of her bastard stepchild." The creep motioned his cohorts ahead. "Come on, you guys, let's take 'em!"
As the goons unsheathed their swords, Iolaus tried again to gain his sword, but still to no avail. The effort put him off balance, and his weak legs couldn't hold him any longer. As he fell, he twisted so that he fell across Hercules. Even if it was to be with his dying breath, he'd do everything he could to protect his friend. "I'm sorry, Herc," was all he could say.
The two warriors could only watch as the ruffians rushed forward. And, they could only watch as Gabrielle took the matter into her own hands. She jumped over her prone companions, and with a shriek took on the goons with a vengeance. With a quickness and agility neither Hercules nor Iolaus had ever before seen her demonstrate, she easily disarmed the first goon and dispatched him with a crack to his head. Her staff was spinning in her hands so quickly, one could barely see it move.
The goons were not at all ready for this. Gabrielle would yell, kneel down, and trip one up with her staff. Then she'd jump up and jam the end of the staff into another's gut. She'd wheel around and crack another across his shoulders. When all four dazed creeps were on the ground, she easily dispatched the lot of them with well-placed taps on their heads.
Barely breathing heavily, Gabrielle turned to face her companions. "Well, that takes care of that," she stated as she grinned and brushed off her clothes. Then, she broke out laughing at the flabbergasted expressions on the two warriors' faces.
Finally, Iolaus closed his mouth long enough to swallow and ask, "Wow! Where'd you learn to do *that*?"
Hercules gathered his wits about him, and followed with, "I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like that before. Are you really the same Gabrielle we met on Prometheus' mountain?" He shook his head. "I'm impressed!"
Iolaus continued to just lie there, his mouth agape again. Hercules laughed at his dumbfounded friend, and gently pushed him. "Iolaus, would you *please* get up? Your elbow's jabbing a hole in my leg."
Iolaus quickly turned to face his friend. "What'd you say?"
Hercules laughed again. "I said, would you please get off of me, your elbow's jabbing a hole in...." Suddenly the importance of his simple statement hit the demigod.
Iolaus managed to squirm around until he was sitting beside his friend. He leaned closer to Hercules. "You said I was jabbing your leg, Hercules. Does that mean you have feeling in your legs again?"
Gabrielle, after again whomping one of the goons who was trying to come to, dropped down beside her two friends. She placed her small hand on Hercules' leg, and squeezed. "Can you feel this, Hercules?"
Hercules looked down at her hand, and then into the concerned, happy faces of his friends. His face broke out into a wide smile and a laugh, "Yes, as a matter of fact, I can."
Iolaus whooped with glee, and tried to clap his hands, getting only the smallest of movements from his poor, paralyzed arms. They were really starting to tingle, so the paralysis wouldn't be lasting much longer. "Herc, this is great! See, I told you you'd be okay. My bones *never* lie!"
Gabrielle joined her friends in their merriment, hugging and kissing Iolaus, and squeezing Hercules' hand.
Shortly thereafter, Xena and a stalwart band of villagers came upon a most unusual sight. There, beside the edge of a canyon and sitting among the prone bodies of four bedraggled ruffians, sat three friends, two men and a girl, laughing, with tears rolling down their faces and clasping tightly each other's hands. Xena just shook her head in amazement. This would be *some* story, she could already tell.
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