Please read the Disclaimer in Part One!
Xenite Disclaimer for Part Two: A pig was severely harmed in the production of this fanfic. Fortunately, though, our main characters are extremely fond of bacon.
"Hey, you two," said Iolaus enthusiastically. Hercules mumbled a much less cheery greeting. Gabrielle beamed, getting up from the table to hug Iolaus.
"Iolaus! How are you? Hi Hercules!"
"What brings you here?" Iolaus asked.
"I could ask you the same thing. Come and sit with us." At this, Xena started to protest, but it was too late. The men sat.
"I'm glad to see you, actually," Iolaus said. "We have something we want to discuss with you two."
"You do?" said Gabrielle.
"We do?" said Hercules. Iolaus gave him a Look.
"Yeah. We do."
"Well, that's interesting," said Gabrielle, "because we have something to discuss with you guys too." Xena gave her a Look.
"No, we don't."
"Yes we do," Gabrielle hissed at her lover. The four friends eyed each other.
Never had any of them been so glad to see Joxer.
"Oh, hi again Hercules, Iolaus," Joxer gushed as he emerged from the kitchen bearing a loaf of bread. "Hey, you found my mom's place."
"Your mom?" Hercules repeated, looking at Xena. She shrugged and rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, I th-"
Just then, the subject of the conversation appeared as well, bearing two large bowls of steaming stew. "Here ya go! Eat up, girls, ya don't live forever, am I right?" She looked across the table at the men. "You boys hungry too? Of course you are, don't lie to Ma. Joxer! Get some more stew for your friends here! What are ya, lazy?"
"No, Ma," Joxer said meekly and hurried toward the kitchen.
"Um, this is Hercules and Iolaus," Gabrielle ventured. The short but plump woman beamed.
"Ya don't say? Hercules himself, right here in me own inn. Wait'll Ethel hears about this! Now, anything else I can get for you kids?" As usual she didn't wait for an answer. By this time Xena and Gabrielle didn't even bother trying. Hercules and Iolaus, on the other hand, were left with their mouths open as she barrelled on. "Of course there is. What am I thinking? You need butter for the bread! Joxer!"
"Yes Ma," said Joxer, returning with more stew.
"The butter, you layabout. You forgot the butter! You want your friends should waste away from hunger? What are you thinking?"
She finally paused to take a breath and Gabrielle jumped in.
"Actually, ma'am, if it's all right with you, we need to ... um ... speak with Joxer."
His mother's eyes widened. So did Joxer's. "You do?"
Gabrielle shot a half-pleading, half-commanding look at Hercules, who sighed and said reluctantly, "Yeah, we um ... we have to discuss a battle."
"Oh, a battle eh?" The innkeeper gave a wink and thumped her son on the back so hard he nearly lost his balance. "Well what are you waiting for, boy? Sit down!"
"Yes, Ma!" Joxer fell into the chair beside Iolaus. His mother beamed proudly.
"I'll just go get that butter," she announced, and bustled back to the kitchen. Joxer looked mightily relieved.
"Hey, thanks, you guys," he said in a low voice as his mother disappeared. "So! When do we ride into battle?!"
Hercules rolled his eyes. Gabrielle stared at Joxer. Xena took a large spoonful of stew and tasted it gingerly.
"Joxer...." Gabrielle said slowly. "There's something I've been meaning to ask you."
"What's that, Gabby?" he asked brightly.
"Is that an apron you're wearing?"
In the castle, peace seemed to have reestablished itself, albeit uneasily. The servants still trod lightly when their paths took them past a certain door. The royal family hid out in their chambers.
Meanwhile, in the courtyard, an unlucky pig was about to give its life to preserve the peace.
In Mom's Tavernn and In, Joxer had torn off the apron, redfaced, explaining weakly that it was actually a special war garment. Xena had emptied out her bowl of stew, making little noises of pleasure, and had started on Gabrielle's. Hercules was silent, tearing his chunk of bread into little bits, while Gabrielle and Iolaus were catching each other up on the past two months' exploits.
"Hey!" Gabrielle exclaimed suddenly, picking up her bowl of stew only to discover that it was empty. "Xena...."
"Joxer's mom is a GREAT cook," Xena mumbled apologetically. Joxer beamed.
"She is, isn't she? Just the other day I was talking to her and I was saying, 'You know, Ma, you should really-'"
"Shut up," said Hercules irritably. Joxer shut up.
"Here, have mine," Iolaus said, pushing his bowl toward Gabrielle. "I'm not so hungry any more."
"What's wrong, Iolaus?" Gabrielle asked, concerned (but not so concerned that she refrained from picking up the spoon and digging in). "You said you needed to talk to us about something. Is there a problem?"
"Well, sort of," Iolaus said uncomfortably, looking at Hercules. The bigger man looked like he was going to explode, or throw up. "But um ... you had something to discuss with us, too. Why don't you go first?"
"Oh, um...." Gabrielle ducked her head nervously, shooting a look at Xena. The Warrior Princess was eying Hercules' bowl.
Joxer looked in confusion from one set of heroes to the other. "Hey, I have a problem too!" he exclaimed. "Hey, this is great, us hero types all sitting around helping each other with our problems -- it's so neighborly and-"
"Shut up!" said Hercules, Iolaus and Xena in unison. Joxer shut up.
"Joxer, why don't you tell us about your problem," Gabrielle suggested gently. Hercules and Xena looked almost relieved. Iolaus pouted.
"Well, okay, see, it's about-"
But none of them was fated to reveal their problems at that particular time. Just as the four friends were leaning in to hear Joxer's tale, the door of the tavern burst open and a scruffy peasant came running in.
"Treason!" he shouted. "Treason!" All heads in the room turned to look.
Joxer's Ma emerged from the kitchen waving a ladle. "Zat you, Belirius?" she bellowed. "What are you on about?!"
"Treason!" the peasant yelled, somewhat redundantly. "An attempt on the king's life!"
Hercules and Xena shot to their feet. "What? Where? When?"
"How far to the castle?" Iolaus asked Joxer.
"Just a couple miles down the road," he replied. "But don't you wa-"
"Let's go!" The two warriors and their sidekicks ran outside. Xena vaulted into Argo's saddle, giving a war cry that tailed off into a loud belch. She pulled Gabrielle up behind her and they were off. Hercules and Iolaus followed at a run.
Within minutes, Argo had reached the gates of the castle. "Hey," said Gabrielle in some surprise, "this is-"
"Yeah," Xena agreed. And to the guards: "Let us in!"
Looking harried, the guards nearly fell over each other to open the castle doors. Xena and Gabrielle rode in and immediately dismounted.
A scene of chaos was unfolding in the center courtyard. Servants and ladies-in-waiting and armsmen were milling around, talking at high volumes and speeds. Bits of pig were flying through the air, emanating from the midst of a knot of highly agitated people. A blood-spattered child toddled toward Gabrielle, who picked it up and inspected it carefully.
An instant later, Hercules and Iolaus arrived, along with Joxer on horseback. "What's going on?" Iolaus asked. Xena shrugged.
"Beats me." She grabbed a nearby servant. "Hey! Where's the king?"
"Taking his afternoon nap," the servant replied. "Thank the Gods you're here, Xena! She's gone mad!"
"Who? The princess?"
"No, the other one!" A high shriek rose from the middle of the crowd. The servant shuddered and tore free of Xena's grip, running for cover.
"Xena," Gabrielle said, and indicated the blood on the baby's clothing. "It's pig blood. The princess isn't harmed."
"Princess?" Hercules repeated.
"Yes, this is the castle of-" But Gabrielle never got a chance to explain before the knot of people broke up, bodies flying out in all directions, some voluntarily, others not. Another shriek tore the air and the pig's head flew upward. Servants and nobles scattered, shouting. Some fainted. Finally the center of the chaos became visible. The butcher's block was in the exact center of the courtyard, flowing with blood, covered with pig parts. Crouching over it was a tall woman who exclaimed with glee as she dismembered the porcine corpse, making merry with a large butcher knife, heedless of the head which even now was reaching the top of its arc and beginning to succumb to gravity.
Hercules rushed forward, shoving the woman aside and reaching up just in time to catch the pig's head. It squelched unpleasantly and blood and brains ran down his arm. He made an intensely disgusted face and put the head on the butcher's block.
"Whaddya think yer doin'?!" the woman demanded, raising her large knife threateningly. Hercules turned to face her, an angry comment forming on his lips, but when he really saw her, he stopped and simply stared, blinking in astonishment. Around the courtyard, castle denizens who hadn't yet fled in terror watched with bated breath.
"All right, the fun's over," Xena announced loudly, her voice booming throughout the courtyard. She strode forward and Hercules turned his open-mouthed stare on her. "Put the knife down, Meg."
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