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Summer Slave Camp

by Verrath

"Giddiyup, Argo!"

The golden warhorse snorted and reared before she launched herself into a dead run. The warrior atop her enjoyed the thrill of the fast ride, the breeze tugging at long dark tresses, the horse's muscles stretching powerfully underneath her and the creamy white mane whipping her face. The sun beat down on them, warming her face and causing a thin sheen of sweat to coat both warrior and mount.


The girl's legs pumped furiously as she pedaled her bike along the sidewalk at breakneck speed, long black hair whipping in the wind. A wooden toy sword bounced madly on her back, held there by a rope looped around the child's shoulders and waist.

"Sina, wait up!"

Slamming down on the rear brakes, Sina wheeled Argo about with that shift of weight she had been practicing. A screech of tires, and the bike skidded sideways before coming to a stop. With a triumphant smirk, Sina casually braced one foot against the ground, and waited for her blonde friend to catch up.

"Didya see that, huh? Didya? I finally got that power slide right."

"I wish you wouldn't keep speeding off so fast I can't keep up," a panting Gabby said with a pout.

"Get a bike," Sina snapped.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Gabby grumbled. The sound of an approaching car cut short what might otherwise well have become a full-fledged argument.

A large green Chrysler stopped next to them, and out stepped Mr. Ronald, the principal of their school. He walked around the car to hold open the door for his passenger, a tall woman with her brunette hair cut short and piercing pale, bluish-gray eyes that almost rivaled Xena's for intensity. She looked very smart and imposing in her fancy black-and-blue jogging suit. She was even bigger than Mr. Ronald, and looked like she didn't take any nonsense from anybody. Gabby swallowed, wondering what kind of trouble they had been getting themselves into this time. For once, she really couldn't imagine. Sina had been almost suspiciously good ever since the incident with Mrs. Castor's water hose.

"Hi, Mr. Ronald," she said nervously, and heard Sina echo her in a small voice.

"Hi, kids," the principal replied. He must have noted their nervousness, because he chuckled. "Don't worry, you two, you haven't done anything this time." He scowled. "At least not that I know of. I just wanted to take the opportunity to introduce the neighborhood's greatest adventurers to my new colleague. This is Miss Megan O'Leary. She will be your PE teacher next year. Mr. Walsh is retiring. After almost two years around the two of you, I think he's earned it." He laughed a friendly laugh, to show he didn't really, really mean it.

"Sina and Gabby," the tall woman said in a deep, rumbling voice, "it seems you've got quite a reputation in these parts." Her eyes glinted like steel, and it was all Gabby could do not to take a step back and cower. "Well, as long as you stay out of trouble, we're going to get along just fine. If you don't..." A feral grin finished the sentence for her as her tightly balled fist casually came to rest in the palm of her other hand.

The children looked at each other with big eyes. This lady spelled trouble.

"Oh, and I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to get acquainted at summer camp. I agreed to be a supervisor this year." The grin dissolved into something that was decidedly evil, before she turned and got back inside the car.

The girls could only nod.


The huge, strange woman looked at them with menace in her gaze. "Beware the wrath of Oleara Dragon Lady." Her voice dripped venom. "We shall meet again, Warrior Princess. And soon. This I swear."

Xena and Gabrielle exchanged worried glances. This lady spelled trouble.

"Well," Xena said after the tall stranger had galloped away on her black stallion, "looks like brute strength won't be enough against that one. She's mighty tall and strong. We'll have to use all our wiles to overcome someone like her."

The bard nodded her agreement. She had a feeling they would see much more of this 'Dragon Lady' than was good for them.


As children will, the two friends pushed the incident out of their minds until a few days later, when the time came for their bus to leave for the eagerly-awaited summer camp.

It was only when the tall PE teacher greeted Gabby's dad and exchanged a few words with him that the reality of 'Oleara: Dragon Lady' came back to them full force.

The two children watched as the imposing woman made her way over to the doors of the waiting bus, every ounce of her radiating authority. She wore the same jogging suit they had seen on her on their first meeting, over a black T-shirt. A shiny tin whistle hung on a string around her neck. When her eyes met the girls' for an instant from under dark eyebrows, there was a wicked twinkle in them.

More than forty children and their parents, as well as the odd dog, were gathered around the bus, baggage still being loaded lay scattered everywhere. Yet when Miss O'Leary spoke, her voice carried clearly above the general hubbub.

"Okay, everybody, listen up! I'm not gonna say this again. In fact, I'm not gonna say anything twice in these four weeks, so I expect you to pay very good attention." She paused for effect, and let her gaze sweep over suddenly still, attentive faces.

"All of you, after you hand your bag to the bus driver, line up here in front so Mr. Pride and I can do a head count. I want no horsing around, no giggling, no straying. Do I make myself clear?"

In the utter silence that fell could be heard a solitary giggle.

Miss O'Leary glared at each child in turn. Innocent, angelic faces looked back at her. Only little Andy, standing next to Gabby, wore an incredulous smirk as he stared at Sina, who managed to look even more innocent than the rest - no small feat for her! Gabby, on the other hand, wore a nice little blush that she managed to cover up with a sweet smile.


The twin line of slaves moved slowly up the plank and onto the waiting ship, the shuffling of their feet accompanied by the clanking of the chains around their ankles as they scraped along the wood. The manacles on their hands and feet were not only chained together but also connected to a long chain that ran all the way from the front of the line to the back. Walking was possible only in tiny, shuffling steps, and in sync with the rest, which made for an eerie, dragging rhythm, counterpointed by a groan here or there, and the occasional crack of an overseer's whip. The music of misery.

Of all those who were part of the dreary procession, Autolycus alone had an air of nonchalance, arrogance even, about him. Even the Warrior Princess' features were subdued, her head bent. The bard looked no different. But of course, underneath that mask of misery, Xena's mind was milling madly. They had allowed themselves to be captured in order to stop the Dragon Lady's sinister machinations.

Gabrielle, who walked in line beside the King Of Thieves, cuffed him roughly with her elbow.

"Wipe that smug smirk off your face, thief, or you're going to give us away!"

Autolycus' face went slack, and slowly the corners of his mouth drooped as his eyes took on a woebegone look.

"That's better," the bard murmured her approval.

Once all the slaves were installed at the oars, an evilly grinning Dragon Lady cracked her whip once again, and her lackey, Gulliver Pride, started up a slow, rhythmic beating on a large drum in the ship's prow. Soon the only sound that could be heard was the boom! boom! of the drum, and the creaking of leather and chains as the slaves strained in their harnesses and the ship started moving lazily off shore. They were on their way.


The three hour trip was uneventful, even boring, and it was all Gabby could do to keep Sina from setting off a firecracker under Miss O'Leary's seat, just to spice up the journey. Much to Gabby's distress, they had been seated right behind the imposing PE teacher and Mr. Pride, which had Sina's mind scheming for all it was worth. The dark-haired girl was bound and determined to get herself in deep, or so it seemed.

Their destination was a secluded little valley with a small lake, not ten minutes away from the next town but well hidden by thick forest and the high mountainous ridge that surrounded it. A dozen little cottages stood in a semicircle facing the lakeshore, just big enough to hold six little pallets and a closet each.

There was a flurry of activity until the big mess tent had been set up and all the children were settled in their respective cabins. There were some discussions when best buddies had been assigned to different cottages, but all in all Miss O'Leary, with a little help from Mr. Pride, had matters firmly in hand and managed to sort everything out with practiced efficiency.

In no time at all, it was dinner time. A few of the children (not Sina, for a wonder) had drawn enough attention to themselves during the day to be pressed into service as kitchen helpers, and they were busy stirring huge pots, while the motherly looking woman who had come along to do the cooking was cutting up loaves of bread. There was a general hubbub and some jostling in the big mess tent as each child tried to be first in line with his or her camping dish.

"Gee Sina, why'd ya take your Frisbee to dinner?" Andy asked, noticing the round disk she had tucked into the belt of her black dress.

Blue eyes stared at him haughtily. "Well, you never know. We may need it."

Andy just shook his head, muttering "girls," and slipped in line in front of Sina, which earned him a disapproving sniff from Gabby. She even managed to stare at him down her nose, no small feat since she was about a head shorter than he.

When it was Sina's turn, she watched in growing disgust as a blob of some nondescript, brown substance was ladled onto her plate along with a Wiener, a slice of white bread and a mug of lukewarm tea.

"Ewwwww, what is that?"

"Refried beans and Wieners," the cook said. "You got a problem with it?"

"Looks like cat barf and dog poop," Sina grumbled. Gabby almost dropped her own plate. Andy guffawed.

All three turned when a shadow fell across them from behind. There stood the huge form of Miss O'Leary, staring down at Sina. Gabby squeaked, while Andy looked suddenly weak in the knees. The little Warrior Princess, however, pushed out her lower lip and gave the woman a defiant stare.


One by one, the slaves were handed their meager rations, hardly enough to keep them on their feet, let alone work at the quarry they were destined for.

Xena sniffed the proffered food suspiciously. Steely-cold blue eyes bored into the cook, who just gave her a flat stare.

"Are you trying to poison us?"

"It's porridge and turnips," the cook grated. "You got a problem with that?"

"Looks like centaur droppings to me." Now, warrior princesses do not pout, but at this moment, Xena came rather close. Beside her, the bard gave a little gasp at the warrior's revelation.

"Talking back, slave? This isn't the Ritz, you know." Both Xena and Gabrielle whirled at the rumbling voice behind them. Autolycus looked suddenly nervous, and started edging slowly away.

Behind them stood the towering, muscular form of the Dragon Lady, and she did not look amused.

"Now, Gabrielle!" shouted Xena as she crouched down and pulled her chakram from its concealment under the coarse sack they had been given to wear.

"Xena, catch!" Gabrielle tossed her a long-bladed dagger she herself had managed to smuggle into the slaver stronghold. Xena caught it by the blade (good thing that, in truth, it was only a dull-bladed, plastic camping knife with cartoon stickers on the handle) and immediately launched her attack.


A powerful, fluid motion launched the mighty chakram on its whining course. It knocked the plate right out of an unsuspecting Autolycus' hands and sent it flying. On the shining circle flew, bouncing off a tent pole, careening into the huge pot that held the food. The pot swayed dangerously on the rickety stand that held it, but remained upright.

The thief's plate sailed high, and descended in a graceful arc straight towards the Dragon Lady!

A hubbub of voices rose in the tent as the slaves became aware of the commotion and crowded in to see what was going on.

Xena deftly caught the circular weapon as it swished by her, only to fling it into the fray once more.

This time, it grazed Oleara's forehead, though without doing serious damage, then thudded into the tent's wall and slid to the ground.

From somewhere flew a glob of porridge, hitting Gabrielle smack in the face. The airborne plate emptied itself, dumping its contents neatly on the Dragon Lady's head with a slurping sound. The plate itself clattered harmlessly to the ground at her feet.

Now the huge woman's anger was aroused. She took a step towards them, brandishing her whip, a dangerous glare in her eyes. "Prepare to meet your doom, Warrior Princess!" And with a mighty roar, she threw herself at Xena, meaning to crush her in a bear hug.

All through the tent, Tartarus broke loose then! In the blink of an eye, all the slaves were engaged in a free-for-all, yelling and screaming and throwing food, dishes and napkins.

Xena easily sidestepped Oleara's first attack, taking advantage of her smaller mass. The huge woman was strong, though, and agile for her size, every bit the seasoned fighter. Xena knew instantly that she had very likely met her match in this one! Her only chance was to tire her by using an evasive tactic, involving a merry-chase around the tent as the others cheered her on. She ducked under tables, threw over benches and slipped between tent poles, Oleara hot on her trail and getting angrier by the moment.

Meanwhile, Autolycus and Gabrielle were not idle. Gabrielle could tell that her warrior friend was in dire straits. Then she noticed the thief frantically motioning to her from where he was standing close to a tent pole.

Though doubtful, she joined him in his efforts to work loose the pole. Together, they managed what Auto alone did not have the strength to do.

And then, just as Xena went past them at a dead run, a section of the huge tent slowly collapsed, burying under it one very irate Dragon Lady.


The mess tent was indeed a mess!

Muttering under her breath, Miss O'Leary battled with the partly collapsed canvas covering her, extricating herself finally with some effort.

Dead silence fell.

"You," she panted, still on all fours, pointing at a sullen Sina and scowling fiercely, "are in trouble." Her hair was plastered with goo, and lukewarm tea was dripping from the tip of her nose. An errant blob of refried beans made its way down her cheek and fell to the ground with a lazy splash.

Andy was nowhere to be seen.

Gabby sighed deeply. And this was only the first day.


Some time later, back in her own cabin, Megan O'Leary buried her face in her hands and groaned softly. And this was only the first day.


» Continued in "Summer Slave Camp II - Slave Hunt"

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