Sabrina turned the key and entered her house, with her pseudo-teen friends
behind her. "So far, so good," she said, but quickly changed her mind once she
saw some tiny deposits on the kitchen floor, courtesy of Xena's miniaturized
"In the words of Libby Chessler, 'Ew,'" Sabrina said, pointing her fingers at a
few places to zap away the offending material. "At least they were too small to
leave any noticeable odor."
Xena smiled. "Earlier, I was going to ask where Argo would do her business, but
figured you had that solved already."
"Well, she took to Salem's cat corral so well, I just assumed she'd figure out
the litter box as well. Guess I should have given her a few pointers." Sabrina
pointed at the feline-sized equine. "Argo's a horse who certainly rocks, teach
her to use the cat's litter box!" Seconds later, Argo strolled over to Salem's
private place and, well...
"I'm impressed," Gabrielle said.
Xena stared at her companion and whispered, "Give Argo some privacy."
"It's getting late, and we need to get some sleep," Sabrina said. "Now, each of
you can use one of my aunts' bedrooms."
"I appreciate the offer," Xena said, "but after that incident on the way home
tonight, I'd feel more comfortable being on sentry down here. Let Gabrielle get
Sabrina waved her hand. "No need to--this is a safe neighborhood, despite what
happened tonight. But if you're more secure sleeping on the sofa, then be my
guest." Force of habit, she guessed.
"Gabrielle, you go upstairs," Xena said. "I'll rest here, but be vigilant."
"Follow me," Sabrina said to Gabrielle. "You want Hilda's room or Zelda's?"
"Is there a difference?"
"Not really." And not true either, Sabrina admitted to herself. Zelda's room was
a very sensible, low-key array of muted reds and blues, while Hilda's was a bit
more garish, with pink and off-white the dominant colors. She decided to lead
Gabrielle to Zelda's room.
"Let me turn on the light," Sabrina said, flipping a switch as Gabrielle watched
"You mean that's not magic?"
"Noooo, just technology." She paused to set up an analogy. "You've heard of
"Do you take me for a fool? Of course," Gabrielle replied.
"Well, this is the work of some of his descendants. Not literal ones, mind you,
but people who have studied science and come up with ideas to benefit our
"It is pretty remarkable," Gabrielle said as she fell onto the bed. "So we are
in the future, then."
"Yep, but just rest and enjoy yourself," Sabrina said, making sure to shut off
the alarm on the clock radio. Sure Gabrielle would have to get up early to go to
school, but hearing a disembodied voice upon waking may not be good for her.
* * *
Salem crept through the night. "Okay," he muttered, "Now that ambrosia should be
this way." He purred enthusiastically as he imagined how the food of the gods
might affect him. Soon, he would be restored to his human form, his magic
stronger than ever before. Either that, or he'd be the world's most powerful
cat. Both scenarios had their upsides. As long I don't end up with those
funny-looking eyes like ambrosia-eaters get on the show, he thought. My night
vision is good enough as it is.
Suddenly, Salem stopped in his tracks and sniffed the air. "Is that tuna I
smell?" he wondered. He sniffed again. "Yes it is!"
He turned his head back and forth, torn in indecision. "Tuna...ambrosia... tuna..."
Finally, he bolted in the direction of the fishy scent. After all, the ambrosia
would keep, but you gotta get the fish while it's still fresh.
Salem made his way to the tuna, lying on the ground near a small wooded area.
Probably dropped by some fisherman on his way home, Salem thought. Well, chances
are he'll never miss it...
As he pounced on the dead fish, a quick snapping sound flew through the air. A
split-second later, so did Salem, as a carefully-concealed patch of canvas
underneath his feet hoisted him up. The edges of the canvas cinched together,
transforming the sheet into a very serviceable bag.
"Hey, what's going on here?" Salem screeched.
"So it does talk," Autolycus mused as he emerged from the woods. "I know
somebody who'll pay a lot of money for this find!" he chuckled.
Uh-oh, Salem thought, I'm being catnapped! Well, at least it's Autolycus, so I
might be able to get out of this. He may be the King of Thieves, but he's
basically a decent guy. After all, he did leave this fish in the bag with me...
Salem put his escape plans on hold as he tore into the tuna.
* * *
Hilda tried to get the sleep out of her eyes. She could hear the sound of water,
with Xelda's voice over it. Or was that voices?
"Kentucky...you are the sweetest land outside of heaven to me..." Xelda was
indeed singing...double-tracked, in the midst of a shower she had zapped up.
"Ever since you bought that Everly Brothers box set, you've been singing from
it--and both Don and Phil's parts, too," Hilda, now out of bed, said to her
sister as she neared the shower. "You want to wake Salem and Joxer?"
"I like the Everlys' harmonies," Xelda retorted, poking her shampooed head
through the shower curtain. "And I don't do it that often. Too much
double-tracking puts a strain on a witch's vocal chords, you know." In fact, she
recalled, the first time she'd heard Patti Page sing "Tennessee Waltz," she'd
been convinced she was a witch.
Hilda grumbled. "Well, I still remember what happened in 1961, when you called
that Liverpool band 'ersatz Everlys' and dissuaded me from becoming their
manager. And to think because of you, I missed out on signing the Fab Four!"
Xelda shut off the shower. "You're not blameless, either. If you hadn't been
late with the twenty-five dollars worth of trinkets back in 1626, I would've
owned Manhattan Island. But no, you had to spend a few extra minutes with that
young man in the tavern."
"He was cute!"
"Whatever," Xelda sighed.
Joxer entered the tent, two large fish in tow. "Good morning, dear ladies," he
said. "I have your breakfast, fresh from a nearby lake."
"How sweet!" Hilda replied.
Upon hearing Joxer's voice, Xelda zapped her clothes on before she left the
shower. Sure, it would look a little unusual to him, but under these
"The armor needed some cleaning," she explained.
"Howdy, Jox, and thanks for the fish," Hilda said, grabbing the fish and zapping
up a frying pan. "I'll set up breakfast outside. By the way, how's Salem?"
"Er...well, to be honest with you, I don't know," he said.
Hilda smiled. "Probably is looking for an impromptu litter box. Should've zapped
one up for him last night."
"That's right," Xelda said. Still, from the sound of Joxer's voice, she sensed a
reason for concern.
After zapping up a campfire, Hilda began yelling for Salem, but after a minute
she neither saw a cat saunter back to her nor heard his feline tones. Must've
wandered off in search of his own breakfast, she thought.
"Salem! Fish here! Breakfast!"
"This is not good," she mumbled to herself while returning to her tent. "Salem's
not around," she told her sister and Joxer.
"Not like him," Xelda said, turning to the ersatz warrior. "Now, Joxer, when did
you see him last?"
"Er...as I was getting ready to sleep last night," Joxer nervously answered. "He
entered the tent as I was removing my armor, said good night, then left. I
figured he was going to your tent...you know him better than I do."
Xelda bristled. "Yes, we do. That's why we're worried. That cat loves getting
into trouble. Where could he have wandered off?"
"Well, I happen to know we're not that far away from where some ambrosia is
stored." He smiled. "Of course, since he's a god already, why would he need it?"
Hilda drew a breath. Ambrosia--food of the gods, she thought; one of the few
thngs she still remembered from mythology class in the Other Realm. "Uh-oh," she
said, looking at her older sister. "You putting two and two together?"
"You come up with four!" Joxer proudly interjected.
"Not what we meant," an irritated Xelda said. "Joxer, we have something to tell
you about Salem."
"Yep," Hilda said. "You see, Salem isn't really a cat, but a witch who's been
sentenced to a hundred years of cathood by the Witches' Council for attempted
world domination. I'm his guardian for the time being."
"He thought he could beat Alexander at his own game?" Joxer said. "Pure folly."
"Anyway," Xelda said, "if he gets that ambrosia, who knows how it will affect
him. As a cat, he's roguish but essentially harmless. With powers, it's
Hilda nodded. "Joxer, you're going to have to lead us to the ambrosia so we get
a hold of it before he does."
"Consider it done," he gallantly answered. "Let us leave right away. But what
about your breakfast?"
Hilda zapped the fish into three fish sandwiches, all on French bread. "Don't
worry--they're boneless," she said, handing one to Joxer.
"You did hold the tartar sauce on mine," Xelda asked while taking hers.
"Of course, sis."
* * *
The alarm rang in Sabrina's room, and she descended from her levitating sleep.
Ah, 6:45, she noted. In just over 12 hours, she would be able to send Xena,
Gabrielle and Argo back to their world, while retrieving her aunts and Salem
from Xena's. But before she could, there was a day of school to survive.
Time to shower, she thought as she left her bed, then wake up her ancient-era
Just after Sabrina began her shower, the morning light attacked Gabrielle's eyes
and she slowly woke up. This is like a palace, she thought as she gazed about
Zelda's room. Then she noticed something unusual atop one of the drawers and
hurriedly ran out of bed to investigate.
She stared at the item--an immobile, tiny Sabrina, barely bigger than her
finger, alongside two other blonde women. What have the gods done to her?, she
"Xena!" she yelled. Within seconds, the warrior princess stood at her side.
"What's the matter?"
"Look what's happened to Sabrina!" Gabrielle said. "The gods have trapped her
and these other two women here. And they're frozen. How do we get them out?"
"Doesn't look good," Xena conceded. "I'm guessing Ares discovered she was linked
with us, and decided to send us a message. But--"
"Why...are they smiling?"
Xena shook her head. "I don't know. I only wish we had her magic, or some
ambrosia we could smear on that."
Sabrina turned off the shower, zapped her clothes on, then left the bathroom to
wake up Gabrielle. She found the bard and Xena engrossed in a family photograph.
"Those are my aunts, Hilda and Zelda," she said.
Xena and Gabrielle turned around. "You're okay!" Gabrielle exclaimed.
Sabrina shrugged. "And why wouldn't I be?"
"We thought you were trapped...in here," Xena said, pointing to the photo.
"Oh, no," Sabrina replied, realizing the situation and trying to keep from
laughing. "I just took a shower. I'm fine."
"You're sure," Gabrielle wondered.
Xena smiled. "We were certain Ares had done something to you to try to get at
"Not quite!" Sabrina said. "We have a little something called school to take
care of, so the two of you better clean up. I'll take care of breakfast and set
out your clothes for you."
"Fine," Gabrielle said. "I'll shower first, if that's all right with you,"
looking toward Xena. The warrior princess nodded.
* * *
"So you are a talking cat. You're sure you're not Hercules turned into an animal
again," Autolycus said to his bagged captive as he walked along. "Herc as a
hog," he mused with a smirk. "Still brings a smile just thinking about it."
"No, I am not Hercules, or Iolaus," Salem said. "Just a cat, sir. Salem
Saberhagen's the name." He's certainly taking this better than Joxer did, he
"A cat. Hmmm...what in the name of Zeus do you like to talk about?"
"I'm a generalist," Salem replied. "Foreign policy, ice hockey, the Spice Girls.
You name it, I talk it. I pride myself on my multifacetedness."
"Sounds as if you fancy yourself as some sort of intellectual, which you
certainly are for a feline," Autolycus said. "But not smart enough to outwit the
"--of Thieves," Salem mouthed to himself as Autolycus completed the sentence.
Better play up to his ego, Salem thought. "I have heard of you, Autolycus,
through lore and legend, of your wily ways and mastery of thievery--but also of
your inherent decency," the cat said to his captor.
"If you are trying to sweeten me up in hopes I will release you, then you had
better try much, much harder," the thief replied with a smile.
Well, that figures, Salem mused. Maybe I should try a different tack. If I can't
escape and get the ambrosia, maybe I could at least get treated like a god...
"Autolycus, you are a shrewd judge of the value of things. You know Cleopatra,
and you know how the Egyptians regard us cats. Surely she would give you any
price you desired for me."
"I know Cleopatra?" Autolycus laughed. "I only wish! I've heard all kinds of
rumors about myself, but that's a new one on me. Price of fame, I suppose."
"Drat," Salem muttered, too softly for Autolycus to hear. "We must not have
gotten to that episode yet."
"Besides," Autolycus continued, "Egypt's a bit out of my way. No, I know someone
much closer, who'll pay almost as much."
"Who?" Salem asked. "And where?"
"You'll find out soon enough. By the way, you did enjoy the tuna, I presume?"
"Hmm...bilingual." Salmoneus will pay plenty of dinars for this one, Autolycus
* * *
"The ambrosia is back over on the other side of the mountain, in a cave about
three-quarters of the way up," Joxer told the sisters. "I'll head up there and
wait for you to join me. Meanwhile, you go search for the cat--and if I find him
before you do, I'll hold him there. See you there at midday."
"Makes sense," Xelda said, "and you certainly know the terrain of--" she almost
said New Zealand--"this area better than we do."
"Please be careful," Hilda said to Joxer.
"You needn't worry," he gallantly answered. "Joxer the Mighty is resourceful,
intelligent and as tough as they come." He slowly walked away, briefly turning
around to blow a kiss to Hilda, who returned the favor.
As he turned away, Hilda pointed at him. "Hard working warrior, don't be
uncouth, Joxer the Mighty, for once be the truth!" She smiled and turned to her
sister. "Just gave him the same warrior powers I gave you last night--and like
yours, they'll last for 24 hours. I'm not taking any chances."
"From what I've seen of him, I don't blame you," Xelda said, and then coughed.
"I just knew that would happen," Hilda said in admonishment. "Serves you right
for double-tracking your voice. You are fortunate I am in a forgiving mood." She
pointed and immediately zapped a half-dozen golden-shaded round lozenges into
her hand. "Hmm...maybe a bit too smooth and modern for these times." So she zapped
them again, and the lozenges became irregular in shape, resembling craggy chunks
of rock candy.
"Wait--I'm keeping a few for myself," Hilda said, placing three in the pocket of
her outfit. "You can have the other three."
"Fine," Xelda answered. "This footpath looks interesting...perhaps Salem
"There are no pawprints."
"Salem would be too shrewd for that," Xelda said. "He would walk on the edge of
the grass, paralleling it."
"Let's give it a try, but without losing sight of that mountain," her younger
sister replied. With that, they went on their way.
* * *
Rather than summon Ancient Mariner a second time, Sabrina zapped up generic
clothes for Xena and Gabrielle. This time, Xena would wear the dress...an
attractive scarlet sleeveless number, hemmed a little above the knee, trimmed in
royal purple. "She'll carry it well," Sabrina said to herself, reminding herself
to make a copy in her size once Xena returned to her own environment.
For Gabrielle, she created rust-colored slacks and a maize-tinted blouse. Subtle
shades to make her blend in with the school population, she thought.
The witch zapped up the necessary accessories--shoes, hose, lingerie--and their
scholastic wardrobe was complete.
"I'll be downstairs making breakfast," Sabrina said as she walked past the
bathroom where Gabrielle was showering and the bedroom where Xena was looking
out the window, surveying the territory. Sabrina could see the look of amazement
on her eyes, but decided to let her be.
* * *
"Keep quiet until I tell you to speak," Autolycus said as they arrived at a
small village. "It won't do either of us any good to attract attention until
I've made the deal."
"Gotcha," Salem replied. So, he thought to himself, he's not ready to let the
cat out of the bag, so to speak...
Carrying the concealed, silent feline, the King of Thieves scanned the village
with intense scrutiny. The square was practically deserted...the farmers were all
out working in the fields, everyone else was still asleep, and the merchants'
stalls were unattended for lack of customers. "If anyone's open at this
gods-forsaken hour," Autolycus observed, "it'll be him."
Finally, his ears caught the faint sound of a dispute on the other end of the
marketplace. He smiled as he rushed towards the commotion.
The source of the brouhaha was a stout, balding man, angrily waving a bottle
under the nose of a gray-bearded merchant.
"I demand my money back!" the heavyset man shouted. "This potion of yours made
me sick to my stomach!"
"Of course it did," the merchant replied in a patient, conciliatory tone. "I
don't see why you're so upset...I clearly told you that this is an appetite
suppressant, guaranteed to help you lose weight. And now you're complaining that
The customer gave him a puzzled look. He said "But--", then paused, searching
for a counterpoint to attack the merchant's explanation. Finally, unable to
formulate a logical objection, he conceded the point by leaving silently.
"Yep, that's Salmoneus all right," Autolycus smirked.
* * *
"I must admit that pseudo-Greece is far more temperate than the real thing,"
Xelda said. "Remember that archeological dig in Athens we went on with Sabrina's
mother many years ago?"
"Yep," Hilda replied, recalling Sabrina's pre-witch childhood and her niece's
mortal mother. "You found all those artifacts, and I found nothing."
"There's a knack to it," her older sister said. "I just...happen to have it."
In the distance, Xelda noticed two women running through a field, chased by two
men in armor. "Do you see what I see?" she asked Hilda.
"Sure do," Hilda said, raising her finger. "Now what animal should I turn those
guys into...gophers or squirrels?"
"Been there, done that," Xelda replied, running toward them. "Let me take care
of it my way!"
"Be careful out there!" Hilda yelled.
Xelda arrived on the scene with a Xena-like somersault that caught the crooks
off guard. In the midst of her flip, she pulled a baseball-sized rock off the
ground and fired it at a tree. It caromed off it and another tree, then hit one
man in the helmet and rendering him unconscious. The two women the men had
pursued watched in awe. So did Hilda.
"Not bad, lady," the other thug said.
"Thank you!" Xelda answered...rapidly spinning around and knocking him to the
ground. She raised him up with one hand, picked up the second hoodlum with the
other and threw them both against a large tree. "Any questions, gentlemen?" she
said, as she waved at the women to leave the premises.
"Errr, no," the conscious one mumbled.
"Very good," she said, pulling a vine from the tree and wrapping into a knot
around the pair. "There, nice and tight. Should hold you all day. Now I'm going
to leave you here for a while to think about the error of your ways and let you
determine a more ethical line of work for yourselves. Certainly you can use your
skills for more productive purposes."
"What...ever you say."
"I'll be on my way now. Put your thinking caps on."
Hilda stood about 50 feet away, admiring her sister's handiwork. "Not bad!" she
said when Xelda rejoined her.
"Isn't this wonderful, what I can do? Thank you, sis. Being a heroine is so
Hilda beamed. "I'm glad you like it."
"Imagine how I can help people!" Xelda said in exhiliration. "Wherever there is
evil, wherever an innocent would suffer, there will be--Xelda!"
"Hail!" Hilda answered, though she was worried her always-idealistic sister
might be taking this a bit too far. "We've got to get back to searching for
Salem. If we don't find him, Drell will have my hide."
"Not literally, I hope."
* * *
Once the flummoxed customer had departed, Autolycus approached Salmoneus.
"Salmoneus, old pal!" he chuckled as he placed a hand on the merchant's
shoulder. "Have I got something to show you...something with a lot of potential
"For you or for me?" Salmoneus asked.
"For both of us, my friend. You see," he continued, "I know our styles don't
particularly mesh. I'm the King of Thieves. I see something, I take it. Now you,
on the other hand...you're the thinker, the planner. I think short-term, you think
long-term. That's what makes this find so special. It suits both of us--I profit
right now, you get something to profit in the future."
"Well," Salmoneus replied, "I can see why you'd have to be the King of Thieves,
because you're certainly no salesman. Your flattery is obvious and unconvincing,
and your offer doesn't intrigue me in the least. You'll need to take some
lessons in the art of persuasion." He paused. "I offer a seminar at very
"So my offer isn't intriguing, eh? Well, maybe this will get your attention."
With that, Autolycus opened the mouth of the sack--not wide enough for Salem to
escape, but sufficient for Salmoneus to peer inside.
"It's a cat," the merchant said bluntly.
"Not just any ordinary cat," the King of Thieves remarked. "All right, Salem,
show him what makes you special!"
For a moment, Salem considered keeping silent and embarrassing his captor. He
remembered the old joke about the man showing off his "talking dog" ("What's on
top of the house?" "Roof!" "Who's the greatest ballplayer?" "Ruth!") and
grinned. Then he thought better of it. I'd be better off with Salmoneus anyway,
he thought, so I'd better make him want me.
"You want I shoulda said DiMaggio?" Salem cracked.
"What-what was that?" Salmoneus gasped in surprise.
"An in-joke," Salem explained.
Regaining his composure, Salmoneus examined Salem more closely as Autolycus took
up the pitch. "Yes, it's a talking cat. A remarkable, unique discovery...and one
I'm sure you'll find lots of uses for."
"Yes," Salmoneus replied. "But how do I know it's real?" He reached inside the
bag and tugged on Salem's whiskers.
"Hey! Watch it, bub!" Salem swatted Salmoneus' hand, but kept his claws
retracted. Wouldn't do to scratch his potential meal ticket...
"That's a real cat, all right," the schemer supreme observed. "But how can I be
sure it really talks? I've seen magicians who can make all sorts of creatures
speak...animals, dolls, even one fellow who has a voice emerging from his hand. I
think they're called..." he paused, searching for the word, "ventriloquists."
"It's not my doing, I can assure you," the King of Thieves answered.
"Let me just make certain," Salmoneus suggested. "These ventriloquists had to be
within a certain range for their magic to work. Stand away from the cat--"
"My name is Salem," interrupted the peeved pet.
"Stand away from...Salem," Salmoneus continued. "Let me see if he still talks when
you're not holding him."
Autolycus placed the bag on the ground and backed off a few feet.
"I assure you," Salem said, "I am no dummy. I don't let anyone put words in my
"Satisfied?" Autolycus asked.
"I'm still not convinced. I once saw one of these ventriloquists make a doll
speak from across the room. And he was drinking a flagon of water at the same
"Okay, okay," Autolycus griped. He strode across the marketplace, passing
several empty stalls. Eventually, he turned and shouted "Is this far enough?"
"Perfect," Salmoneus replied. With that, he snatched up Salem's bag and dashed
towards a horse that was tied nearby.
Autolycus came running, swiftly gaining as Salmoneus struggled to unhitch the
horse and mount it without losing his grip on the precious bag. Just as
Autolycus caught up, Salmoneus spurred the horse on, galloping off to a narrow
"Well," Salem purred, "I, for one, saw that trick coming a mile away."
* * *
"So you say we'll be riding something called a school bus," Gabrielle said as
she munched on her breakfast of buttered nutbread toast. The least I can do for
her, Sabrina had thought when she zapped it up.
"That's right," Sabrina answered. "There's nothing to be afraid of. I ride one
every day. And Zee--"
"You don't have to call me that here," Xena interjected over her oatmeal.
"Just doing it so I don't forget. I understand if you're a bit uptight about
riding something other than Argo--" she glanced over at the tiny horse, eating
food out of Salem's bowl-- "but you'll do fine on the bus."
"I'm certain I will," Xena said, then hummed a chorus of "Maria."
"There she goes again," Gabrielle said, shaking her head.
"Just be thankful she's not into heavy metal," Sabrina said with a grin.
"You mean like, uh, lead? Bronze? Copper?" the bard replied.
They left the house and walked to the corner to catch the school bus. Two other
students were also waiting--a small brunette freshman Sabrina knew little about
and Gordie, a good student and science whiz whom the "cool" kids considered
somewhat geeky. Sabrina had befriended him and was also a member of the Science
"Hey, Gord, meet my new friends Zee and Gabby," Sabrina said, smiling. "They'll
be staying with me. Exchange students from Greece."
"Pleased to meet you two," he replied, shaking the two visitors' right hands.
"You're more than welcome to join the Science Club."
"We'll consider it," Xena said. "It's important to know the flight of a chakram
at a slightly rising angle--especially considering the hardness of the rock it
comes into contact with."
"Something I always think about," Sabrina said nervously.
"Sounds good, Gord," Gabrielle replied, "but truth be told, I'm more of a
Sabrina saw the school bus round the corner a block away and come toward them.
"We can resume the chit-chat on the bus, guys," she said.
They climbed aboard, the freshman first, then Gordie, then Sabrina, Gabrielle
and finally Xena, who looked both ways before boarding.
"Young lady, I'm a perfectly reputable driver," the middle-aged woman said.
"Please take your seat." Sabrina nodded in agreement.
Listening rather than talking for the most part--except when they were putting
their faces to the windows--Xena and Gabrielle had a rather uneventful bus ride.
Which was just the way Sabrina wanted it.
Finally, the large red-brick building of Westbridge High School drew nearer. "A
temple to education, I see," Gabrielle told Sabrina. Yep, she silently agreed.
And Willard Kraft is our Ares.
The students left the bus, and Sabrina told her two ancient friends to stay with
"That we will," Xena said confidently.
"Same here," Gabrielle echoed.
"I am relieved," Sabrina said. In her book bag, she had conjured up
forms--"signed" by school officials--that showed these newcomers had already
"What are we waiting for, then?" Gabrielle said. "Let's go inside."
With that, Sabrina, Xena and Gabrielle walked through the doors and into school.
DISCLAIMER: Neither the art of family harmony nor puns involving baseball
players' names were harmed during the making of this chapter, although Sabrina
briefly considered marketing her nutbread toast recipe.