Convert This Page to Pilot DOC FormatConvert this page to Pilot DOC Format

DISCLAIMERS:

MCA/UNIVERSAL/RENAISSANCE owns Xena, Gabrielle, and Argo (poor baby needs a better agent, she s getting paid only in apples and oats) and others from X:WP. All others are a possible hazardous byproduct of the icky gray stuff that is stuck inside the boney thingy on my shoulders.

This story is written without wanting to infringe on the above companies rights. (If I do theyíd sic the "Amazon Collection Agency" or ACA on me, and they always get their prey.) This story is also non-profit and any reproduction or use of this story without my permission will make me call the ACA on your bootie.

WARNING:

Violence is present in this story, and some of it is very graphic especially in later parts. This is Xena after all. If you donít approve please just read something you find more appropriate. Any and all comments are welcome, so just post me a self-addressed email to the below addie. Just remember I tend to be nice to nice people and flame right back to flamers:}~~~

Personal:

Iíd like to thank Perager and Raven for editing Part One. Without you both, Crown would have been much . . . .errr . . .hehehe . . . shabbier. Thank you my "Lil Warband".

Oh gods . . .that gray stuff is bubbling outta my ears again, perhaps I should just get on with the story before it s all gone?


A CROWN OF LAUREL
BY SILK
silk2@hotmail.com COPYRIGHT 1997
Part One

Callisto materialized herself along the stone bench, stretching out lazily with a grace that belied but also accentuated her deadly abilities. She gazed out into the room beyond, vastly amused with herself.

". . . Send Kordrith. The troops will respect him but not love him enough to cause me internal problems. I wonít have to worry about disloyalty and the job will get done. Iím tired of the discontent in that province!" The tall dark-haired man looked at his advisors and generals, momentarily distracted by their attention being held elsewhere behind him. "What are you fools looking. . .,"he started to say as he turned, noticing someone lying on his throne.

It was at that moment the generals and the guards snapped back to attention and their duty, drawing their swords to protect their ruler.

"Oh, donít bother boys." Callisto smiled lazily and flicked a supple wrist. "Iím just here to speak with . . .hmm . . .him, I believe." She pointed to their monarch. "You might call this a divine visitation."

Eyebrows rose in the throne room, but the man in question just raised his hand in dismissal, barely waiting for the room to clear before he smiled. Whoever this woman was, she was a woman and he had nothing to fear, no matter that she wore warriorsí attire. He examined his guest, then with a smile he picked up a plate with the finest of grapes and offered it to her silently.

"Ooo. . ." Callisto cooed as she sampled the fare. "Very nice. Only the best for you, hmm?" She winked, plucking a few choice red grapes from the silver plate and eating them.

"And my guests, of course." He replied simply. "Forgive me for saying so, and perhaps itís a great lapse in my education, but you said Ďdivine visití, yet I don't recognize you." The man smiled at Callisto, raising an eyebrow in query.

"Did I say that? Hmm . . . well it is. Sorta. I m here because we need to talk. Did you know we have something in common?" She asked, a lazy smile on her otherwise beautiful face.

Callisto saw the puzzlement on the manís face and relished it. Oh how I just love surprising people. Especially Xena. Abruptly she laughed, her shrill voice echoing her pleasure and her anticipation.

Oh Xena dear, you're just going to love this one. She thought to herself then pulled the surprised but compliant man down for a deep kiss. I just love being such a bad girl.

* * * * *

Fenal picked up the cup and blew softly into it, sending a silent prayer to the gods for some good fortune for a change. With a deft wrist, he tossed the dice out onto the table.

With a groan he pushed himself away from the table. "I quit. I donít know what it is, but my luck is just getting worse and worse."

"Well, your bad luck was my good fortune. Youíre stopping now?" said the man across from him.

Fenal nodded and quickly stood up, striding purposefully to the bar and pointedly ignoring the cackles of the man who had just won a good sum of his dinars. Putting his leather tankard down, he motioned for a refill.

It had been a rotten season and it was threatening to put him out of business unless something good happened soon.

The first omen of ill fortune for Captain Fenal had been a leak in the hold of his ship that had ruined three quarters of his fabric shipment. What was left was just enough to pay for the voyage. On the next trip, he lost half of the livestock due to a very unnatural becalming of the seas that had left his ship and crew drifting for weeks. He had had to ration water to keep his men alive and the shipment had suffered for it. It was amazing any of the sheep had survived at all. Donít really like carrying livestock anyway, itís too messy to clean up afterwards.

This last voyage hadnít been too bad, really. Passengers were a good commodity usually, but there had only been two of them and nothing else to fill the hold.

So here he sat, his passengers having disembarked three days ago, and not a cargo or a would-be passenger since. Now he had lost good dinars and he knew he d lose his ship soon if something didnít come up. A captain just didnít leave a port without some sort of cargo, be it human or not.

Fenal sighed loudly and took a deep draft of the local ale.

"Pardon me. Are you the Captain of that merchant ship out on the third dock?" came a smooth, woman's voice from behind him.

Perhaps my luck has just changed? He thought silently, then turned to address the lady.

Xena watched as the man turned towards her and then raised his head to look her in the face. His eyes widened in surprise, but she was glad to see no fear there, just curiosity. Fear got old, and long past were the days when she wanted that emotion when others saw her.

"Umm . . .yes. That would be me. Fenal. Captain Fenal of the Jade Dolphin, at your service I hope." The man smiled and held out a hand.

Xena shook it firmly then let him go. "Good. I heard you were looking for cargo and/or passengers?" she asked.

"Well yes, of course. Canít go out empty, you know. Where would you be headed to?" He took another drink.

Xena motioned the barkeep for an ale then turned back to the captain. "Elaphonisi or as far as you can take us that way."

He raised an eyebrow and nodded. "You said us. How many total?"

"Just two. Myself and my friend. How much would you be charging for us?" Xena got to the point.

Fenal thought a moment. "For both. . .50 dinars."

"I happen to be very handy aboard ship." Xena replied simply.

The captain smiled, and they got down to bargaining.

*** * *

Callisto hopped from rock to rock with ease, her footing sure. She pivoted once with her arms open wide and her head turned upwards to the dark sky. Except for the warrior garb and the dark, twisted husk that was her soul, she seemed innocent, a lovely woman enjoying a day by the oceanside.

She stopped and leaned over the rocky overcropping she had set out for. The turbulent sea crashed below her and she grinned at the two forces, earth and water meeting.

Rather like Xena and myself, I think. Callisto thought to herself, then grimaced as if in pain. Bringing up her hands beside her mouth she filled her lungs with the sea air and bellowed, "POSEIDON!"

She waited a moment, tapping her foot with impatience.

"POSEIDON!" She yelled again, a wicked gleam could be seen in her eyes as she picked up several rocks and casually threw them into the sea.

"Oh . . . Poseidon." *plunk**plunk*

Callisto held her ground as suddenly the sea erupted before her and the titanic watery blue form of the Greek sea god rose from the depths.

"Nice entrance." She squealed in delight.

Poseidon glared down at the form before him, rather irate at being so rudely summoned. But he sensed divinity in this one, though it was still newly formed and much weaker than his own. Raising his trident before Callisto, his deep voice, like the ringing of a ships' bell under water, responded.

"Who are you?"

The blond warrior raised a long finger and pointed it at herself with amused surprise.

"Who, me? You donít get out much, do you? When was the last time you visited the Ďant hillí?" she quipped. Then, not bothering to wait for an answer, she waved her hand through the air and answered his question. "Iím Callisto. Iím rather new up there, but I m having lots of fun meeting everyone. Iíve heard so much about you that I thought Iíd come over for a little chat." Callisto smiled and fluttered her eyelashes.

Poseidon roared in laughter, causing wave after wave to crash high upon the rocks.

"You're trying to look so innocent that I know something s wrong." He roared, quite humored.

Callisto rolled her eyes and shrugged slightly. "Canít blame a girl for trying. But we do have something in common, you and I."

"Really?" He snickered, not believing it, but amused enough by the little immortal to listen a moment or two.

The woman pursed her lips and winked. Ever so softly the name escaped from her lips. "Xena."

The sea god drew back in surprise for a moment then bent towards Callisto earnestly. "Go on."

"What would you want in exchange for an itsy bitsy favor?" she asked, holding two fingers close together.

Poseidon narrowed his eyes suspiciously. He trusted very few, and didnít know this pint-sized goddess.

Callisto's eyes flashed. "Oh, I just want a little storm to blow a certain ship off course. Onto my course, of course," she quipped.

The sea god winced slightly at the pun. He paused before answering, thinking deeply. Then suddenly he snapped his watery fingers, spraying Callisto slightly who ignored it. He smiled.

"This is what I want. . ." His voice grew soft as the midnight tide against a sandy beach, so soft that only she would hear. He took no chances that another god was eavesdropping. When he was done he straightened himself and looked down at Callisto expectantly.

The lithe goddess rested her forefinger against her cheek and pondered the situation. Then in imitation she snapped her fingers and replied. "Not a problem. Iíll come back and call when I get it." She winked, then abruptly turned and skipped back across the rocks, back through the sands and into the woods beyond.

Poseidon just watched her leave, deeply amused about the whole situation. If she got the item in question, which he rather doubted, he would be pleased. If she didnít, well, then, he just might have a little storm cross Xenaís bow anyway, but the ship would not take Callistoís course but his instead.

Roaring his laughter, he collapsed into the sea.

* * * * *

"Well?" Gabrielle asked, then took a small bite out of an apple.

"Yep, thereís a ship that will take us most of the way I think. Wonít cost us too much either." Xena stated as she spread herself under the shady tree beside Gabrielle.

"How much?" The bard asked dubiously. Usually she did the bargaining, but Xena had insisted this time. Not like they couldn't afford it. Gabrielle made pretty good money from the stories she told in taverns and inns wherever they traveled.

She knew, of course, that this annoyed Xena immensely. The warrior liked being self-sufficient and considered herself the provider for the duo, even though she always kept telling Gabrielle that this was a partnership of equals. Xena rarely took anything that was offered when people she saved were grateful. She thought they needed it more then she did, though fresh fruit and bread was a welcome treat if she thought the people could afford it. She didnít see herself as the mercenary type.

More often then not though, she d still feel guilt over the offering and would give it to some poor starving soul on the road and the two of them would live off the land. Xena had stolen enough in her warlord years to fill chests full of jewels and gold, but she rejected any reward like that now.

So Gabrielle told stories and made dinars and ignored Xenaís frowns usually, knowing it was needed for them both. Like now. The bard thought.

"He didnít seem very happy, but we are going for. . .free." Xena paused dramatically, then grinned at her companion, immensely pleased with herself. "I did some preparing before I sought him out. I told him of a certain merchant that wants his business and household moved down the coast, not too far off from where we are heading. Everything he owns in fact. Fenal was ecstatic and told me the voyage was free. Then he almost flew out of the tavern looking for the man." The warrior laughed deeply at the picture, her eyes twinkling merrily.

Gabrielle smiled to see her friend in such a good mood. She d been rather untalkative these past few days on the road, ever since they had left Argo with the Amazons. Argo hadnít seemed pleased either, but she had seemed to know it wasnít forever and had settled down when Xena had explained it to the mare.

The blond woman finished her apple and tossed the core into the brush. Turning to her friend she smiled, very pleased with Xenaís skills.

"ĎKnow your battlefield. Isnít that what you say?" the bard said, poking the warrior teasingly in the ribs.

"I have many. . ."

"Oh, no, you donít." said Gabrielle, as she nudged Xena over before she could finish. "Free passage, hmm? Are you sure the boat isnít full of holes or anything?" she asked, suddenly concerned. She hated being on water.

Xena grinned, knowing what was going through the young womanís mind. "Yes, Gabrielle, itís OK. I checked it out earlier. Even the crew seemed good. Though they are a bit nervous about the string of bad luck they have had lately. But I told them I was considering buying passage and they seemed happy enough. And the ship. . .not a boat Gabrielle, the ship is in good condition. Captain Fenal seems to take good care of it."

"Well,d. . .I suppose." The young bard sighed, resigned to her fate. "When are we leaving?"

"He said heíll try and talk to the merchant immediately and get everything loaded up as soon as possible. Probably out on the evening tide if heís lucky. That merchant seemed to be in a hurry. I figured you wouldnít want to go on till the last minute anyway." She replied, raising an eyebrow in question.

"Of course. . .last minute will be just fine." The bard agreed.

Xena chuckled and lay back comfortably. "Just relax, Gabrielle. Take a nap, then weíll go have lunch . . .or in your case, a light snack at the inn, then weíll go aboard the Jade Dolphin."

Jade Dolphin. What a pretty name. Gabrielle thought silently as she stretched herself out on the soft grass and closed her eyes.A light snack indeed, Iíll show her.

* * * * *

Aphrodite sighed and ran her hands down over her chiffon dress, smoothing an almost imperceivable wrinkle. She was bored once again. Being the Goddess of Love wasnít an easy task, no matter what anyone else thought. It seemed that though she was always begged and prayed to before she went to work, she was rarely thanked for bringing lovers together.

Mortals. So selfish. She rested her slim hands on her hips and tried to force a smile, always dreading that someday a frown line would creep up onto her porcelain skin.

"What I really need is a vacation," she said out loud.

"Hmm. . .I think I could help you with that," came a reply from behind her.

Aphrodite turned and viewed her visitor. She eyed the leather-armored woman before her with disdain. Callisto. One of the few she had ever had the privilege of not working on their behalf. Could my day just get any worse?! The Goddess of Love turned back to the mirror and fussed with her hair, not concerned with the young goddess behind her.

"What are you doing here Callisto? Donít you have a village to step on or something?" Aphrodite asked, wanting the woman far away from her.

Callisto smiled and stepped forward behind Aphrodite, just peeking over her shoulder so the goddess couldnít miss her. She pouted a little, then winked. "No, thatís later this week. Today Iím here to make you happy."

Aphrodite laughed. "Well, darling, you did a good job. You made me laugh. I guess your work here is done." She smiled in the mirror, her eyes belying her words.

"A vacation. Isnít that what you said you needed? Just a minute ago I swear I heard you. It must be tiring sometimes, hmm? Hopeful lovers give you gifts and worship you so that you would point their pathetic little beloveds in their direction. And when you do, youíre left alone with no thanks." Callistoís eyes drooped in feigned sadness.

Aphrodite winced, almost believing that this neophyte could read her mind. She knew the truth was there for anyone wanting to see it. Perhaps that was the problem, she needed someone to care for her, even if that someone was just herself.

Sure, she had her husband, Hephaistos, but he was usually busy in his shop creating to his hearts' content. And Cupid was usually busy working or with his wife and child. He didnít have time for his mother anymore.

Yes! What I need is a vacation. Cupid can deal with the extra workload and any special requests can wait till I come back.

Aphrodite looked at Callisto in the mirror and asked. "And if I do? I suppose you want something in return?"

The blond warrior gave the goddess a predatory smile. "Oh, don't worry. Itís rather easy and youíll enjoy it. I just need you to find someone suitable for a distraction."

The Goddess of Love raised an eyebrow. I wonder what she is up to? "Distraction? For whom?"

Callisto glanced around, then pressed her lips closely to Aphrodite's ear and whispered a short name.

For the first time that day Aphrodite genuinely smiled. She looked at herself in the mirror and replied, "Deal. Just send a message when you want your distraction and where. Now tell me. . .whatís your idea of a good vacation spot for me? And I donít mean headhunting with the locals in the jungles of Africa. The humid heat would just kill my hair."

Callisto looked disappointed, then grinned. "Donít worry your pretty little head about it. I have a nice boring vacation just perfect for you."

* * * **

Xena watched as her friend popped a last grape into her mouth and patted her belly, groaning. She raised an eyebrow, the corner of her mouth lifted slightly. "Full?"

"Oh, yes. That was nice. Thank you. Itís always nice to get off the road and have a real meal every couple of days." The content bard replied, stretching.

"Are you sure youíre just not stocking up for the voyage, Gabrielle?" Xena teased.

The bard did her best to look indignant. "No. Of course not. I was just hungry and appreciate good food." The bard pushed her plate away and set her chin down on her arms that rested comfortably on the table. Glancing at her companion she continued, "Speaking of the boat though. . ."

"Ship." Xena corrected.

"Ship. How much longer till we have to get aboard? I think a little shopping might be in order." She hurriedly went on when she saw Xena s eyes roll. "I know that youíre almost out of leather oil, and you usually use a lot aboard ship."

"Salt air." Xena affirmed nodding.

"Exactly, and I d like to get my boots resoled, and . . ."

"OK. OK. Let s go shopping, shall we?" Xena threw up her hands, giving up the battle. It wasnít that Xena didnít like shopping, in fact when she was in the mood it was a thrill to see and touch good merchandise from across the known world. It was just that she hated spending money for things.

It was a last vestige from her warlord days, really. She had been used to taking what she wanted no matter what anyone said, and had made herself rich. Now, of course, she wouldnít dream of stealing from good honest folks, but that need not to spend her dinars was still there. She could and had given money away many times to those that needed it more than herself. But bargaining with merchants just went against the grain a little bit.

Instead she actually enjoyed buying things for other people or just watching Gabrielle shop. The bard would stroll through a market place with an eye on values but would almost croon over luxury items, exalting in the look and feel of fabrics, and the smell of perfumes. Not once did she bemoan the fact that she didnít have this or that, Except food thought Xena, or couldnít afford an item on a traveling bardís income. Instead, she enjoyed the moment. Xena envied her that and could watch her friend for hours in the market. As long as I donít get bored or annoyed. Then I know Iím not really good company. The warrior chuckled to herself.

As they strolled along, Xena kept a sharp eye out for pickpockets, while her companion stopped at stall after stall admiring the merchandise, totally unaware. When they rounded a corner Gabrielleís eyes lit up and she burst forward with renewed energy. Unfortunately at that moment a cart of fresh vegetables came between the two friends and Xena impatiently had to wait for the farmer and her cart to pass as she tried to get a glimpse of her companion in the crowd ahead.

After a long frustrated moment the cart passed and Xena deftly dodged body after body in the crowd, slowly making her way forward and scanning for the missing bard. Catching a glimpse of strawberry blond hair going around a corner, the warrior changed her course, cursing that her friend hadn't noticed she d left Xena behind. She just hoped sheíd not lost all her dinars to quick fingers.

"Excuse me. Pardon me. Oops, sorry about that. Excuse me." Xena apologized again and again as she pushed her way past irate shoppers.

Rounding the corner she abruptly halted as she ran up against Gabrielleís side, who was contentedly smelling the various oils and perfumes at a small stall. Catching the bard before she stumbled and dropped a bottle Xena quickly made sure her friend was ok, then gave her the look.

"What?" Gabrielle asked, totally confused.

"Nothing Gabrielle. Umm. . .whereís your money pouch?" she whispered.

The bard grinned and replied in a soft voice, "Donít worry, Xena, it would be hard for me not to notice itís gone." Gabrielle did a little bounce and watched the corner of Xenaís mouth twitch slightly in amusement.

Xena looked at the bottles and vials on the table in the stall under the watchful eyes of its owner. "Find anything interesting?"

"Some nice sandalwood. And a vial of hyacinth oil." She smiled pointing to the vials in question. The warrior picked up the hyacinth and inhaled the aroma deeply. This was one of her favorites. Smiling she put it back down and agreed. "Nice. So where to now?"

The bard shrugged. "Well, I was thinking of . . ." she stopped suddenly in and frowned. She cocked her head slightly and grew still, as if listening.

"Gabrielle?" Xena said in concern touching her friend's elbow.

"Shhh . . . I thought I heard . . ." she murmured.

Then Xena heard it also. "Oh, no." She moaned and Gabrielle s head came up. "You heard it to?" she asked the warrior.

"Unfortunately, yes." Xena said simply through gritted teeth. She started looking around for a good escape for the two of them, but the marketplace was too crowded to move fast enough. As she was searching, the bard was scanning the crowd looking for the source of the noise that they had both heard.

"Xena. There he is." Gabrielle whispered motioning in the direction with her head. The warrior spun and honed in on who Gabrielle had found. Seeing that there was no escape before they were seen she sighed in resignation.

"Xena! I m surprised at you. I thought you liked him?" The bard teased. She giggled softly as her friend rolled her eyes dramatically back.

"I donít dislike him rather. Did I tell you the time that I got to kill him? Boy, was my chakrum stuck in him good." Xena s eyes sparkled at the pleasant memory.

Gabrielle was about to ask what her friend was possibly talking about when suddenly they could both hear a manís voice singing more loudly and clearly as it neared them. Amazingly enough the crowd cleared for him, but it was more in astonishment then in fear of the warrior attire.

"Joxer the mighty

he s really tidy.

Everyone admires him,

he s so handsome it s a sin."

Xena touched her fingertips to her temples and rubbed them softly feeling the tension. That song always grated on her nerves, and once she heard it, it was almost impossible to get out. She glanced at her companion feeling more sympathy for her. After all the bard had more sensitivity and really dreaded the story as much as Xena. At least there isnít a version with me and my little sword in it. Iíd seriously consider killing him then. Slowly at that. Xena chuckled softly as she touched her chakrum, considering. Nah . . .I'll be good.

"If you're in jeopardy, don't call the cav. . ."

Suddenly Joxer spotted the duo and his face lit up in pleasant surprise. He started making his way towards them, trying to weave his way through the crowd which had started moving again since he had ceased his singing.

Almost to them, he swerved around an older woman shopping with her daughter and accidentally stepped on her cloak. He tried to catch her and amazingly enough succeeded, but as he righted her, he turned too quickly back to his friends and his face collided with a small iron pot hanging from a blacksmiths stall. Holding his face in pain, he blindly went forward and stumbled over Gabrielleís staff and started to fall. Falling face first into a passer-byís knee, he smiled as the bright flashing lights blinked merrily in front of him.

"Pretty," he mumbled, smiling inanely.

Xena winced and started forward to help him. The bard reached him first and helped the bumbling would-be warrior to stand. "Joxer? Are you alright?" She asked, looking at him in concern. Xena stood next to her and peered at Joxerís face.

"Well, he missed the nose each time. Itíll smart, but at least he doesnít bruise easily." The warrior said from experience.

Joxer shook himself and then focused on Gabrielle and Xena. He smiled happily and pulled them both to him in a big group hug.

"Wow!! What are you two doing here? What a surprise." It had been almost a full season since he had seen the pair, and he missed them. He was always watching Xena for tips and he liked being around Gabrielle period. He loved the bard, though she didnít know it. When the adventure with Draco, the temple virgins and Cupidís son had happened, Gabrielle had been loving and attentive to him. He of course had loved her for a long time and thought she had just finally come around to him. When he found out it had just been one of Cupid's arrows affecting her, his heart broke. In the time that had passed he had healed a little, but still loved the bard truly. Heck, I even put her in my song. Now thatís love for you, he thought silently.

"Well, Xena and I are going to. . ." Gabrielle started but was interrupted with an elbow in her ribs and Xena smoothly cut in.

"WE are just going on a little trip down the coast. Where are you headed, Joxer?" she asked, hoping he wasn't going the same way. She could handle Joxer in little bits, but too much was just overpowering.

"Oh, nowhere in particular. Iím thinking of getting a job here, in fact, as a temple guard. Just to earn some extra dinars. I heard Heraís temple is looking for a few good men," he said confidentially.

"What a shame. Xena and I are about ready to board a ship to Elaphonisi in Laconia," said Gabrielle. "She wants to go see an old friend."

"Really? Perhaps I could come along and protect you from pirates." He offered. Gabrielle coughed and waved off the pat on the back Joxer gave her.

"Um. . .sorry Joxer. Ships full. And besides the captainís a little greedy. Heís asking for 25 dinars a piece." Xena put in sadly, refusing to mention that what he asked for isnít what he got. She watched his face crumple in disappointment, then he smiled again. "Oh, well. How about going to the tavern for an ale or two instead, then?" he asked hopefully.

Xena was about to answer him when a suspicious movement caught her attention out of the corner of her eye. But before she could react, Gabrielle was stumbling backwards between two stalls, a dark figure leaning over her then starting to run off.

Gabrielle, not as helpless as she used to be and very indignant about having a strangerís hand down her bodice to take her money pouch, reached out with her staff and thrust between his ankles.

The thief stumbled, but recovered well and fled between the stalls and into the crowd in the next street.

"Iíll get him!!" Joxer cried as soon as Gabrielle fell back. He jumped forward, inadvertently elbowing Xena in the stomach and knocking the breath out of her momentarily. Joxer made to jump over the bard and after the thief, but the two got entangled and totally blocked the aisle.

Xena growled and shot a dark look at Joxer. Then gathering herself she shot up and over both of their heads as she yelled her war cry. Landing nimbly she sprinted forward and took advantage of the stock-still crowd that had frozen at her yell. With a wicked laugh and a bright gleam in her eye she chased the dark clad thief who was having more problems moving through the crowd than she.

Bobbing and weaving skillfully, Xenaís heart raced with excitement even at this small encounter. There was no doubt in Xenaís mind she would catch him, it was rare indeed that the warrior lost her prey. Using her height advantage over the crowd and the fleeing thief she spied out a plaza ahead he was heading for and was pleased to see it less crowded. With a burst of speed she took four running steps, gathered herself, and with another war cry flipped herself over and over through the air and over the stunned shopper's heads. Landing easily, she turned and grinned wickedly at the thief as he ran smack into her. He backpedaled quickly and, like most cornered rats, sneered and drew a long knife.

"Ooo. . .nice. Your mother know you stole that from her kitchen?" Xena quipped, smiling sweetly. Ever so slowly she drew her sword and then with a practiced wrist she sliced the air around her body.

Xena chuckled deeply as she saw the thief gulp and tentatively thrust out with his blade. Like lightning, Xenaís leg shot out and her foot connected solidly with his knife hand. As the knife fell towards the cobblestones her foot never returned to the ground, instead it continued through itsí arc and hit the thief squarely in the side of the head, knocking him unconscious. As he fell to the ground, Xena dropped her leg and nudged the knife away from him just in case he woke too soon. Sheathing her sword, she then searched him thoroughly and retrieved Gabrielle s money.

Spying the bard and Joxer, she motioned them over. Gabrielle frowned at the body spread out at her feet. With annoyance she nudged her staff at his head a little just to be sure he was out cold. Then with a grin she glanced at her friend and looked her over for injury, not really expecting any.

"You ok?" She asked. At Xenaís nod, Gabrielle looked around, standing on her toes for a better look. "No guards around when you need them, of course."

"Oh, I think I can deal with this." Xena replied and squatted down beside the would-be thief. Picking up his knife with one hand she slapped him with the other to wake him. After a moment he woke, he eyes opening slowly. He looked at the warrior quizzically then opened them more widely in alarm. He tried scooting back away but ran into Gabrielle s leg. Nice glare there Gabrielle. Xena thought. The thief trembled and started to look around for an escape route. Xena leaned close, catching his attention with his knife neatly trimming the leather edge of his tunic collar. He froze.

"Now I m sure you want to apologize to my friend, here." Xena advised sweetly, her blue eyes flashing.

His eyes bulged even wider. He nodded once, then twice, but was silent until Xena raised an eyebrow and pricked his chin gently with the knife point.

"Iím sorry. So sorry. Wonít do it again. Nope. Not again. Iím really, really sorry. Please donít cut me." He pleaded looking back and forth between the bard and the warrior woman.

Gabrielle eyes narrowed at him. "Iíd advise a new line of work."

Nodding quickly, his eyes pleading he replied. "Yep. My brotherís farm sounds much safer. Really safe. Yep. Won't do this again. Please, please don't cut me." He said to the warrior that held his own knife just below his chin.

With a grin Xena motioned with the knife and watched as the thief scrambled up and rapidly disappeared in the amused crowd of watchers. Xena stood and stuck the knife in her boot and smiled as the crowd decided the show was over and continued on their business.

"Wow Xena, that was good." Joxer exclaimed, impressed.

"Thanks." She murmured, not really happy with him at the moment. "Come on, Gabrielle, we have a ship to board. Nice to see you again, Joxer. Take care of yourself," Xena said, turning, not really waiting for her companion to follow. The further away from him I am, the safer he is. Or should that be, the further away from him I am, the safer I am? The warrior mused.

Gabrielle smiled at Joxer, hoping he wasnít too hurt by Xenaís curt manner. She reached over and gave him a short hug. "Hope to see you again soon Joxer. Stay out of trouble, ok?" she said over her shoulder, catching up with Xena.

Joxer stood in the square alone. Once again he had tried to save the day and had bumbled the attempt. But at least he had gotten to see Gabrielle. Smiling lightly, he headed towards the nearest inn. An ale or two sounded good.

* * * * *

Aphrodite walked through the marketplace invisible to the mortals surrounding her. But even though they couldnít see her, something they couldnít describe made them step aside out of her path.

The Goddess of Love had watched the minor engagement between the thief and Xena and was amused for a moment or two, but considered her brotherís style better. But then Iím biased, I suppose. She knew of Xena, of course, and Gabrielle the bard, having come across them a few times in her work. But her thoughts werenít with them as they left. Instead it was with the young man in mismatched armor that strode through the crowd.

With a squeal of delight the goddess smiled at the sudden idea that presented itself. "JOXER!!" she cried aloud. With a blink of her eyes she suddenly appeared in the plaza shocking yet again the crowd around her, though for different reasons this time. Smiling gaily she hurried after Joxer crying his name.

* * * * *

"I miss Argo." Gabrielle muttered for the hundredth time since they had left her behind. "But I seem to make a good packhorse."

"Perhaps a donkey instead. You tend to complain and need the bribe of food to keep going." Xena grinned, then poked a hand inside one of the bags she was carrying. Pulling out a carrot she walked backwards in front of the bard, dangling it just above her teasingly. Her blue eyes twinkled in merriment.

"Xena." The young woman s eyes narrowed, then fixed on the carrot. She waited a moment till Xena backed into a small child then took action. As the warrior's eyes turned to the obstacle the bardís hand shot out and grasped. . .air?

Xena sidestepped the child smoothly and raised an eyebrow at Gabrielle. "Good try." She grinned, taking more pleasure than necessary from the bite she took. Seeing the exasperation on her friend's face she tossed her the rest of the carrot and looked on as it disappeared rapidly in small quick bites.

"Mmm . . .tasty." Gabrielle tossed the end away and settled her two big bags more comfortably on her shoulders.

"Bottomless pit." Xena teased.

"I am not. I just. . ." Gabrielle stalled.

"Yes?" The warrior raised an eyebrow. "I canít wait to hear this."

"I just use more energy then you, that's all. . .well not more." Gabrielle sighed and threw up her hands in defeat. "OK. OK. I m a bottomless pit. I canít help it."

"Well, at least you work it off with walking and staff practice. Your getting very good at it." She grinned, poking at the bard's trim stomach.

Gabrielle giggled as Xena led them down the docks towards their ship. The Jade Dolphin was a medium one-masted ship built for fast cargo. It looked well kept and Gabrielle could see the small crew getting it ready to said with the tide.

"Looks like the captain took my advice about that merchant." Xena observed as she saw a large wagon being unloaded under the close scrutiny of a bald, overweight man. The merchant spotted them walking towards the gangplank and rushed over.

"Oh, yes. The warrior woman." The manís smile was genuine as he half bowed to them both. "Thank you ever so much for giving my name to Fenal. If I should miss the Festival of Apollo, my profits will plummet for this year. You have my undying thanks. Is there anything youíre in need of? I have some of the most exquisite jewelry and rare perfumes from the far reaches of the world." He babbled, waving his arms ecstatically at the small crates being loaded by the sailors. "I have a necklace that has three sapphires in fact, that are an amazing shade of blue that could truly go with those stunning eyes of yours."

Xena rolled her eyes. Hearing a slight squeak from her left she glanced over to see Gabrielle trying her hardest not to laugh aloud. Sometimes it s almost not worth it to be one of the good guys. She mused.

"Cut that out, Gabrielle." The warrior whispered out of the corner of her mouth.

The man really is harmless Xena. But really? Stunning eyes? Xena sighed and smoothly interrupted him. "Don't worry about it. Glad to have been of service. Come on, Gabrielle." Her eyes bored into the bardís as she said the last. With her free hand she grabbed one the of young womanís bags and motioned her up the gangplank, following closely should she choose to take a swim.

Safely onboard, Xena spotted Fenal, who hurried over to meet his passengers.

"Good timing. We have almost loaded everything and just in time to, the tide is starting to go out." Fenal smiled, then looked pointedly at Gabrielle.

"Gabrielle, this is Captain Fenal." Xena introduced.

"Hi. Nice boat . . .err . . .ship you have here." The bard blushed at her mistake.

"Nice to meet you also. Shall I show you too your cabin?" He chuckled, knowing this slim woman wasnít much for sea travel already, just by her sea legs. The warrior, though, got his immediate admiration; he could tell that she hadnít been bluffing when sheíd mentioned she was an old hand at ship life.

Xena nodded her acceptance of the cabin, and the trio walked past sailors to the ladder that led below decks.

As she gingerly made her way, Gabrielleís stomach did a small roll as a wave gently rocked the ship against the dock. Youíd think Iíd be somewhat used to this by now, what with Cecrops and Ulysses. She sighed.

Seeing her friend react to the ship, Xena leaned close as they walked along. "Want me to show you that pressure point again?" She asked with a concerned look. The young woman just had no tolerance for the sea, and Xena didnít want to see her uncomfortable.

Gabrielle considered the offer. The last time they had traveled the sea had been with Cecrops, and to relieve her suffering, Xena had shown her a pressure point on her left wrist that if she tapped, would alleviate the symptoms of seasickness. Unfortunately it also deadened the taste buds, and with her appetite, she had taken to eating raw squid. Well it was one of the only things available. It s not as if he could go ashore and shop, the bard thought.

"Umm . . .would you do me a favor if I say yes?" She said weakly.

"Sure." Xena agreed.

"Try and keep me from eating things you know arenít good for me, or that I donít like. OK?" The bard pleaded and Xena chuckled softly in sympathy.

"Deal."

Captain Fenal opened the passageway door and escorted them in.

"At the end is my cabin. This one here is the merchants, with the one next to it housing his daughter."

"His daughter?" The bard interrupted, peering around.

"Yes, her father says she likes her privacy. She went straight into her cabin when she got here. Nice figure, though she wears veils so I didnít get a good look at her." He grinned sheepishly when Gabrielle chuckled at his comment. "And this would be your cabin. I hope you donít mind sharing since . . ."

"No, itís no problem." Xena stopped him as she opened the cabin door.

"OK then. Yell if you need anything. Dinner should be in three candlemarks, if all goes well that is. Welcome aboard." He nodded and closed the door after himself.

Gabrielle put down her bundle and collapsed into one of the two hammocks.

"Ahh. . .a bed." She smiled then her eyes bulged a moment. "Oh no . . .the ceiling is moving."

The warrior princess laughed and stood next to the hammock, dropping her bags. Taking the bard's hands she showed Gabrielle the precise spot on her wrist again.

"Hmm . . .I almost forgot how well this works," said Gabrielle, steadily tapping her wrist.

Xena watched her friend for a moment, then started to unpack some of their belongings. The cabin was small but comfortable, with a cunningly crafted table that swiveled so that it was always level. Two sturdy chairs sat next to it and two large chests were ready for the roomís occupantsí belongings. The hammocks themselves were also well made, having been woven of some hefty but silky smooth material neither recognized. All in all it wasnít a bad cabin, and would suit the duo fine.

They finished their unpacking, then, silently agreeing, made their way up onto the deck to watch the crew cast off, and enjoy the fresh air.

Xena was pleased at the efficiency and skill of the crew. Everyone seemed to know what their job was and none of the sailors procrastinated about doing it.

As the heavy hemp lines were drawn in, the captain smoothly brought the ship out of the small bay, keeping clear of other vessels and small local craft. Soon the Jade Dolphin was merrily sailing the seas, her crew singing a prayer to Poseidon as they worked.

Xena and Gabrielle stood together at the railing, both enjoying the cool sea air blowing through their hair and the late afternoon sun sparkling on the blue waters.

It feels so good to be back aboard a ship. Xena mused. She breathed deeply through her nose enjoying the crisp salt air. Except for once or twice she really hadnít spent that much time on a sea vessel since . . .before she had become a nightmare in childrenís dreams. The thought stuck in her mind, mired by the dark memories of the past.

Caesar.

The last time she had seen him she was hanging from a cross, her arms bearing her weight, her legs broken. It had been a little later in the day, sunset then it was right now. The sky had been an angry red and had matched the mood and pain of her soul. She had watched as he boarded the longboat that took him back to his ship, his bright armor gleaming like fresh blood in the sun. She had watched as his ship had sailed away till it was out of her sight, and still she had looked out upon the sea hoping for a glimpse of the man she was sure had killed her that day. Then she had listened. Listened to the many breaths of her men coming and going with the tide, as they too hung from their crosses alongside her on the beach. Listened as slowly one by one they all ceased, Xena herself refusing to die until the last of her men was gone, not wanting them to die all alone.

Xena often pondered what her life would have been like without that day. If he hadnít come would her path had been any different?

"Xena?" Gabrielle s hand touched her friend lightly on her arm. She could sense the turmoil within her friend.

The warrior visibly shook herself and smiled at the bard. "Hmm?"

"Dinar for your thoughts?" She asked. I doubt she will tell me anyway. Xena doesnít always like to share herself. But at least I can'try.

"Thinking about Joxer actually." The lie came easily. Gabrielle knew that wasnít what her fiend had been thinking, but kept silent. Xena noted Gabrielleísface and appreciated that she didnít push. Maybe someday Iíll be brave enough to tell her.

At the thought of their odd friend Xenaís mind suddenly froze as an annoyingly familiar song from earlier raised itself out of the deepest part of her mind where she had tried to bury it.

A mischievous thought came to her and she followed it, using all her creative abilities. Not like I m good at this though. Not like Gabrielle is.

Gabrielle stood there pondering her friend. Xena had been tense as a bowstring, as if a great dark tide was threatening to drown her, then only a moment later the bard had watched as she seemed amused, almost gleeful about something.

At that moment the bard heard an odd noise coming from her warrior friend. Then abruptly her eyes shot wide open, as she recognized the noise and she cried out in utter horror.

"Xena!!" the bard exclaimed loudly, slapping her friend on the shoulder.

"Hmm? What Gabrielle?" she asked, still humming.

"Stop it! Ugh . . . if you're so desperate for a song or story come to me. Don't . . . ewww . . . hum that ghastly thing." Gabrielle made a horrid face, thoroughly disgusted with her friendís sudden taste in music.

Xena turned her head towards Gabrielle and grinned sheepishly. "Well . . .it s really not the same song."

The bard frowned. "I heard it, Xena." Then she took a quick peek around to see if anyone else was there, and sung the first line, leaning close to the warrior. "Joxer the mighty, heís very tidy."

Gabrielle stopped and glared at her friend. "I heard it, Xena." She repeated. "That . . . song . . .is just the worst."

Xena laughed. "Well, I changed it a bit," she said, grinning widely.

Gabrielle raised an eyebrow curiously. "OK. Umm. . .maybe I'll regret this, but let me hear it." She leaned up against the railing with her arms crossed against her chest, determined not to enjoy the song.

Xena s eyes gleamed as she leaned closely towards the bard and softly began to sing.

"Joxer the Wimpy, heís very gimpy.

He always tries to save the day, and always gets in Xena's way."

She stopped and shrugged. "I only got that far. I m not a bard." Xena raised an eyebrow watching her friend visibly tremble.

"Gabrielle?"

The bard suddenly exploded in laughter, collapsing helplessly onto the deck. Xena glanced around and smiled weakly at the looks the sailors sent their way.

"Gabrielle. Youíre embarrassing me." She said out of the corner of her mouth. She offered a hand to the now almost composed woman. "It was that bad, hmm?" she asked.

"No." The woman answered, wiping a errant tear away. "It was funny. Not bad, really, Xena." She chuckled. "I could help if you want and think up more lines to the rest of it. Iíd rather not though. I mean really, where would I ever be able to sing it and be able to look Joxer in the face without laughing again?"

Xena happily smiled. "Just sing it to me, Gabrielle. That song would make me a very appreciative audience."

The two started laughing, this time both having to sit down or risk falling overboard. Through tears Gabrielle looked up at Xena and said, "You know, I donít mind him so much, but. . .but. . .that song." She collapsed again in a fit of giggles.

"We are so mean." Xena replied, chuckling all the while and trying to fit the next line of the song.

* * ** *

Aphrodite caressed the limp brown hair of the would-be warriorís head that lay on her lap. Just a little charm and the Goddess of Love had, of course, gotten Joxerís attention. And now that the man was comfortable, it was time to see if he was willing enough to do her a little favor.

"Comfortable?" She purred into his ear then chuckled to herself as she saw a faint shiver run through his body. Mortals. . .itís almost too easy. She gently twirled a lock of his hair around her little finger.

"Uh huh." Joxer was almost purring.

"Well, for old times sake would you consider doing me a little favor, my little hero." She cooed.

"Umm . . .do that thing with the ear again?" He asked looking up into the Goddess' bright green eyes.

"My pleasure." NOT! What I have to go through for a vacation. Aphrodite sighed then blew gently into Joxerís ear, then rolled her eyes as he lay there quivering. Patiently she waited then asked him again.

"Joxer?"

"Hmm?" Joxer lay boneless, totally entranced by the Goddess' presence. And it wasnít helping his concentration.

"Joxer. Pay attention. I need you to do me a little favor." Aphrodite said, her tone just sounding a little fed up. There is only so much you can take when youíre with mortals.

"Anything you want." Joxer immediately responded. "My heart. My love. My undying devo. . ."

"OK Joxer, I get the picture. You mentioned to Xena and Gabrielle that youíre thinking of getting a job at Heraís temple. Is that right?" She asked.

"Oh sure. But that was before you came into my life. Who needs Hera, Iíd rather guard your temple." He batted his eyelashes up at the love of his life.

"Umm . . .cause I need you to want to work for Hera." You simpleminded slop bucket. The goddess thought silently, getting rather irate, it was very hard to mute her powers so that mortals could think for themselves.

"Oh then sure. Iíd love to work for Hera if you want me to." Joxer agreed blindly.

"Good then. Hereís what I want you to do. Close your eyes. Yes thatís right. Listen closely to my voice." Whispered the goddess. Taking a shining finger on Joxer's forehead, as it touched, a bell like tone echoed in their area. Donít worry Joxer. Just one more time for my sake. Removing her finger she leaned close and whispered into his ear.

"This is what I want you to do. First. . ." Her quiet voice gave instructions to her ludicrous hero. Moments later Joxer was standing tall and striding with purpose to Hera's temple.

Aphrodite smiled to herself. That should do it. Now I just need to watch to make sure he does it right, then I can go pack. And where are these ĎBahamasí anyways?

* * * * *

Joxer strode valiantly through the crowded street. It was his time in life, he had decided. It was time to take charge and become the Hero of the People. Like the silent deadly warrior he was, he swiftly made his way to the temple of Hera. Walking right up to the main door he boldly knocked and announced his presence.

"Open! I am Joxer. Joxer the Mighty. And I am here to protect and serve the temple of Hera! Open up I say!" Joxer knocked again, then stepped back as the huge doors opened. A man wearing the peacock colors and armor of one of Heraís guards looked out and his eyes widened in amazement. Before him stood a man of good height and good complexion wearing the fine clothes of a swordsman. He stood tall and looked sure of himself. This was a good point in the guards mind, knowing the temple would not take would be heroes with little experience.

"Who wishes to enter the service of Hera, Queen of the Gods?" The guard asked, though he had heard the bellow, it was a formality that he was required to go through.

"It is I, Joxer the Mighty. Slayer of Monsters. Doer of deeds. And very tidy!" He cried.

"Well come in. Iíll inform the High Priestess." He opened the door, then closed and locked it, when Joxer had safely entered. "Wait here."

Joxer nodded and stood quietly, and surveyed the temple.

The immense structure was mainly built around the altar of Hera, a vast slab of multi-hued marble piled high with fruit and sacrifices from her worshippers. Before the altar and surrounding it genuflected the Priestesses of Hera, all veiled against prying eyes.

Joxer coughed softly, the sound echoing through the vast room, like a bell being rung. The women almost as one, looked at him, and their eyes all widened at the hero standing tall.

"Oh my. Isnít he just handsome."

"Yes. Yes he is."

"Most definitely."

The women all whispered and talked amongst themselves, having totally forgotten their duties to Hera. Joxer stood his ground as they came closer, surrounding him. Hands reached out, touching and caressing him, teasing his hair. I rather enjoy this, he commented to himself.

"By the gods, he makes me want to leave this temple. Forever." One sighed blissfully.

"Yes. Iíd leave here in a moment. . .for him." Another cooed.

Joxer smiled at them, and thrust out his chest dramatically. "I am Joxer the Mighty. I have come to protect and serve Heraís Temple. . .and all of you of course." He chuckled. All of the priestesses squealed in delight.

"What is the meaning. . ." A womanís voice started to yell. The High Priestess had come at the call of the templeís Captain ofthe Guard and had shocked to find Heraís sacred altar unattended by her chosen maidens. Enraged she had turned to the group of women surrounding a visitor, and had angrily started to berate them, but then. . .seeing the stranger, she had stopped. She now understood the commotion and went to join the women in fawning on the hero before her. Weaving her way through the small crowd she stood before him in all her beauty.

Suddenly Joxer was inspired by her presence, and with a swift hand whipped away her veil, then his long arm wrapped around the High Priestess' waist sweeping her into his embrace and kissing her deeply. Moments passed, the other priestess seeming to get agitated with rising jealousy, as the two are still kissing deeply. One of the maidens shoves another, then like Greek fire itself, the motion spread throughout the group and veils, silks, and hair were flying in a cyclone of screaming and yelling.

Joxer of course, paid no attention.

* * * **

Hera, Queen of the Gods stood before the water and gazed deeply within it, looking out onto the world below Mt. Olympus. Damn Hercules and his little friend. I am tired of my minions being so incompetent that they canít subdue a mongrel like him. I destroyed his wife and children, persecute him, and still he smiles as he helps the mortals.

Hera screamed loudly and sent a ball of white energy crashing into the pool of water, causing steam to rise and cloud her view.

"Damn you to Hades!!" She yelled, furious. Then getting hold of her fury she smoothed out the water with a sweep of her hand, this time gazing to other parts of the world and other plots she was hatching. Suddenly, a feeling unlike any she had known in eons came over her. A feeling of desolation and of abandonment. With purpose she focused the waterís sight to follow the source of these feelings that she knew had to do with her.

As the water cleared and the scene before her came into view, Hera momentarily stepped back in shock. My temple in Kynos! Itís unattended! Changing the view she gazed out into the temple, hoping to get a glimpse of what may have happened. Suddenly her eyes focused sharply upon a small crowd near the doors to her temple, and what she saw made the fury once again rise within her.

Who was this mortal that dared to defile her temple and take her priestess away from their holy task!

In a blinding flash of light and accompanied by the cry of peacocks, Hera left her sanctuary for the world below.

The airy room, now silent and serene without its mistress present was the only one to witness a visitor.

Callisto crept into the room, peering cautiously around and, seeing no one in sight, she straightened and boldly strode into the room.

"Who is your decorator? Ugg. . .blue, green, peacock feathers all over the place. I think Iím going to be sick." Callisto said aloud, which in itself wasnít unusual. She tended not to like to hear her own thoughts in her head, but gave them they freedom to express themselves verbally. All of them . . . even the ones who answered back.

"Now where is . . .Oh no." Callisto stopped her jaw gaping. "I m going to kill him for this. You have got to be kidding!!! The thing must weigh a ton and thatís without the water. ARGGGHHH!!! I just know Iím going to get a crick in my back for this. Oh well . . . anything for you, Xena."

* * * * *

Cries and godly thunder could still be heard from the Temple of Hera across the city. Joxer the Mighty, no longer heroic, had just decided that perhaps a job as a temple guard was not all it was cracked up to be. Seeing his armor and usual items sitting below an apple tree, he hurriedly changed his attire and wasted no time as he left town as fast as his own two feet could carry him.

As soon as he was safely past the city gates Aphrodite smiled, amused by the whole situation but relieved Joxer sneaked out in the commotion before nasty Hera could get her hands on him. Then the Goddess of Love, in a shower of silvery light, disappeared to go pack for her vacation. Hmm . . . what should I wear? She thought as the city of Kynos was left alone in the night to withstand the angry attention of the Queen of the Gods.

* * * * *

Gabrielle filled her trencher and followed Xena out onto the deck to a more quiet spot. It was sunset now and the Jade Dolphin flew across the waves owing to a brisk wind. As they walked forward, Xena looked over the side and stopped.

"Thereís a good omen for you, Gabrielle." She said pointing just off to the side and forward of the ship. "Not that I believe in omens, really. I believe we make our own luck and fate."

The bard gazed to where her friend had pointed and almost dropped her trencher in her haste to get a better view. Dolphins!

Five of the sleek animals leaped and frolicked alongside the ship named after them. Gabrielle was thrilled, she had never seen them before, not even on her other voyages.

"The legends say that dolphins bring good luck to the ships they visit." Gabrielle replied in an almost instructional voice. "There are also stories of shipwrecked mariners that have been rescued by dolphins and taken to dry land. Some even say that others are taken to Atlantis which sank long ago."

Xena smiled, she liked to hear her companion tell stories or recite lore. The warrior, of course, knew these, having sailed the Aegean for years. Sometimes at night her bosun, Penelis, would entertain the crew with stories of lost sailors and ghost ships.

"Hmm . . .how about after we finish eating you tell one?" Xena asked, feeling in a good mood.

"Ok." The bard replied, pleased that the warrior had asked. Usually it was Gabrielle who had to offer first, but it made her feel very good to have an audience that appreciated her. The bard thought that Xena made a good audience. Usually. "I think I know the . . . Wow!! Look at them leave." The woman cried out as the dolphins suddenly left the Jade Dolphin in almost frenzied flight.

Xena looked after them, her eyes narrowed, then she spotted several long shadows that took the dolphins place alongside the ship. She instantly recognized the long sleek shadowed forms and frowned to herself. Sharks! Gods I hate sharks. Iíve never seen so many grouped together though. How odd.

"Hmm . . . well it was nice while it lasted. I think now that Iíve seen a dolphin Iíd like to write a story about them. What do you think, Xena?" The bard pondered.

"That would be nice Gabrielle." The warrior replied, not really paying attention to the bard, but gazing down intently into the darkening waters. Soon the sun would be gone, but she knew that those shapes would stay down there. Watching and waiting for their chance, if we give it to them. Gods I hate sharks. Perhaps I can talk the captain into a little fishing tomorrow, she mused.

Xena tore herself away from the railing and sat beside Gabrielle who had already starting eating her meal. The warrior chuckled as she watching her friend eat. It has only been four hours but she acts like sheís starving. A small chuckle. Bottomless pit definitely. Well at least that pressure point is working well for her, and if I keep an eye out on what sheís eating she wonít be angry with me later. Having her friend angry with her was almost as bad as seeing the bard cry. In a way it was good for her she knew. Those feelings of protectiveness, friendship, and love had been almost annihilated in her past, but now with Gabrielle at her side, Xena once again was learning how to care for others. Not that it went smoothly. Sometimes she would get so frustrated with herself or the bard that only time by herself could help. Being alone and practicing sword drills was the best way she had learned to ease her tension.

The warrior princess leaned back against a rope well and slowly ate her dinner. Soon Gabrielle finished and raised an eyebrow at her friend questioningly.

"Go ahead. Iím listening." Xena smiled, ready for a good story.

Gabrielle sat up straight and preceded to tell the story of Cecrops. Xena listened silently, and was not surprised when she heard several footsteps around her coming closer and listening to the bard. The warrior was no longer surprised at her friendís bardic ability, but still enjoyed to see others entranced by her talent. This particular story she knew of course, having been a part of the ending. She knew that more than likely the sailors aboard ship had only heard small tales of the Lost Mariner, but not the whole story that Gabrielle had heard from Cecrops' lips. And even less people had had a chance to hear the ending of Cecrops' long isolation from land.

Xena smiled as she glimpsed the reactions of the crew around them, all rapt with attention, all of them perched forward waiting for the bardís next word. The warrior caught a brief glance of a slim veiled figure that stayed close to the merchant who was also listening close by. It was the first sight she had seen of the merchantís daughter so far and Xena was only mildly curious. Her attention came back fully to Gabrielle as the tale finally ended. The bard positively glowed as the sailors and the merchant praised her tale. When asked to tell more she readily accepted and started on an old tale of Atlantis.

Taking their dirty dishes to the galley, Xena was waylaid momentarily by the captain who was a little annoyed with the warrior for not telling them her friend was a bard. He now felt rather guilty that the duo had to share a cabin. Xena assured him that they really didnít mind and started back to Gabrielleís side. Almost there, she felt a shiver of apprehension as she glimpsed the darkening sky. Years of sea travel had honed her weather sense, and it prickled an alarm in her now. Something was coming, something big. There really were no signs to see. No dark clouds on the horizon, no smell of rain in the air. But something warned her and she knew from long experience to listen.

Xena turned and strode back to the captain, knowing that they had to get ready. For whatever it was.

* * * * *

"All right Poseidon . . .get your watery behind up here!!" Callisto screamed, her voice carrying over the sea.

She didnít have to wait long, as Poseidonís towering form rose above her.

"Ahh . . .Callisto. I see you brought me a little gift?"

"Little my butt!! That giant half seashell weighs more than Xenaís horse while sheís riding it! You told me it was a scrying bowl not a damned bathtub!!"

The sea god laughed vastly amused at the goddessí anger. "Well, you got it here, didnít you?"

"Yes. . .the trade. Youíll do as I ask?" The warrior asked, a cunning smile on her face now.

"Of course . . . in fact Iíve already started. Xena's course will be altered per your wish." Poseidon reached down with his free hand and picked up the giant clamshell. "Ahh . . . finally." He smiled.

"By the way? Why did you want that nasty thing? You're a bit too big to fit in it." Callisto asked then giggled as she pictured the god using Heraís scrying bowls a wash basin.

"This is mine actually. The other half is used by my Sirens and this one was stolen by Hera long ago in a contest that she cheated in. Now it is mine again and I wonít let her have it back!!" Poseidon roared.

Waves crashed high upon the rocks drenching Callisto to the bone.

"Arrgghh!! Watch it you overgrown water spout!!" she yelled shaking her hair out.

The sea god just chuckled and plunged back into the sea causing another wave to rise and crash down upon the now livid goddess.

"Ugg!!!! This better be worth it Xena!!!" Callisto screamed and ran back along the rocks.

* * * * *

The Aegean ocean at night was, to sailors, both a lover and an enemy. Waves pushed by the forces of the gods and nature slowly made their way to lands both near and far. Its dark depths were a mystery to all but its denizens, and feared by many a sailor that rode over it.

This night the sea was serene, reflecting the stars and the moon of Selene almost with perfect clarity. Then small lights appeared in a far off part of the sea, untouched by vessels this day. First there were few, then slowly they grew till the size of the pool of sparkling lights was as large as the father of all Leviathans. Then, growing no more, the lights started to swirl, the watersí calm broken by turbulence and chaos. Suddenly the pool of force moved, rising higher and higher into the air gathering itself to become a force of nature and god that all sailors dreaded.

Many, many leagues away, the passengers and crew of the Jade Dolphin slept in peace, except for a small few. Xena stood on the deck watching the sea in the night, feeling dread as each moment passed. The wheel was piloted by a capable seaman, but that was all that was needed now at this time of night. Xena growled, frustrated by the captainís disbelief in her worry.

Not that I blame him. Ií s only a feeling of . . . wrongness . . . of danger. Gods I wish Gabrielle werenít here sometimes. She thought silently, then immediately took back that thought. Gabrielle went where Xena went, the bard had made that clear long ago. And even though there had been some events that had greatly tested their friendship, they were still together.

Then with an abrupt quiver that shot through her body, Xena turned and narrowed her eyes across the deck and into the sea beyond. At that moment she glimpsed something at the dark horizon, just under the moon and put her whole attention unto it. Moments later, her eyes widened and she strode back through the ship to wake the captain.

Continued in Part II

Comments are welcome.

silk2@hotmail.com


Fan Fiction
Return to the Fan Fiction archive